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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE:
On the morning of Friday 17th July 1964, Kathleen Cotter, a mother of three who lived in the top floor flat of 7 Randolph Avenue in Maida Vale found 77-year-old Samuel Bragg dead in his bed. The old man had been ill for many months owing to malnutrition and advancing dementia.
As was protocol, the police were called, an investigation was conducted, but his autopsy would confirm what everyone suspected, that old Samuel had died in his sleep. It’s a tragic story which happens every day, in every town…
…only, a small sound heard higher up in the house would lead to a truly disturbing story which nobody suspected and would lead to the arrest of the murderer of Samuel Bragg.
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
COTTER, Timothy Noel(14): murder of Samuel BRAGG between 14 July 1964 and 18 July 1964 in Paddington, London by asphyxiation. Convicted of manslaughter (Boy smothers room mate)
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Randolph Avenue in Maida Vale, W9: two streets south of the arrest of Edward Walstrom-Lewis, a few hundred feet east of the frozen torso of Hannah Brown, and two roads west of the unsolved murder by a killer who claimed to be ‘the real ripper’ - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Nestled to the side of Little Venice, Randolph Avenue is a quiet, discrete and impressively clean road lined with an odd mix of building styles reflecting its ever-changing fortune over the centuries. Not too long ago it was full of run-down council tenements, but today, it’s mostly full of celebrities. But aside from featuring in the comedy ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, when Otto (played by Kevin Klein) side-swipes a car and shouts the immortal line “aaaaaassssshooole”, you’ll have no reason to know it.
At 7 Randolph Avenue currently stands a five-storey townhouse worth £6 million. And although the loft and the white Doric columns around the door are recent additions, it looks as it did in the 1960s.
Back in 1964, the front ground floor flat was the home of 77-year-old Samuel Bragg, a war-veteran who suffered with dementia and lived in squalor. The council were aware of his situation, but wanting to be left alone, there was nothing they could do. Thankfully, living in a house full of caring neighbours, when he needed help, they were always there, right up to the day that he passed away in his bed.
It’s a sad story which happens every day in every town…
…only, Samuel’s seemingly peaceful death would lead to his killer’s arrest.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 169: Samuel Bragg: The Miser’s Demise.
Befitting a man who lived by himself, little is known about Samuel’s life.
Born in 1887, Samuel Bragg was the youngest of four to Henry & Eliza Bragg of Union Street in Lambeth (South London); a working-class family with his mum a housewife and his dad a saw-dust dealer. Aged 14, he left school, becoming a building site labourer until he enlisted to fight for King & Country in the First World War, for which he was given a veteran’s pension. And that was all that was recorded about the life of Samuel Bragg. It’s as if his past had never existed and his present was coming to a close.
In March 1955, aged 67, Samuel Bragg had moved into the small front-room on the ground-floor of 7 Randolph Avenue in Maida Vale; a council-run lodging with Mr Rosen, a 60-year-old bachelor living on the first floor, Mrs De Troch a 75-year-old widow on the second, and on the third, the Cotter family – comprising of mother Kathleen, father Timothy, and three children; Jean, Anthony and Timothy Junior.
Concerned for his well being, the tenants always kept tabs on ‘Old Samuel’, as it was clear that he had no-one. With no wife, no kids, no friends nor siblings to visit him, Samuel was very much a loner.
The sadness was that he had not always been this way. As a little guy of just five foot three inches high with a fondness for felt hats and sporting an elegant moustache, he was clearly once a bit of a dandy. But with no-one to care for and no-one to love him, Samuel became a shadow of his former self.
Isolated. Lonely. Unloved. Through his twilight years, this dapper gent had morphed into a ragged sack of bones, infected with bed sores, his eyes sunken and his skin unwashed and stinking. With his days spent alone in his squalid room, wearing soiled pants and muttering to himself in a rambling mumble.
As a vulnerable man with advancing dementia, the Welfare Service had tried to get him a cleaner and a carer over the years, and to coax him to move into a nursing home, but he always refused any help.
Samuel lived the life of a miser; saving every penny, spending nothing and living in abject squalor.
Set to the side of the front door; his single-room (being just fifteen feet square) consisted of a bed, a chair, two chests of drawers and a small hob for cooking. With just one window which was never open, the stale stench of his depressing hovel remained in semi-darkness, as he was too tight-fisted to switch on the bare bulb over his head. Being too mean to buy a rug, his calloused feet crept about on icy cold floorboards. And unwilling to waste money on coal, the soiled sheets of his bed was his only warmth.
It was a room of utter sadness. There was no colour, no music and no joy. In no part of this dingy filth lay family photos, love letters or fond memories of his past - as all it contained was just the basics. And although malnutrition had made him weak, his spendthrift ways made him live on a diet of sardines and potatoes - the cheapest food he could buy – as every day his mental and physical health declined.
