Mike Bradshaw

Case Ref, 2021

Case Reference WA 35:6

The suspicious disappearance of Rose Pike and Jack Henderson, Watchet.

In the late summer of 1923 Rose Pike vanished without a trace from her home in Mill Street Watchet. Rose allegedly came from a family of some means.

Acquaintances described her as always being well dressed and calmly spoken. Later in court, Sergeant Chelmsford, who had been appointed as the investigating officer, was unable to substantiate this claim despite the fact that some items presented by the magistrate, in his words ‘clearly indicated that she had good taste, which did not come from someone of a poorer background’.

At first it was thought that Rose and her assumed fiancé, Jack Henderson, a local fellow, had left the town to seek out a better life together in the northeast. They had left with some considerable debts including rent arrears and unsettled bills involving a number of stores and local suppliers, who accused the couple of running away from facing their obligations. Their landlady said she was ‘glad to see the back of ‘em. They was live’in a good life but failing to pay for it!’ Many of those allegedly taken in by the couple were embarrassed and did not come forward initially, fearing that they would look foolish for being so trusting and that this may damage their business standing in the community.

Some days after Rose and Jack had been seen leaving Williton station on the Taunton train, the remains of a small vessel had been found washed up 40 yards east of the beach at Blue Anchor Bay, just below the alabaster under cliff. At first the findings had been associated with the Atlantic storms, which had recently ravaged the coast around Bridgwater Bay and further west to Watchet Harbour and onto the beach at Dunster. Amongst the scattered pieces of debris however, where some items of interest. Once identified, these items presented here caused the authorities to suspect foul play.

The Harbour Master had recognised the remains of the small fishing skiff as that belonging to Henderson. The boat in question had been procured by Jack, as a part of a settlement over a gambling wager. On several occasions, weeks before their sudden disappearance, Jack had been heard suggesting that he and Rose take the boat out for a pleasure trip, but she had duly declined. Rose had confided in her landlady that she did not know how to swim and feared drowning in the treacherous off shore currents.

Mr Tom Burrows, a resident of Market Street, was returning from business in Barnstaple, around the same time as the authorities were considering an investigation into both the contents of the wreck and the unknown whereabouts of the couple. On hearing the news and having had some bad dealings with Jack in the past, Burrows came forward and alleged that he had seen Henderson in Barnstaple just days before, in the bar of the Bell Hotel on the Strand where he was staying. Known for his gambling and cheating at cards, Jack on this occasion was playing dominos. In providing a witness statement, Burrows said ‘Jack was under the influence, bragging to the other players about duping his wife and stealing from her inheritance, to enable his a life as a true gentleman’.

Sergeant Chelmsford contacted the constables in Barnstaple and arranged to arrest Jack who as it emerged, had long gone. Mrs Dezia Davy, was the publican of the Bell at the time and copies of the register entries were made listing Mr Burrows, but there was no reference to a Mr Jack Henderson.

Even though his fingerprints were on record from a previous misdemeanour, there were no photographic or illustrated pictures of Jack, so the truth and his whereabouts remained a mystery. An early photograph of Rose, a haunting reminder of her frail and trusting character, was posted to every constabulary across England, but Rose was never found. Rumour has it that she was drugged with opiates, taken out to sea and drowned after the boat capsized in rough weather. Jack survived, fled the scene and although he left behind some incriminating evidence, it was surmised that he successfully changed his identity and made a new life elsewhere, undetected.

The case was revisited briefly in 1956, when new evidence was uncovered after some routine rock fall clearance at Blue Anchor Bay. Case ref WA 35:6 is now closed, but it remains unsolved, a curious mystery, with possible tragic overtones. The items presented here, were recovered from the archives of the former South West Forensic Science Laboratory in 1962. It was intended that they should be used to educate the general public on the importance of physical evidence in analysing historic ‘cold cases’, such as this one based locally in Watchet.

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