IT was late at night that the stranger called.

"Is Mr Howard at home?" he asked.

"I am sorry, sir," replied landlady Emma Vick. "He has gone to bed, it is almost midnight."

But the man was most insistent: "My business is very urgent. I have come from Fareham and must see him."

Polite though he was, Vick felt an uneasiness as he seemed particularly anxious to conceal his identity by dropping his head under a slouched hat.

She momentarily hesitated, then against her instinct she told him to remain at the door while she beckoned her tenant with a warning: "I don't like the look of him."

For his part, he said he knew of no one who lived in Fareham or had cause to call at such a late hour.

However he got up, put on his trousers and came downstairs.

At the door the mystery man asked: "Mr Howard?" But before he could speak, the visitor suddenly brandished what appeared to be a walking stick and struck him on the chest.

Vick heard a strange hissing sound and Howard fell backwards onto the hall floor, crawling into the parlour and begging her to get a doctor.

But he was beyond medical assistance - within five minutes he breathed his last.

The assassin glanced down and unconcerned walked off without anyone in the street suspecting foul play. Not even a police officer on nearby patrol.

The public learnt the victim was Daniel Hart, a 34-year-old Fareham draper who traded under the name of Howard until he had recently sold his business and planned to leave his home city of Portsmouth.

Less than 48 hours later on March 15, 1858, coroner W J Cooper opened the inquest into his death, having already made it clear he would only hear evidence of identification for fear of hampering the police investigation.

Ironically, it was to do the opposite.

The only witness to attend was the deceased's elder brother, 45-year-old Edwin Hart. The hearing was then adjourned for seven days.

On its resumption Vick, a widow of some six years, told jurors Howard had lived at her home in St Mary's Street, Portsmouth, for 10 years and he had just retired for the night when she heard three knocks at the door.

Answering them, she was confronted by a man in a dark mackintosh adorned with three buttons and wearing a slouched hat.

"The night was starlit but I could not get a clear view of his face. He was a fine tall man in stature and very upright with a dark red face - a gentlemanly looking man. I do not know who the man was."

Vick related how she roused Howard, returned downstairs and told the caller he would be down directly. The man replied that as it was a cold night, she had better go inside. When Howard reached the front door, the caller appeared to have left and she told him: "I think he's mad, he has gone."

But almost immediately the figure was there, thrusting what she thought was an umbrella at his chest and then she heard a feeble noise.

"It sound like a child's popgun but Mr Howard cried out: 'What has he done, what has he done?" He gasped: "I think he has shot me."

In his post-mortem, surgeon William Raper tracked the course of the bullet which had passed between the fifth and sixth rib cartilages, the pericardium and the right ventricle of the heart.

"There was no trace of the wound beyond that but reaching the back of the heart I found the bullet lying in the pericardium. The deceased died from a haemorrhage caused by the wound."

At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury returned the only verdict open to them - wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.

Days passed and with no arrests made in a case that attracted nationwide publicity, the Secretary of State Sir George Grey took the exceedingly rare step of announcing a reward of £100 – the equivalent of more than £12,000 in today's money – was being put up for information leading to the killer's detention.

It had its desired affect. Within days a vital witness came forward.

Mary Ann Whiting, landlady of the Portsmouth Arms, told police she recognised the individual wearing clothing similar to that worn by the murderer which led to

Superintendent Legett swooping on the offices of an admiralty solicitor and arresting of all people, Howard's brother.

The police chief refused to confirm any further details but the press discovered Hart was a married man with six children and an exemplary character. Indeed, he had once won a prize of £200 - no mean sum in those days - for inventing new railway signal lights.

Remanded in custody overnight, Hart appeared before Portsmouth magistrates on April 10 when Leggett revealed extracts from the police interview in which he accused him drinking in the pub wearing the mackintosh and hat.

Hart firmly responded: "It's a lie. I was not in Portsmouth all that night and I have no mackintosh coat at all."

Leggett told Hart he had knocked at the pub door minutes after the murder and had asked for a glass of beer, saying he was in a hurry. Whiting however retreated to her backroom and returned with a candle, wanting to recognise her late night customer because she was convinced it was a police trap for selling alcohol after hours.

"She told me 'That's the reason I know him so well."

Once more, he denied being in the area and when told he would be appearing before the magistrates, he swore: "What, am I to be dragged there on the evidence of a bitch of a woman?"

Leggett added that after the interview he accompanied Hart to his home in West Street, Fareham, where he recovered a double barrelled pistol, and on examining the muzzle, realised one chamber had been recently fired. The ball recovered from his brother's heart corresponded exactly with the chamber of the pistol which he then produced as an exhibit.

Three other witnesses also testified they had seen him near the scene of the crime and wearing a dark mackintosh.

The case was then stood over for three days when the court heard of conversations Hart had with auctioneer George Law and butcher William Terry.

Law spoke to him as to a possible motive and Hart was convinced "whoever did this act must have known Dan well as there is no person in England but Tyler of Fareham for whom he would leave his bed at night. It was revenge, deep and deadly hatred."

Terry said when he offered his condolences and voiced his hopes the police would catch the killer, Hart answered: "Oh, there's no difficulty in that. I could put my hand on the man in five minutes. The man is a lunatic who shot him."

He heard a bystander implore him to contact the police with that information but Hart casually remarked: "That will be given in due time."

With the evidence complete, the chairman Major Travers asked Hart if he had anything to say in his defence.

"As far as I am concerned, I am innocent of this charge," he firmly replied. "I was not in Portsmouth. I did not wear a mackintosh that night. I shall reserve my defence and I can only hope the murderer may be apprehended so that I may not remain in this awful position without any spot or stain on my conscience."

Hart, who throughout had manifested a determined and self possessed air, showed no emotion when told he would be further remanded to stand trial at Hampshire Assizes.

It was on July 15 that he stood before Baron Channel who told jurors in his opening remarks there had been considerable publicity in the case and reminded them they should only consider what was said in court.

"Many witnesses are being called for the sole purpose of establishing the killer's identity, a point which is certainly one of considerable doubt and difficulty and in which in the course of my judicial experience mistakes have been made."

The judge further warned them some witness statements to disprove a defendant's assertion he was elsewhere at the time of the crime could not be relied upon as they were often made to relieve themselves of trouble.

Jurors consulted the evidence at length before acquitting Hart, leaving a mystery as to who killed his brother.