The boarding-house in Francis Road, Portsmouth, was a bright cheerful place, whose hospitality was enjoyed by holidaymakers in summer and sailors in winter. They were always assured of a warm welcome from the proprietor, Mrs. Florence Hands, a widow aged 51.
Then came tragedy. Shortly after returning home with her shopping on the morning of Monday, November 19th, 1951, Mrs. Hands was found strangled near her back door.
At the post-mortem semen was found in her vagina, indicating sexual intercourse just before or shortly after death. But there was no evidence of violence apart from the strangulation, and if she were raped her attacker had replaced her clothing, which, according to the pathologist, was highly unusual in rape cases.
Had she therefore submitted to sex through fear, and had then been strangled on threatening to go to the police?
The house hadnt been ransacked, but a watch was missing, together with a leather toilet case bearing the initials A.D. Attempts to sell these articles, or others very like them, were subsequently made around several shops in Portsmouth and Southsea. In one shop the seller signed his name.
Police traced an allegedly illiterate 19-year-old army deserter of that name, who claimed to be living with his mother in Brixton. He was charged with murder, and at Hampshire Assizes the case turned on whether witnesses recognised him as the man seen leaving the boarding-house after the murder, and whether he was the man selling the stolen articles.
The jury decided he was, found him guilty and he was sentenced to death. But when one of the witnesses later changed his evidence the man appealed the verdict and his appeal was upheld. That left undecided the question of who murdered Florence Hands.