fear of the Lord prolongeth days. But
the years of the wicked shall be shortened" Proverbs
The Execution of Frederick Nodder - Lincoln 1937
Frederick Nodder's case is a rarity in British legal history because he was convicted on separate charges, at two trials, in different towns as a result of his actions.
By all accounts, Frederick Nodder was a totally reprehensible person. He was separated from his wife and there was a bastardy warrant out for his arrest (under the warrant, the police were ordered to find the man named by the mother and bring him before the local magistrates to organise recognizance). In addition he had a reputation for dishonesty and drunkenness that meant he was rarely in employment for any meaningful period. But this pales besides the observation made in R. Stockman's book "The Hangman's Diary - A Calendar of Judicial Hangings" who notes that
"He was a filthy and repulsive creature ... his lack of personal hygiene and foul living habits caused him to be ordered out of a succession of lodgings"
Brian Lane in his book " The Murder Guide" refers to Nodder as a " brutish, squalid drunk"
When I was preparing this article I had great difficulty in ascertaining where Frederick Nodder, originated from, and details of his background. This is rather puzzling given the nature of forthcoming events, but after reading contemporary newspaper reports, and the very few articles that refer to Nodder, it appears I am not alone. Very little was known of Frederick Nodder prior to 1934. But in October 2011 I was able to research his background more fully as I found out that the details of his age given in the newspapers was incorrect.
But what I do know is that in 1934 he was lodging at 9 Neill Road, Sheffield which is in the Hunters Bar district of the city. He was ostensibly a car mechanic by trade but his dissolute and drunken manner meant that his employment was spasmodic to say the least. It was around this time that he began using the alias of Frederick Hudson, no doubt on account of the warrant that was still in force for his arrest. The owners of the property a Mr. and Mrs. Grimes knew of the deception but took no action to inform the authorities'. Nodder stayed with the Grimes' until the summer of 1935. He then left Sheffield and made his way to the house of Mrs Grimes' sister LILIAN, who lived in Newark, Nottinghamshire. He had a letter of introduction from his previous landlord when he arrived at the property at 11 Thorseby Avenue in the town. The sister was married to a coal carter named WILFRED TINSLEY. The seven children of the couple for some bizarre reason liked the man and called him "Uncle Fred". However, "Uncle" left the house after three weeks without paying any rent. Nodder spent the next year in East Retford before moving in June 1936 to "Peacehaven", a small semi-detached house in the village of Hayton near Retford. His habits were still as repulsive as ever and he was shunned by the local villagers.
At 4.00 p.m on Tuesday 5th January 1937, MONA TINSLEY, the ten year old daughter of his former landlord left her class at Wesleyan School in Guildhall Street Newark. For Mona it was the second day of the Spring Term. The previous term, her teacher Miss Daisy Hawley had described Mona as being a bright and intelligent child who was was doing well at school. Mona had already been home for her dinner that day but returned to the school for afternoon lessons. The walk home to Thorseby Avenue took about twenty minutes and so Mona was expected home at around half past four. When she did not arrive home her parents were not unduly worried - the couple had relatives in the area and thought that Mona may have visited one of them on the way home. However as time passed and Mona still hadn't appeared they became increasingly worried and at seven o'clock began visiting their friends and acquaintances. No-one had seen her and so at nine o'clock that evening Mona's parents contacted the police and a search was immediately initiated. The search went on throughout the night and next morning the police contacted all schools in the area informing them of Mona's disappearance and asking all staff and pupils to report any information they may have, however remote, to them.
It was an eleven year old schoolboy that gave the police their first lead. Although he did not attend the same school as Mona, William Henry Plackett lived next door to the Tinsleys at 13 Thorsesby Avenue, Newark. He told police that he had seen Mona near the Newark Bus Depot with a man. The description he gave of the man was vague though. Further enquiries were made in the area of the bus station. At the same time, a woman contacted the police and offered some more vital information. Mrs Annie Hird who lived at 15 Thorseby Avenue knew the Tinsley family well. Her daughter went to the same school as Mona. Between 3.45 and 4.00 p.m. the previous afternoon she was on her way to collect her daughter from the school when she noticed a man standing in the doorway opposite the school entrance. She recognised the man as the Tinsley's former lodger whom she knew quite well. She did not however speak to the man.
