THE DEPTFORD MASK MURDERS
THE DEPTFORD MASK MURDERS
THE FIRST CAPITAL MURDER TRIAL IN 1905 USING FINGERPRINT FORENSICS
A NOVEL BY GERALD HOG
CHAPTER 1: THE PLAN 13
CHAPTER 2: THE ROBBERY 22
CHAPTER 3: THE ALIBI 30
CHAPTER 4: THE INVESTIGATION 38
CHAPTER 5: THE FINGERPRINT 63
CHAPTER 6: THE LEAD UP TO THE TRIAL 71
CHAPTER 7: THE TRIAL 80
CHAPTER 8: THE VERDICT 132
CHAPTER 9: THE EXECUTION 137
MILESTONES IN FORENSIC SCIENCE 140
This is book is for you John. Thank you for fighting some of my battles for me when I was a kid and for your advice (you are never going to be able to fight so you had better learn how to run fast). That advice has saved me many times. Thank you for the stories that you made up when we lay in bed together when we were kids, sometimes cold and hungry but nearly always happy. Stories of pirates and shipwrecks, kids lost in the African jungle, families travelling across the vast plains of America to look for gold in the 1800s, and aeroplanes crashing in the frozen Alaskan wilderness with only two children who survived, John and Gerald who made it back to civilisation by eating raw fish, ( this was in the late 1950s or early 1960s you were well ahead of your time, they call it Sashimi today) Even though you probably thought that I had always done much better than you in life that was never true. Maybe financially I did a little better. But you have had to overcome so many hurdles in your life that I never had to and whatever life threw at you never stopped smiling, I wish that I could say the same about me.
This is your story John, I just ran with it because you believed in it so much and you didn’t stick around long enough to finish what you started and it needed to be told. I think that I have done a pretty good job of it, but if you had been able to finish your version of it, it would have been so much better than mine. It would have been a best seller and an award winning movie.
John William Hogg 28th February 1949-7th May 2014
First and foremost, the idea of this book came from my late brother, which is a story in itself, so please bear with me for a few pages while I explain.
My brother John William Hogg left school in 1963 at fifteen and joined the British Royal Navy. By the time he was seventeen, he was an Able Seaman serving on HMS Llandaff on a nine-month tour of duty in South-East Asia, with the ship’s base being in Singapore. As a young man with testosterone levels that were running amok, he spent most of his free time in bars and brothels in places like Bugis Street in Singapore, Angeles City in the Philippines and Walking Street in Pattaya in Thailand. In those days seaman in the Royal Navy were given their daily tot of rum ration and drinking alcohol was fundamental in their daily lives. By the time John came home on leave at 18, he was a heavy drinker and smoking 20 cigarettes a day and had a minor STD. He did his nine years in the Royal Navy and then joined the merchant navy. By the time he was thirty-five, he was an alcoholic. John was a drunk, but not a morose, moody or angry drunk, he was a happy drunk. He could handle his drink well and could still do his job on board ship, and although it is frowned upon today with most shipping companies having a dry ship policy, in those days heavy drinking was part and parcel of working at sea. John had moved from Middlesbrough to London in the early 1980s and he and his family were living in Surrey Quays, 1.5 miles from Deptford High Street in London where the Stratton brother’s murders took place. In 2007 John was diagnosed with throat cancer probably due to his now 30 a day cigarette habit. He eventually went into hospital to have the cancer removed and struck it lucky as the surgeons removed the cancer and it never returned. Then he struck it unlucky, while he was in hospital ridding his body of the cancer he caught Golden Staph, a flesh-eating disease which was rife in some London hospitals at that time. To cut a long story short, the infection was very bad and they had to cut away half of his face and jaw to try to stop the disease from spreading. The disease also infected his throat and he was unable to eat solid foods and for the rest of his life, he survived on thickened liquids with added nutrients. This cured his alcoholism as he could no longer drink thin drinks as they made him choke and could only take tiny sips of water to quench his thirst. It also stopped his 30 a day cigarette addiction as he could no longer breathe in smoke. If that wasn’t bad enough his speech was impaired and he had to try to learn to talk again. John never got his full speech back and he always carried a pad and pen around with him so that he could communicate if people could not understand him. Now for most people having half of their face cut away and looking like someone who had escaped from a PT Barnum’s freak show (his words not mine), unable to eat or drink properly and with a speech impediment, that would be an end to their life, I know that it would be if it was me. I would have retired to my bedroom, had my liquid meal sent up and never want to see or talk to anyone ever again. But John was made from stronger stuff than me and still wanting to live his life and work and earn a living he applied to film companies to work as an extra. There are many film companies that need people in their films to look like they have deformities or look much different to everyday people, and they have makeup artists and special effects departments to do this, but John didn’t need makeup or special effects he was a natural and he was in high demand. He played a prisoner in Jack the Giant Slayer, a prisoner again in Great Expectations, he was a hospital patient in the English television drama Top Boy, he stood in front of Jude Law in a dole queue in the movie Alfie and he appeared in many other British films and television productions.
While working as an extra he heard of a Royal Naval charity that was offering grants to ex-royal naval seaman for them to go back to school or university to help them re-start their lives when they left the navy. John applied and went for an interview and was offered a full grant, he then enrolled for a three-year drama and writing course at Greenwich University. John was always good at making up and telling stories and his handwriting was meticulous, in another life he would have been a great author.
It’s here that this story begins. John loved the course and his teachers loved him, as he was a very gifted writer and eager to learn. Over the next few years, he excelled at his course and started to look for a writing project that he could make his own. He knew that he had wasted a lot of his life through his alcoholism and for the first time in 45 years his brain was working to full capacity, without the alcohol and cigarettes making his decisions for him.
He came across a little known story of the very first time fingerprinting was used to gain a murder conviction in Great Britain in the early 1900s. I was living in Australia in those days, but we were in close contact as we always were throughout our lives He would email me and tell me about his project and sometimes he would ask me to help him with something that he was stuck on or
wanted my opinion on, and I knew that the story had taken over his life and that he was happy. In May 2014 I got a phone call from Jane his partner saying that John would like to see me but he didn’t like to ask and as he could not fly to see me in Australia because of his illness would I come to London to see him? My wife Colleen and I talked about it; we both loved John so we decided that we would fly to London together to visit him. A week later we arrived in Heathrow and booked into a hotel close to where John was living and the next morning we took a taxi to his house. When I saw John I could see that he had deteriorated significantly since the last time that I had seen him and he was a lot sicker than I had originally thought. We spoke about our families and our lives and reminisced about our childhood and we eventually got around to his project. John told me all about it, where he was up to, who the main characters were and his plans to release it as a screenplay when it was finished. He said that he was having problems with writing, as his hands and fingers were not strong for holding a pen and constantly writing. By this time John was getting tired and so Colleen and I said we would see him the next day and we went back to our hotel. Colleen suggested we buy him a laptop computer so that he didn’t have to write in longhand and I thought that was a great idea. The next morning we were at Argus when they opened and we bought John a laptop and then got a taxi to John’s house. He loved laptop and we set it up for him and showed him how to use it and then spent the rest of the day chatting. Before we left I told him that I would come back the next morning and take his manuscript to a print shop, scan it, put it on a flash drive and then transfer it to his laptop. John thanked us again then said that he was tired and went for up to his bedroom for a nap and Colleen and I went back to our hotel. Three hours later Jane phoned to tell us that she had gone to wake John up and he had died in his sleep.
So fast forward three years. Colleen and I have broken up after nearly 50 years together, we still love each other we just can’t live together. I am now retired and I am living in Koh Samui in Thailand and I have started to write travel books on Thailand and South-East Asia.
The first book I wrote to my surprise was picked up by a publisher and I was offered a publishing contract. Over the next few years, I released four more travel books and a biography and found that just like John I enjoyed writing and being an author. I normally write my travel books during the wet season in Thailand as it can rain every day for a few months so it’s an ideal time to stay home and write. In 2020 when the wet season was approaching I decided that I was getting bored writing travel books and realised that I needed a new challenge. I spent some time thinking of other subjects to write about, I am a chef by trade and I was considering writing a Thai fusion cookbook. Then one morning I woke up and had a light bulb moment when John’s story of the Stratton brothers came to mind. I had never spent much time reading about the case before, but when I started doing some research into the murders, although there was not much information on the internet, what I did find was fascinating and I could understand why John had chosen it and how it had taken over his life. John was writing his story on the Stratton brothers as a screenplay, I wouldn’t know a screenplay if it jumped up and bit me on the leg, so I have written it as a novel. I hope that you enjoy reading it.
*The last time I spoke with John that day in May 2014. We were joking around and I asked him who he would want to play the leading role when his screenplay was picked up by some major film company. He told me that Jude Law was really nice to him and a great actor when he was an extra standing next to him in the dole queue in Alfie, so he should play Alfred Stratton. He said that Leon Di Caprio would also be good but Americans can never seem to get the English accent right and a cockney one…well forget it, just look at Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. We delved deeper into his list of actors to play in his movie and he named some actors who he had met and who had played “supporting roles” during Johns acting career; He decided that Ewan McGregor would play Albert Stratton and Ian Mcshane would play Chief Inspector Fox. Bill Nighy chief prosecutor Muir, Emily Tommlinson would play Kate and Emelia Clark would play Annie. So if you’re reading this book Jude, Ewan, Ian, Bill, Emily or Emelia…Get your people to call my people.
The story of Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton and how they came to be tried, convicted and hung because of the new forensic science of fingerprinting in 1905 is a true story. All of the main characters in this book who played their part in having the brothers convicted in this book were real people in this extraordinary historical event, including:
Thomas Farrow and Ann Farrow (The victims of the crime)
Melville McNaughton (Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police)
Sir Edward Henry (Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police)
Justice Channell (Trial judge at the Old Bailey)
Mr Richard Muir and Mr. Arthur Bodkin. (Crown Prosecutors)
Mr H.G. Rooth and Mr. Richard Curtis-Bennett (Defence attorneys for Alfred Stratton)
Mr Harold Morris (Defence attorney for Albert Stratton)
Dr Henry Faulds and Doctor John Garson (Expert witnesses for the defence)
Chief Detective Inspector Fredrick Fox. (Scotland Yard)
Detective Inspector Charles Stockley Collins (Head of Fingerprint Bureau)
Sergeant Alfred Atkinson (Deptford Police)
Sergeant Crutchett (Deptford Police)
Sergeant Beavis (Deptford Police)
Dr Dudley Burnie. (Police surgeon)
John Billington, Henry Pierrepoint and John Ellis (Executioners)
Ellen Stanton (Witness)
Annie Cromarty (Alfred’s girlfriend)
Kate Wade (Albert’s girlfriend)
Henry Jennings (Witness)
Edward Russell (Witness)
George Chapman (Owner of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store)
William Jones (The Farrows young shop assistant)
Louise Kidman (Shop assistant at the Greenwich Store)
Harry Jackson (The first person to be convicted by fingerprinting in 1903)
William Gittings (Assistant gaoler)
Harry Allchurch (Head gaoler)
The arrest of Alfred and Albert Stratton for the murder of Thomas Farrow and the subsequent trial at the Old Bailey was in1905, long before 24 hour televised news programmes, Facebook, Twitter, Google and mobile phones with cameras where everything today is recorded for posterity and very little information on the true events leading up to both of the Stratton brothers being executed at the gallows in His Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth is available. The true facts are; that both of the brothers committed the crime but because they both pleaded not guilty, the full story of what actually happened inside Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in Deptford on the day of the murders died with the Stratton’s when they were both hung at His Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth in on the 23rd of May 1905.
This book is based on those true events and is my interpretation of what I believe could have happened 115 years ago when fingerprints were used for the very first time in Great Britain to convict Alfred and Albert Stratton of wilful murder.
9.00 am 23rd May 1905 at HM Prison Wandsworth.
They were brought up from the cells. Alfred leading the way with Albert, as he had always been his whole life walking behind him.
The hangman John Billington stood stoically in front of the condemned men with his two assistants, Henry Pierrepoint and John Ellis both looking suitably morose standing close behind him. Albert had been crying incessantly since the two brothers had been brought up from their cells in the bowels of Wandsworth Prison to “The Meat Room” as the hanging shed was more commonly known. The Hanging Shed was damp and cold with moisture running down the mouldy whitewashed walls and the aura that filled the room from the hundreds of condemned men and women who had previously stood and died where the two brothers were now standing was palpable.
“Any last words,” Billington asked Albert Stratton
“Why won’t you listen to me? It was Alfred, I didn’t do anything, I just went along because he told me to, Tell them, Alfred, it’s not too late. I never hurt anyone. Please let me go…Mama please help me… What about Kate…what will she do without me…oh god please make them listen to me.” sobbed Albert.
Billington who had heard it all before moved to his left and stood in front of Alfred Stratton, as Henry Pierrepoint stepped forward and pulled a hood over the broken and tormented Albert’s head.
“Alfred Stratton, Do you have any last words”? Alfred looked Billington in the eye, coughed a chesty cough then spat a glob of phlegm at the hangman’s feet and said nothing. John Ellis a deeply religious man placed the hood over Alfred’s head and stepped back and waited for Billington to pull the lever that he hoped would send both of the brothers to hell.
Two months earlier 26th of March 1905:
They met by coincidence at the King of Prussia pub on Albury Street in Deptford around 8.30 on a Sunday evening. Alfred had already been there for a few hours and was feeling the effects of the alcohol that he had consumed when his younger brother Albert came through the doors and headed for the bar.
“I’ll have a pint of Mann’s” Alfred shouted to Albert’s back, trying to be heard above the noise of the bar. Albert heard him alright, but pretended not to and pushed his way through the crowded bar and around to the taproom, hoping to avoid his elder brother to save himself some grief and some money. Albert always seemed to be short of money since he had been unceremoniously kicked out of the Royal Navy. Albert had joined the navy to get away from his domineering brother but it didn’t go to plan, when after only seven months he was dishonourably discharged for desertion and insubordination and he headed back home to his mum’s house in Deptford.
Alfred knew damn well that Albert had heard him, but the little bastard had ignored him. Alfred checked his pockets and saw that he didn’t have enough money left to buy another pint, so he got up from the table and followed Albert to the bar in time to hear his brother shout: “A pint a Best Minnie.” to the licensee’s wife. Minnie not the friendliest of hosts at the best of times shouted back “Hold your bloody horses Albert can’t you see I’m serving I’ll get to you in a minute”.
Alfred shouted to be heard above the noise of the crowded bar, “Make that a pint a Best and a pint of Mann’s, Minnie…on Albert’s tab, when you have the time of course”. He turned to his brother and said “Bring them over to my table when your served” and walked back through the noisy smoke-filled room. Albert gave a heavy sigh and wished that he had gone to the Dog and Duck as he had originally planned. There were only two years between the brothers but the elder brother Alfred had always been the more dominant of the two and Albert who had been a little afraid of his big brother while growing up, had always tried to stay clear of him whenever possible. When he was eventually grudgingly served the beers, he pushed his way back through the crowded bar, sat down at the small table and handed one of the pints to his older brother. As usual no thanks was forthcoming.
Alfred said, “Give us your roll-ups I’m gasping for a fag”. Albert, who rarely, if ever said no to his brother took out his roll-up tin and slid it across the wet, greasy table. He decided that he would finish his drink and head for The Dog and Duck, if he didn’t he would be paying for his brother’s drinks all night and he would not have any tobacco left for the next day. But deep down he knew that he probably wouldn’t go, he would be stuck here for the rest of the night with his brother now..
“I’m skint how you off for money Albert”? Alfred said between taking a long drag on his cigarette and downing a quarter of the pint in a single gulp.
“I’m skint too I took some money from the rent jar when Kate went to see her mum. I’m hoping that I can pick up some work to put it back before the rent man comes on Friday”.
“Good luck with that…you have as much chance of getting work as I have of shagging Emily Pankhurst,” said Alfred.
Albert took a sip of his pint and sighed again, he seemed to do a lot of sighing when he was in his brother’s company. Both Albert and Alfred found it hard to get any work in the Deptford area, though they had never been convicted of any crimes, it was well known that they associated with the criminal element and it was thought by the police and most people who knew them that it was only a matter of time before they would end up in prison. Albert who was a little more enthusiastic than his brother when it came to looking for gainful employment sometimes managed to find casual or day jobs at the markets or Deptford docks, but when he did, he didn’t tell Alfred as he knew his brother would only ask to borrow money from him, with no chance of the loan ever being repaid. Alfred took another large gulp of his beer and told Albert to get another round in.
When Albert came back with the drinks Alfred was rolling another cigarette.
“I need to do something brother, Annie’s getting pissed off with me, she’s talking about going back to live with her mum and dad, she says I’m lazy and won’t get a job, but no one will give me a job, it’s not that I haven’t tried. I don’t care if the cow leaves but it’s her wages that are paying the rent, and I don’t want to go back to mums to live.”
Albert had heard this story many times over the last year since Alfred and Annie had got together, so he just shrugged his shoulders and nodded sympathetically and they sat in silence for a minute or two. Alfred stubbed out the end of his cigarette, started to roll another and said;
“You know Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in the High Street?”
“The paint shop... yes why?”
“I’ve been watching their shop for a couple of weeks now, Thomas the manager hands over the week’s takings every Monday morning to old man Chapman the
owner. It’s a busy shop and that’s a lot of money that could sort out both of our money problems”
“I’m not getting into any of that, Thomas Farrow is a nice old bloke, his wife’s a bit of a shrew, but he’s a lovely feller.”
“Maybe so, but times are tough, I have had enough of Annie and I want to get out of England. A friend of mine reckons that for a few quid he can get me on a merchant ship out of Southampton going to America and that I could jump ship there and make my fortune. He reckons that the gold rush isn’t over, that there is still a lot of gold to be found. I’ve had it with this fucking town and this fucking country. What has anyone ever done for us? There’s no money, no work, the toffs treat us like shit and the rich get richer while us poor sods get poorer, there’s no future in this country for the likes of us. He took another gulp of his pint, and then said;
“Look Albert we can go together if you want to come with me, in two years we could be living off the hogs back in New York City. But we will need some money to get there and to live on until we strike it rich” Alfred sat back and drank his beer while he waited for his brother’s response, which was slow in coming. After a few minutes, he said he needed to take a piss, and asked Albert to lend him some money so he could get the drinks in on the way back. Albert sighing once again gave him fourpence for the two pints of beer.
While he was gone Albert thought about what Alfred had said. He had no intentions of going anywhere with Alfred especially to America, where he knew that if he went it would be him that would be doing the digging for the gold while Alfred was chatting to the ladies or getting pissed in the nearest pub, but on the other hand, if Alfred went to America then he would not have to see him, lend him money or be intimidated by him ever again.
By this time Alfred was making his way back from the bar with the two drinks. With all of the beer that Alfred had consumed that day he was a little unsteady on his feet, and he bumped into an old man who was stood talking to a few mates, spilling half of one of the drinks on to the man’s shoes and trousers. A few words were exchanged but the man with the wet trousers knew of Alfred’s fractious reputation and decided to walk away to another area in the pub rather than argue the point.
“Stupid old bastard, if he was a few years younger I would have decked him,” said Alfred, sitting down and handing the half-empty glass that he had spilt to Albert.
Albert sighed again and thought about Alfred going to America and then said; “So tell me a little more about Chapman’s paint shop.”
Alfred took another drink of beer and picked up Alberts roll-up tin. “I’ve spent a lot of time watching the shop and it’s busy all of the time from early morning when painters pick up paint on the way to a job, right up until they close at nine o’clock at night. I reckon the week’s takings would be at least £30 or £40. The Farrows are both in their seventies, and half-blind and doddery, if we go early in the morning when they are least expecting it we could scare the bejesus out of them and be out with the money in no time. We lay low for a few days and wait for things to settle down, then split the money, if it’s forty quid then £25 for me and £15 for you as I’m the one who planned the job. By next weekend we could be on a ship steaming towards New York and our fortunes.”
Already Albert was £10 worse off than Alfred, but even so, it would take him four or five months to earn £15 but that would only be if he could get a full-time job. It would take him a year to earn £15 picking up casual labouring work on the docks or markets. The more he thought about it the more sense it made. Chapman the owner of the shop had two other paint shops in London and he was loaded with money, one week takings from one of his shops would hardly make a difference to his life. If he did what his brother suggested, this time next week his money worries would be over, at least for a little while, and his brother would soon be gone, leaving him in peace and hopefully never to see or hear from him again. He could even ask Kate to marry him and they could rent a better place to live. He could buy a bike and he could then look further afield for work, and he would be sure to get a proper job. For Kate, he could buy her a…Albert was interrupted from his reverie by Alfred slamming his glass down on the table and saying:
“It’s your round ratbag”…yeah thought Albert as he got to his feet, it was a great idea.
When Albert got back with the drinks Alfred was writing a list in his childish handwriting on the back of a cardboard beer mat.
Albert interrupted his doodling and said; “I’ll do the job but I am not going to America with you, I have Kate here and I like living in Deptford, Americas not the place for me.”
Alfred said “OK no problem, suit yourself, but don’t come crying to me when your money runs out and I’m living in a fancy New York house, eating thick
beef steaks in posh restaurants, driving around in one of those fancy new cars and surrounded by beautiful women”
Albert knew that it was all talk; Alfred would probably only get as far as Southampton and would piss the money away in no time. And even if he did make it as far as America, he was far too lazy to ever go looking for gold, but whatever happened to him Albert would be free of him soon if he went along with Alfred’s plan.
“Right; Chapman picks the money up every Monday around 12.00, so it’s either tomorrow or we wait a week,” said Alfred. “I just want to get away from here as soon as possible, so we do it tomorrow morning early”. He looked at his list “We’ll need two masks, I’ll sort the masks out, and they sell rope in their paint shop so we won’t need to take any rope with us to tie them up with when we leave. Oh and we will need a weapon each to scare them with”
Albert shouted “Wait, what do you mean we’ll need a weapon each? I thought you said they would be scared and they would just hand over the money”
“Bloody hell Albert keep your voice down, why not just go down the street to the police station and tell them what we are planning on doing?…yes they will be scared and we will be in and out in a few minutes, but we will have to look menacing so they know we mean business. Or maybe you think we should just knock on the door and say excuse me Thomas, we have come to take last week’s takings, if you don’t hand over the money this minute I am going to shout at you very loudly and probably also swear at you and your lovely wife. For god’s sake use a bit of that tiny brain that you’ve got between your ears for once. No wonder the navy threw you out.”
Albert was having second thoughts; maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all, if it all went wrong he could end up in prison.
Alfred could see that his spineless brother was wavering, and he didn’t want to do the job on his own. It was a two-man job, one man to keep the old woman quiet and the other one to get Thomas Farrow to hand over the weeks takings.
Alfred tried to placate Albert; “Look Albert, they are in their seventies, how much resistance do you think they will put up? It’s not even their money its Chapman’s. We’ll wave the weapons around, scream at them and look threatening and we will be out of there with the money in no time.
“I don’t know…what if the old woman has a heart attack or…or what if their son is staying there? He’s a big mean bastard.”
“She’s not going to have a heart attack, she as strong as an ox. Have you seen her lifting those paint tins when they get a delivery? She’s stronger than you
are, though that’s not saying much. Their son lives miles away and when he is there his bike is always chained up outside. If his bikes there we will call it off for a week and go back again next Monday. Come on Albert, stop being a Jessie be a man for once in your life, dad was right you are the runt of the litter.”
That did it, that’s all he ever got from Alfred was insults, he wanted Alfred out of his life for good. If he didn’t do this now he would probably never get another chance to be rid of him, so there and then he decided he would do it, and the money was secondary now he just wanted a life of his own without his brother always making snide remarks and belittling him, he had put up with it for 20 years except for the few months he was in the navy. If he did the job, tomorrow would be the last day he would have to put up with his insults. He downed his pint and said, “OK I’m in as long as there is no violence.”
A smile spread across Alfred’s face. “That’s the spirit Albert; trust me nothing is going to go wrong, have I ever let you down? Let’s have one more for the road.” Albert got up and pushed his way through the crowd towards the bar thinking, when has he never let me down.
When he got back with the drinks they decided that they would meet at the corner of High Street and Reginald Road the next morning around six o’clock. Alfred would bring the masks and a large jemmy bar he had at home. He told Albert to bring some sort of threatening weapon as well, just for show. Albert said that he had a wooden baton that he had kept when he absconded from the naval barracks and that he would bring that. They would do the job then head back up Reginald Road to the Thames and throw the weapons and masks in the river and then head back to Alfred’s place to divide the money. It was 10.30 and the pub was closing, they had both drank too much and the last thing that they needed was a hangover the next morning, but there wasn’t much that they could do about that now. They staggered part of the way home together, going over the plan and talking about what they were going to do with their share of the money, before taking different directions, Albert to Kate’s room and Alfred to Annie’s.
Kate was asleep when Albert crept into the room that they shared. He tried to be quiet but while standing up trying to take off one of his shoes he lost his balance and landed on top of Kate on the bed.
“For Christ’s sake Albert no I’m tired, you want that you should have come home earlier. God, you stink of beer and cigarettes.”
Albert just giggled and took his clothes off and got into bed next to her.
“You’ve been with your brother again haven’t you?”
“Guilty as charged”
“Why Albert, you know what he’s like, why can’t you just walk away when you see him?”
“I won’t be seeing him at all soon; he is going away to the good old USA”
“What on earth are you talking about, where is he getting the money to go to America? He can’t afford to get the bus to Lewisham never mind cross the Atlantic.”
“It’s all in hand my petal; soon he will be gone, never to be seen again. I think at last our ship is coming in, at the same time that Alfred ship is leaving.
“You’re drunk and talking rubbish I’m too tired to listen to your riddles, tell me in the morning, I have to catch the train to work at nine o’clock”
Albert sat up and started to set the alarm clock. “I have a bit of cash work to do tomorrow and need to be up at five. I’ll reset the alarm for you for eight o’clock before I leave. Goodnight Katie after tomorrow our lives are going to be so different”
“Kate rolled away from him to the other side of the bed. “Yeah sure Alfred, we’re living in the land of milk and honey.”
Meanwhile, Alfred was getting a tongue lashing from Annie who was sobbing.
“My mum was right you’re a no-good waster. We have no food to eat, no coal for the fire, my clothes are just rags, my one pair of shoes have got holes in them but you can find the money to get pissed again. When are you going to get a job?
“For Christ sake give it a rest Annie”
“Dads told me many times that he can get you a start at the slaughterhouse. It’s not much money but with overtime we would be alright. My mum and dad live alright on the money that he earns there.”
Sick of her nagging and knowing that he wasn’t going to be in England this time next week Alfred pretended to think about it for a minute then said; “You know what Annie love maybe your right, I need to get a job and I have always wanted to work with animals. I have a small job I need to do and I need to organise that so I will be a bit busy this week. Tell your dad to fix me up with an interview next week, give it a few months and I’ll be running the place”
Annie was stunned. “Really, you always said that you didn’t want to work with my dad, that he was a pompous old git and that you wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.”
“Only in jest Annie, he’s grand he really is. I can’t wait to spend more time with him at work and get to know him better. We just got off on the wrong foot when I moved in with his beautiful daughter.”
“Yes” she giggled “he took that quite badly…what are you looking for in my draw?”
“Just need an old pair of stockings for a job I need to do tomorrow. Don’t worry I will replace them with five pairs of new ones as soon as I get my first weeks pay.”
Annie picked up her hankie and started to cry again. “I was waiting up for you; there is something I need to tell you. I was dreading telling you because we have no money, and we have been fighting a lot, but now that you’re going to be working with dad and earning a wage I feel so much better about it”
“What is it Annie,” Alfred said while stuffing the stockings into his pocket and looking for the scissors.
“I haven’t had my period for the second month; I think that I’m pregnant with your child”
Alfred looked stunned and then the look turned to anger. Annie and he had fought a few days before when he caught Annie eying another man in the pub that they were drinking in and he had to give her a slap. If Annie was pregnant, knowing Annie’s past history it could be anyone’s brat. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down; then forced a big smile to his face. He went over to where Annie was sitting, took her in his arms and said “Annie that’s wonderful news, first a new job and now you tell me I’m going to be a father. Can life get any better?”
Annie wrapped her arms around him and started to cry even harder, but now they were tears of happiness, everything was going to be alright after all. Alfred, while patting her back and kissing her neck said “I love you so much Annie, how I ever deserved to have someone like you in my life I will never know.” While thinking to himself; that’s another reason I need to be leaving for America next week.
It was a typical cold, damp March morning, with thick fog drifting up through the streets from the Thames. Because most of the street lights were not working, it was still dark when the brothers met on Deptford High Street and it would not start to get light for another half hour. Albert was heavily hungover and when he greeted his brother his breath stunk of vomit. Alfred, being the heavier drinker of the two, showed no ill effects of the previous nights drinking.
“You look like crap Albert and your breath smells like you eaten your socks, here suck on one of these,” said Albert taking a packet out of his pocket and handing his brother an extra-strong mint.
Albert feeling too sick to worry about his brother’s comments just took the mint and sighed again and thought, this time next week he will be gone from my life.
“Did you bring a weapon Albert? Albert withdrew the long wooden batten that he had pushed down the leg of his trousers before he left home and handed it to his brother. Alfred slapped his hand a couple of times with it and said: “Yeah that will do the trick”.
