The Murder of Julia Wallace

Julia and William Herbert Wallace

Left: Julia Wallace, murder victim. Right: William Herbert Wallace, the accused husband.

The year is 1931. A man named William Herbert Wallace has been married and living with his wife Julia Wallace for about 16 years at 29 Wolverton Street, Liverpool, England.

At this time, Wallace works for the Prudential Assurance Company, the originator of the “Man from the Pru” commercials which would go on to make the Pru a household name in later years.

“The Man from the Prudential”
Click to enlarge.

The “man from the Pru” was not just your insurance agent; he was your confidante, a friend, someone you could rely upon for advice. From time to time he could even end up as the designated best man at a client’s wedding… The Prudential agent was sharp and always on the lookout for new business. If a new neighbour had moved in on one of the streets on which he collected, he was expected to take initiative and knock on the door to introduce himself.

Indeed, over the years the Pru gained a reputation for reliability and honesty. Wallace himself had gained a reputation as being a total gentleman, and all who spoke about him gave him a glowing character report (all except an ex-coworker named Alfred Mather*, who appeared to despise both William and Julia Wallace). To most everyone the Wallaces were a very loving, devoted couple. The family doctor and a nurse who had been into the home would attest a sense of callousness between the two, but terraced neighbours the Johnstons said they had never heard so much as a quarrel in a decade of living next door.

[*Cannot find any relation to Katie Mather, resident of 25 Menlove Gardens West]

But in this instance the respectable “man from the Prudential” with the seemingly perfect marriage, William Herbert Wallace, was to be charged with the most heinous crime imaginable: Murder.

But the question still remains: Did William Herbert Wallace really smash his wife’s skull into pieces with a blunt instrument in a cleverly premeditated plan? A jury thought so, and sentenced him to death. But fortunately for Wallace, the judges at the appeal trial saw it differently and quashed his conviction completely, releasing him back into the world a free man. A move which was rather unprecedented at the time.

The intrigue about the Wallace case is that the events seemingly came together so perfectly, that it was considered impossible to finger any man as the killer, and so it has remained a Liverpool legend for almost a century – enduring to this day, waiting for someone to finally crack the riddle. Almost every piece of evidence can be seen as consistent with either guilt or innocence, depending on how you choose to look at it.

And the catalyst of this most brutal crime would be a mysterious telephone call to the local chess club on the 19th of January…

THE NIGHT OF THE CALL (19th January, 1931):

The phone box “Anfield 1627” from which a mysterious telephone call was delivered.

On the night of Monday the 19th of January, William claims to have left his home at about 19:15 to attend his chess club, which he co-founded some years ago with close friend James Caird. As a second class player Wallace is scheduled to play tournament matches on Mondays (roughly every other week, though the intervals varied), with the match dates displayed on a public chart at the Cottle’s City Café where the club met in one of four rooms on the ground floor. Generally up to 100 people could be expected to be in the café, and witness Gladys Harley often waited on the members of the chess club on the nights they met.

Tonight, as per the schedule displayed on the noticeboard of the café, he was down to play a Mr. F. C. Chandler.

According to Wallace, he was unsure about even attending his club on this night because his wife was poorly with bronchitis, but she gave him the go ahead – a move which would ultimately lead to her brutal demise.

Things take a turn for the unusual when chess club captain Samuel Beattie receives a telephone call requesting a message be delivered to Mr. Wallace. Although the exact figures are disputed, the call is first attempted from a telephone box in the Anfield district at roughly 19:15 at night.

In those days, telephone calls made from Anfield had to be connected manually by switchboard operators, so the first person this mysterious caller speaks to is telephone operator Louisa Alfreds. According to her court testimony, she successfully put this call through to the café (telephone number “Bank 3581”) and heard a voice pick up on the line. Her friend Lillian Martha Kelly says that Louisa then told the man: “Go ahead please,” which was the cue for the caller to press Button ‘A’ to deposit the coins and connect the call.

But something strange happened… The mystery man seemingly pressed Button ‘B’ instead of Button ‘A’, which disconnected the call and returned his coins… Moments later he was back on the phone to the operators, this time speaking to Lillian Martha Kelly. She recounts this fateful telephone call many years later in the 1980s:

“…A moment later he (the caller) was back on to the exchange and this time I took the call. He had obviously pressed the wrong button [button B instead of button A] and had cut himself off. The reason I remember it is because he’d pressed the wrong button and had paid his money, but not received his correspondent. I said to Louisa Alfreds who was sitting next to me that this man had just been on before…”

The voice protested to Miss Kelly: “Operator, I have pressed button ‘A’ but have not had my correspodent yet.”

The exact order of events here is often written differently depending on where you look, but from the unabridged trial in the Home Office records, Miss Kelly states she was able to see that Button ‘B’ had been pressed and the coins had been returned to the caller by the light on her switchboard. She then attempted to connect the call again, but found the line engaged.

Upon failing to connect the call, Miss Kelly gets the attention of her supervisor Annie Robertson. Telephone protocol meant that any potential technical faults such as this would be noted down, which Annie Robertson did dutifully, writing down the number of the phone box, 19:20 as the time the error was logged, and an N.R. (No Reply) in the margin to indicate the type of error.

A final attempt was made to connect the call to the café, and this time it was successful. Waitress Gladys Harley answered the phone to the sound of the operator: “Bank 3581?”. Gladys replied in the affirmative. “Anfield calling you. Hold the line.” As Miss Harley waited for the caller to begin speaking (according to her, about 2 minutes after she answered the phone, around 19:22), she heard mumbling and something about two pennies – and then suddenly a man’s voice began speaking to her.

