Unsolved murder

Today, all day, the weather was relentless in its determination to keep us indoors. Not wanting to deny the weather, we stayed inside. Well, apart from brief forays for the girls to relieve themselves.

And so we both worked. Mirinda on her final, toughest chapters and me on Surrey soldiers. While Mirinda worked in various rooms, I remained in the small, cosy lounge room, the wind howling around the chimney and down to the fire behind me. BBC Radio 3 helped me concentrate with some classical music.

One chap I researched, a Stuart Christian Tinne, had a very interesting history. And, for a change, he didn’t actually die in the war. During the war, yes, and he did fight but his death was in Britain, in a hotel room and not on the Continent

Officially, at the time anyway, Stuart died of a heart attack but too many strange facts have emerged since his death to support such a cut and dried interpretation of his demise. However, before getting into the end, let’s start at the beginning.

Stuart was the son of a rather enterprising and successful engineer by the name of Theodore Frederick Sandbach Tinne. Theo was born in Liverpool in around 1841. He was an engineer who decided that the future lay in New Zealand so, as a young man, he ventured down south.

No strangers to travel, the Tinne family had arrived in Liverpool from the Netherlands in the early 1800’s. It was partly in order to escape the Napoleonic Wars but also for business reasons. So, along with Samuel Sandbach, Philip Frederick Tinne set up the incredibly successful and therefore profitable, Sandbach, Tinne & Co mercantile business. On the death of his first wife, Philip returned to the Netherlands, leaving the company in, partly, the hands of his son John Abraham Tinne. John was Theodore’s father.

(Incidentally, a lot of the money made by the Tinne and Sandbach families was on the back of slavery. They didn’t sell slaves but they used them to increase their profits in sugar and coffee. They also made a tidy sum when the UK government made reparations for companies left without a labour force following the abolition of slavery.)

One of the investments that John Abraham made was to buy a parcel of land in New Zealand for future development. Theodore, having grown into a mechanical engineer, set off for the south and, along with another engineer, George Fraser, founded the Phoenix Foundry in Auckland. Then, in 1872, they established The Kaihu Flax Company Ltd which operated out of the Kaihu Mill in Kaitanga on the Kaihu River.

The venture was highly successful and the partners set up a new business back home in Liverpool, The New Zealand Fibre Company, in order to supply machinery to the New Zealand firm. Theodore married the American Mary Stuart and they had two children. They all looked to be quite settled in New Zealand. Then Mary died in 1880.

I have no idea whether his return to Britain was because of the death of his wife but, 1893 sees him marrying Grace Elizabeth Duncombe Lane. Two years later, Grace gave birth to Stuart Christian Tinne with whom this post is concerned.

Stuart was born in Kent and there’s not a lot of indication that he ever lived in Wrecclesham (the memorial I’m researching) but his parents moved there before the war, buying and living in The Chine.

Joining the Royal West Kent Regiment, Stuart went straight to France but was wounded and sent to hospital. The doctors did what they could but the wounds meant he was no longer physically capable of rejoining the regiment. He immediately asked for a secondment to the Royal Flying Corp which was granted and where he remained.

For a while he was involved in aerial photography (coincidentally his father once patented a new photographic process) as well as teaching at the School of Air Gunnery. He may have also been involved in something called Vanishing Targets which some commentators claim was a secret plan to defeat the Germans in the air. (Vanishing targets is a form of target practice in shooting circles.)

Then, on the morning of March 2, 1918, Stuart’s batman went to his hotel room to wake him up. He found the key to the room in the outside of the door. Upon entering the room he found a naked Stuart almost wearing a wig with a wide piece of elastic wound tightly round his neck.

He had died of suffocation, the coroner determined, in circumstances described as ‘misadventure’. In order to soften the blow and preserve the family’s dignity, most people claimed he had had a heart attack.

There are a few theories as to how he died. The simplest is that he committed suicide though character evidence suggests this was very unlikely. It’s also unlikely that someone would commit suicide by stripping off, putting on a wig and winding elastic round his throat. There are much easier ways.

Another theory is that he was experimenting with some sort of sexual thrill though that would be more likely if it was the 1980’s rather than the beginning of the century. That also doesn’t really explain the wig.

The most elaborate explanation is that Stuart was trying on the wig for a part as a vicar he was playing in an upcoming amateur dramatic performance. He had used the wide piece of elastic band in order to simulate a white collar and it had become tightly wound, cutting off his airways. He had collapsed and died quickly and quietly.

Possibly the best explanation is the one put forward by conspiracy type people. They have posited that Stuart Christian Tinne had been involved in something top secret and a German spy, having followed him home, had strangled him. The spy, presumably also stole anything that may have been of importance to the German government at the time. Why the German spy left the key in the outside of the door is anyone’s guess.

I suppose the actual truth will never be known however, strange death aside, Stuart was a war hero and he has his name inscribed on the Wrecclesham memorial along with all the others.

And just to prove there are chickens at Hewood, here’s a short between showers video I took while the puppies relieved themselves today.

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