Injured Parties: How I Solved the Murder and Mutilation of Dr Helen Davidson
On 9 November 1966 GP Dr Helen Davidson didn’t return home after walking her dog and bird watching in Buckinghamshire’s Hodgemoor Wood. The next day her body was found in dense woodland nearly a mile from where she had parked her Hillman Minx car the previous day. The killer had struck her across the head with a length of charred timber. Once on her back on the woodland floor the attacker ground the doctor’s head into the earth with a shod foot, gouging her eyes into their sockets. From the horrible mutilation of her face it was clearly overkill.
Basic facts about the murder were published from The Times to the Bucks Free Press: “She had binoculars round her neck, spied illicit lovers, was spotted, and one or both of them killed her,” surmised Detective Chief Superintendent Jack ‘Razor’ Williams, chief investigating officer from New Scotland Yard.
Williams received 50 police commendations in his career, not one for a murder enquiry. The killer eluded the police. Within weeks the investigation was wound down, Williams retired, another cold case hit the statistics.
Cold cases are those that remain unsolved for a long period of time, have no new evidence, and are regarded low priority by their original investigating agency.
Despite appeals for information on anniversaries of the murder and a £100,000 reward offered by the News of the World the case remained unsolved.
I’m asked: Why did I investigate the case? Quite simply a woman contacted me in 2009 after a talk I’d given in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK. She asked if I’d heard about Dr Davidson’s murder, told me of her family’s connection to the GP, and would I consider investigating the unsolved case.
As Dr Davidson’s murder is part of a cold case review the police aren’t able to disclose information about the case. A huge obstacle! Without official records I’d be treading on virgin territory in my investigation. Armed only with newspaper clippings, I began my research from scratch, searching for characters from the 1960s before it was too late.
People in Amersham warmed to me. Each person I met knew a small part of the story. I was there putting the clues together, a skill I never thought I had. If one person didn’t know an answer to a question, they’d find someone who did. Even an elderly gentleman, hospitalised after a stroke, was keen to tell me his story.
I gathered fresh evidence from Dr Davidson’s patients from the 1960s and found names of innocent suspects interrogated during the police investigation, including a cesspit driver, a charcoal burner and a woodland ranger, whose families have waited 50 years to tell their stories.
My Amersham team of helpers was tremendous.
Diligent sleuthing over the next seven years, asking questions that hadn’t been asked before, and a number of lucky breaks helped my progress. By chance I traced Prof David Bowen, the forensic pathologist who carried out the post mortem on Dr Davidson. New leads he gave me were amazing. I had to pinch myself!
Bowen was one of London’s key forensic pathologists for 40 years and set up the Department of Forensic Medicine at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School. When I met him he was in his 80s. He said “Murders in the 1960s, especially out of London, were an Agatha Christie thing”. He shared his knowledge and secret material and introduced me to the world of forensic pathology.
By another twist of fate I tracked down John Bailey, photographer for the Buckinghamshire Constabulary, who recorded the crime scene.
Why didn’t the police solve the murder in 1966? Perhaps because policing methods were not as sophisticated as they are now. It was a different era. Detection techniques have improved over the years.
In 1966 the police obstinately stuck to their random, motiveless murder theory, boxing themselves in, and didn’t find the killer. Maybe it wasn’t such a random killing after all. If they had widened their search, looked for someone who had the opportunity to kill Dr Davidson that November day, they may well have solved it.
I bumped into an old friend recently. She hates murders and wondered why I’d written about this gruesome subject. Perhaps because it’s more than a murder story, I said. “It’s my personal journey. There’s this deep need in me to find the truth in everything. Every minute of the day I’m asking questions. Whilst gathering fresh evidence about Dr Davidson, and the town of Amersham with its closely guarded secrets, I’ve learned that I am determined, that I would be the person to ask awkward questions that should have been asked 50 years ago, and will never give up”.
Monica Weller is a freelance writer, photographer and public speaker. She co-wrote Ruth Ellis: My Sister’s Secret Life, in which she unveiled fresh evidence about the last woman to be hanged in the UK. Injured Parties, Solving the Murder of Dr Helen Davidson is her second true crime book.