Tag Archive for unsolved

Fabian of the Yard

Det. Insp. Fabian of Scotland Yard

Charles Walton was loner who lived in a very small village near Stratford-on-Avon, home to William Shakespeare. He had always been considered a bit odd by the 450 other people who lived in Lower Quinton village. He wasn’t disliked, but Charlie apparently preferred the company of the birds and animals to his human companions and claimed that he could communicate with the birds. When he was younger, Walton had also been an accomplished horse whisperer, a person who could control a horse from a distance with just a motion of his hand or a glance. This ability only increased the awareness of the community that Charlie was different.
 
Although it was 1945, the people of Lower Quinton were a superstitious bunch quite willing to believe in the paranormal. This was an area of England that had a long history of belief in witches and supernatural occurrences. As late as the 19th century an elderly woman had been murdered by the “village idiot” because he suspected her of being a witch. The man confessed that his victim was “a proper witch” and the description of how he had pinned her to the ground with a pitchfork and then carved the sign of the Cross on her body with a knife would be eerily similar to how Charles Walton’s body was found.
 
Beyond the witchcraft that was so prevalent in Lower Quinton, the community also had the Legend of the Black Dog. According to local legend, when the Black Dog of Lower Quinton appeared, someone one was going to die. Many of the townspeople of Lower Quinton believed in the legend, and some believed that Charles Walton had some connection to the animal.
 
The Black Dog was larger than most dogs and apparently had glowing red eyes. The hound would appear out of nowhere and disappear the as mysteriously as it came.
 
Charles Walton was linked to the black dog because back in the late 1880s as a young man he reported seeing the dog nine straight days. On the last day, Walton told his fellow villagers, the dog turned into a headless woman. The next day, Walton’s sister died.
 
All of this, plus Walton’s fondness for toads — often believed to be connected to witchcraft — set him apart from his fellows.
 
Someone killed Charles Walton because they thought he was involved in witchcraft. There is really no other reasonable motive. He wasn’t rich, although he did have a bank account, and he had no known enemies – except those who apparently blamed him for the bad luck area farmers had experienced in prior years.
 
Despite decent weather, crops in the area had failed and, according to some of the very few people who would even talk to the detectives sent by Scotland Yard, the beer made from the last wheat harvest was especially bitter and barely tolerable.
 
On February 14, 1945, someone attacked Charles as he headed out to trim some hedges for a neighbor and viciously murdered him.
 
He was last seen alive when Alfred Potter, the farmer for whom Charles was cutting hedges, observed a man he thought to be Charles Walton swinging a sharp trimming hook on the hedgerow that ran up the crown of Meon Hill. However, Potter stood more than a quarter-mile away from Walton and could not testify positively to the man’s identity.
 
Charles told his niece, Edith, that he would be home at 4 p.m. to make his own evening meal, and if anything Charles was a stickler for routine. Thus, when 6 p.m. came by and he had not returned from Meon Hill, she became convinced that the septuagenarian had fallen or otherwise injured himself.
 
She contacted Potter and along with another farmer, Harry Beasley, the group went in search of Charles.
 
Potter was several steps ahead of Beasley and Edith Walton, carrying a flashlight. As he approached a hedgerow at the foot of Meon Hill, he saw Charles’s body. The flashlight revealed a grisly sight.
 
Charles lay on the ground, awash in blood. His walking stick lay nearby, covered in blood. His sightless eyes were still open and, according to witnesses, his face bore an expression of great fear – not unexpected considering how he had died.
 
His pitchfork had been driven through his throat with such force that the tines embedded themselves six inches into the peat. The trimming hook he had been using on the hedges had been used to scratch a sign of the Cross in his face, throat and chest. The hook was still hanging from a gaping wound in his chest when the searchers found him.
 
The way Charles was found was identical to the way 80-year-old Ann Turner had been slain in 1875 by “feeble-minded” John Haywood.
 
With absolutely no leads, the Warwickshire police force turned the case over to Scotland Yard for help.
 
Detective Superintendent Robert Fabian and his able partner Detective Sgt. Albert Webb arrived shortly after the body was found to take charge of the investigation.
 
Fabian was known among law-enforcement as “Fabian of the Yard,” which conjures up images of dime novels and Agatha Christie parlor murders, but Fabian was a skilled and relentless detective. He and Webb, along with Warwickshire detective Alex Spooner, began to look at the clues.
 
