Riddle of murder to be turned into play 60 years on Nephew to tell tale of infamous unsolved killing of sweet shop owner in Rep drama
THE gruesome unsolved murder of a Birmingham sweet shop owner is to be turned into a play more than 60 years after he was found dead in a crime that shocked the city.
The body of Frederick Jeffs was found in a shallow woodland grave by boys looking for birds’ eggs in Park Lane, Handsworth, at Easter 1957.
Fears began to grow for the 37-year-old when his Austin A30 van was found abandoned between Brantley Road and Westwood Road in Witton early on the morning of Good Friday 1957.
Jeffs was not inside but blood and d vomit was found splashed on the he interior, as well as the bonnet, winddscreen and roof.
Police quickly traced the van back k to the confectioner’s shop he owned d in Stanley Road, Quinton, but there e was no trace of him in the flat above e and no sign of a disturbance.
The mystery did not last long – the boys discovered his body partly y hidden beneath twigs and rocks in woodlands.
Park Lane was nicknamed “Lovers’ Lane” because it was a popular destination for canoodling couples in cars.
Jeffs had been struck at least 12 times over the head, probably with a heavy stone which was never found.
Now the riddle is to be turned into a play by Jeffs’ great-nephew, Graeme Rose.
He is working with the Birmingg- ham Rep and has appealed for memories from anyone who lived in Quinton in the 1950s or remembered the shopkeeper or his murder.
Mr Rose said: “I have learned there was a possible gangland connection, that a mystery woman was seen in his shop.
“Somebody said she might have had a Dudley accent, somebody else said she was of Italian origin.
“Rumours persist about the different facts.”
A pathologist believed Jeffs had been struck first while standing near his van and then bundled inside, where he may have made a partial recovery.
The brutal force with which he was finished off suggested that police were investigating a crime of passion, maybe motivated by jealousy.
But building up a picture of the shopkeeper was proving difficult.
He was born in Stirlingshire in 1919 and moved with his family to Birmingham as a child.
Jeffs worked as an electrician at Austin’s Longbridge factory before serving with the Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War.
After returning to Birmingham, he was employed by the Public Works Department but took over his shop in May 1953.
The sweet shop and tobacconist’s flourished with his wife working by his side.
But their relationship began to fall apart and she left him in September 1956.
After the break-up, Jeffs devoted himself to work and his black poodle, named Perro.
He would be in the shop for 12 did not form a significant part of th the investigation early on and in instead the police focused on a bu burglary at his home and shop the pr previous December.
Cash totalling £140 was stolen fro from a till along with a watch and a rad radio.
O One theory among city detectives wa was that the crime had highlighted how much money Jeffs kept around the premises and the news may hav have spread around the criminal undTh underworld. The shopkeeper had started carrying a high-powered air pistol in his rain raincoat pocket and kept another und under his pillow.
B But for the next five months, there was nothing to suggest he needed to take such drastic precautions.
B Business continued as normal, and there was little sign he was to mee meet a grisly end – even on the day he went w missing.
Je Jeffs was working in the shop with his sister.
She noticed him talking to a girl with brown hair but he seemed embarrassed and agreed to meet her later.
Whether she was a lover or involved in his killing could never firmly be established.
He was seen leaving the premises in the van at about 9.10pm and Perro was later spotted close to Reservoir Road in Langley.
By that time, it is possible that Jeffs was either dead or unconscious from the first attack.
His Austin A30 was seen back at the premises at about 10.45pm outside his shop by a teenage neighbour who did not recognise the man sitting behind the wheel.
At about 11.10pm, another witness walking past the shop saw the hours a day, seven days a week, and was helped occasionally by relatives and a lady assistant.
Police also discovered he was spending time with other women after parting from his wife and he was seen drinking with several females at the Abbey pub in Three Shires Oak Road, Bearwood.
Jeffs’ association with girlfriends van emerge and also noticed a young girl standing in the doorway.
The witness did not see the driver but her description of the girl matched that of the young woman seen at the shop earlier in the day.
The fate of Jeffs at that point can only be speculated about - he may have been in his shallow grave or lying in the back of the van.
Detectives believed robbery was the most likely motive for the murder because the victim’s pockets appeared to have been turned inside out and there was only £10 found at his home.
The couple seen at the shop clearly had keys because there was no sign of forced access and police felt at least one of them might have had prior knowledge of the flat.
They were also certain he knew his killers and that they killed him because he would easily have been able to identify them.
The manhunt which followed was enormous in scale.
Police spoke to several women who claimed to have had links to Jeffs but none matched the description of the young woman seen twice at the shop.
A staggering 75,000 questionnaires were completed during painstaking door-to-door enquiries.
Police were certain the killer had a good knowledge of the local area but otherwise found more questions than answers.
Most surrounded the identity of the young brunette, who was never traced.
Neither was the red leather dog collar missing from Perro when he was discovered four days later.
Anyone who remembers the case can email Graeme Rose at graerose@ gmail.com.
There was a possible gangland connection, that a mystery woman was seen in his shop Nephew Graeme Rose
> Victim Frederick Jeffs, and left, his sweet shop in Stanley Road, Quinton