Jacqueline Mary Thomas (1945 or 1946 – 18 August 1961) was a 15-year-old biscuit factory worker from Alum Rock, Birmingham, England who was sexually assaulted and strangled after disappearing on 18 August 1961. Her body was discovered a week later close to her home, and the murder sparked a manhunt involving several hundred police officers.
Jacqueline Thomas was just 15 when she was murdered
A suspect was identified at the time, but there was insufficient evidence to charge him, and the crime remained unsolved for over four decades until a cold case review in the 2000s. In 2007, 70-year-old Anthony Hall – already serving a life sentence for the murder of another teenager – was charged with Thomas’s murder. However, a judge subsequently ruled the charge should be stayed owing to the length of time that had passed since the incident. Hall subsequently died in prison.
Jacqueline Thomas worked at Birmingham’s Hughes Biscuit Factory, and lived with her family in the Alum Rock area of the city, where she was one of eight sisters.On Friday, 18 August 1961 she attended a funfair at nearby Ward End with friends, and failed to return home afterwards. She was last seen alive at around 10:30 pm talking to a young man. Her family reported her missing when she did not return home. A week later on 25 August 1961, a dog walker found her body hidden in undergrowth at disused allotments close to her house in Everton Road. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.Police believed she had been dead for several days, and that her death had occurred at the allotments. They found no evidence of a struggle.
The ensuing murder investigation involved several hundred police officers who visited more than 1,000 homes in the area, and conducted interviews with local residents, as well as Thomas’s work colleagues and workers from the fair where she had last been seen. Police launched a poster appeal, while a request for information was made at the city’s St Andrew’s Stadium during a football match between Birmingham City and Leicester City.
Witnesses recalled Thomas speaking with a young man at the fair; he was subsequently identified as 24-year-old Anthony Hall, a married father of one. He admitted being at the fairground with Jacqueline Thomas on the evening of her death, and that they had embraced and kissed, but he denied killing her. He asked his mother to provide a false alibi, because he did not want his wife to know he had been “larking about” with girls. Although he was considered as a suspect, Hall was not charged with the murder as there was no evidence linking him to the crime. At an inquest later that year he was called as one of 53 witnesses to give evidence, asking his solicitor to put him in the witness box: “Though he may not be an angel, he wants the finger of suspicion which has been levelled at him removed”. A jury subsequently recorded a verdict of “murder by some person or persons unknown”
Sylvia Whitehouse case
In March 1969 Hall was convicted of the murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Whitehouse, whom he stabbed to death with a screwdriver after offering her a lift in his car. Her body was discovered by a lorry driver in December 1968 on waste ground at Bickenhill Lane, Marston Green, near Birmingham Airport.The location was a popular destination for courting couples, and the case subsequently became known as the “Lovers’ Lane Murder”. Following his trial, Hall was jailed for life, and remained in custody until his death in 2011
Cold case review
As part of their effort to routinely re-examine evidence from unsolved cases, West Midlands Police‘s Major Crime Review Team revisited the investigation in early 2007. Advances in DNA technology made it possible to identify fresh evidence. Documents from the Jacqueline Thomas investigation were studied by detectives, and the case file was closely examined by lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service. In November 2007 a decision was made to charge Hall with Jacqueline Thomas’s murder, and he appeared at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 29 November 2007. He again denied having anything to do with her death, and was remanded in custody.
At a hearing at Birmingham Crown Court on 19 August 2008, Judge Frank Chapman ruled that Hall should not stand trial for the murder because the events had occurred “too long ago”, and any case against Hall would not be fair and balanced. Chapman told the court that since the 1961 investigation, 21 witnesses had died, while others could either not be traced or were too ill to attend a trial. Moreover, police had not kept evidence and records from the investigation,and because of the passage of time, Chapman believed it was unlikely that those witnesses who could give evidence would recall events with sufficient clarity for it to be reliable.Consequently he stayed proceedings against Hall.
Outlining the essential case against the suspect, he said that it rested on two significant points – Jacqueline Thomas’s time of death and the last person seen with her beforehand: “If they (the prosecution) had turned up something new it would have made all the difference, or may have done.” Following the hearing, a member of the Major Crime Review Team commented: “Clearly we are not looking for anybody else but we respect the decision of the court.”
On 6 December 2011, Anthony Hall died at a hospice following a long term illness. He remained in custody at the time of his death