How to Get Away With Murder...
How to Get Away With Murder...
"How to Get Away With Murder - or not, as the case may be.
There is very little that is new in crime. Similar patterns of behaviour will emerge time and time again. People commit the same crimes for the same motives. They get caught because they make the same mistakes, and when arrested they trot out the same excuses. If they get away with it, it is often a matter of luck. I have been able to come up with a few simple rules which should always be observed when one is contemplating murder, and I shall illustrate those rules with examples of people who have been caught because they failed to observe them.
RULE 1. If you wrap the corpse in paper, do not use a piece which has your name and address on it.
Mrs. Amelia Dyer was a singularly nasty piece of work. She had changed address many times and used several aliases, so perhaps it didn't occur to her that she could be traced through a past identity. In 1895 she moved to Reading, and advertised that she would board and adopt children. In March that year a bargeman pulled the corpse of a baby out of the Thames. It was wrapped in a parcel which bore a name and a Reading address. It took time to trace the identity of the owner of the original parcel, and by the time Mrs. Dyer was arrested six more of the sad little corpses had been found. Her sole motive had been greed, accumulating fictitious boarding fees while quickly disposing of the infants. She was hanged in June 1896. No-one will ever know the numbers of her victims, but at the time of her arrest she had been carrying on her trade for fifteen years.
RULE 2. Do not use an unusual murder weapon which only you of all the victim's family and friends, know how to use.
Archibald Brown was a tyrannical man. His cruelty made the lives of his long-suffering wife and his son, Eric, a misery. A victim of an accident, Brown was confined to a wheelchair, and required nursing attendance. Eric had volunteered for the Army in 1942, and in July, 1943, he was home on leave. The nurse was taking Brown for an outing in his bath chair when there was a tremendous explosion. The nurse survived but Brown was blown to pieces. The explosion was caused by an anti-tank device, a British Hawkins No. 75 Grenade Mine, which had been placed under the chair seat. Eric had spent some time on the day of the tragedy locked in the air-raid shelter where the bath chair was kept. It was found that he had attended lectures on the Hawkins No. 75 Grenade Mine, and there were supplies of these at his Company H. Q. The evidence pointed directly to Eric - in fact it was difficult for it to point anywhere else. He was tried and found guilty but insane.
RULE 3. Do not set fire to the corpse in the back garden - the neighbours will notice.
In 1953, Mrs. Styllou Christofi, a Cypriot, came to live with her son and German daughter in law, Hella, in London. Mrs. Christofi and Hella did not get on, and the jealous mother in law made family life impossible. She was asked to return home. One night, Mrs. Christofi murdered Hella by strangling her. She then dragged the body into the garden, drenched it with paraffin, and set fire to it. Not surprisingly, neighbours noticed what was going on, including one who saw Mrs. Christofi stirring the fire. She was tried for murder, and refusing to plead insanity was found guilty and hanged. It was her second murder trial. In 1925 she had been tried for the murder of her mother-in-law by ramming a burning torch down her throat, and acquitted.
RULE 4. Do not invite your brother-in-law round to watch the murder - he may not be as pleased with it as you are.
The prisons are full of people who have ignored such simple rules. Many murderers are decently ashamed of or horrified by what they have done, but there are some who are so excited by their crimes that they can't wait to tell another person about it, or even involve them directly in it. Somehow it never occurs to them that others might disapprove.
When David Smith was invited to his sister-in-law's home, he did not anticipate that he would be the witness to a violent murder. She was a little strange, it was true, especially since taking up with that new boyfriend - always talking about crimes, and trying to impress him with his weird books, but that was just bragging, wasn't it? There was a visitor at the house - a youth. David, standing in the kitchen, heard his sister-in-law calling for help - he ran into the next room, straight into a nightmare. Paralysed with horror he saw the boyfriend repeatedly hitting the youth on the head with an axe. Terrified that he would be next, he helped wrap the body, and agreed to help dispose of it. The murderous pair boasted of other killings, and told him that he was involved now. He left to fetch some things for them - walked to the bottom of the path - then ran like Hell, all the way home, and threw up. After talking it over with his wife, they crept nervously out of the house to a call-box and telephoned the police. Not far away, the two murderers, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, lay asleep together for the last time.
