In 1908 fifty-eight-year-old Caroline Luard was found brutally murdered in the sleepy village of Seal Chart near the town of Sevenoaks, Kent. Found face down on the veranda of a summerhouse, she had been forcefully struck from behind before been shot twice. Her murder resulted in another death which some argue unofficially solved the case.
On the afternoon of August 24, 1908, Caroline Mary Luard and her husband seventy-year-old Charles decided to go for a leisurely stroll with their dog Sergeant in the couples home village of Ightham. Caroline was expecting the company of her friend Mrs Mary Stewart later that afternoon at around 4 pm so a mile from home she parted with her husband and made her return through the woodland.
Charles had his own errand to attend to. The couple were due to be taking a holiday in the coming days and Charles wished to play some golf whilst away, so he headed to the Godden Street Golf Club to collect his clubs. When Charles arrived back home at around 4: 25 pm he was surprised to see Mary Stewart but no sign of his wife.
Mary informed Charles that Caroline had yet to arrive for their planned tea but just assumed she had been held up somewhere. Charles had his reservations on the idea as he knew Caroline had set off home around two hours earlier but the pair sat and waited for another five minutes as they enjoyed a cup of English tea.
At this point Charles suggested that they head out to meet her or “rescue her” from a nearby chatterbox neighbour who they had now presumed had held up Caroline’s return. The pair walked through Frankfield Park together for around twenty minutes at which point Mary Stewart informed Charles she needed to be home by 6 pm as she herself had guest due. Mary told Charles to let Caroline know she would visit the next day and the two parted company.
The Discovery At La Casa
Half an hour later at around 5: 30 pm two gardeners heard cries of help coming from a nearby summer house, known as La Casa, in Seal Chart, the neighbouring village of Ightham. At this point, Charles Luard appeared from the woodland.
James Wickham and Walter Harding, the two gardeners, couldn’t make sense of what he was saying through his anguish but he guided them to the veranda of the summer house. Here they soon saw what was causing Charles such distress, it was the dead body of his wife Caroline Luard.
Caroline had been killed as the result of two shots to the head from a .320 revolver. Both shots were from close range, the first coming from behind her right ear before the killer made certain with a second shot through the left cheek. Closer examination showed Caroline Luard had first been struck with a heavy blow, hard enough to cause her nausea and make her vomit before her execution.
Caroline’s killer had also removed her silk gloves and stolen three rings from her fingers, a ripped pocket also suggested money had been taken from it. Bloodhounds at the scene tracked the attackers escape through the woodland down to the main road before losing the scent. Pawnshops were visited in the hope of tracing the stolen rings but they were never found.
The Investigation Into Caroline Luard’s Murder
The investigation found several witnesses who claimed they thought they heard gunshots coming from the direction of the summer house at around 3:15 pm. Another witness claimed to have seen a suspicious-looking man coming from out of the woodland as he drove by the area that same afternoon.
No motive could be found as to why Caroline Luard would be targeted. By all accounts, she was well-liked and respected amongst the community and had nothing in the way of rivals and was revered for her charity work with the poor. Robbery gone wrong seemed the most likely motive but police weren’t convinced. They believed the killer must have known the victim to know she was wearing rings under har gloves.
Malicious Tongues Begin To Wag
The lack of police progress in finding Caroline Luard’s killer soon meant the local gossips began letting there own theories known throughout the village. It wasn’t long before Charles Luard came under the gaze of suspicion from the rest of the community. Many deciding he should be hanged, drawn and quartered on the slimmest of evidence.
Rumours spread that Charles Luard, a retired Major-General, had used his wealth and his personal friendship with the chief investigator Henry Warde to cover up his heinous act. Although it was certainly true he was friends with Warde and had money there was little in the way of actual evidence he influenced the investigation.
The motive according to the wagging tongues was that of infidelity. The only problem was that even the gossip mongers couldn’t decide on which of the Luards was the adulterer. Some argued Charles bumped off his wife so that he could run away with his lover. Others told tales of Charles finding out Caroline was the one having an affair and took his revenge in the worst possible way.
No evidence was provided to substantiate either claim. In fact, no lover of any kind would ever come forward or even a name suggested after the murder of Caroline Luard. Friends and members of the household staff also reported no ill will between the couple, clearly stating they were happy.
