Kate Dungey – The Henley Mystery

Kate Dungey (sometimes incorrectly spelt Dungay) was aged 30, housekeeper at Lambridge House Farm, Henley on Thames.

On Friday the 8th December 1893, Kate was brutally murdered – beaten to death with her throat cut in a wood near the farm. Robbery was not the motive as five sovereigns were found on her, although the killer was after something in her possession as her pockets had been rifled.

Kate Dungey

Oamaru Mail — 3 August 1900

The property belonged to a Mr Henry Joseph Mash who was a fruiterer at Charing Cross. He was not often at the house but he hired Kate to be a governess and housekeeper.

My detailed researched has revealed his son, also Henry Joseph Mash, married Kate’s sister, Helena, in 1900.

It was widely reported and strongly suspected that the killer was a woman.

Contemporary Case Background

A murder of a most brutal character was committed near Henley-on-Thames in the early part of Friday evening, the victim being a lady named Kate Dungey. The scene of the murder was a small farm on the outskirts of Lambridge Wood, about a mile and a half or two miles from Henley, and is a secluded spot situated quarter of a mile from the nearest carriage road.

This farm owned by Mr. Mash, who only resides in the farmhouse with his family for a portion the year. The house was kept by Miss Dungey, about 30 years of age. She had been in the habit, when the family were away, of having two little boys sleep in the house a night.

On Friday evening the boys went to the farmhouse about half-past eight for the night. Lights were burning in the passage and one of the rooms, and they knocked at the door but received no answer. They waited, and at half-past nine set off for their home, where they arrived about ten o’clock. Both of them were crying and their father, after hearing his son’s story, decided to call the manager the farm, George Dawson, who lives close by.

Dawson, Froomes, and the two boys went to the farmhouse, and found evidence that desperate struggle had taken place the passage.

A light was obtained, and the party, guided one the boys, proceeded to the spot indicated, some 60 yards or so from the house. Here fresh evidences of a struggle were visible, the grass being much trampled down, and close by was the body Miss Dungey.

A hasty examination showed that her head had been crushed by a terrific blow and her throat gashed several times, one wound being almost from ear to ear. Dawson at once drove into Henley to inform the police the tragedy. Near the body was found a portion of a cudgel, about an inch in diameter, used for smashing potatoes for pigs food. It was covered with blood, and was evidently the instrument with which the lady’s head and face had been smashed. A poker belonging to the farm kitchen was also found near the body. In the passage of the house the remainder of the cudgel was lying on the floor also covered with blood, and with it were a brooch and several hairpins which have been identified belonging to the deceased lady.

The police consider that robbery was not the motive for the crime, as four or five sovereigns were found in a handbag belonging to Miss Dungey, and nothing had been touched in the house. The lady’s pocket had, however, been rifled, and this, it suggested, would go to show that the murderer wanted some particular thing particular thing which Miss Dungey possessed.

Lincolnshire Chronicle – Friday 15 December 1893

SHOCKING MURDER OF A LADY. MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR.

A murder of a most brutal character wa3 committed near Henley-on-Thames in the early part of Friday evening, the victim being lady named Kate Dungey. The scene of the murder was small farm on the outskirts Lambridge Wood, about mile and a half or two miles from Henley, and is a secluded spot surrounded by very high trees and situated a quarter of mile from the nearest carriage road.

This farm is owned by Mr. Mash, who carries on business as fruiterer in London, and only resides in the farmhouse with his family for portion of the year. The house was kept Miss Dungey, about 30 years of age, the daughter farmer and hop cultivator living at Pattinden, near Tunbridge Wells.

She had been in the habit, when the family were away, of having two little boys sleep in the house of a night. These boys —James and Henry Froomes, aged respectively 13 and 11—were on the farm the daytime till five o’clock, when they went home to tea and did not return again until about eight. On Friday evening the boys went the farmhouse about half-past eight for the night. Lights were burning in the passage and one of the rooms, and they knocked at the door, but received no answer. They knocked once twice more, but no notice being taken they supposed Miss Dungey had gone to see some friends of hers about half-a-mile away. They waited, but as she had not arrived by half-past nine the boys set off for their home, where they arrived about ten o’clock.

