January 10, 1929
The body of Vivian Messiter (pictured) is found 10 weeks after his murder
Messiter had been the manager of the Wolfe Oil Company when he suddenly disappeared on October 30, 1928. When it became clear he would not be returning to work, the company hired a new manager. The new manager eventually came across a garage door which was padlocked, and finding he had no key to unlock it, forcefully opened the door. Among storage boxes was the decomposing body of Messiter. Scotland Yard soon received a telegram explaining the situation: “A case of murder has occurred here. A man has been found shot in a room the door of which was padlocked. The body was found today and has probably been in the room for eight or nine weeks. Will you please send an officer down to investigate the matter.”
Messiter was found to have a crushed skull, initially suspected to have been caused by either a bullet or a spike. The murder weapon was soon found in the room, however, in the form of a claw hammer covered in dry blood and human hair. Along with the hammer were a few other clues to help investigators, including “affectionate letters” signed with a stylized question mark (pictured), a note reading “5 Cranberry Avenue. October. With thanks, Horne,” and correspondence from a W. F. Thomas applying for an employment position from Messiter.
The letters were quickly established to be from a university professor in America. She and Messiter had been friends for a considerable amount of time, and she was quickly dismissed as a suspect. The note from Horne led investigators to a woman who ran a boarding house where it was found the slip was a receipt for a room rental. Horne confirmed she had let a room to a Mr. Thomas, though he suddenly vanished around the time of Messiter’s disappearance.
Thomas was tracked to Manchester where it was discovered he was using the alias of Thomas. His true name was William Henry Podmore, he had been an employee of the Wolfe Oil Company, and he was wanted by the Manchester Police for embezzlement. Both law enforcement agencies collaborated; Scotland Yard’s investigators questioned Podmore about Messiter while the Manchester Police detained him on the embezzlement charge. Podmore denied the murder though he was convicted and jailed for embezzling. While in jail, he told at least two inmates he had been involved with Messiter’s murder.
Podmore was brought to trial with little more than circumstantial evidence and the testimony of two inmates. While he claimed he left the company on good terms, it was speculated in court Podmore had been caught stealing from the company by Messiter and killed his employer to conceal his lesser crime. The jury deliberated for 89 minutes, finding Podmore guilty and sentencing him to death. He was executed by hanging on April 22, 1930.
Hoskins, John. “Killer hanged for brutal murder in Southampton’s Grove Street.” Southern Daily Echo. June 20, 2013. Accessed: January 10, 2020. https://www.dailyecho.co.uk/heritage/10498312.amp/ (image source)
St Mars, Augustus. “The Disappearance of Vivian Messiter.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 17, 1942
“Convict in England Arrested as Killer of Vivian Messiter.” Standard Union [Brooklyn, New York]. December 17, 1929
“The Blonde American Beauty Behind London’s Most Intriguing Mystery.” Philadelphia Inquirer. April 28, 1929 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“Scotland Yard Probes Murder 10 Weeks Old.” The Pensacola Journal. January 16, 1929