Stories from the Crime Room

During my recent look round the Crime Room at Manchester Police Museum I came across many interesting exhibits and stories, some which intrigued me more than others, so here are five of them which I thought deserved more than just a few cursory lines in my previous post.
On display in a corner of the room were the tools used by Manchester’s ‘King of Forgers’ Herbert Winstanley. Born in Liverpool in 1885 he worked in his father’s painting and decorating business until getting employment in Manchester as a design painter and engraver, however in 1937 his health failed somewhat and he was never fully employed again. After taking up etching as a hobby and making a few successful prints he decided to try his hand at copying a £1 bank note using both copper plates and lithographic stones. He obviously had some success as during the years of the Second World War a serious amount of forged £1 notes were found to be circulating round several areas of the country though mainly around Manchester and Salford and in particular at horse and dog racing tracks. Many suspects, mainly known forgers, were arrested and interviewed over the years but all were released through lack of evidence.
On June 2nd 1945 a bookmaker at Salford’s Albion Greyhound Track alerted two detectives on duty to two forged notes which had just been used to place a bet – both notes had exactly the same serial numbers. The detectives had seen the bet being placed and caught up with Winstanley who said he must have got the notes from another bookmaker. He willingly agreed to be searched but having only genuine money on him he was allowed to go free, however the detectives decided to keep him under close observation and discreetly followed him to a house in Rusholme, Manchester.
With backup from another detective the premises were later entered and searched in Winstanley’s presence and on opening a locked bedroom door they found a complete forger’s workshop containing a hand-operated printing press, inks, lithographic stones, copper plates and sheet copper, brushes, parcels of paper and many other tools. Winstanley was arrested and held in custody. The full search of the premises lasted four days and it was finally established that almost £20,000 of forged £10, £5 and £1 notes in various stages of process were hidden around that room.
A month later, on July 5th, Winstanley pleaded guilty to forgery at Manchester Assize Court and was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude. He was released in 1952 and returned to his lodgings, then 12 years later, in February 1964 and at the age of 79, he collapsed and died in the street near his home. He never revealed the method he had used to print the forged notes and his secret was taken to the grave with him.
The plates, lithographic stones, brushes and tools on display in the Crime Room are the original ones used by Winstanley. They have been examined by many experts over the years and even with modern technology it’s still been impossible to figure out the printing process developed and used so many years ago by Herbert Winstanley – ‘King of Forgers’.
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On June 21st 1943 Walter Graham Rowland was convicted of murdering his 2-year old daughter Mavis. He should have faced the death penalty but on the recommendation of the jury was sentenced to life imprisonment instead. In 1945 he was released on condition that he joined the armed forces, which he did, then in 1946 he was discharged from the forces and became a free man. On October 20th that year a woman’s body was found on a bomb site on Deansgate – later identified as Olive Balchin, a 40-year old prostitute from Birmingham, she had been battered to death with a hammer which was found nearby along with a piece of brown paper showing an imprint of that same hammer. The time of death was estimated to be around midnight on October 19th.
A description of the deceased was circulated in the media and enquiries were made about the hammer, resulting in three vital witnesses being interviewed. A waitress in a cafe near the murder scene remembered seeing a woman matching Olive Balchin’s description with a man and another woman around 6pm on the 19th, the licensee of a nearby pub had seen a man and woman arguing later that same evening and identified the woman as Olive, and the shopkeeper who sold the brown-paper-wrapped hammer also came forward with a description of the purchaser. Rowland was traced to his city centre lodgings and arrested as he resembled that description – all three witnesses picked him out in an identity parade and though he admitted to having known Olive Balchin for about eight weeks he totally denied killing her.
In his defence Rowland put forward an alibi to account for his whereabouts during the day and evening of October 19th and this was corroborated by various people including his mother, however the police forensic scientist stated that he had taken samples of soil and leaves at the murder scene and found identical material in Rowland’s trouser turn-ups when he was arrested. Rowland was charged with murder and his trial began on December 12th. He was found guilty and given the death sentence but he denied the charge and lodged an appeal, however on January 27th 1947 David John Ware, who was at the time in prison in Liverpool for theft, admitted that he was the person responsible for Olive Balchin’s murder – it was an admission which caused the adjournment of Rowland’s appeal.
In his statement to the police Ware said the murder took place at 10pm, not midnight, and the deceased’s name was Balshaw, not Balchin, but the High Court wasn’t happy with this statement and sent a barrister to question him, however he changed his story and completely denied he had carried out the murder. Rowland’s appeal recommenced but was dismissed and on February 27th 1947 he was hanged at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, though he proclaimed his innocence right to the end. Four years later David John Ware was found guilty, but insane, of the attempted murder of a woman in Bristol – she had been battered round the head like Olive Balchin and the weapon used was a hammer.