“You said that there would be no violence Alfred. I’m not going through with it if you think that we are going to need it”
“Don’t worry brother, they will hand over the money just to get us out of their shop, we just have to scare them enough for them to believe that we are willing to use them”
Albert was still sceptical but he held his tongue and said nothing more. He felt his stomach churning again and ran around the corner into Reginald Road and threw up what was left in his stomach, which was mainly bile.
When he came back his brother was laughing at him; “You should give up drinking beer, it’s a man drink, you should drink sherry that’s more of a ladies drink.”
Albert, who felt scared, ill and angry considered taking the baton from his trousers and beating his brother to death with it, but as usual, he just sighed and they started walking down the High Street towards Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store.
Fifteen minutes later they stood in an alley opposite the store. Alfred took the two masks from his pockets and handed one to Albert. Albert accepted it and tried it on with trembling hands.
“Right make sure that you tie the mask tight and take out the baton. Just follow me and let me do the talking. Say as little as possible and try to disguise your voice, you don’t want either of them to recognise us” said Alfred while slipping the second mask over his head.
“Ok Alfred but no violence, I mean it, they are just an old couple you don’t need to hurt them”
“Shut your mouth, I’m sick of listening to your bleating, just do as your told and follow me”
Alfred peered around the corner of the alley to make sure that the street was clear and they both walked across the street towards the paint shop.
By now the dawn was just starting to break and they could see each other better. Alfred checked Alberts mask to make sure that he had tied it tight, and of course, the halfwit hadn’t and Alfred had to re-tie it for him, muttering “For Christ sake do I have to do everything?”
The shop didn’t open until 8.30 am and stayed open until 9.00 pm or later, but it was not unusual for painters and decorators to knock on the door early in the morning to pick up supplies on their way to a job. Thomas Farrow, always keen to earn extra money for his boss, for which he was paid a bonus, never turned customers away.
Alfred rapped three times sharply on the door, re-checked his mask and shuffled his feet waiting for the door to open. He could hear his brother behind him breathing loudly through the mask and jiggling some loose coins that he had in his pocket nervously and Alfred hoped that his brother was going to be up to this. He gave it a few more seconds and knocked again, this time louder.
“OK hold your horses I’m coming just let me make myself decent” came a voice from inside the shop.
Two minutes later with the sound of the lock being unlatched and two bolts being drawn the door slowly started to open; “Jesus you blokes are getting earlier and earlier do you think that I never need to sleep?” Thomas Farrow opened the door fully and stared into the eyes of the two masked men. “For Christ sake who are you?”
Before he could slam the door shut Alfred pushed the old man back into the shop and Farrow fell backwards over a tin of paint that was behind him on the floor and he landed on his back.
The two brothers entered the shop and while Alfred stood over the shopkeeper brandishing his jemmy bar threateningly, Albert slammed the door shut and bolted it as he had been instructed to do the night before when they had been planning the job.
“Right where are the week’s takings? Don’t piss me about old man, you can hand me the money right now or we can beat it out of you and believe me you don’t want that. The choice is yours”
“What week’s takings I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about?”
Alfred slammed the jemmy across Thomas Farrow’s cheek, opening up a jagged gash from chin to eye.
“For fuck sake Alfred what are you doing?” screamed Albert.
Alfred stared at his brother in astonishment, not believing that they had been in the shop for less than a minute and already old man Farrow knew his name.
Farrow groaned and held his bloody cheek and tried to crawl away. Alfred gave him a heavy kick to the stomach and said; “Stay right where you are, then got down on his haunches and looked Farrow in the eye. “Where do you keep the money old man, if you don’t want to tell me we can always go and ask your wife?”
Farrow spat some of the blood from his mouth and said; “Ok…ok I’ll give you the money; don’t hurt me or the misses”
There was a squeaky floorboard sound on the upstairs landing and a voice shouted down “Who is it Thomas is that Cyril again? He’s getting earlier and earlier, I’ll put the kettle on, I suppose he will want a cuppa before he leaves”
“Please leave her alone I’ll go upstairs and get the money and come back down”
“We will all go up together if it’s all the same to you,” said Alfred grabbing Farrow by the arm and dragging him to his feet.
Walking towards the stairs, Albert was now physically shaking and making whimpering sounds from under his mask, and Alfred knew that his brother was going to be of very little use to him now. He should never have offered to bring him along; he would have been better doing the job on his own, you try to help your family and this is where it gets you. There was no way that he would be giving Albert £15, he would keep the £40 for himself or maybe give him a fiver to keep him quiet he decided. They climbed the stairs, Farrow in front, with Alfred prodding him with the jemmy just to let him know what to expect if he changed his mind, and with Albert lagging behind. Alfred kept checking that Albert was behind him as he wouldn’t have been surprised if his pigeon livered brother turned back and ran out of the front door.
As they neared the top of the stairs Mrs Farrow’s slippered feet appeared; “I’ll be down in a minute” she shouted. “Oh you’re here Thomas…oh you did give me a fright, what have you done to your face?”
“Shut up and get back in your room you old bitch” screamed Alfred from behind Farrow.
Mrs Farrow peered around her husband and saw the two masked men brandishing weapons, screamed and ran back into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
“Don’t hurt her I’ll get you the money then bugger off and leave us alone” pleaded Farrow
Alfred motioned for Albert to come further up the stairs as he pushed Farrow onto the landing. “You go and stay in there with the old bag and keep her quiet. I’ll get the money with Farrow and then we can get out of here.”
Albert tried the door but Mrs Farrow was stood behind it trying to keep them out. “Sssshe won’t let me in” stuttered Albert
“Oh for Christ’s sake, do I have to do everything? Watch the old man here and get out of my way”
Alfred turned the handle of the door and with an almighty shove pushed the door open, sending Mrs Farrow flying across the room and on to the floor.
“Don’t hurt her please I will get you the money” shouted Thomas Farrow.
“Too bloody right you will, we’ve wasted enough time. Get in there and watch her and be ready to go in a few minutes” he screamed at Albert.
Albert entered the bedroom to find Mrs Farrow had got up from the floor and was now crying and hiding under the blankets of her bed.
“It’s ok I’m not going to hurt you, just stay quiet and we will be gone soon, please don’t cry, everything will be ok”
Meanwhile, Farrow was leading Alfred to the second bedroom that was used as an office. Farrow went to a desk and opened the bottom draw, took out a cash box and handed it to Alfred. “Here take it and be gone, I hope that you rot in hell”
Alfred took the box then looked up at Farrow and saw that Farrow was studying him, looking at his eyes and what he could see of his face and ears. Alfred had noticed Farrow had stared at his hands when Farrow had handed him the cash box, probably seeing the scars across his knuckles from when he had boxed. Alfred wasn’t sure but he thought that he saw a glimmer of recognition in Farrow’s eyes. Deptford was a small town and most people knew one another by sight if not by name. The old man already knew his first name, thanks to his half-wit brother. If Farrow didn’t already know who he was now, when he gave the police his name and description it wouldn’t be long before the police put two and two together and came looking for him.
Alfred led Farrow back down the stairs to check the till for more money.
“Open the till old man”
Farrow opened the till but it was empty.
Albert looked at Farrow and said, “You know who I am don’t you?”
“No...no I have no idea who you are, and I don’t care who you are, you got what you came for, just take the money and your brother and leave us be.”
Alfred stared at Farrow for about a minute, nodding his head and smiling. He put the cash box on top of the counter and held the jemmy in both of his hands. “How do you know that he is my brother if you don’t know who I am?”
The old man looked up into Alfred’s eyes with a defeated look on his face; he knew that he had made a terrible mistake, and he also knew that Alfred would now kill him and maybe his wife if he did not do something quickly. Thomas gathered what little strength he had left and pushed Alfred with all of his might and made a run for the door, kicking over a stack of paint tins that were in his way, if he could get to the street there would be people heading for work and he could get some help. Alfred picked himself up from the floor and scrambled over the paint tins after Farrow. Luckily for Alfred, Albert had done one thing right that morning and had bolted the door securely. Farrow had managed to slide back the top bolt and was reaching down towards the floor to release the bottom bolt when Alfred brought the metal bar down on his head with a sickening crunch and Farrow dropped to the floor. Alfred grabbed him by the scruff of his collar and dragged the old man back to the middle of the room. He looked dead, but he gave him another three or four heavy blows to the head just to be certain. Panting Alfred sat down on one of the tins of paint, put his head in his hands and wondered why did everything always go wrong for him, would he never get a break in his life, why was life so unfair?
He was woken from his stupor by loud screaming from upstairs. Mrs Farrow must have heard the commotion downstairs and was hysterically shouting her husband’s name. Either that or Albert had done something to her, but knowing Albert he doubted that. Alfred picked up the cash box and the jemmy and ran up the stairs taking them two at a time and burst into the bedroom. Albert was standing against the wall with his hands over his ears and his eyes closed, muttering to himself. Mrs Farrow was sat up in bed screaming like a banshee. Alfred pushed Albert aside approached the bed and brought the jemmy down as hard as he could on to Mrs Farrow’s head. The room fell silent except for Alberts mumbling, who was still covering his ears with his hands and with his eyes closed muttering, “Make her stop, make her stop” over and over again. Alfred put the cash box down, secured the jemmy in his trousers and roughly pushed his brother out of the bedroom and on to the landing. “Wait here, don’t move or go anywhere, I will be back in a minute” and Alfred returned to the bedroom. He surveyed bloody the scene, how did this go so wrong. They had been in the paint shop for less than twenty minutes and one man was lying dead downstairs and his wife was now dead upstairs. It should have been a simple job, an old harmless couple; we should have been in and out in a few minutes with me on my way to America by the weekend. Why did I bring Albert with me? It’s all of his fault. Alfred picked up the cash box, took out the envelope that held the week’s takings and threw the empty cash box to the floor. He sat on the edge of the bed, careful not to get any of Mrs Farrow’s blood on him that was pooling in the middle of the bed and proceeded to count the money. It didn’t take long…£13.10 shillings, was that all? He sat for a few seconds, pushing the money back into the envelope and placing it in his jacket pocket and looked at the carnage around him, he then gave out a loud blood-curdling scream of frustration. He stood up, took out the jemmy from his trousers and hit Mrs Fuller a couple more times and left the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Outside on the landing, Alfred had recovered a little, he was no longer mumbling but tears were rolling down his cheeks from under the mask and he looked as if he was in shock.
“It’s gone quiet in there. You’ve killed her haven’t you” he said looking down at the floor.
Alfred took off his mask, wiped his sweating face with it, sat down on the top stair and put his head in his hands. “Yes Albert I have killed her and I have killed him as well. After you gave him my name I think that he recognised me, if he recognised me maybe she did as well, or maybe she recognised you, I couldn’t take the chance.
“Oh God no what are we going to do Alfred…you said it was going to be ok …no one would get hurt”
“Pull yourself together Albert, nothing’s changed, two old buggers who were probably going to die soon from old age died a little earlier, so what, life’s tough, if I have learnt nothing else in life I have learnt that. No one saw us come in; we’ll clean up the shop make sure that we leave no trace of us being here and there will be no way they will be able to link us to any of this as long as you keep your trap shut. He handed Albert his mask and said, take off your mask and put them in your pocket, we will be leaving here soon, we will ditch them
later. He got up from sitting on the stairs, “Come on let’s clean up and have a look around, and see if there is anything else worth taking and then get out of here. Alfred walked back towards the bedroom and said “Come on Albert, give me a hand”
“I’m not going back in there; I don’t want to see what you have done to her.”
“Suit yourself, I’ll check upstairs you go downstairs and pick up and stack all of those paint tins that the old man knocked over, we don’t want to leave any clues for the police to find.” Albert glared at his brother for a few seconds and then turned and started walking down the stairs and Alfred went back into the bedroom.
Alfred spent some time searching the upstairs rooms for any stashed money or jewellery. He found Mrs Farrow’s purse in her dressing table draw with some loose change, which he took and pushed into his pocket. He went over to Mrs Farrow’s body and tried to remove her gold wedding band, but it was too tight so he reluctantly left it on her finger. In the office, he found a further £3, a combination of coins and banknotes which he pushed in his pocket. Alfred went back downstairs to find Albert sitting on the floor patting the old man’s hand and staring at his battered face. He had stopped crying but his face was ashen and he was trembling. Alfred picked up the paint cans and stacked them haphazardly. He did a walk around checking the places that they had been in the shop and then told Albert to pull himself together, that they were leaving. Albert slowly got to his feet, took one last look at Thomas Farrow’s body and headed towards the front door with Alfred, leaving the two masks lying next to the body.
Alfred opened the door a crack and stuck his head out making sure that there was no one about who could identify them. He grabbed Albert and pushed him out of the door, engaged the lock and pulled the door shut behind him. They hadn’t gone more than five yards when a young boy delivering milk came out of a shop doorway and nodded at them. A little further up the road, Alfred saw the milkmans horse and cart but could see no sign of the milkman.
“Pull your hat down, cover your face and keep walking” hissed Alfred to Albert and they started to walk faster later breaking into a run as they headed further up the High Street away from the paint shop.
They crossed the road and went past the entrance to Deptford train station, both of them deep in thought. Their minds were occupied with their own demons, Albert thinking about Thomas Farrow’s blank eyes staring up at him and Alfred thinking that he had killed two people for about £16 and was that going to be enough money to get him to America. They kept their heads down trying not to bring attention to themselves, but both of them feeling that everyone was staring at them and that they had “Murderer” tattooed on their foreheads. They forgot all about the plan to dump the weapons and masks in the Thames and headed back to Alfred’s place without speaking. On Albury Street, they passed a jewellers shop with a large clock in the window and Alfred saw that it was 7.55, where had the time gone? They passed many people along the way but no one that they knew or recognised and no one seemed to be paying any attention to them.
Annie went to her mums most mornings for breakfast as they never seemed to have any food in their place, and she would definitely be there this morning, breaking the news about the baby and Alfred’s impending job at the slaughterhouse, so Alfred knew that the room would be empty. Alfred took a key out of his jacket pocket and opened the door, then led Albert into the room that he and Annie shared. Alfred went straight to the cupboard where Annie kept a bottle of Brandy “for medicinal purposes only” took out the half-full bottle and two cups from the sinks draining board. Glancing over at Alberts trembling hands he thought, if this wasn’t a medical emergency then he did not know what was.
“Here get that down you, it looks like you need it,” Alfred said handing Albert a chipped cup, half full of the brandy, while he kept the full unchipped cup for himself. They removed the weapons that they had taken with them from their trousers and Alfred said, “The plan all went to shit we were supposed to of got rid of these in the river along with the masks. Give me the masks I will burn them in the fireplace”
Albert dug into his trouser pockets, but came up empty; “I haven’t got them”
“What do you mean you haven’t got them? I gave you mine back in the shop…No please Albert; don’t tell me that you left them in the shop”
Albert who was beyond caring just shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of the brandy.
“This is all of your fault Albert” Alfred screamed, “You have made a murderer of me. You tell Farrow my name, you lose your nerve and leave me to do everything and now you leave the masks in the shop. If I had done the job on my own it would have been easy. I tell you this much if we get caught for this, I’m telling the Peelers that it was you that killed them because if you had done what I told you to do they would both be alive now.
“You lied to me” Albert screamed back. “You said no one was going to get hurt, within one minute of us entering the bloody shop, old man Farrow was laying on his back with his jaw smashed in and blood everywhere, I didn’t sign up for that, I said I would only do it if no one was going to get hurt. But not only did they get hurt, you murdered two people today.”
“OK…ok this is getting us nowhere.” Alfred sat down trying to placate Albert. “We need to sort out what we are going to do. It could have been anyone who robbed them, there’s no trace back to us. No one saw us go into the shop, that milkboy was delivering milk but he hardly noticed us. You left the masks but they can’t trace them back to us, they were made from cheap stockings that are available anywhere. I’ll get rid of the jemmy bar soon and you didn’t use the baton so that’s ok. The Farrows are dead so they won’t tell anyone. We just have to keep our nerve and wait for all of the fuss to die down. I’m going to wait a week or so before going to Southampton if the coppers hear that I have left town they may get suspicious and start looking for me. The coppers won’t be too concerned over a couple of old pensioners; it’s not as if it’s some hoighty-toighty lord or lady that was killed.”
“No, not a lord or lady but a nice old couple, who never did anyone any harm Alfred”
“It’s fucking done we can’t turn back time, if we could I would go back twenty years and strangle you in your fucking cot. We need to get our stories straight in case the police come door knocking. Get Kate to say you were with her all night and I’ll do the same with Annie.”
“I don’t think that Kate would say that, especially if she thinks that I was involved in the murder of two innocent people.”
Alfred kept quiet for a few minutes to let Albert compose himself and then said. “I don’t think it will come to it but you will have to convince Kate to say you were with her if the Peelers do come knocking you are going to look very suspicious without an alibi”. He let that sink in for a while and then pulled out the envelope with the money in it and threw it on the table…”Oh, by the way, there was only £13.10 shillings in the cash box. I wasn’t going to give you any as you did nothing to earn it back there, but I have decided to give you £3 to keep your mouth shut, I’m keeping the £10, I am going to need it to get to America. I will keep hold of the 10 shillings we can use that to have a few drinks with between now and when I leave for Southampton. Jesus, I don’t know why there was only £13.10 maybe Chapman came earlier in the week and picked up some of the takings.”… Albert beyond caring about the money gave a heavy sigh.
Albert left Annie’s room about 10.30 am after they had drunk all of the medicinal brandy and got their stories straight, Annie got back from her mum’s house about an hour later. Alfred had his story ready for her. He told her that he had just heard that the paint shop on the high street had been robbed that morning and that two people had been killed during the robbery. Coincidentally that morning he and his brother had robbed a general store in Blackheath. He had only done the job to try and get some money so that they could get a better place to live when the baby arrived. If the police came knocking asking where he was this morning she was to tell them that he was with her the whole night.
Annie said; “Yes I heard about the murder the whole of Deptford is talking about it, apparently the old man that had run the shop had died but his wife was badly injured but was still alive…why don’t you just tell them that you were robbing the shop in Blackheath, it would be a lot better than them accusing you of murder?” Annie said.
“Because, if I do that I will probably go down for three or four years. What will happen with the baby then? Annie, I love you, I don’t want to be in prison when our baby is born, and who is going to give me a job when I get out when they know that I have been done for thieving?”
Annie could tell that he was lying; she had been listening to his lies for over a year now, since the fateful day that they first met. She should have listened to her mum and dad back then; they said that he was no good and that one day she would be sorry…well that day had just arrived.
“You bastard you did it didn’t you, you murdered that old man?”
This was not going how he planned, but Alfred could always think quickly on his feet “He held up his hand’s palm side out, Ok…ok Annie your right, I was trying to spare you too much grief. Me and Albert planned to rob the paint shop we both needed the money. I wanted a better life for us and with the money from the job you and me could have moved out of Deptford to the coast as we talked about before. I was already having second thoughts about doing the job and was going to tell Albert to count me out, but then last night when you told me about the baby I knew I had to go through with it because I knew that we would need money for the baby. When we got in the paint shop it all went wrong. We wore masks, that was what I needed your old stockings for. Albert
told old man Farrow to get the money but the old bastard started to fight back and pulled Alberts mask off and he recognised him. Albert flew into a rage and hit the old man with the iron bar that he had brought with him, the old lady came down the stairs screaming and Albert hit her with the bar to shut her up. They weren’t dead but Albert knew that they could identify him so he hit them again until he killed them, well he thought that he had killed them. The old lady is still alive you say?”
Annie said that was what everyone was saying.
Alfred looked worried, but continued his story; “I tried to stop him but he just went crazy, I have never seen that side of him before. I was in shock and I just wanted to get out of there, but Albert wouldn’t leave without the money. He eventually found it in the office but it wasn’t as much as we thought that it would be. I couldn’t believe that Albert would do such a thing, they were just an old couple.” Alfred said with a sob, shaking his head and trying to squeeze out some tears
Annie still did not believe a word that the lying bastard said; she had always known Albert to be a follower, not a leader, and that he was scared of Alfred. If anyone did the killing it would have been Alfred.
“So if the coppers come and ask you any questions tell them that I was with you all night”
“Where’s the money?”
“We have hidden it, don’t worry its safe”
“They reckon there was a lot of money, the whole week’s takings”
Alfred did some quick calculations “We heard that too but no there was only about £6 and some change, old man Chapman must have changed his routine.”
“What...two people died for £6?”
“Yes, that’s what I thought as well.”
Annie sat and thought about it for a while then said. “I am not going to put myself in it to save your miserable arse. If they come asking questions I’ll tell them that you were in bed with me when I went to sleep around midnight and when I woke up at nine o’clock the next morning you were sat at the table having a cup of tea and that I didn’t hear you go out during that time.”
“That’s the girl, I knew you wouldn’t let me down” and Alfred reached over to kiss her.
Annie pulled back her hand slapped his face with all of her strength. “You go and get me your fucking £3 share of the money, and bring it back here and then get your stuff and leave and go back to your mums or go to hell for all I care.
I’ll use some of the money for an abortion, I don’t want any child of mine with a murderer’s blood flowing through their veins, and I never want to see your lying face again. Do you understand?”
He understood alright; Alfred packed his few possessions that he kept at Annie’s he wasn’t going to move back to his mum’s place she would nag him more than Annie. He would see if he could doss down in a mate’s house. Who cares; Good riddance to Annie, the baby, Albert, his mum and Deptford, fuck em all this time next week he will be crossing the Atlantic to start a new life in America.
Alfred and Albert met up the next afternoon as planned in the King of Prussia pub. This time Alfred got the rounds in with the 10 shillings that he had kept for the occasion. When Alfred got back from the bar with the drinks, he sat down and opened a tin of tobacco and started to roll himself a cigarette. “Well so far so good, the coppers don’t have a clue, they are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, were home free brother. This time next week I will be on my way to America.”
“Yeah well the sooner you go the better, after what you did I never want to see you again, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. Every time I close my eyes I see him just laying there with his head smashed in and his eyes staring at me”
“You’ll get over it. I talked with Annie and told her if the Peelers come and ask any questions to tell them that I was home all night with her. She is going to back me up. Me and Annie have decided to split up and I have moved into Jack McIvor’s place till I head to Southampton next week, so I’m home free. What about Kate, you talk with her?”
“She knows that there is something wrong, she keeps asking me if I am Ok. She knows that I went out early yesterday morning because I told her that I was working. I don’t know what to tell her if I tell her the truth I know that she won’t cover for me. I will just have to hope that the coppers don’t come around.
Alfred shook his head; “Look Albert I don’t think the coppers have a clue or that they will come to your place, but you have to get her to back you up in case they do come knocking. You will have to think of something to tell her to get her to cover for you. If you get picked up for this, I know it won’t be long until you tell them that it was me that was with you”
They both sat in silence thinking of what to do.
Five minutes later Alfred said; “I know, tell her that the job you was doing that morning was knocking off some meat at Smithfield’s meat markets, she knows
that you sometimes do a bit of thieving, but everyone we know does a bit of thieving she will cover you for that won’t she?”
Albert took a drink of his beer and grimaced, nothing tasted good anymore. “She might I suppose, but if she thought I was involved with the other thing she would go to the police station herself and tell them. She’s a good girl my Kate”
“Well you need to convince her that you were just taking a bit of hooky meat so that you could support the pair of you” he drank the rest of his pint and smacked his lips. This beer tastes good; I’ll get another round in.”
“No not for me, I’m going to get on home and try to talk with Kate”
“Good lad, get her to back you up just in case. And stop worrying they have no evidence and they haven’t got a clue, another few days something else will crop up to get their attention and all of this will be forgotten about”
The next morning Alfred was waiting in a shop doorway smoking a cigarette near Kate’s rooms at 8.30. She came out of the front door of the block of flats turned right and started walking towards Deptford train station. She didn’t see him but felt his presence when he got in step alongside her and said “Wotcha Kate how is that brother of mine treating you, are you getting plenty? If ever you need a real man just let me know, I’ll try and fit you in” Kate glanced at him and quickened her step.
“Did he tell you about the hooky job that he did at Smithfield’s?”
“Alfred’s my brother and I wouldn’t want to see any harm come to him, are you gone to cover for him if the Peelers come to ask any awkward questions”
“I don’t like lying Alfred, especially to the police,” Kate answered, not looking at him but looking straight ahead.
“How’s that young brother of yours, Mark isn’t it? He must be twelve now.”
“It’s Martin and he’s thirteen actually, why what’s it to you?”
“Just wondering, I see him sometimes coming home from school. Always seems to be on his own. Billy no mates eh”
“Just concerned, anything could happen to a young kid like that, there are some pretty nasty people about. Did you hear about the young kid from Peckham that went missing a few months ago? They found his body on Peckham Rye Common sodomised with his throat cut, terrible way to go, his parents were devastated. How do you ever get over something like that? Waking up every morning,
trying to get through the day thinking about what the last minutes of your young son’s life must have been like.”
Kate stopped in her tracks and turned to face Alfred and in a trembling voice said. “Why are you telling me this Alfred?”
“Oh, I think you know what I am saying Kate if anything happens to my brother…well I wouldn’t want anything to happen to your brother. Just keep that in mind if the police come around and want to talk to you about Albert and don’t tell Albert about our little chat, we don’t want to upset him; he has enough on his plate at the moment.” He started to walk away, then turned to face Kate again…“Oh and don’t even think about telling the police about our little chat, if I get arrested and go down for a stretch I have quite a few friends who would be very upset about that. If I go inside I am sure that if I asked them that they would only be too happy to help me out and do a job for me. Think about what I have said about what you want to say to the Peelers and let me know if you want me to call around next time Albert’s at work. Bye, Kate try to have a good day at work.”
With that Alfred walked towards the kerb, looked both ways then crossed the street whistling a popular song of that year that he couldn’t seem to get out of his head; “Meet me in Saint Louis”
Sixteen-year-old William Jones, who was the Farrow’s assistant arrived for work a little after 8.30 am which was his usual habit, only to find the door locked which he found very strange. Thomas Farrow opened early if anything and had never opened late in the three years that William had been working there. Even when he was sick, which wasn’t very often he always opened the shop early and closed late, the shop was his life. William rapped on the door and then the window and when there was no answer he went around to the back door to see if that was open. That door was locked too, so he picked up a wooden box, put it down near the window and peered through the dirty glass, but he could see nothing amiss. He went back around to the front of the shop and found Mr Whitmore and his lad from Whitmore Painters and Decorators peering through the shop window. William explained to Mr Whitmore that he couldn’t get in and that he was worried, as nothing had ever happened like this before. George Whitmore said that it did seem very strange but they couldn’t hang around as they had a job to do and that they would go to Chapman’s other shop at Greenwich to pick up their supplies, they both went back to their hand cart and set off down the High Street towards Greenwich. William tried knocking for a few more minutes, he then decided to walk to the other shop at Greenwich to report the problem to them; maybe they held a spare key there? When he got to the shop in Greenwich he told Chapman what had happened and Chapman told Louise Kidman, one of his assistants to walk back with William to his Deptford store and sort it out. When they got back to the shop they found that the door was still locked so they knocked again. When no one came to the door they walked around to the back of the shop, knocked on that door and shouted up to the bedroom window trying to wake the Farrows. Chapman had told William back in the Greenwich store that there was no spare key so Louise said that they would have to break in. William found a rusty old iron bar in the back shed and forced open the door, then ran into the shop shouting “Mr Farrow its William are you OK?”…and he tripped headfirst over Farrow’s lifeless body. William sat up and stared in horror at Farrow’s battered head and face and the pool of blood that surrounded his body and immediately ran back outside and threw up his breakfast. Louise who had entered just behind William looked at Farrow for a second and then nervously followed William back outside. William wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket and told Louise to go and find a policeman. When she had gone he sat on the back doorstep and cried, Mr Farrow had been like a father to him, he wanted to go and see if Mrs Farrow was alright but he was too scared to go back in the shop.
After what seemed like hours to William but was probably only ten minutes, Louise rushed around the back of the shop with Sergeant Albert Atkinson not too far behind her. Sergeant Atkinson told the pair of them to wait outside and then entered the shop. He walked over and looked down at Thomas Farrow’s lifeless body and knew that there was nothing that he could do for him. After checking the downstairs area Sergeant Atkinson slowly climbed the stairs, he didn’t think that the offender would still be on the premises, but as experience had taught him over his years in the police force, you never could tell. The first room that he cautiously entered was the bedroom and he saw Mrs Farrow lying on the bed in a pool of blood, she looked as dead as her husband. Before attending to her he checked the other rooms to make sure that there were no other victims or indeed the perpetrator lurking in a closet and then walked back to the bedroom that Mrs Farrow was lying in, not expecting her to be alive. When he got closer he saw her mouth twitch and on looking closer saw that there were bubbles of blood coming from her nose, so she was still breathing, albeit very faintly. He laid her on her side, to try to make her more comfortable, and then ran down the stairs shouting for Louise, then told her to run to Deptford police station and report what had happened, tell them to send a doctor and call for an ambulance. William asked if Mrs Farrow was alright and the sergeant told him what he had found in the upstairs bedroom, and then told William to stay where he was and not let anyone in unless it was the police or the doctor. Sergeant Atkinson went back inside and up the stairs to check again on Mrs Farrow, she was in the same position and was still breathing and he knew that he could do nothing more for her so he turned to go back downstairs and his foot touched a metal box lying in the middle of the bedroom open on its side. He bent down to look at it and saw that it appeared to be an empty cash box, and thinking that it may be important later pushed it away from the middle of the room towards the wall with his index finger. Sergeant Atkinson then went back down the stairs to take a look around, being careful not to disturb anything; as he didn’t want to piss off the detectives who would soon be arriving on the scene. The sergeant had bought painting supplies from the Farrow’s before. Sometimes he would call in for a cup of tea if he was patrolling the area and knew them as a friendly hardworking couple, so it was deeply upsetting for him to find them both like this. But if nothing else he was a professional policeman so he put that to the back of his mind and viewed the crime scene with a policeman’s eye. He went over to the front door and found no signs of forced entry, which suggested that Farrow may have, known his killer, as the back door had been locked and that he must have let his killer into the shop. He turned around and looked back into the room which looked untouched with everything in order except for one dead man lying in the middle of the room in a pool of blood. Walking back and looking closer at Farrow’s body he saw what appeared to be some scrunched up ladies stockings lying next to his foot. Sergeant Atkinson cautiously picked the stockings up between the tip of his index finger and thumb and one piece of the stocking fell back to the floor revealing a crude mask with eye and mouth holes cut out of the fabric. He studied them for a few moments “Ok old friend, an empty cash box upstairs and a couple of masks, looks like a robbery gone wrong, don’t worry we will get the bastards that did this to you” whispered Sergeant Atkinson to the lifeless body of Thomas Farrow.
