The historic murder of six-year-old evacuee Patricia Cupit
- Credit: Archant
Children were evacuated in the Second World War to escape the horrors of the London Blitz. But for one little girl who sought asylum in Norfolk, it would lead to her being brutally murdered by a British soldier. Reporter Marc Betts speaks to Darren Norton, who explained the murder of Patricia Cupit.
Patricia Cupit was six when she was evacuated to Stud Cottage at Riddlesworth, near Thetford, to live with Mr and Mrs Pask.
Born in October 1935 to parents Leonard and Anne Cupit, both in their early 20s, she grew up in Manor Way, Mitcham, London, but with war declared in 1939 she was evacuated the following year when she became school age.
Originally sent to Brighton, she made the trip up to Norfolk in August 1941 after becoming homesick and spending a brief period in London. Less than a year later she would be found dead.
On Tuesday, May 5 1942 Patricia had her breakfast of bread and milk and set off for school at 8.20am in a green jumper and pink coat.
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By the afternoon Mrs Pask had become concerned that little Patricia had not returned home. She was normally home by 4.20pm but now it was past 5pm. She took her bicycle out to look for her coming back nearly an hour later empty handed.
This is when she heard that Patricia had been found in Riddlesworth Park, near Riddlesworth Hall, covered in blood, crudely hidden with matting, but alive.
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She was rushed to hospital in Bury St Edmund's but died the following day. Her parents arrived just before she passed away at 6.50am.
Police, Norfolk CID and New Scotland Yard interviewed about 200 people - residents, school staff and military personnel.
The coroner's report showed that the school girl had been stabbed several times around the ears, jaw, lips and cheeks with bruising and strangulation marks. Her cause of death was given as cerebral haemorrhage, shock and cardiac failure.
Officers focused their attention on a nearby military camp where the 218th Company Pioneer Corps were based.
A group of five men had been excavating a quarry nearby, this is when the police got their lead. Lance Corporal EJ Molson said that he gave one of the five men in his command, Ptv James Wyeth, permission to use the toilet. When he returned he was flushed and sweating profusely.
Police interviewed the soldier, who said he had taken a detour to collect a newspaper, spoke to a colleague, then read the paper for 30 minutes. Officers spoke to the colleague in question. He said he never saw Wyeth that morning.
Wyeth was arrested at 9.20am on Thursday, May 14, later that afternoon he confessed.
He admitted to seeing Patricia on her walk to school, in his confession he said: "I had a feeling come over me to follow her.
"I asked the corporal whether I could go to the lavatory and on being given permission I went and turned onto the path where the child had gone.
"I followed her and got hold of her by the back of her neck. I remembered nothing else until I saw her lying there with her face all covered in blood."
This was not the first time that Wyeth had attacked a girl.
Growing up in Cedar Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, by the age of 15 he had been in constant trouble for threatening and frightening girls.
He attacked a young girl in August 1935, then in November a seven-year-old. The following year in March he attacked two girls aged five and nine.
In May 1940, he beat-up a 19-year-old woman and attempted to rape her before a passing car spooked him. He was found guilty of indecent assault and causing actual bodily harm being sent to borstal for three years.
Wyeth was summoned to the Old Bailey in London on Friday July 17. He pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutor Sir Charles Doughty told the court three small threads found on Wyeth's clothing matched Patricia's and his also had small blood spatters.
Dr Louis Rose, of Norwich, for the defence, was a specialist in mental health. He told the court he had found minor abnormalities with Wyeth's brain and "my opinion is that he does not know the difference between right and wrong".
The judge, Mr Justice Wrottesley found Wyeth guilty of murder and sentenced him to death.
Wyeth's defence took the case to the Court of Appeals claiming the trial had not considered the possibility of insanity.
This was dismissed with Mr Justice Humphreys reminding the court that Wyeth had tried to hide the body and claiming he could not remember anything was no defence.
But Wyeth did not face the gallows. Winston Churchill's home secretary, Herbert Morrison, stepped in and Wyeth spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor Prison where he died in 1983.