The Eye of the Idol: A True Story of Hindu Vengeance
|General Luard and his wife|
The following story would be a perfect fit for an Agatha Christie novel or a Charlie Chan movie were it not for the fact that it wasn't the creation of a mystery novelist or a Hollywood screenwriter. It is the true story of the strange murder of the wife of a British general, the general's suicide, and a priceless jewel stolen from a sacred Hindu idol.
The incredible saga unfolded on August 24, 1908, when the body of an elderly woman was found in a summer house in the village of Seal Chart, not far from the town of Sevenoaks in Kent. The victim was Mrs. Caroline Luard, the wife of Major General Charles E. Luard. She had been killed with a revolver. Gone from the victim's fingers were several expensive rings, including one ring with a very large diamond surrounded by seven or eight smaller diamonds.
When Inspector Scott, of Scotland Yard, arrived at Sevenoaks he left no stone unturned in his search for clues. Police kept a watch on all surrounding highways and byways, dozens of locals were questioned, and all the ponds in the area were dragged in the hopes of finding the murder weapon. Pawn shops and jewelry stores all over the country were informed about the rings, but the exquisite jewels were never again seen in England.
An inquest was held at Ightham Knoll. According to General Luard, he had discovered his wife's body on his return to the summer house after playing golf at Godden Green. Caroline accompanied her husband part of the way to the links, through Fish Pond Wood, until the gates of St. Lawrence's School. Mrs. Luard was expecting a lady for tea, so she left her husband at the gate and returned to the summer house. Caroline wasn't home when the general returned, but the company she was expecting had arrived. The general and the lady visitor walked along the road searching for Caroline until 5:15, when the lady had to leave to catch a train. When the general approached the summer house on his return he discovered his wife lying on the floor in a pool of blood on the veranda. One of her gloves was found on the veranda, turned inside out, as it if had been wrenched from her hand. Gone were here rings, including one spectacular ring of Oriental design that was over 100 years old, which had been a wedding day present from the general.
At the inquest Daniel Kettle, a neighbor's gardener, claimed that he heard three shots at around 3:15 on the day of the murder. Anna Wickham, who lived 350 yards away at Frankfield Park Seal, also claimed to have heard the shots. Assuming the shots were from a hunter, neither party made an attempt to investigate. Next to testify was Dr. Mansfield, who examined the body and found a one inch hole behind Mrs. Luard's right ear. A second bullet hole was found on the left temple. An autopsy revealed two bullets inside the victim's head.
Weeks passed but Scotland Yard couldn't make heads nor tails of the murder. It soon appeared that Caroline Luard's killer was never going to be identified, much less apprehended. The world soon forgot about the sensational killing, until September 18, when General Charles E. Luard was found dead on the railroad tracks a few miles away from the scene of his wife's murder.
Since the murder, General Luard had been staying at the home of Charles Edward Warde, who was a member of parliament. He left Warde's house secretly, leaving behind a letter that said he could bear the strain no longer and that his body would be found on the railroad. The engineer of the locomotive which had killed him said Luard jumped onto the track just as the train was passing.
Forty years earlier, a British officer was stationed at Rawal Pindi, India. He was brave and dashing and had made several influential friendships in high circles. That man was Lieutenant Charles E. Luard. One day he met and fell in love with the daughter of an Indian banker. The girl was famous throughout Rawal Pindi for her beauty, and as a token of her love, she gave the lieutenant a ring said to possess magical powers. The centerpiece of the ring was a large diamond, said to have been taken from the eye of a statue at an ancient Hindu temple.
The couple kept their romance a secret, and the lieutenant kept a secret bungalow in the hills for his Indian lover. One day there was an addition to the household, one that Luard considered most unwelcome. The young woman had given birth to a son, and the officer abandoned them both. Years passed, and the lieutenant became a general. By 1897 he was in command of the British forces in Rawal Pindi. That year he announced his engagement to Caroline. At the garrison ball a strange event occurred, when a native woman wrestled with sentries in an attempt to gain entrance. Her cries and shrieks stopped the music and put an end to the dancing. When General Luard saw the woman, he hurriedly escorted his wife-to-be out of the room.
In the spring of 1908 an unusual story was reported from Southampton, but it attracted little notice at the time. A gray-haired Hindu woman, accompanied by a swarthy younger man, applied to a local magistrate for government assistance. The woman told a story of abandonment at the hands of General Luard. Dismissing the story as pure fiction, the pair was turned away. Little did anyone know at the time, however, that in just a few months both the general and his wife would be dead.
A little more than a year later a British naval officer stationed in India heard a remarkable story. For decades, there had been an idol at a local temple with a missing eye. Worshippers from the temple had scoured the globe in search of the missing relic-- a large, brilliant diamond. In 1909 the worshippers were stunned to discover that the long-lost jewel had been secretly returned to the temple, by person or persons unknown.
The London Times, August 27, 1908
Wilkes-Barre Record, September 19, 1908
San Antonio Gazette, October 31, 1908
Honolulu Hawaiian Star, November 5, 1908
Sedalia Democrat, October 17, 1909