When vacationing families return to their rooms and day trippers journey home, the bright lights of Blackpool are often witness to more sinister sights.
On such an evening, during wartime in 1944 the body of a local girl was discovered in an air raid shelter by North Promenade. Perhaps surprisingly, she had not fallen victim to the Luftwaffe but the US flying corps.
Joan Long, a naive and cheerful Blackpool lass, lived in Bristol Avenue, Bispham, Blackpool. She was the eldest of three children and helped her widowed father, William, to run the home and raise her younger siblings.
William Long himself must have had quite a story to tell, achieving an exemplary military record, having signed up as a Private but leaving as Lieutenant.
Joan had suffered from meningitis as a child which left her partially paralysed, she walked with a pronounced limp and struggled to use her right hand effectively. She had also been born with what we now correctly refer to as learning difficulties, nevertheless she didn’t let this dampen her spirits and often visited the town centre hostelries to enjoy the lively nightlife on offer.
On the evening of July 25th Joan donned her glad rags and headed for the pub to meet friends, it was here she got chatting to a smart and attractive aircraft mechanic. Enjoying the attention she agreed accompany her newly acquired beau around further licensed establishments.
The couple were seen later that night huddled in a tram shelter before heading along the promenade towards the Princess Parade colonnades by The Metropol Hotel – originally built as sea defense but repurposed as an air raid shelter.
In the early hours of Wednesday 26th, four chaps (two civilians & two servicemen) came upon the shelter in their search for somewhere to doss down for the night. After shoving the door open, entering and lighting a match, they were met with the most grisly of sights. The partially clothed body of Joan was laid out on the ground. Cuts and bruising were evident on her face.
It didn’t take long for the police to establish Thomas Montoya as a person of interest in this case. He was traced to his base at Warton and taken in for questioning.
The 24 year old Native American Airforce officer from New Mexico was initially charged with the heinous crime of first degree murder but at his Court Marshal, heard at the local A.R.P headquarters, 24 year old Thomas Montoya pleaded not guilty. He claimed his companion that night had died from an epileptic seizure and his defense described her as “frothing at the mouth”.
Despite there being no evidence of this, Montoya was convicted of the lesser crime of manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years hard labour.
Joan had never been diagnosed as epileptic, during autopsy Dr Bruce, a police surgeon, concluded she had died of asphyxia due to manual suffocation.
(An interesting post script to the trial was the global headline ‘Dead Girls Brain Exhibited in Jar’ which referred to the brain being produced during the trial, for Doctor FB Smith, pathologist, to scrutinise – the murder itself was not so well publicised.)
Poor Joan Long (aged just 22) was laid to rest in an unmarked grass grave in a quiet corner of Layton Cemetery.