Inquest hears of suicide pact couple found hanging from tree near Preston

The gruesome scene that faced Mr Grimes
The gruesome scene that faced Mr Grimes
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the grim discovery of a couple founding hanging from a tree...

On the second Sunday of July 1933, George Grimes, a retired schoolmaster, who lived at Cabus, near Garstang, went out for an early morning stroll at 6 o’clock. He walked through the fields near his home and on to a public footpath leading from Lancaster Road to Scorton.

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As he was walking out of the common track near to Manor House Farm, in search of some wild flowers for his granddaughter to take to a botany lesson the next day, he felt a spot of rain. Glancing upwards he was startled by a face on the other side of the hedge.

Initially, he thought it was a scarecrow, but soon realised the terrible truth that it was the lifeless body of a man hanging by a rope from a branch of an oak tree. To his horror, just a couple of feet away on the same branch was the lifeless body of a female. Although he had a knife he could not do anything, because the bodies were too high.

He quickly returned home and informed the police by telephone. Police Sergeant Griffiths, who received the message, went to the field immediately and saw the two hanging bodies facing each other with ropes pulled tightly around their necks. It appeared as though the woman had most likely jumped off the nearby bank and foot marks on an adjacent tree suggested the man had launched himself from that.

Details of the horrific discovery were told at an inquest held in the dining room of the Garstang Workhouse on the following Tuesday afternoon. After the bodies had been taken down from the tree they had been carted to the Garstang Workhouse.

A number of clues were discovered scattered about the field, including a road map, a torn up driving licence and a photograph of a man in a workshop. In the man’s pocket was found a note that simply said: ‘All the things I possess are left to Mr. & Mrs. Tilley.’ Those clues eventually leading to the identification of the man as Ashley Hancock, aged 24, a clerk who came from Birmingham and was employed by the Austin Motor Co.

Contact with the police in Birmingham led to the location of his parents and his father attended the Garstang Workhouse to identify his son and his fiancée Beatrice King, aged 28, a domestic servant, who lived at Severn Stoke, Worcester.

Mr. Hancock told the inquest his son had left home a year ago, going into lodgings with a Mr. & Mrs. Tilley and had been keeping company with Miss King for over two years. He stated that his son had been an all round athlete, been captain of both cricket and football teams and was a prominent player for the Bromsgrove Rovers side. It later emerged that the couple had left Birmingham 10 days earlier on a motor cycling holiday, touring the North West and visiting Liverpool and Blackpool.

The coroner, Mr. G. Wilson, told the gathering that it seemed to have been a suicide pact, although there was no evidence of the state of mind of either of the deceased. Consequently in law the person who died first was considered murdered and the second person was guilty of either suicide or felo de se. He then informed the jury that there was no proof of which of them died first and it would be wrong to assume either possibility. The jury then retired and returned with an open verdict as suggested by the coroner.

A sketch appeared in the Illustrated Police News a few days later reflecting the horrific scene that had stunned the residents of Garstang and the neighbourhood and especially Mr. Grimes on his early morning walk.