Given this information, the police went to interview Mona's parents WILFRED and LILIAN TINSLEY again. When asked about the lodger they seemed evasive and reticent. When pressed as to whether or not the couple ever had a lodger, Mrs. Tinsley exclaimed "Oh, it couldn't possibly be him." Eventually , Mrs Tinsley admitted that about fifteen months earlier, a friend of her sisters had stayed with them for a few weeks but left after being unable to pay the rent. She reluctantly gave the police the name and address of her sister Mrs Edith Grimes of 9 Neil Road, Sheffield.
When police arrived to question the Grimes, they stated that neither of them had seen this man who went by the name of Frederick Noddder for some time and that they had no idea of his present address. This was to prove a blatant lie. Subsequent enquiries revealed that Mrs. Grimes used to visit him regularly every week at his home, and had in fact telephoned him the previous day.
Meanwhile the investigations at the bus depot in Newark had revealed some more useful information. Charles Edward Neville had been the driver of the 4.45 p.m. bus from Newark to Retford the previous day. He pointed out that he had noticed a little girl with a brown coat but with no hat board his bus at the stop just past the Wesleyan School in Guildhall Street. She was accompanied by a middle aged man who bought a return ticket for himself and a single ticket for the girl. They got off the bus in Grove Street, Retford.
Police returned to the Grimes house in Neil Road Sheffield later that day but Mrs Grimes still proved uncooperative and unhelpful. Her husband however wilted under police questioning and admitted that Nodder had called at the house just after Xmas but denied any knowledge of his current whereabouts. A neighbour of the Grimes's however was more forthcoming. He stated that on December 27th the previous year a lorry was parked outside the Grimes's house and it had on its livery, the word "Retford". Mrs. Grimes denied any knowledge of this lorry and it's whereabouts.
The neighbours lead though led to the questioning of all haulage contractors and garage owners in Retford and it was soon established that a man called Nodder lived "Peacehaven", Sneath Road, Hayton near Retford. Police made discreet preliminary enquiries in the neigbouring properties - they were only three in the road at that time). A daily maid Miss Doreen Jessie Jarman worked at a neighbouring house. She recalled that earlier that day she had noticed a little girl wearing a blue jumper and skirt standing at the back door of Nodder's house. She looked about eight or nine years old. Nodder was working in the back garden at the time of the sighting. This was to prove important. Miss Jarman worked mornings only from 8.00 a.m. to 12.00 a.m. She was just about to leave for the day when she saw the girl which made the time of the sighting 12.00 a.m.
Police visited the house later that evening but found it deserted and in darkness.. The police kept watch at the house and at 11.00 Nodder was sighted coming down the road. He was intercepted by the police who informed him that they were making inquiries about the disappearance and current whereabouts of Mona Tinsley from Newark . He first denied knowing the whereabouts of Mona "I know nothing about it". He also repeated the statement when he was asked to account for his movements the previous day. However Nodder did admit that he did know Mona but had not seen her for over a year. Police were convinced that Nodder had abducted the child, his description matched that given by the bus driver and other witnesses but in the absence of any additional evidence, Nodder was placed on a holding charge of non payment of an affiliation order and placed in police custody.
A search was made of the house which was found to be "indescribably filthy". Nevertheless paper was found that showed drawings and writing that was later shown to be Mona's. More importantly a child's fingerprints were found on unwashed crockery left in the kitchen sink. Clothes were also retrieved that were similar to those worn by the man seen on the bus with Mona. A search of the garden, Nodder was seen digging there earlier in the day, revealed nothing though.
