Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser - Friday 16 August 1940



A Story of Tangled Love


Accused Person Committed For Trial


A story of tangled love was unfolded by prosecuting counsel at Tonbridge Police Court on Tuesday when a triple murder charge was preferred against Florence Iris Ouida Ransom, of Piddington, Bicester who was accused of murdering Mrs. Dorothy Sanders Fisher (46), her daughter, Miss Freda Fisher (20), and their housekeeper, Mrs. Charlotte Saunders (48). These three women were found dead from gunshot wounds at Crittenden, Matfield, near Tonbridge, on July 9.

The accused woman, who sat in the dock between two wardresses, was dressed in the same grey costume, blue jumper and grey felt hat in which she previously appeared before the Court. As the story of her alleged murders was unfolded she broke down on several occasions and wept.

It was revealed that the husband and father of two of the three women was her lover, who gave lengthy evidence concerning his relations with the accused woman. It was also revealed that three of the witnesses, who had been working as servants of Mr. Fisher at Bicester, were not servants but relatives of the accused woman, and were, in fact, her mother, brother and sister-in-law.

The magistrates were Mr. G. W. Johnson in the chair, Mrs. Mackley, Miss Fayerman, Messrs. Isaac Race, F. O. Streeten, F. I. Dann, L. Walters, W. Rolfe Nottidge, T. Young, E. W. Hubbard, G. Whitehead, H. D. Graves Law, C. Massy Collier, G. Paine, G. F. Stacey. Mr. G. R. Paling prosecuted, and Mr. Reginald G. Swales (Messrs. Bailey and Cogger. Tonbridge) for the defence.

Mr. Paling said that there were three deceased persons whose deaths they had at that moment to investigate. They were mother, daughter and their maid who lived together at a cottage named Crittenden, at Matfield, some five miles from the courthouse. Mrs Fisher's husband was Mr. Walter Lawrence Fisher, and they married in the summer of 1913. Of that marriage there were two daughters-Joan, aged 26, and Freda, now dead, aged 20.


The marriage said Mr Paling, was not perhaps a happy one as shortly after the birth of Freda they ceased to cohabitate, though they continued to live in the same house. Mrs. Fisher became acquainted with a gentleman of Danish nationality and Mrs Fisher and this Dane became lovers. Mr Fisher took no steps to put a legal end to this state of affairs and apparently he was content because he continued to live with his wife in the same house.

In 1931, continued Mr Paling, Mr Fisher purchased property at Matfield and used it as a weekend residence. In 1934 he moved from Richmond with his wife and family and took a house in Twickenham. Shortly afterwards, Mr Fisher became acquainted with Mrs Ransom. She was 36 years old. She married Douglas Ransom in 1925 and he died in 1930, so at the time she met Mr Fisher she was a widow and still was. When she met Mr Fisher she was living at Merton. The acquaintance ripened and shortly afterwards she used to accompany him for the weekends at Crittenden he used to spend there.


This association was well-known to Mrs Fisher because Mrs Ransom became a frequent visitor to the house at Twickenham as was, of course, the Danish gentleman. And so they had what might perhaps be the unusual position of a man and wife living under the same roof and each had taken unto themselves a lover, known to each other, and the lovers used to visit the house. "It is not for me to criticise how people lead their lives", said Mr Paling. They are entitled to live as they like".

In 1938 Mr Fisher purchased property near Bicester, at Piddington, and it was about this time that the elder daughter Joan married and went to India. In March this year Mr Fisher gave up the house at Twickenham. Mrs Fisher, her daughter Freda and Miss Saunders went to live at the cottage, Crittenden and Mr Fisher and Mrs Ransom moved to the farm near Bicester. There they lived as man and wife and Mrs Ransom became known in the locality as Mrs Fisher. She acted as a sort of secretary-manager for Mr Fisher, running the farm for him while he travelled daily to and from London for the purpose of his business. To help run the farm, Mrs Ransom brought from London three people - Mrs Mary Guilford who acted as domestic servant, her son Frederick Guilford who was cowman, and his wife Jessie Guilford who was dairymaid. Before they came to Bicester Mrs Ransom lived with them. It was perhaps in these circumstances not to be unexpected that when Mrs Ransom took over the running of the farm she should secure their help when she wanted assistance.


