The very strange murder of Julia Wallace, and odd alibi of William Wallace – A crime cases that may never be solved.
A strange, but convenient Alibi
Julia Wallace’s husband William Herbert Wallace was a good chess player, and regularly attended chess events. He also worked for the “Pru” a large insurance company.
On the evening of Monday 19 January 1931 he went to a meeting of the Liverpool Central Chess Club to play a scheduled chess game.
While there he was handed a message, which had been received by telephone at the club about 25 minutes before he arrived.
The message requested that he call at an address at 25 Menlove Gardens East, Liverpool, at 7.30pm exactly the following evening to discuss insurance with a man who had given his name only as “R.M. Qualtrough”.
The next night Herbert Wallace duly made his way by the Liverpool tramcar to the address in the south of the city, aiming to arrive in good time for the requested 7.30pm meeting.
It was only after he arrived that he discover that while there were Menlove Gardens North, South and West, there was no East. Wallace made inquiries in a nearby newsagents and also spoke to a policeman on his beat, but neither were able to help him in his search for the address or the mysterious R.M. Qualtrough.
He also called at 25 Menlove Gardens West, and asked several other passers-by in the neighbourhood for directions, but to no avail.
After searching the district for about 45 minutes he returned home. His next door neighbours, the Johnstons, who were going out for the evening, encountered Wallace in the alley, complaining that he could not gain entry to 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.
The arrest of William Herbert Wallace
The police quickly established that the telephone box used by “Qualtrough” to make his call to the chess club was situated just 400 yards from Wallace’s home.
The police also confirmed that the person in the club who took the call was quite certain it was not Wallace on the other end of the line.
Nevertheless, the Police began to suspect that “Qualtrough” was in fact William Herbert Wallace, or someone he had paid to make the call.
The police soon became convinced that it would have been possible for Wallace to murder his wife and still have time to arrive at the spot where he boarded his tram for his 7.30pm meeting.
However a milk delivery boy, came forward as a witness to seeing Julia Wallace alive minutes before William left to catch the tram.
The Police then attempted to prove the murder possible by having a fit young detective go through the motions of the murder and then sprint all the way to the tram stop. This was something an ailing 52-year-old Wallace probably could not have accomplished.
The police theory assumed the murder could have taken place in just minutes.
The original assessment of the time of death, around 8 pm, was also later changed to just after 6.30 pm, although there was no additional evidence on which to base the earlier timing, other to allow the timeline to work.
Forensic 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 and frenzied nature of the assault.
Wallace’s suit, which he had been wearing on the night of the murder, was examined closely but no trace of bloodstaining was found. Even with the fit detectives demonstration, allowing time to clean up and change clothes was considered impossible.
The Police then formed the theory that a mackintosh, which was inexplicably found under Julia’s corpse, had in fact been used by a naked Wallace to shield himself from blood spatter while committing the crime.
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 pan, the origin of which could not be established.
Wallace was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder
Trial, conviction, appeal
Wallace strongly and consistently denied having anything to do with the crime.
He stood trial at Liverpool Assizes.
The evidence against him was purely circumstantial yet he was found guilty after only an hour’s deliberation, and sentenced to death by hanging.
In an unprecedented move in the UK at that time, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the verdict on the grounds that it was “not supported by the weight of the evidence”, and Wallace walked free.
The decision meant that the jury was wrong — appeals are usually brought on the basis of bad decisions by the presiding judge at the original trial, or by the emergence of new evidence.
After his successful appeal, Wallace returned to his job in insurance but public opinion in the areas where he lived and worked was strongly of the view that he had been guilty and had ‘got away with it’.
Many of his previous customers shunned him; he was subject to hate mail and physical threats and had to take a clerical job at his employer’s head office. At the same time, he moved to a bungalow in Bromborough. Still employed by the same insurance company, he died from uraemia and pyelonephritis in 1933 at the Clatterbridge Hospital, still insisting he knew nothing of the murder.
No other person was charged with the murder and it remains officially unsolved.
Since his death, many new theories have developed based on new evidence.
It has been suggested that Wallace was involved in the discovery of an insurance fraud cover up, which implicated some of his fellow workers.
This led to Richard Parry, a 22-year-old local jack-the-lad, who was also a suspect in the original inquiry, to make a prank call to Wallace, sending him on a wild goose chase in retaliation for the older man’s decision to shop him for fiddling the books at the Prudential, losing Parry his job.
But no rational person could possibly believe the coincidence that Wallace had decided to murder his wife on the same evening that a prankster had conveniently lured him from home and provided him with an alibi.