Mystery still surrounds the murder of a canteen worker whose body was found in a Swansea lane nearly eight decades ago.
Norah Bartlett’s body was found on November 18, 1943 in a lane close to the home she shared with her widowed mother on Rhyddings Park Road in the Brynmill area of the city. The 33-year-old had been strangled. There were no external marks of violence on her body other than a few scratches on her face, but she had been sexually assaulted and left for dead.
Her body would later be identified by her brother, insurance agent Gerald Whitcombe, who lived in Sketty.
The events of that night, taken from newspaper reports from the time are not exactly clear, but several witnesses had come forward saying they had seen Miss Bartlett in the company of an American soldier.
There hadn’t been a German bombing raid on Swansea since the February of that year, but the streets were still on complete black out as a precaution.
Following the murder and an increase in the number of attacks on people in dark streets, Swansea council was urged at a meeting to apply to the Minister of Home Security for permission to introduce modified street lighting in the city.
After Norah’s body was discovered, police investigating her murder, which was known as ‘The Lane Tragedy’, said that they were anxious to trace the identity of a girl and an American soldier who had been out walking in Rhyddings Park Road at about 10.45pm on the night and who had been approached by a young lady.
It was said that as a result of what the young lady had told them that they both then looked into a front garden on the west side of the street where the American soldier shone a torch on a person lying there.
The police also said that they were interested in tracing a workman who had been carrying firewood and who had entered Rhyddings Park Road from King Edward Road at about 10.50pm on the Thursday. It was said that the workman had been stopped by the same young lady who had asked him to shine his torch on a person that had been lying in a front garden of one of the houses at the lower end of Rhyddings Park Road, third or fourth from the end, on the west side.
At the opening of the inquest, it was reported in the Western Mail that the railway man walking home had come forward to police and told officers that when he shone the light, it was an American soldier he saw lying in the front garden of a house.
Detective Inspector Ebenezer Jones was in charge of the investigation said at the time: “We are trying to establish the identity of an American solider stated to have been seen by a number of persons in unusual circumstances near the near where the body was found.”
He was said to have been “unremitting” in his search for the soldier.
The newspaper report said that the United States Army authorities were helping police in Swansea with their investigations, but there are no reports to say the soldier or soldiers were ever traced.
Norah Bartlett was later buried in Oystermouth Cemetery, a short write up about her funeral said that the funeral was attended by mainly woman who supported her widowed mother. It said that there had been “widespread sympathy” for her distraught mother amongst the local community.
Today, the area where Norah lived and where her body was found is popular with the large student population in the city. Back then, it would have been mainly local people living in the streets that overlook Swansea Bay.
There were several write ups about the murder in newspaper reports, but perhaps because of the war it didn’t get the sort of publicity the case would have and today, and decades on what happened that night remains a mystery.
South Wales Police continuously revisit unsolved murders in the force area.
A spokeswoman says: “All historic murder cases, often referred to in the media as ‘cold cases,’ are allocated to the Specialist Crime Review Unit and remain under active consideration and will be subject of re-investigation as and when new information is received or when there are advances in forensic science.
“Each case is reviewed periodically. If information comes in from the public or other forces we act on it.
“South Wales Police has had considerable success with cold case reviews being one of the first forces in the country to set up a review team in 1999 to conduct cold case reviews.”