William Lerwill, who rented a large house called Nuthurst in Woking, had a very useful paying guest in Hilary Rougier, a 77-year-old retired farmer from Guernsey. In the 1920s Lerwill fleeced the old man of around £5,500 and when by Saturday, August 14th, 1926, Rougiers bank account was down to its last £70 he suddenly died.
The cause, said the local doctor, was cerebral haemorrhage. Not so, said the pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury Rougier died of morphine poisoning. That was also the verdict of the coroners jury, who added that the morphine was not self-administered. And that meant he was murdered.
William Lerwill was now in an invidious position. Did he poison Mr. Rougier when the paying guests bank account was about to run out? It seemed possible, but curiously the authorities took no further action. He wasnt charged with any crime.
There was no point in Mr. Rougiers relatives pursuing the Lerwills for his money it had clearly been spent and could not be returned even if litigation were successful. As for the big house Nuthurst, the Lerwills decamped having paid only a third of the rent they owed the owner.
William Lerwill, a man always with an eye for the main chance, successfully sued two newspapers for libel, bringing him the best part of £5,000. He then deserted his wife and children and went to Canada. By 1933 he was back in England, virtually broke and leaving one cheque after another bouncing behind him.
One day in March, 1934, he was walking down a street in Coombe Martin, Devon, when a policeman stopped him and challenged him about an unpaid hotel bill. Whatever his failings, Lerwill was never guilty of indecision. He promptly produced a small bottle of prussic acid, swallowed the contents, and fell dead at the officers feet.
Was this the suicide of a man tired of running? Or was it a murder confession?