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Unsolved murders in Kent: Four cases - including Margery Wren, Sheila Martin and David Short - which bamboozled police detectives


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Margery Wren lay in a hospital bed for five days after being savagely attacked. But despite police being convinced she knew the identity of her attacker, she stubbornly refused to name him.

Her death, and the subsequent murder inquiry which followed it, would never identify the person who battered her with tongs from her fireplace.

The former Ramsgate Hospital site - where Margery Wren spent her final days
The former Ramsgate Hospital site - where Margery Wren spent her final days

It led the Scotland Yard detective summoned to help crack the case to later describe her as the "most inflexible, determined woman I met in the course of my police experience".

Spinster Miss Wren, 82, had, for 50 years, alongside her sister Jane, run a sweet shop and general stores on Church Road, Ramsgate.

And when Jane died a few years previous, she inherited around £1,000, invested in government stock (the equivalent of some £65,000 today).

While she kept her own counsel, she hinted to some close friends she also kept money hidden in various places around the home she lived in above the store.

However, despite having access to considerable funds, she was known to frequent a local soup kitchen for food. She was thought of as a miser among locals - and tales of her potential secret wealth had circulated.

Church Road in Ramsgate as it is today. Picture: Google
Church Road in Ramsgate as it is today. Picture: Google

At around 5.30pm on the afternoon of Saturday, September 20, 1930, her life would be brutally shortened.

Someone entered the store and, finding her asleep in her chair, attempted to strangle her before beating her repeatedly around the head with the fire tongs. The attack was only stopped when someone tried to enter the shop and set off the bell.

She was discovered by a little girl who found her staggering, dazed and confused and with blood running down her face, when she knocked on the shop door to buy some blancmange powder. The police were immediately called and Miss Wren rushed to the nearby Ramsgate Hospital.

While she was there, she told officers she knew who had attacked her. But she refused to say anything more. Over the next few days she accused several people of the crime - before declaring "he has escaped and you will never get him".

Any attempt to continue interviewing her would be cut short by periods of confusion. Three days later, as she increasingly slipped into a coma, Scotland Yard arrived to help try in the form of Chief Inspector Walter Hambrook to try and crack the case.

"What she did do, however, was to supply a number of false trails..."

With a police guard on her hospital bed, she would claim to have fallen rather than have been attacked - despite clear bruising showing an attack had taken place, and her blood on the tongs.

Writing years later, the officer said: "What she did do, however, whether deliberately or not, one can never tell, was to supply a number of false trails."

Adding that even in her final hours she said: "I do not wish to make a statement. I have seen my doctor and the vicar. I have had Communion. I know I am going home but I do not wish him to suffer. He must bear his sins. There has been a misunderstanding."

The office admitted of six names she had uttered - three had cast iron alibis. One of the other three, he believed, was her killer.

No one was ever charged with her murder. Her shop has long been converted into a private residence which still stands today.

David Short

David Short was killed in 1988
David Short was killed in 1988

David Short was in trouble. According to his wife, he had run up debts of £750,000, had a string of affairs, and she believed, got himself entangled with organised crime groups.

And it seemed his past caught up with the 36-year-old double-glazing salesman on September 22, 1988 in a brutal way.

Answering the door of his home on Ethel Road, Broadstairs, CS gas was sprayed in his face, incapacitating him. He was then struck twice around the head. He died at a result of his injuries. Acid was also poured over his car parked outside.

His body was discovered on the pathway to his home by his latest girlfriend and mother later that evening.

A murder hunt was launched and officers quickly discovered he had led a complicated life and one which had been threatened before.

Ethel Road, Broadstairs - the scene, in 1988, of David Short's murder. Picture: Google
Ethel Road, Broadstairs - the scene, in 1988, of David Short's murder. Picture: Google

Speaking a year after his death, his wife - whom he had left nine months before he was killed - spoke of how on one occasion a man with a shotgun had burst into the family home when Mr Short was absent and started searching for him. He'd also received malicious phone calls and even had a sinister wreath sent to his home.

She added he had remortgaged the house seven times without her knowledge as he struggled with debt - a contributing factor to the breakdown of their relationship.

She added: "No one is sorry about his death apart from his girlfriend and his mother."

She described him as a "Jekyll and Hyde" character.

In 2001 police received a letter, with a Dorset postmark, which claimed to know and name the killer. But, 20 years on from that, the case remains unsolved.

Madeline Wells

Shakespeare Cliff, Dover - where the body of Madeline Wells was found in the water
Shakespeare Cliff, Dover - where the body of Madeline Wells was found in the water

Quite how barmaid Madeline Wells met her demise is a mystery never to be solved.

Working at the Railway Hotel in Beckenham, she finished her shift on the afternoon of March 9, 1906, telling colleagues she would be back before it was late.

However, the following morning her lifeless body was found in the sea off Shakespeare Cliff in Dover after being spotted by a coastguard who rowed out to retrieve her body. He commented at the time she appeared to have only been in the water a few hours.

In her clothing was found an unused return stub of a rail ticket issued earlier the previous day for travel between Beckenham and Charing Cross. How she got to the Kent coast was never discovered.

Doctors who examined her body said they believed she was dead before she had entered the water. She had a bruise on her arm which was caused prior to her death. While she was fully clothed, an ivy leaf was found on her skin, just above her heart. The watch she normally wore was also missing.

"The girl was found dead in the sea and there was no evidence to show how she had got there"

Her parents, who lived in Ash, near Sandwich, said they had received, only the day before her death, a "most cheerful" letter from their daughter and were at a loss as to why she would be in Dover having, it was claimed, having never visited the town before.

Unconfirmed witnesses suggested they had seen the victim, who was believed to have been aged about 30, on the train from London down to the coast in the company of a man - although his identity was never discovered.

An open verdict into her death was recorded, as reported at the time, "to the effect the girl was found dead in the sea and there was no evidence to show how she had got there". A police investigation failed to unearth any explanation as to her death.

Sheila Martin

Sheila Martin was just 11 when she was last seen playing on a swing near her home at 4.30pm on Sunday, July 7, 1946, in Fawkham Green, close to the race circuit at Brands Hatch.

Sheila Martin, pictured in the Kent Messenger's coverage of the shocking case
Sheila Martin, pictured in the Kent Messenger's coverage of the shocking case

But when she failed to return, her family grew concerned and alerted police. A search of the area was initiated, aided by some 30 villagers who trawled the area for eight hours before, finally, her body was discovered, half buried, under nettles a quarter of a mile away in the early hours of Sunday morning. She had, said the coroner, been the victim of a "diabolical assault".

Her killer had strangled her with her own hair ribbon and her body left in woodland in local beauty spot Sun Hill Wood. She has also been sexually assaulted.

An investigation concluded she had been killed within 90 minutes of her last sighting.

Police made an appeal which stretched across the South East due to the fact 8,000 motorbike fans had been in the area at the time for a race meeting at the nearby motorsport track.

How the Kent Messenger covered the hunt for the killer of Sheila Martin in 1946
How the Kent Messenger covered the hunt for the killer of Sheila Martin in 1946

There were also reports of a suspicious man spotted near the local school in the days leading up to her death and a young man, wearing "a red rose in his button hole" who was seen in the area at the time.

Both the Kent and Met police investigated the case but within a week newspapers were calling it the "case without a clue".

In 2018, a crime historian claimed he knew who had killed the girl after researching the investigation into the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl 10 days earlier in Swansea.

The case remains unsolved.

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