|Dover at Dusk, Photo by Janet Cameron|
Tilbury, was an unemployed merchant seaman of above-average intelligence and with a talent for writing.
Charles Tilbury's talent was an item in the evidence against him, since when he was arrested, a short story with sinister undertones was discovered in his pocket.
Tilbury's Story of Murderous Rages
The story began: "He was a quiet, inoffensive young fellow who, even in his schooldays, seemed to be burdened with troubles one usually comes into contact with in later years." The story described how the fictional Charlie became one of the rough, bad lads of the area to avoid looking like a "pansy" among his associates. His parents were dead, and he'd turned to petty stealing. By the age of eighteen, Charlie was put on probation and, eventually, sent to borstal among "the scrapings of the East End gutter."
The fictional Charlie was born under the sign of Cancer the crab, and although he could be a good friend, he was prone to murderous rages when thwarted. On meeting a young girl, Charlie fell in love at first sight, but when she rejected him some time later, he almost committed "the first murder Dover had known for years" but curbed his instinct to retaliate.
Eventually he met another girl and the two of them became close, even looking forward to setting up their first home together. When war broke out, a steward from a destroyer in Dover Harbour described as "tall and smirky" wrecked everything for Charlie. The story-book Charlie tried everything to get his girl back, including reason, entreaties, threats and blackmail. He tried, without success, "to forget her and then a cold anger overtook him."
Primrose Spurns Charlie
The real-life Charlie met Primrose at 8 Saxon Street, Dover in June 1939. In the summer of that year, Primrose and Charlie had been out and when he returned her to her home at 11.20pm, she told him she could not see him any more as she had "got into trouble". Tilbury was distraught and refused to leave her alone. On Thursday 5 December, when Primrose was working as an usherette at the Royal Hippodrome, Tilbury went to see her, to tell her he had come to say goodbye. He had received calling-up papers for the Merchant Navy, but first he wanted to ask her to return to him. Primrose repeated she did not wish to see him any more.
The Stabbing at the Hippodrome
On Saturday 7 December, Primrose saw Charlie in the gallery of the Hippodrome at 6.20pm and the two of them spoke together. At 7.30pm her new boyfriend, Mr. Douglas James Heyman arrived on the scene. Douglas was twenty-one-years old and a labourer and he lived at 141 Folkestone Road. The two young people had known each other for about ten weeks.
Primrose left them alone while she went to collect her pay from downstairs. Meanwhile, Charles asked Douglas to speak to Primrose on his behalf, and rather surprisingly, the other young man agreed. However, Primrose was still uninterested in her ex-boyfriend. When she returned to the gallery, she put her chocolate tray on the floor and sat down on a back bench.
Both young men were standing behind her, Tilbury a little to the left, and, as the lights dimmed, Primrose cried out as she felt a sharp blow in her back. Tilbury had plunged a knife into her left shoulder. Douglas heard the scuffle and saw Charlie Tilbury pulling the knife out and attempting to stab her again.
Primrose cried, "He has stabbed me in the back."
Douglas Heyman tried to grab Charlie Tilbury, but he escaped and fled, pursued by some soldiers. Primrose collapsed into Douglas' arms.
P.C. Metcalfe of the war reserve was on duty in Snargate Street at the time, and at 9.00pm was called to the Royal Hippodrome. Primrose was still sitting ont he floor and needed first aid to stem the bleeding. The injured girl was taken to Dover Casualty Hospital at 9.40pm, and, according to Dr. W.G. Sutcliffe, the acting medical superintendent, "She had two wounds in her back, one behind the right shoulder near the joint and the other behind the left blade bone." The doctor said the right wound was the most severe as the knife narrowly missed cutting an artery and could easily have been fatal.
Trial for Attempted Murder
Meanwhile, Charles Tilbury had run to PC Hodgson at the Prince of Wales Pier. "I have stabbed a girl at the Hippodrome," he yelled. PC Hodgson quickly relieved him of his knife. Another policeman, PC Langley, helped arrest Tilbury, who asked how Primrose was and insisted he didn't intend to do it, but she kept ignoring him. Then his story, Motive for Murder, was found in the pocket of his bloodstained raincoat. He told the officers that he had written it in the library that morning, but he kept insisting he hadn't meant to kill her at all - only to scare her. Primrose was in hospital for four to five days.
Primrose's mother, Rose, said that Tilbury has expressed a wish to marry her daughter on her birthday which was on 20 July, but Rose felt Primrose was far too young and banished Tilbury from the house. Tilbury told her that if he saw Primrose with any other man, he would "do them both in". The case presented a dilemma for the magistrate, who discussed the necessity of deciding whether he had intended to kill Primrose or just to teach her a lesson. It was decided Tilbury should be tried at Maidstone for attempted murder.
Mitigating Circumstances and a History of Insanity
At his trial on 28 February, 1941, Tilbury was described as "one of the best boys who had passed through an approved school." A medical report claimed that there was nothing wrong with him, but there had been "a rather terrible history of insanity in the family." Detective inspector Datlen explained that Tilbury's mother had died when he was two years old and that he was raised by his grandparents in Dover. At fifteen he was sent to an approved school for housebreaking and he had been employed on ships until March 1940. On his return to Dover he worked for Government contractors and his trade was that of an electrician. Tilbury claimed he once opened a shop in Dover with another young man, although it was bombed and he was rendered unconscious.
The charge of attempted murder was dropped for that of grievous bodily harm, and Tilbury was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment.
Janet Cameron, Dover - Murder and Crime, Tempus Publishing, 2006.