1930s crimes – the Julia Wallace case

imageThe Julia Wallace case is the first instance in British legal history where an appeal was allowed after re-examination of evidence. But it also achieved fame for being impossible to prove either way.

Was mild-mannered 52 year old insurance salesman William Wallace an innocent man sent on a wild goose chase or a cold blooded mastermind?

Wallace was convicted of the murder of his wife Julia in their home in Wolverton Street, Liverpool. They had been married for eighteen years and lived a quiet life, according to neighbours.

He worked for the Pru and his life revolved around botany, chemistry and chess. He also liked to play the violin, accompanying Julia on the piano.

The case hangs on a telephone message Wallace received at his chess club on 19th January around 25 minutes after the call was taken. In the message a man calling himself Mr  Qualtrough invited Wallace to his house the following evening at 7.30 pm to discuss insurance. He gave his address as 25 Menlove Gardens.

The next evening Wallace set out for the address but although there was a Menlove Gardens North, South and West there was no Menlove Gardens East. He asked several people including a policeman but nobody could help him find the address or the mysterious Mr Qualtrough.

After 45 minutes he gave up and went home. He met his next door neighbours outside the house and told them he was unable to get in. Watched by them, he tried the back door again and found his wife’s battered body in the sitting room.

Her head had been bashed in exposing her skull. The murder weapon, thought to be a long, slender instrument, was never found.

Did Wallace make the telephone call himself and make a point of asking people about the time and address toconstruct an alibi?

They found that the telephone box used by “Qualtrough” to make his call to the chess club was situated just 400 yards from Wallace’s home, although the person in the cafe who took the call was quite certain it was not Wallace on the other end of the line.

The defence maintained there wasn’t enough time for Wallace to have committed the murder and reached the tram where he spoke to witnesses. But there was also a discrepancy over the time of death. It was changed from 8pm to 6.30pm although there was no additional evidence to support this earlier timing.

One of the strange aspects of the case was a Macintosh found under the body. Given the brutal nature of the attack you would have expected Julia Wallace’s killer to have been covered in blood. But the suit Wallace had been wearing on the night of the murder was examined and no blood stains found.

The police believed the Macintosh had been used to shield a naked Wallace from blood spatter during the assault.

Theories abounded – Wallace was sleeping with Julia’s sister, Julia was terminally ill and it was a mercy killing, Wallace killed Julia for the insurance money, Wallace was innocent and the real murderer was Julia’s lover whom she had been blackmailing. But none of these had any evidence to back them up.

Although the evidence against Wallace was only circumstantial he was found guilty of the murder and given the death sentence.

But on appeal it was decided there was not enough evidence and he walked free.

Many people however believed he had got away with murder. He received hate mail and threats and had to move away.

No one else was charged with the murder and it remains officially unsolved. The case has fascinated many writers including Raymond Chandler who said “I call it the impossible murder because Wallace couldn’t have done it, and neither could anyone else. … The Wallace case is unbeatable; it will always be unbeatable.”

PD James is convinced she has solved the crime. She believes the prank call was made by another suspect 22-year old Richard Parry. He sent Wallace on a wild goose chase in revenge for Wallace getting him fired for fiddling the books at the Pru.

BUT…PD James also believes that Wallace was in fact the murderer. Worn down by failure and disappointment he snapped and killed his wife. It was an incredible stroke of luck for him to be lured away that same evening, providing him with the perfect alibi – one which no rational person would think plausible.

What’s your theory?




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