Though living apart from Mr Fisher, Mrs Fisher continued on good terms and he used to visit her fairly regularly at Matfield, and in June this year Freda stayed with her father and Mrs Ransom at Bicester for about a fortnight.

"The Dane was eager to live at Crittenden, and Mrs Fisher was eager to have him.", continued Mr Paling. "Crittenden was, however, in a prohibited area and being an alien, he had to obtain police permission to enter the area. He failed to get that permission. Mr Fisher was anxious to help his wife and lover, and on July 3 he and Mrs Ransom visited Mrs Fisher at Crittenden and all three went to police headquarters at Maidstone to try to obtain the necessary permission for the alien to live at Crittenden. The police were adamant and refused permission. That was the last occasion Mr Fisher saw his wife alive."

About 9.45 on July 9, a butcher who was in the habit of supplying meat, called at Crittenden and saw Mrs Fisher. About 12.30pm the same day, the daughter Freda was seen cycling along the road at Matfield, and with her was the maid.


About 6.45p.m. a Mr Leury had occasion to go to Crittenden and saw the body of a woman. He immediately called for the police.

Mr Palling went on to describe how two further bodies were found. The body at the front of the house was that of Miss Saunders. By the gate of a pathway at the back of the house was found the body of Freda and on the other side of the orchard far away from the house was found the body of Mrs Fisher.

Police officers searched the house and discovered a tea tray lying on the floor among a quantity of broken crockery. The crockery was pieced together and it indicated that preparations had been made for tea for four persons. In the lounge, a writing desk was found in disorder, the drawers having been pulled out and the contents strewn over the floor. In the bedrooms two chests of drawers had been pulled out and the contents strewn across the floor.

Superficially, it might appear that the motive was robbery, and that some person might have gone through the cottage seeking what they could find. But that was not so, because in the house was found some £15 in money, together with a considerable quantity of jewellery. The articles were carefully checked and nothing was missing. Near Mrs. Fisher's body was found a handbag and in that was found 14s. 3d. in cash.


"It is quite clear that robbery was not the motive" said Mr. Paling, "or at any rate no robbery had been committed."

On July 11, Sir Bernard Spilsbury performed an autopsy on the bodies. All three women died of gunshot wounds fired from a shotgun. Mrs. Dorothy Fisher had two wounds, Freda three, and Miss Saunders one.

All these were inflicted from close quarters," said Mr. Paling. And the position of the wounds and of the bodies, and the fact that preparations were being made for tea for four persons indicates, I think without doubt, that the assailant, the person who fired those shots, was quite well known to the deceased women." On the day that these women died, Mr. Fisher left the farm at 8 a.m. as was his usual custom and went to London, and when he returned home about 6.45 p.m. he discovered Mrs. Ransom was not there. That was most unusual because she was generally there to greet him when he returned from London. It was not until 9 p.m. that she came in, and then she was dressed in blue trousers. She said she had had a fall and had hurt herself, and had been lying on Jessie Guilford's bed for two hours. Then she went to bed and was very restless.


On July 12 Chief Inspector Beveridge, Scotland Yard, saw Mrs. Ransom at Grays Inn in London. She went with him to New Scotland Yard and in a statement was alleged to have said: "I think I am 34 years of age: I don't know the date of birth. I have known Wm. Lawrence Fisher for the past five years. When I first met him he was living at Twickenham. I knew he was married man.'' "I knew Mr. and Mrs. Fisher although living together under the same roof for a number of years were leading separate lives."

Although. Mrs. Fisher was aware of what was happening there was no animosity between us and we were on quite friendly terms." She was alleged to have said that since Mrs. Fisher had taken up residence at Crittenden she had never visited there except once and then she was accompanied by Mr. Fisher and the matter under discussion was the Dane's application for permission to reside there. Concerning her movements on July 9. Mrs. Ransom was alleged have stated that she was in bed when Mr. Fisher left and remained there until 2 p.m. or 2.30, except that she went downstairs once. That was somewhere about tennish." Mrs. Guilford was present in the house and attended her in bed.


