The Pinglefield Murders
The incident took place on Thursday, April 18, 1929, at Pinglefield Cottages, Streetway Lane, Shenstone. It resulted in the deaths of four individuals, including two men, one woman and one child.
The four people were Henry Albert Sims, 37, his wife, Elsie Sims, 35, their son, Cyril Sims, 9, and Henry James Woodman, 25. The Sims family and Mr Woodman and his wife were neighbours at Pinglefield Cottages. Mr Sims would eventually be identified as the perpetrator of the crime.
The incident was discovered by a Lichfield postman, Richard Eton Barnfield, who was delivering mail in his post office van. The bodies of Mr Sims and Mr Woodman, together with a shotgun, were seen lying on the ground outside the cottages. Mr Barnfield immediately summoned the police. PC Spraggett and PC Thorpe investigated and the bodies of Elsie and Cyril were later found in bed together in the Sims cottage.
Dr F W Marshall was summoned to assess the injuries to the deceased and to determine the timing of events.
At about 8.30am, domestic cleaner, Florence Richardson, was cycling along Streetway Road, on her way to Swinfen Hall to attend to the gamekeeper's bothy. As she approached the cottages, one of the police officers told her to "Look away! There has been a bit of an accident!".
Henry Sims and Henry Woodman were farm labourers and both worked for Harry Foden at Shenstone Hall Farm. Mr Sims had formed the impression, quite wrongfully as things turned out, that Mr Woodman was trying to "do him out of his job".
A few days later on Saturday, April 20, an inquest into the incident was conducted by the Walsall and South Staffordshire Coroner, Frank Cooper, at the Bull's Head Hotel, Shenstone. The foreman of the jury was Mr J Myatt JP. Various witnesses were called to give evidence.
Mrs Woodman, Henry Woodman's wife, stated that she had heard two gunshots a matter of seconds after her husband had left their home for work on the fateful day. She looked through the window and saw two legs, which she assumed belonged to a tramp who had fallen asleep in a hedge. She then knocked on the Sims back door, but there was no response. A few minutes later she looked out of the landing window and saw Mr Foden approaching with another man.
Dr Marshall stated that Mrs Sims and her son had died considerably earlier than Mr Sims and Mr Woodman. Mr Woodman's injuries were consistent with his having tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid an ambush. Mr Sims's injuries were, in all likelihood, self-inflicted.
Henry Dunger of Hammerwich, Mrs Sims's father, stated that his daughter had always lived on good terms with her husband and that she had never mentioned anything untoward about him.
Nellie Hinds, an employee at Shenstone Hall Farm, stated that she had heard the two men quarrelling in the dairy and she had seen Mr Sims squaring up to Mr Woodman, but no blows were exchanged. She also stated that Mr Sims had seemed very unsteady on his feet when carrying a bucket of water in the farmyard and that he had asked her what she was laughing at, although she had not been laughing.
Harry Foden, of Shenstone Hall Farm, stated that as far as he knew, the two men were on friendly terms and that they were both satisfactory workers. He had noticed nothing peculiar about Mr Sims on the Wednesday morning. Asked if Mr Woodman had attempted to get Mr Sims out of his job, Mr Foden replied that he had not and that Mr Woodman was never in a position to do so anyway.
Arthur Hubert Sims of Berkhamsted, Henry Sims's brother, replied in the negative when he was asked if there had been any form of insanity apparent on either side of his family. He also identified the handwriting as that of his brother that was contained in three letters that had been found in the course of the police investigation. One was addressed to the brothers' parents, Mr and Mrs Sims, one to Mr Dunger and one to the Coroner.
The court's conclusions
The court concluded that Mr Sims had laboured under the delusion that Mr Woodman was attempting to get him out of his job. As a result, he had formed the intention to kill him. He first killed his wife and child so as to ensure that they were not left behind. He then waited for Mr Woodman to emerge from his house in the morning before shooting him dead. He then turned the weapon on himself.
The inquest jury returned a verdict of Murder without seeing the need to retire to consider its decision.
The incident had a profound effect on local lore and has stayed in public conciousness in one way or another ever since. The story became distorted over the years to suggest that marital infidelity was behind the murders. However, it seems that Mr Sims had suffered some sort of psychotic breakdown and that the killings took place while the balance of his mind was disturbed.
To this day, Pinglefield Cottages are referred to as Murder Cottages by many people.
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2016
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