Historical Murders presented by Paul Stickler


Murder of Sidney Spicer

aka the Percy Toplis affair

24 April 1920

Headshot for the Murder of Sidney Spicer
Headshot for the Murder of Sidney Spicer

Around 9pm on Saturday 24 April 1920, Salisbury taxi driver Sidney Spicer collected a fare of five people from the centre of the city and was asked to take them to nearby Bulford.

Fearing he was running low on fuel in his Darracq motor car, he stopped at Amesbury to check his tank level. While attending to his car, a man dressed in a RAF Sgt Major uniform, emerged from a hedgerow and asked to be given a lift to Andover. Spicer told the man that he would return for him once he had delivered his passengers to Bulford. Spicer dropped his fare outside the Rose and Crown at Bulford, secured some fuel from a nearby garage and headed off back to Amesbury to collect his new fare.

“Toplis dropped dead, almost into the arms of the Inspector. One of the three shots had killed him”

The next morning Spicer’s body was found in a hedgerow on a road midway between Amesbury and Andover.

He had been shot through the back of his head and it was apparent his valuables had been stolen. There was no sign of his car. A police investigation quickly identified a soldier by the name of Harry Fallows who told them that a fellow soldier called Percy Toplis had taken him for a drive in a Darracq car. They had driven through the night to Swansea where Toplis tried to sell the car. 

He was now a wanted man and a nationwide hunt began. There were numerous sightings but he was eventually cornered by a beat bobby in the village of Plumpton, Cumberland. Toplis produced a gun and threatened to shoot. He escaped but an armed police team was despatched to track down the fugitive. On 6 June 1920, Toplis and armed police came face to face. Shots were fired and Toplis fell dead in the middle of the road. An inquest confirmed that Toplis had been shot dead by police in the execution of their duty, but he never stood trial for the original shooting of Sidney Spicer six weeks earlier.

The victim...
Victim Image
Sidney George Spicer

Little is known about Sidney George Spicer. He was a 24-year-old farmer from London Road, Salisbury but made extra cash working as a taxi driver. He had a deformed hand because of a farming accident and had been unable to participate in the first world war. He was murdered on 24 April 1920 and his body is buried in London Road cemetery, Salisbury.

Another pile of photos from Murder of Sidney Spicer
  • Was Toplis the supposed monocled mutineer in book and film?

    Most unlikely. There is no evidence that Toplis was involved in any mutiny during the first world war. He was a regular AWOL soldier and had many criminal convictions but his involvement in the Étaples mutiny is unrealistic. He certainly wore a monocle but that seems to be the extent of justification of his famous monicker.

  • Can his monocle be seen today?

    Yes, but maybe, no. Penrith museum have an exhibition displaying a monocle apparently found on Toplis after he had been shot. Hampshire Constabulary have a monocle in their display at their museum which was handed in by a relative of Superintendent Cox, the Hampshire officer who led the hunt for the fugitive. Maybe he had more than one!

  • Was the gun found on Toplis the same type used to kill Sidney Spicer?

    Yes. A number 6 Webley revolver.

  • Was there an inquest into the death of Sidney Spicer?

    Yes, a jury returned a verdict of murder by Percy Toplis.

  • Where is Sidney Spicer buried?

    London Road cemetery, Salisbury

Further reading...
Cover of Who Shot Percy Toplis?

Who Shot Percy Toplis?

Jim Cox


Murder of Sidney Spicer case is available as a presentation. Whether delivered on world-wide cruise ships or in a local village hall, it's absorbing, informative, and entertaining. Contact Paul Stickler for more information...

Paul Stickler presenting on stage on a cruise ship