Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: True Crime

  • The Count of Scotland Yard by Stephen Wade

    The Controversial Life and Cases of DCS Herbert Hannam

    Homage to the Count- at last!

    Hannam on the Prowl in Eastbourne. (c. Detective, 3 September 1956, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen Wade explains his long-standing interest in a top detective, Bert Hannam, the subject of his new book The Count of Scotland Yard.

    Around thirty years ago, in Halifax, I became acquainted with the name ‘Emily Pye.’ It was one of those local stories which are founded on something deeply sad and violent. It was a story of murder. Emily, an old lady who kept a corner shop, had been brutally murdered on her premises. The name lodged in my mind, and years later, when I became a true crime writer and a historian of our dark and criminous past, the name was back in my orbit again, and I found out that the case had brought one of the Yard’s top sleuths: the debonair and charismatic, Bert Hannam.

    I discovered that he was known as ‘the Count of Scotland Yard’ – with reference to his looking rather like a toff. But in fact he was more than a stylish, showy character. He did not track down Emily’s killer, but his record does show that he was involved in several remarkable cases, from fraud to murder.

    DCS Hannam started life as a pastry-cook, but soon switched to a career in the police. By the Second World War he was a Detective Sergeant and he showed his flexibility by dealing with investigations into thefts in government locations and then he looked into police corruption. The beginnings of his work in murder investigation were in the immediate post-war years, and he worked with and learned from several established chief inspectors. But Hannam really became something of a celebrity when the sensational case of Dr Bodkin Adams, of Eastbourne, brought him into press reports and into the realm of the paparazzi of his day.

    Adams was charged with two murders, and the case brought to light the legal and ethical issues related to euthanasia. Here was a family doctor who only worked with the super-rich, and he was in the habit of acquiring a high level of wealthy material and pounds sterling in their wills.

    Hannam was the man who led the investigation, which took months, as he gathered evidence from a number of places, domestic and foreign. It was one of the most notorious criminal trials in British history, and he was ably aided by Detective Sergeant Charles Hewett. Adams was acquitted, but struck off by the BMA (later to be reinstated).

    The Yard as it looked around 1940. (Author's Collection, The Count of Scotland Yard, Amberley Publishing)

    As for Bert Hannam, he was soon to retire, and worked in security, but for me, he will always be the dapper man who was called in when there was big trouble.  From a writing point of view, it was an unusual biographical project, because he was a very private man, and never wanted to be in the limelight. His grandson and the son of Sergeant Hewett, was very helpful in my process of research, and although I found it hard to uncover much about the detective’s personality, I think that I did succeed in offering the reader more than a simple string of cases and court reports.

    Hannam did have many friends, and was highly respected as a tutor and mentor at the Police College; if I had to sum him up, I would define him as a man with real presence: the sort of copper we would like to have on the scene when something horrendous had happened. Writing the book made me want to uncover other detectives who have perhaps been overlooked by the biographers of crime since the war. In those post-war years, up to the 60s, ‘The Yard’ was a phrase that suggested the aristocracy of the police, and indeed, Bert does deserve to be remembered as ‘The Count’ of Scotland Yard.

    Stephen Wade's new book The Count of Scotland Yard is available for purchase now.

  • Convicted: Landmark Cases in British Criminal History by Gary Powell

    Great Britain has one of the oldest judicial systems in the world. Our common law can be traced back to the Middle ages, the jury system as its cornerstone, with the basic tenet that a person is innocent until proven guilty. The law of course cannot stand still and has to move with the times to be fit for purpose in relation to Britain’s ever-changing social and economic traits, even to the point of questioning the effectiveness of the jury system in some cases. My latest book: Convicted: Landmark Cases in British Criminal History outlines 100 such cases that have strengthened this country’s reputation for fairness and justice. Each of these cases or methods of crime detection were presented to a court of law and tested as far as their legality and credibility and each has changed or affected the process of law enforcement in this country.

    Where’s the Body?

    The Cotswold village of Chipping Campden was the centre of one of Britain’s most extraordinary criminal cases, dubbed the ‘Campden Wonder’, which resulted in an historic ruling that would survive well into the twentieth century. On 16 August 1660 local businessman William Harrison left his home in Chipping Campden to collect some rent from neighbouring farms. When he failed to return home that night his son, also called William, and his manservant – John Perry – set out to find him. On the route they expected William to have taken they discovered some personal items and clothing belonging to the missing man, some were covered in blood. An investigation took place; John Perry initially blamed his mother and brother for the murder but eventually all three stood trial for the killing of Harrison even though Harrison’s body was never recovered. All three were found guilty and executed.

