Articles Canada Ghosts

Francis Rattenbury | An Extraordinary Murder Story

Ghost Guide Daniel – – On Sunday, March 24th in 1935, Francis Rattenbury, a respected Victoria BC architect was murdered inside his drawing room.  The floor covered with blood and debris. Thought dust collected in the blood. 

Turned out to be his skull and brain fragments from his smashed head.  And in the corner, broken false teeth.

Rattenbury was alive!  They called for help and rushed him to the hospital.  It’s there he’d die 4 days later.  This is the story of what led to his brutal murder.

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Alma | Murder | Aftermath

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Francis Rattenbury
Francis Rattenbury

Francis’ Early Years

A Brit, Rattenbury was born in Leeds, England in 1867.  He realized the dream of creating beautiful buildings at a young age of only 17-years-old. 

Given an apprenticeship with the prestigious English firm, Lockwood and Mawson.  Founded by one of the world’s best architects, Henry Francis Lockwood.

7 years later in 1891, Rattenbury left for Canada with promises of an exciting new world.  Arriving in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

He hit the ground running.  Winning the contract for the newly planned Legislative Buildings in the nearby city of Victoria.  

Victoria Legislative building - designed by Francis Rattenbury 
Victoria Legislative Building designed by Francis

He used that money to start businesses supplying prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1880’s. 

The Great Years

As the 19th century neared its end, Francis finally settled down.  Meeting and marrying Florence Eleanor Nunn in 1898.  

Florence Rattenbury, Francis' first wife
First Wife

His most prestigious creations occurred during this time, from buildings to kids…

  • Child in 1899 named Francis B. Rattenbury
  • Multiple Bank of Montreal structures from 1896 to 1899
  • House in 1901, Lieutenant Governor’s Residence in Victoria
  • House in 1903 called Burns Manor
  • Building in 1904 called the Empress Hotel
  • Child in 1904 named Mary Rattenbury
  • Building in 1905 the current Vancouver Art Gallery

The best years of his life were with his wife Florence.  Everything going well, both personal and professionally. 

Then, in 1923, he met a 27-year-old musician named Alma Pakenham.  Francis was 56.  Everything changed.

Alma on Piano – Video from 1932

Who is Alma Packenham?

Alma was a widow once married to royalty.  Her husband was a nephew to the 5th Earl of Caledon.  They lived in Vancouver together for 2 years, before her husband went off to fight in World War I.

He was killed in action at the Battle of Somme in 1916.

This began her work for the war effort.  Starting as an Orderly in France.  Anything to help.  Led to her being desensitized to violence.  They said of her,

“… she could sleep through bombings…”, adding, “… But she’d regularly wake to the sounds of rats scratching near her bed!”

During the war, Alma was wounded twice and given an award for her service to the French Red Cross.

Alma Rattenbury book on the murder by Sean O'Connor
Alma Book on the Murder

Married Again

In 1918 she met a British-American Journalist named Compton Packenham.  A relationship commenced, ending Packenham’s first marriage.  Alma was cited in his Divorce decree.

During their short 1-year relationship, the couple moved to New York City.  Packenham worked for the New York Times and gave lectures, while Alma taught piano. 

Alma left Packenham, and their son Christopher, in 1922.  The marriage officially ending in 1925.  Alma returned to Canada.

Alma Becomes a Rattenbury

In 1925, Francis Rattenbury divorced his wife Florence to marry Alma Pakenham.  Alma was cited in the that divorce decree too. 

But the couple didn’t live in peace.  Gossip, spread like wildfire, about Francis’ affair and the poor treatment of Florence.  He was shunned by clients, associates, and friends.

Francis and Alma escaped it.  Moving to England and settling in a small town called Bournemouth.  Located about 2 hours from London. 

3 years later in 1928 they had a son named John.

After that the relationship slowed.  They slept in separate rooms.  Remained cordial, but cool with each other.  This lasted for about 6 years.

Then in 1934, the couple hired a servant.  17-year-old George Stoner answered the job, serving as a chauffeur and handyman at their house in Bournemouth. 

Murderer George Stoner
George Stoner

After he turned 18-years-old, Stoner began a relationship with Alma.  She was 37.

