Tag Archive for arson

No Genius

Anytime you try a decent crime there is 50 ways to fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them, you’re a genius. And you’re no genius.
~Teddy Laursen (Mickey Rourke) in Body Heat, 1982.

Update: 4/11/14:
A further 12 families have come forward claiming their relative may have been the victim of the notorious ‘blazing car’ murder in Northampton after the case was featured on a BBC1 show.
The identity of the victim, who was hit over the head with a mallet and burned to death inside a Morris Minor car, has remained a mystery for more than 80 years.
In January, the case was featured on BBC1’s The One Show when it was revealed to the family of William Briggs, who believed he was the victim, that a tissue sample from the ‘unknown man’ did not match their relative, ruling him out as the victim. Despite the results, the scientists working on the case, including ex-Northamptonshire Police scientist, Dr John Bond, said the DNA sample was an uncontaminated profile and had opened up the possibility that a match could still be identified.
Dr Bond said: “Since the show aired we have had 12 families come forward to say their relative went missing at the same time as the murder happened. We will now be able to say conclusively whether it was their relative or not. It will be rewarding to help these families, even if it is only to reassure them their relative was not murdered by Alfred Rouse.”

Alfred Arthur Rouse should have heeded the advice Laursen gave to wannabe murderer Ned Racine. Rouse may have been overpoweringly attractive to the ladies of Great Britain and an adequate traveling salesman, but he was no genius. In fact, his attempt to commit that Holy Grail of malevolence — the perfect crime — collapsed like a house of cards before he even had a chance to really put the plan into action.
It wasn’t all his fault, really. Rouse had served with honor during World War I and sustained a head injury from an exploding shell while in the trenches in France. From that point on his personality changed, friends said. Where there was formerly a mild-mannered, decent young man, there was now a “a promiscuous rake with an enormous sexual appetite” and “a vainglorious man who seems to have been irresistibly charming to some women.”
These descriptions were almost understated, as far as Rouse was concerned. He had wives and mistresses around the country and his job as a traveling salesman provided all of the cover he needed to ensure that no paramour knew of any other. Eventually, 80 “cases of seduction” would be linked to Rouse, who was also amazingly virile, and the father to many illegitimate children. Therein lay his problem. He was earning just £8 each week (worth about £336.97 or $640 today), and that wasn’t enough to meet his child support obligations and maintain him in his comfortable lifestyle.
Desperate to get out from under his obligations, Rouse hatched a plan to disappear and start over. Rather than simply emigrate someplace else, he decided that faking his own death was a better option. It was a stupid idea and Rouse’s execution of his plan was amateurish and weak.
Rouse’s case is notable because it was one of the few prosecutions in Britain where the Crown took its murder case to the jury without being able to identify the victim. That came later, thanks to the astute forensic work of Sir Bernard Spilsbury, whose real-life exploits make those CSI shows pale in comparison.
Rouse’s “suicide by proxy” began at about 2 a.m. November 6, 1930, near Hardingstone, Northampton when a couple of local men, returning from a Guy Fawkes Night celebration, came across a well-dressed man, later positively identified as Rouse, carrying an attaché case who climbed out of a ditch, walked by them without speaking and began walking away. The partygoers were intrigued.
“When you go home at that time in the morning you do not usually see well-dressed men getting out of the ditch,” one testified laconically.
