1942: Wigwam murder of Joan Wolfe on Hankley Common: August Sangret (28 August 1913 – 29 April 1943) was a French-Canadian soldier of native Indian birth who murdered Joan Wolfe in Surrey, England.
Two marines on exercise 7 October 1942 William Moore and Geoffrey Cook found a woman’s arm protruding from the sandy soil. Sergeant Ballard of Surrey Constabulary attended with two PCs, a tarpaulin was placed over the grave-site and arrangements made for a twenty four hour police guard pending investigations the following day.
Dr Keith Simpson a lecturer in forensic medicine at Guy’s and Dr Eric Gardner a consultant pathologist at Weybridge Hospital attended. Fully dressed with underclothing in place, maggots and rodent damage, the body was taken to Guys and immersed in a tank of carbolic disinfectant prior to post-mortem. Death believed caused by a blow to the back of the head. Stab wounds and defensive wounds also found. The victim was identified as Joan Pearl Wolfe, a nineteen year old girl who had run away from home and lived in the woods near the army base.
Wolfe’s skull showing the missing piece
A search of the vicinity revealed a number of finds including a birch stake which matched the size of a missing piece of skull. National Insurance card in the name of Joan Pearl White was found as was an army marriage application in her name with date of birth 11 March 1923. A letter was found, written by Joan to August Sangret. The letter informed Sangret that Wolfe was pregnant.
Wolfe was a camp follower and well known locally as the “wigwam girl” who lived in a kind of wigwam or shack built from branches and twigs by a French Canadian soldier, part Cree Indian, aged 29 years, August Sangret from nearby Jasper Camp.
Sangret had met Joan Wolfe in Godalming on 17 July 1942 and she became pregnant by him. Sangret told his friends that she was missing and with their help searched where Wolfe had been staying without success. Sangret made a fuss about missing his knife and getting his friends to look for it.
On the 7 October 1942 Joan Pearl Wolfe was found dead and Chief Inspector Greeno of Scotland Yard called in. There were one hundred thousand soldiers based in three camps within the vicinity, but links with Sangret were soon established.
He made a lengthy statement to Greeno. Bloodstains were found on one of his army blankets but the analyst was unable to say for certain that it was blood let alone any grouping. Greeno thought that the stains were where a person 5ft 4 inches in height and stabbed in the same place as Joan would leave stains.
Greeno then turned to the local policemen. PC Tim Halloran stationed at Godalming remembered a woman in July who looked as though she had been living rough. He had taken her to the police station for questioning together with her boyfriend.
Halloran recalled that the man had been an Indian type, and he had written in his book his name. It was August Sangret, aged twenty eight, of the Regina Rifles stationed at Jasper Camp. He had made a note of the woman’s name Joan Pearl Wolfe. He described her as 5ft 4ins tall with big breasts and big uneven teeth. She had dressed like a tramp but had a good speaking voice and she had worn a crucifix.
On Monday 27th the knife was found in a waste pipe in the shower block at the camp and Simpson was able to prove this was the murder weapon. Trial at Kingston Assizes before Mr Justice MacNaughton, lasted six days and the jury were out for two hours returning a guilty verdict with a strong recommendation for mercy.
Appeal 13 April 1943 failed and he was hanged Wandsworth 29th April.
Professor Keith Simpson: Major Nicholson the chief constable, Detective Superintendent Roberts, head of Surrey CID, and sundry other police officers including the photographer, Dr. Eric Gardner instructed by the Coroner and I as medico-legal adviser to the Surrey Constabulary. The famous Detective Chief Inspector Ted Greeno was on his way from Scotland Yard.
Sangret was to make a seventeen thousand word statement but Greeno had to let him go – there were grounds for suspicion but no proof. On Sangret’s clothes were found bloodstains, and his army knife was found soon after in a drainpipe. Sangret was charged with Wolfe’s murder. He was tried and convicted in February 1943. The jury, who took two hours to reach their verdict, made a strong recommendation to mercy. Before sentence of death was passed, Sangret declared: “I am not guilty”.
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