Stratford Tombstone Murder Ghost
I find it very distasteful when ghosts are identified as people who were killed in fairly recent events, especially as this could cause distress for the deceased’s friends and family. I am therefore in two minds whether to mention this reputed haunting and I apologise if it upsets anyone.
The ‘Townsville Daily Bulletin‘ [29 April 1954] gave the following report of the murder. ‘Murder Hunt At Stratford-on-Avon’ – ‘LONDON, April 28.— People queueing- for the first night of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Stratford-on-Avon saw murder-hunt detectives pull a 20lb. moss-covered grave stone from the Avon. The small tombstone became a vital clue as detectives probed the death of a woman, drowned in the river near Shakespeare’s burial place. The police hauled the tombstone from the river bed near the spot where a woman found it missing from its usual place In Holy Trinity churchyard, at the river’s edge. The police say that the tombstone may have been tied to the body of a 46 years-old Scottish midwife, Nurse Olive Bennett. A full-scale murder hunt is taking place In the quaint old town where literary lovers are gathered for the annual Shakespearian celebrations. Detectives have not ruled out accidental death but they want to know why Nurse Bennett complained to a hotel owner recently that she was being followed. She left her maternity home, two miles from Stratford last Friday and her body was seen in the river on Saturday. Her hat was found on the tree-fringed towpath known as Lover’s Lane, not far from the Memorial Theatre. Her bottom set of dentures, her spectacle case and a shoe were found scattered between moss-covered graves In the churchyard of Holy Trinity. The police have learned that Nurse Bennett was an inoffensive little soul and she was not known to have any men friends.’
The pathologist involved in this case was Derek Barrowcliff (Born 1919 – Died 2011). The following additional information concerning the case was published in his obituary that was published in the Telegraph on 15 November 2011. ‘Olive Bennett’s woollen scarf had been used to anchor her body to a heavy Victorian tombstone that had been uprooted from the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church and thrown into the nearby river. As was normal in those days, when the case proved to be beyond the resources of the local police, Scotland Yard was called in. Det Ch Supt John Capstick, one of the best-known detectives of the day, relied on Barrowcliff’s post-mortem findings. These confirmed that the 45-year-old midwife had spent the evening before her death drinking in local pubs. To all intents and purposes Barrowcliff was appointed a Home Office pathologist on the strength of his work on this baffling case. The murder remains unsolved to this day, despite the News Of The World offering £100,000 in 1974 for information leading to the identity of the killer or killers. The midwife’s ghost is said to haunt the stretch of the river where she was drowned.’
That was the first reference I came across concerning a ghost being identified as Olive Bennett. I have not come across a first hand account of an experienced encounter with this ghost but I have found a reference of people seeing a woman stood in the water and of people jumping off boats trying to save her as they thought the apparition she was drowning.