Eventually, more policemen arrived at the shop along with Dr Dudley Burnie the police surgeon and William showed them the way and they entered through the back door. Dr Burnie looked at Farrow’s blank eyes staring up at him and the severely beaten head and knew that there was nothing more that he could do for him. He quickly ran up the stairs closely followed by two policemen and examined Mrs Farrow who was in a very bad way and barely alive. The doctor had been unable to contact an ambulance so on his way to the crime scene he had asked a rag and bone man if he would come with him to the shop and transport Mrs Farrow to the hospital accompanied by a police officer. The two constables gently carried Mrs Farrow down the stairs and put her in the back of the rag and bone mans horse and cart and she was taken to the nearest hospital, The Deptford Seamen’s Hospital.
Dr Burnie slowly walked back down the stairs to examine Mr Farrow; he was getting too old to be doing this, maybe it was time for him to retire he thought to himself. He wearily crouched down to examine the body. By the number of deep wounds to the face and head, there was no doubt that Farrow had been beaten to death. Later he would have to perform a post mortem to determine the official cause of death, but it was obvious to him that Farrow had died from a beating and whoever did this must have been in a terrible rage. He looked at his pocket watch and officially pronounced Thomas Farrow dead at 9.50 am. He stood looking down on the badly beaten man and shook his head wondering about the barbaric crimes that the lower class people of London often inflict upon each other. He then left the shop and returned to the police station on New Cross Road to finish his breakfast.
While Dr Burnie had been examing Farrow’s body, Inspector Robert Hailstone had arrived with Sergeant Crutchett and more police officers, who were told to wait outside. Inspector Hailstone told Sergeant Crutchett to have a look around but not to touch anything then walked over to Sergeant Atkinson and said: “So Albert what have we got here?”
“Robbery by all accounts inspector. There’s an empty cash box upstairs in the bedroom and two masks cut out of stockings on the floor over there where the body is, so there were at least two of them”
“Not as yet, I was waiting for more men to arrive; we will get onto that now”
“Ok get out on the street and get the officers knocking on doors, someone must have seen something”
”Yes sir…I knew them both, they were a lovely couple. They didn’t deserve to die like this. They have a son, lives in Bermondsey. I’ll get someone to go around his house and break the news to him.”
“Yeah, I’ve been in here a couple of times myself, when the missus wanted the parlour decorated. I never saw Mrs Farrow but he was a diamond, really friendly and helpful. He even gave me a discount when I told him that I was a copper.
As Sergeant Atkinson was leaving Sergeant Crutchett was coming back down the stairs.
“Morning Albert, messy business this”
“Yeah don’t know what the world is coming to, I must push on, looks like it’s going to be a busy day”
Sergeant Atkinson left by the back door, calling his men to follow him to the front of the shop to begin their door to door enquiries.
Sergeant Crutchett approached the inspector. “There’s a cash box up in the bedroom where they found the old girl. I had a quick look and there is smudging with what looks like blood and a fingermark in it.
Sergeant Crutchett was known at the station as being a bit of a lazy sod said; “Well you know those frigging notices that they have been sending to the police stations about this new fangled fingerprint identification that they are trying to bring in, maybe it’s a case for them. They said they were looking for any major crime where a fingermark or fingerprint or whatever you call them was left at the scene. It’s probably all mumbo jumbo but if Scotland Yard take over its one less crime for us to solve, and Christ knows we have more crime in this area than we can handle.
“Did you touch the cash box?”
“No it’s sitting on the bedroom floor; you can see the blood and fingermark on the box easily.”
Inspector Hailstone thought about it for a minute. He had heard a bit about the new department that had been set up at Scotland Yard, the Fingerprint Bureau that were apparently getting good results by taking fingerprints from crime scenes and trying to match them to the felon who did the crime. His
Superintendent had even been to a meeting at Scotland Yard where they had demonstrated the concept of the taking of fingerprints. He had come back to the station all excited with black inky fingers and later chaired his own meeting, telling everyone about how it was going to revolutionise crime-fighting. The superintendent had explained that everyone has a fingerprint on each of their fingers and thumb and no two are alike. It was an unproven area of solving crimes and was not widely accepted in criminal courts, but many of the elite back in Scotland Yard were behind the scheme and wanted to get more convictions through the use of fingerprints.
“Ok close the bedroom door and don’t let anyone else in there. I’ll get back to the station and send a message to Scotland Yard and see if they want to come and take a look.”
Melville McNaughton the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and head of The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was well aware of the increasing importance of the use of fingerprints in the solving of crimes. Harry Jackson a small-time criminal had been the first person to be convicted of theft in Great Britain a few years earlier by the use of the new fingerprinting technology. Jackson unknowingly left behind a fingerprint on a windowsill that had recently been painted and was still tacky. He had been tried and convicted mainly on the fingerprint evidence. Fingerprinting had been used quite a few times since then to help convict criminals, but the use of fingerprinting was in its infancy and was not looked upon as a foolproof way to secure a conviction. The science of fingerprinting had not been well accepted by the British judicial system and when prosecutors tried to have them admitted as evidence, the fingerprint was quite often not allowed to be produced as evidence and was sneered upon and ridiculed by defence lawyers. McNaughton had been waiting for a more serious crime such as a murder or an armed robbery to highlight the new fingerprint technology. If they could get a conviction in a serious crime, the newspapers would be on to it and the courts would be forced to take fingerprinting seriously and allow them to be entered as evidence in any criminal cases. So he was very excited when he received a phone call from Inspector Hailstone from Deptford police station telling him of a murder and robbery on his patch, where one of the perpetrators may have left a fingerprint. He immediately summoned his car and driver and headed across the river to the crime scene. By the time that McNaughton had arrived, Inspector Hailstone was back from the station and was standing by the front door of the paint shop a little nervous about meeting the assistant commissioner of police. He had
nothing to be worried about McNaughton had come up through the ranks and was a policeman’s policeman and didn’t stand on ceremony.
McNaughton got out of the car shook Hailstone’s hand and said: “Ok where is it?”
“Upstairs sir follow me, no one has touched it, at least not since I have been here”
Farrow’s body had been taken away to the morgue, so the inspector led the way past the bloody mess on the floor and up the stairs to the bedroom and pointed to the cash box lying on its side on the bedroom carpet.
McNaughton got down on one knee, took a pen out of his pocket and lifted the cash box with the pen, and studied it with an expert eye. He immediately saw the bloody fingerprint and noticed that it was a full print, quite large, and by the width and shape of it probably a thumbprint and easily identifiable to the human eye without a magnifying glass.
“Well well well it’s a beauty; yes I think this will do very nicely.” and a big smile lit up his face, thank you for informing me inspector this is exactly what we have been waiting for.”He produced a large envelope from his inside coat pocket and being careful not to touch any part of the box or the fingerprint with his own hands gently slid the cash box into the envelope.
“So tell me inspector, a murder you say”
“Yes sir could even be a double murder; the wife is in a very bad way and may not survive.”
“Excellent,” said the Assistant Chief Commissioner and to the inspector’s dismay, McNaughton’s smile got even bigger.
They walked down the stairs together, the Assistant Chief Commissioner gently carrying the envelope and Inspector Hailstone explaining about the two masks that had been found.
“I will take the masks back to the department as well; we can look for prints on those also. He took another envelope from his pocket and went over and picked up the masks with the same pen and slid them into the envelope.
“I really appreciate you contacting me Inspector Hailstone, this will go on record, and if…no when these murderers are caught, convicted and hung, I am sure that a well-earned promotion will be coming your way. I will send a team over from Scotland Yard; we will take over the investigation now. Just wait here until they arrive. Don’t you or any of your men touch anything, do you understand?”
“Yes sir, we are not to touch anything”
“Thank you inspector, I will be in touch”
As the Assistant Chief Commissioner drove away with his prize specimens, Inspector Hailstone whispered to himself; “Well not a bad mornings work Robert. I will have to buy Sergeant Crutchett a pint tonight in the Royal Oak. He might be a lazy bastard but he has done me a good turn. Chief Inspector Hailstone has a bit of a ring to it.”
Driving back across the Thames back into central London, Assistant Commissioner McNaughton was deep in thought. He knew that this was the turning point that the Fingerprinting Bureau had been waiting for ever since the bureau had been formed four years earlier in 1901. If they could solve a high profile murder case by using fingerprinting technology, he knew that fingerprinting would become a major weapon in their never-ending fight against crime, not only in Great Britain but eventually throughout the world. He decided that he would call in his most experienced team of detectives to run the investigation, headed by Chief Inspector Frederick Fox his most valued and trusted investigator. When he got back to the yard, he would take the cash box and the two masks straight to the fingerprinting lab and hand them over to Detective Inspector Collins who had headed the Fingerprint Bureau since 1903. He would instruct Collins to take charge of the fingerprinting side of the case personally and tell him that he was to drop anything else that he was currently working on and put all of his efforts into solving the murder and attempted murder of the Farrows as his main priority. Once they had the murderers in custody and they had a match to the fingerprint, he would leak out to the newspaper’s any information about the upcoming trial and how they would be using fingerprints to convict the accused. If everything went to plan, there was a good chance that like his predecessor, Sir Edward Henry, he would get a peerage because of this case. Sir Melville McNaughton had a ring to it.
Meanwhile back on Deptford High Street Sergeant Atkinson and his team had come up trumps. Two people had seen two men leaving the paint shop around 7.30 am. The witnesses, one a twelve-year-old milk delivery boy called Edward Russell the other his boss, milkman Henry Jennings both gave a similar description of the men that they saw leaving the paint shop.
Jennings said that one of the men was about two inches taller than the other and that he was stouter than the smaller man. He estimated that he was between 22 and 24 years of age, about five feet six or seven inches tall and had a round face, black hair with a short dark moustache. He was dressed in a blue suit, a white shirt and wearing a tie, a bowler hat pulled low over his eyes and black shoes or
boots and had his collar turned up. He walked with a stiff gate with his hands in his pocket. He estimated that the second man was between 24 and 26 years of age, about five feet four inches or five inches tall, wore a brown suit with a short jacket and a grey cap pulled low over his eyes. He had a thin, drawn face and a dark moustache and his hair was brown and he thought that he had been wearing brown shoes. He walked similar to the other man like he had a stiff leg. Now the police had some information to go on.
The investigation spread further afield as a team of police officers were sent into surrounding streets to enquire if anyone had noticed anything suspicious between the hours of 5.00 am and 9.30 am. Word had started to get around Deptford about the murder, and crowds of people were gathering outside of the paint shop, hoping to learn something or see something connected to the murder so that they could report back to their friends and family about the tragedy. Two other people were found and interviewed who also said that they saw two men walking quickly away from the direction of the paint shop, but could not describe either of them in any detail. The investigation continued, with many people claiming to have seen two men running away from the scene of the crime. Some of these were just attention seekers but the police had to look at every report that came in. One person reported to the police their neighbour who they must have disliked had done it. Another accused an ex-boyfriend as being one of the perpetrators, which wasted a lot of police time as every report had to be followed up, but their hard work paid off before the end of the week when the police had their first suspect.
On the31st of March, coincidently the same day that Mrs Farrow finally died from her wounds, Ellen Stanton walked into Blackheath Police Station to make a statement. She said that she had been on her way to Deptford railway station on the morning of the murder as she did most mornings to catch the train to Charring Cross to go to work. She was crossing the road at the comer of High Street and Broadway when she saw two men running from the High Street. She told the police that she recognised one of the men as Alfred Stratton. She knew Alfred Stratton through her boyfriend who went by the name of Salter and was a friend of Alfred Stratton’s. She described what the two men were wearing and it closely matched what the milkman and his assistant had said that the suspects were wearing when they left the paint shop. She did not know who the second man was. She was catching the eight o’clock train, so she guessed it must have been around 7.45 or 7.50 when she saw them. Ellen Stanton said that she was
too scared to come into the police station before, as she didn’t want to get involved, it was only when she told her boyfriend Salter of what she had seen that morning that he had convinced her that she had to do the right thing and report it to the police.
This was the strongest lead that the police had so far. The Scotland Yard detectives liaised with the Deptford detectives to learn what they knew of Alfred Stratton. The Stratton’s were well known to the Deptford police and Chief Inspector Fox was told that Alfred Stratton had a younger brother Albert and that they were often seen together. Both of the Stratton brothers were not just known to the Deptford police but also to other policemen in the surrounding areas, for associating with known criminals, but neither of them had a criminal record. They knew that both brothers had broken the law, they just had never been caught doing so, though they had sailed pretty close to the wind on many occasions, and had been brought in for questioning numerous times. Albert Stratton had been dishonourably discharged from the Royal Navy about six months previously, they were both known for drunkenness and Alfred, an ex-boxer was also known for getting into fights when he was drunk. Many of the Deptford policemen had thought that it was only a matter of time until either or both of the brothers would be caught for something, probably stealing or robbery. They did not think that they would commit murder, but if it was to be one or the other they would put their money on Alfred.
The police kept a discreet watch on the brothers while they started to look into their background and try to find out more about them.
Alfred was the elder brother being 22 years old. He had been a promising boxer when he was younger, but he had taking a liking for drinking, smoking and womanising so his fitness had gone into decline and he had given up boxing a few years previously. Alfred was assumed to be involved in petty crime but nothing that could ever be proved, though he, like his brother, had been brought in for questioning several times. He was unemployed and lived with his girlfriend Hannah Cromarty, known to everyone as Annie on Brookmill Road in Deptford. Little else of significance was known about Alfred.
Albert was 20 years old and well known to the police and was thought to be involved in criminal activity and associated with know local criminals but had never been charged with any crime. The description given by the two milkmen
of the second man that was seen leaving the paint shop closely resembled Albert. The Royal Navy was contacted about Albert Stratton and Chief Inspector Fox learned that Albert had only been in the navy for about six months before he absconded. He was later found back in his mother’s house in his home town of Deptford and brought back to the naval base. He was charged with being absent without leave, and he was eventually kicked out of the navy for insubordination. His commanding officer told Fox that Albert had lacked discipline and that he would never have made a good seaman. He said that they had not wanted to waste any more time training him and that the navy was better off without the likes of Albert Stratton. The only other thing that they learned about Albert was that he lived with his girlfriend Kate Wade on Church Street in Deptford and that he was unemployed.
On the late afternoon of the 2nd of April, Chief Inspector Fox told his men to find and bring in Alfred and Albert Stratton for questioning.
It was just before closing time. Alfred was in the snug room at the King of Prussia pub, getting through some of the money that he had kept back from the robbery for drinking purposes. He was feeling quite mellow and pleased with himself and was planning on leaving for Southampton in the next couple of days. The door of the pub opened on squeaky hinges and Alfred saw Detective Sergeant Beavis enter with two constables following closely behind him. Detective Beavis started to walk around the bar stopping and studying the people at each table, obviously looking for someone in particular. He came up to the table where Alfred was sitting, holding court with a few young wannabes.
“Alfred Stratton?” Detective Beavis asked of Alfred.
“You already know it’s me, Frank you have tried to fit me up for crimes I didn’t do before remember. Are you here to try again tonight?”
Alfred cronies sniggered and nudged each other.
Beavis looked at Alfred’s three mates and said; “You lot sling your hook and finish your drinks somewhere else or you will be coming down to the station as well.” The three likely lads picked up their drinks, tried to look hard and shuffled away through the crowded bar. The whole of the bar had stopped talking and everyone was now looking at the performance that was being acted out in front of them.
“Alfred Stratton there are a couple of detectives from Scotland Yard who would like to speak with you. I would like you to accompany me back to Blackheath Road Police Station.”
“What for, why do they want to speak with me?”
“I am not aware of all of the details Alfred. Mine is not to reason why when told to do something from a Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard, but I am sure everything will be explained to you when we get there.”
“I haven’t finished my pint yet?” Alfred indicated with a nod of his head to a pint of beer three-quarters full.”
The detective looked at the beer glass sitting on the table then picked up the edge of the table a few inches which made the glass topple over with the contents spilling and pooling into Alfred’s crotch. “Whoops sorry Alfred my fault, the missus always says that I am clumsy bugger. I will have to buy you another one next time I see you in here…mind you that may not be for a considerable amount of time, if ever if what they are saying about you is true.”
Alfred started cursing and jumped to his feet, getting ready to throw a punch. The two constables grabbed hold of him one either side pulled him out from behind the table, turned him around, then threw him against the wall and handcuffed him.”
“They want to chat with your brother Albert as well Alfred; do you know where we can find him?” Beavis said with a smile on his face looking at Alfred’s wet trousers.
“Why are you going to try to fit him up as well? Even if I knew I wouldn’t tell you, you bastard”
The two constables pulled Alfred out of the now silent pub, followed by the still smiling Detective Sergeant Beavis.
Albert was a mess both physically and mentally. Due to the friction between him and Kate over his alibi he had moved out of Kate’s room and back to his mum’s house a few days after the robbery. He could not sleep and when he did he had nightmares, one in which he was on a ship with Alfred who attacked him with an iron bar and then threw him overboard, and another where his brother was sitting at a table in the King of Prussia drinking with the Farrow’s who were dripping blood from their head wounds all over the table and on to the floor. He couldn’t sit still and went out early every morning and walked all day along the Thames embankment and throughout South-East London, thinking about what they had done. Sometimes he would wake, as if in a trance and see that he was lost and would have no idea what superb he was in or how to get back to Deptford.
On the morning of the 3rd of April, the morning after Alfred had been taken in for questioning; Albert had decided to walk past Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store. He had not been near there since that morning when it had all gone wrong and this morning for some reason he felt the urge to revisit the shop and look at it from the outside. He had just left his mother’s house and hadn’t got very far when he saw two policemen walking towards him. He stopped and was about to turn around and go back home when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder from behind.
“Albert Stratton?” said Sergeant Atkinson.
“Yes,” said Albert turning around and looking at the sergeant.
By now the two policemen who had been walking towards him were now standing either side of him and holding his arms in a tight grip.
Sergeant Atkinson said “I would like you to accompany me to Blackheath Road police station, where there are some officers from Scotland Yard who would like to ask you a few questions”
“It’s in connection with the robbery and murder a week ago just down the road from here as it happens, Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store?”
“What’s that got to do with me? I had nothing to do with that”
“Well, if you wouldn’t mind coming along with me and telling that to Chief Inspector Fox I am sure that he can sort it out in no time”.
They handcuffed him and started the long walk back to the police station.
On the morning of the 3rd of April, Chief Inspector Frederick Fox entered the interview room and walked over to the table where Alfred Stratton who had spent an uncomfortable night in the cells, was now sitting. He put his cup of water down on the table, pulled out a chair and sat down opposite Alfred. It was the first time that he had seen Alfred so he spent about a minute sizing him up as to what kind of person he was. Physically he was short in stature maybe five feet five inches tall and of medium build, thin face, and dark blackish hair. He was clean-shaven, so he must have shaved off his moustache since the murder’s and robbery, probably to change his appearance from when he was seen by the milkboy Fox thought to himself. Alfred didn’t look up when Fox sat down, he looked confident and unconcerned and sat cleaning his nails with his thumbnail as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
“Alfred Stratton I’m Chief Inspector Fox from Scotland Yard and I am here to interview you today in regards to the robbery that took place at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store on the High Street in Deptford on the 27th of March of this year, just over one week ago and the subsequent murders of Mr Thomas Farrow and Mrs Ann Farrow. We know that you and your brother committed the robbery at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store. We have eyewitnesses who saw you and your brother leaving the shop around 7.30 on the morning of the 27th of March. An hour later the body of Thomas Farrow was found badly beaten in the shop and his wife was found upstairs in the bedroom also badly beaten and barely alive, she has since died from those injuries, so we are now investigating a double murder” the inspector paused to take a sip of water. “We know that you and your brother came out of the paint shop, that is a fact. What we don’t know is who killed Mr and Mrs Farrow. If it was your brother who did this and not you, now would be a good time to tell us.”
Alfred sat back in his chair, now chewing a thumbnail. After a few seconds, he said; “I don’t know about Albert but on the night of the 26th of March I met Albert for a few drinks in the King of Prussia, we had a few jars and when the pub closed we walked part of the way home together. I left him at Strickland Street and I walked to my girlfriend Annie’s place on Brookmill Road. I had drunk a skinful at the pub and I went straight to bed and slept until about 9.00 the next morning.”
“How can you remember the exact day that you spent the night there?”
“Well I spend most nights there, but I remember when I got up the next morning after Annie got up I went down the street to get a newspaper as I usually do and everyone was talking about the two old buggers who had been found dead in their paint shop that morning. Very sad it was as they were a nice old couple.”
“You knew them?”
“Deptford’s a small town, everyone knows everyone. I have never been in the shop as I am not much of a decorator, but I passed their shop often enough and I sometimes saw the old man standing outside smoking and talking to the neighbours.”
“You ever talk to him”
“No, no reason to.”
“What about your brother, where did he go after you left him at the corner of Strickland Street?”
“How the fuck would I know, I’m not my brother’s keeper” He has a girlfriend maybe he went to her place or maybe he went to our mum’s house. Why not ask him?”
“Oh, we will he is in the interview room next door, being interviewed as we speak. That’s why I asked you who murdered Mr and Mrs Farrow. We wanted to give you a chance to come clean. If you didn’t kill them it would be better for you to be charged as an accessory to murder rather than being charged for the murder I would have thought, Albert is being asked the same questions”
Alfred looked up to the ceiling and gulped, it was getting very hot in here. “Can I have a cup of water?”
“Yes, when we have finished our interview,” the inspector said taking another sip of his water.
Alfred knew that Albert was as weak as piss and wondered if he had given him up already, but if Annie stuck by him with his alibi, they couldn’t prove anything. He had already sorted Kate out she wasn’t going to say anything.
Chief Inspector Fox got up from the table, went over to a cupboard near the door and pulled out a brown suit and a grey flat cap and took them over to where Alfred was sitting.
“Alfred we found these at Jack McIvor’s house where you were dosing after you moved out of Annie’s room. McIvor told us that they were yours. Do you recognise them?”
“Yes it’s my suit and hat”
“You were seen by witnesses coming out of the paint shop, each of those witnesses says that you were wearing a brown suit and a grey cap, which exactly match the clothes we found in McIvor’s home. What do you have to say to that?”
“Lots of people have brown suits and grey hats; it’s not that unusual in Deptford everyone buys off the peg and most people shop in the same shops. I often see people wearing the same clothes as me…look I have nothing else I can tell you. If the old couple were robbed early in the morning it couldn’t have been me. I was in bed with my girlfriend; if it was Albert that did it maybe he did it with a friend of his, but it was not me. As I say I was asleep at Annie’s”
The inspector said “Ok have it your way we will get your girlfriend Annie Cromarty into the station to see what she has to say about where you were that night.” The inspector stood up from the table and turned to the constable standing at the door; “Take him back down to the cells.” Then turned to Alfred and said “We will talk again later Alfred”
The constable came over and unshackled the chain from the floor that was attached to Alfred’s handcuffs and started to lead him towards the door.
“Oh, just a second Alfred,” said Chief Inspector Fox. “I nearly forgot we will need to take a set of your fingerprints; the constable will take you to another room to get those done before he takes you back to your cell”
“What the fuck are fingerprints?”
“Oh didn’t anyone tell you?” said Fox looking at each of the two constables in the room in mock surprise, as if they were supposed to have explained it to Alfred, and then giving Alfred his best smile said. “A fingerprint was found on the cash box that was left in the Farrows bedroom. We need to take your fingerprint to check for a match.”
“I’m not going to give you my bloody fingerprints, I have never heard of this crap before”
“I am afraid that you don’t have much choice in the matter Alfred. You can either give us your fingerprints voluntarily or we can get some of the constables to hold you down while we do it. But that way if you struggle you may get a few fingers broken, accidents can happen. I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss about it; you say that you have never been inside the paint shop, so really you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, they can’t be your prints on the box if you have never been in the paint shop can they?” Fox picked up and drained his cup of water. “Take him down the hall constable; Inspector Collins is waiting to fingerprint him.”
In another interview room, Albert was sat with his head in his hands.
Inspector Roberts said, “Come on Albert get it off your chest you will feel better about it.”
“I’m saying nothing. I wasn’t there”
“So where were you between say 5.00 am and 9.30 am on Monday the 27th of March?”
“Home in bed like I am most mornings unless I have a guvvy job”
“But you did have a guvvy job that morning with your brother didn’t you, robbing Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in the High Street?”
“No, I have never been in that shop. I have had a bit of work this week. That morning I might have been working at Smithfield Market or on the docks. If it wasn’t that morning I was working I would have been asleep in bed as if I don’t have any work I don’t get up early. I have never been in the bloody paint shop.”
“You’re girlfriend” he looked down at his notes, “Kate isn’t it? Do you think that she will remember if you were in bed that morning?”
“She leaves for work around 8.30, but she always wakes me up to say goodbye, so unless I was doing a guvvy job she should remember being there yeah”
Inspector Roberts changed tack “You know Mrs Farrow died a few days ago don’t you Alfred? It’s a double murder that we are dealing with now”
Albert banged his two fists on the table and shouted. “I don’t know anything about that, why can’t you believe me, I never killed anyone”
“Maybe or maybe not, but if you didn’t kill them you were there when your brother did. We have witnesses that saw you and your brother leaving the paint shop around 7.30 that morning.” Inspector Roberts leaned down and took a large paper bag from under the table. Do you recognise these clothes Albert; we found them in your bedroom in your mum’s house? And he laid a blue suit and a black bowler hat on the table.
“Of course I recognise them they are my clothes.”
“Funny you should say that Albert, witnesses who saw you and your brother coming out of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store, described you to a tee, right down to the blue suit and the black bowler hat.”
“No I wasn’t there; I have seen many people around here wearing blue suits and bowler hats, they are as common as muck. They must have mistaken me for someone else”
“Well, I have never heard that one before Albert... mistaken identity, that’s very original. But I find it odd that all of the witnesses say that it was definitely you and your brother that they saw leaving the paint shop shortly before Mr Farrow’s body was found” the inspector said bending the truth a little. “Alfred is also being asked which one of you did the actual killing of Mr and Mrs Farrow. If it was both of you then you both will hang for the murders, if it was Alfred then he will hang and you will be charged with accessory to murder, if it was you then you will hang and your brother will be charged with accessory to murder. If it wasn’t you that killed the Farrow’s now would be a good time to mention it.”
The blood drained from Albert’s face, how did he get here, how did this happen. A week ago he was reasonably happy, with a girlfriend that he loved and a future…maybe not a great future, but one day he would have eventually got a decent job and he and Kate would have got married and had a family and a life together. If he gave his brother up as a murderer Alfred would be hung, and that didn’t worry him one bit, in fact, he would love to see him hang, he would
happily put the noose around Alfred’s neck himself if he could. The problem was that even if he was only convicted of accessory to the murder he would still go to prison for a very long time and his life would be virtually over. No Kate, no family, no future and when he was eventually released from prison he would be old and he wouldn’t be able to live in Deptford or anywhere in South-East London for that matter after what Alfred had done to the Farrows’. The inspector was probably lying about the witnesses. If the coppers had any proof they would have already charged him by now, but they hadn’t, so they were probably bluffing. When they came out of the paint shop they had only seen a young kid delivering milk and he had never seen the kid before in his life, so he wouldn’t know them, anyway the kid hardly glanced at them. He didn’t think that Alfred would confess to even being an accessory to murder. He wouldn’t want to spend the best years of his life in prison either. Alfred would brazen it out, he had been doing that all of his life. Alfred would have hidden his share of the money that they stole somewhere and that money would be waiting for him when he was released without charge and he would head for America. Best for him to do the same, brazen it out, he could always tell them that Alfred murdered them at a later date if it looked like they had enough evidence to charge them and take them to trial.
Alfred stopped sniffling and sat up straight in his chair. He was going to have to pull himself together if he was going to get out of this mess. “I wasn’t at the paint shop that morning; in fact, I have never been inside the shop in my life”
“Well, that’s hard to believe Albert when you were seen coming out of there…Oh sorry that’s right you have a doppelganger it was him that was seen coming out of the paint shop with your brother.
“A dople what, what’s that, what are you talking about?”
“A doppelganger? You know a double, a look-alike, a spitting image”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re on about, all I am saying is I wasn’t there.”
“So where were you on that morning?’
