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Gay man stabbed after encounter
James Maidment frequently met young men, took them to his room and shared his bed with them.
And it was after one such encounter that the 36-year-old was killed, with a single stab wound, in a rented room above a Brighton cafe. No one has ever been charged with the crime.
He was killed in 1965, only weeks after the death of Sylvia Taylor, another murder which remains unsolved.
But unlike that crime, which involved the robbery of an off-licence, Mr Maidment’s death provided a window into a world which few, at the time, were willing openly to acknowledge.
Homosexual sex was not decriminalised until 1967. Perhaps for this reason, what seems from The Argus cuttings to have been obvious background material to the crime – a random sexual encounter with a young man – was never suggested openly in the reporting of the case.
Mr Maidment’s uncle told the inquest into his death that he often took youths aged between 19 and 24 to his home in New Malden, Surrey. They were “down and outs and scruffily dressed” and each slept with Mr Maidment in a single bed.
When Brighton coroner Ronald Webb asked him: “Did you see anything improper take place?”, Mr Maidment’s uncle said: “Never in my life.”
On July 24 that year – a Saturday – Mr Maidment, a lorry-driver, came to Brighton. He drank with friends in Edward Street and West Street, including at the Long Bar of the SS Brighton ice rink.
Late in the evening, he took a 15-shilling room at a “lodging-house” above the Corner Cafe at 34 North Road, which catered for lorry drivers.
He was particular about getting a room on his own, telling owner William Rees: “I have my own reasons; you understand what I mean.”
Mr Rees told the coroner he did not understand what Mr Maidment meant by the remark.
The last Mr Maidment’s friends saw of him was when they left the lodging-house at about 11pm. He was heading back into the streets, towards the seafront, telling them he was going to “mooch” around.
But a final witness – from Derby – was frank enough about his own motivation for cruising the streets at that time to shed light on what happened next.
In his car, he followed a man – never confirmed as Mr Maidment – with a youth as they walked from King’s Road, up West Street, into Queen’s Road and North Road.
Why did he follow them? He said: “I thought the youth was a pick-up, and I fancied him myself. I followed him just in case he left the man.”
Perhaps fortunately for him, the youth and the man stayed together, and he watched them going into a door at the corner of Bread Street and North Road – the site of the lodging-house.
Mr Maidment was found in his vest and underpants the following morning, with a stab wound in his chest. He had scratches on his back and there were patches of blood on the wall above his body.
His money had been left behind, suggesting robbery may not have been a motive. The killer had locked the door of the room behind him.
Maidment was distinctive-looking. He was short, at about 5ft 7in, powerfully built, like a boxer, with a scar above his right eye.
A detailed description of the youth was given out as: “Aged about 20, with fairish hair, wearing a dark-coloured blazer, white jeans, black chisel-toe shoes and carrying a duffel bag”.
Police thought the room keys, which carried the numbers “3 34”, would be a vital clue if they could be traced. But neither they nor the murder weapon were found, even after Brighton Corporation workmen pumped the street drains dry to help the search.
Detectives speculated that the youth may have been a foreign student and feared he and other witnesses could have returned overseas.
Officers were pulled from the Taylor case as a 40-strong team questioned 4,500 people, taking 600 statements. But no arrests were made.
As the coroner pointed out, the youth might have left and someone else gone in and killed Mr Maidment afterwards.
By the time of the inquest, in December that year, the only definite evidence was that he had been stabbed – no more evidence than when the body was discovered.
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