As Rouse walked away, apparently uncertain about which was the best way toward Northampton, one of the men saw a glow in the sky about a quarter-mile away and asked him what was going on.
Rouse replied, “It looks as if someone has had a bonfire down there.”
Perhaps eager to continue their Guy Fawkes Night festivities, or else simply curious about what was burning, the two men headed toward the conflagration. They found the source of the blaze was a Morris Minor which was blazing fiercely. The car’s license number plate was clearly visible: MU 1468. The men summoned the local constable. When the fire had been put out, a charred body was found in the front seat of the car. In addition, police found an empty jerry can. It also appeared that the gas tank and carburetor had been rigged to ignite the fire.
At first, police thought that the victim was a woman because the sole of a woman’s shoe was found in the remains of the car. However, Bernard Spilsbury conducted an autopsy of the charred corpse and determined from the bones that the victim was a man, about 25 years of age, with a “stern visage” who had once worked as a miner. He determined the man’s face was stern because of abnormalities in his jaw and several missing teeth. The man’s lungs contained coal dust, leading Spilsbury to postulate on his occupation. Spilsbury further reasoned that the man was fastidious about his hands because of the excellent condition of his nails.
Through the remains of the man’s clothing, police tracked down the tailor, who confirmed Spilsbury’s assumption. The man recalled making a suit for an ex-miner with a deformed face. The man had, unfortunately, paid with cash.
At the time, however, none of this led authorities to the man’s identification.
Meanwhile, Rouse was nowhere to be found. He had hitched a ride to London, telling the driver who picked him up that his friend who was supposed to drive him had not shown up. In London, Rouse told another stranger that his car had been stolen. Rouse then headed to where one his lovers lived in Gellygaer, Wales, again claiming that his car had been stolen.
Despite having put the first part of his plan into effect — killing “himself” — Rouse was screwing up dreadfully in the follow-through. If he was supposed to be dead, it didn’t help to be seen by several people who knew him intimately. His actions in the following hours indicate that he was getting cold feet.
Regardless, the plan quickly fell apart. The newspapers ran photographs of the burned Morris Minor with the license plate intact. In Gellygaer, Rouse’s girlfriend, her sister, and her father all pointed out that Rouse’s car had been found. Rouse adamantly denied that the burned car was his.
Rouse left Wales and returned home where a detective from Scotland Yard was waiting for him.
“Very well, I am glad it is all over,” Rouse said. “I was going to Scotland Yard about it. I am responsible.”
At his trial in January 1931, Rouse claimed that the death of the as-yet-unidentified man had been an accident. He said the car had broken down and he was outside fixing it when the man inside lit a cigarette and the vehicle burst into flames.
On the witness stand, Rouse had no answer for the most damning piece of evidence, a bloodstained mallet found not far from the site of the blaze.
The jury deliberated just 20 minutes before convicting Rouse. He was sentenced to death and hanged on March 10, 1931. He never revealed the name of his victim. It was the first time in 145 years that an Englishman was hanged when the identity of the victim was not known.
Although the victim’s name was never confirmed, Spilsbury continued to work on identifying the remains and linked the corpse to a missing 26-year-old former miner from Manchester whose parents had reported him missing.
Edward Artus was described as missing two teeth on both his upper and lower jaws, and his parents told Spilsbury that their son, who was trying to establish a career in theater, visited a manicurist twice a month to remove the evidence of his former profession.

