A Perfect Crime needs a Clever Criminal

One of the most exciting exhibitions on in London at the moment is The Crime Museum Uncovered, featuring at the Museum of London in Barbican. Up until now, the Crime Museum has only ever been accessible to the police and certain invited individuals, and kept behind the closed doors of the New Scotland Yard. It was first established in 1894 and it contains evidence and real crime artefacts used to piece together some of the grisliest offences committed in the UK. 

All the cases on public display pre-date the 1970s in the interest of protecting the privacy and sensitivities of still living individuals connected with more recent crimes. More than 12 different cases are presented in-depth, which bring to light the art of old-fashioned detective work and how it has been enhanced by the advent of various new technologies.

However, the exhibitions greatest appeal is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of the criminal and understand what their motivations were and what mistakes got them caught. Unsurprisingly, the criminals of more than 100 years ago were driven by basic motives of greed, lust and jealousy, same as we are today.

GREED

Eliza Barrow was killed in 1911 for the pure and simple motive of greed. Eliza was an eccentric spinster of 47 years who was worth a fair amount of money. She was also quite stingy. She had been living with her cousin but decided she could save more money by entering into an arrangement with Frederick Seddon. Seddon owned a large house near Finsbury Park and agreed to take care of Eliza for her remaining years, offering her free board plus a monthly allowance, in exchange for controlling interest of all her stocks and assets. Eliza moved in with Seddon, his wife Margaret and their five children in July 1910. One year later, she died after experiencing severe stomach cramps.

Initially, her death was treated as unsuspicious. However when Seddon inherited all her possessions yet opted to bury her in a very cheap grave with little ceremony, it started to raise a few eyebrows, especially as she had a family vault in Islington. Subsequently her body was exhumed and pathologists found arsenic grains in her stomach. Arsenic fly paper was also discovered in the Seddon family home, and Home Office scientific analyst Henry Wilcox demonstrated to the court how Seddon extracted the deadly poison from the paper to mix with the juice and brandy Eliza consumed.

Frederick Seddon

Seddon was sentenced to death, and hanged at Pentonville prison.

In this case, it was not only Frederick’s greed that drove him to murder but it was also what made him get caught. Had he acted reasonably in handling Eliza’s death her family would not have made enquiries into the arrangement between himself and Eliza. Furthermore, it was a rookies mistake not to destroy any evidence linking him to the crime.

A photograph of the court room when Seddon was sentenced to death.

A photograph of the court room when Seddon was sentenced to death.

The brand of fly paper found in Seddon's home.

The brand of fly paper found in Seddon’s home.

LUST & DEPRAVITY 

Emily Kaye was murdered by Patrick Mahon in 1924 in a perverted and heinous fashion. Mahon was a married man who had begun an affair with Emily in the summer of 1922. Emily was a tall, athletic type who worked as a secretary and lived near Russell Square in London. She knew Mahon had a wife but believed he was unhappily married. After almost two years of relations, Mahon killed her when finding out she was pregnant because he had already begun relations with a new lady friend. He purchased a butchers knife and saw to kill Emily in a holiday apartment in Eastbourne, chopping her body up into several pieces and burning some of them on the fire place, boiling some organs in a pot, and hiding the larger body parts in a trunk, a hat box and a biscuit tin.

Portrait of Emily Kaye

Portrait of Emily Kaye

Mahon had been extremely sloppy in committing this terrible crime. Aside from the obvious motivations and a previous documented history of violent affairs, police had substantial evidence in the case against him. His wife had found a a luggage ticket in his suit, for a bag left at Waterloo station that contained bloodstained female clothing and the murder weapon. There was also witness testimony that he had purchases the murder weapons the day before the act. During Mahon’s defence he stated that Emily had hit her head accidentally on a coal cauldron, which led to her death and in panic he had tried to hide the body. However a clerk at Brixton Police Station created a small model replica of the house to demonstrate the events leading to the death, which indicated the flimsy cauldron could not have been the cause of death.

The key advancement that resulted from the case was the introduction of the murder kit. When Pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury saw detectives going through the murder scene with their bare hands, which was pretty murky given the amount of blood, guts and organs they needed to sift through, he realised that needed to change. A murder kit contains various items and equipment to assist detectives investigating a crime scene, including gloves!

Sir Bernard Spilsbury and team at the crime scene.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury and team at the crime scene.

REVENGE

Ruth Ellis was the last women in Britain to be executed in 1955. Her crime was murder and the motive was undisguised revenge. Ruth was a nightclub manager at the Little Club in London and she lived a fast life in this world of late nights, loud music, drinking and vice. By 1953 she was already once divorced, three times pregnant, and in relationships with David Blakely, a racing car driver, and Desmond Cussen, a business man. Ruth and Blakey’s relationship was extremely volatile, they were both seeing other people and would argue frequently, Blakely was also a heavy drinker. At one point, Blakely proposed marriage to her however things became particularly sour when he caused Ruth to miscarriage by punching her in the stomach.

Ruth Ellis

Ruth Ellis

In revenge, on the evening of 10 April 1955, Ruth waited for Blakely outside a friends house in Hampstead. When he emerged, she called out to him, but he ignored her. She then fired 6 shots with a .38 calibre gun, killing him dead.

The amount of detective work required to apprehend Ruth was minimal. She had killed him point blank in front of several witnesses and the police arrived to the scene very promptly whilst the murder weapon was still in her possession. During her trial at the Old Bailey, when asked by the prosecutor Christmas Humphrey what her intention was, she had responded “It’s obvious, when I shot him I intended to kill him”.

The public were altogether supportive of the decision to hang Ruth for murder, however it contributed to the decision to stop capital punishment in the UK 10 years later. During her last days, Ruth showed remorse for her actions, telling Blakely’s parents that she would always love him, and confessing to the Bishop of Stepney that she had become a different person that day she pulled the trigger. Cassandra, of The Daily Mirror, wrote on the day of Ruth’s execution: “The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises us above the beasts will have been denied her – pity and the hope of ultimate redemption.”

The Daily Mirror cover publicising Ruth Ellis' hanging at Holloway.

The Daily Mirror cover publicising Ruth Ellis’ hanging at Holloway.

The Crime Museum is a really interesting exhibition that you should visit if you have the opportunity. As well as exploring specific cases, there is also a lot of documented history on display about developments in technology for solving crimes and changes in British law. However, if you are looking to pick up any tips from criminal masterminds, you will be disappointed. The criminals showcased were not particularly clever and sometimes even downright sloppy. But one thing is clear, if you are going to commit a crime you should consider what evidence you could potentially leave behind and at the very least, try to disguise any motive.

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