The Murder Of David Cannon.
David Cannon, aged seventy-seven, was an old soldier who was cruelly murdered on the 14th November 1947. He was the random target of a deranged juvenile armed with a stolen rifle. Every afternoon, whatever the weather, David, who lived in a cottage in Brewhouse Lane, Hertford, walked along Long Valley Field on the outskirts of the town. He and his wife, Annie aged eighty-six, had often walked there over the years. With his wife in hospital at Ware he continued walking there telling friends it was “To keep company with my dear wife,” as he was lonely without her. Sadly, it was here that he met his death.
David had been born on the 4th June 1870 at Hertford and was baptised at St. Andrew, Hertford on 17th March 1872. His parents were William and Letitia, and his father was a journeyman blacksmith. He was the youngest of eleven children.
He had a long association with the Military having first enlisted on the 5th March 1888 in the local Militia as Private 1572. On the 11th May 1897 he joined the 4th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment and went on to serve in South Africa between 27th February 1900 and 1st April 1902, on his return home he was discharged from the Army as “time expired.” He was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with bars for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal and the King’s South Africa Medal with bars 1901 and 1902.
David married Annie Maria Lowen in 1898. She was born on the 21st December 1862 and first married a James Downton Ruskin in 1882. He died in 1895 leaving Annie widowed with four children. David and Annie married on the 9th April 1898 at St. Andrew, Hertford. David was a bachelor and employed as a bricklayer. They had three children together. Available records show that when not serving as an Army Reservist David continued to work as a bricklayer and the family lived at Brewhouse Lane, Hertford. Annie survived her husband by a few weeks dying on the 22nd January 1948.
On the 20th February 1907, aged thirty-six, David re-joined the Army Reserve in the 4th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment but was later discharged as unfit. However, on the 5th June 1908 he was successful in re-joining, and he served until 24th November 1911 when he was one again discharged “time expired.”
Then on the outbreak of the First World War on the 10th August 1914 David, now aged forty-two, once again re-joined the Army as Private 7047 in the 4th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. He landed in France on the 11th November 1914. He was transferred to the Labour Corps on the 4th October 1917. On the 4th April 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to the Army Reserve as Private 374026. He was awarded the 1914 Star and the British War and Victory medals.
By all the reports David and Annie lived happily and the 1939 Register records that they were still at the long-time family home at 6 Brewhouse Lane, Hertford and he was still working as a bricklayer.
The Principal Individuals Involved.
There are no official records that have survived that document the circumstances of David Cannon’s death, so the following account has been pieced together from numerous articles published in newspapers from all over the United Kingdom. This includes the name of the juvenile responsible for his death which was revealed very early on.
Despite knowing his name and approximate year of birth it has not been possible to further identify him, but from the newspapers the following is known.
The boy, as he was often referred to as, was Anthony Dickinson who was aged 14 and described as a carpenter whose father was killed in the war. His mother was alive and attended court during his Trial. He was a pupil at the William Baker Technical School at Golding’s Building, Hertford, a branch of Dr Barnardo’s Institution for children. He was also a member of the Cadet Corps at Golding’s and consequently he had had some elementary training with a .22 rifle.
Dickinson was noticed to be missing from Goldings at midday on the 14th November 1947.
The Police Officers.
Two Police Officers played significant roles in this incident, they were Chief Inspector 257 Leonard Elwell and Constable 315 Stuart Harry Jackson. Both men were subsequently given bravery awards for their actions.
Leonard Elwell was born on the 28th June 1908 at Irlams O’th’ Height, Salford, Lancashire. His parents were John David Elwell and Lucy Probert who married on the 3rd August 1907 at St. John the Evangelist, Pendlebury, Lancashire. His father was a Miner.
Leonard’s Police Service Record has not survived but from other sources it is known that he joined the Hertfordshire Constabulary on the 8th February 1934, and he was first stationed at Hertford as Constable 257. He was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) two years later and served at Watford and at Headquarters, Hatfield. Promoted Detective Sergeant in 1938 and Detective Inspector in 1943, he returned to Hertford as Divisional Detective Inspector and was further promoted to Chief Inspector in April 1947. He was later further promoted to Superintendent and then Chief Superintendent in charge of the C.I.D. He retired on pension in 1964.