“I have just told you I was at home asleep; I had seen Alfred the night before in the King of Prussia. I walked part of the way home with Alfred then he went his way and I went mine. I must have got home at about 11.15 and went to bed”
“With your girlfriend Kate?”
“There was a knock on the door and a constable came into the room and whispered into Inspector Roberts ear. Roberts nodded and the constable left the room.
“OK Albert, let’s leave it there for now. We will have a chat with the lovely Kate and see what she has to say about it, but before we take you back to your cell we will need to organise to have your fingerprints taken.”
“What do you mean what are those?”
“In these modern times, Alfred criminal investigations are improving in leaps and bounds. With the new technology available to us today, if someone leaves a print of a finger or multiple fingers then we can take a photo of it and then get a fingerprint from our suspect using an ink pad to compare them. Did you know that no two human beings have the same finger print…No? Well it’s true. Either you or your brother left a fingerprint on the cash box in the paint store. As we speak, your brother is getting his fingerprints taken. When he is done we will take you in there and take yours, then take them back to the lab at Scotland Yard for comparison. A few hours later we will know which one of you left a fingerprint on the cash box. And if it’s yours there won’t be much point saying I wasn’t there or it was your double that did it, because you’re double would have different fingerprints than you have.”
Alberts face drained of colour as Inspector Roberts got up and told the constables to take Albert to get his prints taken when Inspector Collins had finished taking Alfred’s, and he walked out of the interview room.
Both of the girlfriends were brought in and interviewed.
Annie Cromarty said that she could not say for sure that Alfred had not gone out but, he was sleeping next to her when she went to sleep herself about midnight and that he was sat in his underwear drinking a cup of tea and reading an old newspaper as he usually did the next morning when she woke up about nine thirty.
Kate Wade said that Albert had come in quite drunk on the night of 26th, from memory at about 11.15. She had then drifted off to sleep and that when she woke the next morning at 8.00 he was sleeping next to her. She left to go to work around 8.30 am and she could not say what he did after that
It was obvious to Chief inspector Fox that both of the women were lying but neither of them would budge from their statements. Chief Inspector Fox thought that Annie Cromarty seemed like a hard callous woman that could easily be bought which he suspected that she had. Kate Wade seemed a very delicate and nervous lady but she was determined that Albert had been with her all night, and he wondered what Albert or Alfred held over her.
The next afternoon Chief Inspector Fox organised an identification line-up. Alfred was brought in first and stood in line with five other males, clean-shaven of approximately the same age weight and build as Alfred was. They had been picked randomly from the streets of South-East London and had been offered a few pence as an incentive along with a stern reminder of their civic duties.
The first witness to enter the room was the milkman Henry Jennings. Before he had entered the room Jennings had been told to take his time and slowly walk along the row of men and look at their features and mannerisms and see if he could pick out the man who he had seen walking from the paint shop past him along the High Street the previous week. He was also told that the suspect had recently shaved off his moustache and to take that into account when looking at the line-up. All of the men in the line-up including Alfred had been told to keep their heads up look straight ahead, keep still and not look at the man who would be walking past them. Jennings had been quite apprehensive when he walked into Blackheath police station an hour before and did not look as confident or as cocky to be the centre of attraction, as he had been one week ago when he was first interviewed and was the star witness. Now he looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. As Jennings walked and stopped in front of the first man, Chief Inspector Fox was not looking at the men who were in the line-up, his full attention was on Henry Jennings. Jennings slowly walked on past the first four men stopping to look at each one but without any signs of recognition. When he reached the fifth man his whole body tensed and he stopped walking for a second or two. Chief Inspector Fox then looked up at the man Jennings was staring at, Alfred Stratton, was staring straight ahead with a look of pure hatred on his face and he had both of his hands clenched and was squeezing his fists so hard that the knuckles of his scarred hands looked like they would burst through his skin. Jennings regained his composure and slowly walked on past the last man with hardly a glance in his direction and out of the side door.
“Alright Henry did you see one of the men who walked past you on the morning of Monday the 27th of March in that line-up?” said Chief Inspector Fox, after joining Jennings in the next room.
“Look I can’t say for certain, after all, I only saw him for a few seconds on the street when the two men walked past me. The man holding number two and the man holding number five looked a little like the man I saw that morning, but I couldn’t say that either of them was him with any certainty. I don’t want to see a man hang on my word if I am not 100% sure. It was plain to see that Jennings
was frightened. Whether he had been frightened off by Alfred’s display of aggression, one of the Stratton’s cronies or whether he was just frightened of what might happen to him for grassing on an up and coming Deptford villain the inspector was unsure. But for all intents and purposes, Henry Jennings was of no use to him now.
Next up was Edward Russell, who was visibly frightened, but Fox couldn’t blame him, after all, he was just a child; “Everything will be alright Edward, there is nothing to be scared of, no one can hurt you” said Chief Inspector Fox. Just take your time and walk along and look carefully at the six men in the next room, I will be right behind you. If you see the man that you saw coming out of Mr Farrow’s paint shop don’t say anything, just walk through the door at the end and you can tell me when we get in there.” Edward looked up at the inspector with pleading eyes.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, I am afraid that you do Edward, two very bad men have murdered a harmless old man and his wife. We need to get these men off the streets and into jail before they do something like this again. Don’t be frightened, if you see the man and pick him out he will never be able to hurt you and you will never see him again because he will be hung and dead himself very soon. Are you ready?”
“Yes I think so” Edward nervously replied.
“OK let’s go” and the tall policeman and the small boy walked into the adjoining room.
Walking a few steps behind Edward and seeing his nervous demeanour, Chief Inspector Fox had the feeling that the identity parade was not going to be the success everyone had thought it was going to be, which proved to be right a few minutes later when Edward Russell could not positively identify Alfred Stratton as to being the man that he saw that morning. The same scenario played out when Albert Stratton was put in a line-up, and the two milkmen were sent home.
The murder team were gathered in Assistant Commissioners McNaughton’s office; “So back to square one then Chief Inspector?” the assistant commissioner said to Chief Inspector Fox while tamping down his pipe.
“Yes sir, it looks like it. They couldn’t identify either of the brothers.”
“Couldn’t or wouldn’t?” growled the assistant commissioner.
“Wouldn’t I would have said. I watched them both closely and I am certain that Jennings and Russell had recognised both Alfred and Albert Stratton. The problem was they have had a week to sit and worry about it since they witnessed them coming out of the paint shop. Whether someone got to them and warned them off or they just chickened out we will never know. South-East London is a close-knit community with many villains; no one wants to be accused of being a grass. It could make life very uncomfortable for them. If either Jennings or Russell had identified them, it would have been case closed, and we could all have gone to the pub for a celebration”
The assistant commissioner struck a match and began puffing on his pipe trying to get it going, between puffs he said. “Don’t look so disappointed chief inspector; this can go in our favour. At present, we have no witnesses that can put them at the scene of the crime. But what we do have is an eye witness that positively identified Alfred Stratton close to Deptford Station at around 7.50 on the morning when Alfred said that he had been in Annie Cromarty’s room until 9.30. The defence will plead mistaken identity so it will all rest on the fingerprint evidence that was found on the cash box which is what we have all been waiting for.”
Chief Inspector Fox, a non-smoker coughed, he hated coming into McNaughton’s office as the assistant commissioner smoked his pipe constantly throughout the day. Added to that, most of the investigating team that was seated in the assistant commissioner’s office that morning were cigarette smokers and the air was thick nicotine and a grey smoky haze. “That’s true sir, but I just want to get a conviction. What I don’t want to see is the judge not allowing the fingerprint evidence to be admitted as evidence or the jury not believing or understanding the evidence and letting those two evil bastards walk free.”
“Well one step at a time chief inspector,” he said while trying to re-light his pipe. I don’t think that we are going to get much more evidence and I doubt that either of them will confess, all though when I was watching you interview him I thought that the younger one was close to giving his brother up as the murderer and breaking down and telling you everything, then he just clammed up. Maybe you should give Alfred another shot?”
“I already have sir” he is refusing to answer any questions. He just sits there and stares at the wall, and refuses to answer any questions that I put to him. I have reinterviewed Albert as well. He is more talkative but still denying everything and saying that he was at Annie Cromarty’s in bed all night.”
“What about their two women, you haven’t been able to crack them?”
“No sir Annie Cromarty is as hard as nails and won’t budge. She is a clever one that one. She has given Alfred a semi-alibi by saying he was there when she went to sleep the night before and that he was still there when she woke up nine hours later the next morning. But she is making sure that she can’t be charged with perjury if we can prove that he was at the paint shop that morning and killed the Farrow’s.”
“What about the other one?”
“Kate Wade is a completely different kettle of fish entirely, she is scared. The brothers must have something on her that they are using to get her to lie, and whatever that is its working as she won’t budge from her statement”
McNaughton was deep in thought for a few minutes; “So it’s all going to come down to the fingerprint evidence unless any more evidence is forthcoming. We should get a result from Collins at the fingerprint bureau soon”
Kate had not been to work since the morning that Alfred had threatened her with harming Martin. She had always avoided Alfred; he used people and treated his brother like he was a moron. Alfred had been like that since he was a kid on the streets of Deptford, always a bit of a braggart and a bully. She believed that Albert disliked his brother and that he was scared of him. If Alfred said “Jump” Albert would ask “How high?” Kate had known Albert and Alfred since they were all children and she knew that Albert was not a strong person and was easily led. She now hated Albert as well. Kate had heard from Albert’s mum that both of the brothers had been taken in for questioning about the murder in the paint shop, and after her visit from Alfred she was certain that they did it. She didn’t think that Albert had murdered anyone, that would have been Alfred’s doing, but in her mind, Albert was just as responsible for the crime as his brother was. Two nice old people were now dead because Albert being weak and both of the brother’s greed.
Kate loved her young brother Martin and had always been fiercely protective of him. He was a bit slow and some of the kids at school and on the streets taunted and bullied him. Alfred was right when he had said “Billy no mates”. Despite being bullied Martin was very trusting of people, and with not having many friends he would follow anyone if he thought that person was friendly. Kate had been wrestling with her conscience ever since she had been confronted by Alfred near her home. She couldn’t sleep and when she tried to eat some food to give her strength she threw it back up a few minutes later. That morning she knew that she had to do something about Alfred’s threat, she couldn’t let him
get away with murder. Kate was on her way that morning to the green grocer’s shop that her father owned in Lewisham to tell him what had happened when Alfred had come to see her. Kate’s dad was a level headed and well-respected business owner in Lewisham and was known to have a good thinking head on him. Many people sought out his advice on their problems when shopping for their fruit and vegetables, so Kate knew that he was the right person to talk with. He loved his only son dearly and would die himself before he let anyone hurt him.
When she arrived, her father seeing the state that his daughter was in told his assistant to take over serving, took his apron off and ushered her into the stock room. He told her to sit down and he made her a cup of strong sweet tea. When he had handed her the cup of tea he saw that Kate’s hands were shaking and she then started crying. She opened up and told her father everything that Alfred had said. Her father listened patiently to what she had to say and as the story progressed a look of horror appeared on his face and he felt anger boil up inside him as he had never felt before. Kate told him about the young boy in Peckham and what Alfred inferred would happen to Martin if she did not do as he asked. When she had finished telling her father it felt like a weight was being lifted off her and she knew that she had done the right thing coming to see him. Her father came over and sat next to her, held her and patted her back then kissed her on her forehead like he used to do when she was a child. He told her that she had done the right thing coming to talk to him but she should have come earlier it was wrong for her to have to carry a burden like that alone. He then said that he had known Alfred for most of his life and always knew that he was going to end up in prison or dead on the street and that he was just a bully and a small-time criminal. Her father knew nearly everyone in their South- East London area, and he said that no one would touch a hair on Martin’s head at Alfred’s bidding. Alfred was just a petty criminal and associated with other criminal types to try to make himself bigger than what he was. The word on the street was that him or his brother had killed two elderly innocent people who never harmed anyone for just a few pounds and that he was now hated by most people in Deptford. He stood up, picked up his jacket from the hook on the back door and said “Come on love let’s get the bus to Deptford Police Station. They need to hear what you have to say.
Fingerprints were not a new means of human identification. Friction ridge skin impressions (fingerprints) were used to prove a person’s identity in China as early as 300 B.C. and in Japan as early as A.D. 702. But in Great Britain in the early 1900s, it was still considered to be an untrustworthy and unreliable means of gaining a criminal conviction. The first time that fingerprints were used in a capital crime conviction was in 1892, in Buenos Aires, Argentina when a murder was solved using thumbprint evidence found at the crime scene. The Fingerprint Bureau of the Metropolitan Police was first introduced in 1901 using the System of Fingerprint Classification devised by Sir Edward Henry who was later appointed Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, and head of the Criminal Investigation Department, the position which was now held by McNaughton. Sir Edward had formulated his fingerprinting system in India where he had been Inspector General of Police for Bengal Province. Considered to be the foremost expert on fingerprinting, Sir Edward had published a book on the subject in 1901 “The Classification and Uses of Finger Prints” and he was instrumental in setting up the committee in1900 under the chairmanship of Lord Belper to establish a better method of identifying criminals from crime scene evidence rather than the Bertillon or Anthropometric systems that were used in those days to assess the suspect’s physical characteristics. It was through Sir Edward Henry’s endeavours that the first fingerprint conviction came about three years earlier, in 1902. The police had discovered a fingerprint on some wet paint on a window ledge in Denmark Hill in London. They called in the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau who was able to match the left thumbprint to Harry Jackson a small time thief. When he was duly prosecuted, Jackson achieved the distinction of being the first person in Great Britain to be convicted on fingerprint evidence. By 1905 the Fingerprint Bureau had over 90,000 sets of fingerprints on file, or nearly one million individual fingerprints.
Detective Inspector Charles Stockley Collins was now regarded as the foremost fingerprint expert in Great Britain and probably the world and he now headed Scotland Yard’s Fingerprint Bureau. It was his job to try to build the case against Alfred and Albert Stratton. With very little other evidence to convict the brothers, it was going to be up to him to convince the judge and jury that the thumbprint found on the cash box in the Farrows bedroom belonged to Alfred Stratton or Albert Stratton and that the only way that the thumbprint could have been found there was if Alfred or Albert had been present when the murders had been committed. It was not Detective Inspector Collins job to prove which of the brothers actually committed the murders, that was Chief Inspector Fox’s domain, and Fox was well qualified for that job.
Over the years since Detective Inspector Collins had been in charge of the bureau, there had been some minor success in gaining convictions through fingerprinting, but all of these had been for petty crimes and were hardly ever publicised or given much credibility. If the fingerprints were a match to either of the brothers, the Stratton brothers trial would be the highest-profile case the bureau had worked with and would test the judicial system and would put fingerprinting firmly on the crime-fighting map. In short, this was the one that they had been waiting for, win this one and fingerprinting would be the crime-fighting tool of the future, lose it and it could put the Fingerprint Bureau back years. Collins dream was that one day everyone in Great Britain would have to have their fingerprints taken and they would all be held on file. Then if a crime was committed and the perpetrator left behind at least one fingerprint they could then go to the file and match that print to that person.
Collins was sat at his desk with a large magnifying glass in his hand studying a photograph when Assistant Commissioner McNaughton walked into the fingerprinting laboratory.
“I hope that print that you are holding is from the paint shop murders Charles,” said McNaughton, while removing his pipe from the top pocket of his jacket.
“What else would I be working on sir?”
“How is the investigation coming along, do we have a result as yet?”
“Sorry, early days yet sir. From my preliminary analysis, I have found four sets of prints on the cash box, all from different people. Three are very faint but will be identifiable when we get the fingerprints to match them to. I had the fingerprint that we assumed was made with blood analysed and it is definitely blood. Until I do a more thorough investigation, I am assuming two of the prints will be from the Farrows and hopefully, the other two will be Alfred and Albert Stratton’s. I have sent Walter my assistant down to the morgue to retrieve the Farrows fingerprints for comparison.”
McNaughton was using his third match to try to get his pipe going. He stopped for a second and a smile spread across his face. “So we might have both of the Stratton’s fingerprints on the cash box that would be an unexpected bonus, I think our case is getting stronger Charles. When do you think you will have the results?”
“The bloody fingerprint within the next few hours or so I should think. Two of the four I should be able to match quite quickly once Walter returns from the morgue. I should say that if the four fingerprints on the cash box are those of the Farrow’s and Alfred and Albert Stratton’s we should know within the next 24 hours. Oh and by the way I didn’t get any prints off of the stocking masks”
“That’s a shame if you were able to get the prints from the masks we would have got both of them for sure.” He puffed on his pipe a little more while thinking, then said: “I have put myself out there on a bit of a limb Charles, What’s your gut feeling about taking this to court with very little evidence besides the fingerprints, always assuming that the prints will be the Stratton’s?”
“Hard to say sir, it will all depend on who the judge is and how the jury reacts to the scientific evidence. Many men on the juries are not very well educated people and are still stuck in the old ways. They haven’t come to terms with the fact that we have moved into the 20th century and that we are living in a modern world and that advancements are happening all of the time at an astonishing rate. We have had some good results with some of the judges who have seen the benefit of fingerprinting and they, like us are trying to have it introduced to the judicial system as a means of positive identification. But there are still many judges and politicians who are like some of the men on the juries, still stuck in the 19th century.”
“Yes,” said McNaughton there are a few old dinosaur judges at my club, more interested in their after-dinner brandy than taking the time to learn about new scientific techniques. Ok, I will leave you to it; I am holding you up from your work. I want to know straight away if the fingerprint in blood is one of the Stratton’s, send for me as soon as you have a result. The assistant commissioner left the lab leaving behind him a cloud of smoke. A meticulous tidy man, Detective Inspector Collins shaking his head put the photograph down on his desk, walked over to where McNaughton had been standing and picked up three spent matches from the floor and placed them in his rubbish bin.
At 4.15 that afternoon there was a knock on the Assistant Commissioners door.
“Come” yelled McNaughton who was writing a report.
Sergeant Walter Patterson, Detective Inspector Collins assistant entered the smoky room. “Begging your pardon sir, Detective Inspector Collins asked if you would like to come down to the lab, he has something that he would like to share with you”
“Yes, yes tell him I will be down in a few minutes, is it good news?”
“I wouldn’t know sir, I was just sent up to give you the message”
Five minutes later, McNaughton stormed into the fingerprint lab. “What have we got?”
Collins was sat at his desk studying a photo of a fingerprint “We have a positive match sir”
McNaughton was visibly relieved and he sat down at Collins desk. “Tell me everything”
“Well, I am afraid it’s good and bad news sir. The good news is the print in blood is Alfred Stratton’s right thumbprint without any doubt, so that puts him at the scene of the crime with one of the Farrow’s blood on his thumb. The other two of the four prints are the Farrows as we suspected. Unfortunately, the fourth print does not match Albert Stratton’s.”
The assistant commissioner looked disappointed. “Well whose is it then”
“I don’t know sir. I have men going through our files as we speak but there are over 90,000 sets of prints on file and it will take some time to go through them to try to find a match. To be honest, going through the file is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I doubt very much that any of the villains that we have on file would have been the person who was with Alfred, as many of the villains in the files are from other parts of Britain, not just London. If Alfred had another accomplice I would put money that he would be from the Deptford area or one of the nearby suburbs. I have sent a message to Chief Inspector Fox to ask him to find out any known associates of the Stratton’s and to send me their details so that I can check the fingerprint files to see if any of their names are in there. That way we may be able to match the fingerprint on the cash box and it will save us a lot of time. I have also asked him to send me the fingerprints of anyone else who may have had access to the cash box such as the Farrow’s assistant young William Jones and Mr Chapman as well as everyone who entered the bedroom where the cash box was found, including the police doctor who attended the scene and any policemen who went into the room to investigate. We now have to consider that there was a third person involved, unless Albert is innocent and was not there.
McNaughton took his pipe out and started to fill the bowl with the pungent tobacco. “No, he was there all right, the descriptions given by both of the witnesses who saw the Stratton’s leaving the paint shop described Albert right down to the colour of the shoes he was wearing.” He was deep in thought for half a minute. “So we have one of the brother bang to rights, but not the
younger one and an unknown fingerprint that may belong to some other felon or maybe not connected to the crime scene at all. Keep your team working at it all night, don’t worry about the overtime and if you need any coppers to do your grunt work just ask. This is Scotland Yard’s number one priority now. I want to charge those two bastards and maybe even a third person if the fingerprint matches any of the Stratton’s associates within the next 24 hours. I will send a message to Chief Inspector Fox and tell him to get the fingerprints that you asked for sent over post-haste.” As McNaughton was leaving the lab he turned and said; “I will be in my office until around eight o’clock, after that I will be at my club. Send word to me as soon as you have anything.” and left Collins to get on with his work.
There was little more that Collins could do himself that evening, no matter what McNaughton thought, nothing was going to be achieved that evening. It would take Chief Inspector Fox a considerable amount of time to find the people involved and get their fingerprints and then get them sent over to Scotland Yard for analysis. He decided that he would leave a team of his men working on the 90,000 fingerprints on file but he would finish off what he needed to do and then head home. He would come back before dawn tomorrow and hopefully, he would have what he needed by then from Chief Inspector Fox to solve the riddle. Tomorrow was going to be a very long day and to be on top of his game he would need a decent dinner and a good night’s rest.
The sun was just starting to rise the next morning when Detective Inspector Collins walked over Westminster Bridge and turned right onto Whitehall. His wife Mary had prepared a good meal for him when he had arrived home the evening before and he had eaten and then had retired to bed early. He had woken up that morning feeling relaxed and suitably refreshed and he was now ready to begin what would hopefully be the most important day of his career since he had joined the metropolitan police force many years before. He was saluted by the constable on gate duty as he entered Scotland Yard and went straight to his office. He checked for any messages and found that Chief Inspector Fox had sent over a list of names of the Stratton’s known criminal acquaintances as well as some of the fingerprints that he had requested. He was glad that Chief Inspector Fox was in charge of the case. He was an exceptional detective and with him, on the job, no stone would be left unturned and Collins was confident that he would get everything that he had requested from Fox and more before the morning was out. There was a discreet knock on the door and Sergeant
Patterson his assistant came in with two cups of tea on a tray with a plate of biscuits.
“Good morning Inspector,” Walter said, putting the tray down on the desk.
“Good morning Walter, before you do anything else go to the lab and get the boys checking the fingerprint file to check the names on this list to see if we have a match,” he said handing him the list that Chief Inspector Fox had sent over of the Stratton’s known acquaintances. It shouldn’t take long the files in alphabetical order so wait and come back and let me know what they find.
Sergeant Patterson looked longingly at his cup of tea and Collins said take your tea with you, so Sergeant Patterson picked up his cup of tea and a couple of digestive biscuits and headed for the lab. Collins picked up the fingerprints that Chief Inspector Fox had sent over and his magnifying glass and got down to the business of comparing them to the fingerprints the photographs that had been taken from the cash box.
Around 3.00 pm The Assistant Commissioner was summoned to the fingerprints lab. He barged through the door nearly knocking over a fingerprint technician in the process. The assistant commissioner looked to see Inspector Charles Collins looking back at him with a grin from ear to ear and he knew that he had matched all of the fingerprints on the cash box.
Back in McNaughton’s office two hours after being shown all of the relevant fingerprints in the lab, the assistant commissioner was holding court. Chief Inspector Fox was back from Deptford with his team and he and Detective Inspector Collins were sat in the smoky room eager to hear what McNaughton’ next move would be.
“So the other fingerprint was from a Sergeant Atkinson from the Deptford police station.” grumbled McNaughton, “I will see that he is demoted.”
Chief Inspector Fox, who was always protective of policemen that he worked with said; “To be fair sir, nobody had previously asked him if he had touched the cash box. It wasn’t until I spoke with him yesterday that he told me what had happened. He was the first officer on the scene when the crime was first reported. While surveying the crime scene, he entered the bedroom where Mrs Farrow was found and he attended to her and as he was leaving the room he noticed a cash box lying on its side in the middle of the room. Knowing that it may be important he pushed it with his finger against the bedroom wall so that no one else would pick it up. If he hadn’t done that perhaps someone else who
entered the bedroom later would have picked the cash box up and spoiled Alfred Stratton’s fingerprint. If anything I think we should thank him.”
“I don’t know about thanking him but we will say no more about it then,” said McNaughton grudgingly. “So to put everything in perspective, we have Alfred Stratton definitely at the scene of the crime with blood on his hands. The other fingerprint turned out to be Sergeant Atkinson’s and there were only two masks found so there were probably only two offenders present. We have no fingerprints for Albert Stratton at the crime scene, but we have witnesses that even though they wouldn’t give a positive identity of Albert Stratton, we are all certain that both of the milkmen recognised Albert Stratton but were too afraid to say so at the identity parade. “
“That’s about what we have so far,” said Chief Inspector Fox
“Have you anything to add to that Detective Inspector Collins?”
Collins shook his head and said “No sir, that about sums up the case that we have”
Chief Inspector Fox coughed some smoke out of his lungs and said, “Just one thing sir. I was meaning to tell you earlier but with the fingerprints and everything, there hasn’t been time. Kate Wade came into the Deptford police station accompanied by her father this morning; she has retracted her statement about Albert Stratton being with her all night on the night of the 26th of March. She told me that she had been threatened by Alfred Stratton, that he would harm her younger brother if she did not give Albert an alibi. She now says that Albert Stratton came home after the pub closed on the night of the 26th of March and he told her that he would be leaving early the next morning to do a job and he set their alarm clock for five o’clock. She said that she had heard the alarm go off at five she had then drifted back to sleep. When she woke at eight the next morning he had gone”
“Excellent “smiled McNaughton “We have them both, although a good lawyer could probably get Albert off if Alfred said that his brother wasn’t there.”
They all sat in silence while Assistant Commissioner McNaughton pondered what the next step should be.
Deep in thought and sucking on his pipe he eventually said; “Ok, let’s charge them both with the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow. If by some chance we lose the case because the fingerprint evidence is not allowed to be introduced, we can try to build a stronger case against them in the future and then charge them with Annie Farrow’s murder at a later date.”
He tapped the ashes from his pipe and put it in its usual place in the top pocket of his jacket. “A good days work gentlemen, I think that a celebration is called for, the sun is over the yardarm, shall we retreat to the Old Shades public house to commemorate this auspicious occasion, the drinks are on me?”
Both brothers were charged the next morning and were sent to Wandsworth Prison to await their trial. A few days later their trial date was set to be heard in four weeks on the 5th of May 1905 to be presided over by Judge Justice Channell.
THE LEAD UP TO THE TRIAL
In Wandsworth Prison, the two brothers were kept in separate cells and separate wings so that they could not speak with each other to plot their defence. This would not have stopped either of them sending messages to each other through other prisoners but Albert hated his older brother now and wanted nothing more to do with him.
Two weeks after he was arrested and two weeks before the trial, Alfred Stratton sent word to Chief Inspector Fox that he wanted to see him. The next day Fox took a police car and went to Wandsworth prison. Chief Inspector Fox hated going into Wandsworth Prison, he was a little claustrophobic and hated the dark dank windowless monstrosity. It always smelt bad and the shouts and cries from the inmates that he heard put him in mind of what it must be like to be in hell.
When Chief Inspector Fox entered Alfred cell, Alfred did not look as cocky and confident as last time Fox had spoken with him. His face was already showing the signs of prison pallor, he looked gaunt and nervous and Fox noticed that his fingernails were bitten to the quick.
“You wanted to see me”
“Yeah I may be able to help you”
Fox sat in silence waiting for Alfred to continue.
Alfred cleared his throat and said, “I am not admitting that I was there or anything like that, but hypothetically what sentence would I get if I told you that Albert was the one who killed those two old buggers and I was there but I just did the robbery with him?”
“I don’t know offhand, at least 10 or 12 years I suppose, that would be up to the judge.”
“But if I helped you, you could put in a word for me?”
“No not really you would have to take whatever the judge dished out, are you making a confession Alfred?”
“No not at all, I just wanted to know where I stood, hypothetically of course.”
Chief Inspector Fox sat up straight and looked Alfred in the eye; “You know what Alfred; we both know that it was you that murdered those two old people for just a few pounds. It’s your thumbprint in one of the Farrow’s blood on the cash box that we have as evidence against you. We have witnesses who saw two people dressed exactly like you and your brother come out of the paint shop and you were also identified by someone who knew you very well near Deptford train station at a time that you said that you were tucked up in bed with your girlfriend. We have a lot less evidence against your brother but we are confident that we will get a conviction with both of you. After what you have done I am not going to allow you to walk away from this after serving just 10 years in prison. You deserve to hang; you’re not fit to walk this earth, and now you want to sell out your younger brother to save your own useless skin. Your brother, though not a good person is worth ten of you. He hasn’t put the blame on you and said that you killed the Farrow’s; in fact, he is not saying anything. I
don’t want to hear anything more from you. Talk to your lawyer about what you decide you want to do. But whatever you decide I am going to make sure that you hang.” He stood up and walked to the cell door and said to the gaoler waiting outside; “Let me out of here before I do something that I will regret later”
Collins predecessor Sir Edward Henry had devised and introduced the Henry Classification System that would still be in use 115 years later. In essence, fingerprints are impressions that are left on surfaces by the friction ridges on the finger. There are three basic fingerprint patterns: loop, whorl and arch, which comprise of 65%, 35% and 5%of all fingerprints respectively. There are also more complex grouping systems that break down patterns even further into plain arches or tented arches but basically, a fingerprint is made up of the raised ridges on the fingers and even the toes. Detective Inspector Collins could stand up in a court of law, and explain about plain whorls, accidental whorls, double loop whorls, peacock’s eye, composite and central pocket loop whorls all day and never get bored with it, but juries and sometimes judges tended to fidget and get restless when technical details got too confusing for them. They would start to daydream and think about what they may have for dinner that evening or what to buy the wife for her birthday this year. It was Detective Inspector Collins job to put the fingerprint evidence to a judge and jury in layman’s terms and to try to educate them and to keep their attention. It would not be too bad to lose a trial of someone who had broken in someone’s house and stole some cheap jewellery but to lose an important murder trial because he could not convince the jury that fingerprints were a genuine way of proving that someone was in a place that the accused swore they had never been was unthinkable. This was the case that was going to tell the world that fingerprinting was an undisputed method of placing someone at the scene of a crime, and Detective Inspector Collins knew that if they blew this chance then it may be a very long time before they got an opportunity to do so again. Collins had two more weeks before the trial started to get his evidence together and present it in a way that everyday simplistic people could understand. He was going to have his work cut out for him.