    A year after the executions the close-knit community were shocked to learn that the ‘victim’ of this horrendous crime – William Harrison – had returned to the village in full health with an incredible story. He informed the authorities that on the night in question he had been violently abducted by several men and taken to the Port of Deal where he was bundled onto a Turkish ship and later sold as a slave. Following the death of his elderly master he managed to escape and concealed himself on board a Portuguese ship and travelled to Dover. Following this incredible miscarriage of justice resulting in the execution of three innocent people British courts followed a principle of ‘no body, no charge of murder’. This principle was maintained well into the twentieth century when advances in forensic science in such cases as George Haigh – the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ proved beyond doubt that murder had taken place without the need for a body to be present.

    Made his Mark

    A feature on Albert and Alfred Stratton, the first murderers to be convicted on fingerprint evidence. (Illustrated Police News, 27 May 1905, Convicted, Amberley Publishing)

    The estimated odds of billions to one that two human beings shared the same fingerprint (including those of twins) became the basis of the most important discovery in the world of crime detection. Edward Henry a member of the Indian Civil Service and Inspector General of the Bengal Police devised a workable system for classifying fingerprints. Henry, who was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Crime at Scotland Yard in 1901, established the Fingerprint Bureau. Initially the primary function of the Bureau was to enable police to identify offenders with previous criminal convictions; but within a short period of time the science of fingerprint identification would evolve into an effective tool in crime detection.

    The first criminal conviction, using a fingerprint as prime evidence, was the case of habitual thief Harry Jackson in September 1902. Jackson was suspected of several burglaries in south London and eventually arrested by a sharp-eyed police constable called George Drewitt whilst attempting to break into the Perseverance Pub on Vassal Road in Brixton. One of the burglaries leading up to his arrest occurred at 156 Denmark Hill the home of the Tustin family; Jackson had gained entry through a ground floor window and stolen a number of ivory snooker balls but whilst doing so had left a fingerprint on a recently painted window sill. The fingerprint was examined by officers from the fingerprint bureau and positively matched to Jackson. When the case was tried at the Central Criminal Court Old Bailey Jackson pleaded not guilty. This was a make or break case for the forensic science of fingerprint examination as the whole case rested on one fingerprint which placed the defendant at the scene of the crime. The evidence was strongly tested by the court with officers from the fingerprint bureau giving expert testimonies. The judge and jury accepted the validity of the evidence and convicted Harry Jackson. Many commentators of the day still doubted the new crime-fighting revelation; one wrote to The Times commenting that ‘Scotland Yard, once known as the world’s finest police organisation, will be the laughing stock of Europe if it insists in trying to trace criminals by odd ridges on the skin’.

    Drunk in Charge

    The former Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, which witnessed the first recorded trail for the offence of drink-driving in 1897. (Author's collection, Convicted, Amberley Publishing)

    A licensed cab driver was observed, by local police officer PC Russell, driving his cab erratically along Bond Street in London at 12.45am on 11 September 1897. George Smith swerved from one side of the road to the other before running across the footway and crashing into No.165 breaking a water pipe and causing damage to the property’s front window. PC Russell approached Smith and realised that he had been drinking and escorted him to Vine Street police station in what is believed to be the first recorded case of drink-driving. Smith was examined by a local police surgeon who confirmed his drunkenness and that he should not have been in charge of his vehicle.

    Smith was charged and appeared in front of the magistrates at Marlborough Street police court later that same morning. When questioned by PC Russell in front of the bench he admitted that he had consumed several glasses of beer. The magistrate in sentencing Smith to a fine of twenty shillings advised the cabbie: ‘you motor-car drivers ought to be very careful, for if anything happens to you – well, the police have a very happy knack of stopping a runaway horse, but to stop a motor is a very different thing’.


    ‘999 Emergency’

    Burglar Thomas Duffy was the first to be apprehended and convicted through the new emergency hotline introduced in 1937. (Convicted, Amberley Publishing)

    An innovative emergency telephone system, where any member of the public could pick up a telephone and dial 999 free of charge, operated by the General Post Office was launched in London on 30 June 1937. The launch of the system was accompanied by a public education campaign in several newspapers including the London Evening News which advised its readers to:

    ‘Only dial 999 if the matter is urgent; if, for instance, the man in the flat next to yours is murdering his wife or you have seen a heavily masked cat burglar peering around the stack pipe of the local bank building… If the matter is less urgent, if you have merely lost little Towser or a lorry has come to rest in your front garden, just call up the local police.’

