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 • Hardingstone
 • Northampton Borough
 • Northamptonshire
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Birth: unknown
Death: Nov. 6, 1936
Northamptonshire, England

murder victim - the "blazing car murder" case

from The Telegraph:

Northamptonshire: Every Tombstone Tells A Story
by Byron Rogers

It was harder to find this time. The nettles and the brambles have closed in, the trees are lower, so the little cross, when you do find it, is like something in a forest glade. But someone had put a poppy under it, as someone usually does, with the motto: "In Remembrance." For, once found, this is hard to forget.

The cross is of wood, and on it there is no name or date of birth, just the stark inscription, "In Memory of an Unknown Man, Died November 6th, 1936 [year incorrect]" But then that is all that is known, that and the fact that briefly, in Hardingstone churchyard, near Northampton, this was the most famous grave in Britain...

In the middle of the 20th century it was possible for a man to disappear, not in a city through which the world and its drifters passed, but here, in this small village. And not quietly, either. The man was buried in the full glare of publicity, and not a member of his family, not a friend, missed him, and not even the slow trawl of bureaucracy revealed his absence. His murderer did not know his name.

We know this because, at two o'clock in the morning, two young men, coming from a dance that November night, saw a car blazing outside Hardingstone. They stopped dead and, at that moment, a figure rose from behind a hedge and said, chattily: "Looks as if someone has had a bonfire." Alfred Rouse had started to talk his way to the gallows.

He was 37 years old, and 15 years earlier, after being blown up on the Western Front, had not regained consciousness until his hospital train passed through Bedford. As a result of this experience, his doctors noted: "[He] is easily excited . . . and laughs immoderately at times." Rouse could not stop talking. Thomas Hardy would have loved the grim irony of that, also the fact that when Rouse returned to Bedford it was to be hanged.

Had he not popped up from behind that hedge, there would have been no murder trial and no burial of an Unknown Man. What remained of Alfred Rouse, found in a blazing car, would have been interred, probably in London where he had lived.

Rouse was a commercial traveller in 1930, one of a new breed: dapper, his hair sleeked back and with one of those little moustaches which, had it not been for Hitler, would seem comical now. And Rouse had a car.

The car, a Morris, plays a large part in the story. The one thing Rouse remembered about his victim was that he had hardly ever been in a car before. The car fascinated counsel, too. When the barrister Sir Patrick Hastings wrote a book about the trial, he reflected: "Rouse took scores of young women for a ride in his car, much to their undoing and regret." Wherever it went on the empty roads of England that you see only in sepia photographs now, the little car left a slipstream of seduction.

Income, eight pounds. Payments on car, one pound 12 shillings. Mortgage, one pound seven shillings and sixpence. Household expenses, two pounds (for there was also a Mrs Rouse). The rest went in paternity suits. Alfred Rouse was a man with a need to disappear.

And just when that need was reaching desperate proportions, he found himself standing a stranger a drink in a north London pub and hearing the man say: "I have no relations." And that was it. As Rouse, unable to resist a death-cell confession, said later: "He was the sort of man no one would miss."

The stranger, who was unemployed, needed a lift north, and Rouse agreed to take him as far as Leicester. He bought him a bottle of whisky, and, as they passed Northampton in the early hours, he noticed his passenger had passed out. He parked the car, took a can of petrol from the boot and soused the man in it, then laid a trail along the ground. He could so easily have got away with it.

But that one remark to the two young men had revealed the presence at the scene of a second man, and Rouse panicked. He hitchhiked home, then took a bus to South Wales, where there was yet another girl. And all the time he was talking, telling the booking clerk and the bus driver that his car had been stolen. By the next morning, the police had traced the car, and his name was in the papers. Still talking, he took a bus home, and at Hammersmith the police were waiting.

He said it had been an accident, that the two of them had run out of petrol and he, wanting to relieve himself, had asked his passenger to get some petrol from the can in the boot. The man had said something about a smoke, and the next thing he knew was that the car had gone up in flames. He had tried to rescue him, but after that just lost his head.

It was a convincing story. The dead man had been drinking, which would explain the petrol spilt in the car. What was more, because the police could not identify him, they could not prove a connection between the two, so there was no motive. Had he come to trial at this stage, Rouse would have got off.

Except that, in Northampton police station, relaxing with some policemen, he went on talking, not noticing that one of them had a notebook open. This time he touched on his private life. "I am very friendly with several women, but it is an expensive game," he said, grandly. "I was on my way to Leicester on Wednesday. I was then going to Wales for the weekend. My harem takes me to several places . . ." Harem. That one word doomed him. He was still talking in the death cell, where he admitted everything.

The unknown man was buried near where he had died. A metal box containing newspaper accounts of the trial was buried with him, and village children used to put flowers there every November. That custom died out during the Second World War, but he is not forgotten...
St Edmund Church
Northampton Borough
Northamptonshire, England
Created by: CypressGreen
Record added: Jul 30, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 94464265
Added by: ColinA
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- Steve C
 Added: Dec. 27, 2015

- Dragon
 Added: Oct. 3, 2014
Thank you for your research and sharing this truly amazing story. I will try and find the grave next time I am travelling through Northamptonshire.
- RogerSayer
 Added: May. 29, 2013
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