On April the 18th William Gittings an assistant gaoler was checking the prisoners in Alberts block. He stopped to light a cigarette next to Albert’s cell and then opened the aperture and looked inside. Albert being bored with being locked up most of the day every day got up from his bed and walked over to
Gittings to strike up a conversation. Gittings didn’t mind Albert Stratton; he wasn’t like most of the deadbeats and roughnecks that he had to deal with in the prison on a daily basis. Albert always said please and thank you when Gittings brought him his food or took him out to the yard for exercise.
“How’s it going Albert?” asked Gittings.
“How do you think it’s going I am in here for something I didn’t do?”
Gittings, of course, had heard prisoners say this many times before. To listen to most of the cons in here the prison was full of innocent people, and all of the guilty people were outside walking the streets of London. Gittinngs had been following the Stratton brother’s story in the Daily Mirror and the News of The World, and he had seen and talked with Albert’s brother Alfred when taking food to prisoners on the other wing. After talking with both of them he believed he knew which one had done the murders and it did not think that it was Albert Stratton.
Gittings felt a little sorry for Albert so he offered him his backy tin so he could roll up a cigarette.
When they were both smoking Albert said.
“How do you think I shall get on?”
Gittings said, “I don’t really know Albert, from what I have read in the newspapers they don’t have so much on you. They say that it’s your brother that left the fingerprint and the reporters have been doing a lot of digging into both of your backgrounds in Deptford. They are saying that your brother was an ex-boxer and a bit of a hard man and hung around with known felons but they didn’t have much to say about you except something about you getting tossed out of the navy. They are inferring that it must have been your brother that did the deed on the Farrow’s.”
Albert smoked his cigarette for half a minute and then said “I reckon he will get strung up, and I shall get about ten years; he has led me into this; he is the cause of me being in here. I shall not say anything until I can see there is no chance, and then”…Alfred stopped speaking and started walking around his cell. Alfred then walked back to the door, and said, “I don’t want to get strung up. He has never done any work in his life, only about a month, and then they tried to put that Brixton job on him, but they found out at the time he was at work. I have only been out of the Navy about seven months” Albert threw his cigarette on to the floor, stood on it then walked back to his bunk and lay down. Gittings thought that Albert was rambling a bit and that the pressure of the upcoming trial was getting to him, but he reported the conversation to his superior Harry Allchurch and thought no more about it. Two days later there was an article in The News of The World quoting word for word what Albert Stratton had said to Gittings. The reporter who wrote the story submitted it to his editor. It was a slow news day so decided to run with it as the lead story the next morning the headline read.
“ONE OF THE DEPTFORD MASK MURDERERS CONFESSES”
Assistant Commissioner McNaughton had been leaking stories about the Mask Murders as it was now being called by most people, to drum up interest in the case. He had been doing this ever since the Stratton’s had been arrested and charged with the murder, and the newspapers were having a field day. There was nothing that the British public liked more than a grisly murder story such as the Jack the Ripper murders seventeen years previously. The murder of the Farrow’s was being called different names by different newspapers, The Mask Murders, The Farrow Murders or the Deptford Murders depending on which rag you read, but people throughout Great Britain were starting to take a great deal of interest in the case. McNaughton had received a message from Allhurch the head gaoler in Alberts’s wing of the prison a few mornings before and had met him in a pub on Ravenslea Road near Wandsworth Common. Allchurch had made a report of what Gitting’s had told him of his conversation with Albert, and Allchurch gave a copy of it to McNaughton. McNaughton gave him a few shillings and told him if he heard anything else newsworthy to leave a discreet message at his club. He had then gone to meet a reporter from the News of The World
Because it was imperative for the British Justice system and the British people to accept that fingerprinting was a genuine means of combating and solving crimes, the Assistant Chief Commissioner had no qualms leaking stories to the newspapers, as he knew that it was good for the nation if they could catch more criminals and reduce crime in Great Britain. There was a lot of unemployment in the country and crime was increasing at an alarming rate due to hunger and poverty of the lower classes. Not that it was always the lower classes that resorted to crime, some of the upper echelons was not much better and were not immune from killing or stealing from each other.
Justice Channell though not a member of Assistant Commissioner McNaughton’s club, was often signed in by an acquaintance and dined there, as the club was close to the Old Bailey. McNaughton knew him distantly and was on nodding terms with him. He had been waiting for an opportunity to talk to Judge Channell on his own, to gage his opinion on fingerprinting technology. This was proving to be difficult because Judge Channell always seemed to dine with other judges or barristers and then they would leave the club together. This evening Judge Channell was dining with a well-respected barrister when the barrister received a handwritten message from one of the stewards and was called away, probably by some aristocrat who had just been arrested McNaughton thought. Channell sat for five minutes letting his dinner digest, then stood up and took his brandy into the smoking-room; he found a comfortable chair by the fire, sat down and lit up a huge cigar.
McNaughton followed the judge into the smoking-room a minute later. He picked up a newspaper from the rack and pretended to look around for a free chair, then ambled over to where the judge was sitting and asked if the chair opposite him was free. The judge said that it was and McNaughton sat down and started to tamp tobacco into his pipe and began the ritual of lighting it. He called a waiter over and asked for a brandy and then said to the judge sitting opposite, “Would you care to join me in a brandy judge?” Judge Channell interrupted from his thoughts said; “Yes that’s very kind of you. It’s Assistant Commissioner McNaughton isn’t it?.” They leaned over and shook hands and McNaughton said “Sorry we have not been formally introduced before, I knew who you were, of course, that murder trial where those prostitutes were murdered last year by that Hungarian doctor. I followed that very closely, and if I may say so you handled the trial splendidly.”
“Yes, a terrible, ghastly business that, he really made those poor girls suffer before he eventually killed them, those streetwalkers will never learn. When I walk down the same street today there are still many girls there selling their bodies. Seemingly without a care in the world”
McNaughton wondered why the judge would be walking down that street, but it was none of his business so he just nodded his head in agreement.
They talked about crime and punishment for a while, and McNaughton ordered another round of brandies while trying to bring the subject around to fingerprinting.
Eventually, McNaughton said; “Did you see that case about eight months ago where that man had broken into a woman’s house in Bayswater and stole some jewellery?
”No I can’t say that I did, what was so special about that?”
“It was fascinating, there was hardly any evidence to go on and it looked like whoever did it would get away with it. He had broken into the house when the lady had gone out to do some shopping. He must have watched her leave then forced a side kitchen window open. He went through the house and found a few pieces of jewellery and a little money. As he was leaving he must have been thirsty, so he opened a cupboard and took out a glass and helped himself to a glass of water. He left the glass on the sink and left the house via the front door. The lady comes home, sees her front door wide open and runs to the police station around the corner. She comes back with a constable and they inspect the house and see the open kitchen window. The constable checks the house to make sure that the culprit was not still on the premises and then asks her to check if anything was missing and she goes and checks her jewellery box and finds it empty. They go downstairs to the kitchen and the constable sits at the table to take down all of the details of what was missing, and the lady says; “That’s funny, I never use those glasses they are only for special occasions. We haven’t had a special occasion in this house since before my husband died two years ago…he must have had a drink while he was here, the cheeky beggar.” The constable goes over to the sink to look at the glass, which was very dusty from lack of use, and he could clearly see the imprint of a thumb on one side of the glass and four fingers on the other side. The constable was a very diligent police officer and he had heard of the modern scientific way of catching criminals by using fingerprinting. So he sends for the fingerprint boffins, who come and take the glass back to their lab and within a few days, they had identified the culprit from his fingerprints that they had on file from when he was caught for doing another burglary a few years before. The police went around and searched his home and he still had the jewels wrapped up in his socks in a wardrobe. The wonders of science eh?”
Judge Channell said; “Yes I have heard about that new technique, I have never come across it personally in any cases that have come before me, I have read a little about it but I am not sure that I agree that everyone’s fingerprints are different and no two are the same. It seems a little farfetched to me. I mean to know that you would need to have everybody’s prints in the world to compare them to. How do they know that a man in London doesn’t have the same fingerprints as say someone in Sydney in Australia?”
This was not what McNaughton wanted to hear.
McNaughton pressed on. “The Fingerprint Bureau is a few floors down from my office in Scotland Yard. I occasionally go down there to see what they are up to. They have been having much success since the bureau was formed four years ago. They tell me that they have over 90,000 fingerprints on file and the file is growing every day and they have never found one set of prints that are the same. Did you know that the Fingerprint Bureau was started in Great Britain in 1901by Sir Edward Henry who is now the Commissioner of The Metropolitan Police Force. Have you ever met Sir Henry?”
“No our paths have never crossed, although of course I have seen him around the courts and I have heard a lot about him.”
“Oh, Sir Edward is a fascinating man and a very astute policeman with a razor-sharp mind. Before he started the Fingerprint Bureau he was in India for many years as the Inspector General of Police in Bengal. That’s where he started to get interested in the fingerprinting technique. The Indian wallahs had been taking fingerprints for over 50 years as a means of identification. Sir Edward studied it in great detail when he was there and when he was called back to London to take up the position of Assistant Commissioner of Police he bought back the idea of fingerprinting with him. He had been so impressed by what he had seen in India that he established the Fingerprint Bureau within months of taking up his new position. Of course, the British Government was very impressed by the new implementations and it wasn’t long before he took over the position of Chief Commissioner of Police. I, of course, stepped into the role of Assistant Commissioner when Sir Edward was promoted. Yes fingerprinting is the future of modern crime-fighting.
“Yes it sounds intriguing; I will have to look into it more,” said the judge, sounding bored.
“If you’re interested I could arrange a tour of the fingerprint laboratory if you would like to see it?”
“No, I appreciate the offer but my docket is rather full at present, I don’t have a lot of time to spare as you can imagine”
McNaughton couldn’t imagine anything of the sort but he said.
“Yes crime never sleeps, I am sure that you must be very busy. Look next time I am passing your chambers in the Old Bailey I can drop off some literature on fingerprinting techniques for you to read, they really are very interesting. I think that I even have a spare copy of the book that Sir Edward wrote Classification and Uses of Fingerprints that I can let you have.”
“That’s very kind of you, thank you so much,” the judge said still sounding bored.
McNaughton called the waiter over and ordered another two brandies. Then said; “Yes we have to move with the times. If someone had told me ten years ago that man would fly one day I would have laughed in his face. Five years ago the Germans invented the Zeppelin and then low and behold eighteen months ago those two Wright brothers in America built and flew an aeroplane. Who would be laughing now I ask you?”
McNaughton thought that he had said about as much as he could about fingerprinting so he turned the conversation around to politics and they talked about the Russian Peasant Revolution that was currently in the news and Sinn Fein the new Irish political party and their militant leader Arthur Griffith. Then
McNaughton took out his pocket watch, looked at it and feigned a look of surprise and said. “Where does the time go? Sorry, please forgive me I will have to leave you. I have an appointment back at the Yard that I can’t miss. It was so refreshing talking with you, a lot of the people in these clubs are old fuddy–duddys, still trapped in the last century but don’t quote me on that, he laughed. I will send you another brandy on my way out and I will have the steward put the drinks on my account. Thank you so much for an entertaining evening, I look forward to our next conversation.” Judge Channell stood up and shook the Assistant Chief Commissioners hand and wished him a good night. As McNaughton was halfway to the door he turned, clicked his fingers and said; “I have just had a thought, I will be in the Old Bailey tomorrow regarding a trial that is starting, I will drop the book and information into your chambers and leave it with your secretary. Goodnight Jude Channell.”
Walking down the stairs of his club, he thought, “Well I have planted the seed, let’s hope that it grows.”
5th of May 1905
The door from the judge’s chamber opened
“All rise for the honourable Judge Channell” Bailiff Armstrong shouted in his much-rehearsed baritone voice.
The courtroom at the Old Bailey was full to capacity with spectators, family members and friends of the deceased and news reporters from all of the national newspapers as well as the London newspapers. Judge Channell his robes flowing behind him rushed into the courtroom as if he was late for an appointment. The judge never tired of his own self-importance and loved it when he could play to a packed courtroom. The room fell silent except for the scrapping of chairs and the rustling of clothes as the judge’s audience rose as one. He walked the three steps up to the bench peered down and around the courtroom, sat himself down and said “Be seated” They all sat down as one and sat in silence waiting for the proceedings to begin.
Sitting to the right of the judge’s bench sat the experienced prosecution team of Mr Graham Muir assisted by Mr Arthur Bodkin. To the judges left at two different tables sat Mr John Rooth assisted by Mr Richard Curtis-Bennett who appeared for Alfred Stratton while at the second table sat Mr Harold Morris who appeared for Albert Stratton. The Stratton brothers were not speaking to each other and both were still denying being involved in the murder of Thomas Farrow and had taken different lawyers to defend each of them.
The jury of twelve men had already been sworn in. They were from a cross-section of trades, made up of a builder’s merchant, bank teller, baker, two shop keepers, engineer, clerk, tram driver, teacher, gas-fitter, brewery manager and a ferry boat officer.
Judge Channell looked at his trial notes and then looked up and surveyed the packed courtroom. “Bring in the accused.”
Albert and Alfred were brought up the steps from the holding cells below and were led to separate docks. They glared at each other but neither of them spoke.
The judge sat facing the two accused men; “Alfred Edward Stratton you are charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow on the 27th of March 1905 at 34 High Street, Deptford. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty your honour”
The Judge made a note of it then turned to Albert Stratton; “Albert Ernest Stratton you are charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow on the 27th of March 1905 at 34 High Street, Deptford. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty your honour” Albert said in a low voice”
Albert cleared his throat and said in a louder voice; “Not Guilty your honour”
Judge Channell wrote this in his notes in front of him looked at the defence table for a second. Then turned to the prosecution table and said. Mr Muir, you may call your first witness. Muir stood up; the prosecution would like to call Mr George Chapman to the witness box.”
George Chapman was brought into the courtroom by a bailiff, guided to the witness box and he was sworn in.
“Please state your name, address and occupation.” recited prosecutor Muir
“My name is George Chapman. I am oil and colour merchant and I live and manage one of my shops at 44 London Street, Greenwich and I have two other paint and oil shops, one at 34 High Street, Deptford and the other at 65 Lee High Road, Lewisham.”
“You employed Thomas Farrow as a shop manager at your Deptford branch of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store?”
“Yes, he managed the Deptford shop along with his wife Ann for three years up until March 27th. Before that, he had been in my father’s service”
“So he was a trusted employee?”
“Yes very much so he had been in the family employ for twenty-four years.”
“When was the last time that you spoke with Thomas Farrow?”
“That would have been a week before his death” I always called at the shop on Mondays, when I would receive from Mr Farrow the takings of the previous week”
“How did he pay you?”
“He was at liberty to make deductions for out of pocket expenses and for his wages, and he handed me the balance.”
“And how much were the weekly takings”
They varied depending on the time of the year but towards the end of March the takings would be around £12 or £15 a week”
Over in the prisoner’s dock, Albert glared at Alfred.
“Was it common knowledge that you received the money from your Deptford shop in this manner?”
“Well, I suppose people would see me come and go. I usually went to the Deptford shop when my own shop in Greenwich was quiet between 12.30 pm and 1.00 pm
“Please tell the court; what were the business hours of your shop in Deptford that Thomas Farrow managed?”
“The hours of business were from 8.00 am until 9.30 pm, though persons wanting to buy paints or painting supplies might call at the shop out of business hours in the morning. It is common practice with oil and colour shops as painters and decorators would call in at the shop early on the morning on their way to doing a painting job to pick up their supplies”
“Now Mr Chapman, would you please look at the two accused men Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton and tell me if you recognise them”
Chapman studied the Stratton brothers with a look of distaste. “I think that I have seen them around the streets of Deptford before but I cannot be sure”
“Thank you Mr Chapman. No more questions your honour.”
Chapman went to leave the witness box.
“Please stay where you are Mr Chapman, the defendant’s counsel may want to cross-examine…Mr Roth, Mr Morris?” said Judge Chanell looking at two of the Stratton’s barristers.
“Thank you your honour,” said Harold Morris, standing up and walking towards the witness box.”Mr Chapman, I represent Albert Stratton. “Have you ever seen him standing outside your shop on Deptford High Street when you have been there picking up the weeks takings and pointed to where Albert Stratton was sat?”
Chapman studied Alfred for a few seconds. “No, I don’t believe that I have”
“Now you say that you go to pick up the takings every week from your Deptford shop. Where did the transaction take place?”
“Upstairs in the office, Ann would always have a cup of tea and a sandwich ready when I arrived, we would talk about the week’s business and then Thomas would give me the week’s takings minus any expenses and his wages.”
“So no one from the street would have seen the Thomas Farrow handing you the money?”
“No, it was always done in the upstairs office”
“And how was the money paid to you?”
“It was handed to me in a plain envelope”
“Thank you your honour, no more questions”
The judge looked down at Arthur Stratton’s barrister. Mr Rooth?”
Rooth stood and walked around towards the witness box. “Mr Chapman, you say that you go to your Deptford shop at the same time every week to pick
up the weekly takings. Have you ever seen Alfred Stratton standing outside your shop when you have been there to collect the week’s takings?”
Chapman glanced at Alfred; “No, not that I can recall.”
“You also say that you pick up the takings every week, did you ever see a cash box on the premises when picking up the money.”
“No, the money was already in an envelope when we sat down to talk.”
“Mr Chapman was it common knowledge around Deptford that you picked up the weekly takings every Monday at the same time between twelve and one o’clock.”
“Well I suppose that it was, I have been doing the same routine at my Deptford shop since the shop opened many years ago, as I have always done with my other shop in Lewisham.”
“So do you go to your Lewisham shop on the same day after you have picked up the money from Deptford shop?”
“No, before, I go to Lewisham before I go to the Deptford shop as a rule”
“So anyone from Lewisham or Deptford or any other area for that matter could know your routine”
“Yes I suppose so”
“Thank you your honour, no more questions”
“You may step down now Mr Chapman,” said the judge and Chapman left the witness box.
The judge fiddled with his notes…”Please call your next witness”
“The prosecution calls William Jones”
A nervous-looking William Jones was sworn on oath, to tell the truth.
“Please state your name, address and occupation,” said Muir in a kindly voice trying to make young William feel more at ease.”
William looked around nervously at the silent courtroom and at the mass of people who were all staring at him and said in a whispered voice. “My name is William Jones and I live at 7, Thames…”
“Speak up boy so everyone can hear you, “said Judge Channell in a not so friendly voice”
“My name is William Jones and I live at 7 Thames Street, Greenwich. I am an assistant storekeeper at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in Deptford.”
“And what are your hours there?” My hours are from about 8.30 a.m. to 9.00 pm or sometimes a little later if I am needed.”
“When was the last time that you saw Mr Farrow alive?”
“It was on Saturday the 25th of March as I don’t work on Sundays. I said goodnight to Mr and Mrs Farrow at about 9.15 pm and said that I would see them on Monday.”
“What time did you arrive at the paint shop on Monday the 27th of March?”
“I arrived at 8.30 or thereabouts.”
“William, could you please tell the court in your own words, what happened when you arrived for work that morning?’
“I got to the shop and tried the door but it was locked. That had never happened before. I knocked on the door and then the window but no one answered. I walked around the back but that door was locked too, so I looked through the window, but I could not see anyone moving about inside. I went back around to the front of the shop and saw Mr Whitmore from Whitmore Painters and Decorators looking through the front window and I told him what had happened. He said that he couldn’t hang around and that he would go to the main store in Greenwich to get what he needed. I sat on the step for a while to think what to do then I got up again and knocked on the door and window a few times, but no one came to the door so I went to Mr Chapman’s shop in Greenwich to tell them. I thought that Mr Chapman might have had a spare key for the shop. Mr Chapman said that he didn’t have a key for the Deptford shop so he told his assistant Louise to walk back to the shop with me to help me get in. When we got back to the shop the door was still locked so we went around the back and we knocked loudly and shouted to the upstairs window in case they were still asleep. When no one answered Louise told me to find something to force the lock with on the back door. I went into the shed and found a metal bar and then went and put it between the door and the door frame and broke the lock”
William stopped and looked frightened thinking about what he was going to say next.
“Go on William, what happened then”
“I rushed in the shop shouting Mr Farrow’s name and when I got into the front room of the shop I tripped over Mr Farrow’s body” William started to cry.
“It’s ok William, take your time, would you like some water?”
“Yes please sir”
“The bailiff went out and returned a few seconds later with a mug of water, which William gulped down”
“Are you feeling a little better now?” said Muir kindly.
“Yes thank you sir.”
“OK so you tripped over Mr Farrow’s body, what happened next”
“I ran outside and spewed up in the back yard, Louise followed me out of the shop and I said that we needed to call the police, so she ran off to find a copper and I sat and waited.”
“Did you go back inside the shop?”
“No, I was too scared to, I just sat outside until Louise came back with Sergeant Atkinson”
“Thank you William, you are doing very well. Just a few more questions and I will be finished.”
“Have you ever seen the two defendants, Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton before?” Muir pointed to the prisoners in the dock.
“I think that I have seen the one without the moustache before, nodding in the direction of Alfred Stratton, but I don’t think that I have ever seen the other one.”
“Do you remember where you have seen him before?”
“Maybe around Deptford or I might have seen him in Greenwich because that’s where I live. It would have to be one of those two places as I don’t go anywhere else.”
“Could you have seen him waiting outside the paint shop in the weeks leading up to when the Farrows were murdered?”
“I couldn’t say sir, he just looks familiar.”
“Thank you William, I have no more questions but please stay where you are, these two gentlemen may want to ask you a few questions,” Muir indicated to the defendant’s lawyers.
Rooth had no questions as such but thought that he should say something for form sake. “How long have you worked for Mr Farrow?”
“About three years, I started when I was thirteen?”
“Now, you say that you may have seen my client Alfred Stratton before but you can’t remember where you have seen him. How certain are you that you have seen him?”
William looked confused then said,” I am not certain at all, I just think that I have seen his face before but it could have been someone else that I saw.”
“No more questions your honour.”
The judge looked at Alfred’s lawyer; “Mr Morris, would you like to cross-examine the witness”
“Yes your honour,” he said standing up and walking towards William.
“So you have worked for Mr Farrow for three years and you have never seen my client Albert Stratton before in the vicinity of the paint shop or anywhere else for that matter”
“No more questions your honour”
“The Judge nodded at the prosecution table; call your next witness.
Arthur Bodkin got to his feet and said: “I would like to call Louise Kidman.”
Louis Kidman entered the courtroom, looking pleased with herself, a plain girl she had never had much attention bestowed on her but now all these people were waiting to hear what she had to say.
“Please state your name, address and occupation.”
“Louise Kidman and I live at 72 Claremont Street Greenwich. I am Mr Chapman’s first assistant at his shop in Greenwich,” she stated proudly.
Please tell us in your own words what happened on the morning of the 27th of March when William Jones came to your shop.
“William came to the shop a little after 9.00 am. He was in quite a state and said that he couldn’t get into Mr Chapman’s shop where he worked in Deptford. I went upstairs to see Mr Chapman where he was having his breakfast and told him what had happened. He came down to talk with William and William told Mr Chapman what he had told me. Mr Chapman told me to go back to the shop and see what was going on. William asked him if he had a spare key and Mr Chapman said that he didn’t, so we walked to the shop together. The shop was still locked up so we went around to the back door but that was locked too. We shouted up to the bedroom window, but no one came down to let us in. I told William to find something to break the lock. William found a metal bar from somewhere broke the lock then ran inside the shop and fell over Mr Farrow’s body that was lying on the shop floor. We both ran back outside and William was sick, so I said that I would go and find a policeman. I found Sergeant Atkinson walking up High Street and told him what we had found and he came back to the paint shop with me.”
“Thank you Miss Kidman”
No more questions your honour’
The judge sat up straight “Any questions for Miss Kidman gentlemen?” he said to both tables of the defence.
“No your honour, from both Rooth and Morris.”
Albert Smith a butcher whose shop sat opposite Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store was called next. But had nothing much to offer as evidence but confirmed that Chapman was in the habit of opening his shop early on a morning if tradesmen on their way to a job needed painting supplies. He said that he didn’t think that he had ever seen either Alfred Stratton or Albert Stratton before.
When Smith had finished Sergeant Atkinson was called to the witness box and sworn in and was asked by Mr Muir to give his account of what happened the morning of the murder.
“On Monday, March 27th I was patrolling Deptford High Street when I was approached by Louise Kidman who told me that there had been a murder at Chapman’s Oil and Paint Store. I asked her who it was and she told me that it was Mr Farrow the manager of the shop. We ran back to the paint shop at 34 High Street. I told Miss Kidman to wait outside with William Jones the shop assistant. I entered through the back door then went through the shop parlour and found Mr Farrow dead in the middle of the floor he had been badly beaten. I knew the Farrow’s from doing my rounds and I wondered where Mrs Farrow was. I checked the downstairs area to make sure that Mrs Farrow or the culprits were not still in the lower area of the shop. I then went upstairs to check to see if Mrs Farrow was there. I entered the bedroom upstairs and saw Mrs Farrow lying on the bed also badly beaten. I went over to see if she was still alive and saw that she was still breathing but taking very shallow breaths. There was a lot of blood coming from her nose and mouth so I turned her on her side so that she would not choke and then went to check the other rooms. There was nothing suspicious or no one else upstairs so I went back downstairs into the back yard and told Miss Kidman to go to Deptford Police Station and report what had happened and to tell them to send an inspector and some constables, a doctor and also send for an ambulance for Mrs Farrow. I told William to stay outside and to let no one in until more police arrived. I then went back upstairs to check on Mrs Farrow, who looked about the same. When I was leaving the bedroom I saw a cash box lying empty on its side, I thought that it may be important evidence so I pushed it to the side of the room so that no one would touch it until the investigation team arrived. I th…”
Muir interrupted his testimony; “You say that you moved the cash box to the side of the room, did you pick it up?
“No, I used my index finger to slide the box across the carpet to the closest bedroom wall.”
“Carry on, what did you do next?”
“I went back down the stairs and when I looked again at Mr Farrow’s body I saw what appeared to be a pair of ladies stockings lying near his feet. I picked them up and part of the stockings fell back to the ground and I saw that they were in fact two masks that had been cut out of stockings. I put them back where I had found them next to the body. The police surgeon arrived a little later, followed by Inspector Hailstone and a team of constables.”
“Thank you Sergeant Atkinson, that’s all the questions that I have for you”
“Mr Rooth, any questions for Sergeant Atkinson?” said the judge looking up from his notes. Rooth stood up and walked around to the other side of the defence table and leaned back on it.
“When you moved the cash box to the side of the bedroom did you have any blood on your hands from attending to Mrs Farrow?”“
No I had only tuned her over to make her more comfortable; I did not touch any part of her that was bleeding”
“Are you sure, if she was beaten as badly as you say, then blood would have been everywhere?”
“There was a lot of blood on the bed and her face was covered with blood especially from the nose down, but I never got any blood on me. I remember looking at my hands after turning her over, as I don’t like other people’s blood on me and I saw that my hands were clean.”
“No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris anything from you?” the judge said looking at Albert Stratton’s lawyer”
“No questions for the sergeant thank you your honour”
Judge Channell studied the clock on the wall, then said; “That’s enough testimony for this morning we will take an hour for luncheon and resume the trial again at 1.00 pm. The judge turned to the guards standing next to Alfred and Albert Stratton…take them back down to the cells and make sure that they are given something to eat.
“All rise for the honourable Judge Channell” and the judge retired to his chambers.
Assistant Chief Superintendent McNaughton who was sitting at the back of the public gallery so as not to be seen by Judge Channell turned to Chief Inspector Fox and said; “Well nothing much from the first session, but that was to be expected. I think Alfred’s lawyer was trying to confuse the jury by saying that if Sergeant Atkinson had blood on his finger then it could be his print on the cash box, not Alfred Stratton’s.”
“It’s a clear match for Albert Stratton, the print couldn’t be anyone else’s, anyway Sergeant Atkinson pushed the box to the side of the room with his
index finger, the print on the cash box in blood was a thumb print” said Chief Inspector Fox.”
“Yes I know but the Alfred Stratton’s defence lawyers are going to try to muddy the waters whenever they can to make the jury think that fingerprint evidence is unreliable.” McNaughton looked at his pocket watch and said; “come on, I’m as nervous as a hoar in a cathedral, let’s go to the Magpie and Stump for a wee dram before the next session starts.
