Friday, December 31, 2010

Double Murder at The Greyhound - A New Year Tale

Picture by Dr Neil Clifton

The popular Greyhound pub in the quiet village of Sutton At Hone on the outskirts of Dartford, Kent has a very dark secret.

Exactly 125 years ago today it was the scene of a horrific double murder.....

Following his customary routine, at ten o'clock in the evening, the 64 year old landlord David Smith had locked the front door for the night.
In the dimly lit taproom, two of his lodgers, Alfred Kemp a bricklayer's labourer and James Stroude a boot maker, shared a pot of ale at a table by the window.

A third lodger, John Crowhurst had already retired upstairs to bed.

Shortly after ten, 42 year old paper mill worker John Knocker entered the taproom, ordered a pint of beer and sat near the fireplace.

About fifteen minutes later, Knocker suddenly got up and walked calmly across to Kemp.

Without uttering a single word, he placed his left arm around Kemp's neck and with his right hand drew a razor deep across his throat.

Kemp fell sideways to the floor with blood spurting from the six inch wound to his neck.

In horror, Stroude saw Knocker making towards him but managed to effect his escape through the back door of the pub.

Passing the landlord Smith in the passageway he shouted "John's gone wrong tonight!" and set off to raise the alarm.

Smith entered the taproom and was immediately set upon by Knocker.

A ferocious struggle ensued but "old man" Smith was no match for Knocker who had served 25 years in the army.

Smith was pushed to the ground and his throat slit virtually from ear to ear.

On hearing the commotion, Crowhurst rushed downstairs to find the lifeless bodies of Kemp and Smith lying in a pool of blood on the taproom floor.

Of Knocker, there was no sign.

Shortly before midnight, John Knocker was apprehended by Police Constable Benge on West Hill, Dartford.

His face, hands and clothes covered in his victim's blood, Knocker immediately confessed to his crimes and was taken into custody.

An inquest was held into the tragic events.

Knocker had been resident at The Greyhound for around five months and had previously always been on very good terms with the landlord and his fellow lodgers.

His army conduct had been exemplary and Police Constable Benge who had made the arrest confirmed that he was not drunk.

So what had gone so terribly wrong?

At the inquest Mrs Smith told how Knocker had left The Greyhound in apparent good spirits on Christmas Eve for a short holiday but had returned the following Tuesday "a different man"....

We can only speculate what it was that tipped a sane man over the edge and made him commit such crimes.

Unfortunately I have not so far been able to find out what happened to John Knocker at trial but I can confirm that he was not hanged for his crimes.

In view of the circumstances of the case I imagine he may have been declared insane and committed to a lunatic asylum.

Nowadays, he would probably be tried for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

David Smith the landlord was buried in the nearby graveyard at St John the Baptist church on 10th January 1886.

If you have any comments regarding this post, they are most gratefully received.

Further posts you may enjoy....

The Meopham Air Disaster

Kitty Gordon - Kent's Colourful Silent Movie Star

They Burned for their Beliefs


  1. Great story, worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Do you have the trial records? You may be able to find the great grandchildren who will have at least the family "version" of the truth.

    Happy blogging in 2011

  2. Hi Helen

    Happy New Year to you and your family.

    Unfortunately I have not been able to turn up the trial records as yet but I have a few feelers out.

    If I find out anything more, I will update this post.

  3. Oh Glenn, I would love to see what our American readers make of taproom!

    Lovely grisly story....

    Happy New Year :)

  4. John Knocker: 1851 census - aged 4 living with mother Eliza O'Donell( born Limerick)in Wood's Buildings,High St, Chatham, Kent.
    1881 census in London - soldier.
    1891 census Patient in Broadmoor.
    Trial was 24 May 1886, Kent Assizes:
    - “Insane when act was done- to be kept in strict custody.”
    John could well have been a Sapper of Royal Engineers, Brompton, Chatham.

  5. I knew The Greyhound in the 60s but knew nothing of the murders so couldn't resist looking up John Knocker. Briefly, a labourer, he joined the 81st Foot Rgt when he was 14 at 1pm on 27th July 1858 in Chatham for a 'Free kit'
    (4'3"3/4,fresh complexion, hazel eyes, Lt brown hair.) There are 9 pages of service and medical records.He served for 21 years in India,(in 1861 in Rawulpindee) Bermuda, Cyprus, Malta & America, ending up as corporal with 4 good conduct awards & medals)
    He was shown as an army pensioner & labourer on the Broadmoor census and died in 1928.
    He had a brother James.
    The 81st Foot regt fought in the First Afghan War but not (I think)the second and third Afghan wars.