Walking home from an evening’s drinking at the Edisford Bridge Hotel on a dark, bitterly cold night, bachelor farmer John Dawson, 46, felt a light tap on his back, then heard a distinct click above the sound of the moaning wind. He walked on without pausing, sat down in his kitchen, ate a hearty supper and went to bed.

Next morning there was blood all over the sheets and a gaping wound in his back. At first reluctant to send for a doctor, he was finally taken to hospital, where a surgeon removed a piece of hard steel embedded four inches deep in his back. It had been cut from a half-inch diameter rod and filed at each end, and had done enough damage to cause Dawson’s death a few days later from gangrene and septicaemia.

Who fired that strange shot on that night of Monday, March 19th, 1934? As one, the locals clammed up. John Dawson farmed at Bashall Hall, Bashall Eaves, on what used to be the Lancashire-Yorkshire border – an area known for the closeness of its community, where no one accused anyone. “It was like talking to a brick wall,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Wilf Blacker, in charge of the investigation.

Tommy Kenyon, who was Dawson’s farmhand, believed the bullet was meant for him, not Dawson. Kenyon said that on the fatal night he drove past Dawson in the opposite direction, on his way to Clitheroe.

He figured he was the intended victim because Dawson’s neighbour, Tommy Simpson, thought he had put Simpson’s daughter Nancy, 17, in the family way. They had indulged in fisticuffs over that.

But 10 days after John Dawson died, Tommy Simpson hanged himself. That was nothing to do with this case, insisted Nancy – her father was in trouble over the quality of his milk and it was preying on his mind.

Some investigators believe that Dawson knew who fired the shot, and was keeping quiet in the hope that he would recover and deal with it himself. Another theory was that he had some female friends in Clitheroe and a jealous husband may have been out to get the bachelor farmer.

Intriguingly, the fatal shot was not fired from a gun. It was discharged from an aircane, which is two metal tubes, one of them a compressed air chamber. It is loaded through the muzzle and actioned by a foot pump. Capable of deadly accuracy up to 30 yards, it was the sort of “silent” weapon once used by poachers. The only sound would be a tiny click – just like the click that John Dawson heard. UK Murder Stories from True Crime Library.

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