“All rise for the honourable Judge Channell” Bailiff Armstrong announced as the afternoon court session recommenced.
The judge entered the courtroom, mounted the steps that led to his bench and sat down “Bring on your next witness please Mr Muir”
“Thank you your honour the prosecution calls Dr Dudley Burnie.”
Dr Burnie was sworn to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth for what may have been the hundredth time of his long career as a police doctor.
Muir said “For the court records please state your name and occupation”
“My name is Dr Dudley Burnie. I am divisional surgeon of police, practising at 327 New Cross Road, New Cross.”
“You attended a murder scene at 34 High Street in Deptford in March of this year. Please tell the court in your own words what transpired on that morning.”
“Shortly after 9.30 a.m. on March 27th, I arrived at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store at 34 High Street in Deptford, and saw Thomas Farrow lying in the paint shops parlour, his head and face bloodied. His eyes were open staring blankly so I could see that he was dead. I had been told that there was a badly injured woman in the upstairs bedroom. There was nothing that I could do for Mr Farrow so I went upstairs to attend to the injured woman. Mrs Farrow was lying on the bed unconscious, and she was severely injured. There was nothing I could do for her at the scene; she needed hospital treatment as soon as possible, so I sent her to the Seaman’s Hospital in Deptford where she later died from her injuries on Friday the 31st of March. I then went back down the stairs to further examine Mr Farrow. I took body temperatures and deduced that he had been dead for two to three hours and I pronounced Mr Farrow dead at 9.50 am
I made a post-mortem examination on the body of Thomas Farrow the next morning on the 28th of March. I found a number of severe injuries to his head, there was a wound above his right eyebrow that did not cause fracture of the bone. There was another wound on the right side of his nose, extending to the right side of his face, tearing away part of the cartilage. About three inches above the top of his right ear there was a large contused scalp wound. On the left side of his head, about three inches above his left ear, there was a similar wound, and about one inch behind his left ear there was an incised wound with sharp cut edges, somewhat circular in shape and penetrating down to the bone. Above that there was a triangular wound, also going down to the skull; I also found some bruising at the back of the skull. On removing the scalp I found the bone had been fractured in one place and it was a comminuted fracture, one in which the bone was broken into several pieces in the region of the temple in front of the ear. On further examination, I saw that the cheekbone was also fractured on the right side. There had also been haemorrhage from the blood vessels in the brain. Mr Farrow had taken a terrible beating. Apart from the injuries, the body was in a healthy, well-preserved state. I concluded that death was due to shock and haemorrhage, the direct result of the head injuries. In my judgment, there were about six blows; the major portion of them must have been inflicted with a heavy blunt instrument, such as a bar or a flat steel weapon one inch or two inches in width and of some considerable length.
I was also present at the post-mortem examination on the body of Mrs Farrow on April 1st and saw the injuries from which she had died. There was a comminuted fracture of the skull on the left side of the head on the parietal region, and a fracture at the base of the skull, two blows would have caused those injuries. I determined that the same kind of instrument that was used on the husband would have caused her injuries. I deduced that when she received the blows to her head that she was lying in bed on her right side with her face turned towards the wall.
“Dr Burnie so you’re saying that both of the victims were killed with the same weapon?”
“Yes or two weapons of identical size and width”
“Considerable force was used, what if anything did you determine the reason for so much force and so many blows, surly one blow from such a weapon would have been enough to incapacitate the victims.
“I believe that the person or persons who did this were in a rage and could not control their anger and emotions”
McNaughton sitting in the gallery looked over at the Stratton brothers. Albert had tears rolling down his cheeks glaring at his brother while Alfred looked unconcerned and was busy cleaning his nails.
“Thank you Doctor Burnie, I have no more questions for you.”
Rooth, when asked by the judge if he had any questions for the doctor, said that he did, stood up and walked over and stood directly in front of the witness box.
“You mentioned a triangular wound, what type of implement could have caused that wound?”
“The triangular wound on the top of Farrow’s skull was not, in my opinion, caused by a blunt instrument, it is difficult to come to any firm conclusion what it was caused by, but something with a point; not exactly a sharp point, but a point of some kind. All of the other wounds were caused by a flat instrument something like a jemmy or something of that kind. It is quite possible that a pointy end of a jemmy could have caused the triangular wound.”
“No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris do you have any questions for Dr Burnie?” asked the judge.
“Just one or two thank you your honour Morris got up from the table; “You say that the perpetrator of this crime must have been in a rage”
“In my opinion yes, a considerable rage”
“So someone with an uncontrollable temper”
“Yes I believe so”
“Do you believe that it was only one person killed the couple?”
“I believe that it was the same type of weapon that killed Mr and Mrs Farrow, so unless two people shared the same weapon or had identical weapons it is more likely that only one person killed both of them.”
“Thank you, no more questions Dr Burnie.”
McNaughton whispered to Chief Inspector Fox; I think Morris scored a point there, the jury would have heard that the doctor believed that there was only one killer. Bodes well for young Albert Stratton, don’t you think?”
Chief Inspector Fox said; “Yes the only print we have is Alfred Stratton’s and it is in blood. Alfred is also the older and the more aggressive of the two and has a history of violence and getting into fights.”
The judge looked up from his writing and said. “Please call your next witness Mr Muir”
Mr Bodkin stood up and said, “The prosecution call Detective Sergeant Frank Beavis to the witness box.”
Beavis walked to the witness box, was sworn to tell the truth and sat down.
“You were the arresting officer of Alfred Stratton were you not?”
“Yes, he was arrested in the King of Prussia public house on Albury Street in Deptford, around 10.30 pm on the 2nd of April.”
“Please tell the court what happened that night”
“I saw Albert in the taproom in the pub and told him that we needed to take him to Blackheath Road Police Station for questioning. He asked me what he was wanted for. I told him that I didn’t know but if detectives from Scotland Yard wanted to talk to him that it must be quite serious. I asked him where his brother Albert was and he told me that he did not know. I had two constables with me and we took him to Blackheath Road Police Station where he was searched and we found a purse with 18 shillings and 2 pence. Which was a considerable amount of money for someone who was unemployed? His clothes were taken from him and he was given prison clothes to wear.”
“What was Alfred Stratton’s demeanour that night?”
“He was quite angry and aggressive and at one point he would have attacked me if it wasn’t for the two constables restraining him”
“No more questions thank you your honour”
“Mr Rooth do you have any questions for Detective Sergeant Beavis?”
“I certainly do your honour”
“Detective Sergeant Beavis, you say that Alfred Stratton was…he looked down at the notes he was holding, “Angry and Aggressive”
“Yes that’s right”
“Was there a reason for his anger and aggression?”
“Well I assumed that he didn’t want to go to the police station to be interviewed, but I have had dealings with Alfred Stratton previously and I would say that most of those times he has been angry and aggressive.”
“So you don’t think that you pouring a pint of beer over him would make him angry and aggressive, I know that it would make me angry if someone did that to me?”
Beavis thought about this for a moment. “Oh, I see where you are going with this…when I said that we were taking him to be interviewed, he jumped up from the table and knocked the pint of beer over which went over his trousers. He tried to get to me to do me harm and that’s when the two constables took hold of him and handcuffed him”
“I put it to you, Detective Sergeant Beavis, that you tipped the table up to spill a pint of beer over Alfred Stratton to get a reaction and to make him angry?”
“No sir, Alfred spilt the beer on himself when he jumped up to try to assault me, the two constables that were with me that night in the King of Prussia can vouch for that”
Rooth glared at Detective Sergeant Beavis for a few seconds and knew that he was not going to get anything more out of the policeman, so he changed tack. “You said that Alfred Stratton had 18 shillings and 2 pence when he was taken to the police station and searched. Did you ask him where he got the money from?”
“Yes, he said that he won it betting on a racehorse when I asked him what the name of the horse and who the bookie was he said that he couldn’t remember.”
“No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris, any questions?”
“Thank you your honour.” Rising to his feet he said.
“You stated that Alfred Stratton was aggressive and angry when you tried to bring him in for questioning and that he had to be restrained?”
“Yes that’s correct”
“You have had dealings with Alfred Stratton before have you not”
“Yes I have, Albert Stratton is quite well known by the police in South-East London”
“In your other dealings with him how was conduct and manner those times?”
“About the same, a leopard doesn’t change his spots”
“No more questions your honour”
“Rooth jumped up and said to Judge Channell. “I would like to re-examine Detective Sergeant Beavis if I may?”
Judge Channell looked up from his writing and said; “Go ahead Mr Rooth”
“You said that you and the other police in South-East London have had dealings with my client in the past”
“In all of those dealings has Alfred Stratton ever been charged with a crime?”
“No, he hasn’t”
“Thank you that will be all Detective Sergeant Beavis”
“Well not until four weeks ago when he was charged with wilful murder”
Rooth turned around and furiously glared at Beavis; “I said that will be all Detective Sergeant Beavis.”
Judge Channell was still busily writing his notes, after half a minute he said; “Call your next witness please Mr Muir”
Muir stood and said “I would like to recall Sergeant Atkinson”
Atkinson was sworn in again.
“Sergeant Atkinson, you were the officer in charge when Albert Stratton was brought in for questioning?”
“Yes sir I was”
“And when was this?”
“About 9.15 am on the 3rd of April, the morning after his brother had been brought in for questioning”
“Can you tell the court what happened that morning”?
“We apprehended Alfred Stratton not far from his mother’s home, where he had moved into a few days earlier. I approached him and asked him to accompany me to Blackheath Road Police Station.”
“And what was his response”
Sergeant Atkinson took out his notebook and began to leaf through the pages until he found the page he was looking for “I told him that I would like him to accompany me to Blackheath Road Police Station, where there were some officers from Scotland Yard who would like to ask him a few questions. Alfred Stratton asked me, what for, and I told him that it was about the robbery and double murder at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store and that everything would be explained at the station.”
“Did Albert Stratton say anything else?”
“No he seemed as if he had been expecting it, we put him in handcuffs as a precaution but we walked back to the station without a problem.”
“Did you have a conversation with him on the way to the police station?”
“I tried asking him a few things to get him talking but he seemed to be deep in thought and he never answered. When we arrived at Blackheath Road police station, he was searched and two shillings and nine pence were found on him. His clothes were taken from him to be checked and he was issued prison clothes.
“Thank you Sergeant Atkinson, that’s all the questions I have for you for now”
The judge looked up once again. “Mr Rooth?”
“Thank you your honour, but no”
“Yes thank you your honour, Sergeant Atkinson when you asked my client come to the police station with you to speak with the detectives from Scotland Yard, did he try to run away?”
“No, he just asked why he was wanted for questioning and came along quietly once we told him.”
“So he wasn’t aggressive and he did not get angry?”
“No as I said before it looked as if he had been expecting us.”
“Thank you no more questions”
“Call your next witness please Mr Muir”
“The prosecution would like to call Miss Kate Wade”
Kate Wade walked into the courtroom and sat in the witness box as directed. She immediately looked around to where the Stratton brothers were sitting and looked Alfred Stratton in the eye. Alfred unable to hold her gaze broke eye contact and started to pay attention to his finger nails again. Kate was sworn in and Muir got up from his desk and stood directly in front of the witness box.
“Please state your name, address and occupation”
“ My name is Kate Wade and I live at 194 Church Street, Deptford. I am employed as a seamstress”
“Thank you Miss Wade. You were in a relationship with Albert Stratton were you not?”
“Yes we were together for about five months up until a few weeks ago, but I have known him for most of my life”
“Could you please tell the court the reason why you and Albert Stratton broke up?”
“Albert asked me to tell the police if they came asking about him that he had been with me all night on the 26th of March. He told me that he had stolen some meat from Smithfield Market and that he needed an alibi for that night and the next morning and I wasn’t happy about giving him an alibi, so I asked him to leave a few days later”
“And did the police question you about Albert Stratton’s whereabouts on that night and early morning?”
“Yes they did and I told them that he had been with me all night, up until I left for work at 8.30 that morning”
“And had Albert Stratton been with you all night until you went to work?”
“No, he was with me from about 11.15 the night of the 26th of March but he left our room at about 5.30 the next morning. He said that he had a job to do”
“So why did you tell the police that he was with you all night?”
“Albert’s brother Alfred Stratton threatened me; he said that harm would come to my brother if I did not say that Albert was with me all night”
“Please tell the court in your own words in what way did Alfred Stratton threaten you”
“I was on my way to work on the morning of the 29th of March when Alfred Stratton approached me. He asked me if I had heard about a young boy from Peckham who had been raped and murdered and he implied that the same would happen to my brother if I did not give Albert an alibi for that night.”
“You bastard” Alfred shouted at his brother. You fucking bastard” and Albert tried to push past the jailers who were guarding him to get to his brother”
Judge Channell banged down his gavel five or six times and shouted: “Order in the court, restrain that prisoner” as the two jailers who were trying to restrain Albert wrestled him to the floor.
“Take both of the accused back down to the cells” he ordered and Albert was manhandled out of the dock and pushed down the stairs shouting and cursing at his brother, who was being escorted behind him.
“We shall take a five-minute recess,” said the judge angrily and stormed into his chambers.
McNaughton looked at Chief Inspector Fox and said “Well I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps Albert is now ready to tell us what really happened that morning in the paint shop”
Chief Inspector Fox nodded and said; “Probably too late now he is refusing to take the stand”
It was ten minutes before the judge had calmed down enough to reconvene the proceedings. He ordered the bailiff to have the two accused brought back up from the cells. When the brothers were safely in their docks, the judge glared at Albert Stratton for a minute and then turned his attention to both Albert and Alfred Stratton’s legal teams “Any more outbursts from either of the accused and they will be taken back to the cells and your clients will be tried in absentia. Do you understand?”
“Yes your honour replied both sets of lawyers simultaneously”
The judge stared at both of the defence lawyers for a few seconds then said: “Ok where were we, please read back Mr Muirs and Miss Wades last statements?”
The clerk stood up found the paragraphs he was looking for in his records and read from his notes; “Mr Muir said; “Miss Wade please tell the court in your own words in what way did Alfred Stratton threaten you.”
Miss Wade replied; “I was on my way to work on the morning of the 29th of March when Alfred Stratton approached me. He told me about a young boy from Peckham who had been raped and murdered and he implied that the same would happen to my brother if I did not give Albert an alibi for that night.”
The judge looked back over to Albert Stratton to make sure that there would be no more outbursts, then said; “Mr Muir please continue you’re questioning of the witness”
Muir got to his feet and approached the witness box again. “So he threatened that harm would come to your brother if you did not give Albert Stratton an alibi for the night in question”
“And did you believe those threats?”
“Yes he frightened me very badly”
“So what did you do, did you report the threat to the police”
“No, Alfred Stratton told me that if I told the police and he was arrested and put in prison that he could still arrange for my brother to be killed through his criminal friends”
“So what did you do?”
“When the police questioned me I told the police that Albert Stratton was with me all night on the night of the 26th until I left for work that morning at 8.30.”
“Tell me Miss Wade, why have you changed your mind about telling the truth about what really happened?”
“I was frightened of what would happen with my brother, so that’s why I lied to the police. After a few days, I knew that I had done the wrong thing so I talked with my father and he convinced me to go to the police station and tell them the truth.”
“Thank you Miss Wade…I have no more questions your honour.”
Judge Channell “Mr Rooth would you like to question the witness”
“Yes I would your honour”
“Miss Wade, so you lied to the police?”
“Yes because Alfred said…”
“Yes we know what you said Alfred Stratton said Miss Wade” Rooth interrupted; “But you lied to the police, are you lying now about what Alfred Stratton allegedly said to you?”
“No I am not, I am telling the truth”
“So you say…tell me were there any witnesses to this alleged conversation with Alfred Stratton or did anyone even see you talking to Albert Stratton when you say that he threatened you?”
“No, I was alone”
“What would you say if I told that Alfred Stratton has told me that the conversation that you said that you had with him never took place?”
“I would say that he was lying”
“And you’re not? Even though you have already admitted that you lied to the police. No more questions your honour”
“Yes your honour, I have a few questions that I would like to put to the witness”
Morris stood up but stayed by his desk, looking down at his notes.
“Miss Wade you said that you recanted your first statement to the police and then in your second interview with the police said that Albert Stratton had not been with you all night, is that correct?”
“What time did you wake up on the morning of the 27th of March?”
“Albert reset the alarm clock for me for 8.00 when he went out at 5.30 that morning, so I got up when the alarm went off.”
“How do you know that he left the house at 5.30?”
“Before I went to sleep Alfred told me that he had a job to do the next morning and that he would set the alarm for 5.00 for himself and then reset it for me when he left. He normally has a wash in the sink and a cup of tea before he goes out when he has work, so he would have left around 5.30.”
“Did you see or hear him leave?”
“No, I did hear the alarm go off but I then went back to sleep”
“Albert Stratton was quite drunk when he came home that night, was he not?”
“Yes he had had a few”
“So it’s quite possible that when the alarm clock went off at 5.00 am he switched it off and drifted back to sleep for an hour or two”
“I wouldn’t know”
“You woke up when the alarm went off at 8.00. Alfred Stratton could have left the house at five minutes to eight for all you know.”
Kate thought about this for a moment. “He could have done but I don’t think that he did”
“You don’t think that he did…or do you know for a fact that he left the room at 5.30 that morning?”
“No, I told you I was asleep at 5.30”
“No more questions your honour”
The judge looked at the clock and said, “We have time for one or maybe two more witness’s…Mr Muir?’
“The prosecution would like to call Henry Jennings your honour.”
Henry Jennings, the milkman was brought in to the courtroom and sworn in.
“For the record please state your name, address and occupation please Mr Jennings.”
My name is Henry Alfred Jennings. I am a milk carrier, and I live at 23 Florence Road, New Cross.
“Where is your milk delivery round Mr Jennings?”
“It takes in the New Cross and Deptford areas.”
“Do you deliver milk to any premises on High Street in Deptford?”
“Yes I delver milk to a lot of shops and houses on the High Street in Deptford”
“Do you deliver milk to 34 High Street in Deptford?”
“No, I deliver to two shops either side of 34, numbers 32 and 36 and also directly across the road at the butcher’s shop.”
“And were you delivering milk on the morning of the 27th of March this year in the vicinity of 34 Deptford High Street?”
“Yes I was”
“And did you see two men coming out of number 34 High Street that morning?”
“Yes I did”
“Can you please tell the court in your own words what you saw that morning?”
“I was with Edward my milk boy and on my usual round. I had stopped the horse and cart outside number 46 High Street as I usually do. Edward took the even side of the road and I took the odd side of the road. As came out of the shop doorway I saw two men come out of the paint shop which was four shops down. They started to walk towards me as I went into the doorway of number 41. I put two bottles down next to the door, and stopped in the doorway as the two men walked past on the opposite side of the road from where I was standing”
“Did you recognise any of them?”
“No, I don’t believe that I had seen them before that day.”
“But you got a good look at them?”
“Yes they were in my view for about five or ten seconds.”
“And what time was this?”
“We were running a bit late, so I would say about 7.30 or 7.40 or thereabouts.
“Which way were they heading?”
“They walked past where I was standing towards New Cross Road.”
“Towards Deptford train station?”
“Yes that’s right”
“Can you describe the men that you saw that morning?”
“One was about one or two inches taller than the other man and was stouter. He looked to be around 23 or maybe a little older. He had a short dark moustache and was dressed in a blue suit and a white shirt with a tie. He wore a bowler hat pulled low over his face and with the collar of his jacket turned up and he walked with his hands in his pockets. His shoes or boots were black I believe. The other was around 25 or so had brown hair, a round face with a moustache and was dressed in a brown suit and flat cap which was also pulled low over his eyes, I think his shoes were brown. Both men walked with a stiff leg, I am not sure which leg.”
“You seem to have taken a lot of notice of these two men, why was that?”
“They looked a little shifty, the way they had their hats pulled down to cover their face and there collars up. They were also walking fast nearly breaking into a run.”
“Do you see the same two men in the court today?”
“On April 4th I was taken to Blackheath Road police station and saw a number of men in two line ups. Two of them I recognise from that line up are now standing in the dock over there. I was asked then if I saw amongst the men in the line up the men that I had seen walking out of the paint shop on the morning that Mr Farrow was killed, but I failed to identify them. Looking at the same two men now, I am still unable to say one way or the other whether those are the two men I saw coming out of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in the High Street that morning.
“Thank you no more questions”
Mr Rooth stood up without waiting to be invited and walked from behind the desk to stand in front of the witness box.
“So Mr Jennings you have had two opportunities to pick out my client Alfred Stratton, once in the line up a month ago and once here in this courtroom today and you have been unable to do so on both occasions. That suggests to me that the same two men that you saw leaving Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store on the
morning of the 27th of March were not the two men accused of this crime that are standing in the dock over there.”
“I can’t say one way or another sir, they look similar but I can’t be certain”
“No more questions for this witness your honour”
“Mr Morris” do you have you any questions for the witness,” asked the judge.
“No thank you your honour”
The judge looked at the clock and said: “Please call your last witness for the day Mr Muir.”
Muir called Edward Russel, Jennings young assistant but he more or less reiterated what Jennings had said and could not positively identify either of the Stratton brothers who were in the dock.
The judge looked up at the clock it was 4.40 pm. “We shall conclude proceedings for the day and reconvene tomorrow at 9.00 am. I remind the jury not to talk to any members of their family or friends about what they have heard in this courtroom today or to ask anyone’s opinion of what transpired today” Though he knew that it would be all that they would be talking about that night. “Court is adjourned until 9.00 am tomorrow.”
The Bailiff “All rise for the honourable Judge Channell.”
Assistant Commissioner McNaughton and Chief Inspector Fox decided to walk back to Scotland Yard. They walked the one and a half miles along the Victoria Embankment sharing their views on what they had witnessed that day in the Old Bailey. They both believed that they still had a strong case though a lot of the evidence was circumstantial.
McNaughton said in between trying to get his pipe going; “That ruckus with the Stratton’s when Kate Wade said that she had been threatened by Alfred Stratton would have made an impression on the jury.”
“Yes, they would have seen that there was a lot of friction between the two brothers. If the jury believed what Kate Wade said about Alfred, they will know that he threatened her young brother with murder so in their eyes he may be capable of murder.”
McNaughton said; “I think Alberts lawyer, Morris, with the questions he was asking was trying to impress on the jury that Alfred Stratton is the aggressive one in the family and that it must have been him who murdered the Farrow’s.”
Chief Inspector Fox trying to avoid the smoke from McNaughton’s pipe that was blowing in his direction on the breeze off the Thames said; “I don’t think any of the brothers will take the stand tomorrow, I think that neither of them wants to admit to even being an accessory to murder and risk ten years inside. I believe that they both think that there is not enough evidence to convict them and that the fingerprint evidence will either not be allowed to be entered as evidence, or if it is the jury will not understand it and won’t want to hang two men on evidence that they have never heard of before or don’t understand.”
“Yes, both defending lawyers will try to have the fingerprint evidence thrown out by the judge. If the judge allows the fingerprint evidence to be produced, then the defence lawyers in their summing up of the trial will tell the jury that fingerprints are the work of the devil and are not to be trusted” giving up with his pipe and tapping out the ashes from the bowl on to the street, he went on. “If Judge Channell allows the fingerprint evidence to be entered then I believe that the case will be won or lost on Detective Inspector Collins presentation of the fingerprint evidence to the jury. It’s crucial that he can convince them in layman’s terms that fingerprint evidence is a rational method of identifying a person involved in a crime and that it is the future of the never-ending fight against crime in this country.”
They arrived at the gates of Scotland Yard, were saluted by the officer on duty and both of them went to the fingerprint lab to relay to Collins what had happened in court that day and to wish him all of the best for his day in court the following day.
All rise for the honourable Judge Channell. The Judge entered the room at a much slower pace this morning. He sat down and surveyed the courtroom. If anything, there were more spectators here today than yesterday.
He looked at the jury and said; “Good morning gentlemen. I trust that you slept well and that you have come here to do your duty with an open mind and a clear head.” The 12 men looked at the judge and nodded as one in the affirmative. He then looked at the two prosecutors. “Mr Muir and Mr Bodkin?”
Muir said “Yes your honour we are ready to proceed”
“Mr Rooth, Mr Curtis-Bennet and you Mr Morris are you all prepared?”
“Yes your honour.” they all answered in unison.
Judge Channell looked down at his notes and then addressed his courtroom. “We have a busy day ahead of us so we will press on. Mr Muir, please call your next witness”
“The prosecution calls Ellen Stanton to the stand”
Ellen Stanton was brought into the courtroom by a bailiff, entered the witness box and took the oath.
“Miss Stanton could you please for the court records state your name, address and occupation.”
“My name is Eleanor Stanton and I live at 2 Tanner Street, Deptford and I am employed as a senior shop assistant in Abbots Ladies Clothing and Outfitters store in Henrietta Street in the city.” she said proudly.
“Thank you Miss Stanton. You live not far from Deptford railway station is that correct?”
“Yes, my house is almost at the back of the Broadway Theatre I go to work into the city, generally by train from Deptford railway station to Charing Cross.”
“And on Monday morning on the 27th of March of this year did you go to the Deptford railway station to go to your place of employment.”
“Yes I did as I do most Monday mornings”
“Please tell the court what happened on that particular Monday morning.”
“To get from my house to the railway station I cross the Broadway and go up the High Street. I generally go by tram which leaves at 7.40 am and it takes about ten minutes to get to the Deptford station. On Monday, March 27th, I was going to catch the train to work as usual. When I got off the tram at Deptford train station, I saw two men running from the High Street into New Cross Road, I saw them turn the corner, some trams start from that point but there was no tram in sight and the men ran on past towards Wilson Street.”
“Did you recognise the two men?”
“I recognise one of the men as Alfred Stratton.”
“And how do you know Alfred Stratton?”
“I keep company with a man named Salter, and while out with him I have seen Alfred a few times before and spoken with him as he was a friend of Salter’s.”
“Can you describe what Alfred Stratton was wearing on the morning that you saw him running near the train station?”
“Alfred was dressed in a dark brown suit and round hat like a cap on his head”
“What about the man that was with him did you recognise him?”
“I didn’t know who the man was with him; I had never seen him before.”
“Do you remember what the other man was wearing?”
“I did not take too much notice of him it was Alfred I noticed, but I believe that he was dressed in a dark overcoat and was wearing a bowler hat.”
“Do you see both or either of those men in this courtroom today?”
“Well that’s Alfred over there, she said pointing to Alfred Stratton. I suppose that the man in the box next to Alfred is his brother Albert but I don’t recognise him as I have never met him. I could not say if he is the same man that I saw running with Alfred that morning”
“I have no more questions for Miss Stanton your honour”
“Mr Rooth do you have any questions for Miss Stanton?” asked judge Channell.
Rooth got up from behind his desk and came and stood close to the witness box. “Miss Stanton how far away from you was this man that you said looked like Alfred Stratton when you saw him?”
“No more than six yards I would say.”
“And how dark was it”
“Well it wasn’t sunny but dawn had broken over an hour before, and the morning fog had lifted so I could see quite well”
“What made you notice him, out of all of the other people that were heading for the train station?”
“Well they were both running”
“But surely people run for trains all of the time near Deptford train station Miss Stanton?”
“Well the train wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so they were the only people running.”
“When was the last time you saw Alfred Stratton before the time that you say that you saw him on the 27th of March?”
“Probably about six months before, he played for the same football team that my Salter played for, and I saw him after the game when he came out of the changing room with Salter”
“Six months is a long time to be able to say that it was the same person, is it not. Perhaps you were mistaken and the fellow running looked like Alfred Stratton.”
“No it was definitely Alfred when I told Salter what I saw after we heard about the murder of Mr Farrow, Salter got the football team photo down from the cupboard that was taken the year before and I picked out Alfred Stratton straight away.”
“Rooth had backed himself into a corner so he said. “No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris, would you like to question Miss Stanton?”
“Yes thank you your honour”
Morris came around from his desk. “Miss Stanton you said that the second man that you saw running, who you say was with Alfred Stratton was wearing a dark overcoat. Other witnesses that have testified about two men seen coming out of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store said that the second man was wearing a blue short jacket, but you say that the man you saw was wearing a dark overcoat, which would be a long garment coming down below the knee. Perhaps the two people that you saw running near the train station were not the same people who came out of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store?”
“I didn’t take as much notice of the other man, it was Alfred that I knew and that I was looking at, but I am sure that second man that I saw running was wearing an overcoat. But whoever it was he was definitely with Alfred Stratton.”
“I have no more questions for this witness thank you your honour.”
Muir stood up thinking to himself, Ok this is it the next few minutes is either going to make or break the case.
“Your honour before we call our next witness we would like to tender as evidence a cash box in which the money that was stolen from Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store was taken from, with a clear thumbprint that was found at the scene of the crime.”
Rooth jumped up from his chair, your honour I object. Fingerprints have never been proven to be an accurate science of being able to determine and matching a fingerprint to a suspect. In many court cases over the last few years where prosecutors have tried to introduce fingerprints as evidence, the applications have been denied because of the lack of credibility of fingerprinting. Two innocent men’s lives hang in the balance in this courtroom today; only solid proven evidence that has been proven and used in the British legal system should be tendered to this court.
The Judge sat back in his chair deep in thought. The courtroom was silent except for the ticking of the large clock sitting on the far wall opposite where the judge was sitting. After two minutes, which seemed more like two hours to Assistant Commissioner McNaughton sitting in the public area, Judge Channell, looked down at prosecutor Muir and said. “Anything to add Mr Muir?”
