The Murder of Inspector Walls
The Murder of Inspector Walls
Eastbourne Borough Police
At 10.50pm on the 9th October 1912 a telephone call was received at New Scotland Yard from Major Teale, the Chief Constable of the Eastbourne Borough Police, the message read “We have had one of our Inspectors murdered tonight by a burglar. Will you please let me have the services of one of your best officers to come down by the first train in the morning and come to the Town Hall”. At 6.20am the following day Chief Inspector Eli Bower and Sergeant Hayman of the Metropolitan Police CID took the first train to Eastbourne, arriving at 8.10am. They were met by the Chief Constable who had set up checkpoints on all exits from the Borough in an attempt to prevent the murderer leaving the area.
On arriving at the Town Hall where the Police where then based, the following facts began to emerge. At about 7.15pm the previous evening, Countess Flora Sztaray and her friend Mrs Fuller were leaving their house at 6 South Cliff Avenue to dine with friends at the Burlington Hotel. The Countess had hired a one horse brougham to take them to the hotel. While the coachman was waiting for them, he happened to glance towards the semi-detached house and saw in the gloom, something move on the flat porch above her front door. The coachman picked up his passengers and once they had driven out of sight he alerted them to the situation. The Countess asked him to return them to the House, where she re-entered on the pretext of having forgotten something. She too saw what appeared to be a man lying on the porch. Whilst in the house she telephoned the Police Station and requested some assistance.
PC Luck took the call and immediately telephoned the seafront parade police office and spoke to Parade Inspector Arthur Walls. Around 7.40pm Inspector Walls arrived at the house and spoke to Mrs Fuller who pointed out where the man was lying. Having seen where the man was located the Inspector calmly asked him to come down from the porch. Suddenly a shot rang out and the Inspector staggered back into the road fatally wounded. A second shot was heard, however this struck the roadway and did no further damage. The coachman drove up the road as his horse had become disturbed and several people came running to the scene. One of them, Percy Moss a cab-driver found a soft felt hat in the road which was later to help in identifying the assailant. Sadly Inspector Walls was beyond help and died almost immediately.
Major Teale, the Chief Constable lived nearby and arrived on the scene very quickly and took charge of the investigation. Detective Inspector Parker assisted the Scotland Yard team and a detailed forensic examination commenced at the house. Plaster casts were made of footprints found in the garden and enquiries to trace the origin of the hat commenced. Enquiries with local residents revealed that on the 8th October a man and a woman were seen in the vicinity who appeared to be taking a great interest in properties in the road. The investigation then took a dramatic turn when a man presented himself at the Police Station that evening stating he knew the identity of the murderer. This man told the Chief Inspector that he was Doctor Power of Finsbury Park and he knew the murderer was Frank Seymour, also known as Scott or Murray, but he was now using the name John Williams. Power refused to make a statement and demanded that his name be kept out of the investigation, however he did state that he had treated Williams for a wound to his wrist which may have been received when he burgled a house in Bournemouth. He had also seen Williams was carrying a revolver in a belt strapped round his waist.
Power told the Police that Williams had been staying in Tideswell Road, Eastbourne, but had left by the 2.26pm train for London. The police were not entirely satisfied with Doctor Power’s story and as he had to leave for London with a woman he identified as Florence Seymour, he was allowed to leave the Police Station. In an early example of effective surveillance, he was followed by Sergeant Hayman and Chief Inspector Bower. On arriving at Victoria, Power and Seymour were met by a man later identified at John Mackay of Queens Road, Finsbury Park. Mrs Seymour was followed to the Devon Hotel, Vauxhall Bridge Road whilst Power went to the Windsor Castle Pub with Mackay. The two men left the pub, took a cab and disappeared into the fog up Victoria Street.
Two days later Power surfaced and telephoned the Chief Inspector stating he was meeting with the suspect John Williams at Moorgate Street Station. Chief Inspector Bower and a small team of officers staked out the station and identified Williams entering the Buffet, where he met with Doctor Power. Bower seized Williams from behind and arrested him on suspicion of murder. Williams was conveyed by Cab to Cannon Row Police Station. During the journey he denied the crime and implied that the Countess was mixed up in ‘foreign political business’. Florence Seymour, who by that time had been identified as William’s wife, was brought in for questioning. She denied knowing anything about the crime, but stated that Williams had lost his soft trilby hat on the night of the murder and they had lost contact with each other for about half an hour. Seymour was spotted throwing a cloakroom ticket into the fire in the police office, and this led the police to the left luggage office at Victoria Station. There they found, in a Gladstone bag, a waist belt attached to a revolver holster.
Williams was taken back to Eastbourne Police Station and in order to prevent him being photographed by the press his head was covered with a cloth. This led to sensational headlines referring to the case of that of the ‘Hooded Man’. On the 12th October Williams appeared before Eastbourne Police Court and was remanded in custody. The mysterious Doctor Power reappeared a few days later and told the police that the murder weapon had been buried somewhere on the beach. He persuaded Florence Seymour to return to Eastbourne with him on the 15th. Power then left her in the Town, but by this time she was under surveillance by CID Officers. She was followed to the seafront near the Redoubt, but probably became aware that she was being watched and did not attempt to go onto the beach. The police decided to detain her and take her to the police station. There she was questioned and eventually admitted her part in the proceedings.
She described a spot on the beach and after an arduous lamplight search the officers recovered a revolver, which was in two parts, minus the hammer and two screws. A forensic examination carried out by the ballistics expert Robert Churchill proved that the gun found on the beach was the one that killed Inspector Walls.
The trial of John Williams began on 12th December 1912 at Lewes Assizes before Judge Arthur Channell. Williams was defended by the famous barrister Patrick Hastings and despite many flaws in the prosecution case being pointed out, the trial took just two days and the Judge sent the jury out to consider their verdict at 6.25pm. They returned precisely 15 minutes later with a guilty verdict and William was immediately sentenced to death by Judge Channell. An unsuccessful appeal was heard on the 13th January 1913, followed by an appeal to the Home Secretary accompanied by a petition of 35,000 signatures asking for clemency. The Home Secretary swiftly rejected the petition and Williams was executed at Lewes Gaol on the 30th January 1913.
The public were rightly appalled by the murder of a well loved policeman and a public subscription raised the sum of £600 for his widow and family. A massive funeral procession through the town took place on 16th October with public officials and contingents of police from many nearby forces attending. Thousands of people lined Terminus Road as the black draped horse drawn hearse made its way to All Saints Church, and then to Ocklynge Cemetery. The Hastings Police Band and the Salvation Army band played solemn music and flags flew at half mast.
Mike Rumble is the co-author of ‘Sussex Police Forces 1836 – 1986’ and started his career as a Police Cadet in Eastbourne in 1968. He is currently Chief Officer of the Parks Police Service for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. Mike is able to give an illustrated talk on the Eastbourne Borough Police and the murder of Inspector Walls. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0207 938 8187.