By Tim Lambert
About 6 pm on 26 November an 8-year-old boy called Percy Searle was walking along a lane between what is now Manor Close and Pallant House. (His mother sent him to get some material from a drapers shop in North Street). He was stabbed in the neck 3 times. One stab severed an artery and caused him to bleed to death. An 11-year-old boy named Thomas Husband said he heard a ‘squeal’ and saw a man stabbing Percy. Thomas said he shouted ‘murder’ and the man ran away.
Thomas ran and grabbed a man named John Platt by the arm. He told Platt what had happened. Platt persuaded the boy to go with him to the site of the murder and then told him to fetch the police. But instead of going to the police station Thomas Husband went home and washed his hands. The police found a knife near the body of the victim.
The unfortunate boy, Percy Searle was laid to rest in New Road Cemetery in Havant on 1 December 1888.
Meanwhile, the odd behaviour of the boy Thomas Husband made the police suspicious. Why did he wash his hands? Husband said he was passing the end of the lane when he witnessed the murder but the police thought he could not, in fact, have seen it from that point. They then discovered the knife belonged to Thomas’s older brother, George. He admitted it was his knife and said he usually carried it in his jacket pocket. But he said that on Sunday (the day before the murder) he changed into his ‘Sunday clothes’. He had not seen the knife since.
On 28 November 1888, the police arrested Thomas Husband. They found spots of blood on his clothes (although there was no proof they came from the dead boy).
The trial of Thomas Husband began on 19 December 1888. He did not give evidence himself but an expert witness, Professor Tidy, said the blood spots on the boy’s clothes were at least a month old.
He also said that if Thomas Husband had stabbed the victim his hands would certainly have been bloodstained. Thomas Husband’s father and stepmother said they saw no blood on his hands when he came home and his stepmother said she told him to wash his ‘coaly’ hands. John Platt, the man first approached by Thomas Husband said that when Husband grabbed his sleeve
The defence lawyer also argued that Thomas Husband could not have killed Percy Searle because he was only slightly taller than him and it would have taken the strength of a grown man to stab him to death. (In his summing up the judge told the jury they would have to decide if it was physically possible).
A boy named Charles Clark told the court that on the day of the murder Husband had waved a knife at a boy and said ‘I am Jack the Ripper’. He could not swear it was the same knife used to kill Percy Searle. The judge warned the jury it might just be ‘childish play’.
The jury took less than a quarter of an hour to find Thomas Husband not guilty. The case was never solved and it remains a mystery.