Date: 27 Apr 1956
John O'Shea was found dead in his lodgings after a robbery.
A man was tried for his murder in December 1959 but acquitted. It was heard that he had confessed to the murder, but later said that he had made his confession up and that he had made it whilst under the influence of drugs and had wanted to die, saying that he thought that if he admitted to the murder that he would be hung.
He had gone into the offices of Empire News in Kemsley House, WC2 on 26 August 1959 to make his confession.
John O'Shea was an Irish immigrant and it was said that it was generally known that he had saved up a considerable sum of money that he intended on taking back to Ireland with him to buy a farm. He was described as a devout Catholic who neither drank nor smoked and who enjoyed playing the piano accordion.
He was found lying dead across his bed in what was described as his poorly furnished room.
His death was first reported to the police at 11.20am on 28 April 1956. He was discovered by a general labourer who occupied a top floor flat in the same house after he returned from an evening's dog racing at White City. He said, 'It was about 11 o'clock, I went up the stairs and passed O'Shea's door, which was about six inches open. I shouted 'Hello, Kerry', but there was no reply. There was a bottle of milk outside his door, and as I hadn't seen him for a week I thought he may have been sick. I went back to his room, picked up the bottle of milk, and said, 'Are you there, Kerry? I peeped in and thought I could see something hanging out of the bed. I switched on the light and saw his legs hanging off the bed. I put my hands under them to lift them up but they were stiff and cold and I knew immediately he was dead. I gave a shout and a man, who lives in the house came in. I told him to call the police'.
When the general labourer was asked whether he had touched anything he replied, 'No, nothing except his rosary'.
He was last seen alive by a woman friend with whom he had been intimate three hours before he died.
The police took 1,200 statements and 2,000 people were interviewed, both in the UK and in Ireland.
The police said, 'We've been investigating it as a case of murder with robbery as the motive because all the money and his wallet was missing. A cupboard drawer in his room had been ransacked and trouser pockets turned inside out. We believe that at least £100 must have been stolen'.
His inquest returned a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown on 27 June 1956.
The man that confessed to murdering John O'Shea in August 1959 said in his initial statement of 26 August 1959 in the news office:
'This is a voluntary statement made by me, aged 29, of no fixed address, in the office of the Empire News, Kemsley House, WC2 on August 26, 1959.
In April, 1956, I was in the Shepherds Bush Hotel, Shepherds Bush, about 7.30pm having a drink. A tall man with dark hair parted in the centre walked up to the bar and ordered a half of bitter. He took out a wallet to pay for it and from where I was standing I could see that the wallet was full of money.
It stuck in my mind to get that money from him somehow. He left the pub and I followed him. He got on a bus and took a ticket to Hammersmith Broadway. I did the same thing.
He got off the bus. I followed him still. He walked up King Street and turned down by Woolworths, going towards Cambridge Grove. I saw him go into a house in Cambridge Grove and shut the door behind him. I waited for about half an hour to see whether he came back out again. He did not come out, so I went away to another pub, the Windsor Castle in King Street, where I met a friend whose name I do not wish to give.
We started talking about things and I mentioned this man who I had followed. My friend said he had seen that man himself. He said he had seen plenty of money in the man's wallet as well.
The following week, on Friday, April 27, 1956, about 6pm I left my room in a boarding house in Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, taking with me a pair of gloves, a small claw hammer and a screw driver. I had intentions to go and get some money. I decided to go up to King Street and have a look around.
I went into the Angel public house in King Street and had some drink there until about 7.30pm. Then I walked back down Cambridge Grove to the end of it and stood there outside a public house called the Cambridge.
After waiting about twenty minutes I decided to go in and have a drink. I was in there about ten minutes. Then I came out and stood on the far side of Cambridge Grove from the public house, waiting for this man with the wallet to come along.
He came along Cambridge Grove about 8.40pm and walked towards King Street. I thought he might have been going out drinking, but he just kept walking around, window gazing.
