IT is a murder mystery Agatha Christie would have been proud of. But the death of Jim Dawson, 70 years ago is no fictional "whodunnit?" It rocked the tiny village of Bashall Eaves and sparked a baffling murder puzzle that remains a mystery to this day. Now, as the victim's great niece prepares a book on the case, reporter CAROLINE INNES tries to unravel the case of the farm labourer and the village that would not speak. . .

IT is only a small collection of houses, smallholdings and farms nestling in the Ribble Valley.

But Bashall Eaves holds a secret as big as any of the UK's great unsolved murders.

It was nicknamed the village that wouldn't talk by police officers at the time of Jim Dawson's death. And residents have remained silent ever since, despite years of publicity and investigations.

Detectives drafted in to find Jim Dawson's killer were met with a wall of silence and so the bizarre truth has never been discovered.

And its a wariness of outsiders and "keep things to yourself" attitude which still exists -- with many of the families living in the village in 1934, who were all treated as suspects, still living there today. Jennifer Cobban, an archaeologist and historian is Mr Dawson's great niece. Now living in Chatburn, she has spent months researching original police reports and statements.

She said: "In a bizarre twist, Jim actually showed the police where the shooting occurred -- not many people get to show the police their own murder scene.

"This story has so many twists and turns and has been embellished over the years. However, one sinister twist is that Jim's dog, Shep, was shot dead just days before his own murder.

"There were also rumours that the bullet had been removed from the dog and was re-used to kill Jim but that was a case of one tall tale too far.

"It is difficult to get people to talk to you about the murder -- especially if they don't class you as a local. Even though my family lived at Bashall Hall until the middle of last century I am still regarded with some suspicion."

Not even Chief Superintendent Wilf Blacker, drafted in as the country's most celebrated detectives the time, could get to the bottom of the crime.

Jennifer, who has written a book on the mystery, added: "I do believe that some villagers knew who the murderer was and there are rumours of a deathbed confession by the killer. There are possibly some residents who today know who was responsible and some say Jim knew who had done it.

"There has been so much tittle-tattle that it is hard to weed out the vast amount of inaccuracies that have been added to make the legend that exists today.

"After all, there are only two people who know what really happened that night -- Jim and the murderer."

Christopher Gumm, 39, landlord of the Edisford Bridge Inn, where Jim spent the evening of the shooting drinking beer and gin, said that he moved to the village five years ago and is still classed as a 'newcomer'.

He said: "Nobody has said anything directly to me about it but it is still talked about around the bar on dark evenings."

Jennifer had said that no one in the village today would be prepared to talk about the murder. And she was right - villagers remain as tight-lipped as ever.

However, Simon Barnes, the owner of Bashall Barn, now a food and gift emporium and tea room, revealed that his parents now lived at Bashall Hall.

He said: "We moved into the area 25 years ago and I think are still regarded by some as foreigners.

"I know there is much made of this wall of silence but I think it just a case of people not wanting to go over it again, after all it was over 70 years ago.

"I am sure that there were people in the village who knew who the killer was but whether they are alive now I very much doubt.

"The problem is just that. Because we were not here at the time we don't know whether everyone knows who did it or whether no one has a clue. Whatever the truth, the legend of Jim Dawson and the Bashall Eaves murder is definitely good for the economy as it brings people to the village. And in such a small village my own personal opinion is that someone does still know the truth behind the mystery."

Doctor Paul Seager, a senior lecturer in forensic and social psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, believes the mystery will never be solved.

He said: "The only person who knows exactly what happened is Jim Dawson and some of his story is not supported by fact.

"Coupled with that, we are now talking about probably a third generation of families in the area so the source material will have been distorted over the years - like with Chinese whispers.

"In 1934 communities, particularly rural ones, meant something and the wall of silence was probably a case of not letting outsiders, including the police, in.

"Outsiders were always regarded with suspicion and villagers may have thought that if they kept quiet, the problem would go away.

"Either that or they were protecting one of their own."

Inspector Bob Ford, based at Clitheroe covers Bashall Eaves. He added: "Even though I am well aware of this mystery I can add nothing new to the story.

"It was fully investigated at the time by local police and others experts drafted in and the case was closed a long time ago. However, if there was new information or evidence it would be our duty to re-open the case and again investigate the murder."