Innocent or Guilty… You Decide?


The Daily Times headline for August 9th read:



Peter James and his wife Samantha, along with two of their three children; Michael and Christina were brutally murdered yesterday morning at their South Elmham Home.


The story leading up to these horrific events started back in 1863, when the Reverend Henry Markham, built a fine Victorian Rectory, on the remains of a previous religious house, on the edge of the village.  Upon his death in 1895, his son Edward became the new vicar, and resided at the rectory until his death in 1928.

Rumours abounded the village, that the rectory must have been haunted, through the relentless activities of poltergeists.

Edward Markham, made a habit of waiting at the rectory gate, for the passing of the ghostly coach.  The sound of rumbling wheels, clattering of four horse’s hooves, would approach along the road, reach a crescendo at the gate, and gradually fade into the distance.  The phantom coach was not only heard but also seen by the ex-groom of the rectory, who described a blazing carriage with lights careering through the rectory grounds.

A more significant manifestation was that of a Nun, confirmed by many witnesses, over the years, as she walked across the terrace.  The presence of the Nun, added to the belief that the rectory must have been built on the site of a religious house.

In the spring of 1975, the body of the Reverend James Patterson, was discovered in the old rectory.  His body had been hacked to death, but nobody was brought to justice for this murder, though a local young man was suspected of the crime.

In the autumn of 1982, the redundant rectory was renovated, into a fine looking country farmhouse.  Many villagers had feared for the sanity of those who resided in this dreadful building, with an unsavoury past.

Then in the spring of 1983, a Scottish family the James’s took up residence, with their three children; Michael 9, Catherine 7, and Christina 8.

Very little was known about them, Peter James worked for the Civil Service, and in the early years, the children attended the local primary school, later they attended boarding school.

Utter shock, rocked the heart of this peaceful village, on a sweltering summer morning in early August 1995.  When the news that four of their residents had been murdered, in their own home.

The idea, that their 20 year old daughter Catherine, could be responsible for the horrific axe murders, seemed quite unthinkable – despite overwhelming physical and circumstantial evidence that pointed to her.

Inside all was quiet, but in the hall, on the stairs, there was chaos, objects flung about, generally creating a scene of disaster.  In the midst of similar destruction in the main room, was the body of Peter James, close by his wife, in a pool of blood.

Upstairs in the rear bedroom, Christina sprawled across the bed still wearing a pair of earphones, body drenched in blood, from the chest wounds.  Whilst Michael was found sprawled across the landing leading to the west wing, with two wounds in the back, and one in his left leg.

Dr Mathew Hoyden, who arrived on the scene a little after 11.30am, was taken back by the scene, of so many bodies.  The first body he examined was that of Samantha James’s lifeless body sprawled across the living room, blood was congealing from the wound, but there was little doubt she was dead.  Because of the location of the wound, forensic experts summarised; her heart had stopped pumping blood, almost immediately, thereby resulting in very little blood splatter on nearby walls and furniture, for such horrific wounds.

Whilst the medical examination continued, and the crime scene photographers carried out their duties.  The police carried out a detailed search of the house, from the attic to the cellar.  Nothing found to indicate the presence, of an intruder within.

Catherine, the only survivor of these horrific murder’s, whose alibi was fraught with inconsistencies – was the only suspect.  What would end up saving her was the intense violence of the murders.  Simply too grisly to have been committed by one so young and innocent, with a quiet and gentle disposition.

Catherine was a self-conscious young woman with long blonde hair, and light blue eyes, petite body with a blanched complexion.

Her manners were impeccable, always polite to those she met, but considered a loner, and known for her love of animals.

One of her traits she was well known for, she had inherited her mother’s short temper, and tended to sulk if she did not get her own way, and suffered from short- term memory loss.

What had baffled the police, was how the murderer have escaped the house undetected, whilst the front door remained bolted and locked.  Christine claimed she had been in the summerhouse, then she was in the attic and finally she was down by the river, she could not satisfy the police of her whereabouts at the time.

Either way, the police considered it unlikely that the murder could have escaped without being seen, or screams heard from the house.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Catherine would become the prime suspect, and then there was the persistent problem of her shaky alibi.

At the inquest, Catherine’s rendition of her whereabouts prior to the discovery of the bodies, changed so many times, that the police and coroner, often wondered which was the true statement.

Question:  Where were you on the morning of the murders?

Answer:     I was in the summerhouse reading.

Question:  Are you sure?

Answer:     I am not sure whether I was there, down by the river or in the attic.

Question:  Did you hear anything?

Answer:     Not that I can remember.

In desperate exasperation the Coroner gave up on this line of questioning, he knew it was useless, she just could not remember events from one minute to the next.

According to the Pathologist Dr Harvey Michaels, the forensic findings of the axe found in the nearby river could not conclusively prove, if it was or not the murder weapon.

The local doctor’s wife testified that she had seen Catharine shortly after the murders, when she burst into the surgery, asking for assistance, at what she had found at the house.  Being in a distressed state, she had a pale colour, and there were no signs of blood on her hands or clothes.

Finally the jury retired to give their verdict, and on their return they concluded that:  Peter James, Samantha James, Michael James and Christina James had been murdered by person or persons unknown.

Catherine, who had been the prime suspect of this violent and grisly murder of her family walked free from the Coroners Court, with a wee grin upon her face.

So was Catherine guilty of these horrific crimes or had she fooled the court into thinking she was innocent?  Before running to the doctor’s surgery, could she have washed changed her clothes and destroyed them away from the house?  Was she putting on an act?

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