IT was nine o'clock on a moonlit mid Autumn night when William Parsons was seen dashing down the road. For what purpose and whether he was in pursuit or being pursued remains an enduring mystery.

Half an hour later, five locals walking home in the vicinity of the market town recognised the sound of blows.

One washerwoman heard a"holloa" and someone distinctly pleading: "Oh, don't, don't murder me." The second was sure a voice cried out: "Don't pray" and then "murder" which were accompanied by two or three groans.

Two men were on the fringe of the same drama. One likening the noise to a carpet being beaten.

The fifth recounted: "I heard a tremendous outcry but I could not distinguish what it was - it was like quarrelling. I halted for a few seconds and then turned across the turnpike road when I heard the same sound again."

It was a victim's death throes.

Perhaps, fearful of their own safety, none ventured further. Had they done so, they would have encountered the killer.

Though he had wrapped himself in a thick overcoat to protect himself against the evening chill, Emma Parsons was not unduly concerned about the late return of her husband who had gone out to post a letter.

She merely assumed he had met with some drinking cronies and took herself off to bed but the following morning she was still alone and as her apprehension mounted, she went to find him.

Ironically, the first person she encountered was a police officer bringing horrific news. He had been bludgeoned to death in an open field and then dumped in a ditch running alongside.

Parsons was a popular figure in Andover as the High Street owner of a flourishing drapery and outfitters business.

Ironically, it was his assistant H E Northover who found his body while going for a walk. He had gone about a quarter of a mile out of town and was on the point of turning back when he saw something lying in the ditch and out of curiosity went over to investigate.

It was until he was within five yards of the object that he discovered it was a man lying face down, his skull so horrifically shattered he did not recognise his boss. Nearby lay the murder weapon - a three foot long branch of a recently felled ash tree, its thick end smeared with blood.

He ventured no further and immediately ran to the police station. Together with Superintendent Charles Wedge, they rushed to the scene. As others joined them, a young bystander exclaimed: "Good God, it's Mr Parsons."

It was only then that Wedge recognised him as the friend he had known for eight years.

Before the doctor arrived, the police chief carried out a preliminary investigation and saw footprints of one person walking towards a local farmer's cowshed. They led to a gap between two fields but Wedge could not trace them any further but in the cowshed he found marks which appeared to have been inflicted in a scuffle.

At the murder scene, Wedge duly searched Parsons and on his person found £3 12s 6d in cash, a silver watch, a gold eyeglass, various papers and other articles of no importance. Robbery could not have been the motive.

Five days later on November 27, 1858, a full inquest was conducted into his death. The three men and two women delivered their evidence of what they had heard but unfortunately not seen before the coroner summed up the evidence and the only verdict open to jurors of 'wilful murder against some person or some persons unknown' was naturally delivered.

However, certain information had been withheld from them following a private conversation between Wedge and the coroner.

The reason became apparent 48 hours later when the police chief announced Thomas Banks, landlord of the town's Rose and Chequers Inn and owner of cottages near the murder scene, had been arrested - sadly when celebrating one of his children's birthday.

Magistrates adjourned proceedings for a week to enable him to consult a solicitor and he was further remanded in custody - though he was not parted from his wife Emma for long. At the subsequent committal proceedings, she stood alongside him in the dock, charged with being an accomplice to murder.

It transpired that on October 21, she had gone to the outfitters to buy a dress but unable to find a suitable one, bought a scarf instead. However as she was about to leave, staff found a missing dress in her possession but Parsons believed it had been unintentional and the police were not summoned.

He was wrong.

She later confessed to shop assistant Frank Webb she had deliberately taken it but did not know why and promised to give half a sovereign to Parsons if he kept the matter to himself but when he saw her again, he told her: "It's all known about the dress."

How everyone knew about the shoplifting, Webb professed he did not know.

The evidently worried Mrs Banks told him she wanted to see Parsons that evening. Whether he told his employer is unknown but Parsons never met her - in complete contrast to what she claimed the following day that she had seen him for no more than two minutes.

That appeared to be the end of the matter but on November 14, Parsons had an unexpected visit from her husband in his showroom.

"It was very unusual as I have never seen a gentleman there before," Sarah Ley, the millinery department manager, recalled at the committal proceedings. "They were in conversation for about 10 minutes. I might have heard it if I had listened but I did not. In conversation they seemed not to agree with each other. Their manner, though not exactly angry, was not satisfactory towards each other. They both spoke but Mr Parsons seemed to have most to say."

Fellow publican John Young said when he confronted Banks about the gossip of him being the killer, he firmly rejected the notion: "Thank God, I have a clear conscience for I can prove where I was every quarter of an hour."

To a point that was true. He and other witnesses confirmed he had been in the Railway Tavern before 9pm when Young offered him a lift in his cab which he initially accepted but then told him he would be back shortly and left heading towards the turnpike. Young waited patiently for a quarter of an hour but he did not return.

But the court was then to hear intriguing evidence of a mysterious figure seen near the crime scene about the time of the murder.

John Preedy, who lived with his father on the Weyhill Road, recalled: "He could see us. He did not say anything but stood quite still. It was not light enough for me to see who the man was. The shade of an elder tree prevented it."

John Smith left the Star Hotel to return to his home at Little Park Farm about two miles from Andover beyond the Railway Tavern when he saw a young man running towards the town with a parcel under his arms which be believed contained books. A further 100 yards on, he saw Banks walking on the footpath with a woman.

"I know him very well and he has always spoken to me when we meet but he did not speak to me that night and when he passed he turned away apparently to avoid me. I am positive it was him."

After the witnesses had given their testimony, Banks was asked if he had anything to say and replied: "I am innocent of this charge but I am willing to leave this case entirely in the hands of my legal advisers."

His wife said the same.

Though the prosecution conceded their case was primarily based on circumstantial evidence, the magistrates rejected the defence's submission there was insufficient evidence to send them for trial at Hampshire Assizes and both were further remanded in custody.

On March 1 the following year they came before Baron Martin who - as was the procedure at the time - addressed the jury as to the facts of the case before it got under way, telling them the couple had left the Railway Tavern at 9pm and nothing was seen or heard of them until when they were observed walking down the Weyhill road towards Andover an hour later.

That, he said, would have given them sufficient time to carry out the murder but there was no evidence to connect them with the bloodstained branch or the knife used to cut it and they had only been seen was some distance away some distance away from the crime scene.

"That is all the evidence and I ask you in the discharge of your duty to minutely examine that evidence. As it has often been remarked, a well proved train of circumstances establishes the guilt of a person where the just inference to be deducted from those circumstances leaves no other conclusion to be arrived at.

"In treating this case, you must ascertain the facts and draw from them a fair deduction. In all cases of circumstantial circumstances, it is an important inquiry whether there was any motive for the act. Of course there can be no proper motive for the commission of this diabolical crime but there may be malice, envy of some other circumstance existing."

The judge said the only motive he could find was that of ill-will towards the deceased over the dress and Parsons thought she had not deliberately taken it.

"Before you can draw an inference of ill-will, the prosecution must show some acts done and there must be circumstantial evidence to connect them with the commission of the crime before you can enter into a motive."

Jurors considered his remarks before returning a 'no bill' against both accused who were discharged.

No one was ever brought to justice over the murder.

Even if anyone of the five witnesses gone to the victim's aid, they almost certainly would have been powerless to prevent his death but in all events would have seen the perpetrator or perpetrators and justice would have prevailed.