Christmas sees the 50th anniversary of a brutal - and unsolved - murder.

In was back in December 1964 that Christmas festivities were ruined for many living in Barkisland.

They saw their viilage taken over by an army of police officers, forensic scientists and others all intent on finding the killer of 63-year-old spinster, Margaret Victoria Waihoura Williamson who was known to family and friends as Vicky.

Her battered body was found on Christmas Day morning in a field off Branch Road, on the approaches to Zachariah Wood.

The grim discovery was made by two young boys out for a walk. Police established she had probably died almost two days earlier, having been attacked on the evening of December 23.

But despite protracted inquiries the killer has never been found.

Former Calderdale man Donald Barker recalls it well, as he was a teenager in the village and was one of many questioned by police.

He said: “Vicky lived with her older sister, Anne Elizabeth, in cottages, standing in an elevated position but shrouded by trees, just off the western side of Branch Road.

Vicky Williamson
Vicky Williamson
 

“She had spent 50 of her 63 years in the Barkisland area and was a popular figure, well liked and respected by all who made her acquaintance.

“Vicky worked in the mending department of Bowers Mill, now home to the celebrated “Venue” function suite, barely a quarter of a mile from her home. On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 23, she clocked out of work at 4.50pm, 10minutes early, to attend to her Christmas shopping.

“Two people testified to seeing Vicky standing at the bus stop at the junction of Saddleworth Road with Branch Road, presumably waiting for the 15.10pm bus towards Elland. It was established later that between 5.20pm and 5.50pm Vicky made several purchases from shops in West Vale and at some time after that set off to walk back to her home.

Branch Road, Barkisland, Halifax, where a murder took place 50 years ago

“The distance from the traffic lights at West Vale to Vicky’s cottage home stands at close on two miles, the majority of it along a gradual uphill route, at most a 40 to 50 minute walk. Tragically, she never completed the walk.

“She reached a point virtually opposite the entrance to an unmade track angling up towards her home and there she met her end. It is not known whether her killer was waiting there for her or whether he had come up with her along the route home and walked with her part of the way.

“What is known is that he launched a violent assault on her person and bundled her over the wall into the steep sloping, partially wooded land that lies to the eastern side of Branch Road. He went over the wall after her and strangled her.

“He either carried or dragged her a distance of some 200 yards over rough ground and dumped her in a boggy field close by the course of the Black Brook adjacent to an area known as Zachariah Wood”.

Vicky’s shopping bags were found. still containing Christmas presents for her nephews and nieces, on Christmas Eve in fields off Branch Road. Hours later, the boys found her body.

Mr Barker recalled: “The police investigation that followed; launched swiftly after the discovery of the body, was thorough and protracted but it did not produce a result. Several people were arrested and subjected to lengthy interrogations but all were released without charge.

“Despite the best efforts of the police, the killer - in all probability a local man, someone Vicky knew - remained at large and so remains to this day. Of course, after fifty years, it may be that he has long been in his grave.

“But equally so it may be that he hasn’t and is alive, elderly but healthy, a resident of Barkisland, living, unsuspected by the community, close to the scene of his crime”.

Teenager Donald Barker was an apprentice in a TV shop when he became embroiled in a grisly murder

He was potentially a key witness to the killing of a Calderdale woman only yards from her home.

But it transpired the events seen by the young Barker and his friend were not directly involved with the killing of Vicky Williamson and the Christmas murder from 1964 remains unsolved.

Fifty years on, Mr Barker, 67, a former BT employee, is now living and working in China but retains a keen interest in the case. He has written books and short stories about crime and science fiction and approached West Yorkshire Police for information about the Williamson case.

They declined and said that it may well be re-opened in the future if new evidence comes to light.

Mr Barker said: “I’d turned 17 in the January and passed my driving test in the August. I was an apprentice at a local TV and radio retailer, John Shaw (Hx Ltd). He was expensive but he gave top class service and did good business as a result. It being near Christmas the shop was booming and on the evening of December 23,, with another youngster, I worked till 9pm meeting same day delivery promises on new sales.

Memories of unsolved murder for Donald Barker

“We did a drop at in Beestonley Lane, Stainland, and then returned to Halifax via the Branch Road and Saddleworth road. But then I saw newspaper reports about the murder in Branch Road along with police appeals for witnesses. Several days passed before my colleague and I woke up to the fact that we had been there on the day and at the time but then we duly reported to the police who asked if we would report in the company van to the Investigation HQ which they’d set up in Bowers Mill on Branch Road.

“Our initial thoughts were that we’d seen absolutely nothing but then memory started to come and in fact we’d seen quite a lot. A guy walking his dog, a parked car, a courting couple in a gateway and about 150 metres from Saddleworth road, heading in the direction of Barkisland Mills, a lady of the right age walking well out towards the middle of the road.

“There was also much ado about timing. The police refused to accept that we could have been at St Ann’s place and back at the George Street shop within the parameters we claimed. They seemed incapable of taking into account the facts that we had a lot to do and that there was a 17-year-old lunatic at the wheel. However, eventually we were believed.

“It also transpired the lady we saw was not poor Vicky, it was a lady who worked at Woolworths and who walked along the Branch Road a little after Vicky met her end. She, of course, had no memory of the van passing her, which was strange in a way because I can still see her now, raising her hand, dazzled no doubt by our lights, then I’d dipped the lights, moved over to the left and we’d passed her.

“Several days later the police took our separate detailed statements and we heard no more. Weeks, then months dragged by and no reported progress. The buzz was that the police knew who the killer was but lacked evidence for a charge.

“I’m not sure why the memory has stuck with me so long. I think maybe because the crime remains unsolved plus the attitude of the polcie”.