Where the gossips correct and the person or persons involved in an illicit affair were just never identified? Or was this just more malicious mudslinging from those with little better to do?
Charles Luard – Prime Suspect?
Although rumours of illicit affairs seemed merely the work of local gossips it wasn’t the only reason the finger was pointed at Charles Luard.
Another seed of doubt cast against Charles Luard stemmed from the weapon used in the murder of his wife. He was the owner of three guns but when asked Charles claimed he couldn’t remember what he had done with the ammunition for them. This certainly seemed like a strange answer but with that said none of the guns owned by Charles were a .320 revolver like the one used to murder Caroline Luard. His guns were all of a smaller calibre and expert advice determined none could have been the murder weapon.
A stranger piece of evidence against Charles was the ripped pocket from Caroline’s dress. A maid discovered it in the Luard’s home whilst sorting out a tangled bedsheet. On the face of it a strong piece of evidence, however, the same sheet had been used to transport the body of Caroline Luard back to her home at Ightham Knoll. It seems more likely the police just didn’t see the ripped pocket was still on Caroline’s person.
Death Threats And Alibis
The witchhunt against Charles Luard continued relentlessly and even took a more sinister turn. Charles started to receive letters from an anonymous author making threats against his own life. The threats against him led Charles to believe he could no longer remain in the area and he began looking for applicants to take over the lease of the home and began the process of auctioning off the house’s contents.
It seemed to matter little that Charles seemingly had a cast-iron alibi for the time the gunshots were heard coming from the La Casa summerhouse where Caroline Luard was murdered.
Throughout the period of time he separated from his wife during their walk on the fateful afternoon of her death numerous witnesses noted seeing him. Several members of the Godden Street Golf Club confirmed he had visited to collect his clubs that same afternoon. A labourer also reported seeing Charles near the golf club on two separate occasions.
Finally, the local vicar Rev Cotton was driving in the opposite direction at around 4 pm when he saw Charles Luard with his golf clubs heading in the direction of his home. The good samaritan pulled up and offered to give Charles a lift home to which he gladly accepted.
If the gunshots heard by witnesses at 3:15 pm were indeed the ones responsible for the murder of Caroline Luard then Charles Luard could not have been the person who pulled the trigger.
A Tragic End Or An Admittance Of Guilt?
Following a second inquest into the death of his wife Caroline Luard held on September 17 Charles made his way to Barham Court. This was the home of Colonel Charles Edward Warde and the place Charles had been invited to stay after his recent onslaught of abuse. A friend of Charles Luard’s, the Colonel was also the brother of Henry Warde, the chief investigator into the murder.
Charles and Caroline Luard had two sons. There youngest child Eric had sadly died five years prior from a fever whilst stationed in South Africa, he was just twenty-five-years old. The couples heldest son, after hearing of his mothers death, was due to arrive in Southampton from South Africa the day after the inquest. Also named Charles, the young man was expecting to meet his father but instead was greeted by Colonel Charles Warde who had yet more devastating news.
Earlier that morning his father Charles Luard had woken early and eaten breakfast as usual before returning to his room to pen a series of letters. He then left the house before 9 am and made his way to Teston Railway Station. Charles pinned a note to his coat reading:
“Whoever finds me take me to Colonel Warde”
Before throwing himself in front of the oncoming 9:09 to Tonbridge train.
The Letters And Inquest
From the letters he had left behind the reason for his decision was clear. His suicide wasn’t a confession of any sort it was due to the accusations made against him and the mental anguish of losing his wife, as evidenced in the following letter:
I am sorry to have returned your kindness and hospitality and long friendship in this way, but I am satisfied it is best to join her in the second life at once, as I can be of no further use to anyone in future in this world, of which I am tired, and in which I don’t wish to live any longer.
I thought my strength was sufficient to bear up against the horrible imputations and terrible letters which I have received since that awful crime was committed which robbed me of all my happiness.
And it is so lonely. And the goodness, kindness, and sympathy of so many friends kept me going but somehow now the last day or two something seems to have snapped. The strength has left me, and I care for nothing except to join her again. So good-bye, dear friend, to both of us.”
The suicide of Charles Luard, however, garnered little remorse from his accusers. Instead it merely led to more unsubstantiated rumours that he had killed himself as he was about to be arrested for the murder of his wife. No evidence to back up such claims exist.