Carrying a Torch

Henry Campbell

The story of bigamist murderer Henry Campbell, born Henry Colin Close, is one of unrealized potential and an intelligent man’s lack of direction mixed with deception and criminal propensity. It is a Jekyll and Hyde story that readers of the Malefactor’s Register have encountered many times.
For his crimes a stoic Campbell was electrocuted by the State of New Jersey in 1930.
At the time of his arrest in 1929, Campbell, 60, had been a husband for 15 years and was a father of four children between the ages of 2 and 14. He had enjoyed a moderately successful career in a variety of fields, from engineering to public relations, and had even published books on the subject of concrete.
“He is of a high intellectual type,” said John B. Walsh, who prosecuted Campbell. “He did what he did with every attention to perfection.”
But before he had settled down to a life of domestic tranquility, Campbell dropped out of medical school, practiced medicine illegally in Mexico, and served a couple of prison terms, including a stretch for embezzlement from Union Pacific Railroad. For that offense he was eventually pardoned by the governor of California. As “Dr. H.C. Close,” Campbell served a six-year term in Sing Sing for grand larceny.
Officials were able to establish that he had also been married three times before, although some newspaper reports claimed Campbell confessed to having seven wives, and said he lived with three of them simultaneously.
Campbell had always lived a life of a transient, even after his last (legal) marriage. He and his wife, Roselea, moved often during their marriage, from Elizabeth, N.J. to Chicago, then to Baltimore, and finally back to Westfield, N.J., a suburb of Elizabeth.
Even as the facts of his past life emerged, and Campbell stood on trial for his life, Roselea stood by her man.
“I know no one will believe me; I don’t know what it’s all about,” she told the press. “He was always so fine. In all the 15 years we have been married, he never used a cross word to me.”
Although the Campbells moved more frequently than was the norm in the 1920s, Campbell was financially successful — earning $25,000 annually (about $65,000 today) in 1925 as the director of advertising and promotion for a cement association in New York.
But as is so common in the lives of psychopaths, the good times ended because of Campbell’s various antisocial behaviors. He may have been successful as an employee, but as a business owner Campbell was not so skilled, and that monetary squeeze was what he claimed drove him to kill.
In 1928 the Campbell family moved to Salisbury, Md., “to take charge of a promotion concern.” They took their $40,000 nest egg and bought a home and furniture.
“Then things seemed to fall through” and the family’s savings were wiped out, Campbell testified at his murder trial. His health began to suffer and he became addicted to morphine.
When the chips were down, Campbell resumed his criminal lifestyle as easily as if he never left it and ended up committing at least one — but more likely two — murders. On its face, Campbell’s story is anecdotal proof that rehabilitating a criminal is very often a exercise in futility.
To become a murderer, a person must overcome fear and cultural taboo: they must not be deterred by the so-called “terrors of the law,” i.e., prison or death, nor can they be hampered by society’s strong distaste for the ultimate crime. Campbell was not troubled in the least by the threat of the electric chair nor did he at any time show reluctance to take innocent life.
According to Campbell, money was his sole motive in contacting and ultimately killing his victim, Mildred Mowry. He had tried to interest a number of businessmen in investing in his public relations company without success, and it was then that he thought of “getting a woman to enter business with him.”
Campbell said he believed the best way to find such a women was through a matrimonial agency. By advertising himself as a childless widower who was seeking a woman without children, Campbell was matched with Mildred Mowry of Greenville, Pa. Mildred, in her mid-50s, had been widowed for a decade when she met Campbell. On his application Campbell listed his religion as “The Golden Rule,” admitted that he was not handsome, and answered the question about his disposition with “The best ever if well treated.”
When they met for the first time in February 1928, the couple apparently hit it off because they were married in Maryland in August 1928. One of the first things the couple did together was to open a joint savings account in New Brunswick, N.J., for which Mildred contributed the first $1,000.
After the brief honeymoon (it must have been quite short as Rosalea Campbell claimed she and her husband never spent more than a total of a fortnight apart during their marriage) Mildred returned to Greenville and Campbell went back to Rosalea and his four children in Westfield.
While in Greenville, Mildred told her friends that she had married a doctor.
The bigamous Campbell traded letters with Mildred, explaining that he was setting up a business in North Jersey and that they would be together soon. For her part, Mildred’s letters go from affectionate to cautious and finally to accusatory.
The couple apparently met several times, and Campbell told authorities that he had tried to break off the relationship. He did not tell Mildred they were not legally wed, because she continued to pursue him and demanded that they establish a home together.
Finally, a year after their first meeting, Campbell was desperate to end the sham marriage.
“By this time I had made up my mind that she was not the kind of person to help me,” Campbell testified at his trial. “I thought I would pay her back and get rid of her that way.”
On February 21, 1929, Campbell and Mildred met in Philadelphia where he claimed that he told her the truth about their situation. He testified at his trial that they then drove to Maryland where he tried to collect some debts to repay Mildred.
“All along the way I took drugs to keep my nerves from going to pieces,” he added.
After unsuccessfully trying to obtain money, Campbell and Mildred drove from Philadelphia toward Westfield. On the witness stand, in an effort to save his life, Campbell claimed no memory of what happened next.

Defense Counsel Francis A. Gordon: Did you have any intention of shooting Mrs. Mowry that night?
Henry Campbell: No.
Q:Did you have any such intention at any time?
Q:Do you recall shooting her that night?
Q:Do you have any recollection of shooting Mrs. Mowry and burning her body?
A:No, I don’t remember doing so.

