The murder of Clara Cropper back in July 1948 is still an unsolved crime. The man charged with the crime and put on trial at Chester Assizes in November 1948, Olaf Andreas Flaathe, was cleared by the Jury. The Jury was out for the astonishingly short time of just eight minutes. After the trial, it is not known whether the Police stated that they would reopen the case or did they use the time-honoured phrase "We are not looking for anybody else," which says that the killer walked free from court. Did Flaathe commit the crime?
My opinion? No, he did not, but I believe he did not tell the full truth. If he had, he would have put the noose around his neck, because he would have put himself in the vicinity of the murder, he was with the victim and was identified by a witness but this was strongly countered by his defence barrister. There are two episodes in this case that I have a problem with. First off, the behaviour of the chief prosecution witness, Edith Gill, and the tunnel vision approach of the Police, in which a man that had so obviously been engaged in serious violence, was ignored. They were so convinced they had the right man, and indeed, the Chief of Police told the press that it was a straightforward case. This was subsequently turned on it`s head by the acquittal of Flaathe.
The story began when the SS Bergen, a small ship of just under two thousand tons, berthed at Bowaters Paper Mill, on the Manchester Ship Canal, in July 1948. The nearest places for the crews off the numerous ships that berthed at the Port Docks were pubs such as The Grosvenor, Horse & Jockey, & the Canal Inn, known to locals as the Boathouse. It was at the Boathouse that a sailor from the ship, 53 years old Olaf Flaathe met and befriended local woman Clara Cropper. Mrs Cropper, a 44 years old of mother of two, originally from Hull, and separated from her husband, a canal bargeman, was a regular visitor to the Boathouse with her friend, Edith Gill. The role of Mrs Gill and some of her subsequent actions, have led many locals to wonder if she had a bigger role in the case than was thought. Indeed, locals thought that she was the actual killer, but I discount this totally, but I cannot put a spin on her actions during the investigation and the trial of Flaathe. More to follow.