Friday, 31 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 31 May 1928

Thursday, 31 May 1928: The ‘committal proceedings’ at the magistrates’ court in Coleford open, presided over by five magistrates (four men and one woman).

Officially, the magistrates have to decide whether there was a prima facie case against Beatrice Pace, though this was in some sense redundant: because she was charged under a coroner’s ‘inquisition’ the case would continue to trial in any case.

However, importantly, the main evidence would be restated (under the ‘rules of evidence’ that governed trial procedure) and be written down to produce the ‘depositions’ that could be referred to at the main trial.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 23 May 1928

Wednesday, 23 May 1928: Parliament, London.

Labour MP Will Thorne raises questions to the Home Secretary about the Pace matter, suggesting that the police had used ‘third degree’ methods.

On ‘third degree’ accusations in the 1920s and 1930s, see an article I wrote in the journal Twentieth-Century British History, and another on the 'police and public' debates in the late 1920s in Crime, Histoire & Sociétés/Crime, History and Societies. (A draft version of the latter is available here.)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 22 May 1928

Tuesday, 22 May 1928: 12th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Rowland Ellis is recalled and gives brief testimony about a ‘dolly tub’ at the Pace home—one which Harry and Beatrice used to ‘dip’ lambs—that contained water with arsenic in it. Afterwards, the coroner, Maurice Carter, summarises the evidence and then sends off the jury to make their decision.

Determining that their first verdict is unsatisfactory—for complicated reasons discussed in the book—Carter sends them off again to reconsider things. (This aspect of the verdict will be the subject of much discussion in press and Parliament.) They return, declaring that they have reached their verdict: that Harry Pace had died from named Beatrice Pace. Beatrice is brought before magistrates and charged with murder.

That evening, she is taken to Cardiff prison.

There, she will await the next legal stage in the case: the committal proceedings in the magistrates’ court.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 15 May 1928

Tuesday, 15 May 1928: 11th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

After brief testimony from police superintendant J. Shelswell and a recalled Alice Sayes, the main event of this sitting is testimony by Beatrice Pace herself, who denies giving poison to her late husband. At the end of her testimony, she breaks down.

As reported by the Dean Forest Guardian: ‘the policewoman handed her some smelling salts as she began to sob and bury her face in her hands.’ (18 May 1928, p. 7) The inquest is adjourned for a week.

It is anticipated that a verdict will be reached at the next session.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 14 May 1928

Monday, 14 May 1928: 10th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Other than brief testimony from a former quarry co-worker of Harry’s, Ralph Dowle, the medical testimony continues. Ellis is recalled, and extensive evidence is given by Professor Isaac Walker Hall of Bristol University (who had analysed the organs and blood sent to him after Harry’s post-mortem) and Sir William Willcox, a renowned forensic expert and medical advisor to the Home Office.

Edward Aston, a retired insurance agent, testifies about the life insurance policy he sold to the Paces.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 10 May 1928

Thursday, 10 May 1928: 9th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Drs Du Pré and Nanda are recalled to clarify certain matters. Chief Inspector George Cornish of Scotland Yard describes his investigations and the circumstances that led to Beatrice’s 11 and 14 March statements to the detectives.

The statements themselves are given to the inquest jury to read. Rowland Ellis, the analyst for Gloucester and Gloucestershire demonstrates how the sulphur can be removed from sheep dip to produce a colourless (and largely flavourless) arsenic-rich liquid: this is important, as no sulphur but much arsenic was found in Harry’s organs and blood.

All subsequent proceedings focus on sheep dip as the likely source of the arsenic that killed Harry Pace.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 9 May 1928

Wednesday, 9 May 1928: 8th sitting of the coroner’s inquest.

Having heard a great deal of what could be called ‘circumstantial evidence’ in previous sittings, the coroner’s inquest finally turns to medical and forensic testimony. Key witnesses here are Dr William Du Pré (the Pace family’s doctor), Dr Ram Nath Nanda (who had been brought in by Harry’s kin to give a second opinion about his illness the preceding autumn), Dr Norman Mather (who had treated Harry while he had been in the Gloucester Royal Infirmary the preceding autumn), and Dr Charles Carson (who conducted the post-mortem examination of Harry Pace on 14 January).

Brief testimony is also given by Henry Smith, an expert on sheep dipping.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Today in the Pace case: 3 May 1928

Thursday, 3 May 1928: 7th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Testimony is given by Alice Sayes (one of Beatrice Pace’s closest friends) and her husband Leslie. Both of them firmly deny the rumours circulating that Leslie Sayes was having an affair with Beatrice Pace (who also denied such claims).

This issue, however, was a focus of this part of the testimony. (Inquests had wide discretion and were not restrained by the rules of evidence that governed trial procedure.)

Leslie, Beatrice’s nine-year-old son, also testifies. Dorothy Pace, who had originally given testimony on 18 April, is recalled to clarify some statements she made then. Trevor Wellington, Beatrice’s solicitor, criticises the police’s treatment of Dorothy during questioning. Elizabeth Porter, Harry’s mother, is briefly recalled.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

New review of new book on detective history

One of the central aspects of my work on the Pace case was the effort by Scotland Yard detectives (led by Chief Inspector George Cornish) to solve the mystery of Harry Pace's death.

The Pace matter, as I show in the book, proved a particularly difficult one, and the detectives were ultimately unsuccessful.

However, researching the history of the case required also considering many aspects of police history more generally, something that I've also followed up on in a series of recent (and forthcoming) publications on the broader context of inter-war policing (and police scandals).

In this vein, my review essay on a fascinating new book by Haia Shpayer-Makov on the history of police detectives -- both in fact and in fiction -- has just been published at Reviews in History.

It starts like this:

‘A detective’, wrote a crime-fiction reviewer in 1932, ‘should have something of the god about him’:
It was the divine, aloof, condescending quality in the old great ones of Poe, Gaboriau, Wilkie Collins and Sherlock Holmes that made their adventures so glamorously irresistible. A writer of detective stories might have a style as brilliant as Poe’s, as consummately competent as Collins’s, as pompously absurd as Doyle’s – it did not matter: what mattered was whether he gave us a detective whom we could worship.(1)
Even the most ardent fan of crime fiction might think ‘worship’ an overstatement; nonetheless, by the time those words were written, detectives had indeed become among the most popular figures of modern literature. In the decades since that ‘golden age’ of crime fiction, police detectives have often even managed to hold their own against their previously more celebrated private counterparts, whether in print, on television or at the cinema. As The Ascent of the Detective makes clear, such trends are remarkable in view of the suspicion that greeted real-life police detectives in their early years and their frequent literary belittlement.

Detectives have become a familiar and popular part of both real and fictional police work.

As Shpayer-Makov's book shows, that was not always the case.

Today in the Pace case: 2 May 1928

Wednesday, 2 May 1928: 6th sitting of the coroner’s inquest, in Coleford.

Testimony is given by George Mountjoy (Harry Pace’s executor), Harry Winter (a fellow patient with Harry when he had been hospitalised the previous year), Harold Jones (aka, Harold Cole, a labourer who sometimes helped the Pace’s with their sheep), Frank Blatch (a chemist in Coleford who sold Beatrice Pace two packets of Sheep dip in July 1927), and Sarah Ann Meek (a charwoman who had long been on friendly terms with Beatrice and Harry Pace).