Last April, on the 60th anniversary of my great uncle Fred Jeffs’s untimely death, I marked the occasion by writing a blog post “Murder By Person Or Persons Unknown“. I’d visited the press archives at the Library of Birmingham, and sifting through pages of journalistic speculation about this remarkable case helped me renew my determination to respond to a family story which I’d first learned about in my early teens, but which had so many questions unresolved. What ignites fascination and intrigue more than an unsolved murder…? An unsolved murder, perhaps, that occurred on your doorstep.
In November I responded to a call-out from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘FURNACE‘ programme, which invited ideas for new Community Theatre projects. My suggestion was a research project inspired by the Fred Jeffs case involving the participation of local residents of the Quinton-Warley-Langley neighbourhoods, all adjacent to Fred’s old shop – ‘Jeffs confectionary & tobacconists’ – which stood at 12 Stanley Rd. (a shop now occupied by CBC bikes).
I am pleased to say that the project idea was accepted by The REP, and in the past weeks I have been researching the story, and preparing for some sessions at the libraries of Bleakhouse, Thimblemill and Quinborne, (as well as William Lench’s Trust, Quinton) which will take place in the coming fortnight.
I’d love to meet with people who remember Fred and his shop, or who came to know about the murder story through local folklore. I’m interested to know more about the man and the circumstances of his death, not just from the newspaper headlines, but from the time-honoured storytelling tradition that survives from hearsay, rumour and – in the absence of proven facts – speculation. It took me no time at all to realise that the memory of Fred and his murder still resonates in the consciousness of local people in Warley. So I have set myself the task of gathering a consensus of information by interviewing local people about what they know – and also what they don’t know, about the case.
If you would like to contribute, please do get in touch with me. Information boards have been put on display in Bleakhouse and Thimblemill Libraries, postcards about the project are being distributed, and you can visit and contribute to a Facebook page – Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder on which I’ll be posting regular updates.
If you live in the Warley area, know about the case, or even remember it, do let me know. Together we can build a picture of life in Quinton in the immediate post-war years, help create a creative response and – who knows – go a little bit further to solving the case!
Who was Fred Jeffs?
Why would anyone want to murder him?
What happened on that fateful final night of Fred’s life; the short Good Friday – 18th/19th April 1957? And what does the evidence suggest?
Someone committed the crime, but why were they never traced?
How did the police investigation develop, and why did the trail eventually dry up?
Get in touch with Graeme by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07854 873277
Furnace is The Rep’s pioneering community engagement programme. It gives people the opportunity to make theatre with professional artists and create something new that celebrates them and their community. Find out more at www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/furnace