When recounting this voice, all of the operators described it as an “ordinary man’s voice, not nervous or agitated”, but perhaps somewhat cultured. One thing that stood out to them was how the man pronounced the word café with the accented “e” (caff-ay), as opposed to the more common “caff”. Gladys Harley noticed nothing unusual about the voice except that it was deep and spoke quickly, and that it seemed to her to be an elderly man.

Cottle’s City Café, 24 North John Street, Liverpool (Colourized by Laiz Kuczynski).

After the voice requested Mr. Wallace, Gladys took the phone to the captain of the chess club Samuel Beattie, who had known Wallace for a good number of years. There have been many different variations of this conversation reported by Beattie, but from what can be gathered, the general gist is something along the lines of:

Caller: Is Mr. Wallace there?

Beattie: No.

Caller: Can you give me his address?

Beattie: I’m afraid I can’t.

Caller: But he will be there?

Beattie: I can’t say. He may or may not. If he is coming, he will be here shortly. I suggest you ring up later.

Caller: Oh no, I can’t, I’m too busy; I’ve got my girl’s twenty-first birthday party on and I want to see Mr. Wallace on a matter of a business. It’s something in the nature of his business.

The caller then asks Beattie to pass on a message to Mr. Wallace for him, requesting that Wallace visit him the following night at 19.30, giving his name and address as:

R. M. Qualtrough
25 Menlove Gardens East,
Mossley Hill

My. Beattie then repeated the name and address back to the caller, requesting the name be spelled out and the address repeated back to ensure its accuracy.

At around 19:45 to 19:50 William arrived at the chess club. There is a rule at the club that those who arrive after 19:45 can be penalised, with matches sometimes starting earlier than this time – albeit reports indicate this rule was not strictly adhered to.

Wallace’s opponent F. C. Chandler did not show up that night, so James Caird who had seen Wallace arrive offered him a friendly game. Wallace refused this match (James Caird was in a higher chess league than Wallace), instead settling into a tournament game against a Mr. McCartney who he had previously missed a match with and needed to play off. James Caird then walked over to Mr. Beattie’s table. When Beattie noticed Caird he asked him for William’s address, only to be told that Wallace had in fact arrived at the club and was just about to start a match against McCartney.

Upon hearing this news, Beattie approaches Wallace (who seemed very focused on the game) and relays the strange message to him after rousing his attention. Wallace seems puzzled:

William: Qualtrough? Qualtrough? Who is Qualtrough?

Beattie: Well, if you don’t know who he is, then I do not.

William: I don’t know the chap. Where is Menlove Gardens East? Is it Menlove Avenue?

Beattie: No, Menlove Gardens East.

William: Where is Menlove Gardens East?

Beattie: Wait a moment, I’ll see whether Deyes (another member of the chess club who lived in that district) knows (he did not).

A schedule showing the dates players are due to attend the club. This was displayed very publicly on a noticeboard at the café.

Wallace copied the details into his diary from an envelope Mr. Beattie had etched the name and address onto, writing the word EAST in block capitals.

Beattie knew of Menlove Avenue West (sic) but not Menlove Gardens East. Deyes had heard of Menlove Gardens North, South, and West, but had not heard of East. But it was agreed upon that it would surely be somewhere off Menlove Avenue. McCartney asked for Wallace’s address so as to advise him of a suitable route he could take, and others chimed in with their own suggestions.

Wallace, however, confidently stated that he “belonged to Liverpool” and could inquire once he got into the general area.

Menlove Avenue is a rather well known road in the Mossley Hill area, running alongside Calderstone’s Park which William occasionally visited with Julia “to see the roses”. Menlove Gardens is a triangle of three residential streets, those being Menlove Gardens North, South and West respectively. Considering that many new streets were being built around that time and people of the 1930’s lacked the luxury of Google Maps, one might be fooled into thinking Menlove Gardens East was a new street which would be somewhere in the general vicinity of Menlove Avenue/Menlove Gardens.

Here’s the kicker: There isn’t (and still isn’t) any such place as Menlove Gardens East, and there was no R. M. Qualtrough. Whoever had placed the call was apparently sending Wallace on an impossible journey to meet a man who doesn’t exist at an address that doesn’t exist.

At about 22:15 William leaves the club and is noticeably delighted at having won his game against Mr. McCartney, enthusiastically talking his friend James Caird through the finishing moves. Before they part company, he brings up the name “Qualtrough” and what a peculiar name it is. Caird responds that he has only ever heard of one man by that name. After the pair briefly discuss the best route to get to Menlove Gardens. Wallace tells Caird that he may not even go but rejects his route suggestion, instead opting to “take the more direct route” into town and then out from there to Menlove Avenue – they go their separate ways, with Wallace arriving home at around 22:55.

Unfortunately Julia is not her usual self tonight. Her beloved black cat “Puss” is missing and she’s beginning to worry. Although Puss was not originally Julia’s cat, while catsitting for vacationing neighbours, the two struck up such a bond that when the neighbours returned they decided Julia should keep it.

As concerned as Julia probably was that her dear cat had vanished in the bitter cold of the January winter, it surely never occurred to her that it was herself who now had less than twenty four hours to live.

