The following is from a book entitled The Worlds
Greatest Unsolved Crimes by Roger Boar and Nigel
Blundell. I do have another book which discusses this
particular case, should anyone be interested. The
police files should also be available to the public
now. The case is a British murder, which occurred in
1931. My own belief is that ten wounds to the head,
each of which would have been fatal, suggests that the
killer was inexperienced. Very little money was taken
so theft could have turned to a murder and guilt could
have resulted in the majority of the money not being
WHO WAS R. M. QUALTROUGH?
William Herbert Wallace was a drab, colourless, boring
man who lived a drab, colourless, boring life. He was
thrifty and hard working, mild mannered and a little
snobbish, soberly dressed and utterly, utterly
respectable. His idea of a night out with the boys was
his regular fortnightly visit to a local café to take
part in chess tournaments. A swinging party at home
with his mousy wife, Julia, usually consisted of the
couple playing duets on violin and piano.
Herberts meek and unassuming manner was greatly
appreciated by his employer, a solid dependable
insurance company who employed him as a collector and
agent. In 15 years in their employment he had proved
to be utterly trustworthy. He was diligent and he
never pushed for promotion.
His admirable personal qualities and those of his shy
little wife made them ideal neighbours in their neat
terraced house in Wolverton Street, Anfield,
Liverpool. He was never known to show outbursts of
exuberance or bad temper.
In fact, the jury at his trial decided, Herbert
Wallace had all the characteristics of a sadistic
His wife had been battered to death so violently that
her brains had spilled out on to the floor. She had
died at the hands of a man who deliberately laid a
meticulous trail of false clues to throw the police
off his scent.
There was no real evidence to connect her husband with
Julia Wallaces death. In fact he had a near-perfect
alibi. But then Herbert Wallace was a man who ordered
his life with pedantic attention to detail.
He was too good to be true. They jurys verdict seemed
to be that Wallace was so absolutely ordinary that he
had to be capable of great evil
In spite of flimsy police theories which hardly stood
up to defence cross examination, in spite of a
complete lack of motive on the part of the accused
man, in spite of a summing-up by the trial judge who
virtually begged the jury to acquit him, Wallace was
found guilty of his wifes murder.
He sat impassively in the dock when the verdict was
returned. It was the same lack of emotion which had
led him there in the first place. I am not guilty. I
cannot say anything else, he whispered plaintively in
the court as the judge prepared to pass sentence.
The judge, Mr Justice Robert Alderson Wright, showed
more distress than the convicted man. But he had no
option under law. Shaken up by the jurys verdict, he
donned his black cap and passed the only sentence open
to him: to be hanged by the neck until dead.
And the mystery man who actually bludgeoned Julia
Wallace to death heaved a deep sigh of relief. He had
got away with the perfect murder.
The first sign that Herbert Wallaces humdrum life was
about to be shattered came with a telephone call from
a complete stranger to the City Café in North John
Street, Liverpool, at 19.15 on Monday 19 January 1931.
Herbert Wallace was due at the café that night to
exercise his rather mundane skill as a chess player.
He was taking part in a tournament aptly named The
Second Class Championship.
But the 52-year-old insurance agent was not there to
take the telephone call. A waitress answered the phone
and passed it to Samual Beattie, Captain of the chess
club, who explained that Wallace had not yet arrived.
Did the caller want to phone back later?
The voice on the other end of the line asked to leave
a message for Wallace. The caller identified himself
as R. M. Qualtrough and requested that Wallace
should call on him at his home at 25 Menlove Gardens
East, Mossley Hill, the following night to discuss
some insurance business. Beattie wrote the message on
the back of an envelope.
About the same time Herbert Wallace was setting off
from his home at 29 Wolverton Street to catch a tram
to the City Café for the chess club meeting.
The Wallaces had been married for 18 years, after a
two-year engagement in their home town of Harrogate,
Yorkshire. Herbert had a worthy, but lowly paid, job
as political agent for the local branch of the Liberal
Party. When the meagre party funds could no longer
support his salary, he moved to the quiet suburb of
Anfield in Liverpool.
Julia, five years younger than her husband, set about
making their new home in Wolverton Street neat and
tidy, just like their lives. In her earlier years she
had spent some time in the genteel studies of music
and painting, and a small upright piano took pride of
place in the parlour of their trim terraced house. As
Herbert settled in to his new job as a collector for
the Prudential Insurance Company, the childless couple
could afford little luxuries like the £80 which Mr
Wallace had spent on a microscope.
He prided himself on being a diligent amateur
scientist. He even lectured part-time in chemistry at
Liverpool Technical College and often he and Julia
would spend the evening in the little laboratory he
had built just off his bathroom, examining slides on
the microscope. At the age of 50, Herbert had even
started to learn the violin and accompanied Julia on
His job paid him an annual salary of £250 and the
thrifty couple lived quietly within their means.