He came to a pub in King Street. I do not remember its name. It is now closed down. I thought he was going in when he stopped on the corner, but he met a woman on the corner and talked to her for a few minutes. He left her and carried on walking up King Street and came to Studland Road nearly opposite the Regal Cinema. I did not know what he was doing but I thought he had spotted me following him. He got back down the back way of King Street and started making for Cambridge Grove.
He turned into Cambridge Grove and went into his house, where the hill door was open. He did not close the door behind him. I waited for a few minutes and heard him go up the stairs. Then I walked into the hall through the open door and went up the stairs. I could hear the man moving about in a back room on the first floor. The door of the room, which was a bedroom, was open. I stood near the door and heard him drop something which sounded like money on the floor. I rushed into the room and struck him a blow with the hammer as he was bending down. I hit him on the left side of the head. I was wearing gloves while I did this.
The man fell forwards towards his bed and in a panic I struck him another blow on the temple with the hammer. He fell forward on to the bed and started moaning. He was lying at a slant across the bed and his feet were sticking out over the side of the bed. He had no coat on. He did not move after I struck him. I put my hand into the hip pocket of his trousers and took out his wallet. I made no attempt to search the room.
When I had got the wallet I left the room, taking the hammer with me. I left the house and made off down Cambridge Grove, past the Cambridge public house, and went into Hammersmith Grove. I was frightened but I did not think the man would die. He was knocked out but he was still breathing when I left the room.
I went to Goldhawk Road Underground Station and got a ticket to Lambeth Grove. At Lambeth Grove I left the train and went to a public house called the KPH at the corner of Lancaster Road, where I had a couple of drinks. It was then just gone 10pm.
When I left the pub I went down Lancaster Road to Shepherds Bush Underground Station where I booked a ticket for Tottenham Court Road. From Tottenham Court Road Station I went to the Mambo Club in Greek Street. I stayed there for about two and a half hours. Then I went and had a meal in the Little Hut restaurant in Greek Street. I left the Little Hut as about 2.15am and walked up Greek Street to Soho Square.
I passed a church on the right-hand side and turned around into an alley which led to Charing Cross Road. In the alley there were some ash bins and I put the hammer, screwdriver and gloves into one of the bins. I then went back to the Mambo Club. It was by this time about 2.45am to 3am.
I left the Mambo Club about 5am and went to the gent's lavatory in Piccadilly. I went into the lavatory and counted the money in the wallet. There was about one hundred and seventy-six pounds in it. There were also some papers and things in the wallet. I put the papers down the toilet pan and flushed them away. It was about 6.30am when I left the lavatory and got the Underground to Shepherds Bush.
I made my way home towards Uxbridge Road, where I lived.
I stayed in my room all day. I went out in the evening to buy a paper and I saw that the man I had hit was dead'.
When the police later saw the man he corrected them on the detail concerning him having said that he had got a ticket to Lambeth Grove, which he said should have been Ladbroke Grove and also where he said that he left the train at Lambeth Grove, which similarly he said should have been Ladbroke Grove, but said that the rest of the statement was all true.
He said that he had gone to the Empire News to tell them his story because he always read the Empire News. He said that he used to read the articles by one of the writers there and thought that he was a good fellow and that he would do his best to help him. He added that he wanted to confess because it had been playing on his mind for the previous three weeks and additionally because he thought that he might murder somebody else.
He said that he had never told anybody else about the murder, but noted that earlier in February or March 1956 that he had had a nightmare whilst sleeping and that a man said that he had heard him say, 'I didn't mean to kill him', which he added was the truth as he had not wanted to kill John O'Shea. He then said that he had been desperate for money and that he had only intended to knock him out and take his money and that he was only in John O'Shea's room for a minute at the most.
He said that as he had gone through the door that John O'Shea had been bending down to pick something up from the floor and that he had hit him on the left hand side of his head with the hammer. He said that John O'Shea then fell backwards on to the bed and that as he did so he struck him again with the hammer on the right temple. He added that he was in a panic and that he was not sure whether he struck him again or not.
