Linda Stratmann has dug out the files of past crimes for her book, writes Nick Elvin

A 15-year-old boy, found beaten to death after giving evidence against poachers; a body dumped on a burning rubbish tip and a women axed to death in her own home by her husband.

Middlesex has seen its fair share of violent killings over the past few centuries, with some cases making national headlines while others have remained relatively unknown outside the area.

A new book sheds light on some of the stories behind these crimes, but Linda Stratmann, author of Middlesex Murders, says it is not the gruesome nature of some of the cases that intrigues her most.

“What fascinates me is the human interest side of it,” says Linda. “One of the things about Middlesex is that they happen to ordinary people you can identify with. They go about their ordinary lives and then something just happens to them.

“I’m interested in what makes people tick. What can make an ordinary person commit a murder.”

While some of the murderers were tried and executed, other cases remain unsolved to this day, including that of John Brill, a 15-year-old boy who had given evidence before Uxbridge magistrates against two men charged with poaching. The pair were convicted and “threatened the boy with violent revenge”.

In February 1837, after the men had been freed, John Brill’s body was found in woods in Ruislip. While the two poachers were not tried for his murder, an associate of theirs was, but he was acquitted by the jury, and the case remains unsolved.

A century on, in 1939, the murder of Claire Paul took place, also in Ruislip. She was murdered by her husband, Sidney George Paul, with an axe, and although he claimed an intruder carried out the attack, he was found guilty and sentenced to death, although he ultimately served a prison sentence on the recommendation of the Home Secretary.

The murder of John Draper, whose body was found down a well outside a pub in Enfield, in 1816, remains unsolved to this day.

Draper was a beadle for the Court of Requests – a minor court that handled small debts. After going to collect a debt, Draper drank at the White Bear in Barnet, before heading to another pub, the Bald-Faced Stag (nowadays The Stag), in Enfield Chase.

The book describes how he became drunk and aggressive, and was involved in several altercations. His body was found in a well the next morning, minus his pocketbook, which had been full of money the previous day.

Another case is that of Arthur John Biggin, who killed John Gregory in 1919.

Gregory managed a wine store in Colindale Avenue, Hendon, and it was there Biggin killed him, later claiming he had acted in self defence after Gregory had made sexual advances and turned violent when these were resisted.

Biggin was found guilty of manslaughter, but his conviction was soon quashed following an appeal.

In 1931 the body of itinerant worker Herbert William Ayres, aka Pigsticker, was found on a burning rubbish dump at Scratchwood Sidings (today the site of London Gateway Services).

Ayres was killed in a fight with two men, Oliver Newman (known as “Tiggy”), and William Shelley (“Moosh”), who had accused him of stealing items. They dumped his body on the tip, and it was up to Ayres' brother Edward, a labourer from Watford, to identify it from the moustache, tattoo and clothing.

There was evidence an axe had been used, and a jury found the pair guilty of murder, despite pleas of self defence. They were hanged at Pentonville Prison.

Linda says as part of her research she explores the murder scenes, taking photos and trying to get a feel for what happened, and often spending a lot of time “going through muddy woods and muddy fields”.

She says: “Sometimes there’s an aspect of a case that doesn’t make sense, but when you go there you can see. There was one case where two men had to carry a body across some fields. I wondered how they did that, but when you go to the area and you can see how.”

Linda has a degree in psychology, but worked in the civil service before becoming a writer full time. She says she has long been interested in crime stories and has written other books on murders in Greater London, Kent and Essex, and is currently working on a second book of Essex murders, due out next year. She says she enjoys exploring the British Library and National Archives to find cases she thinks are most interesting.

“The research takes longer than the writing,” she says. “I love looking at archives and making discoveries.”

Middlesex Murders, Linda Stratmann. Published by The History Press