The alleged statement continued that she finally got up. dressed and went out to the garden across the front of the house. That was about 3.30. She thought she saw a cat in the distance, having lost it a day or two before. She went in search of the cat, but failed to find it. She went out to make a further search before Mr. Fisher returned from business, she was alleged to have said. On the second occasion she had a nasty fall, banged her head badly and felt pretty sick and hurt her tummy. She felt so ill she went to Guilford's cottage. She had no idea of the time.

She was further alleged to have said, "I want to make it quite clear at no time during July 9, 1940, did I visit Crittenden nor was I anywhere in the vicinity. I am aware Frederick Guilford is the owner of a gun of some description, a rabbit gun. Last week or the week before he allowed me to fire it once or twice. If there is any doubt about or any suspicion that I was concerned with the death of Freda or the others I am willing to do anything that is asked of me. I can assure you I am not concerned and I don't believe Mr. Fisher is either."


She was alleged to have added that she had avoided for reasons best known to herself giving any particulars of her history prior to her association with Mr. Fisher. "Not that there is anything to hide, but I have had a very sad life and wish it not to be known and I wish to forget It." Further, that she had been shown a lady's white hogskin glove and had said; "I won't be certain, but it may be one of a pair I gave to Freda when staying at the farm. I gave her two boxes of items when she left." Mr. Paling said that the alleged statement, if it was true, completely exonerated Mrs. Ransom from the commission of any one the three offences.

Near the body of Freda, between her body and that of Mrs. Fisher, was found in the long grass a lady's white hogskln glove and that glove had been Identified as one that belonged to Mrs. Ransom. It was quite true she had given Freda a quantity of clothes and she might have given her that pair of gloves and it might be Freda dropped it in the orchard. But if that was so, one would have expected to have found somewhere on those premises the other glove. "But that other glove has not been found." added Mr. Paling. In the alleged statement, a gun was referred to. "This is the gun," said Mr. Paling, holding it up. "This is a 4.10 and the wounds on the bodies were caused with cartridges fired from such a gun as this."


He explained the working of the gun and then said, "There can be no doubt that this was deliberate murder. There can be no question of accident." He alleged "It was a deliberate, carefully thought out and planned killing."

Mr. Paling stated that Mrs. Ransom had been identified by two railway officials as being a passenger on the 8.56 a.m. train at Bicester on July 9, and she had also been picked out at another identification parade by four other persons as being a person they saw in the afternoon of July 9 between Crittenden and Tonbridge, and at Tonbridge Railway Station. The last of the four picked her out as being a woman who travelled to London on the 4.25 p.m. train, and it was also said this woman was carrying a brown paper parcel. Mr. Paling stated that certain letters had been found in Mrs. Ransom's possession and at Crittenden.


"They indicate clearly" he said, " that the prisoner was jealous of Mrs. Fisher. May be she was jealous of the legal position of Mr. Fisher's wife or of some regard or concern he might still retain for his wife. It is clear there was some jealousy entertained by Mrs. Ransom for Mrs. Fisher, and furthermore, her jealousy extended to opening secretly any letters that Mrs. Fisher might write to her husband."

Giving his reconstruction of the crime, Mr. Paling suggested that Mrs. Ransom told some story of rabbit shooting or that sort, and induced the girl Freda to walk along in front of her and at the end of the orchard she shot her at close range. May be Mrs. Fisher heard shots or had seen the killing, but there was no doubt she ran away across the orchard and he suggested was pursued by Mrs. Ransom who, perhaps, also dropped her glove-and she also was shot. Then, Mr. Paling further suggested, Mrs. Ransom returned and fired two shots at Freda, who was lying on the ground. "The only other person who could have given direct evidence of her presence at the cottage was Saunders," said Mr. Paling. "Therefore if Mrs. Ransom desires to hide her crime there was only one thing she can do and that is to kill the inoffensive maid. So she returned to the cottage. Saunders was preparing tea for four persons and may be she had the crockery in her hands. The maid, frightened, dropped the crockery, which smashes, and she runs out. She Is pursued by Mrs. Ransom and then shot."


Mr. Paling, alleging that the Guilfords did not support an alibi put forward by Mrs. Ransom, suggested when she told police officers a false story she thought and believed the Guilfords would support her because they were no ordinary servants. Inquiries made by the police, he said, "revealed that Mrs. Guilford is the prisoner's mother, and that Fred Guilford, the cowman, her brother, and for some reason best known to herself, she concealed that relationship from Mr. Fisher, and induced her family also to conceal it." The evidence for the prosecution was then called.

