The Naked City Feb 9 2017
CASE HISTORIES
Axe and you will receive.


Above and below are the cover and assorted interior scans from a February 1953 issue of True Police Detective, a magazine we've discussed once or twice before. You get the usual collection of true crime tales, explored in procedural detail, with striking photo spreads posed by professional models, as well as some actual crime scene shots. One story we noticed here concerned the murders in London of 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed in May 1953. The two had last been seen alive embarking on a bike trip. Songhurst's body was found the next day floating face down in the Thames, while Reed's was located five days later when a section of the river was drained. Reed had been raped, and both had been beaten unconscious and hacked with an axe. The physical evidence was clear: an assailant had surprise attacked both victims, beaten them unconscious, axed Reed and disposed of her before turning his attention to the helpless Songhurst.

One curious part of the tale is that the girls disappeared while biking from London to Brighton, according to the author. It seemed to us like a pretty long trip and we were right—as the crow flies it's more than forty miles. So we think the magazine got that part of the story wrong, since the girls' families were expecting them back home by evening. In any case, our interest derived from the simple fact that the crime hadn't been solved at the time True Police Cases went to press. A man named Alfred Whiteway had been arrested, but the story ends with, “Whiteway is awaiting trial that will determine his guilt or innocence.” Since we had already invested the time to read the entire saga, we wanted to find out how it ended.

The case almost turned on chance. A month after Songhurst and Reed had been found, Whiteway was arrested for raping a woman and assaulting another on Oxshott Heath. He had the Songhurst/Reed murder axe in his possession when police picked him up. While being driven to the station he managed to hide the axe under the car's rear seat, where it remained until the vehicle was cleaned some time later and an officer discovered the weapon. Instead of realizing its significance, the officer took the tool home and used it to chop wood, blunting the edge and obliterating any blood evidence. If he had simply realized how suspicious it was to find it under the seat of a police car the case would have been solved.

In the end, old-fashioned procedural work finally cracked the case. Whiteway had been maintaining his innocence the entire time, but forensic investigators finally found minute traces of blood in an eyelet and seam on one of his shoes. Confronted with blood evidence he broke down and confessed. He had attacked the girls in a rage, raped Songhurst, and tossed both bodies in the Thames. If he expected his admission to earn him leniency he was disappointed—he was convicted in court of what became known as the Towpath Murders and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in December 1953. And the axe that almost but didn't break the case ended up in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, where it still resides today.

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Mondo Bizarro Aug 10 2013
PHYSICAL EVIDENCE
Private British crime collection could be opened to public.

The London Metropolitan Police’s 150-year-old collection of crime artifacts, currently held in room 101 at New Scotland Yard, may open to the public in the near future if the recommendations of the Greater London Authority are followed. The GLA’s report says charging the public to view the collection could generate millions of pounds—for example, even a 90 day exhibition at could raise £4.5 million if visitors were charged £15 each. What exactly does the Met have in its possession that's worth £15 a pop? The collection, begun in 1874 as a teaching tool for rookie officers, and then called the Black Museum, contains weapons, death masks, and assorted criminal tools, as well as unique items such as the umbrella and ricin pellet used to assassinate Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in 1978, the pots serial killer Dennis Nilsen used to boil his victims, along with some sludgelike human remains, Jack the Ripper’s infamous “From Hell” letter, and another letter he sent to London’s Central News Agency in September 1888 in which he gloated, “I am down on whores and I shan’t quit ripping them till I do get buckled.” The Museum also contains artifacts from other serial killers, including John George Haigh, John Christie, and Dr. Neil Cream. We think the items should be displayed for their historical value, but the opening of the collection is by no means a foregone conclusion. Only time will tell if the GLA’s recommendations will be met. If you want to read a detailed account of a visit to the Museum, we recommend visiting the London blog greatwen.com, where we found the above photo.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 29 2010
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM
Spoke gets in your eyes.

Promo poster for Gli orrori del museo nero, aka Horrors of the Black Museum, aka Crime in the Museum of Horrors, with Michael Gough and June Cunningham. Made in Britain, and originally released in “hypnovista”, whatever that is, this opens with a scene of a woman falling for the old spring-loaded-needles-in-the-binoculars trick, and ends with the surprising spectacle of a man climbing the outside of a rapidly moving ferris wheel. Fans of the art of parkour should see that sequence. Everyone else, if you’re into old-fashioned Hammer-style pit horror, watch the whole movie. Gli orrori del museo nero opened in Italy today in 1959. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
October 21
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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