    The new 999 system quickly proved a success when just a week later the first arrest was made as a result of such an emergency call. During the early hours of 7 July 1937 architect John Stanley Beard of Hampstead in north London had been awoken by a noise outside his bedroom window. As he peered out he saw a would-be intruder, later identified as Thomas Duffy. Beard’s quick-thinking wife rang 999 and gave a description of the suspect and a direction in which he had decamped. Police acted quickly and arrested Duffy nearby; he was charged and convicted of attempted breaking and entering. Mr Beard was delighted with the result and commented after the event that: ‘…it struck me, as a householder and fairly large taxpayer that we are getting something for our money and I was very impressed by it.’

    During the first week of the 999 launch police received 1,336 calls -ninety-one were pranks. The service was launched in Glasgow the following year followed by several other major cities; but the rest of the country had to wait until 1976 for the system to become national when all telephone exchanges became automated. Today the 999 system (now incorporating all emergency services) receives in excess of thirty-million calls a year.

    Put Your Foot In It

    Plantar evidence (the anatomy relating to the sole of the foot) was first used in the English courts in 1956.

    Sydney Malkin was a 47-year-old chef who had a penchant for women’s underwear. In 1956 he broke into the Hastings flat of Mrs Edith Bowles and stole items of underwear and a silk slip. Mrs Bowles, whose flat was on an upper level, had left her underwear out to dry with the windows open. Mrs Bowles reported the crime to local police officer – PC Ernest Parker. Parker examined the point of entry and was astonished to discover a number of bare footprints – one on top of the television, one on a loudspeaker and finally one on the floor. The unusual modus operandi of stealing women’s underwear from high-rise flats matched Sydney Malkin. He was arrested and comparisons were examined between the footprints left at the crime scene and impressions taken of Malkin’s feet – they were identical. Fingerprint expert Detective Superintendent Holten from Scotland Yard presented his findings to the magistrates at Hastings. Malkin was convicted – the first case of its kind in England – and bound over to keep the peace for three years.

    Gary Powell's new book Convicted: Landmark Cases in British Criminal History is available for purchase now.

  • Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason by Gary Powell

    Death Diary 3 Witnesses give evidence at the coroner's inquest into the death of William Terriss. (Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, 26 Dec 1897, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Murder is a fascinating subject; one only has to look at the popularity of the crime genre in both literature and television. All elements of the crime, be it human or scientific, are placed under a microscope by the crime writer for the reader or viewers benefit including: motive, DNA, fingerprints, entomology, ballistics, post mortems, conspiracy theories, bent cops, the list is endless. But murder is real one must never forget the genuine victim, the grieving relatives, friends and associates and of course the offender and the anguish their family will inevitably suffer. As a former detective I have seen how such violence can tear people apart, destroy communities but at the same time bring people together in a common cause as we have recently witnessed in the United Kingdom’s major cities.  As English poet W.H. Auden reminds us:

    Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures,

    So that society must take the place of the victim,

    And on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness;

    It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

    (The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, 1962)

    Death Diary examines over four hundred crimes of murder, terrorism and treason covering a period of some four hundred years. The structure – as the title would suggest – is set in the format of a diary with each day of the year (including a leap year) presenting a specific case or cases in British criminal history. Some of the crimes are high-profile but many have been taken from the pages of British history for the first time and can be among the most disturbing. Often the motive for committing such unimaginably cruel crimes is plain greed alongside: jealousy, hatred, racism, religion and mental suffering. Social conditions can feature as motive – too many children to support and in some cases too many wives. Mental illness often features with many of these violent acts committed by soldiers returning from the First World War and other conflicts during that period in our history. Unable to deal with the horrors they had seen or tasks they had been asked to perform or just simply being unable to cope being back on ‘Civvy Street’ with the responsibilities they never had to face within the disciplined environment they had left behind.

    Death Diary 2 'The Black Museum' showing the murder weapons used by retired Head teacher Rev Selby - 8 Oct 1871. (Illustrated Police News, 1890, Death Diary, Amberley Publishing)

    Death Diary also asks questions about how we deal with victims of murder in our ‘self-self’ society and those left behind who in many cases have to rebuild their lives. We often hear on our news bulletins or read in our newspapers of a murderer or terrorist’s human rights being breached– the same murderer or terrorist who failed to show any such compassion towards his victim. Having dealt with many family members of both victim and offender I feel we are – as a society – still indifferent to the enormous pressures people face from the initial identification process through to a judicial system that bends over backwards to protect the rights of a defendant above those of a victim and demonstrates little empathy for the traumatic journey on which they have embarked. The question of re-introducing of capital punishment often surfaces in this country particularly after a horrible crime has been committed such as the murder of a child or a police or prison officer. This strong feeling of seeing justice being administered could be deflected if a sentence of life imprisonment meant life; it is very difficult trying to explain to a bereaved parent that the killer of their child has received a lesser term of imprisonment than an offender who had robbed a bank.