He married Edith Campbell in 1934 at St. Albans. She was born on the 2nd September 1909 at Pendlebury, Lancashire. They are recorded in the 1939 Register as living at 19, St. Albans Road, Hatfield, and Leonard is shown as being a Police Sergeant. In 1944 they had a daughter.
Leonard died in 1968.
Stuart Harry Jackson.
Stuart Harry Jackson was born on the 29th January 1912 at Sheldwich, Kent. His parents were Horace Jackson and Emily Taylor who married on the 16th December 1899 in Faversham, Kent. His father was a Tailor. He had an older brother Eric Horace born in 1904 who died in 1918. His mother died in 1927 and his father in 1929 and in the 1939 Register he is recorded as living with his uncle in Sheldwich Lees, Kent and employed as an A.A. Patrolman.
On the 28th October 1939 it was reported that he was the Best Man at the wedding of a Lance Corporal Frank Post of Sheldwich who was serving in the Military Police. It is possible that this friendship inspired him to join the Police as on the 24th February 1940 he became Constable 315 in the Hertfordshire Constabulary.
Stuart married Rosalie Ellen Flowerdew at Hertford in 1941. She was born on the 13th December 1920 at East Rudham, Norfolk. They had three children.
His Police Service Record has also not survived but again from other sources it is known that he was also first stationed at Hertford. In the 8 years prior to the murder he also served at Tewin and at the time of the murder he was stationed at Hunsdon. He was later promoted to Sergeant serving at Watford and retired on pension on the 25th February 1970.
Stuart died on the 13th February 1998.
Preparations And A Hint Of What Was To Come.
When Dickinson was arrested and searched a rough sketch of the local barracks was found on him together with 210 rounds of .22 ammunition. Dickinson initially claimed that he had drawn it himself. However, it transpired that Dickinson asked a Joseph Littlefield, aged 17 years of Tottenham, to draw it.
PS George Hickford stationed at Hertford gave evidence at Dickinson’s trial that on the 15 November 1947 he went to the London Road Barracks in Hertford and found an attempt to force the lock of a door had been made but had been unsuccessful. However, entry seemed to have been made through a window, beneath which was a heap of discarded army beds. Inside the door of a firearms room had been forced and inside there he found some tools. The Barracks had last been known to be secure and in order on November 10th.
Littlefield later identified a rifle as one that he had seen Dickinson firing at a target in a football field on 13th November about a week after he had drawn the map. On that occasion Dickinson had asked him how old did you have to be before you are hanged and also said he would like to see a man fall dead.
Timeline Of Events.
Dickinson by his actions on the 14th November demonstrated that he was completely out of control and was not acting rationally when over a prolonged period he fired the .22 rifle at entirely random and innocent members of the public who were doing nothing other than going about their lawful business. As there were no witnesses to David Cannon’s murder it is difficult to be certain at exactly which point he was targeted but it would seem that he was possibly the first.
The known events are believed to have unfolded as follows although the exact location of some incidents and the precise timing of them is uncertain.
Just after midday on the 14th November, Alfred Welch, of Ware Road, Hertford, was gathering watercress when a boy put a gun over the fence and demanded food. Under the threat of being shot Welch threw some bread and meat to the boy, who then walked away.
Charles Hanscombe, a motorist of Holwell Road, Hitchin, was parked in his lorry in a side road between Hertford and Welwyn when Dickinson rested a rifle on the window and pointed it at him. He asked him the time and then asked him to drive him to Chelmsford. Hanscombe said he could not as he did not have enough petrol and the boy left. Five minutes later Hanscombe heard five shots from the woods to which the boy had gone.
Frederick Jubb, a Greengrocer, of 112 Bengeo Street, Hertford was driving his van from Tewin to Hertford between 2.15 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. when he saw a boy standing just inside the hedge at the roadside. The boy had a rifle to his shoulder, and he thought he was firing at something in the hedge. As he went by an opening in the hedge his van wobbled. He ran on for about 100 yards and then stopped.
He bent down to look at the rear wheel of his van when something whizzed past his face and hit the van door. He looked down the road and saw the boy with the gun pointing towards him. He jumped into the van and drove round a bend and as he did so he heard two shots go into the back of the van and several others go over the top.
A Mrs. Glass, while driving her car in the vicinity, heard a report and thought she had a puncture. She stopped and found a bullet hole in the panelling of her car.
