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'The murder is part of village folklore'
MURDER is not a word most would associate with Marlow, especially not its sleepy village neighbour Little Marlow.
Though used as a location used for fantasy crime drama Midsomer Murders, most residents would not think such grisly crimes could occur in reality.
Yet, it was the scene of a real and rather strange murder nearly a century ago in 1920.
Dubbed the ‘musical milkman murder’, journalist and author Quentin Falk has delved deeper into the tale, telling the story of how the cottage he himself lived in until recently was the setting for death by poison.
Mr Falk, 64, of Church Road, a former Daily Mail film critic, said there are many fascinating threads to his book, not simply the central murder plot, including the fact the murder trial was the first time women were used as jurors.
The scene of the tragedy was Barn Cottage, a pretty country residence, standing in a lane not far from Little Marlow Church. It was let to George Bailey, who would later be hanged after being found guilty of murdering his wife inside the property.
The murderer was well known thanks to his job and was tagged the ‘musical milkman’ because of his whistling.
A court found he poisoned his spouse after a trial which attempted to uncover whether it had been part of some long planned and elaborate suicide pact.
Mr Falk said: “Having lived in Little Marlow for such a long time, it’s part of the village’s folklore and it’s quite fun to lift the veil on something which before was rather sketchy.”
His family owned the cottage in question, sold it, and then bought it back later.
Mr Falk said: “I think when our family bought back the place my father may have known there had been a murder at the cottage but there was never any real discussion about it. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the daughter, Hollie Denley, turned up at the cottage that we did. She was determined to find out the truth about her parents.
“We talked about the musical milkman murder rather glibly up to then without knowing much about it.”
The Bucks Free Press plays a central role in Mr Falks’ story. The paper covered the trial extensively at the time and much source material has come from its archives.
In the 1980s, the daughter of the tragic couple, Hollie, was interviewed in an extended Free Press feature as she returned to the house.
Mr Falk, whose previous titles have included biographies on Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Hopkins, said it was amazing how much he found he could dig up once his search began.
This detailed research enabled him to discover that suicide was not only relevant to the story of the protagonist and his wife.
Mr Falk’s book reveals how three other characters involved in his fate also took their own lives – the judge, the hangman and the distinguished Home Office pathologist in the case. Little Marlow has been used for television shows such as like Inspector Morse and Miss Marple yet, Mr Falk said, this true story of murder might have taxed the imagination of even the most inventive TV screenwriter.
The Musical Milkman Murder, by Quentin Falk, from John Blake publishing, is available now.