The murder of Reading tobacconist Alfred Oliver remains unsolved to this day – but it has gained notoriety as a case in which a suspect suffered “trial by coroner.”

On Saturday, June 22nd, 1929, Alfred Oliver was brutally attacked in his shop, dying from his injuries next day. The contents of his cash register were stolen. Several witnesses saw a man near the shop at the time of the murder and later identified him as Philip Yale Drew, an American-born actor performing at Reading’s County Theatre with a touring company.

Questioned about his movements, Drew admitted being a “bit erratic.” There followed a coroner’s inquiry into the tobacconist’s death which was virtually a trial of Drew, who had not even been charged with committing a crime.

After hearing some 60 witnesses, the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against person or persons unknown, and Drew’s ordeal was ended. His trial by inquest resulted in widespread criticism, and helped to prompt revision of the Coroners Act.

For Drew, however, there was no happy ending; a stigma attached to him, and his stage career faded.