It’s been ages since I did an “on this day in history” blog, but I’m writing that wrong with a little tale from July 23rd 1943.
Archibald Brown lived in Rayleigh, a small market town in Essex. A serious motorcycle accident (when he was just 24) had left him permanently paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, but even though he was dependent on his family (wife Doris and elder son, 19 year-old Eric) and three full-time nurses, Brown was a bitter and violent bully.
With the Second World War underway, Eric had been conscripted, but in view of his father’s situation, the young soldier was given regular leave and posted to barracks situated relatively close to the family home.
During one period of leave, in July 1943, Private Brown spent a number of days witnessing first hand the consistently appalling treatment handed down to his mother by his wheelchair-bound father: Eric himself was regularly taunted and provoked.
As part of Archibald Brown’s routine, one of the nurses would take him out and wheel him round the town. The chair itself was usually kept in the family’s air raid shelter. The shelter was usually left open, but on 23rd July, Nurse Mitchell went to fetch the chair, but found the shelter door to be locked. Several minutes later, a nervous-looking Eric emerged and brought out the chair. Archibald was helped into the chair and he and Nurse Mitchell headed off into town.
There seemed to be nothing untoward; just a normal daily outing. But that changed when Archibald shuffled in his seat to try and find his cigarettes.
A huge explosion blasted both the chair and Archibald Brown to smithereens. Pieces of chair were found hanging in trees and scattered around the nearby area (the remnants are pictured here). Brown’s body was dispersed even further afield; his right foot (still inside its shoe) was found in the garden of a house over a quarter of a mile from the blast.
Miraculously Nurse Mitchell sustained only minor injuries.
Initially, police suspected the incident may have been the result of an anti-personnel mine dropped by the Germans, but once this was ruled out, a murder investigation was soon underway.
The device that caused the explosion was found to be a Hawkins Mine, measuring roughly nine by seven inches, containing one and a half pounds of explosive that was often used as an anti-tank weapon and was detonated by pressure. The pressure plate had been altered so that the weight of a man, as opposed to a tank would be enough to set-off the mine.
Investigations uncovered that Eric Brown had attended a lecture on this particular mine just three months earlier, and an inventory of the local barracks armoury revealed that there should have been 175 Hawkins Mines...
There were 174.
The lecture, the missing mine from Eric’s barracks and the circumstances of his appearance from the locked shelter combined to give police enough evidence to arrest Eric and charge him with murder.
The youngster confessed and readily provided police with the explanations as to how and why. He stood trial for murder in the November, with the defendant pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial only lasted a few days, and the jury took less than an hour to return their verdict: guilty, but insane. The acceptance of the insanity plea ensured that Eric Brown could not be given the death penalty, but although he avoided the hangman’s noose, Eric was detained indefinitely in a psychiatric hospital.
Brown “indefinitely” lasted over three decades, before he was eventually released in 1975, over three decades after his father’s death. As for what became of the man who blew up his father, nobody knows; he disappeared into total anonymity, meaning that today’s most interesting of stories ends here...