Under normal circumstances, one would expect that anyone who knew they were about to die as the result of a brutal attack would spend every bit of their remaining strength towards bring their murderer to justice. However, the following case proved to be very far from normal. An old woman’s murder, which, at first, seemed fairly simple and straightforward, soon took a puzzling turn which transformed it into one of England’s odder crime mysteries.
Margery Wren lived a life so quiet and humble as to be practically invisible. She and her sister Mary Jane (who both remained spinsters) spent the early part of their adult lives “in service.” Eventually, the sisters opened a small grocery shop in Ramsgate, England, where they lived in a tiny flat upstairs from the store. When Mary Jane died in 1928, the eighty-year-old Margery carried on alone. Mary Jane had left all her property and personal effects to her sister and a cousin, one Mrs. Cook, with a Richard Archibald being the next in line to inherit.
As often happens when elderly and slightly eccentric people live alone, it was rumored in the neighborhood that despite her cramped and rather squalid lodgings, Margery had considerable amounts of money hidden on the premises. (This eventually proved to be untrue, but such gossip might--or might not--have figured in the tragedy that would soon follow.)
Around 6 p.m. on September 20, 1930, a twelve-year-old girl named Ellen Marvell came to Margery’s shop to buy blancmange powder for her mother. She found the shop door locked, which was unusual. She looked through the window, and saw Wren sitting on a chair in the back room. Ellen rattled the door again, and saw Margery slowly get up and unfasten the door. Blood was running down Margery’s head, and her face was bruised. The child exclaimed, “Whatever have you done, Miss Wren?” The old woman merely mumbled, “What do you want?” The girl saw she was in a daze.
Ellen, realizing something was very wrong, ran home to fetch her father. Mr. Marvell immediately saw that Margery was seriously injured. When he asked her what happened, Wren muttered, “I have just had a tumble, that’s all.”
It was obvious, however, that she had suffered a great deal more than “a tumble.” Mr. Marvell sent Ellen to find a doctor, while he himself went for the police. When the Chief Constable arrived at the shop, he was so impressed with the gravity of the situation that he at once called in Scotland Yard. It was clear that Wren’s head had been savagely battered with tongs, which were still on the scene, covered with blood and Margery’s hair. Marks on her neck indicated that her attacker had also made an attempt to strangle her, and probably stifle her cries.
The old woman was rushed to the hospital, but little could be done to aid her. It was obvious that Wren was dying, and what no one could fathom is that she flatly refused to say who was responsible. During her periods of consciousness, she moaned enigmatic words which made it clear that she knew her attacker, and was determined to protect his identity. “He tried to borrow ten pounds,” she whispered.
“I don’t know why he should have come into the shop, then.”
“Is the little black bag safe?”
“He has escaped, and you will never get him.”
For the most part, Margery continued to insist that she had merely tripped and fallen. However, she once told a policewoman, “There were two of them set about me. If I had not had my cap on they would have smashed my brain-box with the tongs...There was a knocking at the shop door and then they made their escape.”
Her vicar had a talk with Margery, where he begged her to say who had harmed her. She refused. After he finally left, Margery, with a surreal air of satisfaction, commented to another visitor, “I did not tell him anything, see.”
When it became obvious the end was near, Wren was warned that she was running out of time to name her murderer. “You say I am dying,” she replied. “Well, that means I am going home. Let him live in his sins.”
Five days after being assaulted, Margery Wren went home.
She left the police with a fine puzzle on their hands. What was the motive for the murder? Robbery? The small sums of money she had squirreled around her flat were untouched, and she certainly had no valuables. And why was she so anxious to protect the man who had killed her?
Police released a statement asking for anyone who had been in Wren’s shop on the day of the murder, or anyone who had seen any person entering or exiting the premises to communicate with them. Unfortunately, nothing was learned that was of any help with the investigation. The murderer had managed to come and go unnoticed. Fingerprints were found in the shop, but they led to no constructive result. This was one of those cases where police started their investigation by running smack into a brick wall, and never got past it.
Margery’s cousin Mrs. Cook did what she could to assist the police, but she had little to contribute. Although she lived in Ramsgate and had been in close contact with Margery for many years, she had no clue who the murderer might have been. As far as Mrs. Cook knew, Margery had no enemies, and never spoke negatively of anyone.
Although Wren’s small hoards of money had been untouched, the assailant had thoroughly ransacked her home. All the drawers had been opened, with the contents dumped on the floor. The man had been clearly looking for something, but it remained a mystery what that might have been.
Ultimately futile as the investigation was, police did dig up a few curious details about the dead woman’s past, suggesting that there had been far more to Margery Wren than met the eye. It turned out that Mary Jane Wren had left a considerable estate--far more than she would have been expected to accumulate during a lifetime of domestic service and running a tiny tuck shop. Where did the money come from? It was also learned that many years prior to the murder, the Wren sisters befriended an unmarried, pregnant young woman. The father was a wealthy man, but refused to take any responsibility for the child. After the baby was born, this young woman married a man who looked after the youngster. Unfortunately, this man soon died, after which the Wrens agreed to raise the child. This child, a girl, grew up to be a very pretty and charming woman. She eventually married and had several children, but she was long dead by the time Margery met her fate. As intriguing as the police found all this, they were unable to connect any of this tale to the murder.
When Margery was in the hospital she mentioned several different men whom she implied were her assailants. However, the police found that it was impossible that any of them had anything to do with the murder. These men were clearly “red herrings” Wren had planted in order to lead police away from her real attacker.
The inquest into her death gave the inevitable verdict of murder committed by “some person or persons unknown,” and that was that. Wren does not appear to have known very many people, so one would think that it would have been easy to find the identity of a man whom she would be willing to literally protect with her life. But such was not to be. The seemingly unassuming Margery Wren was clearly a woman with some deep secrets, and she succeeded in taking them to her grave.