Nostalgia: Jane and Betty Du Bois plunged to earth in Upminster in tragic suicide pact
- Credit: Archant
One of Upminster’s saddest stories began in sunny Naples during the winter of 1934-5.
An RAF pilot, Flight-Lieut Charles Forbes, arrived from Malta on a two-week visit. He met 20-year-old Jane Du Bois and her An RAF pilot, Flight-Lieut Charles Forbes, arrived from Malta on a two-week visit. He met 20-year-old Jane Du Bois and her inseparable 23-year-old sister Betty, daughters of a wealthy American businessman. Jane fell in love with him.
Forbes already had a fiancee in England, but Jane believed they had pledged to spend their lives together.
Jane was in London when she heard, soon after, that Charles Forbes had died in a plane crash. “I must keep my part of the bargain,” she said of their vows.
Betty, also heartbroken, agreed to join her. Like Charles, they would die falling from the sky.
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There was a daily six-seater airliner service from Stapleford Abbotts to Paris. They booked all the seats for Thursday 21 February 1935, but of course only the two women arrived for the morning departure.
As take-off time approached, anxious airfield staff asked when the other four passengers would arrive.
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Jane said she would phone them. Staff were puzzled when she rang a Romford number.
A resident of Gidea Park’s Pemberton Avenue was also surprised by the call, which he assumed was a wrong number. Jane had picked his number at random.
Announcing that their friends were not coming, the two sisters travelled alone.
There were few navigational aids in 1935. After take-off from Stapleford, the pilots looked for Gidea Park Station.
Cross the Liverpool Street railway line at right angles over Gidea Park, and you head straight for Paris.
So the crew were too busy to argue when the girls complained of a draught and closed the cockpit door.
The sisters swigged a flask of whisky, before forcing open the external door.
This took determination: the door was locked and wind resistance was strong.
The plane was flying at about 2,000 feet and 85 mph, much lower and slower than a modern airliner.
Over Upminster, Jane and Betty plunged earthwards in fatal embrace.
Suburbs were spreading off Corbets Tey Road. Two Hornchurch men, skilled gasfitters, were connecting new houses to a gas main.
As they looked up at the Paris flight, they were shocked to see something fall from the plane through swirling black cloud. Perhaps it was a dog?
“Poor little animal,” said one of them, as the two ran towards the cabbage field where the sisters almost seemed to be floating to the ground.
They were horrified to find the broken bodies of two beautiful young women.
Jane’s face was calm and unmarked.
“I half expected her to breathe,” said one of the men. “It was ghastly.”
The flight was bumpy, and the pilots did not realise the two women had jumped. When the airliner flew into a thunderstorm, the pilots opened the cabin door to offer reassurance. On realising the ghastly tragedy, they turned back to Stapleford.
It seems so sad that Jane and Betty had not a friend who could tell them they were loved, or remind them of the lives that stretched ahead.
If the story of Jane and Betty Du Bois touches issues in your life, there are people who can help you.
Phone Havering Samaritans 01708 740000 or go to www.samaritans.org/havering