RULE 5. Do not repeat a winning formula.
I am often told that I will never hear of a perfect murder because that, by definition is the one no-one will ever know about. Well, I'll get back to the definition later, but I would challenge the first assumption. If a perfect murder is one we don't know about, then we know about lots of them. These crimes are the first or even the second or third or more in a series which would never have been discovered if the murderer hadn't gone on and tried it once too often. When Major Armstrong murdered his wife in 1921, he got away with it. Her final illness was diagnosed as gastritis, she was buried, and the Major accorded every sympathy. Had he stopped there, all would have been well, and I would not have just written these words. But he was to discover that it is quite one thing to poison someone living in your own home, and another to try and dispose of a business rival. Armstrong's unsuccessful attempts to poison his rival were clumsy enough to create suspicion. His wife was exhumed, and arsenic was found in her body. Armstrong was tried for her murder and hanged.
George Joseph Smith was a little more successful. He had devised an excellent murder method, all the better because he actually obtained the unwitting collusion of his victims. Smith met and married susceptible young ladies with attractive bank balances. He was able, with his solicitous charm to persuade them that they had had fainting fits, and so the unsuspecting girl would go to her doctor for help. Days later she would be found drowned in her bath. This worked very well three times, however, Smith had not reckoned that his exploits would attract any publicity. In fact the newspapers carried accounts of the third bride's tragic fate, and this was read by the father of bride number two, who alerted the police. Smith was hanged in August 1915.
RULE 6. Don't confess.
Many an otherwise perfect murder has been ruined by a confession. In the case described below, the confession actually appears to have been part of the plan for getting away with it. Frederick Field had a splendid plan which worked once, but his stupidity in trying it again is almost incredible. In 1931 the strangled body of a prostitute was found in an empty building. Field, one of the workmen who found the body claimed he had given the key to another man but he was proved to have been lying. In July 1933 Field called at a newspaper office and confessed to the murder, bargaining that the defence costs would be paid by the press. He retracted his confession at the trial. It was clear that the confession was a ploy to obtain money, and since his statement varied from the known facts, the judge directed the jury to acquit. In 1936 he was arrested as a deserter from the R.A.F. He at once confessed to another murder, then at the trial, he again retracted the confession. The jury took 15 minutes to find him guilty, and he was hanged.
RULE 7. Do not rely too heavily on technology.
The more complicated the plan, the more things there are that can go wrong. Frederick Small chloroformed, battered, strangled and shot his wife to death in his home near Boston in 1916. He then tried to divert suspicion from himself and destroy evidence of murder by constructing an arson machine, which would set fire to the house at a time when he was establishing an alibi in Boston. He departed - the machine did its stuff - the house caught fire - and he was recalled to express his grief at his wife's sad fate. Unfortunately for him, the fire had caused a weak spot in the floor to collapse. His wife's body had slipped into the cellar where it, and all the evidence, had been preserved from the fire in a pool of water. While awaiting execution, Small must have contemplated the fact that the weak cellar ceiling had been plastered by himself, as he had pronounced the local builders inadequate.
RULE 8. Don't anticipate.
Arthur Devereux was a 24 year-old chemist's assistant. He and his wife Beatrice found it difficult to manage on his low wages, especially after the birth of a son. Then Beatrice became pregnant again, and this time she gave birth to twins. Undernourished, and unable to cope, Arthur persuaded his wife to drink poison and give some to the twins, telling her it was cough medicine. He placed the bodies in a trunk, and moved to a new address, taking his son. Beatrice's mother, disturbed at her daughter's disappearance, was not to be put off by Arthur's excuses. She traced the trunk to a warehouse, and ordered it to be opened. Devereux's explanation was that his wife had killed herself and the twins, and that he had panicked and concealed the bodies. Would he have got away with it? We shall never know, because there was one other vital piece of evidence. Devereux had applied for a job before his wife's death, and on that application he had described himself as a widower. He was hanged in August 1905.
