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ASPECTS OF HERTFORDSHIRE LIFE


Mrs Ridgley’s murder at the corner shop


The Hertfordshire town of Hitchin was no different from many others in the immediate aftermath of


World War I. Money was short, food was rationed and people were suffering from losing their loved ones in what had become a physical and psychological stain on the British way of life.


By Paul Stickler W


hile British troops fought on the battlefields of France and Belgium, policing the home front focused on the


routine of everyday life including enforcing many of the regulations brought in by emergency legislation such as lighting restrictions, motoring offences and the registration of aliens in the hope of hunting down enemy sympathisers. But on the morning of 27 January 1919, when a number of the town’s residents tried to rouse Elizabeth Ridgley who had unusually failed to open her corner shop as she always did early on Monday mornings, the mundane way of life was about to be shattered.


Concerned for the 54-year-old widow’s safety, the local police arrived and found the back door of the house half open - quite alarming because the weather was freezing cold - and started to search the property. After only a short while, Constable Alfred Kirby found the dead body of the shopkeeper stretched out across the hallway, her head brutally bludgeoned and blood all


over the floor. His shock was made worse by seeing her pet dog lying next to her, its head also battered and obviously dead. If the constable hadn’t already decided how they had been killed, his suspicions were confirmed almost immediately when he saw located between the two bodies, a four pound iron weight, bloodstained and matted with hairs. It was murder. Constable Kirby quickly checked the front room, which had been converted into a shop that sold practically everything a household needed, and saw that the till drawer had been ransacked, and blood was covering every surface. He did the right thing and telephoned his police station asking for the support from his superior officers. They quickly arrived, but the investigation would soon start to go catastrophically wrong. A sergeant and two inspectors arrived and other than


ordering the removal of the body once the local doctor had confirmed death, they did nothing else. They waited for their superintendent, George Reed, who eventually arrived some seven hours after Mrs Ridgley’s body had first been found, and immediately set about walking around the scene, picking up various items and obliterating any evidence that could identify the killer. Worse, within 48 hours, Superintendent Reed


continued on page 18 16 County Life www.countylifemagazines.co.uk


images in this article reproduced courtesy of the author and Pen & Sword Books Ltd


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