Bashall Eaves March 1934.
Five miles north-west of Clitheroe stands the village of Bashall Eaves, traditionally associated with King Arthur, who is said to have fought a battle here. Beyond the village lies the ancient Forest of Bowland and the Bowland Fells, separating Lancashire from Yorkshire.
Edisford Bridge over the River Ribble.
Jim Dawson lived at Bashall Hall Farm with his sister, Polly Pickles. The farmhouse was a short walk from The Edisford Bridge pub.
On a rain sodden Sunday evening on 18th March 1934, Jim Dawson, a 46 year old farmer and bachelor was walking home, along Back Lane after visiting his local, The Edisford Bridge. Back Lane was then and is still a narrow country lane with no street lighting.
At around 9pm, with his head down against the wind and rain he walked along the secluded lane towards the farmhouse, when headlights of two approaching cars briefly illuminated a man standing nearby. Jim Dawson had never seen this man before.
As both vehicles passed, Jim noticed his farmhand, Tommy Kenyon sat in the backseat of the first car with four friends. He did not recognise the occupants of the second vehicle. He then looked for the stranger he had seen lurking nearby, but he had disappeared.
Jim continued along the near pitch-black Back Lane when he heard a strange ‘click’ noise immediately followed by a sharp stinging pain to his right shoulder. He thought someone had thrown a stone at him, had another look around before he carried on his way, arriving home at 9.20pm. He had supper with his sister and went to bed a short time later.
During the night Jim’s shoulder became extremely painful and the bedsheets saturated with blood. The following morning he asked his sister to have a look at his injury. She was horrified at the wound and suspecting her brother had been shot, called for the local G.P. Doctor Cooper and the police to attend. Jim was taken to hospital by ambulance.
An x-ray revealed some kind of bullet, the size of a small birds egg had entered his back below his shoulder, lodging in muscle near his liver. Fearful of surgery, Jim Dawson refused to have the object removed and his condition quickly worsened with blood poisoning. He gave a detailed statement of the incident, but was unable to explain his injury, though he was able to show the police where the attack took place. He eventually agreed to an operation and a homemade steel bullet, tapered at both ends and seemingly cut from a steel rod, was removed from his back.
On 22nd March, four days after being shot, Jim died from septicaemia.
It was now a murder enquiry.
Bashall Eaves was historically within the county boundary of the West Riding of Yorkshire (becoming part of Lancashire in 1974) and their senior detective Chief Superintendent Wilf Blacker led the investigation, immediately meeting a wall of silence from local residents. He was certain someone in the village knew the identity of the murderer. All firearms in the area were seized for examination, workshops, garages and sheds searched for metal cutting equipment and the original steel rod. An extensive search of the scene and surrounding country side was made, but nothing was found.
An ominous twist to this tragedy was that a few days before the fatal shooting, Jim Dawson’s much loved dog, Shep was also shot and killed by person/persons unknown. It is not on public record what type of firearm was used to kill the dog.
Robert Churchill, the country’s leading forensic ballistic expert was called to assist the murder investigation. He concluded the murder weapon was an airgun, such as a ‘Poacher’s Arm’ air cane, which is a single shot pneumatic gun that can fire many times on one charge of air.
Biography of Robert Churchill.
The air cane was a walking stick/cane with a firearm built into it and was common amongst wealthy Victorian gentlemen and ironically the criminal underworld.
The weapon consisted of two sections which came apart allowing air to be pumped and pressurised in the top half, where the trigger was situated and the shot/ammunition was loaded into the barrel section. They are virtually silent apart from the click of the trigger and deadly at close range and accurate up to 100 feet.
Examples of air cane guns.
Means, Motive and Opportunity.
Means, motive and opportunity are the three key elements to every crime. Detective Chief Superintendent Blacker had the means: the firearm, the opportunity: the deserted lane at night time, but could not get the evidence to arrest a suspect for the motive.
The police enquiry revealed that Jim Dawson had relationships with numerous local women including his neighbour, seventeen year old Nancy Simpson, who was more than half his age and lived with her parents. Tommy Kenyon, who also had feelings for young Nancy, resented Jim being passionately involved with her.
But Tommy Kenyon was convinced Jim Dawson had been murdered in a case of mistaken identity, believing the bullet was meant for him.
Nancy was pregnant and her father, Tommy Simpson was convinced Kenyon was the father and as a result, a few days before the shooting, the two men had grappled and exchanged punches. Bad feelings continued between the two men.
Ten days after Jim Dawson died, Tommy Simpson hanged himself in his barn.
His family stated he was suffering from depression due to financial worries.
The murder investigation looked at the women Jim Dawson was seeing, but was unable to prove any connection with a jealous husband or boyfriend.
In June 1934 the coroners court jury came to ‘an open verdict’ on Jim Dawson’s death, not satisfied he had been shot by a firearm.
Wall of Silence: The Peculiar Murder of Jim Dawson At Bashall Eaves.
This is the title of a book written by Jim Dawson’s great niece, Jennifer Lee Cobban published by Demdike Press in 2005 and available on Amazon.
In the Evening Telegraph on 21st October 2004, Jennifer Lee Cobban is quoted saying: “I do believe that some villagers knew who the murderer was and there are rumours of a deathbed confession by the killer. There are possibly some residents who today know who was responsible and some say Jim knew who had done it”.
To this day, over eighty-four years later, the murder of Jim Dawson remains unsolved.
The Ghost of Jim Dawson.
It is said Back Lane is still avoided at night, as many people have claimed to have seen the ghostly apparition of a figure, with a gaping wound to the back passing through a gate into the farmyard of Bashall Hall Farm.
Back Lane, as a haunted site is included in the itinerary of local and national ghost tours and referenced in many books relating to ghosts and hauntings in Lancashire.
Any ghost sighting has been dismissed by Jennifer Lee Cobban, but she has been quoted as saying, “… the ghost story has without doubt, helped to maintain this puzzling murder mystery”.
Reference Sources: Lancashire Magic & Mystery by Kenneth Fields; WolfieWiseGuy blog; lancashirefolk.com; Lancashire’s Ghosts & Legends by Terence Whitaker & The Evening Telegraph.
All photos courtesy of Google Images,