RULE 9. Do not write an account of your crime.
In 1942 a woman was found murdered in Brompton Road, Strood. Her 4 year old son had been present but was unharmed. He told the police his mother had been killed by a soldier. Gunner Reginald Buckfield was amongst those questioned and was found to be a deserter and handed over to the military authorities. No doubt his time in police custody was tedious and he had looked for some occupation to while away the hours. He decided to do some writing. The military escort who came for him took charge of a bundle of handwritten sheets . These were the pages of a murder story entitled "The Mystery of Brompton Road" by Gunner Buckfield. He claimed that the writing was pure fiction, but it revealed a direct knowledge of the facts of the crime. He was found guilty of murder and committed to Broadmoor.
RULE 10. Don't draw attention to yourself.
For many murderers, the aprĖs-crime period is a bit of a let-down. They still crave excitement, and so prolong matters by getting themselves involved in the detection of the criminal.
Jack Goldenberg was an 18 year old soldier at Bordon Camp. In 1924 the manager of the local bank was found shot dead, and £1000 was missing. Goldenberg came forward to say that he had been in the bank to cash a cheque shortly before the time of death. He had seen two men in a car outside, and he described the occupants to the police. Goldenberg, revelling in the attention he was getting, boasted to reporters that his evidence was very important and that it would be through him that the murderers would be arrested. His behaviour attracted suspicion. He was watched, and a warrant officer noticed that there were footmarks on the window ledge of Goldenberg's hut. Standing on the ledge, the WO saw the parcel of stolen money hidden in the roof beams. Goldenberg was arrested, and admitted the murder. He pleaded insanity but was found guilty and hanged.
Goldenberg, however, was a mere amateur compared with Neill Cream.
Cream graduated in medicine in Canada in 1876. He was given a life sentence for the murder of a man named Stott, the husband of his current mistress, in 1881. Foul play would not have been suspected, if Cream had not written to the Coroner and the District Attorney suggesting that Stott's body should be exhumed. He was released in 1891 and came to London. Here he started a career of the casual murder of prostitutes by giving them strychnine capsules claiming that they were medicine for the complexion. Cream wrote to the Coroner offering to name the killer for £300,000. He wrote to W.H. Smith in the Strand, naming an employee as the murderer. He wrote to a doctor accusing him of the murders, he wrote to Countess Russell accusing her husband. He then commissioned 500 handbills addressed to the residents of the Metropole Hotel advising them that the murderer was employed there, and that all their lives were in danger. He also complained to Scotland Yard that he was being followed by police anxious to interview him about the crimes. He was eventually caught when a prostitute to whom he gave some pills was suspicious, pretended to swallow them, and reported the incident. He never admitted the crimes, although the seven bottles of strychnine found at his lodgings were powerful evidence against him. When hanged he cried "I am Jack the - " as he dropped - but of course, at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, Cream was in Joliet Prison.
And finally - here is the perfect murder - and in my opinion the perfect murder is not necessarily the one no-one knows about - it's the one they can't touch you for!
In 1909 during Peary's eighth attempt to reach the North Pole, Professor Ross Marvin, 34, was a member of a small exploration party consisting of himself and two Eskimos. When the Eskimos returned they reported that they had found Marvin drowned under a layer of ice. In 1926 the two approached a Danish missionary who had been carrying out work amongst the Eskimos, and admitted that they had shot Marvin, saying that his cruel and hysterical behaviour had proved that he was "ice-mad", and a danger. Fortunately for them, they had confessed to murder in a land over which there was no legal control, and it was therefore impossible to bring them to trial.
The Murderer's Who's Who by J. H. Gaute and Robin Odell
The Encyclopedia of Murder by Colin Wilson and Pat Pitman
Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams
Exhumation of a Murder by Robin Odell
Country Copper by G H Totterdell
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