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Cheltenham Axe Murder 1985

Cheltenham Axe Murder 1985

Jun 29, 2023

The Unsolved Murder of Constance Aris 

Defenceless pensioner Constance ‘Little Granny’ Aris was bludgeoned to death in her armchair she was 73 years old. The worst thing about this cruel murder is that it has never been solved. A vicious assailant could still be walking the street of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, having taken a widowed pensioner’s life.

Constance lived in one of these terraced cottages on Roman Road, Cheltenham Gloucestershire. She was a religious churchgoer who had been alone since the death of her husband Hubert in 1978. Her son Keith and daughter-in-law Vanessa lived nearby and became concerned when they did not hear from Constance, known as Connie.

She was a doting grandmother to Damian & Siobhan and would make contact with her family pretty much every day which is why her son & daughter-in-law went to her home to check on her in case she had taken a tumble or was unwell.

The horrific scene that was waiting for Keith when he opened the lounge door on the morning of February 28th 1985 was one that he says he will take to his grave. 

Blood spattered the ceiling & walls, and the TV was on loud. Connie was slumped in her armchair, she had been viciously battered to death. Keith said that he could see instantly that his mother was dead and had lost a lot of blood.

A rear access to properties could well have been a place where the killer hid from view before pouncingAlleyway behind the houses could well have hidden the killer from public view 

The police were immediately called and a massive murder enquiry began, with more than 70 police officers being brought in to conduct what is known as one of the biggest manhunts the peaceful spa town of Cheltenham has ever known.

A post-mortem and inquest discovered that 5ft tall Connie had been beaten to death with a large weapon, most likely and in the coroner’s opinion an axe. 

Detective Chief Superintendent Don Holland said “This was a premeditated, vicious attack on a virtually defenceless old lady. It was a brutal, callous attack with a degree of violence which could not have left any doubt that death was going to be the result.”

Leading up to the killing:

St Mark’s Community Centre, Brooklyn Road, Cheltenham

It has been established that Connie had been out on the afternoon of February 27th 1985 attending a meeting of The Friendly Society at St Mark’s Community Centre in Brooklyn Road Cheltenham.

She walked home with a friend as far as Libertus Road Cheltenham, where they arrived at 6.15 pm then walked the rest of the journey, around 3 to 4 minutes as far as can be established alone. She would almost certainly have been home by around 6.25 pm at the latest.

We walked the route from Brooklyn Road back to Libertus Road and then on to the former home of the late Constance and even a real slow stroll took only 6 minutes so it seems unlikely that even if she had been offered a lift she would have taken it. 

Oddfellows — Friendly Society banner

It is not known whether Connie was followed home and that is when a killer gained entry to her home, but it does not seem that likely as the TV was on as if the pensioner had settled down for the evening. I feel it is right to assume that if an intruder had followed her home and forced his way in when Connie opened the front door then she would probably have been killed and fallen to the floor when she was struck. Instead, she was sitting in her armchair as if she was unaware that whoever killed her had even been present.

There are of course two distinct possibilities based on the factor of no forced entry and those are either someone was already in the house or that they gained an invitation from Constance and then turned nasty having ensured that she was comfortable and having gained her trust.

It seems that there had been quite a number of items stolen at the time of the killing and once again it may seem at first glance, a burglary that went wrong but I don’t think so.

Let’s keep in mind that Connie was sitting in her armchair, the TV was on, so it does not seem like a robbery that went wrong. It is unlikely that the pensioner would have had an axe in her living room so the killer came with a premeditated plan in mind, but why?

The pensioner’s family said that she was unlikely to have had anything like a significant amount of money in her house and the items stolen were not of huge value either, dress jewellery, her pension book, stick pins and some watches but nothing of any true monetary value and certainly not worth such a vicious attack of violence to obtain.

Having visited Roman Road and the surrounding area recently I am mindful that the Cheltenham Spa railway station is literally directly opposite one end of Roman Road and I wonder whether that was how the killer escaped from the area, although he or she must have had a lot of blood on his or her clothing, so would have been spotted easily by commuters and station staff alike.

That said, according to historic weather reports it was a cold and foggy night on February 27th 1985 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. People may have either been huddled into their coats hurrying from trains or already tucked up at home safe and warm. The level of local observation may well have been quite low. It remained quite a heavy fog until around 5 am when it turned to a steady drizzle throughout most of the hours of daylight of February 28th too.

I am in agreement with Detective Chief Superintendent Don Holland when he said that the attack was premeditated, meaning it was planned in advance not just a chance burglary that went wrong.

Maybe the killer believed that Connie attending a Friendly Society meeting meant that she would have a large sum of money in her possession. If that is the case how did he or she know the pensioner’s movements?

It seems that The Friendly Society that was operating in Cheltenham at the time of Connie’s murder has since come to an end. I have to say that I know very little about the society but, according to The Cambridge Business English Dictionary, it states: In the UK, an organization to which members pay amounts of money regularly over a long period so that when they are ill or old they will receive money back.

So based on that, you will see my thinking of the possibility of the victim being thought to have money, but why bring an axe to the scene? No damage was done to the property, no sign of a forced entry so it can only be that the perpetrator set out to kill Connie, the big question that needs to be answered in order to solve this case is, “Why”?

Gloucestershire Police have never been able to find anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in respect of the killing or indeed anyone who may have been seen entering or leaving Constance's home on the dates in question.

Officers carried out some 4,500 interviews during house-to-house enquiries, set up roadblocks at either end of Roman Road (A little late) and took 2,800 statements from the local area. They erected a large electronic screen, flashing up the word “MURDER” as well as searching drains, rubbish bins and manholes in search of the weapon but to no avail.

Libertus Road, Cheltenham where Constance was last seen alive

There was just one piece of evidence left behind by the killer and that was a solitary fingerprint. Unfortunately, it has never been identified so it seems fair to say that the murderer remains at large or is deceased. If he is alive and comes into contact with the police on suspicion of any crime he or she will find themselves answering a charge of murder.

The fingerprint was sent to Bristol’s Regional Fingerprint Bureau where they were matched against 1200 sets of fingerprints taken at the time of the murder, there was of course no match found.

I am of the opinion that this crime was probably committed by a male and he will not have made this a one-off so other unsolved crimes need to be looked at closely. There needs to be a lot of cases scrutinised and some must be shown particularly close attention. This is very unlikely to have been a stand-alone crime and I do not believe the motive to have been robbery, unless the killer believed the pensioner had a great deal more that was valuable than she did.

We will be working on this case for a while and digging deep as we believe that this is one that deserves a great deal more modern-day investigation. It goes without saying that should we unearth any new evidence we will pass it on to Gloucestershire Constabulary at once.

If we are able to bring further updates to you then of course we will do so and likewise, if you would like to discuss this matter or any other with us then please do get in touch

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As you will know by reading this article, we are actually physically on-site in Gloucestershire and dedicating a great deal of our spare time to this case review along with some others in Gloucestershire, Bristol and Plymouth.

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