THE GHASTLY MURDER OF P.C. GUTTERIDGE
In the early hours of September 28th 1927 on a country road near Stapleford Abbot in Essex, Constable George William Gutteridge stopped a car containing two men which looked suspicious. Whilst he was taking their particulars, he was shot in the head from 10 inches away by the driver. The driver (according to the other man) then got out of the car and said to the stricken officer lying on the ground, “What are you looking at me like that for?” whereupon he again shot him through both eyes.
This brutally horrific murder of a police officer merely doing his duty, was the culmination of the men’s earlier adventures when they had stolen a doctor’s car, a Morris Cowley, from Billericay, intending to alter and sell it. The stolen car was later found in a Brixton back street.
Subsequent enquiries led to the arrest of 44 years-old Frederick Guy Browne, a motor engineer and garage owner from Clapham London, who had a long criminal record and had served terms of imprisonment in Parkhurst and Dartmoor. He was also a collector of guns, owning a Webley revolver, an automatic pistol and a nickel -plated small calibre Smith &Wesson, which were all loaded. Browne denied all knowledge of the stolen car or the murder. Receiving further information however the police began a nationwide manhunt for a 36 year-old former fellow inmate of Browne’s named William Kennedy, who also had a long criminal record for robbery, drunkenness, assault and indecent exposure.
Originally from Ayrshire, Kennedy had Irish origins and had spent quite a lot of time in Liverpool in various jobs including that of Compositor. Browne had given him a job in his garage as a sort of general handyman - when both were not out at night breaking into premises or stealing cars!
Arriving in January 1928 at Browne’s Globe garage in Wandsworth - whilst the police were searching the premises, Kennedy, seeing the detectives, fled with his West Kirby born wife, to Liverpool where he would feel safe among old acquaintances. A friend, travelling salesman David Staunton, who lodged at 119 Copperas Hill, got him a room at the same address.
That night, leaving his wife alone, he and Staunton went to the Ye Cracke pub in Rice Street off Hope Street, where Kennedy knew the licensee’s husband through selling him stolen property in the past. Whilst there, he showed the man, Joseph Thomas, a Savage automatic pistol, asking him if he could obtain more ammo. Thomas did not want to know and tried to avoid Kennedy on subsequent visits, telling his wife to say he was in bed not feeling well.
The police soon learned that Kennedy, who had left an obvious trail, was in Liverpool, to where Scotland Yard’s Det. Inspector Albert Kirschner was sent to liaise with the local police. As a result of Thomas’s information, who had grown both tired and afraid of Kennedy, armed Liverpool police on 25th January staked out 119 Copperas Hill, a large terraced house, waiting to pounce on Kennedy.
After his return from Ye Cracke Kennedy, hearing suspicious noises outside, got out of bed, quickly dressed and left the house. This was before the 1930’s construction of the Bullring and St. Andrews Gardens tenements, so the surrounding area, Trowbridge, Hart, Greek and St. Andrews Streets had been cordoned off.
As Kennedy reached the corner of St Andrews Street, Det. Sgt. William Mattinson of Liverpool police, who knew Kennedy from the past, tried to apprehend him. “Hello Bill”, he said, “come on now.” Whereupon Kennedy, who likewise knew the officer, drew the automatic and thrusting it into the officer’s ribs, shouted, “Stand back Bill or I’ll shoot you!” Mattinson heard a click. With a bullet in the breech, the gun had fortunately failed to fire. Wrestling it from him, the officer punched him on the chin as other reinforcements arrived.
Kennedy was first taken to nearby Warren Street police station. There, sitting on a bench in the charge room, he said to Mattinson, “I’m sorry Bill. I’ve got no grudge against the police. But you should be in heaven by now. And there was one for me.” He was then taken down to Cheapside where he was fed and watered before being escorted by train down to London.
During his stay in “No 1 Safety cell” at Cheapside, Kennedy was looked after by constables John Davies and William McNeill., who both said – considering his perilous situation – he ate like a horse and slept like a log.
Kennedy made a statement that he was with Browne at the murder scene; that Browne had shot P.C Gutteridge and that he did not know he had a gun when they set out to rob the car. After the killing Browne had ordered him to reload the revolver, which he did because he was terrified. Before giving this statement, he had told the London detectives, that because of the circumstances he had described, he expected to be only charged an Accessory. There is reason to believe that the police encouraged this view in order to obtain the statement.
Browne, for his part, totally denied everything, stating he was at home with his wife on the night/morning of the murder. As for the murder weapon traced to him, he said he had two revolvers – one rusty and one oxidised – but he had swapped the Savage automatic with Kennedy on October 7th, for his oxidised revolver, which he had made previous offers for. Moreover far from threatening Kennedy if he left town, as he had stated, he said he could not get rid of him because he was always drunk after September 28th.
At the Old Bailey trial before the “hanging judge” Horace Avory on 23rd April 1928, both men had to be kept apart in the dock by a group of warders. Counsel for both men applied for separate trials on account of the “cut-throat defence” on Kennedy’s part (Browne had never accused Kennedy of committing the murder alone). This was refused by Avory, despite Kennedy’s statement being virtually the only evidence again Browne.
Browne went into the witness box in his own defence and accounted for his movements on the murder night, whilst Kennedy did not, preferring to make a statement from the dock. By this means he could not be cross-examined on his previous record which included firearms offences (he had once bragged about shooting two Black n’ Tans whilst a member of Sien Fein and was nick-named “The Fair-Haired Sniper”.).
The two men were found guilty after a jury retirement of 5 hours and were sentenced to death. Kennedy was hanged at Wandsworth and Brown at Pentonville.
During his stay in the condemned cell Browne, continually protesting his innocence, first went on hunger strike for 3 days, then tried to slit his throat and wrists.
Kennedy tried to feign insanity but a psychiatrist pronounced that he was exhibiting all the wrong symptoms!
A final Liverpool connection: one of the detectives in the case, Det. Con. Harold Hawkyard, accused by the defence of collusion with other officers for stating that no questions were asked during Kennedy’s 19-page statement, was the same officer who in 1952 as a Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent was appointed to arrange and assist the Gerrard Inquiry at Liverpool’s Municipal Annexe into the trial of Devlin & Burns for the 1951 Cranborne Road murder.
George Skelly, BA (Hons), Dip.lit (Oxon)
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