Herbert had a bank savings account of £152 and Julia
had her own modest savings of £90.
As Herbert Wallace wrote in his diary: We seem to
have pulled well together and I think we both get as
much pleasure and contentment out of life as most
The only times he left Julia alone were his visits to
the chess club and his lectures at the technical
college. But when he stepped out that night to catch
his tram to the café, there was a nagging worry in his
mind. There had been a spate of burglaries in Anfield
in the past few weeks and Wallace often kept large
sums of his insurance companys money at home. Dont
open the door to any strangers while Im gone, dear,
he reminded Julia as he left.
Samual Beattie never actually saw Wallace arrive at
the City Café but shortly after the phone call he saw
him seated, taking part in a game, and he passed on
Wallace seemed puzzled by the telephone call. He did
not know any Mr Qualtrough. The address was on the
other side of the sprawling Liverpool suburbs, quite
outside his normal insurance sales territory. On the
way home from the club that night, he quizzed other
members about the location of Menlove Gardens East.
Which tram should he take to get there? How long would
the journey take?
The following day Wallace set out, regular as
clockwork, on his appointed rounds in Anfield,
collecting a premium of a few pence here, paying out a
claim of a few pounds there. He returned home
punctually at 14.00, went back to work for the
afternoon and finished in the evening at 18.00. While
Julia prepared tea, Wallace went upstairs, washed and
changed and filled his jacket pocket with insurance
quotations and proposal forms.
At 18.30, their meal over, Julia answered a knock at
the door. It was the milk boy, 14-year-old Alan Close.
He handed Mrs Wallace a pint container of milk and she
took it into the kitchen to empty the contents into
her own jug, returning to the front door to give the
boy the dairys can. That was the last time she was
About 15 minutes later Herbert Wallace left the house.
He walked a few hundred yards and boarded a tram in
Belmont Road for the first leg of his journey to meet
the mysterious Mr Qualtrough. At 19.06, after
travelling a mile and a half, he switched to a second
tram in Lodge Lane. His behaviour was unusual for the
normally reserved Herbert Wallace. He chatted amiably
to the tram conductor Tom Phillips about his high
hopes of selling a big insurance policy at his
destination. At 19.15 he arrived in Penny Lane and
switched to a third tram to complete his five mile
journey. He asked conductor Arthur Thompson to let him
off at the stop nearest Menlove Gardens East.
Dont know it, Thompson admitted. But we stop in
Menlove Avenue. Just ask around, its bound to be near
For the next half hour Wallace tramped busily around
the streets of Mossly Hill. He found Menlove Gardens
North. He found Menlove Gardens West and Menlove
Gardens South. But no Menlove Gardens East. He knocked
on the door of Mrs Katie Mather at No 25 Menlove
Gardens West and she told him there was no Menlove
Gardens East. He remembered his Prudential Insurance
supervisor, Joseph Crewe, lived nearby and found his
home and knocked on the door. He got no reply.
He met Police Constable James Sargent on his beat in
nearby Allerton Road and was advised to go to the
local post office to check a street directory for Mr
Qualtroughs address. Wallace agreed. Then he remarked
on the hour.
Yes almost eight oclock, the policeman agreed.
There was no directory available at the post office
and Wallace found a newsagents shop. He pestered the
owner, Mrs Lily Pinches, into checking the names of
customers on the shops newspaper delivery round,
explaining his errand to her in great detail. No, she
confirmed, there is no Menlove Gardens East.
Wallace gave up and went home.
He arrived back at Wolverton Street shortly before
21.00 and his neighbours, John Johnston and his wife
Florence, saw him struggling with the handle of his
back door. Finally he managed to get the door open and
went inside. The Johnstons were still watching as
Wallace emerged a few moments later and calmly invited
them in. Its Julia, he explained flatly. Come and
see, she has been killed.
Within minutes the police were summoned. Julia Wallace
was dead. Her skull had been battered by ten separate
blows, any single one of which would have been fatal.
There was blood everywhere. A total of £4 was missing
from the little cash box in the kitchen cabinet. She
had been killed, the forensic experts decided later,
between 18.30 and 20.00 that night.
Herbert Wallace appeared to be almost unmoved by the
sight of his dead wife. Later that night he left the
murder house and moved in with his brothers family a
few miles away. The detectives, meanwhile, moved in to
29 Wolverton Street. And the tongues wagged furiously.
Why had Herbert Wallace talked of his business so
freely to tram conductors and total strangers in his
quest to find Menlove Gardens East? Had he
deliberately drawn the patrolling policemans
attention to the time? And who was R. M. Qualtrough,
whose call the night before had lured him away from
home? If the address in Mossley Hill never existed,
did R. M. Qualtrough exist?
On 2 February 1931, a week after the body of Julia
Wallace was buried in Anfield Cemetery, Herbert
Wallace was charged with her murder. Cautioned by the
police, he said simply and sadly: What can I say in
answer to a charge of which I am absolutely innocent?
