The northern end of Leahurst Road these days is a relatively quiet street – a mixture of Victorian terraces, council flats and houses that replaced the large segments of the street destroyed in the Blitz and by a V-1 rocket in June 1944; it is dominated by the imposing façade of Holy Trinity (formerly Ennersdale) School. Running Past has been here before with the story of the 1920s Channel swimmer Hilda Sharp; but during the Second World War it was the setting for a notorious murder of an eleven year old girl, Sheila Margaret Wilson, despite being in the middle of the War it received a lot of publicity both locally and nationally.
Sheila had been evacuated like many London children during the Blitz but had returned to Leahurst Road in May 1942. She was allowed to play in the street and run errands. On July 15 1942 she had gone out to buy sweets with her brother, presumably from the confectioners at 33 Staplehurst Road run by Elizabeth Furlong (1). When she returned it seems that she had been given 2d to buy a newspaper and that she went out again on her own (2).
Sheila didn’t return, but it took several hours to raise the alarm, as her mother thought she was playing with friends. The police, neighbours and ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Wardens searched the bombed remains of houses in the street but found nothing.
The police started door to door enquiries, but appear to have been quite slow doing it – it took them five days to knock on a house about 25 doors along Leahurst Road. They were told that one of the lodgers had moved out just after Sheila had disappeared. They searched under the floorboards of his room and found the body of Sheila, who had been raped and then strangled.
The lodger was Patrick Kingston – the police issued a statement which was covered in numerous newspapers, including in The Times (see below – 3), that they wanted to ‘interview’ him – they mentioned his missing finger and a limp caused by injuries as an ARP Warden.
While there was no doubt as big a manhunt as wartime police resources could muster, it wasn’t this that found the fugitive. Oddly, he returned Leahurst Road, eight days after the crime, in the early hours of 23 July and was arrested there; he was reported as having admitted to the murder to a Police Inspector – ‘I strangled her, and then I got scared and ran away.’ (4)
Patrick Kingston appeared at Woolwich Magistrates Court the same day – limping into court on a thick walking stick (5). He was remanded in custody to a further hearing which was held at Greenwich Police Court in early August 1942, where he was committed for trial (6).
The case was heard at the Old Bailey on Monday 14 September and all over within a few minutes as Kingston pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death (7); a sentence that was carried out three weeks later.
What of the murderer? By a strange con-incidence the Kingstons are a family that has already been covered before in Running Past – they were decimated in the First World War by the Zeppelin attack on Glenview Road (now part of Nightingale Grove).
Patrick Kingston was born in Greenwich in 1904, he was one of at least 11 children – the family had moved to Lewisham around 1908 and by co-incidence they were living in Leahurst Road at the time of the 1911 census. Kingston’s father, also Patrick, was killed in the Lee sewer tragedy on 15 July 1914 – drowned when attempting to clear a blocked drain in Eastdown Park and seven of his siblings died in the Zeppelin attack in October 1917.
Kingston had probably only survived the attack because he was effectively in care at the time, residing at an industrial school that cared for ‘neglected, orphaned and abandoned children’ – due to ‘being out of control’ (8). This came out in a court hearing in 1922 when he was charged theft from church offertory boxes and sacrilege (9). He was again living in Leahurst Road at the time of that hearing. He was still living there, close to Hither Green Station, with his mother later that year when he signed up for the army (10).
A Patrick William Kingston of roughly the right age was found guilty of theft in 1926 and described by the police as having ‘a depraved mind,’ he was then working as a hotel porter in Southend (11) – this may, of course, be a different Patrick Kingston, but could have co-incided with his discharge from the army.
Kingston was 35 at the outbreak of war and would have been liable to conscription, as were all men up to the age of 41, so presumably had been exempted due to his health, perhaps the missing finger pre-dated the war. He was an ARP Warden – but injured in the course of his ARP duties, leading to his limp.
Whether any of this had any bearing on the murder is unclear. There appears not to have been much in the way of checking on his mental state – it was left to his lawyer to state that he had ’twice seen Kingston and was satisfied that he knew the meaning of pleading guilty, which he preferred to do rather than having the case formally proved.’(12)
As for Sheila’s mother, after seemingly being scammed by a low-brow Sunday newspaper into ‘talking’ to Sheila through a medium , she seems to have stayed on in Lewisham, someone with the same name and of the right age died there in 1984 (13).
- From 1939 Register – via Find My Past
- Yorkshire Evening Post 24 July 1942
- The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Jul 21, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49293
- Dundee Courier 24 July 1942
- “News in Brief.”Times [London, England] 6 Aug. 1942: 2
- The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Sep 15, 1942; pg. 2; Issue 49341.
- Portsmouth Evening News 30 July 1924
- From military record via Find My Past
- The Scotsman 20 May 1926
- Manchester Evening News 14 September 1942
- From death records via Find My Past