Why I still want to solve 1891 murder mystery

Historian Eric Jenkins wants to solve the murder of Joe Dickens in 1891
Historian Eric Jenkins wants to solve the murder of Joe Dickens in 1891

A historian who has dedicated years of research to a murder mystery which has baffled a town’s residents has shed light on the killing 120 years on.

On Friday, it will be exactly 120 years since 72-year-old Rushden labourer Joe Dickens was shot dead on January 21, 1891, while he worked in a farmer’s field off the town’s Bedford Road. His body was found the next day but his killer was never caught.

Rushden historian Eric Jenkins, who wrote about Joe in a book called Northamptonshire Murder Tales in 1998, contacted the Evening Telegraph yesterday ahead of the anniversary.

He said: “That morning Joe went to work at a farm in Bedford Road. He never came back and his body was found the next day, lying in the field where he’d been working – he’d been shot in the back.”

Many people had theories about the culprit’s identity but the killer was never caught.

Mr Jenkins said: “The biggest mystery was why – he had had no quarrel with anyone and he still had money in his pocket so he hadn’t been robbed.

“He was cutting a hedge so couldn’t easily have been seen and the most likely motive which comes to my mind is he saw something he wasn’t supposed to have seen and was killed to keep him quiet.

“One theory is he saw someone poaching but this was never proved. I know who I think it was but I don’t want to upset any families by revealing the person’s identity.”

Mr Jenkins was a history teacher at John Lea School in Wellingborough for 30 years and later taught history to adults.

He has written eight books, founded Rushden and District History Society and is the organisation’s president.

Last November he revealed it was exactly 1,000 years since the Vikings had destroyed Northampton.

Mr Jenkins added he had given up hope the mystery surrounding Joe’s death would ever be uncovered.

He said: “If the police then had the forensic research we have today I’m sure they would have made an arrest but they didn’t. There are people who think they know who did it but like me they don’t want to upset anyone by saying.”W