THE DAY OF THE MURDER (20th January, 1931):

The next day at 10:30 AM William leaves his home to begin his collection rounds wearing a dark slate grey raincoat (a mackintosh) to shield himself from the poor weather, collecting insurance money which he will later place into a cash box that will play a central role in this mystery. He returns home at 14:10 to have lunch, hanging up his rain-soaked mackintosh in the hall near the front door to dry.

At 15:15 William dons his lighter fawn raincoat, apparently owing to the weather having turned out for the better, and goes on his afternoon collection rounds. Just 15 minutes later at 15:30, a police constable named James Edward Rothwell who knew Wallace as an insurance agent was cycling down Maiden Lane. In a statement he would make after the murder, he said that he passed by close to William (who was looking down at the ground and did not notice him), and saw that his face appeared “haggard, drawn, and unusually distressed”. He went on to say that Wallace dabbed his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket and it gave him the impression he had suffered some sort of bereavement…

Very shortly after this sighting William called on a client who in court testified that he was his usual self and was joking with her. During the trial, the defence called a number of client’s William had seen shortly after this time as witnesses. All reported that he seemed his usual self and nothing was out of the ordinary in his manner whatsoever. One had even offered him a cup of tea which he gratefully accepted before returning home. All reported that they found Wallace to be a very pleasant man indeed.

Wallace took pride in his practice of stoicism, and avoided public displays of emotion.

In court the defence attempted to convince the constable that he was mistaken by using the existence of these witnesses, and by explaining that William may have been dabbing his eyes due to the cold weather. But the constable remained firm. Although he admitted eyes may water in such cold weather, in spite of that, and in spite of any witnesses the defence could call to testify they found Wallace to be completely normal – even jolly – just minutes after this sighting, he was unprepared to change his opinion.

At the same time as this sighting (15:30), Amy Wallace arrived at 29 Wolverton Street to visit Julia (her last visit being with her son Edwin the Sunday just gone). Amy Wallace was William’s sister-in-law, married to William’s younger brother Joseph Edwin Wallace who worked abroad in British Malaya. According to Amy Wallace, during the visit she found out from Julia that William was heading off to a business appointment somewhere in the Calderstone’s district that night, and that she and Julia had discussed a spate of recent burglaries in the living kitchen of the Wallace home.

At some point during this visit the baker’s boy Neil Norbury arrived to deliver Julia’s bread. Expressing concern for her health since she did not look at all well to him (he would later describe how she had a scarf or bit of material around her neck), Julia reassured him that it was just a touch of bronchitis – nothing serious.

Amy said she left Wolverton Street at around 16:30 having invited Julia to a pantomime she had tickets to, and it was around this time that window cleaner Charles Bliss scaled the yard wall from the back alleyway and began working on the back windows of 29 Wolverton Street. Julia went out into the yard and paid him a shilling of which she received three pence change.

By 17:45 William was just finishing up his last insurance round for the day, returning home by what he estimates to be 18:05, and eating an evening meal consisting of scones with Julia – a meal which, unbeknownst to Julia, is to be her last.

At 18:35 as a local paperboy pushes the day’s issue of the Liverpool Echo through the letterbox of 29 Wolverton Street. This newspaper would later be found on the table in the living kitchen, open at its center pages.

Just a touch after 18:35 at what is likely to be around 18:37, Julia would reportedly be seen alive by a witness other than Wallace for the final time… This witness is 14 year old milk boy Alan Close, and he would testify that he had knocked on the front door of 29 Wolverton Street between 18:30 and 18:45, leaving the milk jugs on the doorstep, before going next door to knock and deliver milk there. As he was next door, the door of 29 Wolverton Street opened and the milk jugs were taken in. Alan Close then returned to the doorstep of 29 Wolverton Street to collect the empty milk jugs which were given back to him by an alive Julia Wallace… They discussed their respective illnesses briefly, with Julia urging Alan to hurry off home out of the cold. The front door of the Wallace household then shut for the final known time.

It’s roughly during this period, during the arrival of the paperboy and milk boy that Wallace is busy preparing himself for his business trip. He changes in the upstairs bedroom, combs his hair in the upstairs bathroom, and gathers documents together which he may need for what he assumes is likely some type of endowment policy. He can expect a very nice commission off of such a policy if he can secure the deal. According to Wallace, it was Julia who had convinced him to go on the trip since he himself was unsure. After all – while reasonably financially comfortable as far as anyone can tell, who are they to turn their nose up at the potential of a handsome commission?

William then sets out on his journey to Menlove Gardens East at around 18:45, wearing the lighter fawn jacket he had worn earlier. The next time anyone sees Wallace’s darker mackintosh it will be considerably burnt and lying in a pool of blood beneath his wife’s dead body. Wallace claims that Julia followed him down the yard bolting the gate behind him (though he did not hear the bolt being drawn), which was their usual practice when one of them was going out owing to the convenience of this route for reaching the tram stops quicker. With the trams he states to have taken, the latest he could have left the house to make this journey would have been in the region of 18:49.

Police tests seem to suggest about a 16 to 20 minute time to the second tram stop (it was the second tram William boarded where he was first noticed), with the trams coming at roughly 6 minute intervals…

In regards to the tram tests conducted by the police, it is known that in some reconstructions officers had jumped onto moving trams or sprinted the final leg to catch it (which on the surface seemed quite unlikely for the sickly Wallace – especially to do so without being remembered at all). Some officers also got on at a different tram stop than the one Wallace claims to have used.

