On Friday, 13th October, 1939, Leslie Victor Knights (30), his wife Queenie Hilda Mary Knights (28),and their two children John (5) and Doris Jeanette (14 months), were found dead from gas poisoning at their home at Parkway, Addington.
The chain of events which led to this tragedy had begun with the seemingly trivial matter of a wrongly addressed letter..
From evidence given at the inquest by Flying Officer Walter Stern, 615 Squadron Adjutant, it seems that Knights, an aircraft fitter, was a member of the Auxiliary Air Force and had been called up on 24th August, but the letter never reached him because it was sent to his old address, and was returned marked ‘not known.’
However, when Knights still failed to present himself after mobilisation notices were posted publicly, the police were informed, and on 27th September, he was brought in under escort and put in the guardroom.
At this time, most of 615 Squadron were already in France, but personnel who had remained in England for various reasons were billeted at Croydon airport.
The following day, he was brought before the Commanding Officer and charged with not reporting, being remanded for a higher authority to deal with the case.
The next day, Knights pleaded that he had reported on 1st September and there had been a mistake. He was assured that the matter would be easily resolved if he could prove that this was the case, and was released on the 30th, so that he could go home and collect evidence.
Knights returned on 1st October and asked for leave to go and see his wife. It was impressed upon him that he had to return by 9.30pm. When he failed to reappear, the police were informed on 2nd October.
Leslie Knights’ Mother, Caroline, of Oval Rd, East Croydon, said he had reported on 1st September, but the authorities had sent him back to his civil occupation as an aircraft fitter, at “an airport” (presumably Croydon). When he returned to work he found that his tools had been taken. To compound his worries, he owed 16s 5d in rent and was only being paid 19s for his work. Leslie’s Mother said that Queenie was ‘very depressed’ and not sleeping well on account of her husband being put in the guardroom. The couple were also in arrears with payments for their furniture. Arrangements had already been made for Queenie and the children to live with Leslie’s Mother for the duration of the war and the baby’s clothes and pram had already been taken to her house in preparation for the move, but Queenie was still worried about what was to be done about the furniture.
Les saw his Mother for the last time on 30th September, after he was released to collect evidence – he seemed ill and abnormally quiet. She went round to the house on Park-way on the 5th and 11th October, but found everything locked up.
Queenie’s brother, James L. May, went to the house on 13th October with the manager of the housing estate. Failing to get any answer when they knocked on the door, they broke the kitchen window to gain entry to the house and found the front bedroom door bolted from the inside and the gap at the bottom of the door blocked with cloths.
The bodies of the family were in their night clothes. Les, Queenie and the baby were in one bed and their son John was in a cot. They had been dead for roughly a week. The stopper had been removed from the gas point near the fireplace and the chimney blocked with sacks but there was no smell of gas, because they had expended everything that had been paid for on the meter. Post mortem established that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death.
The couple had both written letters to their Mothers which were found in the pocket of Leslie’s uniform, hanging in the wardrobe.
Dear Mum, I am sorry I am going to cause more trouble for you. I am in a position I cannot get out of. I know there is no fault of mine as you will hear later. I cannot go on any longer. It is mental agony for me. Queenie and myself cannot bear being parted so we are taking the only way out with John and Jean, who are both not well. We love them. Cheerio Mum. We shall be in the best place after all. God bless you all – Les
Dear Mum, I am sorry for what I am going to do now and I hope you won’t take it to heart too much as we think it is the only way out. We have tried hard to struggle on but find nothing to live for in such times as these. Your loving daughter, Queenie
The jury concluded that the husband and wife had taken their own lives while the balance of their minds was disturbed and felt they had no alternative but to return a verdict of murder against them, for their two children. The witnesses all agreed that the shame of being put in the guardroom was the catalyst which drove Les Knights and his family to this terrible fate.
Rest in peace….