Samuel had no-one to love him…
…but there was one person who cared.
On the third floor of 7 Randolph Avenue lived 40-year-old Kathleen Cotter, a busy mother of four who earned an honest crust as an office cleaner as her husband’s wage as a labourer wasn’t enough. The Cotters had lived there for twelve years, and they had known Samuel since they day he had arrived.
Initially, he was liked, but as his illness progressed and the peculiarities of his dementia surfaced, some of the tenants grew distant. When they were little, Kathleen’s youngest boys (Timothy and Anthony) often popped down to see Old Samuel. He was fun, he was kind and – although tight-fisted – he always had a few pennies to spare so the kids could buy sweets. But in later years, although the promise of coins would prove a powerful lure, Tim & Tony stopped visiting, as (in their words) “the room stank”.
As a mother with a big heart and lots of patience, Kathleen did what she could for Samuel; she made him hearty meals, she darned his tatty clothes and she even washed his bed-sheets as he often stayed in bed for days at a time. So rancid were his sheets that although she boil-washed them separately to eviscerate the lice, she would have loved to have burned them, only she knew he wouldn’t buy more.
In 1962, Kathleen was so worried about Samuel that she called the welfare officer, he was taken to St Mary’s hospital and having remained there for five months, when he returned home, he looked well.
But within weeks, being back in the squalid stench of his own festering filth, Samuel began to decline; he got thin, pale, even more confused, and – now rejecting her help - he just wanted to be left alone.
On the odd occasion that he ventured outside, he could often be found wandering the streets in a pair of soiled underpants, mumbling to himself, unable to recall who he was or where he was going. Inside, his conversation was limited to just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. And his hygiene was non-existent; he rarely bathed, his clothes smelled bad and he would urinate in a metal bucket which he kept beside his bed.
With a communal toilet on the first floor, waking every day at 5:30am, Samuel would ascend the stairs, nab Mr Rosen’s newspaper and spend the next twenty minutes straining all manner of unpleasantness from his upset bowels. And when his symphony of rectal explosions was over, with shaky hands he would empty his bucket, often missing the bowl and slopping his feted waste over the seat and floor.
It wasn’t malicious and she knew it, so without any complaint, his mess was cleaned up by Kathleen.
As his illness got worse, Samuel’s paranoia turned to the only thing he had in life… his money. Samuel was a miser, he wasn’t mean, he just terrified of being robbed and left with nothing.
Everyone knew that Samuel had money, as on the days when he couldn’t pick-up his pension, Kathleen would collect it for him. Being held in a tin box in the third drawer down of his chest of drawers, the tin was always fastened, the drawer was kept locked and the key was fixed to a chain on his belt.
But as an old frail man - for any passing thief - he was an easy target. In January 1964, seven months before his death, Samuel had £26 stolen from his tin. With the front door left open and being too mean to fix the lock to his room, having left his trousers on his bed, the keys were used and – within seconds – the money was stolen. With the thief apprehended by Mrs Cotter, as Samuel didn’t want to report it to the police, the criminal agreed to pay back the full amount at a rate of ten shillings a week.
And that’s what made the flats at 7 Randolph Avenue such a nice place to live…
…as the tenants always looked out for one another.
Tuesday 14th July 1964 was the last day that Samuel was seen alive. For the past three weeks he had been bed-bound, his breathing was laboured and his body was weak and pale. It took Kathleen a little off-guard to see him upright and alert; as she knelt scrubbing the steps, her mind distracted by a set of keys to the office she cleaned which had gone missing the day before. But there he was.
Alongside Mrs De Troch, Kathleen asked “Mr Bragg. Are you feeling okay?”. Standing in the doorway of his unlit room, dressed in a stained pair of pyjamas, he croaked “no, no I’m not”, his face all long and drawn. “You really ought to see a doctor” Mrs De Troch begged. But just wanting to be left alone, the old man muttered “the doctors can do nothing for me”. And with that, he returned to his bed.
That was the last time that anyone saw Samuel Bragg.
The next day, Kathleen had given her son Timothy £1 to buy some bread and milk. Being a typical 14-year-old, his teenage years had made him selfish, so – having taken 3 shillings of her change (roughly £1 today) - he had spent it on pinball machines at The Phoenix Club, a youth club in West Hampstead.
It had been fun, but knowing how hard she worked and how disappointed she’d be, at 10:30pm, as he came in (Timothy) “I heard Old Samuel moaning. I didn’t pay any attention as he was always like that. Besides, the room smelled of wee”. And worried about how he was going to apologise to his mum, Timothy passed Samuel’s room, ascended the stairs and returned to the family flat on the third floor.
That was the last time that that anyone heard Samuel Bragg.
