“What would you do if I killed you? I have done it before.”
(John Straffen talking to 13-year-old girl who reported to police that a boy called John had assaulted her)
The Trial of John Thomas Straffen, Letitia Fairfield and Eric Fullbrook
On 15 July 1951, Straffen is walking near Bath, on his usual Sunday outing to the pictures. He comes across 6-year-old Brenda Goddard who is happily collecting flowers not far from her home. Straffen engages her in conversation. Although he is a grown man Straffen has the mental age of a child and so probably doesn't seem threatening to the little girl. They walk together for a while before Straffen takes her into nearby woods and strangles her.
A few weeks later, on 8 August 1951, Straffen meets 9-year-old Cicely Batstone at the cinema. As a treat, she has been allowed to see a film called “Tarzan and The Jungle Queen”. Straffen befriends her and persuades her to go with him by bus to another cinema across town. He promises they will see “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”. But instead he takes her to a field and strangles her.
By 1952 Straffen has been locked up in high security psychiatric hospital, Broadmoor, after being found unfit to plead in the case of the murder of the two little girls from Bath. It is assumed that he is no longer a threat to the general public. But at 2.40pm on 29 April 1952, he jumps over the wall and with the alarm ringing all around him he evades the guards and escapes. Two members of staff pursue him on bicycles and he is eventually recaptured four hours later, seven miles away in Arborfield.
The timings of Straffen’s escape are crucial because at 10.30pm that evening 5-year-old Linda Bowyer is reported missing in Arborfield. Her body is found the following morning – she has been strangled. The finger of blame is immediately pointed at Straffen and he is charged with his third and final murder.