The following day Thursday January 7th, Frederick Nodder, was placed in an identification parade in Newark and was picked out by the people who had seen him with Mona two days earlier.
Faced with the mounting evidence, Nodder, agreed to make a further statement which he did at 10.00p.m. Friday 8th January 1937. He admitted that he met Mona near the school. She asked him how her auntie Edith was and her cousin Peter who was just a baby boy. He asked if she would like him to take her to see her Aunt and new cousin. She said that she did. Nodder realised that it would be dangerous for him to go to Sheffield himself given that there was a bastardy warrant against him. He decided to send Mona to her Aunt's on the bus or more precisely the 6.45 p.m. bus from Retford to Worksop. Once in Worksop he told her that she should follow the instructions that he had given her and put her on the bus to Sheffield. It was the last time that he had seen her. After putting Mona on the Sheffield bus, he got the 8.15 to Newark. It arrived in Retford a half a hour later. He then went to two pubs before going back to Peacehaven. The final part of the story is true - witnesses placed Nodder, on his own, drinking in the Criterion Hotel in Retford, that evening. The rest of the statement beggars belief. The weather was cold and windy, and being January, dark. No sane person would place a 10 year old girl on a bus alone at night and send her to a city nearly 20 miles away. And it is incomprehensible that even if someone did do something as stupid as this, they would not make arrangements for someone to meet her at the other end. Mona was told according to Nodder, that when she reached Sheffield she was to get the tram and then walk to her Aunt's house in Neil Road. Mrs. Grimes later confirmed that Mona had not been to the house for a number of years and she thought it unlikely that she would be able to find it from the centre of town.
Mona was not seen by no-one either in Worksop, on the bus or in Sheffield. The statement did not check out and so on Sunday 10th January 1937 at 5.45 p.m. Nodder was charged under section 56 of the Offences against the Person Act with "taking away a child from her parents by force or fraud". Nodder appeared before local magistrates and was remanded until 16th February when he was committed for trial at the next Assizes. He pleaded not guilty and reserved his defence. There is a report of the proceedings in the following days newspaper - 17th February 1937
The Daily Mirror dated 17th February 1937 also carried a report of the case
On 9 - 10th March 1937 Frederick Nodder appeared at Warwick Winter Azzises in Birmingham. He was prosecuted by Mr. Norman Burkett K.C. and defended by Mr. Maurice Healy K.C. Nodder was reluctant to appear in the witness stand, a point that Justice Swift referred to in his summing up.
"Nobody knows of what became of that little girl... Whatever happened to her, how she fared, who looked after her, where she slept, there is one person in this court who knows, and he is silent - he is silent. He says nothing to you at all.. he sits there and never tells you a word..."
The jury was out for just sixteen minutes and when they returned they announced an unanimous verdict of guilty. Nodder was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. Mr Justice Swift in handing down the sentence said
"Frederick Nodder, you have been, most properly in my opinion, convicted by the jury of a dreadful crime. What you did with that little girl, what became of her, only you know. it may be that time will reveal the dreadful secret which you carry in your breast."
Despite a massive police search, Mona had disappeared. The police searched the area for many weeks after Mona's disappearance. The initial focus after the house was the Chesterfield Canal which ran within fifty yards of Nodder's house. The Canal was dragged as was a stretch than ran for the next five miles. The search was widened to include the waters of the River Idle. Pits, quarries, cesspools, ditches in the area were all searched but to no avail.
But as Justice Swift predicted time did reveal the secret. On a fine summer Sunday afternoon 6th June 1937, a full five months after her disappearance, Mona's body was recovered from the River Idle. It was discovered by the manager of a local gasworks Mr. Walter Victor Marshall of Melwood, Station Road, Newark. He was rowing with his family on the River Idle about three quarters of a mile downstream from Bawtry when he saw an object in the water. Realising it was a body of a young girl he sent his son to summon the police. They returned and retrieved the body from the river and laid it on the river bank. After the arrival of the Nottinghamshire County Superintendent, the body was taken to the Ship Inn at Newington. Mona's father was brought out to the scene and he immediately confirmed that the body was that of his daughter Mona. The body was clothed in the garments Mona was wearing on the day of her disappearance save for her brown tweed coat and one of her wellingtons. These were found the next day close to where she had been found.