After waking up at home on February 23 and not recalling how he got there, Campbell said he went out to his car and saw a suitcase and handbag in it. He said he knew he had been with someone, but did not know who or when. But he clearly knew something was wrong because he took the items to his basement and burned them in his incinerator.

Defense Counsel Francis A. Gordon: Did you go to the police and tell them something had happened?
Henry Campbell: No. I couldn’t get things collected in my mind. I couldn’t get a picture. Sometimes I seemed to see something on fire in or near my car. I took bromides to calm my nerves. But the picture wouldn’t straighten out.

Campbell really didn’t have to go to the police to tell them something had happened (but he should have, of course). In the early morning hours of February 23, 1929, bakery delivery driver James Boyle was making his way along Springfield Avenue near the Kenilworth Avenue intersection when he saw what he termed “a blazing bundle.” As he passed by it, he realized it was a burning human body and he drove to the Cranford police station.
Apparently at the time the Cranford PD was short of cars because the New York Times account of finding the body states that “Chief of Police Hennessy with a squad of his police commandeered an automobile and hastened to the scene. There they rolled the body in the snow to extinguish the flames.”
Mildred’s body was badly charred and essentially unidentifiable. Some of her clothing was still intact, the Times reported:
“Her clothing was found to be of homely quality, and every tag on it apparently had been removed,” the paper of record tells. “She had on a brown velour coat edged with rabbit fur dyed black. Her dress was black satin, with wide sleeves and a band of fur about the bottom. Her gold brocaded turban had escaped the flames. It had no label.”
The reporter must have been getting paid by the word because he wasn’t done yet.
“A love of finery was envinced by the quantity of jewelry she wore, inexpensive mostly, and inclining to the gay ‘novelty’ rings and necklaces and bracelets so much in vogue,” he wrote.
The autopsy revealed that Mildred had been shot once through the top of her head and strangled. She was dead before she was doused in gasoline and set ablaze.
At the time Mildred’s body was found, the Bernardsville, N.J., police were working a similar year-old torch murder that had (pardon the pun) gone cold. In that case a former New York City governess, Margaret Brown, had been discovered dead and burning beside a rural road. So far the Bernardsville police managed to piece together some of Margaret’s last days but had not found any suspects.
Against the advice of her employer, Margaret, who had fallen in love with a mysterious doctor, withdrew her $7,000 life savings and quit her job. She told her employer that her sister in Los Angeles was ill, but this was not true.
On February 20, 1928 the body of the 40-year-old governess was found beaten to death with a tire iron. The corpse was on fire, but the husband and wife who found it put out the flames before the body was consumed.
Eventually police received a letter bearing a Newark postmark that contained a short confession and $1,000 in bonds and $500 in cash that belonged to Margaret Brown. Police traced the letter to a hotel on Mulberry Street in Newark where a “Dr. Ross” had checked in, stayed a couple of days and then left. The hotel manager told police he found an old fedora and a phial “which may have contained narcotics” in the room after “Ross” fled without checking out.
While the Margaret Brown murder investigation stalled, the Cranford police were more successful. Their victim wore a unique footbrace that was quickly traced to a shoemaker in Greenville. From there, identifying Mildred was a simple matter.
Mildred’s friends told police that she had married a doctor from North Jersey and that the couple had opened a bank account in New Brunswick.
The bank still had the check from Mildred bearing the signature “Mildred Campbell.” That, coupled with Mildred’s marriage license that listed her husband as “Dr. Richard R. Campbell” whose address was property in Baltimore once owned by Henry Colin Campbell, made arresting Campbell in April 1929 a perfunctory affair.
Once in custody, Campbell made a complete confession. His only hope at trial was an insanity defense, and that failed to sway the jury. He was convicted of first degree murder and electrocuted on April 17, 1930.
His wife, Rosalea, stood by her husband until the end, and Campbell denied all along that he had anything to do with the murder of Margaret Brown, which remains unsolved.