Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Thames Towpath Murders

This is a case that begs the question; did the Police embroider their evidence in order to secure a conviction and ultimately, an execution?  The evidence, at times, was so slopshod, as to be beyond belief.  Readers will soon understand.  The events in this case began on the night of Sunday May 31st 1953, when tow teenage girls,Barbara Songhurst, 16 & Christine Reed, 18, had been visiting three friends who were camping.  As the night wore on, they said that they were off home.  one of the boys went so far with them, to ensure safety.  When they reached the Thames towpath, they left him and cycled off.  Neither made it home.  The following day, the body of Barbara was found near Richmond, but there was no sign of Christine.  It was not until June 6th that the body of Christine further up the river.  Both had been repeatedly stabbed, beaten and in the case of Barbara,raped.

    That month, two women had been attacked, with one being raped.  Police had arrested Alfred Charles Whiteway.  Questioned, he denied any attacks, and later was questioned about the two murders.  Circumstantial evidence made him a good suspect.  He was alleged to have raped, and Barbara had been.  He lived in the general area, and was a bicycle rider.  The towpath was frequently used by cyclists.   The Police had no evidence to hold him.  Now, things turned peculiar.  The post mortems carried out on the girls suggested an axe or similar object had been used.  When Whiteway was first arrested, an axe was found under the front seat of the car that Police transported Whiteway to the station.  The officer who found it, decided to take it home and use it for chopping wood.  later, he realised the possible implications and handed it in.  This was said by forensics to be the murder weapon.  Blood was found on a shoe worn by Whiteway.

   It was claimed that when Whiteway was confronted with this evidence, he cracked and confessed.  "You bloody well know that I did it!" was one of the things he supposedly said.  That smacks of verballing.  He signed statements admitting his guilt then denying it.  He was charged with two counts of murder.  On trial, he denied admitting anything, and that the Police had fabricated his confession.  This was naturally greeted with outrage by the press.  His wife gave him an alibi, saying that they were together at the time of the murders.  The Jury believed the Crown version that Whiteway admitted striking Barbara with the axe, then seeing Christine, who started screaming, so he bludgeoned her as well.  Then he obviously would have gone back to the stricken girl he first hit in order to violate her, then finish her off.  He was executed at Wandsworth  Prison on December 22nd 1953 by Albert Pierrepoint.

    A couple of points to make.  First off, newspaper reports at the time state Police beliefs that TWO men were involved.  There actually is a site where you can view these headlines.  Nowadays, DNA would conclusively confirm the guilt or innocence of Whiteway in regards to the blood.  The episode with the axe and the fact that Whiteway was not searched despite being suspected of serious crimes.  Would the axe today be regarded by defence lawyers as exceedingly tainted?  Whiteways lawyer, Peter Rawlinson, a junior Barrister - like Rumpole of the Bailey - exposed glaring holes in the evidence of Superintendent Bert Hannam, during cross-examination.  Either Whiteway confessed or he didn`t.  A confession should be straitforward.  But then again, at that time, British Policemen NEVER told lies.  No matter how many were convicted or dismissed for it.  Hannam was a few years later, destroyed in cross-examination by Sir Geoffrey Lawrence, QC, for John Bodkin Adams, a doctor cleared of murder but now regarded as being an early Harold Shipman, despite no clear and irrefutable proof against him.  Did Whiteway kill the girls?  He certainly would have been a strong suspect.  The confession is his word against Police.  In those days, Police could say whatever they wanted and were believed.  Was the blood on his shoes from his victims?  Today, we would know.  Would trace evidence been found on the axe?  Possibly.  Did Mrs Whiteway speak the truth?  Or was she protecting her husband?  Why did the Police initially believe it was two assailants?  Was Whiteway a serial rapist who could not stop himself and had to kill them both as he knew one of them?  In researching this, there has been no mention of which girl knew him.  This was something Whiteway allegedly told Hannam.  The most bothersome part of this are the gaping holes in Hannam`s testimony, exposed by Peter Rawlinson, but probably they did get it right but had to rely on lies and circumstantial evidence to put him on the scaffold.  But in the end, two girls were brutally murdered.  Maybe I am completely wrong.  Any opinions?