A Summary Of The Rye Field Murder

with acknowledgement to Les Higgs

It is Sunday, 8th of July 1945 on a warm summers day, just before hostilities of WW2 were to come to an end around the world.

Daphne Jean Bacon

After their recent return home from their evacuation period in Bedford, Daphne and her twin sister Brenda Bacon settled down to life in Leiston once again. Instead of going for their usual cycle ride with her twin sister Brenda, 14 year old Daphne told her father Harry how she wanted to go for a walk and set off by herself.

Walking along a picturesque path to Aldringham church, Daphne was unaware she was being spied on from a small wooded area along the pathway. Suddenly from behind she was clubbed to the ground. Her lifeless young body was dragged into a field of rye and placed by the hedge between this and the neighbouring field, being left for dead by her assailant.

After a while Mr J Mears, an employee of Saxmundham Post Office, and Miss E Gee, an employee of Leiston Post Office, were walking along the path when they came across a trail through the rye with traces of splattered blood. Hearing whimpering they decided to explore further along the trail. It wasn't long before they came across young Daphne, bloodied and bruised having so bravely fought off her assailant.

Mr Mears reported how he found the young lady. He described how her face and hands were smothered in blood, her hair was saturated and the tip of one of her fingers was almost severed. In fact he spoke to her as she was conscious at this time. He instructed Miss Gee to  call the Police, who in turn arrived with Dr Burlingham, also from Leiston. The Doctor tendered first aid before they moved Daphne to the nearby Primary School to wait for the ambulance to arrive. Called by the Police, the victim's father Harry was also present. He held and comforted her to the best of his ability. Daphne whispered in her dad's ear “the man was a soldier”.

The ambulance arrived at Ipswich hospital at 5.30pm. Daphne lost her fight for life at 9pm that evening, death caused by shock from multiple head injuries.

Daphne was buried at Leiston on the 20th July with a well attended congregation. The post mortem report by Dr Eric Biddle, Chief Pathologist at Ipswich hospital, took place on the next day. He reported how the victim had died of shock, with protective type injuries including the fracture of the middle finger of her left hand. He also reported removing black seeds from her multiple cuts and grazes, and recorded 7 fractures to her skull. He added that in his opinion she was dragged through the rye by her ankles before being hidden under the hedge to die.

Detective Chief Inspector Ted Greeno

Detective Inspector Read of Suffolk Police headed the enquiry into the case. As soon as foul play was suspected he wasted no time in calling Detective Chief Inspector Ted Greeno, from Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, who took charge of the case. His initial move was a public appeal, and his team of Detectives began interviewing possible witnesses, who had seen the victim walking along her route. Many local people came forward describing what they had witnessed.

He began searching the field belonging to Elm Tree Farm for the murder weapon, believed to be a blunt instrument, possibly a stick. He called upon the local farmer, Tom Askew, for help, who directed his farm labourer, Sam Spoore, to cut the rye so a detailed search could take place. Upon the discovery of a blood stained forage cap and footprints, DCI Greeno turned his attention to local army camps, in particular the one along the Thorpeness road whose main entrance is still visible, being the unmade road to the Aldringham common/fen. All the troops were confined to barracks as the investigation moved forward. A soldier stationed there, was arrested shortly afterwards.

Gunner Ernest George Bailey


On July 22nd Gunner Ernest Bailey, was taken to Leiston Police station, searched and interviewed about the case, after a blood stained ear of rye was discovered in his trouser pocket. 24 hours later, again in Leiston Police station, following a intensive interrogation, Inspector Greeno told Bailey that the previous statements he had made were untrue and at 12.40am he was charged with murder.

To this charge Bailey confessed and said he wanted to put the record straight, asking the Inspector to write down to what he is about to confess as he is not any good at spelling. He continued with DS Hodges' assistance in writing down his statement. He described how he  joined the Army at the age of 11 as a Band boy. "I am 44 years old, single and living with my mum and sister in Plymouth."

"On Sunday 8th of July I left my camp to take a walk, I wandered past the church and into a small wood. From there I spied a young lady walking carefree along the path towards the church. I began to follow the girl, I had this sudden sexual urge come over me. I quickened my pace so as to catch up with her. I asked her what she is doing on this ground she replied “I am allowed to walk through here”. 

"I enquired who gave her permission to do so; she choose to ignore me. I then asked “Are you a single girl” she answered “Yes” and continued walking, it was obvious she did not want to speak to me so I continued to follow her along the path. It was then I picked a stick from the hedgerow. It was a couple of feet long quite thick like a small bough from a tree. 

"This sudden urge came upon me and I struck her on the back of her head with the stick. As she turned to fight me off I struck again and again, many times as she cowered before me covering her head with her hands. I continued striking her when she fell to the ground. Realising what had taken place I became frightened and ran off, but I returned to collect the stick. I then dragged her through the rye field to a hedge where I left her, although her dress had ridden up I did not touch her. 

