For double deck bus driver Edward Silas Apps, Easter Day 1953 started like any other. He woke and kissed his wife good morning, dressed and went to work driving his bus around the streets of the historic cathedral city of Rochester in Kent. But Easter 1953 would be one of the worst days of his life and would involve him in one of the Medway Towns’ most interesting murder cases.
As Apps changed down the gears of his bus to start lumbering up the steep gradient of Castle Hill near the ancient magnificent Rochester Castle, a man ran straight under the wheels of his vehicle and was crushed to death. Apps immediately slammed on the handbrake and rushed out to help the man. It was futile; the impact had killed him outright. If such a tragedy was not bad enough for the poor bus driver, what came next truly shocked him.
Following the same route as the older man from Moat House and through Two Post Alley, a younger man came running towards the scene of the accident. He was covered in blood from several stab wounds and just before collapsing on the side of the pavement he gasped the words, “My father is mad.” His father was Trevor Barnitt, 57, and the son’s name was Peter.
Trevor Barnitt was a dentist in Rochester and practised with the appropriately named Oscar Rootes at 186 High Street. Both men were well known and liked.
An ambulance was called for Peter and he was rushed to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital where for a while doctors and nurses feared the young man would not survive; but he eventually pulled through and would be strong enough to give evidence two weeks later into the murder of his mother Ruth, 56.
When police arrived at the scene of the bus accident they discovered a knuckle duster that Trevor Barnitt had either thrown away or was knocked out of his hand by the collision. Fearing the worst, they then went to the Barnitt family home and soon discovered Ruth Barnitt lying in a pool of blood and a murder investigation was started.
From the beginning it was clear that Trevor Barnitt was the murderer but why had he battered his wife to death and then turned to attack his son as well? His actions were seemingly inexplicable and out of character. The answers to these questions lay with Peter Barnitt but he was in intensive care recovering from multiple stab wounds of his own. Slowly the younger Barnitt recovered sufficiently to answer Police questions and told them of a scene of horror that Easter Sunday morning.
Peter had left home in the morning to post some letters and to stop off and have a drink before going back to the family home. When he got through the front door, he saw his father standing at the top of the stairs smiling. “He seemed quite normal.” Peter recalled then closing the door. “He then sprang at me and started to stab me straight away.” There was a struggle in the hall and into the bathroom. “I tried to get in the bathroom to lock the door. He forced his way in. We struggled out into the passage and into the kitchen where I saw my mother lying dead.”
“During the fight, my father struck me several times,” Peter recalled. “He never said a word while he was attacking me. He didn’t seem normal.”
Trevor Barnitt had until this moment appeared to be a well-liked and respected professional. In fact, testimony heard by the inquiry stated the Barnitts were "a very devoted family." So what made him snap so violently and unexpectedly?
His boss Oscar Rootes presented a possible clue when it was disclosed that Barnitt was to take over the NHS side of the dental business. Rootes went on to say that he felt Barnitt to be "a placid man, but inclined to worry about little things." Trevor Barnitt would have had some money troubles initially and it is believed these worries led him to a deep state of depression.
A jury decided that Mrs. Barnitt had been wilfully murdered by her husband, Trevor; whilst an earlier inquest had found that his own death in front of Edward Silas Apps' bus was accidental.