Foul play was suspected when a taxi was found abandoned at Layer Marney, Essex, on DECEMBER 8th, 1943. The jacket and bloodstained raincoat of the driver, 28-year-old Henry Hailstone, were discovered in the cab, and when detectives went to his Colchester lodgings his landlady said shed last seen him at 11.10 p.m. on December 7th.
Hed popped in to tell her he would be late for his supper, as hed got to take two American servicemen to their camp at Birch. He added that he expected to be back in about half an hour, and when he failed to return his landlady thought he must have run out of petrol, which was strictly rationed.
The taxis bloodstained interior displayed signs of a struggle, indicating that the driver had been overpowered and dumped on the back seat, his cab then being driven to where it was found abandoned. But where was he?
That question was answered the next day when his body was discovered in the grounds of Birch Rectory. Hed been beaten and strangled, and as he was a well-built 12 stone it was obvious that it had taken more than one person to carry him to where he was found.
Inquiries narrowed the search for his killers down to two black American privates, George Fowler and J.C. Leatherberry. Both had returned to Colchester from London on the night of December 7th, and the clothes of each man were found to be bloodstained.
Fowler told the investigators that on arriving at Colchester they had decided to hire a taxi and rob the driver. At 10.45 p.m. they had flagged down a cab, and theyd covered four miles on their way to Birch when he asked the driver to stop so that he could get out to relieve himself. Leatherberry had remained in the taxi, Fowler said, and had attacked and killed the driver.
Fowler claimed that he had gone along with the escapade unwillingly. Leatherberry had told him, Were in this together, man. And now weve got to get rid of him.
They had dumped the drivers body after rifling his pockets.
Leatherberry denied any involvement, but both men were arrested and charged with murder. Both were convicted at their court-martial in June 1944. Fowler was sentenced to life imprisonment. Leatherberry was sentenced to death, and was hanged at Shepton Mallet military prison on May 16th, 1944.