The Green Coat Murder

On 16th of May 1920 seventeen year old  Irene Munro made a decision which would have horrific consequences and would cost her her life – she decided not to go on the family holiday but to travel to Eastbourne on her own.

She found lodgings at 393 Seaside and two days later she wrote a letter to her mother in which she describes walking all the way to Pevensey Bay.

Two days after that 11 year old William Weller was playing on the Crumbles, a stretch of beach between Langney and Pevensey,  when he made a terrible discovery.  He found  a human foot protruding  through the beach.  A police constable from Pevensey  was summoned to the scene where he pushed back the shingle and discovered the horribly battered and bloodied body of a young woman.    He alerted his senior officers who rushed to the scene. Superintendent Willard of Pevensey reported that  blood had soaked through the shingle to a depth of 18 ins and he deduced that she had been murdered by a blow from a heavily bloodstained brick which he found nearby.  Scotland Yard was called in and officers arrived next day.

The next morning Irene’s landlady, concerned at the disappearance of her young lodger and having heard reports in the news, went to the police station and it was ascertained that the murder victim was Irene.

Two builders working in Seaside remembered seeing Irene coming from her lodgings wearing  a distinctive green coat and walking in the direction of the Crumbles.  A bus driver saw a similarly attired young woman greeting Jack Field and William Gray.  He recognised Gray as “they had spent time together at the Front.”

A gang of navvies working on the cinder track between Langney and Pevensey  were taking a tea break in a disused railway carriage some 500 yards from the murder scene and recalled seeing a girl with two men. They identified Irene from a photograph shown to them by the Police.

A further witness, Charles Dyer saw a woman in green coat pass by St Agnes church. The woman was hanging onto Gray’s arm.  Dyer knew him to be a married man and said to his companion” he should be shot.”

The pieces of the jigsaw were quickly put together and Jack Field and William Gray, a couple of local layabouts, were arrested. They were questioned for two days and put on an identity parade but unfortunately the workmen could not pick them out and they were freed.

They thought they had got away with it.

Then a surprise witness came forward – a sailor who had returned to his ship, but recalled seeing Irene in her green coat with the two men and he had followed them onto the Crumbles. He recalled seeing a stick with a dog’s head which was later identified as belonging to Field’s father and which matched the wounds on Irene’s face. He requested permission from his commanding officer to return to Eastbourne where the police drove him along the seafront and he was able to pick out Field and Gray. They were again arrested and committed for trial at Lewes Assizes. Their flimsy alibis (that they had been visiting Pevensey Castle at the time) quickly fell apart and the jury took just one hour to find them guilty of murder. Gray said to Field “I never thought we would be in this hole.” Field replied “On Irene Munro’s coffin were the word ‘thy will be done.’”

Irene Munro was laid to rest in Langney Cemetery


Source – Sussex Police Files.  East Sussex Record Office