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Credit: "Flyway Film Festival - 2012" by D.Clow - Maryland is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr.

A Burned Body Found at Stadhampton

On 13 May 1936 farmers at the village of Stadhampton were alerted to a burning clover and straw rick in a nearby field. To their surprise, in the burning embers of the rick they found the body of a young man.

The police quickly identified the body as that Canadian Thomas Patteson Moss, an undergraduate at Balliol College. However, the more the police looked into the case, the more unanswered questions arose.

The mystery deepens

The whole circumstances around Moss's death proved a mystery. What was the student doing in Stadhampton, a small village nine miles from his college where he apparently knew nobody? How had he got there? A witness reported seeing a speeding car with a man slumped in the passenger seat. Could this have been Moss?

An autopsy of Moss's body raised even more questions. Fragments of burned straw in his air passages indicated that Moss must have been alive when the fire started. If this was the case, why did he remain near the burning rick?

Suicide was considered but ruled out. Moss was apparently a healthy, cheerful man with no known troubles to drive him to such drastic action. And besides, who would choose such a prolonged and agonising method of death?

A case of poisoning?

A small empty bottle was also found near the body, leading to suspicions that Moss may have taken or been given some poison or sedative drug, but no traces of anything, even alcohol, was found in Moss's system.

The police considered the possibility that Moss may have been beaten unconscious and dumped in the straw rick, but there were no injuries on his body to indicate this. Nor was there any evidence found to support another suggested hypothesis, that Moss may have been the victim of a hit-and-run car accident on a nearby road and had crawled to the rick in an injured state.

At the inquest, the best theory that the police investigators could propose was that Moss had laid down to sleep in the rick, which by some accident had ignited and Moss had been fatally asphyxiated and burned as he slept. The inquest jury was unsatisfied by this explanation and returned an open verdict.

Find out more

  1. 'A Grim Almanac of Oxfordshire' by Nicola Sly (2013, The History Press, ISBN: 9780752465814)

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