29 d’octubre del 2013

PD James claims to have solved 1931 cold case murder

[The Guardian, 28 october 2013]

Crime writer declares 'absolute conviction' that she has identified real-life killer

Liz Bury

 Photograph: Linda Nylind 

A murder mystery that has remained unsolved since 1931 and has baffled some of the sharpest minds in detective work and crime writing has been revisited by novelist PD James, who says that "a solution to the mystery came into my mind with the strength of an absolute conviction".
James is not the first crime writer to become fascinated by the case, which Raymond Chandler described as the "the nonpareil of all murder mysteries". Dorothy L Sayers wrote that it "provides for the detective novelist an unrivalled field for speculation".
Writing in the Sunday Times magazine, James claimed that the murder of Julia Wallace in Liverpool, which "compares only to the Ripper murders in 1888 in the amount of writing, both fiction and non-fiction, which it has created", was misunderstood from the beginning by the police, the judge and jury.
Her 1982 novel, The Skull Beneath the Skin, the fictional murder of Lady Ralston, is thought to parallel the Wallace case, and she refers to it directly in the detective chief-inspector Dalgliesh novel, The Murder Room (2003).
Wallace's husband, William, an insurance salesman for the Prudential, was convicted of the murder, but had his conviction quashed by an appeal judge who ruled that the evidence had not proved his guilt beyond reasonable doubt; had the appeal failed, Wallace would have hanged.
The case pivoted on a mystery telephone call made to Wallace's chess club on the night before the murder. A man giving the false name of RM Qualtrough left a message, inviting Wallace to a meeting at the address 25 Menlove Gardens East the following night.
On Tuesday, the night of the murder, Wallace set out to find the address – he claimed he had expected some insurance business – but after asking around widely discovered that 25 Menlove Gardens East did not exist. On returning home, he found his wife's body and raised the alarm .
The prosecution relied on the theory that Wallace made the call himself, in a premeditated bid to establish an alibi. However James has concluded that Richard Parry, a 22-year-old local jack-the-lad, who was also a suspect in the inquiry, had made a prank call to Wallace, sending him on a wild goose chase in retaliation for the older man's decision to shop him for fiddling the books at the Prudential, losing Parry his job.
Wallace was in fact guilty as charged, James believes. The case became muddled because "no rational person could possibly believe the coincidence that Wallace had decided to murder his wife on the same evening that a prankster had conveniently lured him from home and provided him with an alibi". Parry never admitted making the call, perhaps for fear of bringing suspicion on himself.
The case is "essentially tragic and has psychological subtleties to which it would take a Balzac to do justice," James wrote. She builds a picture of Wallace as a man worn down by failure and disappointment who eventually cracked: "Perhaps when he struck the first tremendous blow that killed her, and the 10 afterwards delivered with such force, it was years of striving and constant disappointment that he was obliterating."
It is not the only unsolved murder which has lodged itself in a crime novelist's imagination.
James's "absolute conviction" echoes the "100%" certainty of Patricia Cornwell, who in 2002 claimed that British painter, Walter Sickert, was Jack the Ripper. Cornwell was convinced that she had fingered Sickert for the murders with a theory based on a specifically watermarked letter; but she drew accusations from a curator at the Royal Academy of "monstrously stupidity" for tearing up a Sickert painting in an attempt to prove her case. Cornwell spent £2m buying 31 Sickert paintings, letters and his writing desk.

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