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"Ought to Burn" or "Otterburn"?

Author: theowinthrop from United States
17 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In November 1930 there was a famous murder on Guy Fawkes Night: the Burning Car Mystery. Briefly Mr. Alfred Rouse, facing ruin from numerous paternity suits, decided to disappear in a car fire. He found a stranger, killed him (to this day we don't know who he was) and put the body into his car which he set up to be a blazing fire. He had chosen a country lane near Nottingham for the murder, but by mischance he was seen in the glare of the fire by two witnesses. As a result he had to explain why he did not try to save the passenger, and he ended up tried, convicted and hanged in 1931.

Shortly after this case occurred near the town of Otterburn. Evelyn Foster was a bright young lady who was running her own taxi service in the area. She got a call for a fare, and went to pick him up. Hours passed, and then came bad news to her family. Evelyn's car was found ablaze, and she was very badly burned. Her parents and siblings went to her at the hospital, and were with her when she died.

The Foster Case has become known as the great "What was it?" homicide of the 1930s. To this day we don't know if it was an accidental death (if Ms Foster was trying to collect insurance on her car by setting it on fire, and literally got burned to death as a result) or was it a murder. Evelyn insisted to her dying breath she was attacked (sexually) by the man she picked up, and she even described him. Her family and friends knew her and believed her. Unfortunately, nobody really could be found who saw this man that she carefully described in her dying hours (hence the title of the episode).

For some reason the County High Sheriff, an anti-deluvian dolt, got into his head that it was death by misadventure while committing an attempted insurance fraud. The inquest was dominated by his attempts to overawe the jury to find death by misadventure. To their credit the jurors said Evelyn was murdered by person unknown. The High Sheriff shrugged his shoulders, said he never liked the girl, and did nothing further about this decision!

In his book THE BURNING OF EVELYN FOSTER, Jonathan Goodman found an interesting sequel, worth considering although too weak to do anything further with. In 1934 Eric Brown, a groom on a farm in the area of the Foster tragedy, killed his employer Frederick Morton, and terrorized his employer's wife and a female servant for a number of hours before being captured. He had tried to burn the body of the employer to cover the shooting (as Evelyn was burned). Evelyn described her attacker as dressed in a top hat and tails (one of the reason that the High Sheriff dismissed her story as a lie). Goodman pointed out that a groom wears such a suit of clothes. Brown had a female friend who lived near Otterburn, and she could have hidden him for several days after the crime. And on the way to his execution in 1934, when asked if he had anything to confess, Brown thought a moment and mumbled (we will never be able to say what he actually said), either "Ought to Burn!" or "Otterburn!" If the second it may mean that justice did catch up with Evelyn's murderer at the end...but we cannot really say.

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