By Gerald Hinks
The pretty 20-year-old Emily Trigg had been a maid at 36 Maidstone Road, Rochester, for 12 weeks.
Her mistress, Miss Catherine Cooper, found her quiet and respectable. Certainly not the kind of girl to flaunt herself before men. Although Emily, with a trim little figure and smartly dressed light brown hair, was likely to turn a young man’s head without flashing her bright brown eyes. On 6 August, 1916, Emily was wearing her Sunday best outfit; a blue dress and white hat with small pink roses.
For today, as on most Sundays since she had gone into service at Miss Cooper’s, Emily was going to have tea with her widowed mother in Providence Row, Blue Bell Hill.
She left Maidstone Road about 3.15 for a pleasant, if lonely, stroll in the sun to her mother’s. But she did not arrive. Nor did she return, as expected, to her employer’s home that evening.
Miss Cooper thought she was unwell and staying at her mother’s. And it was not until the next Tuesday when Emily’s mother, Mrs Kate Trigg, inquired that it was realised that the girl had vanished without a trace.
The police were told. But their investigation was not particularly thorough. One missing girl did not rate much importance during the First World War. The police were already overworked looking for men who were evading military service. Anyway, events that week were overshadowed by Zeppelin air raids over the south east in which 80 people were killed, more than 150 injured and extensive damage caused.
It was not until six weeks later that Emily Trigg’s disappearance became newsworthy. Then, early on the evening of Thursday, 21 September, Rochester greengrocer John Jennings was blackberrying with his two children at Bridge Wood, adjoining Maidstone Road.
But he did not find blackberries some 30 yards in the wood: he found a human skeleton in the undergrowth. Although the remains were decomposed, it was not difficult to identify the skeleton; even for Rochester’s unimaginative police who had not searched the wood for the missing girl, although it bordered the route of Emily’s fateful Sunday afternoon walk.
Hair still attached to the skull contained a side comb fixed with imitation diamonds. Emily Trigg had a side comb like this. A necklet found nearby had been given to her by her mother. And Emily’s Sunday bonnet, with the small pink roses, was found by a track leading to the spot. Clothes, apparently violently torn from the body by the frenzied killer, were found in a bundle about 30 yards from the body.
There was no doubt these were the remains of Emily Trigg, although it was considered remarkable that they had had decomposed so quickly. All the organs and tissues had disappeared and as soon as the skeleton was touched it fell to pieces.
How did Emily die? There were no bloodstains on the clothes. But there was one strong clue. A piece of material, torn from an undergarment, was found in the mouth of the skull. It looked as if it had been pushed far back into the mouth. Emily Trigg may have been choked to death.
At the inquest, the police surgeon would not commit himself. He said it was impossible to be sure because there was no tissue. Emily’s boyfriend was George Harris, a private in the Royal Surrey Regiment. His picture was in her handbag, which was also found in the wood.
But Harris was soon eliminated from the investigation. On 6 August he was in hospital in Shoreham, Sussex. Nevertheless the police felt a soldier might have involved. There were reports of Emily having been with a military man that afternoon.
And a fortnight before her disappearance, Emily had told her mistress about meeting a soldier. She had said he was a gentleman and she did not like being seen with him as she was only a country girl. Class structures were still firmly intact at that time.
The inquest on Emily Trigg was opened by county coroner Mr CB Harris in Chatham Town Hall and adjourned until 9 October for police inquiries.
But the police had got no further when the inquest was resumed. Supt A E Rhodes, who was leading the investigation, said everything had been done in following up any clue and this all came to nothing. The coroner lamented that it was a case which was extremely unsatisfactory to them all. The evidence pointed to one conclusion, but it would not be safe for the jury to arrive at that.
The verdict open to them was that the remains were found in a wood. Owing to the advanced state of decomposition, it was impossible to go any further. If anything happened in the nature of a confession the police could take action. The jury returned a verdict of “found dead”.
But there was still an odd postscript to be written to a case that was not distinguished by perceptive detective work. Ten days later, the police arrested Charles Hicks, a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, at Winchester. The next day, he was charged at Chatham Police Court with being concerned in the murder of Emily Trigg. The police asked for a remand until Tuesday.
Charles Hicks said he was perfectly innocent and he had been brought there by mistake. In fact he seemed more concerned about the prospect of having prison food and asked to have his money returned to him so that he could pay for his own food. The magistrate, Mr WA Smith-Master, said there would be no difficulty about this and Hicks went to prison without further complaint.
On the next Tuesday, the public packed the court for a view of Emily’s alleged brutal killer. But it was to be an anticlimax. Supt Rhodes said that following inquiries over the weekend, he would not be justified in offering any evidence against Hicks. He asked for his discharge.
Before stepping from the dock Hicks cheerfully thanked the police “for the fair way in which everything has been done”. And the chairman of the bench replied: “I am sure you will always find that with them.”
Today the case still remains unsolved; and the murder of Emily Trigg is unique in Kent crime annals. For not only was the murderer never discovered; neither also was the cause of death.