The crime scene had been hopelessly trampled by the search party and the local constabulary had removed the body from the scene without appropriately marking the location and conditions.
 
Fabian and his team found the locals equally unhelpful. Their only assistance was that the murderer could not have been a local. There was a prisoner-of-war camp located nearby, but after interviewing the 1,000 internees, the police came back to Meon Hill empty handed.
 
Reverting to the tried-and-true approach of re-examining the crime scene in hopes of locating that one overlooked clue that would unravel the mystery, Fabian walked the route Charles Walton followed to his death over and over.
 
One evening around dusk, he was walking along the slope of Meon Hill when he had an encounter with a mysterious black dog. There are two different accounts of how he spotted the dog – one states that he noticed the dog sitting on a stone wall watching him, while the other says it merely ran past him. A few moments later, a young boy traipsed past Fabian.
 
“Are you looking for your dog?” Fabian asked the child.
 
“What dog?” the boy asked.
 
Fabian said later that he noticed that the dog had vanished and the boy, knowing the local legend, fled down the hill in terror.
 
Fabian told of the encounter while he was interviewing residents in the local pub – interestingly known as The Gay Dog, and they, in turn, told him of the Legend of the Black Dog. Fabian did some investigating and uncovered a reference to a young Charles Walton and his encounter with the black dog in a book on local superstitions.
 
Shortly afterward, a black Labrador Retriever was found hanged on Meon Hill.
 
Fabian was soon forced to admit defeat. Stonewalled by the locals, having conducted well over two thousands interviews and examining samples of blood, skin and hair, he was unable to uncover anything that pointed to Walton’s killer.
 
“When Albert Webb and I walked into the village pubs silence fell like a physical blow,” Fabian wrote in his memoirs Fabian of the Yard. “Cottage doors were shut in our faces and even the most innocent witnesses seemed unable to meet our eyes.”
 
The local press considered the matter part of a local “fertility rite” and published an interview with a woman from nearby Birmingham who claimed that Charles had been murdered by members of an ancient cult still active in the area.
 
Police pooh-poohed that idea, but acknowledged that there were “black magic” groups active in the area.
 
While Fabian and Webb returned to Scotland Yard to investigate more run-of-the-mill crimes, Detective Alec Spooner of the Warwickshire Criminal Investigation Division remained on the case. For the next 19 years he returned to Meon Hill on the anniversary of Walton’s murder, hoping that either the murderer would return to the scene of the crime or that some clue would present itself.
 
“Detectives deal in facts, ” Fabian told a newspaper years later. “But there was something uncanny about that investigation.”
 
The murder remains unsolved to this day.

Suicide by Person or Persons Unknown

The Feely Family

The universe teaches us that most often the simplest explanation is the correct one. It does not always work out that way, but more often than not it does.
 
This philosophy, commonly known as Occam’s Razor, can be seen in murder investigations where detectives start by looking at those closest to the victim and working their way out in an ever-widening net.
 
So in 1936, when Pittsburgh police announced that the deaths of Eleanore Feely and her two young children came about as the result of a murder-suicide, most rational people who looked at the evidence scratched their heads in wonder at this official explanation.
 
On July 20, 1936 — the day after the Max Schmeling/Joe Louis fight where the German knocked down the Brown Bomber — another story featured just as prominently on a number of front pages: the discovery of Eleanore, 30, and her two children, Robert, 5, and Janice, 3, violently slain in the children’s playroom in their first-floor apartment. All had been attacked with an ice pick, but the actual cause of death in each murder was strangulation. The Feelys’ landlord discovered the family slain in their locked 7-room apartment, which was undisturbed.
 
Eleanore’s husband and the father of the children, Martin Feely, a professor of phys ed at the University of Pittsburgh, was at a boy’s summer camp in New Jersey about 320 miles away at the time and was quickly cleared of any involvement. Eleanore and the children were scheduled to join him in a few days.
 
The two children each suffered a stab wound to the left temple and were strangled, apparently with a tourniquet that was still wrapped around Eleanore’s neck. The killer had used a hammer to twist the tourniquet around her throat. A single thumbprint from what was assumed to be a man based on its size was found on the hammer, but there were no other fingerprints.
 
