December 29, 2018

Cupitt, Patricia

In the course of making this web site I have come across historical accounts not connected with Brandon, some appeared during my research and some have been given from people visiting the web site.  The following is a rather harrowing tale of the murder of a child evacuated to the region and initially it appeared to be just another war-time tragedy, something to read about and forget, but because it kept cropping up in my research I thought it should be included here, if only to re-tell this tragic tale.   You may find the following account upsetting.


Evacuee Patricia Ann Cupitt, daughter of Sgt and Mrs Leonard Cupitt of Norbury, London, was living with her foster parents, Mr and Mrs Pask at Stud Cottage, Riddlesworth, near Thetford , Norfolk.  On May 5th 1942 she was found seriously injured in bushes in a nearby park, covered with cocoa-matting and was rushed to the West Suffolk Hospital where she died the next day from her wounds.  It appears she had left for school in the morning, as was her normal routine, but after she failed to return home by 4.30pm her foster mother, Mrs. Pask, became worried.  Mr. Pask, arrived home from work at 5.10pm and went with Mr Albert Balls to look for the young girl.  First they checked the school, but unable to find her there they retraced her steps and went to the park.  It was here that they saw Patricia’s hat and it was Mr. Balls who found her among some trees, lying on the ground, covered by cocoa-matting. She was alive at that time, although her face was covered in blood.  She died at 6.50am the next day in hospital, without re-gaining consciousness.

The investigation

On 10th May, Chief Inspector Barrett of New Scotland Yard took routine statements from a group of Pioneer Corps working in a nearby park at the time of the murder.

On 14th May, at 9.20am he saw one of the Pioneer Corps servicemen again and told him, “The explanation you gave of your movements on May 5th is not satisfactory and I want you to collect your kit and come with me whilst further enquiries are made.”  C.I. Barrett and the serviceman, Private James Wyeth, both went along to Thetford Police Station.

On 15th May, at 12.40pm Private James Wyeth, dressed in an Army battle dress, appeared at an Occasional Court at the Thetford Police Station where he was cautioned and charged, and Wyeth made no reply.  Detective Inspector Garner, of Norfolk C.I.D., then asked that the accused be remanded in custody until 10.30am, June 1st at East Harling Police Court.

This account comes from the Bury Free Press, 6th June 1942. – The accused who has been in custody since May 15th was brought before a Special Court at Thetford.  Mr. G.R.Paling, prosecuting, stated,

“… Discrepancies in the statement, however, led to the prisoner’s clothes being examined and in a subsequent interview Wyeth said, “Can I have an hour to think it over?”  An hour later in the presence of Detective Inspector Garner he asked for Chief Inspector Barrett, as he wanted to tell him he did it.  In the presence of Chief Inspector Barrett he said, “I want to tell you that I went with the girl and I want to tell you what I done to her.”  He then made a statement in which he said that he was working with a party and just after they had made a start he saw a little girl go past.  She was dressed in a pink coat.  “I had a feeling come over me to follow her.  I had a headache that morning and was feeling rough.  I asked the Corporal whether I could go to the lavatory and on being given permission I went and turned onto the path where the child had gone.  I followed her and got hold of her by the back of the neck.  I remembered nothing else until I saw her lying there with her face all covered with blood.  I have been very worried since and cannot concentrate.“”

Lance-Corporal E.J. Molson said that Wyeth had asked to go to the toilet, then Molson had told him he had taken a long time. Wyeth was flushed and sweating. Detective Inspector Garner said that he was in attendance when C.I. Barrett of the New Scotland Yard interviewed Wyeth at Riddlesworth and at Thetford Police Station between 4pm-5.30pm on 14th May 1942.  Written evidence was submitted from Dr. J.M.Webster, Home Office Pathologist, who stated that the child was healthy and her death was due to violence.  Wyeth was then committed for trial at the Old Bailey, London.

The court case

At the Old Bailey, London, 22-year old Private James Wyeth, from Maidenhead, of the Pioneer Corps, pleaded not guilty to the murder of 6½ year old Patricia Ann Cupitt.  Prosecutor, Sir Charles Doughty, K.C. said Patricia had left for school but did not return and was later found in bushes covered in cocoa-matting and suffering head wounds.  Wyeth, as part of a working party, had permission from his NCO to leave and when he returned he was flushed and sweating.  Threads were found on Wyeth’s clothing matching those from the girl.

Defending, Dr. Louis Rose of Norwich, a specialist in mental illness, gave evidence that he had tested the accused with an electro-encephalograph, an instrument which recorded brain waves that may indicate epilepsy. He had found minor abnormalities but there was not enough evidence for a clear diagnosis. He concluded Wyeth had sub-standard intelligence.

“My opinion is that he does not know the difference between right and wrong.”

In a statement to the Police, Wyeth said he had seen the girl, followed her until she reached a clump of trees. Got her by the back of the neck and dragged her under the trees. Then he didn’t remember anything else until he “saw the girl lying on her back with blood all over her face”.

Witness for the prosecution, Dr. Hugh Grierson, senior medical officer of Brixton Prison said that Wyeth was introvert and solitary. He was not satisfied that the apparent loss of memory was genuine.

Wyeth was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On Monday 27th July 1942 Wyeth’s legal team lodged an appeal.

On Thursday 10th September 1942 Wyeth was classified insane and was reprieved from the death sentence and instead sent to Broadmoor Prison by order of the Home Secretary.

The family of Patricia have confirmed that she is buried in Streatham Park Cemetery, London.  The fate of James Wyeth is not currently known.