A murder at the Blue Anchor Hotel in Byfleet 100 years ago this week hit the headlines both locally and nationally.

It was the murder by poisoning of the licensee Alfred George Poynter Jones. It is a story that has often been told. However, researcher Mark Coxhead has been looking at extensive reports of it at the time in the News & Mail, which helps to tell the grisly tale once more.

The story began when Mr Jones’ wife, Mabel Theresa, who ran her own catering businesses separate from the hotel, suffered a nervous breakdown. And on medical advice travelled to France in January 1924, staying at the Hotel Victoria in Biarritz.

Here she met 45-year-old Jean Pierre Vaquier, a Basque, described as an inventive mechanic, who had operated his own-wireless set for guests in the hotel’s drawing room.

Mabel Theresa Jones, wife of landlord Alfred George Poynter Jones, and lover of Jean Pierre Vaquier
(David Rose)

Mrs Jones told Vaquier she was married, and he indicated he was a widower. Vaquier did not speak English and she brought him a dictionary. Vaquier then took a double room at the Hotel Bayonne in Biarritz, and she stayed with him for a few days as his “wife”.

She paid her share of the hotel bill and afterwards they went to Bordeaux and stayed there for one night. When Mr Jones sent a telegram asking his wife to return, she and Vaquier went to Paris and stayed there one night, with Mrs Jones paying her share of the bill. She then returned to Byfleet, but Vaquier had plans to come after her.

It was not long before Vaquier contacted her and said he wanted to come to London and Mrs Jones recommended he stay at the Hotel Russell. On February 12 she received a telegram from Vaquier saying that he was in London at this hotel. That evening she met Vaquier and had dinner with him.

Landlord Mr Jones felt he also needed to take a rest from his financial burdens and on February 13 went to Margate for a few days.

Jean Pierre Vaquier, note his thick curly hair, square cut-back beard and flamboyant moustache
(David Rose)

The following day Vaquier arrived unexpectedly at the Blue Anchor without any luggage or money and booked in. Mr Jones returned from Margate on February 17, but then had to spend two weeks in bed with influenza and congestion.

Initially, Mr Jones got on well with Vaquier and they conversed together convivially in French. Vaquier never paid a penny towards his bill at the Blue Anchor, and in the week before his death Mr Jones asked for some payment. Vaquier responded that he would have to wait until he received some money for a patent he had filed - supposedly for a “sausage-machine!”

There was a night of heavy drinking during a party at the Blue Anchor on Saturday, March 28 and the next morning Vaquier was in the bar parlour first.

When Mr Jones came down he picked up a bottle that he thought contained Bromo-Seltzer, a pain relief product, to help ease his aching head (he was a heavy drinker). He poured out a teaspoonful and put it in a glass and drank it in one gulp, whereupon he exclaimed that the taste was bitter.

The News & Mail’s initial report on 4 April 1924 of the death of the licensee of the Blue Anchor Hotel, Alfred George Poynter Jones
(David Rose)

Mr Jones started trembling, then a member of staff and Vaquier carried him to bed after bringing him from the lavatory where he had gone to vomit. He died soon after in a state of violent convulsion and terrible fright, after telling Dr Carle of Byfleet, who had been called, that he thought he had taken poison.

Servants who had been present later reported that Vaquier had washed the contaminated bottle and spoon. Mrs Jones turned on Vaquier and accused him of her husband’s murder, whereby he went down on his knees and wept bitterly.

Later traces of strychnine were found in the bottle. Ordered out of the Blue Anchor, he went to the Railway Hotel in Woking where he was arrested three weeks later.

The story will be continued next week.