Detectlve-Sergt. Harry James Drury, K.C.C., Maidstone, said on July 9-10 he went to Crittenden and took photographs. Gordon Douglas Vinell, Bethany, Cornwallis Avenue, Tonbridge, said he had been to Crittenden, Matfield and taken certain measurements. Walter Laurence Fisher, of Carramore Farm, Bicester, editor of the 'Automobile Engineer', said he was married to Dorothy Saunders in 1913, and of that marriage there were two daughters, Joan aged 26 and Freda aged 20. The marriage was not a happy one.


At this stage Mrs. Ransom, who had watched Mr. Fisher intently from the time he entered Court, covered her face and sobbed. Mr. Fisher stated that for some years, although living in the same house as his wife, they had ceased to cohabit. Mr. Paling: Was she in love with another man? - Yes. Was that Westergaard, a Dane? - Yes. When she met this man he was living at Richmond. Surrey, and witness's two daughters were living with him. Did he become a frequent visitor to the house? - Yes. Witness moved to Twickenham with his wife and daughters about eight years ago. That was to Rosslyn Road. He bought Crittenden, Matfield, shortly before then. When was it you met prisoner? - About six years ago. Whereabouts was she living then? - Merton. Did you and she go to Crittenden for week-ends? - Yes. Since then have you been on intimate terms with her? - Yes. Was your wife aware of that association? - Yes. Just as you were aware of her association with the Dane? - Yes.


Were the Dane and Mrs. Ransom frequent visitors to your house at Rosslyn Road? - Yes. In 1938 witness bought Carramore Farm, and it was run by a foreman. In March of this year witness went there with Mrs. Ransom, who was known there as 'Mrs. Fisher.' She acted there as secretary-manager and ran the farm, and witness went backwards and forwards to business In London. His wife went to Crittenden and took Freda and the maid Charlotte Saunders. The three lived there alone. When this arrangement was made he gave up the house at Twickenham. Joan, his other daughter, went to India about two years ago. Though living apart from his wife, he was on friendly terms with her, allowing her money for her upkeep. He visited her when anything cropped up and needed attention, about once a fortnight or a month. The last time he went there was about the beginning of July. Mrs. Ransom was with him, and the purpose of the visit was to take his wife to Maidstone to the Constabulary to get a permit for Westergaard. They all three went to the police at Maidstone and the permit was refused. His wife never visited him at Carramore Farm, but his daughter did sometime in June for a fortnight. As far you were aware was Mrs. Ransom on good terms with your wife and daughter? - Yes.


Among her friends his wife had nicknames. One of them was Mrs. Kelly," and another "Lizzie," and she addressed him as Peter." Mrs. Ransom signed herself Julie." On July 8 he went to town as usual and returned the usual time. He went up to his bedroom, which was also occupied by Mrs. Ransom. Did you notice anything beside her bed? - Yes, a tin with some cartridges in it. What sort? Cartridges for a 4.10 shotgun? - Yes. He went into the next bedroom and noticed a canvas bag. Was there anything protruding from the bag? - The cleaning rod of the gun. On July 9 he left the farm about 8 a.m. Mrs. Ransom was in bed. He drove to Aylesbury and by train to Marylebone and to the office. He was in London the whole of the day. He caught the 4.56 train back to Aylesbury and returned to the farm by car, arriving at about 6.45. When you arrived there was Mrs. Ransom in the house? - No.


Did you find any trace of her round about? -No. Was that usual? -No. Had she been absent before? - Never, not to my knowledge. Ultimately he had dinner alone, served by Mrs. Guilford, senr. When did Mrs. Ransom come in? - Ten minutes to nine. Was she with anybody? - Mrs. Guilford, junr. Did you ask her where she had been? Yes, she said she had been in the field and had seen the cat they had lost and she had also fallen down and knocked her head. She said she had been to the cottager's to lie down, on Jessie's bed. That was Mrs. Guilford, junr. How was she dressed? - She had a jumper, no hat, and a pair of blue trousers, bell-bottomed. I think a pair of house-shoes. Was she wearing a coat of any sort? No. Shortly after coming in did she go upstairs to bed? - Yes, and then she came down again. She finally retired between 10 and 10.30. Normally she slept pretty good." Do you know if she had a good night that night? - l think not. The next morning he left, as usual, about 8 o'clock, and on the way to the station was stopped by the police. They went back with him to the house and then he went with them to Tonbridge and at Pembury he identified the three bodies. Witness agreed that he had seen Mrs. Ransom wearing a glove of the kind produced in court. Mrs Ransom gave Freda a quantity of clothes while staying with them. In July Mrs. Guilford-who lived in a cottage about half a mile from the house with her son Frederick, cowman, and Jessie, his wife, dairymaid-did the housework. When Mrs. Ransom lived in London she lived with the Guilfords. When she went to the farm she engaged them.


