1946 John Whatman Murder

From Historical Hastings

With the intent of committing a robbery, the perpetrator of this crime visited John Whatman at his home address under a pretext of selling a revolver, however a struggle broke out, resulting in Mr Whatman being killed.

Circumstances of Crime

Crime Scene photo of The Choice

On the night of Saturday the 2nd of March 1946 Sydney John Smith visited 72 year old John Whatman, a horse slaughterer at his home (The Choice) in Blackpath Lane in Hastings under the guise of selling him a revolver. Smith however believed there was a large amount of treasure hidden within the house. A struggle broke out resulting in Smith striking Whatman around the head prior to shooting him twice, then dragging the body out into the yard where he attempted to conceal the body by covering it with a coat. The crime was discovered the following morning and it was found that John's house had been ransacked, with the safe forced, and money and a gold watch stolen.[1]

Arrest of Suspect

Prior to the offence, Smith had shown a friend a 0.45 calibre revolver earlier in the day and was seen after the murder in Joe's Cafe located in Battle Road, less than a mile from the scene of the murder.[2]The police traced Smith as the visitor fairly quickly, and he was arrested on March the 7th at his lodgings in Markyate in Hertfordshire, having run from his parent's address in Lunsford Cross. He admitted to the killing of Whatman but claimed that it was in self-defence. He told the investigators that Whatman had refused to buy his gun and had drawn his own gun and threatened to shoot him (Smith). Firing first and hitting Whatman in the shoulder, then in the head Smith effected the killing of his victim. This did not, of course, account for the robbery or the other head injuries found on the body. Smith was tried at Lewes on the 18th of July 1946 before Mr. Justice Singleton. The self-defence story was not proven out by the forensic evidence and Smith was soon convicted.[3]

Death Sentence

The then 24-year-old Sydney John Smith was hanged at London’s Wandsworth prison on Friday the 6th of September 1946. This was a double hanging and beside him on the gallows stood David Baillie Mason who sentenced to death for the murders of his wife and child. The famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint[4] was the hangman, assisted by Harry Allen and Henry Critchell, two assistants being normally used for double executions.


References & Notes

  1. Coventry Evening Telegraph - Monday 04 March 1946 Pg. 8
  2. Greater Hollington magazine circa 2000
  3. Hastings & St Leonards Observer 24 August 1946 pg. 1
  4. Wikipedia: Albert Pierrepoint - Wikipedia, accessdate: 19 November 2019