“Judge Channell the fingerprint bureau in Scotland Yard is the finest fingerprint bureau in the world. They have over 90,000 sets of fingerprints on file which is close to one million individual fingerprints and not one of those million fingerprints are the same, every single one of them is different. The Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Edward Henry previously worked in India for seven years in Bengal where they have been using fingerprints as a means of identification for over 50 years and he specialised in fingerprints and even wrote a book on the subject which is now considered the bible of fingerprinting, and he nor any of the other fingerprint experts that he has worked with in India have ever seen two fingerprints the same. In America fingerprinting is also being used in their courts of law, and they are accumulating their own files of tens of thousands of fingerprints. There has never been an instance when two fingerprints have been found to be the same in America either. The people who deny that fingerprints are a not a credible and foolproof means of proving that someone was at the scene of a crime when the suspect denies being there, are burying their heads in the sand and are still living in the last century. These people are the same kind of people who said that man would never fly or that motor car would never take over from the horse and cart. They are living in the past; we are now in the fifth year of the 20th Century and it’s a brave new world full of exciting changes for the better, including crime-fighting.” He sat back down.
“And Mr Morris what do you have to say on the subject?”
“Your honour fingerprinting has never been accepted unanimously by the British Judiciary. In a few minor cases magistrates have allowed fingerprint evidence to be entered as evidence but we are talking about two men’s lives here, not a pickpocket or breaking and entering. I strongly oppose that fingerprints should be allowed to be entered as evidence in any court case where capital punishment may be the outcome.”
Judge Channell pondered this for a minute. “Does the defence have any witnesses to call, Mr Rooth or Mr Morris?”
“Just two perhaps three your honour,” said Rooth.
“Perhaps one witness for me your honour,” Morris replied.
The judge sat for another minute deep in thought, then said. “We will proceed with the defence witnesses. When we have heard from them I will decide if the fingerprint evidence will or will not be able to be admitted as evidence. Please return to your seats and call your witness Mr Rooth ”
The lawyers all returned to their places in the courtroom.
Rooth looked through his notes, then stood up and faced Judge. “The defence for Alfred Stratton calls Hannah Cromarty to the witness box.”
Annie entered the courtroom, was led to the witness box and was sworn in.
“Miss Cromarty for the court records please state your name, address and occupation.”
“Hannah Mary Cromarty, but everyone calls me Annie. I live at 23 Brookmill Road, Deptford. I work as a domestic at Deptford Hospital.”
“Miss Cromarty on the night of 26th of March of this year did you spend the night with Alfred Stratton at your home in Brookmill Road?”
“I did, Alfred came home after 11.00 pm from drinking in the pub with his brother Albert”
“Please tell the court what you remember about the evening that he arrived at your room and what happened the next morning when you woke up”
“Alfred had gone out late afternoon on Sunday. He came back to my room at about eleven o’clock or eleven fifteen that night. He was a little bit drunk and we talked for a while.”
“And what did you talk about?”
“We had been arguing before he left that afternoon, so we talked a little about that”
“And what were you arguing about?”
Money, as usual, Alfred hadn’t worked for a long time and what I earn is not enough to live on so we always seemed to be fighting about money.”
“Please tell the tell the court what happened when Alfred returned that night”
“Alfred said that he was sorry for the argument that we had earlier that day. I told him that my dad had said that he could get him a job at the slaughterhouse where he works. Alfred said that he would go there during the week or the following week to see my dad and talk with the boss. I told him that I was in the family way with him and that he would need the job to support us.”
“Congratulations Miss Cromarty on soon becoming a mother, and how did Alfred take the news of his impending fatherhood?”
“Well I have since lost the child, but Albert was very happy that he was going to be a father and said that he would get a job to support his family. We talked about the baby for a while, then Albert got into bed and said goodnight and we both went to sleep”
And what time did you wake up?”
“It was about 9.30.”
“And was Alfred still asleep?”
“No, he was sat at the table in his underwear with a cup of tea reading a newspaper.”
“So Alfred Stratton was with you from around 11.15 the previous evening until 9.30 the next morning?”
“What did Alfred do after he had finished his cup of tea?”
“He got dressed and went out to get a newspaper as he normally does, when he got back he told me that everyone in the shop was talking about a robbery at Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store on the High Street”
“No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris do you have any questions for this witness”
“Thank you your honour” Morris said rising to his feet.
“Miss Cromarty, did Alfred Stratton mention his brother Albert Stratton during his conversation with you that night or indeed the following morning?”
“He said that he had bumped into him at the King of Prussia pub the evening before and that he had had a couple of drinks with him. He did not mention Albert the next morning.”
“No more questions your honour”
“Thank you Mr Morris any questions for the witness Mr Muir?” asked Judge Channell.”
“Yes your honour”
“Good morning Miss Cromarty,” Muir said coming around to face her.
“Did Alfred Stratton ask you to say that he was with you from when he came back from the King of Prussia public house late on the 26th of March until the next morning? Keeping in mind Miss Cromarty that you have sworn under oath to tell the truth and that it is a criminal offence known as perjury to tell lies in the witness box. Are you aware that you can go to prison if it is later proved that you lied to this court?”
Annie swallowed hard and looked around the courtroom as if searching for help while Muir held his breath waiting for her to answer.
She took a deep breath and answered. “No, Alfred said no such thing to me”
Muir let that sink in with the jury for a few seconds then said “Alfred Stratton was positively identified by a witness that knew him well, as seeing him near Deptford train station around 8.50 am on the morning that you say that he was with you until 9.30 am. How could he be in two places at once?”
“I don’t know maybe she made a mistake, maybe she saw someone she thought was Alfred?”
Muir gave Annie a disbelieving look then said “OK Miss Cromarty have it your way... Now you say that Alfred Stratton was with you all night on Sunday 26th of March until you woke at 9.30 on Monday 27th of March, is that correct”
“How do you know that he was with you all night, did you stay awake all night?”
“No, I slept all night and don’t remember waking up once”
“So for all you knew Alfred could have got up, left your room and returned anytime before you woke up at 9. 30am?”
“Annie pretended to think about it for a while, I suppose he could of but if he did I think that I would have heard him leave”
“Are you a light sleeper Miss Cromarty, do you often wake in the night?”
“No, I sleep like a log most nights”
“So if Alfred got up and left your room very quietly early that morning and came back a few hours later would you have heard him leave and re-enter your room”
“Maybe it’s hard to say”
“I put it to you that Alfred Stratton left your room at around 5.30 am and returned at about 8.20 am, and if it’s true, what you say that he had not asked “
you to provide an alibi between those hours, he then stripped down to his underwear and sat at the table and was drinking a cup of tea when you woke up at 9.30.”
“I really could not say I was asleep all night”
“Before Alfred Stratton was arrested and was charged with his brother Albert Stratton of the murder of Thomas Farrow were you still living together as man and wife?”
“No Alfred moved out of my room and went to live at a friend’s house”
“And why was that?”
“We had a fight”
“And when was this”
Annie pretended to think about it again. “I think it was on the Tuesday.”
“That would be Tuesday the 28th of March the day after the murder of Thomas Farrow?”
“So what did you fight about, you told this court that Alfred was happily looking forward to being a father and getting a job so that he could support his family?”
“We fought about money, as usual.”
“So you didn’t break up because he told you that it was him and his brother that murdered Mr and Mrs Farrow a few days before and that he wanted you to tell the police that he was with you all night?”
“No we did not, we fought about money again”
“No more questions your honour.”
“MR Rooth, please call your next witness”
Rooth looked through his notes, then stood up and faced Judge Channell. “The defence for Alfred Stratton would like to call Albert Stratton to the witness box.”
Alfred Stratton was led from the dock in handcuffs and leg manacles to the witness box and was handed a bible and was sworn in to tell the truth. Muir the prosecutor smiled to himself, thinking that Albert would be telling anything but the truth, but he didn’t think that Alfred would be too worried about committing perjury.
“Please state your name for the record”
“Alfred Edward Stratton”
“Alfred you were in a relationship and lived with Annie Cromarty at 23 Brookmill Road, Deptford.”
“Yes for about a year”
“On the night of the 26th of March 1905 where were you?”
“I was in the King of Prussia pub from early evening until the pub shouted last orders at 10.20. I finished my drink and left the pub at about 10.50 and went back to the home I shared with Annie.”
“And what did you do at Miss Cromarty’s”
“I got there about eleven or perhaps a few minutes later. We talked for a while and she told me that she was pregnant and that we were going to have a baby. We were both excited about this so we talked and planned a bit about what we were going to do when the baby arrived. Then we both went to sleep around11.45”
“And what time did you get up?”
“I woke up about 9.00, Annie was still sleeping so I made a pot of tea and sat and read Sundays News of the World”
“Then what did you do?”
“Annie woke about 9.30 so I poured her a cup of tea. We talked about the baby for a little while and my plans for getting a job, and then I went to buy a newspaper as I do most mornings.”
“Do you know a woman called Ellen Stanton?”
“Vaguely she is the girlfriend of Salter’s a friend of mine”
“And how often have you met her?”
Once…no twice. She was at the football ground once when I was playing football, me and Salter played in the same team. I think I saw her another time when she and Salter were walking down the High Street in Deptford. We all said hello to each other as we passed.”
“So you did not know her well”
“I didn’t know her at all, I only knew her through Salter.”
“Now Alfred, Miss Stanton says that she saw you near Deptford Train station on Monday the 27th of March running with another man around 8.50 in the morning”
“Well, she must have been mistaken as I was at Annie’s place at that time and didn’t wake up until about 9.00. I have hardly seen the woman before, a couple of minutes talking with Salter after the football game and when I passed them on the street, which only took a couple of seconds.”
“So she was mistaken”
“Yes, she could not have seen me that morning as I wasn’t there.”
“Miss Kate Wade told this court that you had threatened her if she did not give your brother Albert Stratton an alibi for the morning of the 27th of March”
“Yes I heard her say that and I was shocked that she would say such a thing. She has always been jealous and had it in for me since I refused her advances and took up with Annie a year ago. You know what it’s like…a woman scorned?” He said grinning.
“No more questions thank you your honour”
“Mr Morris, any questions for Alfred Stratton?”
“Yes thank you your honour”
Morris got up and came and stood in front of the witness box. “Mr Stratton when was the last time that you saw your brother Albert prior to the morning of the 27th of March?”
“We bumped into each other in the King of Prussia pub the night before at about 8.30. I was about to leave as I had run out of money and he offered to lend me some money for drinks that night as he didn’t want to drink by himself.”
“And what time did he leave?”
“We both stayed until closing time and we then walked part of the way home together, before he went his way to Kate’s place and I continued to Annie’s.”
“Did you arrange to meet the next day?”
“No, I just said see you later Alfred when we got to the corner and we went our separate ways.”
“Thank you your honour, no more questions.”
“Mr Muir, would you like to cross-examine Mr Stratton?”
“Yes, I would your honour.” And Muir got up walked around his desk and looked Albert Stratton in the eyes”
“Mr Stratton, have you ever been inside Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store at 34 High Street in Deptford?”
“No I know where it is and I would have passed it many times but I have never been inside”
“Did you know Thomas or Ann Farrow the managers of the shop”
“No, I may have seen them outside the shop when passing or heading for the train station but I have never talked with either of them.”
“The prosecution is hoping to bring in evidence later today that will show that you were in the shop on that morning when the Farrows were murdered. What do you say to that?”
Alfred who had obviously been coached well by his lawyer Rooth said; “I don’t know about any evidence but I have never been in the shop in my life, so your evidence must be wrong.”
“When you were brought in for questioning you had eighteen shillings and a few pence on you. That’s a lot of money for someone who is unemployed. We questioned the bar staff in the pub that you were picked up in and they said that you had changed a £1note when you first came into the bar and that you had been buying your friends drinks all night. How do you account for that money?”
“I won it in the bookies on a horse race on the Saturday”
“Which bookmakers was it that you won the money from?”
“I can’t remember.”
“There are not that many bookmakers in Deptford; surely you can remember which one”
“No I had a few drinks, I just remember having a bet and winning about £1.5 shillings”
“So what was the name of the horse?”
“Sorry, everything about that afternoon is a bit of a blur. It was a few days after Annie and I split up and I went on a bender.”
Muir pretended to study his notes while thinking about what to do next. When the two milkmen couldn’t or wouldn’t positively identify the Stratton Brothers, Muir knew that apart from the fingerprint they had very little evidence against Alfred Stratton, everything else was circumstantial. Ellen Stanton although she had positively identified Albert Stratton, it would still his word against hers and the jury without much other evidence would probably give him the benefit of the doubt, more so because it was a capital murder case. No one would want to take the risk of condemning an innocent man to death unless they were 100% certain. There was nothing else to ask Alfred Stratton. The whole of the prosecution’s case would fail and the Stratton brothers would be acquitted if the fingerprint evidence would not be allowed to be tendered in court.
“No more questions your honour”
“Mr Morris you can call your witness.” Judge Channell said looking down at Alberts defence lawyer.”
I won’t be calling any witnesses your honour, most of both Mr Rooth’s and Mr Muir’s witnesses were people I intended to call as witnesses.”
The judge glared at Morris. “So Albert Stratton will not be taking the stand”
“No your honour, I spoke with Albert Stratton earlier today and he has told me that he is completely innocent of all charges and has nothing else to say, he has said that he will put his trust in the British legal system and the 12 good men of the jury”
“So be it,” said the judge. “The court will recess for half an hour; I would like to speak with the two prosecutors and both sets of defence lawyers in my chamber immediately.”
Bailiff Armstrong announced “All rise for Judge Channell.”
Seated in the judge’s chambers Judge Channell said “Gentlemen I have heard all of your arguments in court regarding the fingerprints being presented as evidence in this case. Does anyone have anything else to add?”
Rooth was first to speak up. “Your honour two men’s lives are at stake here. We cannot be allowed to introduce to the court methods of science that have not been proven 100%. While there is still doubt with this so-called fingerprinting system we cannot risk making a mistake with people’s lives. It will be a travesty of justice. Albert and Alfred Stratton are not Guinea Pigs to be experimented on.
Judge Channell looked at Albert’s lawyer. “Mr Morris, do you have anything else to add?”
“Your honour my client, as does Mr Rooth’s are both depending on a fair trial. They have put their faith in the British Justice system and are willing to take their chances within that system knowing that they would get treated fairly. If the fingerprint evidence is allowed to be entered neither of these men will be getting a fair trial, in fact it will be an unfair trial.”
“Mr Muir, Mr Bodkin?”
Muir the senior prosecutor said; “Your honour, the science of fingerprints is not witchcraft or voodoo that most defence lawyers would want people to believe. The reason that defence lawyers don’t want fingerprints to become standard practice in the British justice system is because they know that more of their clients will be convicted on fingerprint evidence. Taking fingerprints have been a scientific means to identify people for thousands of years and never in all of that time has there been an identical fingerprint found. Even identical twins that may look and sound the same and cannot be told apart by their own parents have completely different fingerprints. Every fingerprint is unique to that person and it is permanent throughout that individual person’s life, it never changes. They don’t change from the day that they are born until the day they die even if they live to be one hundred. This is a brand new modern century. Science has come on in leaps and bounds since doctors used leeches and bloodletting as cures for every malady. It’s the same with the law; we need to change with the times. I put it to you that if the Metropolitan Police would have had access to fingerprinting back in 1888, that they would have caught Jack the Ripper. How many more murderers in the future will walk free from courts if we don’t allow fingerprints to be tendered as evidence in capital crimes? Your honour, we owe it to Mr and Mrs Farrow to allow the thumbprint to be entered in evidence or they will have died for nothing.”
Judge Farrow put his head in his hands then rubbed his eyes. Gentlemen if you will kindly return to the courtroom, I will consider your arguments and let you know my decision. I will reconvene the court within the hour.
Muir and Bodkin met with Assistant Commissioner McNaughton and Chief Inspector Fox in a police interview room in the Old Bailey.
“So what went on in the judge’s chambers?” asked McNaughton
“I will be honest with you it can go either way; the defence said what we thought that they would say, that fingerprints are unproven, unfair and one step away from witchcraft. We offered it up as the most important breakthrough in fighting crime in the history of the British legal system ever, which it is. It will all depend on the judge and if he has the courage to go against convention and let Alfred Stratton’s thumbprint be entered as evidence.
McNaughton said to Muir; “If you were a gambling man what would you bet on the judge’s decision?”
“I am a gambling man and I would not go near that kind of a bet, I only bet on probabilities. If I want to bet on a horse I can look at the form of that horse and the condition of the track, whether the horse is good on a wet racetrack or a dry
racetrack, and if it has won at that distance before. But with Judge Channell there is no form to look at; he has never had a trial before where he had to make a courageous decision like this. We will all have to wait for the official result I am afraid.”
McNaughton said; “When I spoke with him at my club four weeks ago he seemed neutral on the subject also, your right it can go either way. If he is old school he will not allow it to be entered, if he is more progressive then we will be ok. I think that we as a team have done all that we can, it is out of our hands now.
Muir looked at his watch and said, we had better get back the judge may come back early.
The Bailiff saw the judge’s chambers door open and got the signal; “All rise for the honourable Judge Channell.”
The Judge walked slowly into the courtroom and back to the bench with what seemed like the weight of the world on his shoulders. He walked up the steps, sat down and said; “Be seated.” then looked out at the sea of faces staring silently up at him. Normally he loved being the centre of attention, of having the lives of other people in his hands and with them having to trust in whatever decision he made, like a demigod. Now he wished that he could just go and pull up a seat in the courtroom and let someone else make the decisions. This was one of those times where you would be damned if you did or damned if you didn’t.
“Mr Muir I believe that before we went to recess that you wanted to present some evidence to the court. I am prepared to listen to your application now.”
Muir stood up and approached Judge Channell’s bench.
“Your honour, the prosecution would like to tender as evidence a cash box in which the money that was stolen from Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store was removed from, with a clear thumbprint that was found on that cash box which we will show that it is from one of the accused.”
The judge sat for a few seconds as if he was reconsidering the decision that he had already made in his chambers and then said; “Please present your evidence Mr Muir.”
A loud voice from the spectator’s gallery shouted “YES!” at the same time Rooth and Morris jumped up and shouted, “Your honour I object.”
Judge Channell looked at both of them and said; “Gentlemen the time for objections has passed, I have made my decision, Mr Muir please call your next witness.”
A visibly relieved Muir stood up and said in a strong loud voice; “The prosecution calls Detective Inspector Collins from the Scotland Yard Fingerprint Bureau.”
Detective Inspector Collins walked to the witness box and was sworn in.
“Please state your name and occupation for the benefit of the court.”
“Inspector Charles Stockley Collins. I am in charge of the Finger Print Bureau at Scotland Yard.”
“And for how long have you held that position?”
“I have run the bureau for two years since 1903. Before that, I was second in charge to Sir Edward Henry who is now the Chief Commissioner of The Metropolitan Police Force.”
“So you have considerable experience in the science of fingerprinting?”
“I have dedicated my life to the research of fingerprinting; I studied under the world’s foremost expert on fingerprinting Sir Edward Henry, and prior to that I studied under Sir Francis Galton who is known for his expertise in Eugenics as well as his expertise in the forensic science of fingerprinting. I also have had the pleasure to have worked with the highly respected Detective Inspector Charles Steadman.
“For the benefit of the court could you please explain the science of fingerprinting in layman’s terms so they can get a better understanding of the process of how fingerprints can be transferred from a person’s finger on to a solid object?”
“Many people today believe that the science of fingerprinting is new and unproven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Friction ridge skin impressions or fingerprints as they are more commonly known were first used to prove a person’s identity in China as early as 300 B.C. Fingerprints have been used on official documents during times when illiteracy was common in Great Britain in place of a signature. We have been using fingerprints to fight crime in Great Britain ever since Sir Edward Henry started the bureau on his return from India where fingerprinting had been used as a means of identification and to catch criminals for over 50 years. At the present time, Scotland Yard has over 90,000 sets of fingerprints. With people born with eight fingers and two thumbs that means we have close to one million digits on file. Of those million digits, we have never found two of them to be the same. We are in constant contact with police departments in India, America, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many more countries around the world who are implementing the science of fingerprinting into their police departments to fight crime, and not once have any of those countries come across two fingerprints that have been the same.”
“So how do you determine a fingerprint taken at a crime scene to the suspect of the crime?”
“When a print is found which can be on any solid object such as a drinking glass, a windowsill, a safe or in this case a cash box we have a photograph taken and have that photograph enlarged many times so the friction ridges on the fingerprint can be identified easily by the human eye. Using an ink pad we then roll each of the suspect’s individual fingers and thumbs into the ink pad and then press them firmly on to a fingerprint card, we then take a photograph of
those fingerprints and have those fingerprints enlarged. We can then compare both of the photographs to see if they match. As I said no two people have the same fingerprints so if the photos show identical fingerprints then we now have proof that the suspect was at the scene of the crime. But fingerprinting can also be used to eliminate a suspect, as when comparing the photographs of the fingerprints the ridges are not a match, then they cannot be the fingerprints of that suspect.”
“Fascinating, I wonder Detective Inspector Collins with the courts permission would it be possible to demonstrate to the gentlemen of the jury how you take fingerprints from a suspect and then compare them to the fingerprint left at the scene of the crime?” Muir looked at Judge Channell, who nodded his consent.
Detective Inspector Collins said “I would be only too happy to do that sir,” rising from his seat in the witness box and walking towards the prosecutor’s table where there was an ink pad and some plain white cards. He asked the bailiff to organise a table to be placed in the courtroom and when the bailiff had done as he asked, Collins placed the inkpad and cards on to the table. He then walked over to the jury box and said; “I would like two volunteers so that I can demonstrate how we at the Fingerprint Bureau use fingerprinting technology to determine if the prints that we take from a crime scene are the same prints as the suspects. Twelve arms shot up in the air, this would be something to tell their friends when holding court in their local pub that evening. Inspector Collins picked out two of the men at random, who turned out to be the ferry boat officer Stephen McAvoy and one of the shop workers Thomas Dudley.
“Mr McAvoy and Mr Dudley, would you be so kind as to step over to the table?”
The two men walked across the courtroom to the table that had been set up.
Mr McAvoy, please give me your right hand”
McAvoy held out his hand and Collins rolled each finger individually in the ink pad and then rolled them on to the white card. He gave McAvoy a cloth to clean his fingers then said;
“Now Mr Dudley would you mind doing the same?”
The shop worker gave Collins his right hand and Collins went through the same procedure that he had with the ship’s officer and left both cards to dry on the table.
“Thank you gentlemen please return to the jury box” and the men went back to their allotted places in the jury box.
A few minutes later when the fingerprints had dried Inspector Collins wrote the names on the card of the two men and then took them over for the jury to see. He removed a magnifying glass from his pocket and polished it with a clean handkerchief that he always carried for this purpose
“Now in a moment I will pass around this card to the jury, please study it in your own time, there is no rush. If when you pass it on to the person next to you, you would like to see the fingerprints again, please tell me once the card has circulated and all of the jury have seen them. Also please ask me any questions or concerns that you may have regarding the fingerprints of Mr McAvoy and Mr Dudley or in fact any questions or concerns you may have about fingerprinting in general.”Detective Inspector Collins held the card up so that all of the jury could see and said; “I won’t bore you with the many terms that we as forensic scientists use to identify a fingerprint. Suffice to say that everyone’s fingerprint is made up of Loops, Arches and Whorls. When the card is passed to you, you will see those caricaturists of loops and whorls etcetera and you will also see that the two fingerprints are completely different. Never in the history of fingerprinting that has been around since 300BC, more than 2,000 years ago, has there ever been found an identical fingerprint of two people.
If I would have taken all of the prints from Mr McAvoy’ and Mr Dudley’s hands you would also have seen that each individual finger and thumbprint from each of those gentlemen would have been completely different also.
He took from his jacket pocket two more cards and held them up. These are two full hand fingerprints from a previous case where we convicted the accused on fingerprint evidence. I took these from our file in Scotland Yard this morning and I will pass these around also so that you can see that no two fingerprints or thumbprints were the same on that man’s hand, nor for that matter are they on anyone’s hands.” Collins handed the card with McAvoy’s and Dudley’s fingerprints to the first man of the jury, and when he had viewed them to his satisfaction and passed them on to the next person in line, Collins handed the first man the fingerprint card that he had taken from his office that morning.
Forty minutes later both sets of fingerprint cards had been returned to Detective Inspector Collins.
“So does anyone have any questions?” Three hands were slowly raised.
“Yes?” said Collins pointing at the teacher sitting in the front row.
The teacher stood up; “You say that two fingerprints have never been found to be the same, you haven’t got everyone in the worlds fingerprints so how can you be sure?”
“Good question, if millions of people over 2,000 years have had their fingerprints taken and not once has there been an instance where two were found to be the same, we can only go on probabilities. In the same way that perhaps we could say that no one has lived to be 200 years old and on probabilities that will never happen. But if you think about millions of peoples fingerprints being taken all around the world and never getting two people with the same fingerprint, what are the probabilities of two people in Deptford having the same fingerprint?”
The teacher looked satisfied with the answer and sat back down.
“And you sir” looking at the man in the second row, “what is your question?”
“You say that a fingerprint was found at the scene of the crime at the paint shop in Deptford. The two men that are accused are brothers, surly the fingerprints will be similar and it will be hard to tell which from which?”
“Thank you another good question said Inspector Collins, slightly patronising the juror, who looked pleased with himself. “I will be producing both of the Stratton brothers fingerprints as evidence later. When I do you will see that the two sets of fingerprints from them are completely different. In fact, it makes no difference to fingerprint science if people are related. Even triplets or twins who may be identical in every other way will always be found to have completely different fingerprints.” The juror thanked him and sat down, delighted with his few minutes of fame.
Detective Inspector Collins pointed at the third man who had put up his hand; “Yes sir what is your question?”
“Is this the very first time that fingerprints have been used to try to convict someone in court?”
“No, in the past four years since the Fingerprint Bureau in Scotland Yard was established there have been many cases, and may I add, each time a fingerprint has been admitted as evidence the accused was convicted. This is the first time that fingerprints will have been used in a capital punishment prosecution in Great Britain, but they have been used to convict capital crimes in other countries. The first recorded was in Argentina over 13 years ago in 1892.”
Muir stood up from the prosecution table and said to the jury; “Are there any more questions from the jury for Detective Inspector Collins” The jury all shook their heads or said no.
Judge Channell asked Detective Inspector Collins to return to the witness box.
Muir who had by now walked around his table and was standing in front of the witness box said; “Detective Inspector Collins please tell the court in your own words the events leading up to producing this fingerprint evidence today.”
“Sergeant Atkinson, who was the first police officer to arrive after the murder of Mr Farrow, went into the upstairs bedroom where he found Mrs Farrow badly injured lying on the bed. He tended to her as best that he could. He then turned to leave the room to get her a doctor and he noticed an empty cash box on the floor. Knowing that it may be important evidence he pushed the cash box to the side of the room with his index finger and then went to summon assistance for Mrs Farrow. Later another policeman saw the box and told his superior officer that there was a cashbox upstairs with what appeared to be a bloody fingerprint on it. The officer, Inspector Hailstone knew about the Fingerprint Bureau and contacted us. The cash box was carefully brought back to our laboratory making sure not to damage or contaminate the fingerprint and I had the cash box analysed and we found that it was blood that had made the fingerprint. There were four fingerprints in all on the cash box. By the process of elimination, I was able to determine that two of the fingerprints on the box came from Mr and Mrs Farrow. The third fingerprint was Sergeant Atkinson’s from when he had pushed the cash box against the wall with his index finger.”
“And the fourth fingerprint that you found n the box, did you find a match for that?”
“We had taken the fingerprints from both Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton when they were brought in for questioning on the 2nd and 3rd of April, and when we examined the fingerprint taken from the cash box and the fingerprint from the Stratton brothers we found that we had a match.”
“And whose fingerprint was it that was found in blood on the cash box?”
“It was actually found to be a thumbprint from the right hand of Alfred Stratton.”
Muir gave it a few seconds for this to sink in with the jury.
“So there was no doubt in your mind that it was Alfred Stratton’s thumbprint?”
“No, it was a clear unflawed full thumbprint easily identifiable even to the human eye.”
Muir said; I would like the cash box to be tendered as evidence as well as the fingerprints from both Alfred Stratton and Thomas Stratton, please your honour”
The cash box and the cards with the Stratton’s fingerprints along with the enlarged accompanying photos of the evidence were placed on the table in front of the jury box.
“Detective Inspector Collins,” said Muir, “would you please show and explain to the jury the fingerprint evidence that was found at the scene of the crime?”
Inspector Collins exited the witness box and went over to the table holding the evidence. He picked up the cash box and walked over to the Jury. “This is the cash box that was found in the Farrows bedroom. Any cash that had been inside
it had been removed and the empty cash box was thrown to the floor. Whoever disposed of the cash box left a bloody fingerprint on the front of the cash box as you can clearly see here” The juror’s craned their necks for a better look, Collins gave it a minute then said; I have some enlarged photos of the cash box with Alfred Stratton’s thumbprint clearly visible. I will hand them around the jury box. Please study them in detail.”
