Today’s Supercilious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
On the night of September 26, 1927 two petty English crooks, Frederick Browne, forty-six, and William Kennedy, thirty-six, set out from London by train to Billericay in Essex. Their intention was to steal a particular car that Browne had earmarked earlier. Thwarted in that desire – a barking dog scared them off – they broke into a garage belonging to a Dr. Edward Lovell, stole his blue Morris Cowley, and sped erratically back to London.
Some miles along a remote country lane, their haphazard progress drew the attention of Police Constable George Gutteridge, who flagged the Morris to a halt. He approached the car, shone his lamp on both men, and asked where they were going. Nettled by Browne’s superciliousness, Gutteridge reached for his notebook. As he did so, Browne drew a gun and fired twice. Gutteridge fell to the ground. Brown sprang from the car and stood over him. Perhaps mindful of the superstition that a murder victim’s eyes record the last image they see, he leaned over the prostrate officer and shot out his eyes. Later that night, the two killers ditched the car in south London before catching a tram to Browne’s Golden Globe Garage in Battersea.
First light saw a fast-moving chain of events: A motorist found Constable Gutteridge’s bullet-riddled body lying beside the road, Dr. Lovell contacted the police to report the theft of his car, and the Morris was discovered in London. Investigators soon linked the three incidents.
The stolen car provided several promising clues. There were splashes of blood on the floor and running board, and under the passenger seat lay an empty cartridge case. This was handed to Robert Churchill for analysis. Churchill came from a family of London gunsmiths that made and sold sporting guns and rifles, but his real interest lay in the study of weapons and their projectiles. On those rare occasions when Scotland Yard needed to consult a firearms expert, his was the opinion in demand. He identified the cartridge as a Mark IV, an obsolete bullet filled with black powder and manufactured at the Woolwich Arsenal in 1914. On its base he noted a tiny raised imperfection, the result of a faulty breech block on the gun that had fired it. Churchill said that the murder weapon was almost certainly a.455 Webley revolver.
Finding that revolver, though, proved tortuous. As one lead after another dried up, the investigation ground to a standstill. For three months, the deadlock continued; then came a vital clue. An ex-convict who was being questioned in connection with a string of car thefts angrily protested his innocence, claiming that the real culprits were actually two other crooks named Browne and Kennedy. Furthermore, he’d heard them brag about killing Constable Gutteridge.
There was plenty in Browne’s history to suggest he was capable of murder; he had a long history of violence and once, while imprisoned, had brutally attacked a guard. Detectives were understandably cautious as they staked out his garage. Their patience was rewarded on January 20, 1928, when their target drove up under cover of darkness. As Browne alighted from his car, they swooped in upon him. Inside the car’s glove compartment was a revolver. More guns were found indoors, together with two thousand pounds hidden in the lavatory cistern and medical instruments similar to those taken from the Morris Cowley.
Five days later in Liverpool, Kennedy was detained after a struggle in which he attempted to shoot the arresting officer (only the jamming of the gun saved the policeman’s life). It was a strange reaction for someone who subsequently claimed that his role in the murder had been that of a passive bystander. Browne, he said, had shot Gutteridge without any provocation. Bitterly contemptuous of his erstwhile partner’s attempt to save his own neck, Browne dismissed the statement as a “concoction”.
Within the arsenal found at Browne’s garage was a .455 Webley revolver loaded with the same ancient ammunition that had killed Constable Gutteridge. When test-fired by Churchill, each cartridge revealed an identical breech block imperfection. No fewer than thirteen hundred Webley revolver were tested in efforts to replicate the flaw, but none ever did. Churchill also noted that the black powder loaded into the Mark IV ammunition was identical to powder traces tattooed into the skin around Gutteridge’s wounds.
At their trial, Browne and Kennedy were apportioned equal guilt. On May 31, 1928, Browne was hanged at Pentonville Prison, while a few miles across London, Kennedy was similarly dealt with at Wandsworth.
Culled from: The Casebook of Forensic Detection