Both of them were crying and their father, after hearing his son’s story, decided to call the manager of the farm, George Dawson, who lives close by. Dawson, Froomes, and the two boys went to the farmhouse and again knocked the door and tapped at the windows but without result. Dawson then saw that a window was open, and he, Froomes, and the boy James entered the house. They found evidence that a desperate struggle had taken place in the passage, and on being closely questioned the boys said that as they were approaching the house in the first instance they had heard a slight noise—” something like the growling of cat when she has mouse,” but they took no notice of it.

A light was obtained, and the party, guided by one of the boys, proceeded to the spot indicated, some sixty yards or so from the house. Here fresh evidences of a struggle were visible, the grass being much trampled down, and close by was the body of Miss Dungey. A hasty examination showed that her head had been crushed by terrific blow and her throat gashed several times, one wound being almost from ear to car.

Dawson at once drove into Henley to inform the police of the tragedy. Supt. Keal and Constable Snellgrove returned with him, and after taking note of the position and surroundings of the body carried it into the house. Near the body was found portion of cudgel, about an inch in diameter, used for smashing potatoes for pigs’ food. It was covered with blood and was evidently the instrument with which the lady’s head and face had been smashed.

A poker belonging to the farm kitchen was also found near the body. In the passage of the house the remainder of the cudgel was lying on the floor also covered with blood, and with it were a brooch and several hairpins which have been identified as belonging to the deceased lady.

Dawson said to a Press representative on Saturday: I left the farm a quarter-past five on Friday evening for my home at Becks Folly, about half a mile from the farm, and previous to departing I spoke with Miss Dungey, who then appeared in her usual spirits. Soon after 10 p.m. I was called by Froomes, and having heard the boy’s story I went with them to the house. We knocked and kicked loudly at both the front and back doors, and also tapped the windows, but got no answer. I then went round the house, and examined the doors and windows. I found that the former were locked, and that the keys were in their holes on the inside. All the windows were fastened with the exception of one—a bay window of the sitting room in front of the house. This opens perpendicularly, and the bottom sash was about half way up. Connecting this incident with the fact that the doors were locked from the inside of the house, it became evident to me that something unusual had happened. I climbed in at the window, Froomes and his boy James following. We fastened the window behind us, and examined all the rooms, but found nothing disturbed. Miss Dungey’s small silver watch was on a chair in the sitting-room, and was working.

We next proceeded to explore the passage, and there found the brooch, hairpins, and broken cudgel, while the walls, floor, and door were sprinkled with blood, the knob of the door being simply covered. I opened the door, and the three of us proceeded to the spot where the noise had been heard, and here we found the body.

The police consider that robbery was not the motive for the crime, as four or five sovereigns were found in hand-bag belonging to Miss Dungey, and nothing had been touched in the house. The lady’s pocket had, however, been rifled, and this, it is suggested, would go to show that the murderer wanted some particular thing which Miss Dungey possessed.

The theory of the authorities is that the lady was first attacked the passage, where she was repeatedly struck by the cudgel, there being numerous bruises on her arms and hands ; that she then went to the kitchen, took the poker to defend herself, and after returning to the passage opened the front door in order to escape from her assailant. She probably ran across the lawn with a view to going down the hill to the nearest houses for assistance. No razor or other weapon with which the gashes might have been made has yet been found.

The people who live nearest to the farmhouse state that they saw nobody of suspicious character about on Friday, nor did they hear any cries for assistance in the evening. But this would be accounted for by their distance from the farm, about half a mile. None of the friends of Miss Dungey can suggest motive for the crime, and they deny that she was engaged in any love affair. The deceased lady was well educated, and previous to being housekeeper at Lambridge House acted as governess to Mr. Mash’s children when they were young.