While the jury was looking at the enlarged photos of the cash box, Inspector Collins went back to the table and picked up Alfred Stratton’s and Albert Stratton’s enlarged photos of the right-hand thumbprint. When they had finished looking Inspector Collins gave the enlarged photo of the cash box back to the first juror and held the two enlarged photos of both of the Stratton’s right thumbprints in front of the first jurors face. “Please look at the enlarged photograph of the thumbprint on the cash box and then pick out from the two photographs that I am holding in front of you and tell me which one if any is a match.”
The juror did as he was asked and then pointed to the photograph in Collins right hand and said; “It’s that one, they are the same”. Collins looked at the back of the photograph of one of the Stratton’s thumbprints and said to the Judge; “Juror number one has picked out the thumbprint on the cash box as belonging to Alfred Stratton.” The judge made a note of it. Collins went to juror number two while shuffling the two photographs around, then gave him the photograph of the enlarged thumbprint on the cash box and asked him to pick the thumbprint from the two of the Stratton brother’s enlarged thumbprints. This juror picked the photograph on the left and he said; “This is the same there is no doubt”
Inspector Collins looked at the back of the card and said to the judge; “Juror number two has picked out the thumbprint on the cash box as belonging to Alfred Stratton.”
Inspector Collins did this with the other ten men of the jury and each one picked out Albert Stratton’s thumbprint as being identical as the thumbprint on the cash box.
Detective Inspector Collins took the photograph back from the last juror replaced them on the table and turned around to look at them and said; Thank you that is all of the fingerprint evidence that I have for you.” And he went and sat back down in the witness box.
Muir got up and looked at the jury for half a minute, then said “You have all viewed the thumbprints and every one of you has positively identified the thumbprint that was found on the cash box inside the Farrow’s bedroom as being that of Alfred Stratton’s. The only way that the thumbprint could have got there is if Alfred Stratton was in Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store when the robbery and subsequent murders took place.” He then turned to Detective Inspector Collins and said. “Thank you Detective Inspector, no more questions.”
The Judge looked over at the defence tables and said; Mr Rooth do you have any questions for Inspector Collins?”
“Yes, I do your honour,” Rooth said walking around the table to stand in front of Detective Inspector Collins. “Detective Inspector Collins, how many people are there in this world?”
“I am sorry but I don’t know the answer to that question”
“Well I do Inspector. It is estimated that more than one billion people are living in the world today. Now you are telling this court that out of a population of over one billion people, not one of those people has identical fingerprints or perhaps fingerprints that are indistinguishable from another person’s fingerprints?”
“Yes, that is exactly what I am telling this court.”
“Well I find that hard to believe Inspector Collins, This has not been proven it is just you saying that in your opinion that there are no two fingerprints that are identical, is it not?”
“No sir not just my opinion, it is the opinion of all of the experts who have studied fingerprinting, including Dr Henry Faulds, Alphonse Bertillon and Sir Edward Henry our current Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police of London who is considered to be the foremost expert on fingerprinting in the world. As I have mentioned before in over 2,000 years there has never been one instance where a fingerprint from two different people has been shown to be identical.”
“Well, Inspector Collins I intend to bring to the witness box another famous world expert in fingerprinting, one who was a mentor and teacher of yours who you studied under, who will tell a different story. No more questions your honour.”
“Mr Morris, would you like to cross-examine Inspector Collins?”
Morris who was quite happy to have Alfred Stratton found to be at the scene of the crime with blood on his fingers rather than his client Albert Stratton said. “No questions for this witness your honour”
“Mr Rooth, you said that you have an expert witness to produce this morning. Will that be your last witness?”
“I may have two expert witnesses your honour”
“And you Mr Morris, do you intend to call any more witnesses?”
“May I just have five minutes to discuss this with my client Mr Albert Stratton your honour?”
The judge looked up at the clock; “It’s nearly 12.00 we shall take luncheon now and resume court in thirty minutes at 12.30. You can talk to Mr Stratton then.”
“All rise for the honourable Judge Channell”
Mr Morris was in an interview room with Albert Stratton; “Albert you need to take the stand and tell the court what happened that day. The fingerprint evidence that they have against your brother is overwhelming and unless Mr Rooth’s expert witness can reverse that I believe that your brother is going to be found guilty and that he will hang. There is no need for you to go down that same path. I can put you in the witness box and you can tell them that it was your brother that killed the Farrows and that although you were there, that you took no part in the murders and had very little to do with the robbery of the shop. Do that and I think that you will get maybe ten years in prison, though it could be a little more because two people were murdered? With good conduct for time served, you could be out of prison before you are thirty, with the rest of your life before you.”
“No, they have no proof I was there, only some witnesses that said that the person with Alfred looked like me. I am not going to spend ten years or more of my life in prison for something that I did not do. Alfred planned the robbery; Alfred murdered those two old people, I was there but I did not do anything wrong. The jury will find me not guilty and at the worst, they will find me guilty of accessory to murder and I will then have to do the ten years. But I think that they will find me not guilty as there is not one shred of evidence that I was there. Alfred has said nothing and him saying that I was there will not do him any good anyway if he is going to hang.”
“It’s your decision Alfred. May I remind you that you and your brother are both being charged in this court today with wilful murder, not accessory to murder, so the jury cannot find you guilty of accessory to murder as you suggest, they can only find you guilty or not guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow. I strongly advise that you take the stand and tell them what really happened that morning. If you do that and the jury believe you they will acquit you of wilful murder and the police will recharge you with accessory to murder.”
Albert sat in thought for a minute. “No, they can see that it was Alfred that murdered Thomas Farrow and they have no evidence against me. They will find me not guilty I know that they will.”
Meanwhile, in another room Muir, Bodkin, McNaughton, Fox and Collins were having a meeting of their own.
“That was brilliant strategy Detective Inspector Collins, getting the jury to pick out Alfred Stratton’s thumbprint from the photographs. In my opinion, they will be more inclined to find him guilty after all twelve of them picked out a bloody fingerprint and identified it as coming from him” said McNaughton
Collins replied “I think the jury know in their own minds that it was Alfred Stratton who killed the Farrows, even if it is mostly circumstantial evidence. It remains to be seen if they are going to find Albert Stratton guilty.”
Chief Inspector Fox said; “I am more worried about Rooth’s expert witness and what he is going to say, who is it, do you know him?”
Muir said; Its Doctor Garson, You know him don’t you Inspector Collins?”
“Yes, I was his assistant when I first started with the metropolitan police. He taught me quite a lot, he was a very clever man but a bit of a charlatan. Sir Henry got rid of him when he took over the Fingerprint Bureau in 1901.”
Assistant Commissioner McNaughton said; “I served on the Belper Committee with him, he is an odious man”
“Don’t worry about Dr Garson; I don’t think that he will be very effective.” said Muir.
“What makes you say that?” said Detective Chief Inspector Fox.
Muir smiled and said. “He is still a charlatan; I just need to show to the judge what he is”
“All rise for the honourable Judge Channell.”
“Be seated, Mr Rooth you have an expert witness, please have him called to the witness stand.”
“The prosecution calls Doctor John Garson”
Doctor Garson entered the witness box and was sworn in. Rooth said, “For the court records please state your name and profession.”
“Doctor John George Garson. I am a professor of Anthropometry and a Doctor of Science.”
“You are an expert in fingerprinting, are you not?”
“Yes, I am,”
“I believe that you worked with Detective Inspector Collins, the prosecutions expert witness?”
“Good lord no, he was more of a student of mine, I took him under my wing when he first started studying fingerprinting.”
“So you would not say that Inspector Colli…”
Muir interrupted Rooth and said; Judge Channell, I would like to question Doctor Garson’s credentials as being allowed to testify as an expert witness.”
Rooth looked angrily at Muir and said; “What do you mean? Are you inferring that Doctor Garson is not an expert witness, the good doctor has appeared in many courts throughout the land as an expert witness on countless occasions. His reputation is impeccable”
Muir turned to the judge and said “He may be an expert in some things but not in fingerprinting. I would like to cross-examine Doctor Garson before he is declared an expert witness.”
Rooth began to voice his objections but was shut down by Judge Channell; “If there are any doubts about Doctor Garson’s credentials the court needs to know. If the doctor is an expert he will be allowed to testify after he has been cross-examined by Mr Muir. Please proceed Mr Muir”
Doctor Garson was going red in the face and looked uncomfortable.
“Doctor Garson, you say that you are an expert in fingerprinting, what are your qualifications?”
“Well there are no qualifications as such, I am a man of science and I have studied the science of fingerprinting for more years than I can remember.
You testified at the Belper Committee Hearings which sat in 1900 to consider the relative merits of anthropometry and fingerprinting as means to identifying suspects and solving crimes. Did you not?”
Doctor Garson loosened his tie a little and said; “Yes I did”
“You testified in that committee as an expert in Anthropometry, not Fingerprinting and I put it to you that you are not an expert in Fingerprinting you are an expert in Anthropometry, is that correct?”
“Well yes Anthropometry is where my expertise lies, but I have had much experience in the Science of Fingerprinting also.”
“But isn’t Anthropometry a rival to fingerprinting in the field of identification
“Well, not exactly a rival. We study…
Muir interrupted the doctor while taking an envelope from his inside jacket pocket; “Let’s move on shall we. Now, Doctor Garson, I have here a letter from you that was sent to my office three weeks ago and also a copy of a letter that you sent to Mr Albert Stratton’s law firm with each letter stating that you would be willing to testify for either side in the trial, depending on who would pay you more. Please tell the court how you as an expert witness can you reconcile the writing of these two letters on the same day offering your services to whoever would pay you the most?”
“You have no right to question my reputation. I am an expert witness and I have been…”
Judge Channell interrupted and said; Mr Muir please let me see those letters.” Muir walked over to the judge’s bench and handed him the letters. The judge read both of the letters, thought about what he had just read then looked at Doctor Garson and said. “Did you write these letters, Doctor Garson?”
“Well yes, I did, as I wanted to…”
Judge Channell interrupted again, furious with Doctor Garson; “We know what you wanted to do, you wanted to sell your services to the highest bidder and say that fingerprinting was a foolproof way of identifying criminals for the prosecution, or if the defence were willing to pay more say that fingerprinting was an unreliable means of identification for the defence. Which to me is more like a prostitute than a man of science.” The judge glared at the doctor, hardly able to contain his anger. “Dr Garson you are an absolutely untrustworthy witness. Leave this courtroom this minute and thank yourself lucky that I don’t have you locked up for contempt of court, though I may consider charges against you later”
The doctor left the court with his head down knowing that his lucrative career as an expert witness was now over, and his credibility amongst his fellow academics was in tatters.
The judge sat at his bench for five minutes to calm himself, then said; “You have one more expert witness to call I believe Mr Rooth?”
Rooth had Doctor Faulds as an expert fingerprint witness who he was going to bring on after Dr Garson to strengthen his testimony, but fearing that prosecutor Muir would have something to discredit Faulds as well he said; The defence for Alfred Stratton has no more witnesses for the court your honour.
Judge Channell wrote in his notes for about five minutes then said; “Mr Muir will you please present to the jury your closing arguments?”
Muir looked at his notes and decided that he would not need them. He walked over and stood directly in front of the jury box.
“Gentlemen of the Jury, I will make my closing argument brief as you have a difficult duty to perform here today. You have heard the testimony of the many witnesses over the past two days and have seen the evidence that the prosecutors and the defence have presented before you. It is now time for you to take everything that you have heard and seen into the jury room and decide on whether you believe that Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton are guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow.”
He looked along the two rows of the jury looking each one of them in the eye, and then said;
“You may think that the eyewitnesses who saw the Alfred
Stratton and Albert Stratton leave Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store just after Mr Farrow was robbed and murdered could not positively identify them and perhaps you may want to give Alfred Stratton and his brother Albert Stratton the benefit of the doubt. But both of those witnesses said that they looked like the two men seen running from the scene of the crime, and identified their clothing right down to the colour of the shoes and the hats that they were wearing. The same clothes that were later found in the places that the brothers were living a few days after the crime was committed. You then heard the evidence of Eleanor Stanton who positively identified Alfred Stratton running away with someone who fit the description of his brother Albert Stratton from Deptford High Street where the murder took place. We then come to the fingerprint evidence, the bloody thumbprint that was found on a cash box in the Farrows bedroom that has been proven beyond all doubt to be the thumbprint of Alfred Stratton. That evidence puts Alfred Stratton firmly at the scene of the crime with one of the victim’s blood on his hands, when he has told this court that he had never been inside Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store in his life. Alfred Stratton’s girlfriend said that he was with her all night, but she also said that she was a heavy sleeper and that she could not say for certain if Alfred Stratton left the room where she was sleeping from around 12.00 the evening before, until she woke at 9.30 the next morning, giving Alfred Stratton plenty of time to leave the room at 5.00 am murder and rob Mr Farrow and be back in the room by 9.30 am. That is if you are willing to believe the testimony of Annie Cromarty that Alfred Stratton was with her all night.
The defence lawyers of Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton, I am sure will try to make much of the fingerprint evidence that was produced in court today. They will try to tell you that it is an unproven science or that it borders on witchcraft, anything to discredit it, which is why they produced Doctor Garson, as a so-called expert witness.
Detective Inspector Collins, Scotland Yard’s chief fingerprinting expert, did not try to trick anyone. He showed to you, the twelve gentlemen of the jury, the fingerprint evidence he had and asked you to look at that evidence and pick out whose thumbprint it was on that cash box and you gentlemen of the jury unanimously picked the thumbprint out as belonging to Alfred Stratton. The primary reason that defence lawyers object to and don’t want fingerprint evidence to be produced in court is that it will be much harder to defend their guilty clients when fingerprint technology is widely accepted as an essential cornerstone of British law and justice system.
A court is made up of many links; the strongest link is the jury as it is down to them to decide after viewing all of the evidence if the accused are guilty or not guilty. I believe that we have shown you through our evidence and testimony that Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton did wilfully murder Thomas Farrow on the 27th of March 1905. Neither of the Stratton brothers has admitted murdering Mr Farrow, so we must assume that they both had a hand in killing him, if either one of them will not speak out about the other. It is therefore your duty as a jury to find both Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow and I am confident that you will do your duty for God and your country.
“Mr Rooth, will you please present your closing argument to the jury?” Judge Channell intoned.
“Yes, your worship.” And Rooth walked from his desk to stand before the jury.
Gentlemen of the Jury. The evidence that you have heard today from the prosecution over the last two days has all been circumstantial. Not one person witnessed Alfred Stratton coming out of Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store on the High Street in Deptford on the 27th of March 1905. Yes, two people saw two men leaving the shop around the time that Mr Farrow was killed, but on two occasions, once in a line-up and once in this courtroom they could not say that the man they saw leaving the paint shop was Alfred Stratton. Another so-called witness positively identified Alfred Stratton as leaving the High Street near Deptford train station at around 7.50 am at a time when Annie Cromarty told this court under oath that Alfred Stratton was with her all night up until 9.30 the next morning. There is no other evidence against Alfred Stratton except for the thumbprint that was found in Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store that the prosecution says is Alfred Stratton’s. Fingerprinting is a fairly new in Great Britain. It is only four years since the so-called science was brought over from India of all countries and promoted to be the changing face and the future of policing and law and order. Four years is not enough time to say with any certainty that fingerprinting is irrefutable and 100% accurate. If this was a case of shoplifting or pick-pocketing, where the accused may get a fine or a month in prison then maybe, and I say maybe, as I personally am not convinced that fingerprinting is infallible, but maybe you may take the risk of believing the evidence of fingerprinting. But this is not a case of shoplifting or pick-pocketing, my client who is innocent is accused of murder and if you as a jury get it wrong because of this fingerprinting evidence that may be tainted or inaccurate then Alfred Stratton will pay for any of your misjudgements with his life. The evidence produced by the prosecution was weak and does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that my client was guilty. Therefore you have no option but to find Alfred Stratton not guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow.”
“Thank you Mr Rooth. Would you please present your closing argument Mr Morris? Said the judge.
“Thank you, your honour” Morris walked to the same spot that Rooth had just vacated.
“Gentleman of the Jury, as you know I represent Albert Stratton in this tragic murder case, There are no winners here Thomas Farrow was brutally murdered and my client was wrongfully arrested and put on trial for a crime that he did not commit. The prosecution has not shown one shred of evidence to prove that Albert Stratton was involved in the robbery and subsequent murder that took place at 34 High Street in Deptford on the morning of the 27th of March 1905. The prosecution has produced no evidence to put him at the scene of the murder. The prosecution on two occasions produced two eyewitnesses who saw two men leaving the paint shop around the time that the murder took place.
Neither of those eyewitnesses could identify Alfred Stratton as being one of those men. Ah, they say…but one of those men was wearing similar clothes that Albert Stratton owned. Gentlemen of the jury let me tell you, Albert Stratton does not go to Savile Row to get his tailoring done, where each suit is unique and made to measure; he buys off the peg from cheap shops in Deptford, as do most people who live in that area. And for that reason, you will find that many people around Deptford, Greenwich and Lewisham areas all wear similar if not the same types and styles of clothes. Then there is the evidence of Eleanor Stanton, who says that she witnessed Alfred Stratton running from Deptford High Street towards the train station with another man. She could not say that that man was Albert Stratton. In fact, she said that the man she saw running with Alfred Stratton was wearing an overcoat; Albert Stratton does not own an overcoat.
The only thing Albert Stratton is guilty of is being the brother of Alfred Stratton, who the prosecution “SAY! left his thumbprint in Chapman’s Oil and Colour Store. Albert Stratton is innocent of the crimes that he has been accused of and I trust, as he does, that the jury will find him not guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow.”
It was now the turn of Judge Channel to direct the jury and explain their duties as sworn in jurors.
“Gentlemen of the jury. You have heard the testimony from the witnesses to this terrible crime and you have seen the evidence from both the prosecution and the defence. It is now your duty as upstanding citizens of Great Britain to decide from the evidence that you have heard if you believe that Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton are guilty of the wilful murder of Thomas Farrow. Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton have been tried together, but that does not mean that they are both guilty of murder.
You may find that they are both guilty of wilful murder.
You may find that one or the other is guilty of wilful murder.
Or you may decide that they are both innocent of wilful murder
I ask you now to retire to the jury room and consider everything that you have heard over the last two days and when you have made your decision come back into the courtroom and present me with your verdict.”
The jury were led to the jury room by the bailiff.
The judge then turned his attention to Alfred and Albert Stratton. Please take the accused back down to the cells until the jury have reached their verdict. The brothers were escorted down to the court cells to await sentencing.
The two prosecutors, Assistant Superintendant McNaughton, Chief Inspector Fox with most of the investigating officers from Scotland Yard, as well as Detective Inspector Collins and his assistant Sergeant Patterson, all met in one of the police interviewing rooms in the Old Bailey.
They were all in high spirits and every single one of them thought that they had done enough to at least find Alfred Stratton guilty of the murder of Thomas Farrow.
McNaughton said; “I can’t see how the jury could acquit Alfred Stratton after the fingerprint evidence put him firmly in the shop, when he said he had never been inside.”
Chief inspector Fox said; “I think Albert might get off with it. I thought that Morris put up a convincing argument and the jury might make their conscience feel better by acquitting Albert.”
McNaughton trying to get some life into his pipe said between puffs; “Well we all know that he was there with his brother and maybe he didn’t do the actual murders but he was in on the robbery and he stood back and let his brother murder two innocent people. If he gets off maybe the Deptford police may hear something and we can go back and charge him with the robbery of the shop or even the accessory to murder of Mrs Farrow at a later date.”
Muir said; “The jury will be out for quite some time I believe, it’s not an easy one for them to decide on, maybe it will be tomorrow before they come back with their verdict.”
Detective Inspector Collins looked at his watch; “Well its 2.00pm they have had half an hour so far. I will wait around until 4.30 in case they are more convinced one way or another than we think.” and everyone of the team said that they would do the same.
McNaughton said; “Well whatever happens, the drinks are on me tonight. Win or lose everyone in this team did a fine job to get this prosecution to where it is now, and whatever the verdict, fingerprinting has been in the news for a month and will never ever be taken lightly again by judges. We should raise a glass to Judge Channell tonight, he had the courage not to take the easy way out and overturn the fingerprint evidence.”
An hour later down in the cells under the Old Bailey, the two brothers were in adjoining cells and were finally talking to each other.
Alfred said; “I think that I am in for it, I saw how the jury looked at me when they left the courtroom. I reckon that I will get the gallows, but I think that they will acquit you.
“Jesus I hope they will acquit me Alfred, I am so scared”
“Why didn’t you just tell them it was me that killed them a month ago when you had the chance when they brought us in for questioning? You could have just pleaded guilty to accessory to murder like I thought that you would. I never took you for a gambler, I am the gambler in the family, but you have put everything you have on them acquitting you. If you got it wrong you will be dangling on the end of a rope next to me in a few weeks.”
“I just couldn’t face ten years or more in jail. Over the last month, I have had a lot of time to think about it. I really didn’t do anything wrong. Except for bolting the door when we went in, I did nothing. So I just thought that they would find me not guilty.”
“Well, I hope so for your sake. Your lawyer Morris was good; I wish I had had him, mine was crap. Did you see that expert witness he hired, I think that as much as anything soured the jury against me? Before that, I thought that I was in with a chance. Rooth said that he would get the prints thrown out and that all turned to crap as well”
“How long before the jury will have a verdict do you think?” said Albert.
“Well we have been down here about an hour and a half; I think they would have found me guilty in the first five minutes. It’s you they will be arguing over. I think that they will have a verdict before five o’clock, as they will all want to get their local pubs to tell all their mates how important they are.” They went quiet for a while then Alfred said; “Hey Albert I am out of tobacco sling us your backy tin over”
Albert smiled to himself and sighed.
The jury was only out for two hours when Bailiff Armstrong knocked on Judge Channell’s door.
“Judge Channel. I have just had word that the jury has reached a verdict.”
“Thank you Armstrong, can you please tell the prosecutors and the defence that I will be ready to reconvene in ten minutes?”
“Yes your honour”
Everyone was back in their places when Judge Channell entered the courtroom and went to the bench.
“All rise for the honourable Judge Chanell”
“Bailiff please have the accused brought up from the cells.”
“Yes your honour”
Five minutes later Alfred Stratton sat in the dock with a resigned look on his face, chewing at what little was left of his fingernails. Sitting in the dock next to him Albert Stratton was physically shaking from head to toe.
Judge Channell looked at Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton then said; “Will the defendants and defence counsels please stand?”
Both Alfred and Albert stood in the dock as did Mr Rooth, Mr Curtis –Bennet and Mr Morris.
“Members of the jury, have you reached a verdict?
The Forman of the jury stood up and said; yes we have your honour.”
“Members of the Jury, in the Case of Alfred Edward Stratton how do you find?”
“We the jury find the defendant Alfred Edward Stratton guilty.”
Alfred slumped back down on the bench and resumed biting his fingernails.
“Members of the Jury, on the Case of Albert Ernest Stratton how do you find?”
We the jury find the defendant Albert Ernest Stratton guilty.”
“NOooo” screamed Albert, “Tell them Alfred tell them it wasn’t me who killed them. Tell them it was you. You killed them both. I was just there I didn’t do anything.”
Judge Channell slammed his gavel down on his bench five or six times; Order, order in this courtroom.”
The bailiffs went over to Albert and gently sat him down on the bench where he put his head in his hands and continued to sob.
Mr Justice Channel made some notes on his pad. He looked up and told Alfred and Albert Stratton to stand for sentencing, which neither of them did, Alfred continuing biting his nails thinking, what more could they do to him, they can’t hang him twice, and Albert so scared and distracted that he had not even heard the judge talking to him.
The Judge knowing nothing good would come of getting the gaolers to drag them to their feet decided to let it go and then placed the black cap on his head “The sentence of the Court upon each of you is that you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came and that there you be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your souls. The chaplain who had come into the court room specifically for the sentencing intoned “Amen”. Both Alfred and Albert Stratton were removed from the court and returned to Wandsworth prison to await execution.
Alfred and Albert Stratton came from a large family. On the 22nd of May the family were informed in a message from the Home Secretary that there would be no reprieve for the brothers and that they would hang the next day. Their mother, two brothers and three sisters all came to Wandsworth Prison that same afternoon to say their final goodbyes. Alfred who had come to terms with his fate on the last day of his trial seemed unemotional and resigned to his fate, but Albert just sat and sobbed the whole time that they were there and begged them to help him postpone the execution, though there was nothing that they could do. It was heartbreaking when it was time to leave, both brothers hugged their mother for the very last time and Albert saw tears in Alfred’s eyes for the first time that he could remember. Their family had brought them their favourite food for their last meal but neither brother could face eating that night.
9.00am 23rd May 1905 at HM Prison Wandsworth.
They were brought up from the cells, Alfred leading the way and Albert as he had always been his whole life walking behind him.
The hangman John Billington stood stoically in front of the condemned men with his two assistants, Henry Pierrepoint and John Ellis both looking suitably morose standing close behind him. Albert had been crying incessantly since the two brothers had been brought up from their cells in the bowels of Wandsworth Prison to “The Meat Room” as the hanging shed was more commonly known. The Hanging Shed was damp and cold with moisture running down the mouldy whitewashed walls and the aura that filled the room from the hundreds of condemned men and women who had previously stood and died where the two brothers were now standing was palpable.
“Any last words,” Billington asked Albert Stratton
“Why won’t you listen to me? It was Alfred, I didn’t do anything, I just went along because he told me to, Tell them Alfred, it’s not too late. I never hurt anyone. Please let me go…Mama please help me… What about Kate…what will she do without me…oh god please make them listen to me.” sobbed Albert.
Billington who had heard it all before moved to his left and stood in front of Alfred Stratton, as Henry Pierrepoint stepped forward and pulled a hood over the broken and tormented Albert’s head.
“Alfred Stratton, Do you have any last words”? Alfred looked Billington in the eye, coughed a chesty cough then spat a glob of phlegm at the hangman’s feet and said nothing. John Ellis a deeply religious man placed the hood over Alfred’s head and stepped back and waited for Billington to pull the lever that he hoped would send both of the brothers to hell.
Alfred Edward Stratton (1882-1905) - Albert Ernest Stratton (1884-1905)
From that day fingerprints were accepted throughout Great Britain’s courts as a matter of course. This soon stretched to all of the British Commonwealth countries and as the word spread of the wonders of fingerprints to all of the countries in the world. Police were sent from different police forces from the four corners of the globe to learn the science of fingerprinting at the Fingerprinting Bureau in Scotland Yard.
One hundred and fifteen years later fingerprinting is still the main forensic field for gaining a conviction in crime scene identification and for detecting and catching criminals.
* Inspector Hailstone was promoted to Chief inspector Hailstone before the year was out.
* Assistant Commissioner Melville McNaughton was knighted in the 1907 King’s Birthday Honours List.
* Detective Inspector Charles Stockley Collins headed the Fingerprint Bureau for many years and was considered to be the foremost authority in fingerprinting of his day.
* Chief Detective Inspector Frederick Fox stayed as a chief inspector until his retirement, which was where he felt happiest, catching criminals.
MILESTONES IN FORENSIC DETECTION.
1909: First school of forensic science founded by Rodolphe Archibald Reiss, in Switzerland.
1923: First police crime lab established in Los Angeles.
1930: Prototype polygraph, which was invented by John Larson in 1921, developed for use in police stations.
1932: FBI establishes its own crime laboratory, now one of the foremost crime labs in the world.
1960: A sound spectrograph discovered to be able to record voices. Voiceprints began to be used in investigations and as court evidence from recordings of phones, answering machines, or tape recorders.
1984: DNA fingerprinting techniques developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys.
1987: In England, Colin Pitchfork becomes the first criminal identified by the use of DNA.
1987: Tommy Lee Andrews convicted of a series of sexual assaults, using DNA profiling in the USA.
1996: National Academy of Sciences announces DNA evidence is reliable.
2008: A way for scientists to visualize fingerprints even after the print has been removed is developed, relating to how fingerprints can corrode metal surfaces.
2011: Michigan state university develops software that automatically matches hand-drawn facial sketches to mug shots stored in databases.
2011: Japanese researchers develop a dental x-ray matching system. This system can automatically match dental x-rays in a database, and makes a positive match in less than 4 seconds.
This is the story of Alfred and Albert Stratton and how they came to be tried, convicted and hung because of the new forensic science of fingerprinting.
In March 1905 a crime took place in London that would change the way that police forces around the world would identify suspects, the Deptford Mask Murders. Thomas and Ann Farrow were found beaten to death in a paint shop that they managed in Deptford. This was the crime that the Scotland Yard Fingerprint Bureau had been waiting for since the bureau was formed in 1901, a high profile crime that would put the spotlight on the science of fingerprinting as a reliable, efficient and infallible system of identifying criminals.
One week later Brothers Alfred and Albert Stratton were arrested and were later put on trial at the Old Bailey accused of wilful murder. The prosecution had very little evidence to convict the brothers and what they did have was mainly circumstantial, except for a thumbprint which was found on a cash box in the Farrows bedroom above the paint shop. Fingerprinting had never been used to solve a serious crime before in Britain and was seen as being untrustworthy and untested, with one magistrate writing to The Times; “Scotland Yard, once known as the world’s finest police organisation, will be the laughing stock of Europe it if insists on trying to trace criminals by odd ridges on their skins.”
During the trial Melville McNaughton Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Detective Inspector Charles Collins Head of Scotland Yard’s Fingerprint Bureau, Chief Inspector Fredrick Fox lead investigator and Richard Muir the Crown Prosecutor all played their part in putting fingerprinting firmly on the map as a means of identifying criminals.
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