23 July

The Rayleigh bath chair murder occurred in Rayleigh, Essex, England in 1943 when  Archibald Brown, aged 47 was blown apart by an explosion.

Archibald and his wife Doris Lucy Brown lived in London Hill, Rayleigh and had two sons, Eric and Collin. Due to a motorcycle accident Archibald Brown lost the use of his legs at the age of 24 and thereafter required the use of a bath chair and was cared for by three nurses.

On Friday 23 July 1943 nurse Doris Irene Mitchell took Archibald Brown out of the house. After walking for about a mile, Brown had shifted his weight apparently while feeling for a cigarette in his pocket. Mitchell, having stopped to light the cigarette returned to the back of the chair and pushed it forward. Within half a dozen paces there was a violent explosion. Mitchell suffered leg injuries and as far as she could see Brown and his bath chair had completely disappeared. The police found portions of the body at the side of the road and in nearby trees and gardens.

Enemy action was soon ruled out as the cause of the explosion. Experts found the cause to be a British Hawkins grenade – a type of anti-tank mine that is detonated when an acid-filled glass ampule is broken. The device had been placed under the bath chair’s cushion. A formal murder investigation was begun. Doris Brown was interviewed at length at Rayleigh Police Station. It emerged that although Archibald Brown had been crippled and unable to walk, his will power was undiminished: he harshly ruled his wife and elder son. Eric Brown was constantly beaten and humiliated. Doris Brown stated that her husband had increasingly appeared to take a dislike to her. Eric too, had noticed the deterioration in Archibald’s behaviour, he had taken a liking to his new nurse and their walks together.

The blame fell on Eric Brown. He had previously attended lectures on the same mine used in the murder, and, having joined the army some years previously, had access to a weapons store in Spilsby. Eventually Eric Brown gave a confession in which he blamed his actions on Archibald Brown’s abusive attitude to both him and his mother. On 21 September 1943 he was committed to trial at the Essex Assizes. Declared insane, he was eventually released in 1975.