Which of These Cold Cases Would You Solve?
The recent 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy brought a glut of TV documentaries and films that tried to give a definitive account of what really happened on that fateful day in Dallas. In preparation of this media event, I watched a DVD of Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie, JFK, which explores one of the many conspiracy theories that are attached to the assassination. I also watched the 2013 TV movie Killing Kennedy, which adhered to the official Warren Commission version, in which Lee Harvey Oswald fired all the shots.
Then there were documentaries that offered different versions of the killing. We had reconstructions, computer animations, bullet trajectories, the works. One of these documentaries went so far as to claim the fatal shot was fired accidentally by a secret service agent in the car following the president’s limousine. Who knows?
One of the problems with unsolved crimes, or those where the official version is viewed with some skepticism, is that every time a new theory comes along, it further muddies the waters in which the truth lurks.
Tied to the Kennedy assassination, we have the shots from the grassy knoll, the magic bullet, the man with the umbrella, ignored testimony, the seizure decoy, the Altgens photo, the cleaning of the president’s limousine (a crime scene), the Zapruder film, the transients, the refused autopsy and, to use an Americanism, a whole bunch of other stuff. Picking out facts from this mass of conflicting information is a challenging enough task as it is, but it becomes even more difficult every time a new theory is put forward.
Here are a couple more examples.
John Reginald Halliday Christie
In 1955, twenty-five year-old Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his baby daughter, Geraldine. He was also thought to have murdered his wife, Beryl. After giving initial contradictory versions of what happened, Evans finally told police that the murderer was actually a fellow tenant, Reginald Christie. He said that Christie had arranged to perform an abortion on his pregnant wife while he, Evans, was at work. He had come home to find her dead.
Christie was an intelligent and manipulative man. Evans was a drunkard and fantasist with the mental age of ten-year-old. Christie warned Evans that he was an accessory after the fact, and that he should disappear for a while. According to Evans, Christie said he had arranged for a couple from Acton to look after Geraldine. Evans went to Wales, where he later turned himself in to police. Soon after this, his wife and daughter were found strangled in an outbuilding in the garden of number ten.
A few years after Evans’s execution, Christie moved out of Rillington Place, and the new tenants were shocked to find three dead bodies in an alcove behind a papered-over door. Police searched the house, and a total of six bodies were found, including that of Christie’s wife, Ethel. Two of the bodies were skeletons found in the garden, while the others had been killed more recently. One thing was certain, however, Timothy Evans could not possibly have been involved in any of these deaths.
After the discovery of these bodies, thoughts immediately turned to Evans, and his insistence that Christie had killed Beryl and Geraldine. A private inquiry was launched, headed by senior barrister, Mr. John Scott Henderson, the conclusion of which declared that Evans was guilty, and no miscarriage of justice had occurred. However, some people considered this inquiry a whitewash, and rumblings of disquiet were heard. Evans is now enjoying the benefits of a posthumous pardon, while Christie followed him to the gallows.
Books have been written that claim to show that Evans was innocent (Ten Rillington Place by Ludovic Kennedy, and The Man on Your Conscience by Colin Eddowes for example) and others deem he was guilty (The Two Killers of Rillington Place by John Eddowes, son of the above, and Forty Years of Murder by Prof. Keith Simpson). Again, the turbid waters of conflicting information mean the truth will probably never be known.
10 Rillington Place
Jack the Ripper
Possibly the most enduring murder mystery of all time, the chances of this case being solved are slim to zero. The ripper inflicted a month long reign of terror over the Whitechapel district of London in the autumn of 1888, when he murdered five prostitutes with horrific, and increasing savagery. Hard evidence relating to the ripper’s work is in short supply, and the case holds more red herrings than a communist fishmonger,
The level of amateur investigation into this case is such that the word ‘ripperology’ was coined. Over the years, there have been many books, movies and documentaries that tried to have the last word on the identity of the butcher. In 1976, Stephen Knight produced the best-selling book, Jack the Ripper, the Final Solution, which offered a new and hitherto unexplored version of events. When fellow ripperologists analysed his theory, however, it was hacked to pieces in the manner of one of the victims of the eponymous ghoul.
Since then, more books have been published that try to show who the real culprit was. But with all of the papers connected to the case having been studied in minute detail, everything that is known about this mystery has been investigated without bearing fruit.
Which Case Would You Solve?
So the question is, if you could travel back in time to capture irrefutable video evidence of what exactly happened in just one of these cases, which would it be?
Would you turn up on the sixth floor of the book depository with your camera, to prove or disprove that Oswald fired all the shots?
Would you silently appear in the dingy rooms on the top floor of 10 Rillington Place to see exactly what happened to Beryl Evans while her husband was at work, and what exactly was the fate of poor baby Geraldine?
Would you lurk in the misty shadows of Bucks Row in Victorian London to capture “Saucy Jack” going about his grisly business?
My own verdict. . .
For what it’s worth, I would opt for Jack the Ripper, and here’s why.
Evans’s posthumous pardon, cleared him of the crime for which he was executed. The JFK case is not over by a long shot yet, with further papers to be released in 2039. When these come out, perhaps some new light will be shone on what really happened that day.
The Jack the Ripper case is old and cold and the chances of new evidence turning up are virtually zero.