Did you know until after the death of your wife they were relations of hers and Mrs. Guilford was her mother? - No. Was there anything in Ransom's conduct or behaviour which would lead you to believe she was a relation? - No. The gun produced was bought by him at a shop in Bicester some months ago. He bought it at the cowman's request. He gave it to Guilford. There was a lady's cycle on the farm. Did Mrs. Ransom say anything about it? - On one occasion she asked me to teach her to ride it. That was about a fortnight before July 9. Did you endeavour to so? -Yes. After your lessons could she balance herself? -No. Could she have ridden under favourable conditions a short way along a road? Possibly. Mr. Fisher went to state that on July 12 about mid-day he received a telephone call from Mrs. Ransom at his office. She said she was in London and very worried: that police had been ransacking the farm and she wished to meet him outside Waterloo underground station at 4.30. About 4 p.m. she rang again to meet him at a solicitor's at Grays Inn about 5.30. He went and saw Mr. Mannoch, the solicitor. Shortly afterwards Mrs. Ransom came with two police officers. After an interview it was agreed that witness and Mrs. Ransom should go to Scotland Yard, where she made a statement. It was after that statement that he found out the true relationship between the accused and Mrs. Guilford.


Mr. Paling; Is Mrs. Ransom friendly with anyone called Dudley? - Yes. Is that a man or a woman? -A man, being the Christian name. Mr. Fisher said that since July 9 he had had the opportunity of examining Crittenden and so far as he could tell there was nothing missing from the contents. Cross-examined by Mr. Swales, witness said that he had never known Mrs. Ransom to travel in trousers. You say you think she was wearing house shoes? - My impression is that she was wearing a rubber sole shoe with a turn-over top.

Mary Blanche Guilford, Carramore Farm Cottages, Piddington, told the Court that she did domestic work there. Mr. Paling: Is the accused woman your daughter? - She is. Was she born in 1904? - She is 35. Did she marry Mr. Ransom about 15 years ago? - About that time. And he died in 1930 or thereabouts? - I think so. After he died I went to live with her. You knew she became friendly with Mr. Fisher? -Yes, some five or six years ago. Witness said she went to Carramore Farm in August last year, with her son Frederick and his wife Jessie. When Mr. Fisher and Mrs. Ransom came she saw her daughter practically every day. As far as you knew was Mr. Fisher aware that Mrs. Ransom was your daughter? - No.


What was the first time you saw your daughter on July 9? - l did not see her until getting on for 9 o'clock at night. Where did you see her? -Coming through the farm gate. How was she dressed? -She had no coat, but a red or a check jumper and blue trousers. Did she say where she had been? Witness was understood to say that Mrs. Ransom said she had been in the field chasing the cat she had lost. She looked crazy. Did she say she had hurt herself? - She said she had fallen and struck her head. Did you go to the farmhouse on Tuesday morning? - Yes, between 9.20 and 9.30. Was she there? - No, she was not there. On the following day did you see her? Yes. A number of police officers came to the farm and I asked what all the people were doing there. She said they were talking to Mr. Fisher. I think later I asked her where she was the previous day and she said she was out with Dudley. She saw him on the road with his car. I said "Why don't you tell Mr. Fisher, and she said I can't tell Mr. Fisher; he wouldn't understand that kind of friendship." She told me not to tell Mr. Fisher she had been out all day, except towards evening when she went out for a walk. When you first saw the police you did not tell them what you have said to-day? -No. I was so afraid. I didn't want to be brought in the passport business. I did not understand.


