The identity of the victim of the notorious 1930 ‘Blazing Car’ murder in Northampton remains a mystery after a DNA investigation ruled out the prime suspect.
Alfred Rouse was convicted, and later hanged, at Bedford Jail in March 1931, for knocking his victim unconscious with a mallet and then burning him to death inside a Morris Minor car.
The victim has never been identified and is buried in an unmarked grave in Hardingstone cemetery.
On BBC1’s The One Show tonight it was revealed that a tissue sample from the ‘unknown man’ does not match William Briggs, a man who disappeared at around the same time that the crime was committed.
Mr Briggs’ family contacted Northamptonshire Police two years ago after they found out their ancestor had left his family home in London to attend a doctor’s appointment shortly before the murder and was never seen or heard of again.
The family were put in contact with University of Leicester academic, Dr John Bond OBE who, along with Dr Lisa Smith, negotiated with The Royal London Hospital museum to allow one of the remaining tissue samples of the murder victim to be examined.
University of Leicester worked with the Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science to carry out DNA analysis to see if there was a match from the sample and the relatives of Mr Briggs.
Despite the results showing no match with the Briggs family, the scientists are consoled by the fact the DNA from the tissue sample is that of an uncontaminated profile, opening the possibility that a match could still be identified.
Dr Bond said: “It is obviously very disappointing for the family that the victim is not their missing relative. For the family, the unknown continues and they will now probably never know what happened to William.
“However, from a scientific perspective it is fantastic that we have been able to obtain Mitochondrial DNA from a microscope slide over 80 years old and we now have the mtDNA profile of the victim. So there is still the possibility of identifying the victim if other families with a relative who went missing around November 1930 can be traced.
“In addition, the fact we have obtained a profile from this slide opens the door for other material from other cases to be tested in a similar way and, who knows, we might be able to help other families with missing relatives in the future.”
Dr Smith from the University of Leicester said: “We had obviously hoped to be able to provide some closure for the family after all of these years, however the identity of the murder victim and the whereabouts of William Briggs remain a mystery.
“However, from a historical perspective it has been very rewarding to work on such a famous, local murder case and we remain hopeful that one day we may be able identify the victim now that mtDNA has been successfully obtained from the pathology slide.”
A member of the Briggs family said it was a relief to know that William was not the victim of the Blazing Car Murder and did not suffer a horrific fate at the hands of Alfred Rouse.
The family member said: “Clearly, much uncertainty remains with regard to the disappearance of Uncle William, and after such a long time we will accept that we may never know what happened to him.
“Our hope is that the work undertaken by the University of Leicester and Northumbria University might provide the opportunity for families of other missing persons of that year to come forward and finally identify ‘the unknown man’.”