George Edmund Tatten, an Agricultural Foreman, of The Lodge, Windyridge, Bramfield Road, Hertford was at 2.45 p.m. working in the yard at Windyridge Farm when Mrs. Glass came up and spoke to him. He then heard the sound of shots, which seemed to be getting nearer. A young boy then appeared over a ridge holding a rifle.
He shouted to the boy, and who turned and ran off and he chased after him. He went in the direction of an institution and after chasing him for about 200 yards, he got within 50 yards of the boy. The boy then pulled up, turned round, levelled his rifle, and said, “If you come any nearer, I will shoot. I have enough ammunition to hold you off for hours.”
Tatten then stopped but as the boy went on, he followed him again. He met a Mr. Whitbread and they went in the direction the boy had taken. Tatten then saw the boy crossing a canal by a bridge. The boy spotted them and started firing. Tatten and Whitbread then advanced more cautiously. The boy retreated into a meadow, turning round and firing as he went. When he was half way across the meadow he turned round and started to come towards them, firing as he came. The bullets were coming close, so they took cover in the grass. They were eventually forced to retreat and made their way back. The boy continued to fire at them all the time until they were out of sight behind a ridge.
Needless to say, reports started to reach the Police and Chief Inspector Elwell and PC Jackson separately made their way to the area.
The Police Arrive.
Chief Inspector Elwell of Hertford was driving a car in North Road, Hertford with Mr. Tatten and a Constable, and as he went by Beanside Lodge saw the boy cross the road and go into Beanside Field.
As he stopped the car the boy fired at them but missed. He got out of the car, stood in the road and shouted to the boy who was then between 30 and 50 yards away in the field. In response the boy levelled the rifle at him. Chief Inspector Elwell shouted “No” and at the same time the boy fired and the bullet struck the car nine inches to the right of his right leg at knee level.
The boy retreated more to the centre of the field then turned to his left and fired three times in the direction of the garden of Beanside Lodge.
Arthur Vernon Gifkins, of Beanside Lodge, North Road was in his garden when he saw a boy shooting about 140 yards away. He called to him and saw the flash of a gun. He called again and then felt a great heat in his left thigh.
Doctor E.C. Bevan was called to Beanside Lodge where he examined Arthur Gifkins and found he had two wounds in his left thigh, six inches apart consistent with a bullet having passed through it. Not mentioned at this point but apparent from the evidence of a London gun expert was that the bullet which caused the wound to Gifkins was recovered.
PC Stuart Jackson was on motor patrol duty when he received instructions by wireless. He went to Beanside Lodge, Hertford and saw the accused boy in a field. The boy discharged a firearm at Chief Inspector Elwell, who threw himself to the ground.
PC Jackson climbed the fence into the field and went towards the youth who put the rifle to his shoulder, took aim, and fired at him. He threw himself to the ground. At this point the boy was about 75 yards away and he then moved towards the railway embankment firing at some cattle as he went. PC Jackson followed him.
The boy ran and PC Jackson gave chase and when he reached the railway embankment the boy turned around and fired at him again. He again threw himself to the ground. The boy then ran down the railway line towards the south end of Molewood tunnel, climbing up the embankment at the mouth of the tunnel where he sat down.
PC Jackson also climbed up the embankment further down the line and walked towards the boy, talking to him as he went. When about 30 yards away he said, “Put the rifle down and let me talk to you.” The boy replied, “No, no. I have shot three people and I’m not going to be caught. I’ve gone crazy and I’m going to shoot myself. Keep away or I’ll shoot you.”
The boy then pointed the rifle at PC Jackson and pulled the trigger, but the rifle was empty and PC Jackson saw him pull back the bolt to reload it. PC Jackson ran towards him and grabbed the rifle and threw it away down the line out of his reach to Chief Inspector Elwell, who was following close behind.
Searching the boy’s jacket PC Jackson found a rough sketch, and while he was examining it the boy said, “That’s where I got the rifle from. It’s what I drew myself.” PC Jackson said, Chief Inspector Elwell took 210 rounds of ammunition from the boy.
The boy was arrested and taken into custody.
PC 101 Percy Richards, Hertford Heath, on the16th November, whilst conducting a search in Long Valley Field found the bottom and top of a .22 ammunition box.
Finding David Cannon’s Body.
