ON Sunday, June 8, 1958, 20-year-old Private Brian Chandler of the Royal Army Medical Corps went absent without leave and made his way to Darlington.

Marion Smith Munro and Pauline Blair, who lived in Darlington, decided to go into town the same day and happened to be at the railway station at about 1pm.

It was there that they met Chandler and the three of them spent the rest of the day together.

That evening, before they parted, the three agreed to meet up again the next day.

On Monday, June 9, they all met again at 1pm.

They were together all day and even spent the night, with others, sleeping in an old bus parked near the YMCA.

Tuesday was another day spent together, but the conversation now turned to money – all of them were extremely short of cash.

It was then that Chandler suggested he should steal a pushbike and try to sell it.

The other two agreed and Chandler managed to find an unlocked bicycle. The trouble was that he then could not find someone to buy it. Somewhat dejected, the three went to The Swan pub, to see if they could think of anything else.

It was then that Miss Monro mentioned Mrs Dodds, a woman she had once done some work for.

Martha Ann Dodds was 83 and lived alone at 4 Victoria Road. Miss Monro suggested they should go and ask if she had any odd jobs.

That afternoon, the three friends went to Victoria Road, although only Miss Monro and Miss Blair went inside.

But Mrs Dodds did not want anything doing, as her son was coming to visit her.

Back outside, the two girls told Chandler what had happened.

The conversation now turned to the possibility of robbing the old woman. At one stage Chandler said that if he did rob her, it would not be enough to simply knock her down.

He would have to kill her, otherwise she would give their names to the police. The girls did not take his words seriously.

The next day, Wednesday, June 11, Miss Monro had to go to the Labour Exchange at 2.45pm to sign on, after which she arranged to meet Chandler again.

Chandler said that he would use the intervening time to go back to Mrs Dodds’ house and rob her. Again, his threat was not taken seriously.

At 3.30pm, Chandler met Miss Monro and a friend of hers, Evelyn Pigg, at the Regal.

Now he seemed to have some money and when Miss Monro asked him where he had got it, he replied that he had killed the old woman and taken £4.

The Northern Echo: FATAL ATTACK: Brian Chandler, who became the last person to be hanged at Durham

Even as he was saying those words, Miss Pigg noticed that there were bloodstains on the back of his light-blue trousers.

The house at 4 Victoria Road was split into three separate dwellings. Mrs Dodds lived on the ground floor but in the basement lived John Firth and his wife, Marjorie.

That Wednesday, Mr Firth had returned home from work at 5.15pm, and noticed that Mrs Dodds’ evening paper was still in her letter box.

He and his wife enjoyed their dinner together and settled down for a quiet night in. In fact, it was a very quiet night.

Normally they heard at least some sounds from Mrs Dodds, but that night there was nothing.

That, and the newspaper, made Mr Firth think that there might be something wrong so he went to check. He knocked on the door but there was no answer.

The door was not locked so Mr Firth went in and found the battered body of Mrs Dodds, lying on the floor, a hammer close by her feet.

The police investigation soon led to the name of Brian Chandler. Miss Pigg, Miss Munro and others said what they had seen and heard.

Chandler, meanwhile, had returned to his camp at Catterick and it was there that he was arrested, on Friday, June 13.

At first he denied any involvement in the crime but then he changed his mind and said he wished to get it off his chest.

He claimed that he had not intended to kill but had offered to do some jobs.

Mrs Dodds said he could do some gardening and gave him a bucket which happened to contain a hammer. She offered him three shillings an hour, which he refused. An argument followed and he had used the hammer to protect himself when she attacked him.

Chandler faced his trial in late October. His suggestion of using the hammer in self-defence was demolished by the testimony of Dr John McLeod Robertson, who had performed the postmortem examination. He detailed 19 separate wounds to the head.

Chandler, meanwhile, had changed his story.

Now he claimed that it was Miss Munro who had killed Mrs Dodds, and he had been a bystander.

In the event, the jury decided that Chandler had acted alone and, on October 29 announced that they had found the prisoner guilty of murder in the furtherance of theft.

A subsequent appeal having failed, Chandler was hanged on Wednesday, December 17, 1958.

His was the 55th and last execution at Durham.