Reports also materialised that Charles had left a suicide note saying he couldn’t bear to see his son, again leading his accusers to assume this was because of his guilt. However, the official inquest into Charles Luard’s death denied any such letter mentioning his son existed and was the fabrication of the press or another letter writer.
On returning the verdict that Major-General Charles Luard had “committed suicide while temporarily insane” the coroner made perfectly clear his disdain for the letter writers who he believed had clearly helped drive a man to take his own life.
Persons who have been prompted to write these letters have not been satisfied to let the General remain with his grief and sympathise with him in his great trouble, but they have added to the poignancy of his grief, and, sensitive and honourable man that he was, it made his life almost intolerable, and without any doubt was a great factor in inducing him to rid himself of life and join his wife.
Let us hope that the writers of those letters, if they have any conscience at all, will reflect and find that, at any rate, they must have contributed more or less to the doom to which the General sent himself. Let hope that, although they treated him so badly in the last remaining days of his life, they will, at any rate, respect his memory now and utter no more of these libellous and baseless and unfounded insinuations.
Circumstances have rendered it imperative that no reference should be made public to the malevolent gossip and hideous insinuations current in the district since the murder. Evidently, ill-natured people, without thought of the agony and anguish the general must have suffered through the murder of his wife, sought to torture him still further by accusing him of slaying the dead woman.
The movements of the general after he had left Mrs Luard were traced and disclosed at the inquest by independent witnesses, and ought to have dissipated all suspicion that may have existed.The Coroner
The Arrest Of David Talbot Woodruff
On the morning of September 19, 1909, David Talbot Woodruff was about to be released from a four-month sentence at Maidstone Prison. He had been incarcerated for pointing a revolver at the labour master at Bromley Union Workhouse. Instead of been released, however, Woodruff found himself charged with the murder of Caroline Luard.
Taken before the magistrates in Sevenoaks it was claimed that Cheif Constable Henry Warde had evidence pointing to Woodruff’s guilt. A failure to reveal the evidence in question by Warde led to Woodruff been released without charge.
It later transpired that whatever evidence Warde had, if any, was wrong as Woodruff was in prison on the day Caroline Luard was killed. It has been suggested blaming Woodruff was an attempt to frame a known criminal for the murder and finally lay the case to rest whilst also clearing Charles Luard’s name.
No one else was ever charged in relation to the murder of Caroline Luard.
The Curious Tale Of John Alexander Dickman
On August 10, 1910, John Alexander Dickman became the last man to be hanged in a Newcastle prison. In March of that year, Dickman supposedly murdered John Innes Nisbett during a wages robbery on the 10:27 Newcastle to Alnmouth train journey. Despite question marks over the safety of the conviction, which involved the then Home Secretary Winston Churchill reviewing the case, Dickman was given the death sentence.
It would be sometime after his execution that John Alexander Dickman would find himself named as the possible killer of Caroline Luard. Dickman, who was also suspected to have killed Hermann Cohen in the town of Sunderland, was part of a fanciful tale that could almost have been torn from the pages of a murder mystery novel.
Sir Sidney Orme Rowan-Hamilton who had written a book titled The Trial Of John Alexander Dickman in 1914 was the first to accuse Dickman. According to his version of events, John Dickman had placed an advert in The Times asking for financial help which Caroline Luard responded to, sending Dickman a cheque.
The story goes on to say that once John Dickman received the cheque he attempted to defraud Caroline Luard by altering the amount payable. On discovery of the fraud, Caroline took it upon herself, without her husband’s knowledge, to arrange a meeting with Dickman to discuss the matter. It was during this alleged meeting that Dickman, fearing Caroline Luard would take the matter further, killed her before that could happen.
Despite little evidence to back up the theory writer Clarence Henry Norman, better known as C. H. Norman, expanded on the theory. Norman had long held the belief that Dickman wasn’t the killer of John Nisbett, writing several stories on the miscarriage of justice he perceived to have taken place. In his opinion John Alexander Dickman was set up.
C. H. Norman, therefore, suggested that Dickman had indeed committed the murder of Caroline Luard on that fateful summer day in 1908. However, a lack of hard proof meant that some of Major-General Charles Luard’s friends, including Sir Sidney Orme Rowan-Hamilton and Winston Churchill, took it upon themselves to avenge the Luard’s by securing John Alexander Dickman’s fate almost two years to the date later.
The murder of Caroline Luard remains unsolved.