31st May 1928

“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry

Guernsey farmer Hilary Rougier’s death was ruled an overdose at an inquiry that concluded on the 31st May 1928. It brought a partial conclusion to a long-running investigation into how he had died.

Rougier had moved to the mainland from Guernsey, and lodged with a Mr and Mrs Lerwill. In summer 1926 they all moved to Surrey and, on 24 August, the Lerwills called the doctor to attend to Mr Rougier. Upon arrival, the doctor found him in a coma. Rougier never recovered, and the doctor ascribed his cause of death to a cerebral haemorrhage.

Extravagant spending

Rougier had been in his late 70s, so his death wasn’t entirely surprising, which perhaps explains why the doctor had enquired no further. However, when executors started to process Rougier’s estate, they discovered that his considerable fortune had disappeared. At this point, the authorities started to get suspicious.

Had Rougier been cremated, there might have been no possibility of finding out that the doctor had been mistaken. However, Rougier had been buried in Woking, allowing the police to exhume his remains in March 1928. A Home Office pathologist performed a post-mortem that revealed the presence of morphine in Rougier’s organs. Considering it was by then almost two years since he had died, this indicated that he’d taken or been given a very large dose – potentially enough to kill him.

An inquest was opened at which the jury ruled, on 31 May 1928, that the poison had not been self-administered. The police took no further action.

Lerwill’s demise

The newspapers suggested that William Lerwill may have killed Rougier but, because no police charges had been laid against him, he successfully sued them. He moved to Canada, but returned when his money ran out, and stayed in a series of hotels, some of which were in the west country, despite being unable to pay his way.

When a policeman challenged him about an outstanding bill, he swigged from a bottle and fell down dead. It was later discovered that the bottle had contained prussic acid.

This was the same method of suicide chosen by John Hutchinson, who killed himself at a St Peter Port boarding house when police caught up with him following the poisoning of his father.

No charge was ever laid against any member of the Lerwill family, and although the inquiry stated that the morphine had not been self-administered, it would not have been possible for the inquiry to judge that Rougier had not actually wanted to die.


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