Maundy Thursday

30Mar18

What is it about an unsolved murder that holds its grip on us? Perhaps it’s a need to complete the story and provide some sort of closure? Or a fascination with gruesome misadventures?  Wherever I have been in the last month – whether talking to local history societies, visiting retirement homes or holding sessions in the libraries of Bleakhouse, Thimblemill or Quinborne, I meet people who find themselves entranced by the story of Fred Jeffs and the Sweetshop murder. Real connections to the story itself are never far away. In the past few weeks I’ve met and interviewed people who visited Jeffs’s shop on its last day open, those who remember the house-to-house investigations made by the C.I.D. and plenty more who remember the rumours that grew and persisted in the wake of the murder. There is a variety of speculation as to where he was killed, what happened to Fred’s devoted poodle ‘Perro’, and who was responsible for the attack, murder and disposal of the body.

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, and it was on Maundy Thursday 1957 that Frederick Walter Jeffs met his fateful end. A team from BBC Midlands Today visited key locations and featured the project on last night’s teatime news.

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Here, BBCmtd reporter Sarah Bishop (née Falkland) interviews Elizabeth Rose (Fred’s niece and my aunt) outside No.12 Stanley Road. Liz shared her memories of visiting the sweetshop as a young girl and her memories of Uncle Fred.

Current shop owner Andrew Bowen then talked about his family taking on the shop and their realisation of the dark history of the building.

Then our crew relocated to a remote spinney off Park Lane, Handsworth, described by the press at the time as “a lovers’ Lane”. It was in this location that the grim discovery of Fred’s half-buried, beaten body was made on the afternoon of Good Friday 1957.

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Back at Smethwick Library, archivist Ian Gray helped uncover some local press coverage from the time. In the Oldbury ‘Weekly News’, the Jeffs investigation competed for space with pictures of that week’s visit of the Queen to Warley / Smethwick. Meanwhile, in the wonderfully titled ‘Smethwick Telephone’, a local reporter gains a real scoop by interviewing the boy who discovered Fred’s body while ‘birds-nesting’ with his pals. The ‘Telephone’ names him as 15-year old Cyril Blakemore, of King St., Smethwick, sets up a photo of him pointing at the shallow grave, and then tells us that Cyril spent the evening at a local cinema. “I wasn’t in the least bit upset” he tells the reporter.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09x087z/midlands-today-evening-news-29032018

Feature starts at 22:50 mins

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