    Statistically, the number of murders in London is at one of its lowest levels since the 1960’s. Even though London’s population has significantly increased and become more diverse, this city is still one of the safest and most tolerant in the world; in many cases our perception of crime is far greater than the crime rate itself. As you read the sometimes harrowing stories which are presented in short, sharp daily bursts, I would just ask that you remember the victims of these crimes, those of future crimes and their families and friends who will bear a sentence far greater than that of the killer.


    Gary Powell's book Death Diary - A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason is available for purchase now.

  • A look at "Jack the Ripper" Newspaper Reports by Tony Woolway

    Whilst researching my book Cardiff in the Headlines, I came across many references to the unsolved and gruesome “Jack the Ripper” murders, and the fear that the perpetrator of the horrific crimes in the Whitechapel District of London in 1888 had planned to visit or had been spotted in the town.

    No doubt there have been serial killers before, and after, but the killings were so abominable and shocking in their intensity that newspaper coverage was at a level unprecedented.

    In Cardiff, where victim Mary Kelly lived for some time before heading to London, there was also what some believed sightings of “Jack the Ripper” that spread panic to City and populations further afield.

    Ripper letter Western Mail Oct 11On October 11, 1888, what was described as “a brutal missive” purporting to be written by “Jack the Ripper” and bearing a London postmark, a letter was received at the Cardiff offices of the Western Mail. The writer threatens to visit Cardiff the following Friday in what was described as written in a diabolical style characteristic of these communications.

    The letter addressed to the editor, Western Mail, said:

    Dear Old Boss, - What do you think of my little games here – ha! Ha! Next Saturday I am going to give the St Mary St girls a turn. I shall be fairly on their track, you bet. Keep this back until I have done some work. Ha! Ha! Shall down Friday.



    (Trade mark)

    In Roath, a district of Cardiff, some excitement was created in a hairdresser's shop by a stranger, carrying a black bag and declaring that he could easily “cut a woman's throat without any blood getting upon his clothes”. The man had suddenly left the shop, and a rumour gained ground that he was “Jack the Ripper.”

    PICTURE SHOWS: JACK THE RIPPER.     COPYRIGHT: NO NAME.  DATE: 2, APRIL, 1988.It wasn't only in Cardiff that the threat of a visit by “Jack the Ripper” was causing some considerable concern. Another letter signed in his name was received by a Llanelli woman, in which it stated that he planned to “do a murder in William Street on Monday or Saturday” that week. In the left-hand corner was roughly drawn, with the words, “This heart of a woman.”

    On a Swansea barque Picton Castle, dock labourers at Middlesbrough made a discovery believed to have been the work of “Jack the Ripper.”

    Arriving in the Tees from London a woman's hand was found plus a bag, the contents of which emitted a putrid odour. It was found to contain human remains in the state of advanced decomposition.

    The Western Mail, October 9 1888 reported a story of a man, Alfred Pearson, who was charged at Brierly Hill with stopping a man and his sweetheart in a dark lane and threatening them with a long knife and proclaiming himself as “Jack the Ripper.” The lady was driven into hysterics, and Pearson bound over to keep the peace. At Goven, Glasgow on the same day, a man who described himself as “Jack the Ripper the second” was fined three guineas for knocking over a married woman and brandishing a knife.

    In Yeovil, in January 1889, it was reported that a local “atrocious murder” was the work of “Jack the Ripper,” and that he was on some “murderous tour.”

    PICTURE SHOWS: JACK THE RIPPER.     COPYRIGHT: NO NAME.  DATE: 2, APRIL, 1988.All over world sightings or copycats littered the press. On December 5 1888 it was reported, again in the Western Mail, of the sensational discovery of an American “Jack the Ripper.” who hides in dark corners and darts out at women with a knife and muttering threats, whilst, in Brussels, a newspaper reported it had received postcards, letters, even telegrams, all signed “Jack the Ripper,” and announcing the writer's intention of visiting the city to murder women in a manner similar to his London prototype.

    In Corunna, Spain, the disappearance of two girls was attributed to “The Ripper” who it was thought had recently reached the town and had been “prowling about the place after dark.”  Young women and girls no longer went out at night, and even had their doors barricaded, to keep out the “mysterious assassin.” It was also reported that the “Whitechapel ruffian” had written one of his customary cold-blooded epistles to the authorities, telling them that he means to disembowel several “ladies” before he leaves Corunna.