But in any case Wallace stated he left his home at 18.45, and on the surface of things, it seems to be a reasonable estimate.

The Tram Journey

Double decker trams like this were a common form of transport in 1930s Liverpool

After leaving his back door at around 18:45, William takes three trams to complete his journey. First getting on a tram at Belmont Road, changing over at Smithdown Lane, then making one last change at Penny Lane before he is finally dropped off at Menlove Gardens West.

The first time Wallace is seen (or at least remembered) by anyone after leaving his home is on the second tram (Smithdown Lane) at 18:06. Wallace inquires of the conductor Thomas Charles Phillips if this tram car goes to Menlove Gardens East. Phillips informs him that while this particular car doesn’t, he can instead take a No.5, 5A, 5W, or No.7 car… But Phillips quickly changes his mind, telling Wallace that he can get on this tram car and that he will give him a penny ticket for a transfer.

Wallace boards the tram telling the conductor that he has an important business call to make and wants Menlove Gardens East, saying he is a “stranger in the district”. He repeated his need for this address when the conductor punched his penny ticket: “You won’t forget mister, I want Menlove Gardens East.”

Shortly after, when the conductor returned downstairs having seen to the upstairs passengers, Wallace spoke to him again asking “how far is it now, and where do I have to change?” The conductor informed him that he would need to change at Penny Lane, and for Wallace’s benefit when the car arrived he exclaimed “Menlove Gardens, change here!” At this announcement Wallace alighted from the tram while Mr. Phillips told him to hurry for the No.7 tram in the loop. Phillips then spotted a No.5 tram and stated, “either that one (the No.5) or the other one in the loop.”

From the next sighting we can gather that Wallace boarded a 5A tram, asking the conductor of this tram (Arthur Thompson) to put him off at Menlove Gardens East. Upon arriving at Menlove Gardens West the conductor informed him: “This is Menlove Gardens West. Menlove Gardens is a triangular affair, three roads. There are two roundabouts off on the right. You will probably find it is one of them.” William thanked the conductor, adding that he “is a complete stranger round here” before alighting.

The Hunt for Menlove Gardens East

Though there is a Menlove Gardens North, South, and West – East is conspicuous in its absence.

Having arrived at Menlove Gardens West at around 19:20 (10 minutes until his scheduled appointment with Mr. Qualtrough), Wallace begins his quest to find the mythical Menlove Gardens East. He began by walking down Menlove Gardens North where he encountered a woman leaving one of the homes. He asked her if she could direct him to Menlove Gardens East, but unfortunately she said she “does not know where it is but that it might be further up in continuation of Menlove Gardens West.”

He then walked back down Menlove Gardens West as per her suggestion until he reached a road to his right – Dudlow Gardens. Retracing his steps, he arrived back at the junction of Dudlow Lane and the top of the lower part of Menlove Gardens West. Here, Wallace approached a young man named Sidney Hubert Green.

He asked Green (who described William as 5’10 [he’s actually 6’2] and thin, wearing a darkish overcoat and trilby) if he knew where Menlove Gardens East was. In one of the more prolonged of the conversations he had with strangers that night, Green told him that Menlove Gardens East does not exist, but that there is a Menlove Gardens West. William informed Green that he knew that and then went to knock on the door of 25 Menlove Gardens West, apparently suspicious Beattie may have copied down the address wrong.

Katie Mather of 25 Menlove Gardens West answered his knock and was asked by Wallace if this was Menlove Gardens East, and if Mr Qualtrough was there. Katie Mather responded in the negative.

Having hit another dead end, Wallace decided to try Menlove Gardens South and North, but immediately discovered they only had even numbers (and therefore could not have a number 25), before walking to the end of Menlove Gardens North which led onto Menlove Avenue. After asking another stranger where the address is with no luck and finding himself at the top of Green Lane, it is here that William realized where he was: He was on the street where his supervisor Mr. Joseph Crewe lived, a place he had visited on a number of occasions.

Wallace knocked on Crewe’s door, but unknown to him at the time Crewe had gone out to the cinema, and so he was met with no answer.

Finding that Crewe was not home and with hope dwindling, William trudged down Green Lane and came across James Edward Sargent, an officer on the beat in the area. He asked the officer if he could direct him to where Menlove Gardens East was, to which the officer informed him that no such place exists – that there is a North, South, and West, but no East. William said he had tried 25 Menlove Gardens West already and the man he wants does not live there… The officer suggested trying 25 Menlove Avenue in an attempt to be helpful.

As Wallace went to turn away, he turned back and asked the officer if he knew where he could find a street directory (which at the time was much like a modern day phone book). The officer suggested he might find one at the local police station or Post Office, at which point William checked his watch, saying to the officer: “It is not 8 o’clock yet.” the officer did the same and confirmed that it was indeed a quarter to 8. Based on an average walking pace, Wallace would have arrived at the Post Office two minutes later at 19:47.

Unfortunately there was no directory at the Post Office, but Wallace asked the clerk there if they knew of a Menlove Gardens East or Qualtrough. They said they did not but advised he try the newspaper shop. William noted the time on the clock of the Post Office (noting that it was now 19:54), then went a little further up the road to the newspaper shop where he found a directory.

