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Heinous 1908 murder remains unsolved...or does it?

Diane Janes at her book launch in Sevenoaks
Diane Janes at her book launch in Sevenoaks

THE highly respectable wife of a Major General shot dead in a woodland summerhouse while on her way home for afternoon tea.

A poison pen campaign aimed at her husband who subsequently threw himself under a train.

The chief constable suspected of trying to frame an unlikely suspect.

It has all the hallmarks of an Agatha Christie thriller. But these sensational events really did unfold in rural Kent 100 years ago and the heinous murder remains unsolved. Or does it?

Crime writer Diane Janes has just published a new book, Edwardian Murder, which explores a bizarre link between the Kent shooting and a murder at the opposite end of the country two years later.

Diane launched the 306-page book at Sevenoaks Bookshop last week and explained how she turned cold case detective for eight months of finger-tip searches through recently-released Home Office documents and newspaper files.

The victim, Caroline Luard, was shot twice in the head and her body left on the veranda of a summerhouse in woodland near Crown Point between Ightham and Seal in August 1908, just three days before her 58th birthday.

The murder became so notorious the Sevenoaks Summerhouse was the subject of a popular postcard.

Her 69-year-old husband Charles, a former Kent County Councillor and JP, was the last person to see her alive. They had taken their dog Scamp for a walk through the woods from their home, Ightham Knoll.

Caroline was due home for afternoon tea with a neighbour. She never arrived. The General, who had walked on to the golf club, discovered her body.

The murder weapon, a .320 calibre revolver, was never found. Caroline's purse and her rings were stolen.

The callous killing shocked the county and made national headlines. The General became the subject of a hate campaign.

In despair he went to stay with a friend, the brother of the chief constable, at Barham Court, near Teston.

He walked down the hill to the Medway Valley railway line and flung himself under a steam train. He left notes saying the murder had robbed him of happiness and he could no longer stand the horrible accusations being made against him.

The case was never solved.

A year after the General's suicide, a 62-year-old tramp was arrested for the murder.

Police said the chief constable had evidence against him - but the chief caused a scandal by refusing to divulge the evidence. It later transpired the tramp had been in prison on the day of the murder.

The author, who has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award, scrutinises the General's seemingly "cast iron" alibi and his strange behaviour following the murder.

Ms Janes also explores a possible link with a man who was executed for murdering and robbing a cashier on a train in Northumberland in 1910. The cashier was shot five times in the head with a .320 revolver.

Years later the court shorthand writer at the trial claimed he had evidence that the hanged man, John Dickman, was framed because the authorities thought him guilty of Caroline Luard's murder.

Evidence from parlour maids, a vicar, woodcutters and coachmen helps recreate the distant days of Edwardian England and a time when Kent was scandalised by talk of lovers' trysts in a secluded summerhouse.

So whodunnit?

Edwardian Murder, Ightham and the Morpeth Train Robbery, by Diane Janes, published by Sutton Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7509-4780-0, price £14.99.

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