Not an affair!  Francis was aware of the relationship.  And okay with it!

Murder Most Foul

It only took 6 months.  Leading to Friday March 24th in 1935, while Francis sat in his drawing room.

Stoner entered the room and attacked with a Carpenter’s Mallet.  Smashing Rattenbury in the back of the head until his skull caved in. 

Carpenter's Mallet - murder weapon
Example of the Murder Weapon

So hard, it knocked the false teeth from Rattenbury’s mouth.

Alma was in the room too.  Later, while describing what happened.  Her shock unmistakable, as her words only focused on her husband’s false teeth.  Incoherent and intoxicated, she said,

“… I stepped on his teeth.  Broke them.  I picked up the pieces and tried to place them back in Francis’ mouth.”

A doctor sedated her with morphine.

After the murder, Stoner carried Francis out of the drawing room and into his bedroom.  They called the doctor, who found a dying Rattenbury on his bed.  A white bedsheet surrounding his smashed skull was soaked red in blood.

The Doctor’s original assumption was Francis hit his head on the piano during a terrible fall. 

But the following morning, Alma was dragged into the police station where she admitted to the murder,

“That’s right, I did it, and would do it again.”

Alma’s Blamed

Sure, Alma confessed, but that didn’t last long.

  1. It was found out the young Chauffer confessed to a housekeeper, saying he’d actually swung the mallet. 
  2. Alma took back her confession after a visit with her son with Compton Packenham, Christopher.  He saw Alma in the prison, and soon after she recanted the confession.  Basically, placing all the blame on Stoner.

They both pleaded ‘not guilty’ for a glorified trial in London, England. 

Groomed for Murder

That’s where the details came out.  The idea that an older woman influenced her young and naive lover into killing her older husband.  That old trop.   

Testimony given about the days leading up to murder.  That Alma poured gifts and clothing on Stoner. 

The two acting like a loving couple around strangers in a Kensington hotel.  It’s thought Stoner couldn’t go back to being a lowly servant to the man he now despised.

And feared losing Alma, believing Francis was set to end their improper relationship.  It was too much for the boy to handle. 

Didn’t matter what they said.  George Stoner was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Don’t Do It!

The public disagreed.  Seeing injustice around the stories of Alma’s influence.

They believed Stoner should be spared execution.  And 300,000 people signed a petition to reduce the charges.  The reason,

“… he was manipulated into committing murder by an older woman.”

It worked!  The sentence was changed to life imprisonment.

Alma’s End

Alma was acquitted of murder and being an accessory.  Seems strange considering she was in the room with Stoner.

Instead, she was sentenced by the public.  Shame and gossip were too much for her to handle.

Less than 3 months after her husband’s murder, Alma arrived at the bank of the River Avon just outside of Bournemouth. 

Death article of Alma Rattenbury
Alma is Dead Newspaper Article

Alma stood at the edge of a drop just above the water.  Pulled out a large knife and spun it around.  Then stabbing herself 6 times in the chest, puncturing her heart. 

Her body fell forward into the water.

At the site of her death, the officers found a note,

“If I only thought it would help Stoner I would stay but it has been pointed out too vividly that I cannot help him—and that is my death sentence.”

The guilt was evident over her actions that ruined Stoner’s life.  Not much around the murder of her husband. 

What Happened After

George Stoner served only 7 years.  His sentence ended early because he agreed to serve in the British Army as World War II began.  He survived the war.

Going on to live a quiet and happy life in Bournemouth.  Married a good woman in 1944 and had a daughter. 

Only hit the news again in 1990.  At the age of 74 he was accused of an “indecent assault” against a 12-year-old boy in a public restroom.  His strange actions said to be an effect of on-coming Alzheimer’s disease.

He died a decade later in the year 2000. 

The Rattenbury’s

Despite being a renowned architect, Francis was buried in an unmarked grave near his home in Bournemouth.  Remained this way for 72 years, until 2007 when a headstone was installed by a family friend.

The only son of Francis and Alma followed in his father’s footsteps! 

Went on to be a respected architect.  Gaining mastery by studying under the great Frank Lloyd Wright.  And after Wright’s death, taking on some of his projects.

John Rattenbury passed away in 2021 at the age of 93.

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