The tragic tale of the little girl who dreamed of meeting Sugar Ray
On this day 66 years ago Britain’s Randy Turpin became a national hero by beating Sugar Ray Robinson. Sadly his famous victory will forever be linked to an appalling crime, as Boxing Monthly online explains...
The legendary Sugar Ray Robinson’s defeat at the hands of Randy Turpin on 10 July 1951 is remembered as one of the great boxing upsets - but it was an occasion blighted by an almost unspeakable horror.
The tale of how the British underdog wrenched the world middleweight crown from arguably the finest fighter of all time in their first clash at London’s Earls Court Arena is today part of fistic folklore. Almost forgotten, however, is the terrible fate that befell one little girl, a fan of Sugar Ray, who lost her life on the eve of the bout after setting out to meet her hero.
In the run-up to his title defence the champion set up training camp at the Star and Garter hotel in Windsor and his presence there attracted large crowds who lingered outside in the hope of seeing him. Just 30 yards from the hotel, at a house in Peascod Street, lived a particular admirer of the flamboyant superstar - a seven-year-old girl named Christine Butcher who decided it was the ideal opportunity to go and say hello.
Among Christine’s prized possessions was a black porcelain doll which, in those politically incorrect times, she affectionately called 'Blackie'. The youngster, apparently thinking the doll resembled Sugar Ray, told her mother she was going to show it to the champ and hoped he would be so impressed he might treat her to a ride in his pink Cadillac.
So it was that at around 3pm on Sunday 8 July, two days before the big fight, Christine waved goodbye to her mum and, clutching the doll and a bag of sweets, confidently headed off on the short walk to the hotel.
Her parents raised the alarm when she failed to return home and Berkshire Police immediately launched a huge search.
Officers, who believed she had reached the outskirts of a throng of people near the hotel before disappearing, brought in sniffer dogs and soldiers from the famed Household Cavalry to help scour the area.
They dragged part of the nearby River Thames as part of the hunt, appealed for information from the public and visited Sugar Ray himself but neither he nor anyone in his entourage had seen the child. She had never reached him.
Such was the fame of the champion that the disappearance of the fair-haired, blue-eyed girl made the news in papers as far afield as the US and Australia, with Sugar Ray quoted as saying: “I am very sorry about this - if I had known she wanted to see me, her daddy could have brought her in and then this never would have happened.”
'Girl Lost Taking Doll To Ray Robinson', a headline in the Chicago Tribune, was typical of contemporary reports, as was the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s 'Girl, 7, Disappears On Trip To Show Doll To Sugar Ray'.
For 48 hours, as the hoopla surrounding the upcoming title bout grew, the search carried on but no trace could be found of the missing girl.
The mystery continued until, unknown to either Sugar Ray or Turpin, a tragic discovery was made at dusk on fight night at around the same time that 18,000 spectators were descending on Earls Court.
Two members of the public stumbled across Christine’s body in the long grass of a meadow close to the historic Windsor Castle. She had been raped and strangled with the belt of a blue gabardine raincoat she was wearing when she vanished. Her doll and sweets lay nearby.
Forensic evidence suggested she had been killed where she was found, around a mile from the Star and Garter, and probably died on the day of her disappearance.
Police broke the appalling news to a dejected Sugar Ray shortly after he returned to his hotel room after dropping his title to Turpin via a 15-round decision and, according to press reports, “The slaying caused additional gloom in the group”.
The subsequent murder enquiry was one of the largest ever carried out by the Berks constabulary.
Scotland Yard were called in to assist and the day after the fight detectives quizzed Sugar Ray and his party along with other hotel guests in a desperate hunt for clues.
Nobody recalled seeing the girl entering the training quarters at any point and there was no suggestion the boxer or his retinue were in any way involved in the crime - they were merely potential witnesses who may have seen something suspicious in or around the hotel.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, describing Christine as “a little girl admirer of the middleweight ex-champion”, reported that the “saddened fistic party” were asked “a few routine questions” in the wake of what the paper branded “one of the big upsets of modern boxing”. Sugar Ray’s manager George Gainford revealed that police were particularly keen to find a mysterious “white man in a grey suit” and the boxer was said to have sent a telegram of sympathy to Christine’s parents.
A Scotland Yard spokesman commented simply: “Unfortunately neither Robinson, his wife or any of his assistants could tell us anything which might lead to the murderer.”
On 16 July, with her killer still at large, Christine’s burial took place.
Upwards of 600 people, some openly weeping, gathered on Peascod Street as a hearse containing her tiny white coffin took her on her final journey to Windsor Cemetery, stopping briefly outside the hotel at the spot where she disappeared.
Shortly after the funeral Christine’s parents were taken to a local police station for an update on the investigation.
There, alongside detectives, they viewed a copy of a BBC broadcast of the fight which aired the day after the bout and which incorporated scenes of the crowd near the hotel when Christine vanished. They also watched colour cine film shot by Sugar Ray’s wife Edna of people outside the Star and Garter along with footage recorded by a hotel keeper.
The girl was reportedly nowhere to be seen and neither was there anything overtly suspicious but police took the then unusual step of publicly releasing images of several people in the crowd they wanted to identify, all of whom were apparently eventually ruled out as suspects.
Various alternative leads were chased down, other people of interest traced and eliminated, 6,000 house-to-house enquiries made and around 1,800 statements taken during the following days and weeks.
Officers also probed possible links to other child murders at around the same time, most notably that of five-year-old Brenda Goddard in Bath on 15 July, a crime for which notorious serial killer John Straffen was later apprehended.
Police even examined the uniforms of soldiers stationed at Windsor Castle after a coach driver came forward to say he had seen Christine clutching her doll in the castle courtyard during the changing of the guard on the afternoon she vanished.
But despite their efforts they were unable to catch Christine’s killer and by late July newspapers reported that the investigation had reached “stalemate”.
On 20 September 1951 an inquest in Windsor returned a verdict that Christine had been murdered by person or persons unknown and although detectives continued working on the enquiry the case gradually faded from the public consciousness.
Meanwhile, as is the nature of things, the boxing world had already moved on.
On 12 September, before Christine’s inquest had even been held, Sugar Ray had reclaimed the middleweight championship via a TKO win over Turpin in their rematch in New York.
Today, nearly seven decades later, the horrific murder of his little admirer Christine Butcher remains unsolved.