Roger Payne: Startling Murder in a London Suburb

This week’s case takes us from murder involving NFL player Rae Carruth across the Atlantic to Bromley in South London. There we meet Roger Payne, a.k.a. “Thomas Fairfax.”

Roger Payne Has a Rough Start in Life

Roger Payne was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey in 1941. His father, a chartered accountant (English equivalent of a CPA) bullied him terribly. One of his bizarre rules was that young Roger couldn’t enter a room, not even the toilet, without permission.

Not surprisingly, Payne’s parents split up by the time he was 12. His mother sent him to King Edward’s, Witley, a prestigious boarding school in Surrey. Normally, the tuition would have been impossible, but as a boy from a single-parent home, he received a free ride. By 1968, Roger Payne was married and living in Bromley.

Roger Payne a.k.a. Thomas Fairfax in the 1960s
Roger Payne a.k.a. Thomas Fairfax in the 1960s

Roger Payne Kills His Neighbor

On February 7, 1968, Bernard Josephs came home and found his wife, Claire, dead, her body stuffed under the bed. Her throat had been cut almost to her spine. Defensive wounds on her hands pointed to a serrated knife as the murder weapon.

Claire Josephs, the neighbor Roger Payne murdered
Claire Josephs, the neighbor Roger Payne murdered

Clues in the Josephs’ house pointed to the killer being someone Claire knew. They quickly latched on to Roger Payne. Claire was a friend of Payne’s wife.

In the days before DNA, investigators had to rely on fibers and blood typing. Claire had been wearing a dress made of cerise wool, a course fiber. Payne had washed the clothes he had been wearing, but police found cerise fibers in the seams and hems anyway. Bloodstains in Payne’s car matched Claire’s extremely rare blood group.

The knife used to kill Claire Josephs
The knife used to kill Claire Josephs

Roger Payne protested his innocence, claiming that police tampered with the evidence. However, at his trail in London’s Old Bailey, he was sentenced to life. It was the first English murder case where prosecutors obtained a conviction on forensic evidence alone.


Roger Payne refused to admit to the crime, which may explain why he was repeatedly denied parole. After his eighth failure to secure parole in 1991, he absconded while on unescorted leave from prison. (One wonders why prison authorities would allow a convicted murder unescorted leave).

After spending some time in Bristol, Payne settled in Lydney, Gloucestershire. He dyed his hair to hide the gray and look younger, wore fine clothes, and drove an expensive car. Payne also gave himself a new name: Thomas Fairfax. The name came from the commander of the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War.

As “Thomas Fairfax,” Payne began hanging out with the elite of Lydney. In early 1994, he met and began a romance with a married woman named Ruth Ellis. (Side note: a different Ruth Ellis was the last woman hanged in England, for murdering her lover). Distraught, Ruth’s husband, John, eventually committed suicide. Perhaps the scandal surrounding John’s death had something do to with it, perhaps not. But someone tipped off police that “Fairfax” and Roger Payne were one and the same..

As of 2020, Roger Payne resides in HMP Oakwood. Now that parole is a real possibility, he no longer wants out.

In 2014, author Joy Grant Hill published a book about the case, Lifer: 45 Years in Her Majesty’s Prisons.

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