Norman Thorne was an unsuccessful chicken farmer. The hut that was his home at the farm he set up at Crowborough, Sussex, in 1922 was little better than the accommodation of his chickens.
Five years earlier, when he was a Sunday school teacher in London, he had met Elsie Cameron, a typist. They had become engaged at Christmas 1922, primarily because of pressure from Elsie, and in the following year she paid several visits to the farm which Thorne had established with money borrowed from his father.
Meanwhile he had met and fallen in love with a Crowborough girl, Elizabeth Coldicott, and he wanted to end his engagement. But his fiancées sister told him that Elsie would poison herself if he did so, and ending the relationship became even more difficult when Elsie lied to him that she was pregnant. She was 26, two years older than Thorne, and her excitable, neurotic temperament made her difficult to handle.
Nevertheless, Thorne wrote to her hinting at his affair with Elizabeth in the hope that Elsie would end their engagement. She didnt. Instead, on DECEMBER 5th, 1924, she arrived at the farm unexpectedly and dramatically while he was having his tea.
According to his subsequent account, she lay on his bed saying she had a bad head. He told her he had to meet Elizabeth off a train, and despite Elsies objections he left her and went to the station. When Elizabeth arrived he carried her suitcase to her home, and stayed chatting with her at her garden gate until 11.30.
On returning to his hut, he said, he found Elsie hanging from a beam by a piece of cord like that used for a washing-line. I cut the cord and laid her on the bed. She was dead. I then put out the lights. She had her frock off and her hair was down. I laid her across the table for about an hour. I was about to fetch Dr. Turle and knock someone up to go for the police, when I realised the position I was in and decided against it.
So he fetched his hacksaw and some sacks. I tore off Miss Camerons clothes and burned them in the fireplace. I then laid her on the floor and sawed off her legs and head by the glow of the fire, and put them in the sacks.
He buried Elsies suitcase in his potato patch and her body-parts in his chicken-run. Then he sent her a letter which began, My own darling Elsie and continued, Where did you get to yesterday? I suppose you were detained for some reason or other.
On December 10th he received a telegram from her father, saying she had left for Crowborough on December 5th and asking where she was. Thorne replied that she hadnt arrived, adding that he had no idea of her whereabouts and that he had written to her.
He also called at Crowborough police station to ask if anything had been heard of Elsie, and on Boxing Day he made a statement to detectives who seemed satisfied by what he told them. But then they learned that Elsie had been seen entering his gate on December 5th, and officers went to the farm and began digging. First they unearthed Elsies suitcase, and then her body-parts when their search moved on to the chicken-run.
Charged with murder, Thorne appeared at Lewes Assizes and told how he had panicked on finding Elsie hanging from a beam.
The Home Office pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury testified that dust on top of the beam had not been disturbed, which indicated that no rope had been tied to it. He also said that injuries he had found on Elsies body had been inflicted before her death, probably by an Indian club found at the farm.
A pathologist called by the defence claimed that marks on Elsies neck were not natural creases and had been caused by a rope. He said that bruises on her body had been inflicted when she was cut down.
But the jury chose to believe Spilsbury, retiring for only 20 minutes before they returned to convict Norman Thorne, who was then sentenced to death. He was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on April 22nd, 1925.