Despite Dickinson’s claim to have shot three people only Gifkins had been identified as having been wounded. It was not until 3 p.m. on the 15th November that the body of David Cannon was found in Long Valley Field near Devil’s Wood, by George Ernest Wright, a general labourer, of 18 Townshend Street, Hertford, while he was out ferreting with another man.
Doctor E.C. Bevan went to the field with Police Officers, where he examined David Cannon’s body. He formed the opinion that he had been dead for at least 24 hours. Later, he examined Mr. Cannon at the hospital and found two wounds in the left thigh, consistent with the passage of a bullet. There was also a wound on the left side of the chest, where a bullet had entered and passed through the heart. Dr. Bevan said that Mr. Cannon died from shock and haemorrhage following the bullet wound in the chest.
Chief Inspector Elwell said he took possession of a .22 bullet which had been found beneath Cannon’s clothing.
During the trial in replying to Mr F. Milton, defending, Dr. Bevan agreed that the shots might have been fired from a range of some hundreds of feet, for a .22 bullet to kill a man it would have to strike a vital spot.
A London gun expert said the bullets taken from Mr. Gifkins and Mr. Cannon could not have been fired by any other rifle than the one found in Dickinson’s possession.
Horace William Cannon, a Butcher, of 4 Villiers Street, Hertford, said he identified the body of his father, whom he last saw alive on the Thursday before the alleged incidents. He said his father, a soldier for 24 years, spent a lot of time country walking, keeping to the fields and by-ways.
Frederick Bunce, licensee of the Cold Bath public house, Hertford, said David Cannon was a regular customer of his. He last saw him alive at midday on the 14th November.
Dickinson was later charged with the murder of David Cannon and the attempted murder of Arthur Vernon Gifkins and made several appearances at Juvenile Court. He was detained in Brixton Prison until appearing at Hertford assizes on the 17th February 1948. He was found guilty of murder and ordered to be detained during His Majesty’s pleasure.
Chief Inspector L. Elwell, of Hertford, and Constable S.H. Jackson, of Ware showed bravery and devotion to duty of a high order, with complete disregard for their own personal safety, well knowing that they were dealing with an armed and insane boy who was a potential killer. The tragedies resulting from this unfortunate incident would undoubtably have been more numerous but for their fearless action.
Both Police Officers were awarded the King’s Police and Fire Services Medal for gallantry. This was the first award of the medal for gallantry to be received by members of the Hertfordshire Force.
The award was announced in the London Gazette and the citation read:
On the afternoon of the 14th November 1947, information was received that a boy aged 14 1/2 years, armed with a loaded rifle, had held up a motorist on the Welwyn to Hertford Road and fired several shots at a passing van in the same district. Police cars were directed to the area, one being in the charge of Chief Inspector Elwell, and another driven by PC Jackson.
Chief Inspector Elwell saw the boy in a field, alighted from his car and shouted to him when he was 30 to 50 yards away. The boy fired a shot at the Chief Inspector, the bullet striking the side of the car a few inches from where he was standing. At this point PC Jackson arrived on the scene, climbed over the fence surrounding the field ran towards the boy, the Chief Inspector also approaching from his position. The boy immediately fired at the Constable, who avoided being hit by dropping to the ground. In an attempt to get away from the officers the boy then climbed a railway embankment and fired at them again. The constable pursued the boy along the embankment with the Chief Inspector close behind. As the boy reached the mouth of a railway tunnel the Constable approached him and tried to reason with him, but without success.
When the Constable was within 25 yards of him the boy shouted that he had “Gone crazy” raised the rifle and took aim at the officer, who rushed towards him. The boy pulled the trigger but fortunately no bullet was discharged. As the boy attempted to reload the weapon the Constable reached him, succeeded in wresting the rifle from his grasp and arrested him. He was found to have in his possession 210 rounds of live .22 ammunition.
Asked what he thought of the award, Inspector Elwell said, “A job of work had to be done. I am pleased that it has brought credit to the force.”
PC Jackson, who is a wireless car driver said, “It was part of our work to save the public from further injury.”
The last time the King’s Medal was awarded was when the late Mr George Knight, then Chief Constable, received it for meritorious service.
The Hertfordshire Police Historical Society is very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. King, the son-in-law and daughter of Stuart Jackson, who generously donated his medals to the Society.
The Kings Police and Fire Services Medal for Gallantry, the Defence Medal and the Police Long Service Medal.