When the newspaper shop manageress Lily Pinches approached him to see if she could be of any assistance, Wallace apparently requested help finding the address. Her testimony is very poor so it is difficult to know what exactly was said… For example she claims that Wallace had said the name Qualtrough to her, then that he didn’t, then that he did, then that he didn’t and she swears he didn’t. She also states that he came into the newsagents at 20.10, when Wallace states he had caught the tram home at 20.00 (albeit based on the time he spent in the Post Office and the time he left it, it would seem more likely he caught the tram after 20.00)… But what we do know is that this inquiry was a fruitless one, and it was apparently at this point Wallace realized he had been duped and gave up his search.

None of the tram drivers on the route home have any recollection of him.

The Discovery of the Body

Though Wallace stated that he never spoke to anybody on the way home, a local typist named Lily Hall who knew Julia from church and had known Mr. Wallace by sight for years, gave a statement not too long after the murder which contradicted this. Apparently she saw Wallace standing opposite the back entry of Wolverton Street (at a little entry on the opposite side of the road beside the local parish church) in a darkish overcoat and trilby hat talking to another figure, who she described as 5’8 and of stocky build, wearing a dark overcoat and cap. However William denied this – stating that he did not speak to a single soul on his journey home apart from the tram drivers.

Her statement is a little confusing and muddled, and she gave several testimonies which can be seen here.

In any case, it’s just a touch before 20:45 at night when William tries his key in the front door but finds it will not open (after finally entering the home and later admitting a police officer, he said he found the door was bolted from the inside). How strange! He knocked gently but received no answer. He went round to the back finding the yard gate open, and went up to the back door with his key. He attempted to open it but felt as though it was fastened against him. Knocking gently on the back door he again received no answer (his neighbour Florence Johnston heard this knocking). He then went round to the front door to give it one more try… Once again could not get in and there was no response from inside the house… Feeling rather uneasy about the whole thing – especially considering a robbery had been committed on the street just one month earlier – while walking round to the back for the second time he had a chance encounter with neighbours John Sharpe Johnston and Florence Sarah Johnston, who said they were just headed out to visit a local relative of theirs named Phyllis.

A slightly anxious William asks them if they’d heard anything unusual tonight. “Why, what’s happened?” they ask. Wallace tells them he’s unable to get into his home after trying both doors, so John tells him to try to open it one more time, and if he can’t, he’ll go and get his own key and try. “She won’t be out, she has such a terrible cold…” William muttered, seemingly having briefly considered the innocent explanation she had gone out to post a letter which she sometimes did.

In the parlour, Julia’s battered body lies facedown on the hearthrug.

When Wallace tries the door again in the neighbour’s presence it opens easily, which William signals by calling out “it opens now”. John tells Wallace that he and Florence will wait outside as he goes and looks around to ensure everything is well. They watch his passage through the home by the lights and matches and hear him call out “Julia?” twice inquisitively as he searches around, going upstairs into the middle bedroom where the couple slept. Eventually he enters the dark parlour downstairs and finds his wife on the floor. By the light of the match as he bends down, he sees her skull smashed open. He hurries outside and tells the Johnstons: “Come and see! She’s been killed!”

“What’s wrong? Has she fallen down the stairs?” Mr. Johnston asks. Following William inside they come across the gruesome sight of Julia’s lifeless body in the parlour. Though no furniture has been displaced, blood has been sprayed as high as 7 feet off the floor, spattering the walls, furniture, and various framed paintings and photographs. A large pool of blood has collected under Julia’s body, with visible brain matter which has oozed out of a large open wound in her skull. “Oh you poor dear!” says Florence Johnston. “Is she cold?” asks Mr. Johnston, to which Florence shakes her head. William continues to repeat “they’ve finished her… They’ve finished her”, and adding at some point “look at the brains.” Wallace requested that John Johnston go for a doctor although he added he “didn’t think it would be much use” before the three of them lurched back into the living kitchen away from the grisly sight of the poor battered woman.

According to William the parlour was only used for entertaining guests or musical evenings he shared with Julia, where she would play the piano while he accompanied her on the violin. Friends and relatives were often treated to these musical events (many probably hiding a grimace behind a fake smile as Wallace screeched out notes on the violin to the tune of his wife’s masterful piano accompaniment).

Circled: The cash box which was missing £4.

While in the living kitchen (back in those days the “living kitchen” was the equivalent of the living room), William pointed the Johnstons in the direction of a cabinet lid which had been wrenched off and lay on the floor: “Here’s a cabinet door they’ve wrenched off”. On the floor were a small number of coins. “Is anything missing?” asked Mr. Johnston. William then reached up and took down his insurance collection box from the top shelf of a bookcase (a shelf which was 7’2″ off the ground), and noted that it had been looted. All that was left was a single dollar bill and four stamps. Wallace replied that about £4 was missing (which was apparently made up of a mixture of notes and coinage), but that he couldn’t be sure until he’d checked his books.

Mr. Johnston urged William to go upstairs once more and check everything is in order before he goes for the police. William went upstairs, returning not long after, saying that everything was in order and that there were five pounds in a dish that they hadn’t taken (it was actually £4 – all in pound notes. Wallace would later say he probably miscounted them). With this, Mr. Johnston went for a doctor and then to the police.

As Mr. Johnston went for the police he coincidentally bumped into his daughter Norah’s fiancé Francis George McElroy close to the house, who had been on his way to see Norah. Allegedly he or another of the Johnstons had entered the Wallace home during this time and found Florence in the middle kitchen, with Wallace in the back kitchen cutting up meat for Julia’s cat “Puss”, which had returned shortly after the arrival of the police.

