Express & Star

Fading Trails: The Unsolved Murders of Alice & Edna

The investigation may have been scaled down, but the desire and determination to find who killed Alice & Edna remains as strong as ever within the force. The people of Birmingham need to know.

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Edna and Alice Rowley murdered in 1987 in Sparhill, Birmingham

No one has ever been brought to justice for the double murder of elderly step-sisters Alice and Edna Rowley at their corner shop in Birmingham.

It’s 36 years since elderly step-sisters Alice and Edna Rowley were murdered in their corner shop in Birmingham - which they had run for half a century.

Yet their killer remains free. Alice, aged 87, had been strangled with a scarf or towel, while 77-year-old Edna smothered at the Sparkhill store. The only items taken were two boxes of chocolates, a bottle of Tia Maria and a radio cassette player. The liquor and chocolates were the step-sisters’ Christmas presents to each other.

Officers who entered the Greswolde Road property on Saturday, December 23 in 1987 found an untouched meal on a table close to the bodies. Despite one of the city’s biggest manhunts, which saw officers take 1,600 statements and make over 5,000 inquiries, the individual responsible for the terrible crime was never caught.

Over 100 officers were drafted in, the case aired on Crimewatch and a £10,000 reward offered. At the time, Assistant Chief Constable Tom Meffen said: “We certainly have never personally offered a reward before and I cannot recall any other police force taking this step.

“However, this outrageous offence demands that we consider all avenues of investigation and assistance. I earnestly ask the public, including members and associates of the criminal fraternity, to examine their consciences, consider the nature of the killings and report their suspicions.”

The plea did not help trace the killer. Alice on Edna were last seen alive at 6.45pm on the night before their murder and it is believed they were killed soon after.

The initial theory that they had interrupted a burglary was scrubbed after detectives found no signs of forced entry. It is believed the trusting pair who handed out sweets to local children had invited the killer into their home.

The crime scene, free from blood traces, footprints or unidentified fingerprints, yielded few clues. An empty crisp packet – not a variety sold at the store – was found and may have belonged to the attacker.

There was one telling piece of information. On the night of December 22, two witnesses saw a scuffy man, described as “like a vagrant”, knocking on the shop door. An artist’s impression was issued, hotels and shelters visited, but police never traced the down and out.

On website The True Crime Enthusiasts, Paul Sutherland believes Edna and Alice were the victims of a robbery that went terribly wrong, with the panicked thief grabbing items before fleeing.

Greswolde Stores in Sparkhill, Birmingham, where Alice and Edna Rowley were murdered in 1987

He writes: “This theory gains credence by the fact that police discovered that this had actually happened a few weeks before. A bogus water board official had called at the shop a few weeks previously and had got as far as the kitchen before being exposed as an imposter. Was this connected, were the sisters targeted again by the same person? The bogus water board official was never traced, either.”

In 2012, on the 25th anniversary of the baffling crime, West Midlands Police issued a fresh appeal. A spokesperson said: “A murder case is never closed and this case is periodically reviewed by a specialist team of detectives who investigate unsolved cases. We would urge anybody who has any information about this double murder to contact officers or Crimestoppers.”

At the step-sisters’ inquest, coroner Dr Richard Whittington described the killings as “atrocious and vicious”. He added: “Someone must have an overwhelming load of guilt on their conscience.” Hopefully, they are still haunted by that guilt today.

West Midlands Police ready to speak with 1987 murderer of Alice and Edna Rowley

Detective Inspector Jim Church, from the force’s Homicide Review Team, told BirminghamWorld: “It is now 36 years since the brutal murder of Alice and Edna Rowley, with their bodies being discovered on a day so near to Christmas in 1987.

“There is a possibility that the person who committed the murders may still be alive. They may feel that it is time to come forward and talk about what they did and why.

“The original investigation was massive in scale, there was a very determined effort to catch those responsible, despite all the hard work a breakthrough didn’t happen. That determination hasn’t diminished. Over the years the case has been reviewed many times. Any new evidence from the public will be thoroughly investigated."