Gordon Trenoweth’s five children would never forget Christmas Day, 1942. It was the day their father was arrested for murder. He was a docker, and they were living with him at his parents’ home in Falmouth, their mother having been in a mental home for the past year. That was bad enough, but their father had refused to pay her maintenance, claiming that she was working as an inmate, and he had consequently served a stretch in prison.
When a knock was heard at Trenoweth seniors door at 3 a.m. on December 25th the caller was not Father Christmas. It was a police superintendent, accompanied by other officers. Trenoweth complained angrily that this was a fine time to disturb the family about the non-payment of his wife’s maintenance.
“That is not why we are here,” the superintendent told him. A man had been murdered, and Trenoweth was wanted for questioning. The victim was Albert James Bateman, a 61-year-old Falmouth tobacconist found beaten to death in his shop at 8.30 the previous evening. He had multiple head injuries including a broken jaw and a fractured skull.
Taken into custody, Trenoweth was found to have four £1 notes, a 10-shilling note, and two packets of cigarettes in his possession. One of the notes had been repaired, and a piece of paper found in Mr. Bateman’s wastepaper basket indicated that he had patched up the note earlier on the day he was murdered.
A revolver found in his shop had been stolen from the docks, and Trenoweth had had access to it. Fibres from his coat were found on it, and oil from it was discovered in his pocket. There was also blood on his jacket which he claimed had come from a nose-bleed. Examination found that the blood wasn’t his, but it was of the same group as Mr Bateman’s.
Protesting that he had never been in Mr. Bateman’s shop, Trenoweth claimed he had bought his two packets of cigarettes on the morning of Christmas Eve from Reginald Pearce’s shop in the High Street, where he had been served by Mr. Pearce’s daughter. But the Pearces said he had bought no cigarettes from them that day.
Mr. Bateman was known to have been killed between 6.00 and 8.30 p.m., and Trenoweth said he had been at his parents’ home from about 5.30 until 6.30 p.m., then left to catch a bus to Truro, where he had been at the Market Inn until 9.20. Then he left to catch a bus back to Falmouth.
His presence in Truro that evening was confirmed, witnesses saying that he had spent freely in the pub, buying drinks for several other customers. His father and sister confirmed his claim that he had come home at teatime and was there until just after 6.30. If they were telling the truth he could not be the tobacconist’s killer, and this was emphasised by his defence counsel Mr. J. Scott Henderson at Trenoweth’s trial at Devon Assizes.
The defence also pointed out that there were no fingerprints on the revolver, and although Mr. Bateman was believed to have been kicked to death, no blood had been found on Trenoweth’s shoes. And the repaired pound note? There was no proof as to when it had been patched up. It could have gone back into circulation and been given to Trenoweth in change at some other shop.
In his summing-up Mr. Justice Tucker reminded the jury of these points, also commenting that if the evidence given by members of accused’s family were correct, he could not be guilty. But the jury convicted him, his appeal was dismissed, and on April 6th, 1943, Gordon Trenoweth was hanged at Exeter Prison.