William and Florence returned to the parlour where Florence again felt Julia and noticed that she had cooled. “Whatever have they used (to kill her with)?” Florence asked, while glancing around the room. In court this line was falsely attributed as being said by William, and was used against him by the prosecution. Wallace himself seemed to have been quickly tricked into thinking he actually said it, defending it as a “natural thing to say”.

As Florence and William examined the body closely William stooped down fingering a piece of material, stating: “Why, whatever was she doing with her mackintosh – and my mackintosh?” “Why, is it your mackintosh?” asked Mrs. Johnston. William confirmed that it was. He would immediately confirm it again to the next officer who inquired about it – although later when asked yet again he would hesitate considerably, before finally saying “if there are two patches on the inside it is mine.” This hesitation in identifying the jacket would also be used as evidence against him.

Florence and William return to the kitchen. Not knowing what to do in the situation, Florence exclaims they will have a fire, and begins to stoke the kitchen fireplace which Wallace eventually begins to help with. According to Florence, Wallace put his head in his hands and cried twice in her presence, but when the police arrived he made a great effort to pull himself together. John Sharpe Johnston would describe Wallace as a man who appeared to be in shock.

The Original Body Positioning: Julia was lying on her right-hand side, almost diagonally across the rug, her legs slightly parted, her feet lying flat on their sides close to the right-hand end of the fender, toes pointing toward the window. Her right arm was hidden beneath her body; her left arm lying against her body, was bent at the elbow, the forearm resting over her chest, the fingers almost touching the floor. Approximately 18 inches from the open door, Julia’s head lay on its right side, her eyes staring out toward the window. Surrounding her head was a 9-inch border of congealing blood, brain tissue and bone. Just above, and in front of her left ear was a huge, cruel opening in her skull, 2 inches wide by 3 inches long, through which what remained of her brain could be seen.

The Police Arrive

Hugh Moore, head of the Wallace investigation.

The first policeman to arrive at the scene is a PC Williams. Constable Williams follows Wallace around the home. Finding the laboratory in order they go into the bathroom where there is a light on. “We usually have a light on in here” Wallace says. They then go into the middle bedroom where the Wallaces slept, and the gas light in this room is also burning. Constable Williams questions this, to which Wallace explains that he changed himself in this room and that he himself had probably left the light on. He then goes to an emptied out jam pot on the mantlepiece and partially extracts the pound notes (later one was found to have blood smeared across it): “Here is some money which has not been touched” Wallace says. Constable Williams immediately tells him to put it back where he found it, and Wallace complies.

In the front bedroom the Wallaces used as a spare room there was no light, but the bedsheets were partially off and the pillows on the floor, though nothing had been taken according to Wallace (who found items such as his wife’s jewelry still in the drawers), and all drawers were shut. Wallace said he had not been into the room in about two weeks and therefore could not say whether or not it was like that when he left.

After inspecting the kitchen – with Wallace reporting the money looted from the cash box, and apparently something about the money in Julia’s handbag which the constable could not make out (nothing had been taken from it), they went back to the parlour.

The constable asked Wallace if any lights were on in the house when he returned. He explained that apart from the two upstairs (in the bathroom and middle bedroom), the home had been in darkness.

Many other police officers, doctors, and forensics would soon arrive at the scene. “Julia would have gone mad if she had seen all this” Wallace remarked, referring to what he felt would be his wife’s reaction to so many strangers milling around the home… Unfortunately the attending officers did a very poor job in preserving the crime scene. In fact, one detective who turned up drunk actually went upstairs and flushed the toilet. This was the same toilet on which a blood clot was found, meaning he may well have flushed away vital evidence!

The Police Theory

Possibly what the police believed to be the last thing Julia saw.

Because the interaction “Qualtrough” had with the telephone operators led to a “No Reply” error and timestamp being logged, along with the identity of the booth that had been used, the police were able to track down the phone box to one situated just a couple of minutes from Wallace’s house at the bottom of Priory road (where you see a triangular plot of land).

The police who were already working on the assumption that the husband is almost always the killer could not quite believe their luck. Surely it was Wallace himself who made the call in an attempt to provide himself with a bulletproof alibi!

As the police frantically worked on this theory, a spanner was thrown in the works when Alan Close came forward to attest to the fact that he had seen Julia Wallace alive when he delivered the milk to the house at 18.45 on the day of the murder. Others in the neighbourhood had seen Alan Close, one who was making a delivery to 27 Wolverton Street remembers seeing Alan Close right next to him (wearing a collegiate cap) on the doorstep of 29 where the Wallaces lived at what he said was around 18:38.

The police now had a serious problem… How could Wallace have murdered his wife, cleaned himself of blood, and left the house within a matter of minutes?! Through tests in which Alan Close was made to cover the distance of his route (500 yards) while stopping off to make deliveries, drop off empty milk jugs at his dairy and pick up a new full crate to carry around, the police managed to convince Alan he was wrong about the time… By their tests they convinced Alan Close that it had actually been 18:30 when he had last seen Julia…

Even still, the timing was tight. The officers set about testing the tram route, with the officers jumping onto a moving tram in one of these reconstructions, or sprinting to head off a tram which was just about to depart.

