OBSERVING MURDER: PART 5
I should have said that I swapped phone numbers with both Jeremy and Jennifer before I left the restaurant the previous evening. This morning, at 7.30am, I had a phone call from Jeremy. It went like this:
Jeremy: ‘Naomi, thank you so much for agreeing to see me last night, and for being so positive and helpful. My mother is so pleased that you’ve agreed to help us and is already ensuring your room will be ready for you’.
Me: ‘Well that’s…..’
Jeremy: ‘Mother has asked me to arrange for your luggage, etc., to be collected. If that’s ok, can you have them left with the receptionist and they will be collected around 2pm’?
Me: ‘Oh, I …..’
Jeremy: ‘Brilliant. Call me whenever you’ve finished and wherever you are, and I’ll arrange a taxi to collect you and take you straight to the house.’
Me: ‘Thank you but that’s not really necessary, I’ll …….’
Jeremy: ‘No, no, we won’t take no for an answer. Mother’s already arranged with grandmother to gain access to the attic so we should have something to look at when you arrive – after dinner, of course. See you later then. Bye.’
Then he hung up. Fait accompli.
I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about having my next few days organised so comprehensively. I was pleased that I was going to be able to have access to some primary source material but, on the other hand, I was also aware that I didn’t know what use they might turn out to be, nor was I entirely sure that actually being based in the family home was necessarily a good thing. I’d just have to wait and see on both counts.
I decided that my first angle of research would be on confirming the important dates of both Elizabeth and Oswald and this I could do from my laptop without having to go anywhere. I had access to Ancestry and other online family search engines and I’d be much more comfortable sitting in the hotel lounge with cups of coffee by my side than I would be elsewhere. So, consequently, I made all the necessary arrangements concerning my luggage, checked out and moved into the reception area as planned.
It took me about half an hour to track down the marriage certificate for Elizabeth Danvers and Oswald Archibald Jefferson. They had married on 15th December 1924, the two witnesses being named as Millicent Withers and Anthony Poulsden. The marriage had taken place in Suffolk. I bookmarked the page for later. Then I looked up the census returns for 1931 and found the pair living at the London address that I was going to be staying in from that evening. I also saw that Rachel, Jeremy’s grandmother, also appeared on the census along with two brothers (Cedric and Arthur). Rachel’s age was given as six, whilst the boys were noted as being just two years old. So far, so good. I then tried to look up Rachel’s birth certificate but was unable to find it. I did, however, find seven Elizabeth Denvers but only one whose date of birth enabled the owner to be under the age of 50 in 1924. The date was given as 4th March 1899 and her parents’ names were Margaret and Richard Danvers. Oswald’s birth certificate was easy to find, his name was a blessing to be honest as it led me directly to his date of birth, being 10th October 1895. All these details were taken down and the pages bookmarked. Jennifer could order the official copies if she needed to.
All this searching had taken up the whole morning, but I was very pleased with the results. I’d also managed to find the twin boys’ birth certificates so I was only missing Rachel’s. I made a note to remind me to see if I could find any details of the Jefferson’s marriage in either the London or Suffolk newspapers. Then I ordered myself a light lunch and a coffee. I was exhausted with reading through the lists and lists of possible names that had come up with almost every search term and needed the break. My lunch had just been brought to me and I was just about to take a forkful when I heard my name being called from the reception desk. I looked up and saw Jeremy waving, my luggage at his feet. He turned back and said something to the receptionist who immediately got a porter to carry my luggage back into the room it had been stored in that morning. Jeremy walked over to me. I gave up any hope of eating my meal as he reeled off a list of questions about my research that morning,
‘I simply can’t tell you without your mother present, so you’ll just have to wait’, was my response. I did inform him, though, that I’d managed to amass quite a bit of information which should prove useful for the family tree. With that I pointedly switched my attention to my plate and he had the grace to smile. We agreed that I may as well accompany my own luggage to the family house rather than make my way there, alone, later.
I don’t know London very well, in fact I barely know it at all, so I couldn’t describe where we went or the route we took to get there. I only know that we ended up outside a beautiful house with a Georgian façade and steps leading up to the front door. I’d been too busy thinking about the whole business to take much notice of road or street names. I did realise, though, that the house was worth a very pretty penny. Jeremy ran up the steps to the front door, opening it with a key, whilst I extricated myself from the back seat of the car and started to gather up my belongings. Seconds later Jennifer appeared beside me and took a couple of bags from me, handing them to Jeremy and instructing him to take them up to my room. She took the rest of my luggage and deposited them at the bottom of a wrought iron staircase saying, ‘Jeremy can take those up too’.
