Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Bowler Hat Murder

This sort of case that Sherlock would have sunk his teeth into; the only clue was a bowler hat.  Yet, it led to the arrest, conviction and execution of a killer.  It was Christmas Eve 1938, when Jeweller Ernest Key was discovered in the rear of his shop in Surbiton, Surrey.  He was blood spattered and unconscious, but died on the way to hospital.  The attack on him was extremely savage, with him receiving more than thirty stab wounds around the neck, head and face.  The motive to Police was obvious; robbery.  The only clue Police had was a Bowler hat found at the murder scene.  The hat was examined by leading Pathologist Eric Gardner, who gave opinions as to the owner, from the size of the hat and strands of hair inside.  Then Pathologist Bernard Spilsbury arrived to take over.

    Police soon discovered the owner of the hat.  It belonged to Bill Butler, aged 29, who lived in Teddington, Middlesex.  He was married with two children but was currently unemployed.  Butler had a criminal record for house breaking and on top, Police discovered that he had attended a hospital, after the murder, to receive treatment for cuts to his hands.  He gave hospital staff a false name, Charles Jackson, and a false address.  His explanation for the cuts was that he had been using a wood chopping machine.  Within weeks, Butler was arrested, but now claimed the injuries were caused by being knocked down by a motorcyclist.  His explanation for the false name and address was to avoid costs - this was pre-NHS.

    His trial at the Old Bailey began on February 15th 1939, where he ran a defense of self defense, and so said he should have been charged with Manslaughter.  The problem here is that Mr Key was stabbed thirty plus times.  How can you deflect that?  Did Mr Key repeatedly throw himself at the knife deliberately?  Believe that and you believe in Santa Claus.  The Jury certainly did not and convicted him of murder.  He was executed at Wandsworth Prison on March 29th 1939 by Tom Pierrepoint.  Reports say that the newspapers exaggerated the part in the case of Eric Gardner, in regards to the hat, but if it had been Spilsbury examining the hat, no doubt the reviewers of the case would have been shouting from the rooftops about how wonderful and truly brilliant Spilsbury was, and would have been nothing more than they expected.