England · unsolved

Child’s body found stuffed under train seat

January 8, 1914
London, England
The body of Willie Starchfield (5, pictured) is found stuffed under a train seat

Willie’s parents were estranged, and he lived with his mother the majority of the time. On January 8, his mother left for work and placed Willie in the care of their landlady. The landlady sent Willie on an errand around 12:50 p.m. Hours later, a child’s hand was found sticking out from under a seat of a passenger train. Willie had bruising to the back of his head and a mark around his neck, and his death was officially ruled due to strangulation, with the speculation the bruise had been caused as Willie struggled against his attacker, likely as he was on his back on a hard surface. It was approximated he had been killed between 2 and 3 p.m.

Three or four (sources vary) eye witnesses came forward claiming to have seen a man hunched over the seat where Willie’s body was later found. One saw the figure bent over a child matching Willie’s description (the witness believed the child to be a girl at first as Willie had long, curly, blond hair), while another saw the man tying a string or cord around what was assumed at the time to be a parcel.

Based on the eye witness accounts, Willie’s father John Starchfield was arrested. However, the evidence against John was incredibly weak and the eye witness accounts proved to be unreliable. One witness, for instance, suggested during her testimony she had seen John’s photograph in the newspaper before she identified him as the man she saw on the train. John was summarily found not guilty.

John died in 1916, still professing his innocence in his son’s death, and blamed the murder on Stephen Titus. John claimed Titus killed Willie in act of revenge. Titus had gone on a shooting rampage in 1912, killing two women and injuring two men (both of whom were shot in the face) before Starchfield subdued Titus. Starchfield was shot in the stomach during the altercation and was seriously wounded, though he received a weekly reward from the Carnegie hero fund to help ensure he would be able to pay for expenses while he was out of work as he recovered. Titus was found guilty and “detained in an asylum for the insane.” While Starchfield seemed convinced Titus had found his way out of the asylum, I could find no evidence to confirm or contradict his belief.

Willie’s murder remains unsolved.

Sources:
“William Starchfield.” True Crime Library. Accessed: January 8, 2020. https://www.truecrimelibrary.com/crimearticle/william-starchfield/
“Murder of Master Starchfield, 1914.” British Transport Police. Accessed: January 8, 2020. https://www.btp.police.uk/about_us/our_history/crime_history/murder_of_master_starchfield.aspx
Storey, Neil R. The Little Book of Murder. The History Press, 2013
“Shoreditch Murder.” The Advertiser [Adelaide, South Australia]. April 3, 1914
“Curly-Headed Lad In Train Tragedy.” The Spokesman-Review [Spokane, Washington]. February 9, 1914
“Dead Boy On Train Mystifies Police.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 1, 1914 (image source)
“The Murdered Boy.” The Guardian [London, England]. January 12, 1914
“London Train Murder Mystery.” The Guardian. January 10, 1914
“Foreigner Runs Amok.” The Sydney Morning Herald. November 13, 1912
“Murderer Shoots Canadian Visiting Old London Town.” The Sun [Vancouver, British Columbia]. October 28, 1912

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