Eleanore also suffered a stab wound to her left temple but also had ice pick-inflicted wounds to her chest. There were no signs of sexual assault or robbery, which pushed police to look at other scenarios. The one they chose — and the semi-official explanation on the books to this day — was that Eleanore killed her children and then took her own life.
 
Detectives theorized that Eleanore, “nervous and distraught after nursing the boy through a serious attack of scarlet fever, strangled her two children with a rope, stabbed them with an ice pick, stabbed herself by throwing her body against the ice pick which she held handle first against the wall, and then strangled herself,” according to Lead Detective Samuel E. Wheeler.
 
“I have talked with physicians who claim it is perfectly possible for Mrs. Feely to have killed the children and herself,” Wheeler said.
 
There are many problems with this theory, not the least of which is that it is incredible and far-fetched. Regular readers of the Register know that truth is stranger than fiction, so we cannot discount the police theory out of hand. Detectives were presented with what was essentially a locked-room mystery without any visible clues and it appears that they gave up trying to solve the puzzle without expending much effort.
 
We must also content ourselves with the description of the crime scene that was featured in the press. There were no descriptions of any kind of blood spatter which might have led the cops to believe the murder-suicide angle was correct. In addition, no mention was made of any fingerprints on the ice pick. However, reporters were quick to point out the thumbprint on the hammer (which was later determined to have come from an investigator), so it is likely that neither Eleanore’s prints nor anyone else’s were on the pick.
 
As an example of how silly the police theory is, consider that Eleanore was right-handed, so it is not plausible that she would attempt to kill herself with an ice pick using her weaker hand. It is easy to accomplish, but a person who has just stabbed and strangled two children would be pretty much operating on autopilot in some sort of psychotic break, so it would be muscle memory, not calculated thought, that would determine how wounds were inflicted. A right-handed person will use their right hand in such a situation. The police theory also never explained how Eleanore managed to wipe her prints off the hammer after she was dead. On the other hand, the integrity of the crime scene appears to have been compromised considering that an investigator’s print was the only one found on the hammer.
 
We will not even discuss the absurd theory that she held the ice pick against the wall and ran into it several times before giving up and strangling herself.
 
Not surprisingly there were strong differences of opinion about Eleanore’s mental state. Her husband and other members of the family were adamant that Eleanore was of completely sound mind and would never even consider hurting her children or herself. They described her as “cultured and intellectual, a brilliant student in school at Springfield, Mass.,” where she met her future husband.
 
“I don’t know what the cause could have been,” said her grief-stricken husband. “But I’m sure she didn’t do it herself. I am positively convinced my family was murdered and I intend to push the investigation.”
 
Martin also stated that the hammer and ice pick were not his.
 
Pressed by the family, Mayor William N. McNair told Eleanore’s brothers, Robert and Richard Buckley, that the case “would not be dropped until a definite solution is found.”
 
Eleanore’s kin were not alone in thinking the official explanation was a crock. An investigator for the Coroner’s Office was convinced that someone else was responsible.
 
“John Artz, special coroner’s investigator, stuck doggedly to his theory that the three were victims of a cold-blooded killer who left no clues,” wrote the New Castle (Penn.) News.
 
“I don’t care what the police say,” he told reporters, “Someone — some ghoul — killed this mother and her children.”
 
During a 3-day coroner’s inquest in November 1936 the conflicting theories were aired before a jury, which rejected the murder-suicide theory in favor of criminal homicide by person or persons unknown.
 
This was little more than a moral victory for the survivors, as a coroner’s jury, like the grand jury, does not try cases. Essentially the jury’s verdict states who died, what manner of death (i.e., accident, suicide, homicide, natural, unknown.), when it happened, and where the death occurred. A finding of homicide by a coroner’s jury can lead to an investigation, but the police and prosecutor are not bound by the verdict and are free to pursue or not pursue an investigation. Usually this is seen when the jury returns a manner of death of unknown or when the facts in possession clearly indicate a mistake by the jury.
 
The Pittsburgh police grudgingly reopened the investigation, but with the head of detectives still convinced that Eleanore killed her children and herself, it was an investigation in name only. To them, the case was de facto solved.
 
In 1937, saying he was disgusted with the Pittsburgh police and hopeless of ever solving the case, Martin Feely quit his job at Pitt and moved back to Massachusetts.
 
The case remains open or closed depending on your point of view.