But Wallace was a sickly man… Those who knew him said that he moved quite slowly, probably owing to his single kidney and the kidney disease which had plagued his entire life. Besides that Wallace was a tall and extremely distinctive figure, dressed in what would be considered eccentric (outdated) clothing even for the 1930s. Certainly nobody recalled seeing a very tall skinny figure jogging through the alleyways of Liverpool in Victorian-style getup, nor did conductors seem to recall such a man leaping onto or heading off their tram… And another blow came when the captain of the chess club who had known wallace for 8 years, Samuel Beattie, attested that it would take “a great stretch of the imagination” to say that the voice (which made the Qualtrough call) was anything like Wallace’s.

While recounting the voice to Roger Wilkes years later, Lillian Martha Kelly would say:

“Later of course I heard Wallace speak at the trial, but I could not have sworn it was the same man.”

To make matters worse, when drains, basins, and toilets (etc.) from the home were inspected, no blood could be found – and the towels were all entirely dry with no sign of having been recently used… The highly sensitive benzidine test was applied to the clothing William was wearing that night in an attempt to uncover hidden bloodstains, but none were found.

The initial forensic report by McFall which you will find below would also have damaged the case, as the time of death is placed at 19:50 (with 3 or 4 reported blows) when Wallace is known to have been miles away from home. This is vastly different to the 18:00 time and 11 to 12 blows McFall would claim at court:

The post mortem report by McFall. This report puts her time of death at 19:50, with only 3 or 4 total strikes. Significantly different from his later reports which give a time of 18:00 with 11 to 12 blows.

Is this a man who planned and committed a murder so ingenious it would make Agatha Christie blush?

…But the police realized the answer to their prayers had been staring them in the face the whole time… Of course! The burnt blood-soaked mackintosh belonging to William which had been found beneath Julia’s lifeless body!

And so an idea was quickly formed that the reason Wallace was able to leave on his journey for Menlove Gardens without a trace of blood upon him, and so soon after his wife was last seen alive, was because he had worn the mackintosh as a shield to protect himself from blood splatter.

Indeed… The final police theory was this: On the 19th of January, Wallace placed a telephone call to himself from a payphone just a couple of minutes from his house using a disguised voice to talk to the familiar Samuel Beattie. He then went to the chess club to receive this message, faking cluelessness as the details of his very own message were given back to him.

Then the following night, Wallace patiently waited for the milk boy Alan Close to arrive and provide a timestamp of when Julia could be verified as last being alive, then lured her into the parlour with a pretense that he wanted her to set up the room for a musical evening (evidently telling her he’d given up on the idea of the trip), before donning the mackintosh and bashing her to death with either an iron bar or poker, two items which the charwoman had reported were missing from the house.

(The idea that Alan had actually seen Julia was not really believed by forensic expert McFall or the prosecution, who rather believed Wallace had dressed as his wife and put on a false accent to trick Alan).

Very quickly, Wallace attempted to burn the jacket but aborted the idea (possibly due to the smoke and scent?), chucked it on the ground, and pulled his wife’s body on top of it where he then beat her on the back of the head a further 11 or 12 times. After this, he put on his other jacket, cleverly hid the iron bar up the sleeve (prosecutor Mr. Hemmerde would provide this theory to someone who had asked him about the case some time after the trial and appeal), and made a dash for the tram.

Having apparently found a clever place to hide the bar at some stage on his trip, he set about implanting into people’s minds the idea that he was out at specific times, to build the alibi he had expertly crafted for himself. Indeed, he spoke to many people on his trip, from conductors, to shop workers, to pedestrians, to police officers, and it was the theory of the police that he did this in order to show he was not at the house when the crime was committed…

Murderer Scot-Free?

Richard Gordon Parry as he appeared on a poster for a drama production a year before the murder.

While many people subscribe to the idea that Wallace was guilty and got away with murder (according to the trial’s prosecutor Mr. Walsh, Wallace’s own lawyers were sure of his guilt!) many others were certain he was an entirely innocent man whose life had been cast into a living nightmare by the most unfortunate of circumstances. Among those were Wallace’s solicitor Hector Munro, and many coworkers who had worked with him at the Pru.

Wallace himself claimed that he knew exactly who the killer was, and fingered Richard “Gordon” Parry as the man who had murdered his wife in the last of the articles ghostwritten for John Bull magazine (though Parry’s name is not given). In Wallace’s second statement to police in which he gave the names of men his wife would admit without question, Gordon’s name was first, followed by a large amount of detail.

Following the name of Gordon who Wallace described as a family friend of him and his wife, was another somewhat lengthy detailing of a man named Joseph Caleb Marsden, and then a “shopping list” of names including chess club members and other Prudential employees.

Both Gordon and Marsden had worked at the Pru where Wallace had acted as their supervisor. Both of them had been caught “cooking the books” (stealing) and thus were either fired or “left of their own accord”, and both knew each other quite well. They had also both been into the Wallace’s home while working under Wallace, with Wallace remarking that they knew where he kept the cash box (which he had always kept in the exact same spot for years). They would know – said Wallace – that the Prudential pay-in day was Wednesday, and as such they could expect the cash box to contain the most money on a Tuesday night, the very night on which Julia was murdered…

What’s more, Parry admitted to police that he knew Wallace was a regular at Cottle’s City Café – the exact same café where Wallace’s chess club met, where the noticeboard of scheduled chess matches was displayed, and where Parry’s own drama club met on Thursday evenings.

[ Note: The cash box would usually contain substantially more money than the £4 which was apparently missing, but Wallace had skipped collections that week due to illness ].