The Post Mortem was carried out by pathologist Dr. James Webster. The cold water had inhibited decomposition to a certain extent and it was quickly established that Mona had been strangled by a ligature from behind and placed in the water soon after the time of death. However the pathologist was unable to find any evidence of sexual assault due to the condition of the body and the time it had been in the water.
The sad discovery of Mona's body was the main headline in the Daily Mirror the fo1lowing day (7th June 1937)
After a formal inquest on July 20th, Mona's funeral took place at the Methodist chapel where she used to attend Sunday School and then she was laid to rest in Newark Cemetery
On 27th July Nodder was brought from his prison cell to Retford Police Station and charged with the murder of Mona Tinsley
The next report is from the Daily Independent dated 27th August 1937 where Nodder was committed for trial
The trial took place on Monday 22nd November 1937 at Nottinghamshire Azzizes before Mt Justice Mcnaughten and lasted all of two days. The same prosecution and defence team appeared as in the March case. This time Nodder did go into the witness box and described that he had met Mona when she came out of school that day. They had boarded the 4.45 pm bus to Retford and from there to his house at Peacehaven. After supper, Mona had been put to bed in his own double room and he had slept downstairs. On the following morning, in a moment of guilt, he decided to send Mona onto her Aunt in Sheffield. However Mona was seen at the house that day whilst Nodder was seen gardening. It was late evening when Nodder and Mona set off. Nodder maintained that he had given Mona two shillings and a note of explanation to give to Mrs Grimes in Sheffield. He also gave her full instructions on how to get there. He advanced the possibility that she had been abducted from the bus and murdered. The jury retired and after all of 39 minutes returned with an unanimous verdict of guilty. They had chose not to believe any of Nodder's testimony.
Sentencing Nodder to death, Mr Justice Mcnaughton aptly remarked
"Justice has slowly but surely overtaken you"
An Appeal was lodged by Nodder but was in turn rejected by the Court of Appeal. On 30th December 1937, Frederick Nodder was hung in Lincoln Prison. Time had revealed "the dreadful secret"
The Daily Mirror dated 30th December 1937 put a photo of Nodder on it's front page with the caption "To Die To-Day"
The Times dated 31st December 1937 gave the following report which is in effect a summary of the case
THE MURDER OF MONA TINSLEY NODDER HANGED AT LINCOLN
"Frederick Nodder, 45, motor-driver, who was sentenced to
death at the Nottingham Assizes for the murder of Mona Tinsley, was hanged at
Lincoln Prison yesterday. Nodder was married. His wife and two children live in
Sheffield. Nodder had outlived Mr. Justice Swift, who, sentencing him last March
to seven years' penal servitude for abducting the girl, told him: " It may be
that time will reveal the dreadful secret you carry in your breast." Mr. Justice
Swift died in October. Mona Tinsley, aged 10, disappeared after leaving school
at Newark on January 5, and it was not until June that her body was found in the
River Idle at Bawtry. She was said to have been seen last with Nodder, who had
lodged at her parents' house at one time and whom she called " Uncle Ned."
Suspicion fell on him after the failure of the most intensive search for her,
and he was charged with abducting her. He was found Guilty on this charge at
Birmingham Assizes in March. When Mona Tinsley's body was found three months
later Nodder was brought from prison to face a charge of murder, the allegation
being that he strangled the little girl and threw her body into the river' He
was found Guilty at his trial on November 23 at the Nottingham Assizes, and Mr.