On Friday 17th July, two days later, Kathleen had grown worried. Having entered the communal toilet at 7:10am, she had prepared herself to reel from the toxic horror of the old man’s ablutions. Only, it was as clean as she had left it before. Which was odd, as Samuel was a man of routine, even when ill.
Kathleen would state: “I went down to his door. As it always was, it was wedged shut with a piece of paper. I listened outside and heard nothing. I pushed it and went in. The bed was behind the door. All I could see of him was his arm over the top of his chest outside the covers. His head was turned towards the wall and there was a pillow over the side of his face. I lifted it up and saw he was dead”.
PC Horace Simms arrived at 8am, followed by police surgeon Dr Samuel Sanders who declared the life of 77-year-old Samuel Bragg extinct. With no signs of forced entry and nothing obviously stolen, robbery was ruled out. The room was messy, but no more than usual. And with his skin mottled with old and new bruises, this wasn’t seen as suspicious as the elderly bruise a lot easier than the young.
With no signs of a struggle or assault, the most likely cause of death was an accidental suffocation as his pillow blocked his airways as he slept. His body was removed J H Kenyon, an undertaker, and taken to St Pancras Mortuary where Dr Molesworth Johnson confirmed ‘death by accidental smothering’.
With no loved ones, no close friends and no known relatives left to mourn him, the body of Samuel Bragg was held at St Pancras Mortuary until someone either claimed him, or paid for a funeral.
And with that, the inquest was closed…
…it was nothing extraordinary, as being something which happens on most streets, in most towns, on most days, the death of Samuel Bragg was just another sad demise of old lonely miser.
The tenants at 7 Randolph Avenue went back to living their regular lives, the council had the room fumigated, his few possessions were destroyed, and a new lodger moved into the ground-floor flat.
Kathleen never found her missing keys, Timothy paid her back the three shillings he had taken and the toilet remained mercifully clean in the proceeding weeks, although a sadness still hung over the house.
As often happens, some of the tenants spoke of how weird Samuel’s death was; of how the messiness of his room wasn’t right, of how he had bruised himself only he hadn’t left his bed, and even Kathleen would inform the police “I think Old Samuel’s been done in”. But with no evidence of foul play, the police knew (as often happens) that people often clutch at straws when they’re struggling with grief.
One week later, on Wednesday 22nd July, Kathleen was enduring the typical day of a harassed mother. Being home for lunch, 14-year-old Tim & 15-year-old Tony were bickering as always. Their flat was too small for a family of six and with the boys sharing bunk-beds, they often got on each other’s nerves.
With lunch finished, she was trying to wash-up the dishes when she heard her boys getting up in each other faces. “Boys, quit it” she barked, knowing they were due back at school and with Tim off on his paper-round soon enough, with the quibbling siblings split, the flat would quickly become quieter.
From the front room, Tony called out “mum, he’s hiding something”, dobbing in his younger brother (as he does) like a massive swot, only Tim was adamant (Tim) “I’m not mum, I’m not hiding nothing”.
Their father, a former heavy-drinker was more of a disciplinarian whose fast smacks could silence any nonsense, but their mother would be the first to admit that she was often a little too soft on her boys. Especially Tim, as although bright, he was often bullied for wearing thick glasses owing to a squint.
Their bickering continued. (Tony) “mum, Tim’s hiding something in his jacket”, (Kathleen) “boys, quiet down”, (Tim) “mum, I’m not, he’s lying”, (Kathleen) “okay, enough now”, (Tony) “I can, I can heard it jangle”, (Tim) “he can’t, he’s lying”, (Tony) “prove it, gimme your jacket”, (Tim) “get off, mum?!”
But it was the next sentence which stopped Kathleen in her tracks.
(Tony) “he has, he’s got some keys”.
A whole week she had searched for her keys, she had looked everywhere and she had asked everyone but nothing had been found, and now, furious at his little joke, the fun and games were over. With a look only a mother can give, the kind which makes all boy’s bits shrivel, she barked “Hand me back my work keys”. Timothy froze. “Hand over my keys… now”. But still he didn’t move, as the only movement was a single tear which trembled on his lid. But Kathleen was not joking “Timothy! Keys! Now!”.
Unwilling to put up with his shit any more, Kathleen snatched his jacket off the chair, she reached inside his pocket, and – as was expected – with a distinctive jangle, she pulled out a set of keys.
Tony grinned with glee, thinking “oooh, Tim’s gonna get it bad when dad gets up”.
Only, these were not Kathleen’s keys…
…and as she held them, her face became etched with horror.
(Kathleen) “Timothy, what are you doing with Samuel’s keys?”. She didn’t want to think it, she daren’t, but as her youngest son began to cry, there seemed to be only one answer and it was the unthinkable.
