Christmas decorations

January 6th is Epiphany, the day traditionally marked for taking down Christmas decorations and contemplating the New Year ahead – but these small pleasures were denied a 25 year old man from Kingston. He had done something very bad indeed in Richmond Park and on January 6th 1928 he was going to be punished most severely.

Sidney Goulter was a strange boy and a constant anxiety for his parents. When he was 15 he developed a morbid fixation on his mother who he followed from room to room. He told his friends that she was dead and even wore a black armband in remembrance. He was also sexually provocative. His father, a retired Metropolitan Police inspector, feared for the safety of Sidney’s younger sister and began escorting her to and from school. He also insisted that the girl kept her bedroom door locked at night. Sidney would spend hours sitting in complete silence with his head in his hands. His mother noticed that he was stealing things from around the house and hiding them. He also spent many hours wandering alone in Richmond Park which was just around the corner from where he lived.

Richmond park

On Wednesday 5th October 1927 Charles Hicks, a keeper in Richmond Park, found the body of Constance Oliver, a 21 year old typist, hidden in bracken. She had been savagely attacked and strangled. Constance had last been seen in Battersea on Sunday morning October 2nd when she told her parents that she was going to meet her boyfriend Bernard at Putney Station. When she failed to return home that evening her parents reported her missing.

Although all identification marks had been removed from the girl’s clothing the police soon discovered Constance’s purse in the undergrowth containing a shorthand diary with a clear reference to Sidney Goulter. A warrant was issued for his arrest. The following day he was apprehended in Putney.

Wandsworth prison

In court Sidney Goulter admitted murdering Constance Oliver. He said that he had first met her when he was running a coffee stall near her place of work. After plucking up courage he asked her out and they had a few dates together. Then during a walk in Richmond Park he had asked her if they might meet the following day. Constance said that she was going to the theatre on a foursome with some friends from work. During the fierce argument that followed Goulter struck Constance with her own umbrella and then strangled her with a piece of her clothing.

“We fought for about five or ten minutes after which she was unconscious. Then I tied a piece of underclothing around her neck and lit a cigarette, but I did not know where to throw the match. I went away as quickly as I could after taking the contents of her purse, amounting to two shillings and fourpence ha’penny.

I walked about all night and then bought breakfast with the money stolen from the purse. I entrained to London, pledged an overcoat and read a newspaper account of the murder… I knew that it was Miss Oliver. I went home and told my mother who was dreadfully upset and said that I had better go to the police station. I walked about the streets, not knowing what to do, until I was arrested… I am very sorry fo Constance’s parents. They have my deepest sympathy."

Noose

In his defence Goulter’s counsel submitted a plea of insanity, supported by his father who spoke at length about his son’s troubled state of mind. “I have had nine years’ solid worry over this lad,” the retired police inspector told the court. The doctors attending the case testified that Sidney Goulter was sane and the plea of insanity was rejected. On December 3rd at Guildford Assizes the Judge, Mr Justice Horridge, sentenced Sidney Goulter to death by hanging….and so at 8.00am on the 6th January 1928, while the rest of the country was taking down its Christmas decorations and contemplating the New Year ahead, Sidney Bernard Goulter of Bockhampton Road, Kingston, was hanged at Wandsworth Prison.

— from Martyn Day