    February 9, 1889, brought more reports, which this time, “Jack the Ripper” was in Jamaica. Fearful stories of crimes and mutilations similar to that of Whitechapel which the Western Mail noted that, in the reporter's mind unquestionably indicates that “Jack the Ripper” had gone from England to Jamaica committing a series of “diabolical and mysterious murders.”

    A woman had been found early in the morning lying by the roadside, her throat cut from ear to ear, her cheeks, nose and forehead slashed in a manner that would indicate it to be the work of a master butcher. The body mutilated exactly as had been done in London cases and the first of three and on the body by the blade of a small penknife was a card the bore the inscription, JACK THE RIPPER, fourteen more, then quit.

    The above was just the tip of the iceberg. Whilst the reports can be easily written off as the work of a copycat killer or just a mad frenzy whipped by a new and sensationalist media. There's no doubting that the unsolved Whitechapel murders were a template for the reporting that was to following in the wake of these unspeakable crimes.


    Tony Woolway's book Cardiff in the Headlines is available for purchase now.

  • A look at The A-Z of Victorian Crime by M W Oldridge

    Eliza Adkins couldn’t go on listening to the distressed cries of her child for another minute. Put yourself in her shoes. Homeless, friendless, without recourse to money and unemployable so long as little Zadock needed her. Forty-two years on the planet – possibly more – had finally brought her to the Loughborough Union Workhouse, and now she was separated from her son by an iron grid. His screams for her floated through the unbridgeable space between them. She seized him when she could, and they fled for the Leicestershire countryside.

    On 30 July 1865, Zadock’s body was found at the bottom of a well, drowned, with nothing but wild gooseberries in his stomach – an improvised last meal. This was only one of countless stories of Victorian crime in which the driving forces seemed to relate to prevailing social conditions, the circumscribed role of women, poverty and unconquerable despair. In retrospect, Eliza’s life sentence might be recognised as a merciful alternative to execution (the last executions in the UK were less than a hundred years away, and public executions were done away with on the British mainland in 1868), but we might still be appalled and outraged by the inability of the social institutions of Victorian Britain to alleviate suffering and to manage risk.

    Of course, there were others who did not fall into the category of the destitute and the despondent. Some, like Percy Lefroy Mapleton, selfishly preferred a daring but brutal crime to the quotidian rigours of work; some, like William Palmer (who was as workshy as Mapleton, in truth), seemed almost robotic in their manner, fixating on a modus operandi and pursuing it – quite literally – ad nauseam. Poisons were everywhere, not least in Palmer’s case, and their victims were distributed throughout society, from Thomas Ball, the obnoxious labourer whose death was caused (perhaps) by an accidental dose of arsenic-based insecticide, to James Maybrick, the no-less-objectionable cotton merchant who died with the contents of a small pharmacy in his insides.

    Along the way, crimes of diverse and sometimes unfamiliar descriptions kept the police – a social fixture by the middle of the century, but broadly unknown in its first quarter – on their toes. Terrorism became a problem, especially in the 1880s, and some of the finest men available to the Metropolitan Police, in London, were instrumental in attempts to blunt its often indiscriminate edge. The decade closed with more innovation: the shock and horror of the Whitechapel Murders, in which Jack the Ripper, whoever he was, defeated all attempts to ensure justice for the random, unfortunate victims of his unprecedented violence.

    As the nineteenth century went on, the law attempted to evolve, better reflecting the desperate situations of some of those whose actions deviated from the norm. Dealing with the case of Daniel M’Naghten, doctors and alienists helped to codify the legal implications of madness (not that these were greeted with enthusiasm by the Queen, who was too often the target of the murderous misjudgements of individuals who had become estranged from reality). There are signs of compassion in addition to the doctrinaire dispassion, but some groups – children, in particular – were always vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment by those with power over them. The demise of Reginald Channell Cancellor, a lad of fourteen who was stuck on his four times table, is only one sad example of this phenomenon at work.

    Our perception of Victorian society is affected as greatly by our understanding of its criminal underbelly as it is by its legacy of high culture – its literary fiction, its art, its drama. In The A-Z of Victorian Crime, we have attempted to illuminate some darkened corners, looking again at some familiar cases, and exploring some which may be less familiar. The reader is invited to follow us back there, among the ghosts of the past, and to make themselves ready to be appalled, horrified and saddened in equal measure.


    M W Oldridge and co- authors Neil Bell, Kate Clarke and Trevor Bond's new book The A-Z of Victorian Crime is available for purchase now.

5 Item(s)