On this date in 1931, Alfred Arthur Rouse hanged at Bedford Gaol for the murder of … someone.
A traveling salesman, Rouse tomcatted around old Albion leaving several illegitimate children and at least three bigamous marriages in his wake.
The weight of these strata of deceptions (and financial obligations) eventually drove Rouse to start thinking about how he could “start afresh” (his words) and darned if he wasn’t undone by the added decency of wanting to be sure that his legal wife and son would be looked-after once he walked out on them. And they say romance is dead.
The answer to his dilemma was a life insurance policy plus “a down-and-out” case that Rouse met at a pub who tellingly remarked over pints that “nobody in the world cares whether I live of die.”
Dangling the prospect of a job, Rouse convinced this man to accompany him to the Midlands on Guy Fawkes night of 1930 — a night when “a fire would not be noticed so much.” Before the night was over, Rouse’s Morris Minor made just such a fire, with a charred corpse of Rouse’s age and build behind the wheel.
The Headsman is fully prepared to believe that the Edmond Dantes-like corpse switcheroo has been executed by a few clever folk in history. Rouse, however, seems not to have thought through the endgame for he returned home — just briefly, but long enough for his wife to get a cockamamie story from him about his car being stolen — and then proceeded to Walea and the arms of one of those mistresses on whom he was allegedly trying to get a fresh start. Suspicious of him because he scrammed when she showed him the newspaper article reporting his possible roadside murder, she rang the police.*
Rouse’s claims that he’d picked up a hitchhiker who accidentally set himself ablaze in the car while refilling the gas tank while Rouse took a piss didn’t get much traction in view of the obvious motive presented by Rouse’s misbehavior. (And the fact that he’d previously told his wife and mistress the different story about his car being stolen.) Furthermore, crown forensic witnesses were able to show that whoever burned to death in that car was alive but unconscious when the fire killed him — perhaps incapacitated by a blow from a wooden mallet also found in the Morris Minor.
Rouse professed innocence of murder deep into his appeals but as hope disappeared he wrote a confessional to the Daily Sketch from which the quotes herein have been derived.
In it, he said that he never asked his passenger’s name. It’s a name that has not been established in the intervening decades, and not for want of trying; there have been several DNA misses on leads brought by families of men who disappeared in 1930. We may one day discover it; for now, the mysterious last word belongs to the Times of March 21, 1931.
At dawn yesterday the funeral of the unknown man murdered by Alfred Arthur Rouse in his motor-car took place in secret at Hardingstone parish church.
On Thursday night the remains of the body were removed from Northampton Hospital to the mortuary. Early yesterday morning the coffin was placed in a police tender and taken to Hardingstone.
The vicar officiated at a brief service. Six police officers carried the coffin to the grave by the side of the path behind the church. The plate on the coffin bore the inscription, “Man unknown. Died November 6, 1930.” A wreath was placed on the coffin by Superintendent Brumby, and was inscribed: “With deepest sympathy from the officers and constables of the Northampton and Daventry Division.”
* Rouse would claim that he intended to disappear to some new life but, having been observed by passersby down the road from the blazing car, he feared that he would not after all be taken for the victim.