Frederick Vernon Guilford, of the same address, employed as the cowman, said Mrs. Ransom was his sister. So far as he knew Mr. Fisher did not know the relationship.

The gun produced was his and he lent it to the accused on the afternoon of July 8. She told him she would like to go out and have a shot at a rabbit. He showed her how the gun worked and lent it to her, together with about a dozen cartridges.

Mr Paling: Did she say anything about Mr. Fisher? - Yes, she said I wasn't to say anything to Mr. Fisher because he did not like her handling firearms.

Witness continued that on July 9 he saw Mrs. Ransom about 8 to 8.15am dressed in a pair of navy blue trousers and a shirt. She gave him a note and told him to give it to her mother. She said she had got up, did not feel well and was going back to bed. He saw her again sometime in the evening when she called at the cottage.

The following day he asked about his gun, and she went in the house and got it. He asked for the cartridges and she said she had thrown them away because a man had called and asked about a licence for the gun. She had got scared and thrown them away and hidden the gun. She told him to be careful how he cleaned it because it had been in wet or damp.


Why did you tell the police when they came to see you on July 12 something that was not true? - When they asked me for my gun I was scared because my gun had been out of my possession.

Cross-examined by Mr. Swales, witness said his sister had told him that she had thrown the cartridges away because they were damp.

Jessie Guilford, wife of last witness, told the Court that she did not see the accused on the farm on July 9 until the evening, when she came to the house. She then said she had banged her head. Witness went to the farm with her. Mrs. Ransom was only at the cottage for five or less minutes. She was wearing a red jumper, pair of dark blue trousers and no coat.

On July 12 she went to the farmhouse and saw accused, who was in bed. Accused asked her to go to Oxford to do some shopping. At Aylesbury, Mrs. Ransom said they would go to London as she wanted to see her doctor. They caught the 10.30 and at Waterloo Mrs. Ransom said she was going to phone Mr. Fisher and a doctor. They went on to Wimbledon, where accused left her. Accused came back and waited for a telephone call and then told witness they must go at once and see a solicitor: the police had been to the farm and taken Dick's gun. Accused was a little agitated. They went to a solicitor's office and subsequently with two police officers they went to Scotland Yard. Witness knew Mr. Fisher had a daughter named Freda. She read the account of her death and others in the paper and took the paper up to accused, who was in the bedroom.


Mr. Paling: What did she do? - She cried out "How dreadful" and staggered. I helped her to her bed.

Did she say anything about Mr. Fisher? - She said surely that's not what they want Mr. Fisher for.

Questioned as to why she did not make a true statement when first interviewed by Scotland Yard, witness answered that "I was rather fogged and Mrs. Ransom had impressed on me all day that the police were after her and I was to do my best to shield her." Mrs. Ransom had asked her if the gun was capable of killing anyone and she told her that she did not think so, but if it was held close it would do a lot of damage, blind them or something.

Recalled, Mrs. Guilford senr., said her son brought a note from Mrs. Ransom. It was written in accused's handwriting and she received it about breakfast time on July 9. It read: "Will you come down to see to Mr. Fisher and the farm and don't let anybody know I am out. Get Mr. Fisher cold dinner and salad and have some yourself. I will try and be back before Mr. Fisher arrives. If not, I shall be back soon after."

There was "Burn this" at the end of it. She often put that in letters to witness.


Fred Maltby, station House, London Road, Bicester, the stationmaster at Bicester, gave evidence that on July 9 he observed a woman on the platform before the 8.56 a.m. train left for Paddington. On August 9 at Holloway he identified the woman, who was the accused. She was wearing long blue trousers and the only other part of her dress he could remember was a tie or handkerchief tied round her hair. He had never seen her before. She got on to the train.

James Bright, 32, Bacchus Road, Winson Green, Birmingham, travelling ticket collector, said that he identified the accused at a parade at Holloway as being the woman who got on the train at Bicester on July 9 at 8.56a.m. She was then wearing navy blue trousers. She travelled to Paddington.

An air-raid warning sounded whilst this witness was giving evidence.

Mr. Paling said he did not know whether this rather unseemly interruption was going to make any difference. At the conclusion of Mr. Bright's evidence the hearing was adjourned.

For the newspaper report on the second day of evidence, click here: Day Two