Murder by Person or Persons Unknown

19Apr17

On this day sixty years ago, 19th April 1957, Frederick Jeffs’s life came to a brutal end.

Birmingham_Post_20apr57_0004

Fred was my grandad’s half-brother. He spent – as my grandad did – much of the second world war holed up in a prisoner-of-war camp. At some point late in the war – probably following the Death-march westwards from Auschwitz-Blechammer (and away from the advancing Ivans) – they were reunited on enemy soil. By all accounts Fred was a loner; reserved, and behaving at odds with the world around him; opting not to share his Red Cross parcels and disappearing alone into the woods during Allied bombing raids.

Back in a ’50’s Brum deemed fit for returning heroes, however, he seems to have prospered. Fred bought a decent Austin and set himself up with a Confectionary shop on the Parade at Stanley Road, Quinton. He married Betty in 1948, with my grandad as best man, but it wasn’t to last. By the end of 1956 Rock ‘n Roll was here to stay, but Betty had gone back to live with her parents.

I’ve been musing over the details of this story since I was at school, and wrote a first treatment for a staged version while I was in my second year at Lancaster Uni. Dennis Potter would have been proud. My interest in the material re-surfaced in the mid-Noughties, when I revisited the site of the sweet-shop in Stanley Road with my dad, who had been 19 at the time of the killing and remembers the police calling in at the family home in Ridgacre Rd. to relay the news of Fred’s death and collect my grandad for interview. My erstwhile collaborator Steve Johnstone was directing Foursight Theatre’s The Corner Shop, and Fred’s story was transposed to one of the narrative threads in that remarkable project which was installed inside empty shop units at the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich Shopping Centre.

Following the success of Un-Earth, a large-scale, site-specific, music-theatre collaboration between my company The Resurrectionists and mac productions in 2004, we discussed a multi-site theatrical re-rendering of the Jeffs case, but the timing and momentum just didn’t seem right.

Anniversaries bring their own momentum, and I am painfully aware that 60 years on, the number of living witnesses to this event will have diminished considerably. Strange to think that 30 years ago I felt like the late ’50’s were ancient history, and since then the same passage of time has occurred.

By way of opening up the conversation on these events, and importantly passing it on to the latest inheritors of the story, I visited the Library of Birmingham today with my son, Jacob. We trawled through the archive press cuttings of the day, reigniting my fascination for this extraordinary story.

Birmingham_Post_20apr57_0004 [Click on this Link for downloadable pdf]

Birmingham Post_Sat 20th April 1957

Birmingham Post & Gazette, Easter Saturday, 20th April 1957

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2 Responses to “Murder by Person or Persons Unknown”

  1. Sad to have such a tragedy in the family. Could you post a transcription of the newspaper article, as there doesn’t seem to be any way of zooming in on it to make it readable…

    • Hi Pete. Thanks for mentioning it. I’ve now included a Link to a pdf, in which you can read the article properly. I’m hoping to add consecutive newspaper posts onto this blog so you can read about how the case unfolds. Watch this space….


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