THE CASE OF SIDNEY HARRY FOX

By Tim Lambert

Sidney Harry Fox murdered his mother, Rosaline for her life insurance in 1929. Sidney was born in Norfolk, England in 1899. But Fox was a thief from an early age. At the age of 13 he was birched (beaten with birch twigs) for stealing. Fox was later convicted of forging cheques. In the late 1920s Fox and his mother lived by staying at hotels and leaving without paying the bills. However Sidney Fox eventually thought of a plan to get rid of his mother and profit from her death.

In April 1929 Fox insured his mother's life. The insurance policy ran out at midnight on 23 October 1929. In that month Sidney Fox and his mother checked into the Metropole Hotel in Margate, Kent. Then on 23 October 1929 Fox bought some port (probably to get his mother drowsy before he killed her). At 11.40pm, just 20 minutes before the insurance policy ran out Fox ran through the hotel shouting that there was a fire. Another man entered the burning room and dragged out Rosaline Fox but she was already dead. At first her death was attributed to suffocation (from smoke) and shock and the poor woman was buried. However the insurance company was suspicious. It was just a little too convenient that Mrs Fox died just before her insurance policy ran out. Furthermore it was first thought that a gas fire caused the blaze but the carpet between the fire and the chair where the body of Mrs Fox was lying was not burned.

The body of Rosaline Fox was exhumed. It was examined by the famous pathologist Bernard Spilsbury. He claimed that Mrs Fox had actually been strangled (Spilsbury claimed he found a bruise on her larynx although another pathologist disputed this).

The Trial and Execution of Sidney Fox

Sidney Fox went on trial in Lewes in March 1930. Bernard Spilsbury testified that he found a bruise on the victim's larynx. However another pathologist, Sydney Smith said he did not find such a bruise and claimed Mrs Fox died as a result of the fire. Both men agreed that the hyoid bone (a bone in the throat) was not broken. Its often broken during strangulation but by no means always.

The chief fire officer for Margate testified that the fire must have begun under the armchair Mrs Fox was found in. To replicate the fire he had to use petrol because the carpet would not burn otherwise. A bottle of petrol was found in the room but Fox claimed he used it clean his suit. The prosecution claimed Sidney Fox lit the fire deliberately using old newspapers and petrol. He tried to make it look as if his mother had suffocated from the smoke. Sidney Fox gave evidence but he did himself no favours. He was asked why, when he discovered the fire he closed the door to the room. Fox answered that he was worried the smoke would spread into the rest of the hotel. In other words he was more worried about smoke spreading than making any attempt to rescue his mother. That reply by Fox shocked people and the jury found him guilty of murder. Sidney Harry Fox was hanged in Maidstone Prison on 8 April 1930.

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The Burning Car Murder

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