Relatives convinced they know who died in 80-year-old Northampton murder case

Police appeal for information about the infamous blazing car murder in Hardingstone, in 1930.
Police appeal for information about the infamous blazing car murder in Hardingstone, in 1930.

FOR 80 years, the charred remains of the nameless victim in one of Northamptonshire’s most infamous murders have been buried in a parish cemetery in Hardingstone.

However, eight decades on from the so-called ‘Blazing Car Murder’, the family of a man from London have contacted Northamptonshire Police claiming they may know the true identity of the mystery murder victim.

In 1930, the remains of a man, who until now has been known simply as “An Unknown Man”, were discovered inside a blazing Morris Minor Baby saloon in Hardingstone Lane.

Alfred Rouse was later convicted and hanged for picking up a man in his car, knocking him unconscious with a mallet and then setting his car on fire with his helpless victim inside. The identity of the mystery victim has been the subject of debate and speculation ever since.

In 2000, the Chronicle & Echo ran an exclusive interview with a pensioner from Rugby who claimed the victim of the gruesome murder was her husband’s uncle, William Thomas Briggs.

Now, 12 years later, other family members of Mr Briggs, who went missing from London, have contacted Northamptonshire Police asking for more information about the county’s most infamous murder, claiming they too believe the victim was their long-lost relative.

Samantha Hall, who lives with her family in Bracknell, Berkshire, said: “I have other family members living in the London and Leicestershire areas and we have all grown up not knowing what happened to our great uncle.

“He left the family home in Kilburn, London, to attend a doctor’s appointment and was never seen or heard of again and this obviously devastated the family.

“It is only in recent months that my Nan, who was William’s niece, showed me newspaper clippings, together with letters that her aunt had written in 1957 in an attempt to re-open the murder case.”

Her family recently visited Northamptonshire Police archivist Richard Cowley, who discussed the story and showed them artefacts from the crime.

The family members then visited the grave.

Mrs Hall, the great niece of Mr Briggs, added: “My family were convinced that William was Rouse’s victim and, following more recent family discussions, I thought it would be useful to review any remaining or available case notes and enquire as to the existence of any remains.

“I would be really interested to hear from anyone who could shed any further light on the identity of Rouse’s victim that night.”

THE so-called ‘Blazing Car Murder’ has gone down in Northamptonshire folklore as one of the county’s most mysterious and gruesome unsolved crimes.

In the early hours of November 6, 1930, a Morris Minor Baby saloon was discovered in Hardingstone Lane, engulfed in 20-foot flames. The car belonged to Alfred Rouse, described at the time as “a promiscuous rake with an enormous sexual appetite”.

Rouse, a commercial traveller who worked up and down the country, was facing severe financial problems and devised a brutal murder plot to mock up his own death in a car accident, allowing him to then disappear to start a new life with the insurance claim.

However, as he was fleeing the scene, he bumped into two local youths who were keen to see what was going on. Rouse fled to Wales before returning to be quizzed by detectives at Northampton’s Angel Lane police station.

A World War One veteran, Rouse was later found guilty of knocking his victim unconscious with a wooden mallet, manoeuvring him into the driver’s seat of his car and setting the car alight.

Rouse, a serial womaniser, had relationships with more than 80 women, unbeknown to his wife, until he was finally tried for murder.

When his six-day trial at Northampton Assizes began, crowds of young women flocked to see the killer, with many weeping when he was found guilty and sentenced to execution.

He was hanged at Bedford gaol at 8am on Tuesday, March 10, 1931.

Despite his conviction, the true identity of his victim has baffled detectives for eight decades.