Unsure what to do, Kathleen sent him to school while she discussed it with the boy’s father. At 4:30pm, a little later than usual, he sheepishly returned, grabbed his bike, and headed out on his paper round. It was the right thing to do. It was a part-time job he had been doing since January, and earning £1 a week. 10 shillings he kept for himself, and the other 10 shillings were paid on a weekly basis to Samuel.
Back then, his mother had protected him, as being a good lad, she had begged Samuel not to go to the police, and a local probation officer had arranged the repayment of the £26 which he had stolen.
But this was different…
…this was murder.
At 7:15pm, Timothy returned home to 7 Randolph Avenue. For Kathleen, it was possibly the hardest decision that any mother would ever have to make, but she knew it was right. (Kathleen) “Tim? You know what we’ve got to do, don’t you?”, she calmly cooed. And he did. With a quivering lip, Tim cried “yes mum, I won’t hold it against you if you turn me in” and as he dressed, she said he cried bitterly.
It was only a ten-minute walk down Edgware Road, but it would be the longest walk of their lives.
At 8:30pm, Kathleen & Timothy Cotter arrived at Paddington Green police station, as this devoted mother and son stood quietly holding each other’s hands. Interviewed by Detective Superintendent Howlett, the DS asked the boy “your mother has told me she found Samuel Bragg’s keys in your pocket and that you told her you may be the cause of his death?”, Timothy nodded and he was cautioned.
In a brief confession, he would state “I went into the room to get some money. I took his keys off his trousers and was looking through the drawers when Mr Bragg woke up. I panicked and picked up the pillow. I held it there for about 1 to 2 minutes. While I was holding the pillow, he grabbed my hand and I held his hand until he let go of mine. He was breathing when I left him. I knew he was. I saw his stomach going up and down”. Those words were Timothy’s own words, but as he was still only a child, his confession had to be counter-signed by his mum.
Except for the keys, nothing else was stolen, but as he sat there, the boy’s motive became obvious. As Tim would cry “I stole three shillings of your change mum, I’m sorry, I wanted to make it up to you”.
That evening, as no relative had claimed Samuel Bragg’s body, a second autopsy was conducted at St Pancras Mortuary to determine if this was in fact a case not of ‘accidental smothering’ but of murder.
As before, his injuries were consistent with accidental asphyxiation. There was no sign of assault, no evidence of manual or ligature strangulation, nor any obstruction to the airways. But given that the man was old, frail and weak, the pathologist deduced that it was perfectly possible for a boy to press a pillow over the old man’s face for one to two minutes and induce unconsciousness and even death.
This kind of injury would ordinarily have caused bruising to the lips, but as Samuel had taken his false teeth out, no bruising had occurred. Bruises to his right hand were found, as the confession suggested, but it could not be determined if the other bruises were caused by compression or everyday knocks.
On Wednesday 22nd July 1964, following a further investigation and autopsy, in the presence of his mother, 14-year-old Timothy Cotter was charged with the murder of Samuel Bragg. (End)
To many, Timothy Cotter was a harmless young boy who had made a mistake to pay back his mum. But as his story came out, the more people talked. Many knew he had stolen £26 from Samuel. But what only a handful knew was how much money the old man was worth. Had Timothy found the right key, he’d have seen that the cash tin contained an assortment of notes and coins worth £30 (£550 today), alongside some war certificates and a post office savings book with a credit of £3400 (£67000).
Kathleen had seen this when she (as a good woman caring for an old man) had put Samuel’s pension in, but as she gossiped to her husband (in confidence) it was overheard by her son. Her sweet little angel had started hanging around with boys she disliked, who had become rude, distant and violent.
Some may blame his friends, but others would state that Timothy had a dark side, as a few days after the murder, he relayed the facts of his burglary to a pal, with the cool calmness of a career criminal.
Held at Ashford Remand Centre, Dr P D Scott conducted at psychological assessment of Timothy who stated “this boy is of superior intelligence, an IQ of 129… he displays a callousness towards his victim… and admits to stealing to feed his new tastes” – buying records, fancy clothes and going out to dances.
“He has regretted the offence largely because of its implications to himself rather than because of sympathy for his victim… the only hint of violence is his fantasy in his description of how he would deal with homosexual men in cinemas” stating (“I would slam them, or stub them with cigarettes”).
Tried on 8th September 1964, at the Old Bailey, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and the jury accepted this. On 15th September, 14-year-old Timothy Noel Cotter was sentenced to ten years in prison. At which, his face was emotionless. Unlike his mother, who was in floods of tears.
Timothy Cotter served his sentence at Stamford House Remand Centre in Shepherd’s Bush, where he boasted to the others of having “killed a man”, and he had to be separated from the other boys. He was placed on licence before his sentence expired and his current whereabouts are unknown.
** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards".
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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