I was ushered through to the kitchen, a lovely bright room with French doors opening out onto a very private garden full of flowers and small trees. Jennifer offered me a coffee but, just having had one, I declined the offer. By the time Jeremy returned we had started discussing our relative mornings’ work. Jennifer had spoken to her mother about wanting to look at the documents stored in the attic and her mother, apparently, had agreed. Not wanting to waste any time, or have her mother change her mind, Jennifer had asked for the keys and made her way to the attic rooms. She had been very surprised to find very little up there. Her mother had always said that the attic was the repository of loads of numerous items of broken, unwanted, unloved furniture, toys, forgotten objects and papers, but all she had found were two large chests which, when opened, contained dairies and journals written down by her grandmother. She had spent the rest of the morning bringing them downstairs and they were now sitting on the dining room table ready for us to read.
I could hardly contain my own excitement, it can only have been second Jennifer’s. There is something very wonderful about looking at old documents, especially when they have not seen the light of day for many years. We both wondered what might be in them and if there was anything which could be related to the mystery I was trying to solve.
Some five hours later we had an answer of sorts. An answer which pulled the rug out from under all of us there. Elizabeth had kept a diary from the age of 10 years until the end of June 1924. Jennifer had read through all the entries and made notes of any firm details she thought may be of interest. I had read through her journals, journals which she had written from July of 1924 when she had first met Oswald. Between them the journals and the diary charted Elizabeth’s life and thoughts through fully 50 years. Joining the threads up proved to be explosive and required more family research.
From the age of 10 Elizabeth wrote lovingly of her sister, Lauredana. They were obviously best friends, sharing everything together, being everything to each other. They lived charmed lives, their parents doting on them, ensuring they grew up knowing they were deeply loved. Their family home was in Sussex where they lived in a large family house with the most beautiful gardens. Then all went wrong. Their parents, Richard and Margaret Denvers, were killed in a road traffic accident on 6th June 1924. The two girls, by then grown women, were left orphans with no remaining family to guide them. Elizabeth then turned to keeping a journal wherein she recorded her thoughts and feelings, her pain and heartache after her parents had died. The unfairness that she had felt when her father’s will had been read out and she learned that, as the eldest child by a matter of 10 minutes, she inherited everything with the proviso that she looked after her sister, Lauredana, until such time as Lauredana married and then the estate was to be shared equally between them. She had felt the unfairness not just for herself, who had been given a huge amount of responsibility, but for her sister too. Then she had met Oswald, a handsome, debonair man who declared his undying love for her and his brotherly affection for her sister. They married on 15th December 1924. They then moved to London where they could all start their new lives together.
Elizabeth was delighted to see that her husband and her sister seemed to get along like brother and sister. It made her life so much easier and she looked forward very much to the day her sister found her own husband. Until then she was more than happy to have her sister live with them.
However, by the summer of 1925 Elizabeth’s journal entries were hinting at something not quite right in the relationship between her husband and her sister. By the December of that year the journal entries were much darker. She had quarrelled with her sister and her husband, her sister moving out of the house and into another, one which she seemed to think her husband was paying for. Jennifer, Jeremy and I looked at each other, each of us knowing that something very important was about to be disclosed. The next entry was dated 5th January 1926 and read: ‘A daughter, my sister has had a bastard daughter. How could she? How could they? What do I do, why isn’t it me that he loves. I never want to see or hear her name again and I never, ever, want to see the girl’.
In the February it was clear that Elizabeth had threatened her cut her husband off any access to her money if he didn’t get rid of Lauredana. Oswald, apparently, had not brought any great wealth into the marriage, the money was all Elizabeth’s. However, Oswald didn’t stop seeing Lauredana and his daughter and Elizabeth’s entries grew wilder and angrier. In an entry dated 1st July 1926, Elizabeth vents her fury at the fact that she had discovered a receipt from Garrard’s in her husband’s pocket. It was for a sapphire ring and the amount of money he had paid for it astonished her. She described how she had finally snapped and demanded that Oswald stop seeing Lauredana at once. He refused.
