BACK TO HISTORY

Mr Lionel 'Ben' Bennett kindly passed on to us the original newspaper that carried this story about his house in 1961 and provided the photographs for us.

From the Kent & Sussex Courier, Friday 22 September 1961.
© The copyright of this story remains with the original author.

 

SKELETON FOUND UNDER LARDER FLOOR: POLICE PROBE RIDDLE OF BODY HIDDEN IN BASEMENT ROOM

Do-it-yourself man’s pick uncovers the grave at no. 13

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE

A human skeleton was found on Tuesday buried deep under the floor of a house in Denny Bottom, Rusthall. Detectives took the remains to London for examination by forensic experts and Det.-Insp. Alan Wear of Tunbridge Wells said: "This is an unexplained mystery. It includes every possibility, including, of course, murder".

The skeleton was uncovered by Tunbridge Wells fireman, Mr Lionel Bennett, who bought the house, no. 13 upper Street near the Toad Rock, ten months ago. While making alterations to a semi-basement room he pulled out an old larder and dug up the stone floor.

The pick went through a layer of concrete, then flagstones. Under the slab was a six-inch layer of earth, resting on another layer of flagstones. As Mr Bennett hacked away at this last surface the first of the bones appeared. He found a pelvis, then a skull.

"I realised at once that there was something pretty sinister here," said Mr Bennett. I went next door to Mrs Charles and telephoned the police. They came up in a few minutes and we dug round the place where I found the bones until we had a complete skeleton which we assembled on the floor."

At first it was thought that the skeleton might be that of a young girl less than 20 years old, but more detailed examination showed that it would be impossible to tell for some time the age or sex of the body. Decomposition was complete and there was no trace of clothing. This is thought to indicate that the body had been buried at least four years ago and probably much longer.

Growling

In the last 20 years many families have lived in the house and the police are tracing previous owners through the deeds of the property and building society records.

It was Mr Bennett’s handsome labrador dog, Rusty, which gave the first indication that all was not well in the old dining room, where he was ripping out a larder and a coal store to enlarge the room. On Monday night when Mr Bennett was working in the room Rusty began to scratch and growl around the base of the old larder.

The dog was in the room next morning too when Mr Bennett and Mr Edward Simpson of Tunbridge Wells uncovered the skeleton.

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE

The dog’s hackles rose; he tucked his tail between his legs and ran from the room. The time was 9.30am

The thought . . .

Mr Bennett’s wife, Annie, said: "I couldn’t believe it at first when my husband and Eddie told me. I’m not frightened now but it was just the thought that someone could have died right here in this kitchen.

"Fancy putting someone under the ground in that corner, then living there".

The Bennetts had a council flat in Tunbridge Wells before moving to Upper Street with their children, Christine, aged nine and Ian, eight.

"We still have a great deal of work to do in the house" said Mrs Bennett, "This makes us wonder what else we shall find as we go along".

Mrs J Woodgate, who lives at 22 Upper Street, opposite the Bennetts' house, said: "Mrs Bennett came rushing in on Tuesday morning saying, 'Benny’s found a body under the floor'. She was covered in goosepimples through fright.

"I saw policemen going in and out all day carrying plastic bags with samples of wood and soil."

Funny things

Mr Alfred Morphett, who has run a newsagent’s shop further down the road since 1929, said: "One of my customers came in early on Tuesday morning saying they’d found a skeleton at number 13.

"I never heard of anything strange around here in all the years I’ve lived here - but of course a lot of funny things happened in the War."

Former owners of the house were all mystified by the discovery.

For nine and a half years until October 24 last year, the owners of 13 Upper Street were Mr and Mrs Arthur H. Nibbs who now live at 39 Southwood Road, Rusthall.

Mrs Nibbs said that when a policeman called and said that a human skeleton had been found under the floor in the dining room of her old house she thought he was "pulling my leg".

Mr and Mrs Nibbs bought the house from Mr and Mrs Len Burren when they moved to Ticehurst where Mr Burren took a job as a gardener.

Mrs Nibbs said that when she was living in Upper Street she often told her husband that she would like the wall by the larder pulled down to make the room larger.

During the time she lived at No. 13, she noticed nothing unusual, and had never heard of anybody disappearing from Rusthall.

"I was quite happy there but the house was too big for me", she said.

Mrs Vera Barnett, of 22 Farmcombe Road, Tunbridge Wells, daughter of Mrs Nibbs, interjected: "I always thought you had a good brick floor in that room".

She also recalled that the wall in the corner where the skeleton was found was always damp. "You could not keep any paper hanging on the wall there", she said.

Quiet house

Mr and Mrs Len Burren, whose home is now at Ardingly, near Haywards Heath, lived at 13 Upper Street for four years, from 1946. When told about the skeleton, Mrs Burren said: "It was a perfectly nice house - how horrible to think THAT was under the floor".

The occupants of the house before the Burrens - from 1917 to 1946 - were the late Mr and Mrs W. Gray.

Their son, Mr Patrick Gray, who now lives at 28 Erskine Park Road, Rusthall, left No. 13 in 1935, when he married.

He said: "It was always a quiet house in a very respectable neighbourhood. I was very surprised to hear about the skeleton. The police have advised me not to talk about it more than necessary".

No. 13 Upper Street is a gaily-painted little house in the steepest part of the narrow road. The garden is full of flowers.

The skeleton was taken to London by Det.-Insp. Wear. At Tunbridge Wells police station he told a reporter that the discovery was "an unexplained mystery". He was asked: "Does that include the possibility of murder?"

Insp. Wear replied: "It includes every possibility, including, of course, murder. I believe it is absolutely impossible for any layman to say was sex the remains are. As to the time they have been there, I can say that it will be certainly more than four years and it might even be back to wartime."

The discovery of the skeleton has been reported to the Coroner.



P.S.We received a call for further details on this story from Christine Nye-Gibbons, whose father once lived in Denny Bottom and who herself now lives in Rusthall village. Christine felt we'd left her in suspense, which is true enough, but we could tell her no more. Enterprisingly, she decided to make a few enquiries of her own and this is what she found:

'I contacted the Courier and was told the inquest revealed that the remains were those of a woman aged 40 - 60, 4ft 10in tall and malnourished, who appeared to have died of natural causes between 1900 and 1945. It seems to have been called an "illegal interment". From what I gathered from your site, it would seem the owners during that time period, who were both dead in 1961, may have had something to do with it.

'Although it's unprovable I have a feeling that perhaps the woman was mentally ill and, with the attitude of the times, kept out of public view, the "mad woman in the attic" scenario.

'Of course we'll never know but it's still an interesting story. In fact the Courier may well do a follow up sometime in the future.'


BACK TO HISTORY