Of particular note, when the police were investigating a number of “Qualtroughs” in Liverpool they encountered an R. J. Qualtrough, who as it turned out had been a client of Joseph Caleb Marsden’s. Marsden’s alibi for the night of the murder? It is suggested by the note in a column of Wallace’s statement to police that his alibi may possibly have been that he was “in bed with flu”… Which in fairness gains some credibility because there was clearly some sort of virus going around at the time, evidenced by the fact Wallace, Julia, and Alan Close had all fallen ill around the time.

Gordon Parry’s alibi? He had spent the afternoon with a Mrs. Olivia Brine, her daugher Savonna and nephew Harold Denison (a friend of Parry’s), and another woman Phyllis Plant. Both Olivia Brine and Harold Denison attested to the fact that Parry had stayed there from about 17:30 until 8:30 PM at night. Statements from Savonna and Phyllis Plant are not in the police files and therefore they may not have given one.

But despite this seemingly bulletproof alibi, Gordon gave a completely nonsensical alibi for the night of the telephone call. He claimed that he had picked up his girlfriend Lily Lloyd from an address which he could not remember, then returned to her home spending the day and much of the night with her. This was patently untrue, and statements from both Lily Lloyd and her mother showed that Parry had arrived at their house (7 Missouri Road) in his car at about 19:35, midway through a piano lesson Lily Lloyd was giving, before briefly going off to Park or Lark Lane and returning later.

A forgotten testimony?: Half a decade after the murder of Julia Wallace, but before it was known that Gordon Parry’s alibi hinged on Olivia Brine rather than his girlfriend Lily Lloyd (who said she had partly falsified an alibi for Gordon), a man named John “Pukka” Parkes who had worked at the local garage recounted an incredible tale, which you can hear in his own words in the following clip…

Those who stand behind the theory that Wallace (and Wallace alone) planned and committed every step of this murder have dismissed John Parkes as either a fame-hunter, fantasist, or liar; perhaps having carried a lifelong grudge against Gordon due to envy over Gordon’s ladies’ man “Jack the Lad” persona, or bitterness at Gordon’s petty thieving from the pockets of the Atkinsons whose garage Parkes worked at (and was by all accounts very close to).

To some, the idea of Gordon volunteering information about where he had hidden a murder weapon is hard to believe.

But the question remains… If Wallace is an innocent man whose suspicions about Parry/Marsden/Young were correct, how could these men have expected Wallace to have received and fallen for that bogus message? How could they have committed the act without a single neighbour hearing their arrival or any chatter in the home (apparently), despite the thin walls? Was it really worth attempting to lure Wallace out with a shakey ruse for one extra day of collection money when they had the perfect opportunity to strike while he was at the chess club?

Furthermore – if as per one suggestion – a stranger to Julia went to the house pretending to be “Qualtrough”, why did he kill her instead of simply running away? And if they felt the name was of such importance to gain them entry to the home, how could they be so sure Wallace would relay all the details of the trip and caller to his wife?

Raymond Chandler called the Wallace case “unbeatable”, stating that it will “always be unbeatable.” I think he’s wrong.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Murder of Julia Wallace

  1. Jerry Schooler says:

    Do you have information on whether Julia Wallace’s life was insured, and for how much?

    • R M Qualtrough says:

      I do, she was insured for a very small amount. I could get the figure if needed but they had more in their bank accounts (William more than Julia) than what the policy was worth as I recall.

  2. robert evans says:

    In the early 70s I worked for Chess magazine based in Birmingham.I was an assistant editor.While researching an article on the Wallace case I contacted Hector Munro who was kind enough to reply to me and he stated he believed that Wallace was innocent and incapable of murder.Not surprising as he was part of his defensive team but I thought it was worth mentioning. For my own part I have kept in touch with the case over the years and have always thought that James Murphys book on the case was the most convincing. Gannons conclusions ludicrousYours Bob Evans

    • R M Qualtrough says:

      The solution presented that William did it all himself is probably the least confusing and convoluted. But does require ignoring the false alibi given by Gordon around the time of the phone call (he should have been re-questioned), and also the person walking around near the murder scene who apparently spoke to William just before he arrived home. There were two thuds from the parlour reported by Florence Johnston at around 8.30, then the sighting of this man seemingly talking to William at the entry by the church around 5 to 10 minutes after that. A man described as stockily built, like Lily Hall’s description, also approached Mr. Greenlees requesting directions to a fake address (54 Richmond Park) around the same time.

      William also could be seen to have made two errors, writing West automatically (instead of East) when given the address, and saying “her mackintosh, and my mackintosh” as though correcting himself. It seems to imply advanced knowledge of what the things ought to have been, but someone messed up. Beattie repeated the address back to the caller for verification so I don’t think the error was with him.

      It is not easy to square away because of these elements. The alias used makes it difficult for me to think of anyone outside of the insurance business although it’s possible.

      Ultimately every angle is a dead end. With very little effort the case could have been proven, re-interviewing Gordon after finding out his alibi was false was a blatantly obvious step to take. The chess night tram conductors also ought to have been interviewed and the operators questioned better, since operator one claims to have gotten an answer from the club on her first attempt which is contradictory with Gladys’s testimony. It is also not clear what the second operator is talking about regarding the light showing the caller had pressed ‘B’, and if this was before she asked him to press it herself (in other words if it showed what he had done prior to talking to her). All neighbours should have been questioned about possible information.

      Florence Johnston should have been pressed about the thuds she heard. It is especially surprising the defence did not go into that matter since it would exonerate their client from having been the killer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *