It may be of some satisfaction to you, Gentlemen of the Jury, to know that you have been engaged in one of the most remarkable trials that is to be found in the annals of the Criminal Courts of England. Mr Justice Grantham, Judge at the Old Bailey
This is a vintage whodunit set in Edwardian London at a crossroads in time, as social revolution and psychiatry posed new questions for the Law and for the first time the Media were co-opted to run a killer to ground.
The year is 1907: 22-year-old Emily Dimmock lies murdered in her Camden Town flat, her head all but severed from her body. With not a thread or stain or fingerprint to point to the perpetrator, a young artist is manoeuvred into the shadow of the scaffold.
The tale is told verbatim by witnesses presided over by the author, who draws on his own experience as a Judge at the Old Bailey to get inside the mind of the outspoken but irresolute Mr Justice Grantham. The result is as compelling today as it is definitive of the era in which the murder was committed.
Firstly a big thank you to the Midas team for my copy to review and having me on the tour .
This is a unique style of non fiction and took me a while to settle into it.
Fascinating,interacting , full of rich history of a time gone by.
Incredibly interesting and thought provoking.
Loved the added bonus of maps and pictures which enable you to visuasile the events.
Read on for a extract and check out the other blogs taking part.
published 14th November
It was much easier to get away with murder at the beginning of the 20th century. That is not to say that the police did not always get their man. But there was usually some strong pointer suggesting to the investigating officers who the suspect should be. A clear motive was a good starting point – as in the case of recently insured brides who died in their baths when living with husband George Smith. Or the remains of missing wife ‘Belle Elmore’ that were found under the cellar floor of the house she shared with Crippen in Hilldrop Crescent and whose flight to Canada with his mistress sealed his fate. Or later in the 20th century the murdered women found under the floorboards and in the kitchen at 10 Rillington Place where former special constable Christie lived with his wife. How could they have got there unless he put them there or, at the very least, knew of their presence? Sadly of course the person who first came under suspicion for murder was the rather simple soul Timothy Ellis who lodged there and whose unreliable confession of killing his wife and child took him to the gallows – before the police realised that the serial killer was Christie.
Murders are rarely committed under public gaze – particularly when the sentence upon conviction was a march to the scaffold. The police therefore would look for means, motive and opportunity when choosing their suspects. But in the hands of a skilful criminal advocate their case could fall apart if some innocent explanation for movements or behaviour could be advanced. Science teacher Ronald Light, the alleged Green Bicycle murderer, may be an example of a guilty man saved by a brilliant and charismatic silk, Marshall Hall. But today not only is flamboyant advocacy out of fashion, juries are much more rigorous and down to earth in their approach to the evidence. And the police today have many more tools in their bag to help them find the true killer.
In the Postscript in my book ‘The Postcard Murder – A Judge’s Tale’ I suggest that the mobile phone – without which most of us would not venture forth to work or play – can provide the most damning evidence of location at the time of the killing, movements thereafter, contact with others involved or even the ditching of the incriminating phone altogether to provide a formidable case to answer. Likewise CCTV cameras on almost every street corner can show movements of victim and assailant. DNA evidence whereby, from blood or sweat or semen for example, the scientist can obtain a profile which matches the profile of the suspect so that the odds against such a match can be measured in millions is a tool of the greatest assistance to the police. Furthermore ‘what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’ in that phone location, CCTV footage or DNA profiling can establish absence from the scene at the time of a killing and thus result in an acquittal not a conviction. So in The Postcard Murder the defence today could have sought to establish absence from the scene of the killing at the relevant time. But, in The Postcard Murder, Robert Wood – accused of the virtual decapitation of goodtime girl Phyllis – had none of these aids to help him face his trial in Court No.1 of the Old Bailey.
Furthermore, the trial process today is far more likely to produce a just result when the courts can allow the use of special measures to help vulnerable or frightened witnesses to come forward and give their accounts. The witness may be screened from the dock or be permitted to give evidence by way of a video link. Rules for holding identification parades are now more stringent. Police interviews are audio- and often video- recorded so that the police cannot attempt underhand ways to obtain a confession as sadly, but rarely, happened in the past.
True Crime I believe will always hold a fascination for those of us who are students of psychology or criminology or history or human behaviour. Lust, greed, hatred, fear and envy are as real today as ever they were. True Crime tells the tale of real not imagined victims, accused or witnesses. The desire to find the truth and to do justly in the real world – whether it is to impeach a President or to catch human traffickers who kill – will I trust long prevail.