1. The Murder of Julia Wallace
29 Wolverton Street. That’s where it happened. The inconspicuous terraced house in Anfield sits snugly amongst the other brick-built abodes almost as if it had never harboured any secrets. In 1931 everything changed. On Tuesday January 20, the night was bleak and cold. Some neighbours who lived further down the road stumbled across William Herbert Wallace and he appeared somewhat agitated at the rear entry of the houses. The neighbours, a Mr and Mrs Johnson, asked what the cause of his annoyance was. Wallace stated that he had been out and upon his return all the doors to his house had been locked. Mr. Johnson suggested trying the doors once more, to which they suddenly appeared to open. “It opens now.” Wallace said, and went inside for the briefest of moments. Upon his return he appeared flustered. “Come inside!” He urged. “She’s been killed!” It was his wife, Julia.
Wallace’s tale was a strange one. On the evening before the killing, he had gone to play chess at a cafe in central Liverpool, arriving to find that a message had been telephoned to the cafe not half an hour before. Wallace was to call the following evening at 7.30 at 25 Menlove Gardens East. Although not knowing the caller – who gave his name as R.M Qualtrough – Wallace sensing commission kept the appointment.
On the next night, leaving Julia sniffling at the back gate, Wallace said he’d taken a series of trams to the leafy suburb of Allerton. But Menlove Gardens turned out to be a triangular affair, and while there was a Menlove Gardens North, South and West, there was no Menlove Gardens East. Nor had anyone heard of R M Qualtrough. Back home, there was Julia, dead on the rug.
Neighbours in Wolverton Street said the Wallaces were a queer couple. Although they had been married for 16 years, they had no children. Wallace, tall, cadaverous, played chess and the fiddle, looked like a murderer. Julia came down in the world when she married him. Perhaps this did nothing to quash the massive interest in this horrific murder case. The police piled in, led by the half-cut CID chief, Det Supt Moore, who almost tripped over the pathologist, down on all-fours observing the progress of rigor mortis. No need to take the rectal temperature, said Professor MacFall. Mrs Wallace had been dead a good four hours. And that meant that Wallace did it before setting out for Menlove Gardens. Supt Moore liked the sound of that.
Moore was convinced that Wallace was Qualtrough. By a fluke, the mysterious call to the chess club was traced to a kiosk just 400 yards from Wallace’s front door, and smack bang next to the tram stop for central Liverpool. So, Moore concluded, Wallace made the Qualtrough call, left a message, hopped on a tram, got to the cafe, picked up the message. Thus, creating the perfect alibi. But the whole case turned on time. To catch the tram that took him to Menlove Gardens, Wallace would have had to have left home no later than 6.49. But a milkboy swore seeing Julia alive on her front doorstep at 6.45. In the time available, could wheezy Wallace, at 52, a heavy smoker, out of condition with a chronic kidney complaint, really have stripped naked (wearing the mackintosh to shield himself from splashing blood), bludgeoned his wife to death, cleaned and secreted the murder weapon (never found), faked a burglary, attended to various gas-jets, fires, locks and bolts, and dressed himself for a journey across Liverpool, calm and composed, on a winter’s night?