An inquest on the body of Miss Dungey was opened at Henley on Monday. The jury met in the kitchen of the farmhouse Lambridge Wood, the proceedings being conducted by Mr. A. Jones, Deputy-Coroner. Great interest was manifested in the proceedings, and there was large attendance of the public in the vicinity of the house. The jury having viewed the spot where it was discovered, Walter Dungey, a farmer, of Goudhurst, identified the body as that of his daughter. He said she was 30 years of age, and was quiet and reserved. He believed she was happy in her situation, and she had said she did not mind being left alone in the house. She was housekeeper to Mr. Mash, and always spoke well of her place. He was not aware she had formed an attachment for any one.

Henry Joseph Mash said Miss Dungey had been in his service seven years off and on, first as nursery governess and then as housekeeper at Lambridge. She was alone in the house all day, but two boys, named Froome, slept in the house at night. One was 14 years old. There was no silver plate in the house, and only small quantity of electro-plate, and although he had made diligent search he had not discovered that anything was missing. Miss Dungey would have had a little money by her, because he gave her cheque a fortnight ago, and another for £2 odd.—Questioned by the jury, witness said he wanted her to live at the house which he had at Henley, but she said she preferred to live at Lambridge, and was not frightened. She was the most amiable and inoffensive woman imaginable, and a valuable and trustworthy servant.

Witness added that his man Dawson wanted last spring to live at Lambridge and offered to pay his rent there. There had been some altercation between Miss Dungey and Dawson over money matters. George Dawson, gardener to Mr. Mash, said he had been in his present employment for 11 years. He last saw Miss Dungey on Friday afternoon, when she was in the kitchen knitting. He took some eggs, but did not hold any conversation with her. She appeared just usual when he left her. They had been very good friends, and had never had words, except on occasion three months ago, with respect to some washing. It was not a wrangle, hardly difference. He was not accustomed to observe a regular time for leaving, and went early on Friday because he was wet. He lived at Box Folly, about eight minutes’ walk from the farm.

At about 10.15 the father of the lad Froome called him up, and said the boys could not get into Lam bridge, though there was a light on the kitchen table, as though somebody were at home. Witness was in bed, but he got immediately, and went into Lambridge with Froome to search for Miss Dungey.

They went to the kitchen door first, and finding it locked proceeded to the front door, which was also fastened. Next they went to the opposite side of the house, tapped at the housekeeper’s bedroom window, and obtained no reply. He then went to see if the dog was all right, and found it lying still and apparently drowsy. The animal usually welcomed him, but did not do so on this occasion. Witness afterwards found the bay window partly open, and entered the house together with John Froome and one of the lads. Nothing seemed to be out of place. They went into the kitchen, and taking candles searched the bedrooms, and next went into the passage leading to the front door and observed bloodstains on the brass handle. The door was bolted on the top and not locked. Getting a lantern, he observed a piece of thick stick on the doormat outside with blood on it.

The boy said, “When we came up this evening we heard a noise in the wood similar to a cat with a bird,” and he pointed out the direction, going first with the light. They searched the wood and saw the body of Miss Dungey. She was lying on her back with her head bent towards the right. Her hand was uplifted. There was no blood about. Close to the body they found a rammer which was usually kept in the pig tub. It was past eleven when they found the body, which was lifeless. They came back at once to the house, and putting the pony in the trap went to Henley to inform the police.

The elder lad Froome said he informed his father when he failed to obtain admission. Dawson came, as already described, and they made the search together. On being told of the noise they had heard in the Wood, Dawson went straight to the spot where the body lay. It was not usual for the kitchen door to be locked when witness and his brother went to the house in the evening.

John Froome, the father of the lads, deposed to receiving their message, calling up Dawson, and assisting in the search. They found the body in a very cramped position. There was no vestige of life remaining, so they left the body as they found it and immediately went for the police.

After further evidence, including that of Superintendent Keals, who has the case hand, the jury had a prolonged deliberation, and ultimately returned a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown.

The case remains unsolved and is sometimes referred to as The Henley Mystery.

I have found 32 newspaper reports of the murder case from 1893. They provide an account of the inquest, background, speculation, the arrest of a suspect, his release and the search for the killer.

If you would like copies in PDF format of the news reports sent by email please click this email link.

Ian Waugh
Murder Research