ALFRED ROUSE AND THE BURNING CAR MURDER

By Tim Lambert

In 1930 Alfred Rouse murdered an unknown man. Rouse was born on 6 April 1894. However his mother deserted the family when Alfred was about 6 years old. In 1914 he married a woman named Lily May Watkins. However Rouse joined the army and fought in the First World War. During a battle in 1915 Alfred was injured by an explosion. He suffered head injuries. He was also wounded in the thigh. Eventually, in 1916 Rouse was discharged from the army with a pension (it was discontinued in 1920). After the war Rouse became a travelling salesman. Rouse was quite prosperous and he was able to buy a house in Finchley, London and a car.

However Alfred Rouse was also a womanizer and had many affairs. In 1930 Rouse had financial troubles and a mistress had recently given birth. Alfred Rouse began to look for a way to disappear and make a fresh start.

A few days before the murder Alfred Rouse met a man in a pub who said he was unemployed and was travelling around the country looking for work. Rouse told the man he was driving to Leicester on 5 November and offered him a lift. He met on the evening of 5 November and the two drove off. Rouse gave his passenger a bottle of whiskey (hoping that if the man got drunk he would be easier to overpower). At some point the victim got out of the car and Rouse hit him with a mallet. Rouse bundled the unconscious man back into the car and doused him in petrol. Rouse then loosened a joint in a petrol pipe so fuel leaked out into the car. He then set his car on fire. Rouse then hurried off. He hoped the body would be burned beyond recognition and the police would assume it was him.

However in the early hours of 6 November 1930 two men named Alfred Brown and William Bailey were walking along a road in Northamptonshire when they saw the fire in the distance. They passed a man carrying a briefcase (Rouse) and he commented that somebody must be having a bonfire. (5 November is a night when bonfires are traditionally lit to remember the capture of Guy Fawkes, the man who attempted to blow up parliament. Rouse hoped that since it was bonfire night anyone who saw the burning car in the distance would assume it was another bonfire). But when the two men reached the fire they discovered it was not a bonfire but a burning car. They raised the alarm and when the fire was extinguished a body was found in the remains of the vehicle. The number plate survived the blaze and the car was traced to Alfred Rouse. The two men also gave police a description of the man who passed them and it was published in the press.

Alfred Rouse was soon arrested but he claimed the fatal fire was an accident. Rouse claimed that he offered a lift to a stranger and at one point he asked the man to fill the petrol tank with petrol from a can. According Rouse the man asked if he had anything to smoke. Rouse gave his passenger a cigarette. He then walked away from the car to relieve himself. While Rouse was some distance from the car it burst into flames. Rouse claimed he panicked and fled the scene. The police were not taken in. If the passenger lit a cigarette while he was filling the petrol tank why was the body found the car? And why was Rouse carrying a briefcase? If he went to relieve himself why would he take a briefcase with him?

Also experts who examined the car found that a joint in a petrol pipe had been deliberately loosened. The police also found a wooden mallet in the grass near the car. It still had human hairs on it). Alfred Rouse went on trial for the murder of an unknown man on 26 January 1931. Rouse still claimed that the man's death was an accident. But an expert witness testified that the joint in the petrol pipe had been deliberately loosened. The pathologist Bernard Spilsbury testified that a fragment of clothing found on the body had been soaked in petrol proving it had been poured over him before he died. Rouse was found guilty of murder on 31 January 1931. Alfred Rouse was hanged in Bedford prison on 10 March 1931. Before his execution Rouse confessed to the murder but the identity of the victim is still unknown.

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