"Hearing approaching voices I hid in the rye a few yards away I heard a man say go and get help, call the Police and a Doctor. It was 4 o'clock when I first hit the girl as I heard the church bell strike. I then heard other people talking. I hid in the field for about a hour before I dare return to the spot. While I was under cover I removed my shirt looking for blood splatter. I put my shirt back on and when I got back to the spot where I had left the girl she was no longer there so I continued back along the path towards my camp. I still had hold of the stick so I lobbed it as far as I could into the wood as I passed by. When I got back to my hut at the camp I stripped naked. I found no sign of the young lady's blood on me or my uniform. but I had to clean my shoes as they were caked with mud. Around 7 pm I went for my supper I did not speak to anyone. I just went back to my hut and laid on my bed. As I could not find rest or sleep I lit up my pipe. When questioned why I was just lying there by one of my mates I just replied I have a lot to think about. I lay awake all night thinking of what I had done to that poor girl. I could not sleep and have not slept since. I am sorry that I hit that girl."

The first court appearance took place on the 28th of July to a packed courtroom in Halesworth Magistrates Court, where Bailey pleaded not guilty, and was remanded to Norwich Prison, to reappear at Saxmundham Magistrates Court on August 22nd. There again his plea was noted and he was remanded to appear at Halesworth Magistrates on August 14th to face the charge of murder.

Appearing before the Earl of Cranbrook on August 14th at Halesworth, Magistrates listened to the details of this high profile case from the Chief Prosecuting Officer, Mr H.J. Parham. The Earl ordered Bailey to appear before the Assizes court in Ipswich on October 31st.

At Ipswich, standing in the dock before the Judge, Mr Justice Laws, again Bailey entered a plea of not guilty through his defending solicitor, Mr F T Alphe, KC. The prosecution was represented by Mr Tristram Beresford, KC.

For the prosecution Mr Beresford stated how the victim was an innocent young lady having not had any boyfriends or any association with any soldiers, although there were a great many living locally. Mr Beresford continued describing the contradictions in Baileys statements, and evidence showed what a dubious character he is. Turning to the Jury Mr Beresford told the court how “In the right hand pocket of his trousers the Police forensic officer found a bloodstained ear of rye which matched the blood group of Daphne. Members of the Jury, if you believe this evidence, coupled with the various stories by Bailey, you will be driven to the conclusion that he was responsible for this murder.”

The Prosecution called upon many more witnesses including Harry Bacon, Daphne's father, who told how much his daughter liked to go for walks in the countryside. Farm labourer, Frederick Ashton, spoke of his horror when he saw the girl, "she was a dreadful sight" he continued. John Mears, who had given evidence during the earlier hearings, told the Jury how he found the girl under the hedge.

Finally called into the witness box stood newly promoted Detective Superintendent Ted Greeno. Asked by Mr Beresford for his evidence, this was immediately objected to by defence council, Mr Alphe, claiming it was inadmissible.

Mr Justice Laws then retired the Jury until the following day.

The case resumed next day, November 1st. The Judge ruled that Greeno's evidence was valid and ruled out any improper interrogation had taken place whilst in Police custody. Continuing with the hearing Mr Alphe stood up and presented the case for the defence by calling upon an expert witness Dr John Vincent Morris, Medical Superintendent to the Norfolk County Council Mental Colony. He told the court that through his recent observations and  previous history of Bailey he had come to the conclusion how he is a feeble minded person, who is suffering from congenital mental defect with a mental age of a nine and a half year old. Before joining the Army he had been described as mentally deficient, adding “I feel that Mr Bailey knew that what he was doing was wrong because he told me that he expected to get three months for murder.”

The Judge responded “Are you asking the Jury to say that you have proved to them that this man is indeed insane.”

Dr Morris replied “NO my Lord.”. Defence Council answered “Dr Morris was asking the Jury if he had satisfied them at the time he committed the attack, something had come over him, he could not control himself and did not know what he was doing”. 

The Judge began his summing up by explaining to the Jury that to obtain a verdict of Guilty but Insane the Defence council had to satisfy them that Bailey was insane when he committed the murder.

“Mentally deficient is NOT insane and I refer you to the evidence of Dr Morris. Members of the Jury, can you say that the prisoner has been proved insane in the eye's of the Law?”

The Jury returned a GUILTY verdict. The Judge donned his black cap and passed the Death sentence.

Bailey, who remained unemotional, was led down to the cells. The Sentence was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, November 27th, 1945.

But within a day or so of the execution taking place the Home Secretary commuted his sentence to life imprisonment after considering his mental health and the testimony put forward during the trial.

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