The next entry was scribbled, hurried and difficult to read. It described how Elizabeth had followed her husband to the Kit Cat Club on the night of 25th July 1926. She had joined up with strangers and they all went in laughing and joking, then she slipped off to one side always keeping her eyes on her husband. Eventually she spotted her sister, around the same time as Oswald also saw her. She watched them as they fell into each other’s arms, dancing, laughing, acting like a loving couple. Then Elizabeth noticed the sparkle of blue from her sister’s finger and realised that it was from the sapphire ring – the one her money had paid for. In the early hours of the morning she saw the two head for the exit and followed them. She climbed the steps and hid in the shadows as her husband and her sister walked out into the road. Then she heard them arguing. Oswald was pleading with Lauredana, telling her that he was unable to carry on seeing her. Telling her that he would always support Rachel. Telling her that he had to return and be a proper husband to Elizabeth, but that he wouldn’t be able to love his wife as he loved her. Lauredana was crying and telling him that she wouldn’t let him go, that he loved her and not Elizabeth and that she would tell everyone if he left her now. Elizabeth watched, horrified, as she saw her husband take Lauredana’s scarf and wrap it round her sister’s neck, tying it and then pulling it. She stood watching him as he throttled the life out of her sister, out of the woman he professed to love. She watched him as he ran away and disappeared round a corner. Then she ran across to her sister, knew she was dead and took her ring, her necklace and her purse. The ring because it symbolised everything that had gone wrong, the necklace because she liked the colour and the purse because it might contain something which would lead to Lauredana’s identification.
Then she calmly walked off the other way. She heard the men and women laughing and shouting as they came up the steps onto the road, she heard them shouting in shock as they saw Lauredana’s body lying in the road. She kept on walking.
Two days later another journal entry described how Oswald had arrived home, looking ill and unkempt. Elizabeth had welcomed him back with open arms. She had also made sure that she wore the ring and pendant she had stolen from Lauredana’s lifeless body. He understood. He had her silence as long as he didn’t misbehave again. Elizabeth told him to fetch the child, not quite seven months old at the time. She would bring it up as her own and he would give her more children. He agreed, he couldn’t afford not to.
We had to stop there. This information had to be digested and everything confirmed by research. I was determined to find Rachel’s birth certificate, and those of Elizabeth and Lauredana. Jennifer agreed that we had to do that. She was white and I felt so sorry for her. Jeremy was silent. ‘I must tell mother, I must explain what we’ve found here. I have no idea how she’ll take all this’, whispered Jennifer. I hugged her. I really felt that it was all my fault. That if I hadn’t had the dream then this dreadful secret would never have been discovered. Then the dining room door opened and in walked an elderly, frail woman who I could only imagine was Rachel. Jennifer walked up to her and carefully sat her in a chair and tried to explain, as gently as she could, what she had found.
As she finished telling her what we had found I looked and saw tears falling from Rachel’s eyes. ‘I wondered why mother had never loved me’, she said, sadly. ‘My brothers were the loves of her life and I was always nothing at all. Now I know why’. I could have wept for her. Instead, inside my head, Laurie was sobbing, really sobbing. Then she cried out ‘my darling daughter’, but it wasn’t her crying out – it was me, she was using my voice. Rachel stared at me and my body moved towards her, took her in my arms and held on to her. I was singing a lullaby, one I didn’t know but I was singing it. There were words of love coming out of my mouth which I was unable to stop. My face was wet with tears and the emotion I was feeling was tearing me apart.
Eventually Laurie calmed down, and I was able to take control of myself again. I sat and looked at this very elderly woman, Laurie’s daughter. Laurie – Lauredana. She asked me who I was, I tried to explain. I told her all about the voice in my head, my ‘imaginary friend’ who was always so very real to me. I told her about the ‘dream’ that was anything but a dream. About the clues I had been led to by Laurie/Lauredana, about her insistence that I solve this terrible crime. About the raw emotion that had engulfed me and which had come from her mother. Rachel reached out – looked through me into my soul and said ‘I am so glad I have finally found you mother. I hope I will see you soon, I am old now and my time must be near’. Then she kissed my cheek.
A week later we had found both Lauredana and Rachel’s birth certificates. Elizabeth had left Rachel the two houses she had purchased in London, together with some money, though the rest of her large estate was given to her sons. We found out that Oswald had died in 1960 and Elizabeth had followed just three years later. Laurie/Lauredana had been buried in an unmarked grave some miles away. She had told me a couple of days after the truth had been discovered. Rather I had asked her directly and then she told me. I was able to pass this information on to Rachel and, together, we went and visited her, placing flowers on the unkempt, unloved little mound. Rachel’s bouquet had a little note attached to it which read; ‘To my mother, I wish I had known you. I look forward to seeing you soon’.
Jeremy walked around in rather a daze for some time. He gave me some strange looks, as though I should have told him all about his great grandmother from the beginning. He didn’t seem to be able to understand that I didn’t know. That Laurie had not told me. I think I need to do some reparation work there. I like him – very much.
Jennifer asked me so many questions about her grandmother, why was she inside my head (I still don’t know the answer to that), what does she sound like (how do I explain?), what did she look like – we found the answer to that one. We were looking through old photographs which Elizabeth had kept in one of her boxes, suddenly Laurie’s voice squealed in my head ‘that’s me – oh lord I was so very young there, 22 I think’.