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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Did Chess Player William Wallace Murder His Wife?

Wallace being arrested
     The case of William Wallace has long been the subject of speculation and has generated many books, being regarded as a classic murder mystery and the case may never be solved.
     William Herbert Wallace (August 29, 1878 – February 26, 1933) was convicted in 1931 of the murder of his wife Julia in their home in Liverpool's Anfield district. His conviction was later overturned by the Court Of Criminal Appeal, the first instance in British legal history where an appeal had been allowed after re-examination of evidence. 
     Wallace worked for a large insurance company and was a good chess player who was active in various chess events. On the evening of Monday January 19, 1931 he went to a meeting of the Liverpool Central Chess Club to play a scheduled game. While there he was handed a message which had been received by phone at the club about 25 minutes before he arrived. The message requested that the next night, at exactly 7.30pm, he was to arrive at the given address to discuss insurance with a man who had given his name as “R.M. Qualtrough”. 
Julia Wallace
     The next night Wallace made his way by tram to the address located in Menlove Gardens East in the south of the city, intending to be on time for the requested meeting. After he arrived he discovered that there were Menlove Gardens North, South and West, but no East. Wallace made inquiries and spoke to a policeman, but no one was able to help him locate the address or knew of a Mr. Qualtrough. Whenever he inquired about directions witnesses claimed Wallace had made a big show of mentioning what time he was due to meet Mr. Qualtrough. Was it an attempt to make sure he had a watertight alibi, or was he simply flustered at not being able to keep his appointment on time? 
     After searching for about 45 minutes he returned home where his next door neighbors, who were going out for the evening, ran into Wallace in the alley; Wallace complained that he couldn't get into his home at either the front or the back. While they watched, Wallace tried the back door again, which now opened. Inside he found his wife Julia had been brutally beaten to death in their sitting room. There was blood all over the parlor, pools on the carpet and splashed on the walls and pictures. After discovering his wife's body, Wallace stepped outside and told the waiting neighbors, "Oh come and see, she's been killed. He also told them, "They've finished her, look at her brains." 
     Back in the kitchen, Wallace noticed the locked cupboard where he kept his insurance collection money had been forced open and the four pounds had been stolen. The house had not been ransacked and nothing else had been taken, including the money from Julia's handbag which was on the kitchen table. Was this a robbery that had turned to murder? 
     At this point the neighbor, Mr. Johnson, took charge and ordered his wife and Wallace to stay in the house and not to touch anything while he summoned the police and a doctor. The first police on the scene made a cursory search and it looked like someone had rifled around in the bedroom, but the rest of the house appeared undisturbed. 
     When John MacFall, a lecturer of Forensic Medicine at Liverpool University, was called in as the police's forensics expert, he determined, based on the stiffness of the body, that Julia had died at about45 minutes before Wallace returned home. Even in 1931 using rigor mortis alone to determine how long someone had been dead was out of date and MacFall would later change his mind on the time of death despite no other tests been conducted. 
     A more thorough search of the house, yard and surrounding area uncovered no trace of a murder weapon. The Wallace's cleaning lady told police that a fire poker and an iron bar from the parlor were missing. Were they the murder weapons? 
     Wallace, a cold, aloof man, and his wife were described as a strange couple; he was frequently ill with kidney problems and she was described as “fastidious and peculiar.” Their marriage was described as strained and lacking in feeling. 
     Police were suspicious about how Wallace claimed he couldn't get into his house, but had suddenly been able to do so when he neighbors appeared. They quickly established that the telephone booth used by “Qualtrough” to make the call to the chess club was situated just 400 yards from Wallace’s home. They also confirmed that the person in the club who took the call was quite certain it was not Wallace's voice on the phone. Nevertheless, the Police began to suspect that “Qualtrough” was in fact Wallace, or possibly someone he had paid to make the call. 
     They quickly became convinced that it would have been possible for Wallace to murder his wife and still have time to arrive and board his tram for his 7.30pm meeting. However, one witness, a milk delivery boy, claimed he had seen Julia Wallace alive minutes before her husband left to catch the tram. The police were convinced that the murder could have taken place in just minutes and they attempted to prove it by having a fit young detective go through the motions of the murder and then run all the way to the tram stop...something an ailing 52-year-old Wallace probably could not have accomplished. 
     As mentioned, the forensic expert had originally put the death at around 8 pm, but later changed it to just after 6.30 pm, although there was no evidence to prove it. Did he do it to conform to the police theory? 
     Examination of the crime scene had revealed that Julia Wallace’s attacker was likely to have been heavily covered in her blood, based on the brutal nature of the crime. Wallace’s suit, which he had been wearing on the night of the murder, was examined but no trace of blood was found and it determined that Wallace had little or no time to clean up and change clothes. The Police then theorized that a full length raincoat belonging to Mr. Wallace, which was inexplicably found under her body, had been used by a naked Wallace to shield himself from blood spatter. Examination of the bath and drains revealed that they had not been recently used and there was no trace of blood there either, apart from a single tiny clot in the toilet, the origin of which could not be established. 
     Nevertheless, Wallace was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. Wallace strongly and consistently denied having anything to do with the crime. The evidence against him was purely circumstantial yet he was found guilty after only an hour’s deliberation and sentenced to hang. 
     In an unprecedented move in the UK at that time, the Court of Criminal Appeal reversed the verdict on the grounds that it was not supported by the evidence and Wallace was freed.
     After his release, Wallace returned to his job in insurance but public opinion was of the view that he had been guilty and had gotten away with it. As a result, many of his previous customers shunned him and he was subject to hate mail and threats. In the end, he had to move and take a clerical job at his employer’s head office. While still employed by the insurance company he died of uremia, an elevated level of waste compounds that are normally eliminated by the kidneys and pyelonephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys and renal pelvis caused by bacterial infection. No other person was ever charged with the murder and the case remains officially unsolved. 
     Since then, many new theories have developed. It has been suggested that Wallace was involved in the discovery of an insurance fraud cover up which implicated some of his coworkers. This led to Richard Parry, a 22-year-old insurance clerk who was also a suspect in the original inquiry. The theory is that he made a prank call to Wallace, sending him on a wild goose chase in retaliation against Wallace who had caught him tinkering with the books at the insurance company and resulted in his getting fired. If it was a prank call then this would lead to the conclusion that Wallace's wild goose chase was not for the purpose of establishing an alibi and Mrs. Wallace was murdered by a person unknown. 
     It has also been speculated that Wallace knew he didn’t have long to live and didn’t want to spend his last years with his wife and so persuaded someone to make that phone call which provided him with an alibi. He then blackmailed a man named Marsden to do the actual murder. You see, Marsden was about to marry into money and a very well-connected family and Wallace knew his wife had been paying Marsden for sex and used that blackmail him. Marsden’s name, despite being mentioned in a statement given to the police by Wallace, had been eliminated as a suspect in the original investigation. 
     No weapon, no suspects, no witnesses and the body found in a locked house; whoever had killed Julia appears to have pulled off the perfect crime.

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