SO FAR: Binbrook, Lincolnshire, April 1959. On the night of 12th April, 12 year-old Janice Holmes has gone missing from her home near Hall Farm, an isolated group of buildings two miles east of the village. The police are now involved, and Janice’s hat has been found, but a more terrible discovery is imminent.
At around 2.00am on the morning of 13th April, the searchers discover Janice’s body in a spinney just off Lambscroft Lane. The grim facts were reported to the subsequent Coroner’s inquest:
“A hundred yards away from the hat.” said Mr. Hutchison. “they found the body of the dead child. It was just inside the wood. The right arm was above the head. A shoe was missing and she was lying in undergrowth.” Janice’s clothing was disarranged. Death was due to asphyxia. caused by strangulation with some thin ligature and there had been some violation of her sexual parts. There were numerous bruises on the child.”
Enter, stage left – as they say – William Thomas Francis Jenkin. He was born in Cornwall in 1934, had married Hilda M Louis in Basford, Notts, in 1955. At the time of this story, they had two children, and a third was on the way, due in October. A later newspaper report suggested that he had served with British Forces in Cyprus.§
§The Greek Cypriot War of Independence was a conflict fought in British Cyprus between November 1955 and March 1959.
Tom Jenkin and his family had only arrived at Hall Farm relatively recently, in March of that year, but it seems he had already struck up a friendship with Janice Holmes. Janice, when not at school, often went to help her mother in the fields, and met Jenkin on several occasions. He had (not a euphemism) shown her his stamp albums, and had also promised to collect some frogspawn for her from a nearby pond so that she could watch the tadpoles develop.
It appeared that Jenkin had been out and about on his bike at the time Janice disappeared. There was to be a hint that Ada, Janice’s mother, had a feeling that something was not quite right about Jenkin, as it was later reported in court that during the search, she said to Jenkin, “What have you done with Janice ? ” He replied : “There’s other folks in the place besides me.”
By mid morning on 13th April, police had begun to issue requests to all cafés and public places in the area to be on the look-out for bloodstained clothing, and officers were at the Louth RDC refuse depot checking the contents of vehicles as they were unloaded. Meanwhile, the national press had taken up the story of Janice’s murder.
The only suspect the police had was Jenkin, and the evidence against him was circumstantial. Yes he had been out and about on his bike, but no-one had seen him. But then, a key piece of evidence broke the case wide open, at least as far as the police were concerned. A tobacco tin belonging to Jenkin was found near the murder site. He admitted that it was his, but had no explanation as to why it was found where it was.
At 3.30pm on Thursday 16th April, Supt. Anthony Tew, head of Cleethorpes police, formally charged Jenkin with the murder of Janice Holmes. He was arrested and taken into custody.
Janice was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Binbrook, on the afternoon of Friday 17th April. A little later, William Thomas Francis Jenkin appeared in front of the magistrates at Market Rasen, just seven miles or so down the road from Binbrook. What followed makes it clear that the police were struggling to find any forensic connection between Jenkin and Janice. Yes, they had discovered tiny spots of blood on the man’s clothing, but the forensic technology at the time was nothing as precise as it is today, and no definite link could be proved. Jenkin was remanded several times at market Rasen, with no new evidence appearing. On Jenkin’s final appearance at Market Rasen on Thursday 14th May, his solicitor, Mr Skinner said:
“The bicycle ride suggested opportunity, but the mere fact that Jenkin was out alone is not evidence against him. There were probably ten other people about at the time. End this now. This man’s anxiety should be ended now rather than later.”
Unfortunately for Jenkin, the magistrates did not agree, and he was further remanded to appear at Nottingham Assizes in June. I can find no explanation as to why the trial was sent to Nottingham, other than that the final magistrate hearing was too close to the opening date of the Lincoln Assizes, which seems to have been at the very beginning of June.
Jenkin appeared before Mr Justice Havers on 23rd June, but the next day, the police attempts to find justice for Janice were dealt a further blow.
The ‘show’ moved on to Birmingham, and on 14th July the same evidence was presented, with the same witnesses, but in front of a different judge and jury. The case for the defence was much the same, and it rested on the tobacco tin which, they said, could have been picked up by a third party and placed near the murder site. Neither judge nor jury were having any of this, and Jenkin was found guilty. I am certain that he avoided the death penalty because the case against him was anything but cast iron. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Hilda Jenkin (25) who gave evidence for her husband, collapsed when he was found guilty. She said afterwards: “I will wait for him. I know he could not have done it”
It has to be said that there were two other theories about Janice’s death in circulation at the time. One involved a mysterious stranger in a large car who had been seen around the village, and the other – possibly connected – was that the intended victim was Janice’s friend, Susan.
We next hear of William Thomas Francis Jenkin in 1998. He was released from prison in 1975 having served just sixteen years, but In April 1998, aged 64, he was living back in Cornwall, and while the police were investigating him for another offence, they found an air rifle in his wardrobe. This was in breach of his parole conditions imposed for another offence, apparently, in 1980. Unable to pay the fine, he was remanded in custody and brought up before the judge at Truro Crown Court in October of that year. The judge ordered the weapon to be destroyed and gave Jenkin a conditional discharge for eighteen months.
Did Jenkin kill Janice Holmes? 63 years later, the only thing that is certain is that we will never know. All we can hope, if we believe in such things, is that Janice sleeps with the angels.
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