Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Castle Owner and the 'Countess' of Gellaty Road SE14: a 1957 trial

In a sensational trial in 1957, a 52 year old man was prosecuted for shooting a 22 year old woman with intent to murder at 57 Gellatly Road SE14 (described in press reports as being variously in Peckham and New Cross).

The accused, Denys Eyre Bower (b.1905), was the owner of Chiddingstone Castle near Edenbridge in Kent. He had been in a relationship with Anna Lena White, a dentist receptionist, single mother and daughter of a bus driver who lived in Gellatly Road where she cared for her widowed mother. In court she stated that she had agreed to marry Bower but had called it off  due to 'disparity in ages'.

A couple of weeks later in September 1957, Bower arrived at her house in his sports car. White told the court that she had 'noticed the budgerigar perch was down' and turned to fix it before hearing a bang as Bower shot her and then shot himself. A policeman who lived opposite (at no, 50), Roger Harris, heard the shots and rushed to the scene. Both survived and were taken to the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich; White was later treated at the Brook Hospital in Woolwich.

Bower, who had been married twice before, was a former bank clerk and Baker Street antique dealer. He had bought Chiddingstone in 1955 using a £6000 bank loan. The relationship with White seems to have been built on a fantasy. The court heard that Bower had given White a 'completely fictitious' 'foreign name and a Continental ancestry'.  He had told police that she was 'the daughter of the Marquis of Grimaldi and was born in Monaco' and that 'her real name was Anna Lena Bagrielle Suzanne Grimaldi'. In other evidence it was said that it was White who initiated this - 'Miss White agreed that she told Bower that her name was Anna Grimaldi, that she came from Monaco, and that her father was a marquis. She also told him that she had been married to the Count D'Estanville, and that Chippy was her son by that marriage. She was introduced as the Countess D'Estanville to various people. She told Bower that the Count D'Estanville had died in Switzerland'.

White was no Countess though and had in fact been born in Camberwell on 6 April 1935;  her parents David White and Marion Clasper were married in Deptford in 1930.

Bower claimed that  he had shot White by mistake while showing her an antique pistol, and then shot himself on realising what he had done. This was rejected by the jury, as was the defence argument that as a Buddhist Bower wouldn't hurt any living thing.  He was found guilty of attempted murder, and sentencing him for life the judge noted that the bullet had narrowly missed White's heart and killing her.

Bower was released from prison on parole in 1962. While detained he won a libel action againat the Sunday Pictorial newspaper which had claimed he had a 'mental breakdown'. Back at Chiddingstone he continued to build his collection of Japanese, Egyptian and Jacobite antiquities until his death in 1977. His collection can be viewed at the castle to this day. Not sure what became of White, hope she went on to have a good life.

Bower pictured in 1956
(photo from Chiddingtsone Castle site)

(See reports in The Times, September 21 1957; October 31 1957; November 20, 21, 26 1957; July 7 1962).

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