British Executions

John Norman Holmes Thorne

Age: 24

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 22 Apr 1925

Crime Location: Wesley Poultry Farm, Blackness, Crowborough, Sussex

Execution Place: Wandsworth

Method: hanging

Executioner: Thomas Pierrepoint


Murder of Elsie Emily Cameron 26 at Wesley Poultry Farm, Crowborough on 5 December 1924.

Norman Thorne and Elsie Emily Cameron met in 1920 at a Wesleyan church in north London. She was a 26-year-old typist, rather plain, wore glasses and was neurotic. Thorne, eighteen years old at the time, was an electrical engineer with Fiat motors in Wembley. Elsie decided that life was passing her by and that, even though Norman was not the brightest, he would do for her. The couple started courting.

When Norman became unemployed in the summer of 1921 he decided to go into business for himself. His father gave him £100 and he bought a field at Blackness, Crowborough, Sussex, and, on 22nd August, set himself up as Wesley Poultry Farm. Elsie Cameron and Norman Thorne Elsie Cameron and Norman Thorne Norman worked hard. He built a series of sheds and chicken-runs and cycled back to London at weekends to see Elsie. Eventually he converted one of the shacks on the site into living accommodation and moved in. Now it was Elsie’s turn to travel and she used to catch the train down to Sussex. She would spend the days with Norman and lodge with a local family. Elsie and Norman became engaged at Christmas 1922.

Shortly afterwards Elsie lost her job. Over the next few months she had a series of jobs, all of which she soon left, for one reason or another. About June 1923 Norman and Elsie’s relationship became more intimate though, according to Norman later, “…in my opinion I did not put it into her.” Norman’s sex-life might have been looking up but his business was not. By now Elsie was starting to get a little anxious, but because of the parlous state of his business, Norman was reluctant to fix a wedding date. At Whitsuntide 1924 Norman went to a local dance. Here he met Bessie Coldicott, a dressmaker. His feelings began to shift from the nervous, unstable Elsie to the fun-loving Bessie.

In October Elsie, still out of work and becoming more depressed, travelled to Crowborough and stayed a week. As usual, she lodged with Norman’s neighbours, Mr and Mrs Cosham, and spent her days at the farm. After Elsie returned home she wrote to Norman informing him that she was pregnant. Norman was not wholly convinced of Elsie’s ‘condition’ and he wrote to her on 25th November, “There are one or two things I haven’t told concerns someone else.” Elsie replied the following day, telling him that she expected him to marry her before Christmas. On the 27th Norman made it plainer for her, telling her that Bessie had been visiting “...late at night...” and that he expected to marry Bessie. Elsie wrote back on the 28th berating him for his deception, but said that she still expected matrimony from him. Sunday, 30th November saw Elsie arrive unannounced at the farm, about 11am. She was in a highly agitated state and, to calm her, Norman convinced her that they would marry, but that it must wait until he had sorted things out with his father. Elsie left just before 8pm and went back to London. Norman’s father visited Crowborough on Wednesday, 3rd December, when they discussed Norman’s financial and personal plight. Mr Thorne Snr. advised Norman to wait if he had any doubts as to Elsie’s claims of being pregnant and Norman wrote to Elsie informing her of this. Elsie could see the object of her dreams and desires receding and decided it was time to act.

She set out on Friday, 5th December determined to settle the matter. Elsie caught the train to Crowborough station and walked to the farm. On the 10th December, Elsie’s father sent a telegram to Norman asking after his daughter. Norman replied, “Not here open letters cannot understand.” The next day Elsie’s father informed the police of his daughter’s disappearance. The police established that Elsie had been seen, by two flower-growers, carrying an attaché case while walking towards the farm at about 5.15pm on the 5th December. Norman, when interviewed, was certain Elsie had not arrived at the farm. On the day of Elsie’s disappearance, he told the officers, he had cycled to Tonbridge Wells, returning about 1.30pm. He had eaten his tea and then gone to Crowborough station about 9.45pm to meet Bessie and her mother, who had been to Brighton for the day. At the beginning of January there was still no sign of the missing woman. Police paid a visit to one of Norman’s neighbours, Mrs Annie Price. She was certain she had seen Elsie entering the farm on the day she had vanished. Sussex police requested assistance from Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector Gillan arrived to take over the case. After reviewing the evidence he decided that Norman should be arrested. The arrest took place at the farm at 3.30pm on 14th January 1925 and Norman was taken to Crowborough police station.

The farm was searched and, in an Oxo-cube tin, they found Elsie’s watch, bracelet and some jewellery. The police started digging at the farm. The next morning was cold and wet but things seemed to brighten considerably for the diggers when PC Philpott unearthed Elsie’s case. At 9.30am Norman was warned that he might be charged with murder. At 8pm that evening he told detectives that he had not killed the woman but knew where she was buried. Inside Thorne's hut Inside Thorne's hut Thorne went on to tell them that he was having tea when Elsie arrived unannounced. She was most upset and stated that she was staying in the hut until they were married. They had argued about his association with Bessie and she had been upset when he had left around 9.30pm to meet Bessie and her mother at the station.

He told the officers that he had returned about 11.30pm. When he opened the door to the shack he found that, using his washing line, Elsie had hanged herself from a beam. Thorne had cut her down and, after wondering what to do for an hour, “I got my hacksaw...and sawed off her legs, and the head.” He had then buried Elsie under the chicken run. Sir Bernard Spilsbury, carrying out the post-mortem, could find no sign of rope marks and Norman was charged with murder. Thorne appeared before Lewes Assizes on 4th March 1925. Evidence was given for the prosecution as to the lack of rope marks but it was rebutted by Dr Robert Brontë for the defence who said that he had found creases on the neck that may have been made by a rope. The police evidence told of their examination of the beams in the shack and that there was no sign of a rope having been suspended from any of them.

On the 16th March the jury retired and returned a guilty verdict. Norman Thorne was sentenced to death. Thomas Pierrepoint and Thomas Phillips hanged him at Wandsworth on 22nd April 1925, the day that would have been Elsie’s twenty-seventh birthday.

see National Archives - ASSI 36/38, MEPO 3/1610

see Gloucester Citizen - Tuesday 17 March 1925