The press headlines had become so sensational and
strident that when the trial opened at St Georges
Hall seven weeks later, even the prosecution made
little objection to a defence request that no
residents of the city of Liverpool should sit on the
The prosecution made much of a key piece of evidence.
They had traced the source of the call from R. M.
Qualtrough. By sheer chance, the call to the City
Café the night before Julia Wallaces murder had to be
routed through a telephone supervisor because the coin
mechanism in the public phone box had been faulty. The
call and the defect were duly logged. The call had
come from Anfield 1627, a kiosk in Rochester Road,
only 400 yards from Wallaces home.
Of course Wallace was not at the café to receive the
call from Qualtrough, prosecuting counsel Edward
Hemmerde, explained triumphantly. For the same reason,
Qualtrough couldnt phone back later to speak to
Wallace after he arrived at the chess club, because
Herbert Wallace was R. M. Qualtrough.
Wallace, Hemmerde claimed, had made the telephone call
himself then sprinted for a tram and arrived at the
café to receive the message he had phoned through as
His pestering inquiries of tram conductors, the
policeman and the residents of Mossley Hill the
following night were all part of the plan to establish
his alibi, the prosecutor insisted. And Wallaces
unflurried demeanour when he returned home and found
his wifes body was the action of a man who already
knew murder had been committed.
Herbert Wallaces defence counsel, Roland Oliver,
outlined his case simply. His client had not committed
the murder and it was not for the defence to prove who
had wielded the murder weapon. Wallace was not
Qualtrough and the defence did not need to establish
the identity of the mystery man. Wallace made a fuss
of finding Menlove Gardens East, he explained, because
it was a break from his usual routine, a chance to
earn the unexpected bonus of a sale. He was displaying
an emotion that was rare for him: excitement. He had
only reverted to character when he found his wifes
body. He became placid and introspective. Wallace had
no motive for killing his own wife.
By all the rules of criminal law, Roland Oliver was
absolutely right. The police had no evidence, only
suspicions. Herbert Wallace had to be presumed
innocent. But on the fourth and final day of the
trial, the jury took only an hour to reach their
It is almost routine for a judge to express his
agreement with a jurys verdict in a complex, tasking
case. Mr Justice Wright, however, did not even offer
them a word of thanks for their efforts. He pronounced
the mandatory sentence of death by hanging.
The defence lodged an immediate appeal and a week
after he should have been hanged Wallace was taken
from the condemned cell to London, to appear at the
Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. Far from the
hysteria and prejudice of Liverpool, three judges
sifted through the hard evidence against Wallace.
After a two day hearing they retired for 45 minutes
and pronounced their verdict: Appeal allowed,
Wallace left the courtroom free but spiritually
Two days later when he returned home, Liverpool police
pointedly announced they would not be re-opening their
investigation into Julia Wallaces murder. The cruel
implication was not lost on Wallaces hostile
neighbours and his workmates. The insurance company
gave his a desk job to try to shield him and a year
later he retired on a pension.
In February 1933, just over two years after the death
of his wife, Herbert Wallace became ill with a
recurring kidney disease and died in a local hospital.
Five days later he was buried in Anfield Cemetery
beside his beloved Julia.
So who murdered Julia Wallace? Who was R. M.
Qualtrough? There were only 14 people in the whole of
Liverpool with the name Qualtrough and the police
interviewed and cleared them all. In the atmosphere of
outrage which followed the murder, Liverpool police
reached the single-minded conclusion that Wallace was
guilty. Squads of detectives armed with stop-watches
and timetables spent days riding on trams and walking
briskly around Anfield trying to demolish his timing
Herbert Wallace had his own suspicions. In the long
nights of lonely agony after his wifes murder, he
wondered which of his small circle of acquaintances
knew he was due at the City café that fateful night
and left the tantalising telephone message for him.
Julia, he knew, would only have opened the door to a
familiar face. Even facing the hangmans noose, shy
Herbert Wallace could not bring himself to scream in
righteous anger and point a forceful finger off
He apologetically mentioned the names of two men to
the Liverpool detectives investigating the case. Both
men were in their early twenties and both were former
employees of the insurance company. At different times
they had both parted company from the insurance firm
after cash shortages were found in their accounts. On
separate occasions, they had filled in for Wallace on
his rounds when he was ill. They knew all about his
social routine, about his chess club meetings. And
they knew that on some Tuesday nights, as on the night
Julia was murdered, the cash box in the kitchen could
hold as much as £50. Indeed when they stood in for him
they had been inside his home and had handled the cash
box. Julia would have readily opened the door to them,
knowing they were former colleagues of her husband.
Police records show that detectives only interviewed
one of these men and even then accepted without
question his assurance that he had an alibi for the
night of the murder.
The police concentrated all their energies on the man
the mousey little insurance agent whom
everyone so desperately wanted to believe was a
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