Justice Macnaghten, in sentencing him to death, said: " Justice has slowly but
surely overtaken you." Nodder declared that he left the court with a clear
conscience. His appeal against the conviction was dismissed by the Court of
Criminal Appeal on December 13."
Capital Punishment UK Website - an excellent resource and fully recommended
R. Stockman's book "The Hangman's Diary - A Calendar of Judicial Hangings"
The Murder Guide - Brian Lane
Murders Unspeakable - Georgina Lloyd
Twentieth Century Murder - Martin Fido
Daily Mirror 7th June 1937
The Daily Mirror dated 30th December 1937
The Times 31st December 1937
Frederick Nodder - His Family
Estelle Roberts (1899 - 1970) who assisted the police in the search for Mona Tinsley
The case also appears in an excellent book that was published in July 2012 by the paranormal historian Paul Adams.
Murder and ghosts go hand-in-hand and vengeful spectres seeking justice or haunting the scene of the crime or their killers have adorned the pages of literature since before Shakespeare. This chilling collection of true-crime tales dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day all feature some element of the paranormal. Gathered from across the UK, cases include the discovery of a body by a spiritualist medium, a murder solved by a dream of the mother of the victim, and evidence at a Scottish murder trial provided by the ghost of the victim herself. Featuring visions, psychometry, ghosts, haunted prisons, possessions, and spiritualist detectives, this book is a fascinating look at criminology and ghost hunting. Paranormal historian Paul Adams has opened the case files of both the criminologist and the ghost hunter to compile a unique collection of crime from British history. No true-crime bookshelf is complete without Ghosts & Gallows.
The house where the Grime's lived in Sheffield and which Nodder lodged in (1934) can still be seen. It is the one with the blue door and shutters
9 Neill Road, Sheffield - photograph taken July 2004
In March 2015 I received the following from a geneologist of long standing who had been researching their ancestors
" I have been researching my family tree for many years and discovered a while ago that Frederick Nodder was a member of the family, (not that I am proud of the fact). I just wanted to say thank you for your site that gives me such a lot of information. The family history, on this side of the family, has found links back to royalty (illegitimately I might add), people who owned some of the large houses in the country and Frederick Nodder. It has been a fascinating journey."
For years the definitive English case of a no-body murder was the Camden Wonder in the 1660s. A steward of the local manor disappeared and three people were executed as a result. Given the methods of torture used in those days, it is perhaps not surprising that one of them confessed and implicated his mother, who for good measure also admitted to being a witch, and his brother. The bodies were still swinging from the gibbet when the steward turned up with a weird and wonderful tale of how he had been kidnapped by Turkish bandits, sold to work in a harem and had escaped to make his way back to England.
The man named Harrison the agent of an estate, was out collecting rents, when he was seized by ruffians, hurried on board a ship, and finally sold as a slave. His servant, one John Perry, none too strong in his wits, went clean daft under the stress of fright and anxiety, and declared that he had murdered his master with the help of his brother and of his mother, who were tenants of the man Harrison. So plausible was the crazy man's confession that not only he, but his mother and brother were hanged, in spite of their frantic protestations of innocence. Long years after this tragic event, the missing man returned, to the horror of all concerned.
So for nearly 300 years the "no body, no murder" rule was in play. However remote the possibility, given the death penalty, the prosecution feared that the supposed victim might just turn up after the execution. At the beginning of 1937 everyone believed that Frederick Nodder had killed Mona Tinsley. He claimed that he had put the child on a bus for Sheffield and, because there was no body, he was prosecuted only for her abduction. He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment and it was another six months before her body was found.Now charged with her murder, Nodder pleaded autrefois acquit, something that was swiftly rejected, and he was duly executed. A plea of autrefois acquit (Law French for "previously acquitted") means the defendant claims to have been previously acquitted of the same offence, on substantially the same evidence, and that hence he or she cannot be tried again. A plea of autrefois acquit can be combined with a plea of not guilty.
From The Times dated 3rd June 2003
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