Monday, December 04, 2006

Hanging around the bookshelves

Well, last night I'd finished "How to Lie with Statistics" and Peter Singer's "A Darwinian Left" so had to hunt round for something I actually wanted to read. There are lots of my brother's books to explore so loads of things I wouldn't normally pick up.

I think it's quite difficult to describe my feelings when I came across the absolutely enormous "encyclopedia of Executions", a comprehensive listing of every execution in the UK of the twentieth century. Despite the fact it really did give me the creeps, big style, I decided to flick through it.

I don't believe I've ever read such a depressing and harrowing book. Allow me to regale you with some stories.

On July 30th 1940 Udham Singh was executed for the murder of Sir Michael O'Dwyer, a retired soldier who had served in the Punjab and was one of a panel giving a talk about the state of things in Afghanistan.

Udham was described in the press as a "Sikh extremist" although we would do well to remember that if you kill Sikhs in the Punjab to keep it British you are given a knighthood and if you kill Brits in London to make them give it back you are an extremist.

Alas, this was not the only problem Udham faced. It's also thought he'd killed the wrong man O'Dwyer might have served in the Punjab but it was a man named O'Dyer who had been in charge of the slaughter at the Amritsar massacre who was almost certainly the man Udham thought he was murdering.

Let's move on to Walter Graham Rowland, hanged on February 27th 1947 for the murder of his lover, Olive Balchin, whose body was found at a bomb site battered to death with a hammer.

Walter's alibi included a police sergeant and two of his officers who were drinking in the same pub as him at the same time as the murder and the landlord of the place he was staying, including the signing in book (which was common at the time) detailing when he got home. These eye witnesses placed him well away from the murder scene.

However, Walter had form. He'd been convicted of killing his daughter in 1934 when he was reprieved from the noose and eventually released from prison. The jury convicted him despite there being no evidence and what would look like a water tight alibi.

When waiting on death row someone else confessed to the murder. David Ware, who was now in jail for robbing the Salvation Army, made a detailed confession to the police - but an inquiry decided Ware was lying and that Walter was unquestionably guilty... he was executed on February 27th 1947.

David Ware on July 10th 1951 murdered another woman in a hammer attack, an attack he was arrested for, he went on to hang himself in his cell. Walter's case was never re-opened and he remains, in the eyes of the law, guilty.

The last case I'll unburden myself of is the first execution of the twentieth century. That of Louisa Massett who was hanged for the murder of her young son, Manfred, on January 9th 1900.

Manfred's body was discovered in the Ladies Waiting Room at Dalston Junction train station, naked except for a black shawl, he'd been battered to death by a brick, which lay close to the body.

Manfred had been staying permanently with a foster mother Miss Helen Gentle and Louisa had taken Manfred away, she later explained to the court, to put him into a boarding school. Several days after Manfred had left Helen's care (the same day as the murder) Louisa wrote to the foster mother saying that Manfred was happy and not too upset. Except by this time the papers had been full of the grisly discovery and Gentle handed the letter over to the police.

Louisa insisted that she had handed the boy over to a Mrs Browning who ran the children's home Manfred was to stay in, with the sum of £12 to cover the costs of his education. But Louisa had no receipt for the money, could not produce Mrs Browning and the address of the home was ficticious.

What made matters worse in the eyes of the court was that Louisa had spent that very weekend in Brighton in the arms of a man to whom she was not married. Her wickedness, immorality and lies were there for all to see and they convicted her of the murder and she was hung.

A month after Louisa's execution Ada Chard Williams went on trial for the murder of 21 month old Selina Jones whom she had taken from her mother on the pretence of finding a good home for her. Her mother was unmarried and thought it would be for the best if Selina did not grow up with stigma, poverty and shame.

When Selina's mother Florence tried to find her later that day, for one last goodbye perhaps, there was no trace of the child, the address was ficticious and "Mrs Hewetson" seemingly non-existent. Police made some headway, but were unable to locate "Hewetson" who they had now determined was Chard Williams, even after Selina's battered body was washed up on the banks of the Thames.

Ada Chard Williams unexpectedly gave herself in to the police, in an attempt to clear her name, but one piece of evidence ensured a guilty verdict. Selina's body had been tied in a parcel with paper and string, the knot on the package was tied in a most particular fashion. Police, when examining Ada's home found other packages tied in exactly the same manner.

Although Ada was charged with just the one murder police had strong circumstantial evidence (including bodies) that this was not the first child she had murdered in this fashion, by conning the mothers into believing she was taking their child to a better life. Ada was hung on 6th March 1900.

When Louisa Massett was executed, the press were full of reports that she had confessed to the murder in her cell moments before her death at the hands of the state. Not so. In fact her last words were that "the sentence was just." Last words uttered by an unmarried mother who willingly gave up her child to a killer for the sum of £12 in the belief that she was neither fit, nor moral, enough to be a proper mother to her son.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Jim. Olive Balchin was not Walter Rowland's lover. She was a prostitute!

Jim Jepps said...

Well actually there seems to be some disagreement about the actual relationship - but it was clear they had a sexual relationship, so rather than attempt to fill in blanks and potentially get it wrong I chose to go with the factually correct, but possibly incomplete term lover.

She may well have been a prostitute but even if she was the nature of the relationship of these two was never pinned down (perhaps deliberately)

I felt that just because she was a prostitute didn't entitle me to prejudge the nature of their relationship (after all prostitutes do have lovers, and all we actually know is that these two had been having sex with each other).

Anonymous said...

I do appreciate the distinction you make, for as you say, although she was a prostitute he did know her previouisly before her death. perhaops this was yet another reason for the police fitting him up!
You seem to know quite a lot about the Rowland/Balchin case. I am writing a book about it. Can you help?

Jim Jepps said...

Are you? how exciting!

I don't know much to be honest, only what I've read in the Encyclopedia of executions and a few bits and bobs I found on the net.

It's purely because I didn't want to prejudice the nature of their relationship (and brevity) that I left out some of the, possibly very important, detail and this discussion has drawn out some of the reasoning behind that.

It's quite possible their relationship was purely one between a prostitute and a client - but there didn't seem to be evidence for this apart from her profesion.

So I'm not sure how much help I could be - but if I can be of service I'm always happy to oblige

Anonymous said...

I have done quite a lot of research on the case. Rowland had already served 8 years, after being reprieved for the murder of his baby daughter (although he strenuously denied this). The only evidence against him was his wife's testimony, but he maintained she had committed the murder herself ( and there is some evidence to substantiate this). I feel the Manchester police had it in for him because of this, and fitted him up. Prosecution witnesses testimonies are incompatible with each others. Also one of them was a police informer.
Walter Rowland was certainly an exceptionally unlucky man, But I believe he was innocent. I think he is the only person in British criminal history to have been in the condemned cell on two seperate occasions. There is only one other book about the case - THE TRIAL OF WALTER ROWLAND by former judge, Henry Cecil.

Jim Jepps said...

Yes, I agree, I think the fact that he'd been in the cells for murder before was the crucial point that made him guilty in the eyes of the police, judge and possibly the jury (although how much of this they knew I'm a little unsure - do you know more on that?).

It's a very good argument for ensuring that prior convictions are not brought up during a trial - at least until sentancing.