The Air Raid Shelter Manslaughter of 1944


The colonades under the Metropole, location of a grizzly wartime crime, image by Ian Petticrew CC-BY-SA 2.0

On the night of 25/26 July 1944 a shocking event took place on Blackpool’s Promenade which would dominate the headlines in Blackpool’s newspaper for many days, and the events described in this article have been drawn from the archives.


Private Thomas Montoya was a 24 year old American aircraft mechanic from New Mexico who was based in this country towards the end of World War II. Like many other American servicemen, he was drawn to Blackpool’s lively nightlife. During the evening of 25 July 1944, Thomas befriended a local Bispham girl, Joan Long, in one of the resort’s hostelries. By all accounts Joan was a cheerful, ordinary, rather naive 22 year old who enjoyed visiting public houses with friends.


The entrance to the air raid shelter, image courtesy of the Evening Gazette

Later that evening Joan and Thomas walked along the Promenade and made their way to an air raid shelter. These shelters had been incorporated into the colonnade on the seaward side of the Metropole Hotel.


It was there that Joan’s body was discovered by two servicemen and two local civilians. One of the civilians was Charles Woodhouse of Lytham Road, and it was he who informed the police of their grim discovery.


Officers from Scotland Yard were drafted in to help Blackpool police to solve the crime. In early August 1944 detectives had leads regarding a person they wished to question, and it was not long before Thomas Montoya was traced and brought in for questioning and later charged with the manslaughter of Joan Long.


As Montoya was an American serviceman, legal proceedings passed from the civil authorities to those of the American military, and so he appeared at an American Court Martial, which was held at Blackpool Police Station. At his trial Montoya pleaded not guilty.

At the inquest into the death of Joan Long, Dr Bruce, a police surgeon found that Joan Long had died of asphyxia due to manual suffocation.


Thomas Montoya was found guilty of the manslaughter of Joan Long and was sentenced to ten years’ hard labour. The sentence carried with it a dishonourable discharge from the United States Military.


Joan Long was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Layton Cemetery; over one hundred friends and relatives attended her funeral. Fearing that some would attend out of morbid curiosity, steps were taken by the authorities to keep the general public at a respectable distance.


Barry Shaw

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