So did Rowland really kill Olive Balchin or was he innocent all along? No-one will ever know, but whether he was or not, Walter Graham Rowland went to his grave with the distinction of being the only man reprieved for a murder he did commit and hanged for one he possibly didn’t.
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In the afternoon of Friday May 4th 1962 57-year old Sarah Isabella Cross was working in her sweet shop in Miles Platting, Manchester when sometime around 4pm 26-year old James Smith entered through the shop door and attacked her, hitting her numerous times with several large full mineral bottles he grabbed from behind the counter. He then forced open the till and stole what money he could before making his escape through the back door of the premises. Mrs Cross sustained bruising, lacerations and a 9-inch fracture of the skull and died where she lay, behind the counter and surrounded by the shattered remains of the five broken bottles.
Unfortunately for Smith the back door of the shop had not long been painted and was still wet so he left a good set of fingerprints on the door frame – these matched perfectly with his fingerprints from a previous conviction so on that evidence he was arrested and charged with murder. The fragments of the glass bottles found at the scene were sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Chorley and were painstakingly glued back together by Detective Chief Inspector Albert Allen, however some fragments of the glass were missing and when Smith’s home was later searched small particles were found down the side of his settee. The pieces were sent for forensic testing and were microscopically matched to the rebuilt bottles.
The evidence against Smith was overwhelming and he was tried at Liverpool Crown Court on October 15th 1962. The trial lasted just three days before a jury found him guilty of murder and Mr Justice Stable passed the death sentence. James Smith was executed at Strangeways Prison on November 28th 1962 and because of the way the broken bottles had been pieced back together the case became known as The Jigsaw Murder.
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Late on Friday November 27th 1970 seven months pregnant Lynda Stewart, aged 22 was walking home alone after a night out with a friend when, in a completely random and unprovoked attack, she was dragged from the main road and through a hedge, punched, kicked, bitten, raped and beaten to death. Her partly clothed body was found the next morning in the garden of a house just a few minutes walk from her home. A footprint had been left at the scene and a crudely made metal ring was found nearby – forensic experts managed to trace the ring to a local engineering company
On learning that detectives were making enquiries at his place of work 18-year old apprentice Ronald Bennell left a suicide note in the locker of another apprentice and disappeared. He was found that night hiding in the larder at his girlfriend’s home, he had taken an overdose of aspirins in an attempt to kill himself. The boots he was wearing when arrested matched the footprint found at the crime scene and plaster impressions taken of his teeth matched the bite marks on Lynda’s body. His clothing contained fibres and skin fragments from Lynda as well as particles of tarmac from the crime scene, and police had also found her handbag and shoes thrown into different bins along the road leading to Bennell’s house.
After Bennell eventually admitted to the murder he was charged, pleaded guilty in court and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1983 then after causing two marriage break-ups during the next few years he killed again in 1989, raping and murdering 42-year old mum-of-three Pamela Noone who was walking through a Stockport park. He was arrested, convicted and given another life sentence in Strangeways Prison but possibly unable to face a second lengthy stretch behind bars he took his own life just a few weeks later.
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Sometime in the 1980s two businessmen contacted a Manchester bullion dealer and offered a quantity of gold bars for sale. They arranged to meet at the dealer’s office, having with them a metal strong box from which they carefully took out 274 50g gold bars, telling the dealer he could pick any four, test them for purity, and if he was satisfied he could pay them in cash for the whole consignment. The dealer picked out four random bars and was about to go off and test them when he was distracted by one of the men and without his knowledge four genuine bars were quickly swapped for the four he had chosen. On testing the four bars he found they were genuine and happily handed over the cash to the men who carefully put all the bars back into the strong box and locked it for safety. With the deal done they then left the shop, purposely ‘forgetting’ to give the dealer the key.
The dealer then spent quite some time sawing open the strong box and when he finally tipped the bars out onto the table he found that many were chipped on the edges. On testing them he found that all the gold bars he had bought, except the four genuine ones, were made of gold plated brass and only weighed 30g instead of 50g – he had paid out £84,000 (over £283,000 today) for 270 fake gold bars. The two businessmen were traced as far as Manchester Airport but were never seen again.
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These five stories are just a handful of those in the museum crime room which piqued my interest. There is another one from the early 1980s, a story which features a pioneering new technique in the forensics of that time and which, up to now, has no end, but I’ll save that one for another time. 

10 thoughts on “Stories from the Crime Room

  1. This was another really enjoyable post Eunice. I particularly liked the one about the forger. There are some criminals who deserve to get away with it and he seemed like one of them. The gold bars one was pretty good too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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