Justice For Joan by Martin Knight
Justice For Joan is a cold case murder from shortly after the Second World War. It remains on Scotland Yard’s files as officially unsolved, despite being investigated by its detectives twice. The case is unusual because it charts the fight to prove a man’s guilt rather than a person’s innocence.
On the sweltering August bank holiday weekend of 1948, Joan Woodhouse – a demure, deeply religious librarian – left her lodgings in London to visit the family home in Barnsley, Yorkshire. She never arrived.
A week later her body was discovered in the grounds of the Duke of Norfolk’s historic Arundel Castle in Sussex. Joan had been raped and strangled. Scotland Yard’s crack murder squad, led by Inspector Fred Narborough, was summoned, along with Dr Keith Simpson, the Home Office forensic pathologist, and so began a two-year saga that captivated press and public alike.
The Yard pursued a number of fruitless leads to the despair of Joan’s family. Dogged detective Narborough was convinced that a diary in Joan’s possession containing the numbers of many men held the key. He believed the murderer was in that small book and Joan was meeting him in a secret assignation. Joan’s father and her two determined elderly aunts insisted that their loved one was deeply religious and would not have entertained such a notion. They pleaded with the Yard man to look elsewhere. After two crucial weeks Narborough realised the men in the diary were all members of a librarians’ association of which Joan was the secretary.
Finally, the police now turned their attention to the local man who had discovered the body. It emerged that he had seen and followed a lady he identified as Joan in the park on the likely day of the murder. Despite further strong circumstantial evidence emerging from the suspect, Fred Narborough felt he was unable to charge the man.
He had not banked on the tenacity of the victim’s down-to-earth family who would not let the matter rest and hired a private detective to gather more evidence. Thomas Jacks from Bridlington, a retired policeman himself, was soon in Arundel gathering further evidence. In 1950 the Yard was pressured into launching a second investigation, dispatching the legendary Inspector Spooner to take up the case. To most people’s surprise he too finally decided there was not enough evidence to lay charges against the Arundel man.
The desperate family then chose a course of action that had only been employed once before – a private prosecution for murder. More recently this extremely rare legal device would be used in the case of Stephen Lawrence. The Woodhouses – like the Lawrences later would – found themselves in a David and Goliath battle against the terrifying might of the establishment.
Martin Knight has uncovered a catalogue of cover-ups, cock-ups and conspiracy theories reaching up to the highest echelons of society. The narrative is laced with twists and turns, worthy of a noir film thriller, throughout. With access to family archives, police files and by interviewing the descendants of the key players, he attempts to solve the question of whether an innocent suspect was vindicated or a guilty man cheated the gallows.