The Unsolved Murder of the Major's Wife That Destroyed a Man
Major Luard and his wife Caroline lived in the sleepy town of Seal Chart until tragedy struck.
Major Luard was a prominent man who was friends with Winston Churchill. Having served in the army and fought many wars, he retired to the sleepy town of Seal Chart in Kent with his younger wife, Caroline.
The couple appeared to have everything, an ideal life in a picturesque village. They were well-liked by the other occupants of the village. They were also extremely fond of each other, spending a lot of time together.
Major Luard was appointed Justice of the Peace and was elected to the Kent County Council. His wife was active with charity work in the area.
That changed the day the couple went for a walk and separated. Major Luard went to get his golf clubs whilst his wife returned home to entertain a friend. Unfortunately, she never made it to cream tea.
A Murderous Walk
On the afternoon of 24th August 1908, Mrs Luard went on a walk with her husband. The two had very different objectives. Major Luard wanted to walk to the golf club to collect his clubs to take away with them. Mrs Luard wanted a little exercise before having tea with a friend.
The couple parted at Frankfield Park and Major Luard continued to Godden Street Golf Club. He was observed by several people along his route and was later picked up by the local vicar and taken home.
Mrs Luard chose to walk through the country past one of her friend's summer houses, La Casa, to get back home in time to have tea with Mrs Stewart.
When Major Luard returned home at 425pm, his wife was missing and Mrs Stewart was waiting on the door for her afternoon tea. Major Luard was instantly concerned and chose to walk back the route he believed his wife would have taken.
When he came to the summerhouse at approximately 530pm, he found his wife's body; she had been shot through the right ear and left cheek with a .320 revolver. In addition, her clothes were ripped, her gloves taken off, and her valuables had been stolen.
It was later discovered that she had sustained a heavy blow to the head before the murder, making her sick.
As soon as the police arrived on the scene, they employed the help of two bloodhounds to track the attackers' escape through the woodland as far as the main road.
Several witnesses claimed they had heard gunshots at around 315pm. None had reported it, as they thought it was hunters, but it seemed likely this was the murder.
One witness driving near the area said they had seen a suspicious-looking man coming out of the woodland.
The police then examined all the local pawnshops hoping the rings would be found. Unfortunately, to this date, the rings have never been located.
Apart from robbery, no motive was apparent for why Mrs Luard had been murdered; she was considered an active welcome member of the community. However, they summarised that the killer must have known the victim as they knew she was wearing rings under her gloves.
The lack of concrete evidence or a suspect meant that the local village thought they could solve the murder. One of the popular theories centred around Major Luard as the killer.
They suggested that one of the Luards had committed adultery, which was why Major Luard murdered his wife. However, the view of the amateur sleuths could not decide which of the Luards was the adulterer.
They further stated that his wealth and friendship with the chief investigator, Henry Warde helped cover up his crime. The gun that had killed Mrs Luard must have been one of the Major's; when questioned, he also could not remember where the ammunition was.
Experts examined the guns and stated that none were the murder weapon, especially as they were all of a lower calibre.
There was virtually no evidence to support this theory; many witnesses had seen the Major walking to get his golf clubs. Friends and members of the couple also stated how happy they were.
The local vicar, Rev Cotton, picked up Major Luard at 4 pm with his golf clubs and drove him home.
The only evidence that seemed suspicious was when the pocket ripped from the victim was found in the Major's house. However, the body had been transported back to the house in a sheet. Therefore, it seemed the likely reason that the pocket was found there.
None of these facts stopped the witch-hunt that continued against Major Luard. However, the events then took a sinister tone and he started receiving threatening letters calling him a murderer.
Major Luard decided that he could no longer stay in the area, so he went to stay with friends.
On 17th September, three weeks after his wife's death, Major Luard went to stay with the brother of Henry Warde, a personal friend. He woke early in the morning, had breakfast, and wrote several letters.
At 9 am, he left the house and made his way to Teston Railway Station; as the 9:09 came in from Tonbridge, he threw himself in front of the train. He stated in his note that he could not live without his wife and with the suspicion that was falling on him.
Two suspects did come to the attention of the police for this murder. The first was on 19th September 1909. David Talbot Woodruff had been released from a four-month sentence at Maidstone Prison, some twenty miles from the village.
Woodruff had been arrested for pointing a revolver at his line manager. However, it did not take the police long to discover that he had been in prison during the murder.
The second suspect came much later. On 10th August 1910, John Alexander Dickman was the last man hanged in Newcastle prison. He was charged with murdering John Innes Nisbett in March 1910.
Many felt that the case was not solid against him and that he had been wrongly convicted. However, after his conviction, he became linked as a suspect in the Luard murder.
According to theorists, Dickman had placed an advert in The Times asking for financial help, which Mrs Luard replied to by sending him a cheque.
When Dickman received the cheque, he tried to defraud the Luards by altering the amount on it. When she discovered this, Mrs Luard arranged a meeting with him at the summer house where she was murdered.
The theory went further to state that as there was no evidence to connect him to the murder, it meant that Major Luard's friends, including Winston Churchill, set him up for the murder of Nisbett to ensure justice was served.
Unfortunately, none of these theories has ever been conclusively proven. As far as the police records are concerned, the case is still unsolved. Kent police destroyed all their files about the murder, so it seems unlikely the case will ever be solved.
The village still remembers the tragic couple who could not be apart.