AN AUTHOR planning a “re-investigation” of a famous Bournemouth murder case is appealing for readers’ help.

Sean O’Connor intends to write a book about the Rattenbury murder, which captured national attention in 1935.

He previously wrote Handsome Brute, about Neville Heath, who murdered two women – including one in Bournemouth – in 1946. That book is now being made into a film, from a screenplay by Mark Gatiss.

Francis Rattenbury was a British-born architect who achieved great success in Canada, before marrying Alma Pakenham, a divorcee half his age, after an extramarital affair.

The couple moved to the Villa Madeira in Manor Road, Bournemouth, where Alma became a member of Bournemouth’s Little Theatre Club. She began an affair with their young handyman and chauffeur, George Stoner.

On March 24, 1935, the night after Stoner borrowed a wooden mallet from his grandparents, Francis Rattenbury was found bleeding from a head wound. He later died and the lovers were charged with murder.

Both Stoner and Alma Rattenbury had made admissions about the crime, but they pleaded not guilty to murder. At their Old Bailey Trial, each tried to exonerate the other and take the blame themselves.

Stoner was sentenced to death, while Alma was acquitted.

Reviled by the public, and booed as she left the Old Bailey, Alma committed suicide by a riverbank in Christchurch.

When she was buried at Wimborne Road cemetery in Bournemouth, not far from her husband, the police had to hold back the 3,000 people who came to jeer. Meanwhile the Villa Madeira, in Manor Road, where the murder took place, was plagued by souvenir hunters.

Stoner’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after a public petition. He was released to join the Army, took part in D-Day and was married, continuing living in Bournemouth until his death, aged 83, in 2000. He died on the 65th anniversary of the murder.

The case continued to fascinate the public. In 1975, Terence Rattigan wrote the play Cause Celebre, initially for radio with Diana Dors as Alma, then for stage with Glynis Johns in the role. The part was played again by Helen Mirren on TV and by Anne-Marie Duff in a 2011 revival on stage.

Rattigan, who died shortly after the play was first staged, remembered vividly the experience of following the trial as a young man. In 1988, solicitor Sir David Napley

wrote a book in which he argued that Alma Rattenbury committed the murder after taking cocaine.

Now, Sean O’Connor is seeking to look again at the evidence, and is keen to hear from anyone with connections to the case.

Mr O’Connor said: “This will be the first re-investigation of the case for over 25 years and will examine issues and evidence not discussed at the time of the trial. I’m also very keen to place the story in the context of the time it took place in, as I did with Handsome Brute.

“I’d be very keen to hear from any of your readers who have memories or information about the case.

“I’d be particularly interested to hear from the families of Dr William O’Donnell, Mrs Rattenbury’s doctor and Mrs Price, a local newsagent who rented the Villa Madeira to the Rattenbury family.

“I’d also be keen to hear if anybody knew the Stoner family or their son, George, who was ultimately convicted for the murder. And if there are any family members of the police who investigated the case, I’d be pleased to hear from them as well as any boys who might have attended Cliff House School with John Rattenbury, Mrs Rattenbury’s younger son.”

Anyone who can help should contact Mr O’Connor on or through his agent Greene and Heaton, 37 Goldhawk Road, London W12 8QQ, on 020 8749 0315.