The murder (or was it murder?) occurred in the north of England in the village of Otterburn in Northumberland in early January of 1931. The victim was young woman whose family owned the local gas station, automotive repair shop, and a fleet of 10 busses that served the local area. Few families owned their own cars in the early 1930s in rural England, and the practices of shopping and attending movies and evening dances in larger towns was growing fast. Lots of people used bus and taxi services from the villages to larger cities and back again.
Evelyn Foster was 29 years old and had started her own, private taxi business as a spin-off from her families business. She was successful, had money in the bank, and owned her own vehicle apart from her father's business. She had also kept the family business's books, pumped gas, and served as a "conductress" on the family's busses. She knew the "hire-car" business pretty well.
On a dark evening in early January, 1931, Evelyn stopped in at home and told her family that she was going to drive a man to another village. She left and was not seen again until her hideously burned body was found in a remote field in the country. The car she had been driving was also burned in the field.
She was not dead and was taken home (there weren't a lot of hospitals in the area so a nurse and doctor were called to Evelyn's home). Before she died, Evelyn related a story to her mother and police about the strange man turning on her violently and pouring a propellant over her in the car and setting her on fire. Despite the fact that she remained conscious for several hours before dying early the next morning, the police did an utterly miserable job of questioning her, leaving much of the questioning to her mother(!)
No man even remotely matching her description of the attacker ever turned up, anywhere, despite the fact that the killer would have had to leave the scene on foot in a remote, country location on a cold, wet night, not dressed for the cold. This led police to finally give up on the idea of murder and to believe that Evelyn had set her own car on fire and accidentally gotten gasoline on her own clothing and set herself on fire. Her family was very unhappy that Evelyn was characterized in the way and insisted she would never have done such a thing.
The car was insured, but the payoff would have been fairly small. Evelyn was by all accounts a cheerful, kind, stable young woman. She told her story while dying, and she knew that she was dying, and her sotry was consistant with what she had told her family before she started out in her taxi to pick up the strange man.
But how would the murderer just totally vanish into the fog on a very cold, winter night, on mushy, wet and nearly freezing terrain between villages, and never, ever turn up, anywhere in law-abiding England despite massive publicity surrounding the case at the time and a considerable manhunt.
The local police refused to call in Scotland Yard which was a big mistake. Even with all the contradictory evidence, perhaps they could have solved it or at least moved it along toward a reasonable understanding of what actually took place.
The case is a complete mystery to this day. When you read about it, it doesn't make sense either way. Whichever way you interpret the evidence, there are substantial problems. You don't hear anything about the case today, but it was big in the early 30s in Britain.
The used paperback copy that I got has very small print on yellowing paper. So it was hard to read. I am so interested in the case that I have ordered a used hardback copy. If you are interested in unsolved crimes, this is the case for you.
There is a Kindle book on the case also available on Amazon. It takes a completely different view than this book does, and the author had access to recently-released records. It is somewhat worth reading for the new information and for the opposite take on the story, but the writing is horrible beyond belief. It reads as if it received no competent editing, whatsoever. But it does do a good job of describing the winter conditions and the narrow, icey, winding roads that would have made Evelyn drive very slowly and would have had a significant effect on the timing of various events that evening.