Ill come and spend the Bank Holiday weekend with you, Joan Woodhouse, a 27-year-old London librarian, wrote to her father in Barnsley. She left her YMCA, Blackheath, lodgings on the Saturday and instead of taking the train to Yorkshire took one to Worthing in Sussex. This was one of the many contradictions in Joans life.
On Tuesday, August 10th, 1948 10 days after the August Bank Holiday her decomposed body was found at Box Copse in the grounds of Arundel Park, Sussex, by Thomas Stilwell, a labourer. The body lay on its back and was stretched out on the slope of a hill. She was wearing pink cami-knickers, a bra, suspender belt and stockings. Her clothes lay in a neat folded pile about 12 yards away
The pathologist Keith Simpson thought she had either taken off her clothes to sunbathe and had been surprised, or had agreed to some form of sexual foreplay short of intercourse. Despite the decomposition of the body, he claimed she was raped.
Joan Woodhouse was a deeply religious girl. The names of 100 men in her diary proved to be a red herring, for she was secretary of an association linking librarians throughout Britain.
The investigation was led by Detective Chief Inspector Fred Narborough who, although he questioned Stilwell, the prime suspect, for many hours, was never in a position to make an arrest. A private eye hired by Joans family interviewed 200 people but finally presented a report to Scotland Yard saying there was not enough evidence on which to launch a prosecution against Stilwell.
Narborough retired and Detective Chief Inspector Reginald Spooner took over the case. He too could not find any evidence to justify an arrest. The family then launched a private murder prosecution against Stilwell. As is the custom the Crown took over the case, although clearly their heart wasnt in it. The magistrates threw it out.
The family next complained about the way the Crown had conducted the prosecution. The matter was raised in the Commons, causing Attorney-General Sir Hartley Shawcross to remark, It is the duty of the prosecution to prosecute, not to persecute.
Three months later the family sought a bill of indictment from Mr. Justice Humphreys at Lewes Assizes against a named person. He refused to grant it.
Spooner finally came up with an entirely new theory that Joan wasnt murdered or raped. He reasoned that her recent break-up with a boyfriend decided her to commit suicide. Not many people accepted that, especially given her deep religious convictions.