Highway Robbery


Pen and Ink drawing of the attack

DARING HIGHWAY ROBBERY AT EPSOM BY MASKED MEN.


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THE VICTIM WAS WARNED BY AN ANONYMOUS LETTER


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Late on Monday week, as Mr William George Ayres, a builder, of Epsom, was going to the house of Mr. Macdonald, of the Mill Nursery, a house in a lonely road on the outskirts of the town, he was set upon by four masked men, two of whom struck him over the head with heavy clubs, knocking him senseless. He was wheeling his bicycle at the time, as he had no oil for his lamp. His assailants flung the machine over the hedge into a field, and afterwards rifled Ayres' pockets of everything they contained, getting away with over £45 in cash and his watch among other things. Mr Ayres' head was very much cut and bruised and his clothes torn. It was more than an hour after the assault that he was found lying stiff and senseless in the roadway. Mr Wallis Macdonald stumbled over something as he was leaving his house, and was alarmed to find that it was the body of Mr Ayres, who was apparently dead. With difficulty he dragged Mr Ayres into the house, and, seeing how serious his injuries were, Dr Daniels was sent for. For some time it was feared that the unfortunate man would die. Eventually, however, he became partially conscious, but he was unable to speak until the next day, when he told the story of the assault. He said he was aware of no one's presence in the road until he received several crashing blows on the head. He turned round to defend himself and saw two masked men, and behind them two more, but before he could say a word they all attacked him at once, and he fell , unconscious. Mr Ayres stated that he had not the slightest idea who the men were. They appeared rough-looking, and were dressed in labourer's clothes. Their faces were well disguised.

A reported had an interview with Mr Macdonald, with whom Mr Ayres lived, on Tuesday, and was furnished with further particulars of the outrage. It appears that Mr Ayres has been engaged for the last week or so in some building operations on a plot of land on the outskirts of Epsom, and that, after he finished his work in the evening, he either rode to Mill Nursery or walked home. A considerable number of men were engaged in the building work referred to, and it is stated that of late there have been several "rows" among them, and they have exhibited no small amount of feeling with regard to certain police court cases that are pending. For some reason or other not known Mr Ayres has been somewhat unpopular with them.

On the morning of the outrage Mr Ayres was at work, as usual, in one of the partly completed houses on the new building ground, when a slip of paper was pushed in under the door. At first he took no notice of it, and it was not until he was on the way out that he picked it up, out of curiosity. It was a square sheet of rather dirty paper, and on it were printed, in roughly-formed letters, the following words:- "William Ayres - There is a trap set for you; mind you do not fall into it."

No signature of any kind was attached to this curious communication, and Mr Ayres crumpled it up and put it in his pocket, looking at it in the light of a joke. He did not even mention it until Tuesday, when he gave an account of the assault to the police. As soon as the unfortunate man was discovered the police were communicated with, and all night they were scouring the neighbourhood in search of Mr Ayres' assailants. They found signs of a struggle in the road, and traced some footmarks to the roadside. Over the hedge they found the bicycle, in a battered condition, and further on footmarks corresponding with those on the road were discovered leading across a ploughed field. As the end of the field, however, they disappeared, and there was no clue as to which direction the men had taken. The Scotland Yard authorities were at once communicated with, and throughout the day detectives were at work in the neighbourhood, no discovery has been made.

On Tuesday a reporter was informed that though Mr Ayres had somewhat improved he still lay in a very precarious condition. None of his friends were allowed to see him, the doctor stating that nothing but absolute quiet could save him.

The Illustrated Police News, 16 January 1897


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