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Masquerade: continued

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Murder Ballads
Secret London

“One thing I knew about John was that his girlfriend was called Veronica Roberts, that she was a kind of hippy, and that she'd once lived with Kit Williams. One day, I'm sitting in my office, and John comes in with a strange expression on his face. And he says ‘Frank, if I were to tell you that I know where the golden hare was, what would you do about it?’ I said, ‘Well, I'd publish a story about it. Do you know?’ And he said ‘Well, yes. You know Ronnie used to be Kit Williams’ girlfriend? Well, she told me. ’
“I said ‘Let's go and dig it up, then, ’ but he said ‘No, no, it's not as easy as that. You've got to go there on the equinox, and you have to dig where a shadow falls’. We chatted about it for a bit and he went off and said he'd think about it all. Eventually, he left the company, and I more or less forgot about it.” (10)
Back in The Compty Arms, Guard and Compton finished up their drinks, and Guard announced it was time to move on to their next stop. “So we get in his car, and we go up to Hartington Street,” Compton said. “And it's a little house. As you enter the door, there's an open fire and a hob with a little kettle boiling on it. And all of a sudden this beautiful woman walks through the door. She's got long curly hair, lovely brown eyes. Very gentle and feminine. And this is Veronica. She was the former girlfriend of Kit Williams. Now John was living with her and, of course, she told him where the golden hare was buried.”

Barker returned to Ampthill Park in February, this time with his home-made inclinometer

Guard, Roberts, Compton and his son Richard, then 14, made their first moonlit trip to Ampthill Park the next night. “Veronica stood in front of the cross, holding an earthenware pot identical to the one the hare was buried in,” Compton told me, pointing to a spot a few yards from the cross itself. “And she said ‘That's where it is’. We dug up about a metre deep and a metre wide and, as the earth came up, I was running my metal detector over it.”
That was the only trip where Compton saw Roberts visiting the cross, but the three men made several more digging trips in the week or so that followed. They always visited the cross at night, with Richard acting as look-out to warn of any early-morning joggers or other intruders nearby. “We dug up an area, I would say, at least 20 foot by ten foot,” Compton said. “And we must have gone well down below three or four foot. We carried on, night after night, over a period of seven to nine days. Not every day, but every couple of days or something like that.”
Guard led one final assault on the day of the Spring Equinox itself, but still they didn't find anything. “John did most of the digging,” Compton chuckled. “He kept on spurring me on, saying 'It's here , Eric, it's here. I can assure you. Oh, you can imagine my thoughts. I was getting fed up with it.”
Guard had kept Roberts happy by telling her he planned to sell the hare in America and give the proceeds to an animal rights group. They would need someone to act as the public face of their discovery, however, and Guard promised Compton 1,000 if he'd agree to take that job on. Presumably, he feared that his own connection with Roberts and the inside information she'd revealed would otherwise come out - and that was something he couldn't allow.
“He said to me ‘Eric, I want you to handle all the television and radio’,” Compton explained. “ ‘I'll pay you 1,000 for doing that. ’ I think John was going to prime me to say how it was - other than his being with Veronica Roberts, because she was going to be out of it. [...] There's a lot that he wanted to keep hidden.” By that time, though, no promise of cash could persuade Compton to continue, and he dropped out of the whole thing with no payment at all.
He and Guard had another encounter some time after their final digging trip together. “He came round to my house, and the door went banging,” Compton told me. “He said ‘Eric, you've been up there! You've found the hare! You've taken it! ’ I said ‘John, I have not been up there! ’ That was the end of the matter as far as I was concerned.”
Over 25 years had passed since these midnight digs when I spoke to Compton, so it's hardly surprising he could no longer recall the exact dates involved. Piecing the other evidence together, though, the most likely time seems to be early 1981. That would place Guard and Compton's own Spring Equinox visit in March of that year, well after the Sunday Times clue was published. It may also explain why Mike Barker noticed only the faintest depressions near the cross in January 1982. If I'm right, the ground Guard and Compton excavated would have had almost a year to recover by then, helping to disguise the fact that it had ever been disturbed.
Barker returned to Ampthill Park himself on February 18, 1982 - just over a month before the Spring Equinox - and this time, he brought a home-made inclinometer with him. Armed with this device, he was able to narrow his target area down to a much more manageable size, marking it clearly during daylight hours and then returning after dark to dig.
“I dug a hole about two feet square, and it was hard work,” he said. “I was digging up little bits of tile, and goodness knows what else. It wasn't easy digging - it was really tough. And I didn't find anything. I went down to arm's length, and then I expanded the hole to about six by four. [...] I was standing up to the waist in this big grave-like hole.”
It's this which provides the most likely explanation for Guard's tantrum at Compton's house. Without knowing the date of that tantrum, it's impossible to be sure, but my guess is that Guard saw evidence of Barker's digging at Ampthill Park, and that it was this which prompted him to assume Compton had been up there. “He took me up to Ampthill Park to show me the area of freshly-dug soil,” Compton recalled. “I said ‘John, we already dug that area up a long time ago - down to about three feet’. He started shouting ‘Who does have it, then? ’”
After two or three hours of exhausting digging, Barker gave up and decided to return on the day of the equinox itself to see where the cross's real shadow would fall at twelve noon. Two big holes had now been dug at what was clearly Williams' chosen spot, and yet still the hare remained undiscovered. The next development would surprise everyone.