Pretty, 18-year-old Caroline Trayler had a weakness for soldiers, and she made no secret of it. She had married one six months earlier, but he was away with the British Forces in North Africa and she now spent her free time with other soldiers based near her home in Folkestone.
After finishing her shift as a cinema usherette on the evening of JUNE 13th, 1943, she went to the Mechanics Arms, and she was last seen alive after she left the pub with a soldier. Then she disappeared, and her body was found four days later in the passage of a blitzed shop.
She had been strangled after sexual intercourse, which had apparently been consensual. Several black pubic hairs were found on her thighs, and they contrasted with her own auburn colouring.
Inquiries at local army camps revealed that 25-year-old Gunner Dennis Edmund Leckey had gone absent without leave the day before Caroline’s body was discovered, taking with him the paybooks of two of his comrades, Gunners Latham and Melia. Shown his photograph, the landlady at the Mechanics Arms recognised him as the soldier Caroline had been chatting with on the night she vanished.
Then on the evening of June 29th a constable on duty near London’s Marble Arch was approached by an American serviceman who asked him to arrest a man in a nearby bar who had stolen his wallet. The constable went to the bar and recognised the man as the soldier wanted for questioning by the police in Folkestone. His hunch was confirmed when the man said he was Gunner Latham one of the soldiers whose paybooks Leckey had stolen.
The police already knew that Leckey had not returned to his camp until 1.30 a.m. on the night of Caroline’s disappearance, and on going absent he had visited a friend in Stoke-on-Trent, telling him he had an engagement ring given to him by a girl in Ireland. Caroline’s engagement and wedding rings were both missing.
Charged with her murder, Leckey pleaded “Not guilty” at the Old Bailey in September.
The prosecutor said that a pubic hair matching Caroline’s had been found on Leckey’s trousers, and fibres matching those of his shirt had been found under the murdered girl’s fingernails.
Leckey claimed that he and Caroline had parted amicably after having sex, and that was the last he had seen of her. He denied going absent because of the murder, claiming that he had gone home to Manchester because he wanted to tell his wife he had been unfaithful before anyone else told her.
But only he knew of this at the time, and the court heard that two days later he had slept with another woman. Rejecting his story, the jury convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to death.
When his appeal was heard two months later, it was found that the trial judge had misdirected the jury in suggesting that Leckey’s refusal to make a statement when charged was an indication of guilt. The Court of Appeal upheld the defence submission that an accused person’s right to silence and not to have that silence criticised by a judge was a cornerstone of British justice. So Leckey’s conviction was overturned and he walked free.