He said that he then raised John O'Shea up and took his wallet from his right hand hip pocket, noting that he didn't touch anything else in the room. He said that there was a chair on his left as he went in through the door and that he saw a chest with drawers in it, but that that was all he could remember about the room.
He said that he kept the wallet for about three weeks, saying that it was a dirty old brown leather one with a red rubber band round it.
He said that after he spent some of the money he threw the wallet away on a grass verge near White City.
He added that there was also a newspaper cutting and two letters in the wallet besides the money, but that that was all. He said that he didn't read the newspaper cutting or look at the letters but noted that one of them looked official, like tax or insurance documents and that the other was a letter that had a London postmark and finished with the words, 'Your loving sister', but with no name.
He further noted that when he followed John O'Shea home on the night he had been wearing a dark jacket, dark trousers, a white shirt with collar attached but no hat and said that he did not think that he had been wearing a tie. He noted that when he went into the room John O'Shea had not been wearing a jacket.
He said that he had been on his own for the whole time and that nobody else had anything to do with it and that he had worn gloves all the time that he had been in the house. He said that on the night that he killed John O'Shea that he had been wearing a black single breasted two button jacket and trousers, an Air Force blue military type gaberdine raincoat and black suede boots, grey nylon socks, a white shirt with collar attached and a black tie, no hat, and black pigskin tight fitting gloves.
He said that he didn't get any blood on his clothing and noted that all of the clothing had since become worn out and had been thrown away.
He said that he spent the money on living and on the dogs and that it lasted about a month and that nobody else had any of the money. He said that after the murder that he kept away from Hammersmith for about the next six weeks.
He noted that when he first went to see Empire News on Saturday 23 August 1969 that they spoke to him but didn't believe him and told him to come back the following Saturday if he was still in the mood, but he said that he was so worried about the murder that he went back again to see them on the Tuesday, 26 August 1959 and they took his statement.
He said that he knew that when he told the Empire News that he had murdered John O'Shea that they would get in touch with the police, but said that it was more or less an idea that he got into his head that when the police came to arrest him that he would have someone standing by his side, which was why he didn't go straight to the police.
John O'Shea was identified by his brother who said that he last saw him about two weeks before Easter and that he had been in England for about 20 years noting that as far as he was aware he was otherwise healthy at the time of his death. After looking at the photograph of his brother at the inquest he agreed that it was a good likeness and that he thought that he would have looked very much like that at the time of his death, but said that he didn't know when the photograph was taken.
John O'Shea's body was found in his room on his bed. His room was a back room on the first floor at 22 Cambridge Grove.
His brother-in-law who lived in Netheravon Road in Hanwell said that John O'Shea was a very quiet man who always kept himself to himself more or less. He said that he knew that John O'Shea worked in the building trade and although he would have a few drinks said that he was not a drinking man and noted that he always had a lot of money on him and was never short. When the Coroner asked him at the inquest whether he thought that John O'Shea would carry about more money than a person would imagine a man like him would do, he agreed that he thought so.
He said that he last saw him on 19 February 1956 and said that he knew that John O'Shea had one friend in the past that he had lived with and that he had never been to his room in Hammersmith and didn't think that John O'Shea had any enemies.
When the Coroner asked him whether John O'Shea had ever mentioned that he wanted to buy a farm in Ireland he said 'Yes. He was always talking about Ireland, he preferred it back there he said'. When the Coroner asked the brother-in-law whether John O'Shea had been doing anything about going to Ireland his brother-in-law said that he knew that John O'Shea had been negotiating at the time to buy a farm there and when he was asked about whether he thought that John O'Shea had had the money to buy a farm John O'Shea's brother-in-law said, 'Well, I didn't know how much money he had but I thought he had enough to buy a farm', but he noted that he had never seen him with a large sum of money nor ever seen his banking book.
A general labourer that also lived at 22 Cambridge Grove in Hammersmith, paying £1 per week in rent, said that he worked for CDL Construction Company in Egham and had lived at 22 Cambridge Grove for about four years on and off in a front room at the top of the building.
He detailed the layout of the house and the other people that were living there, all of whom were Irishmen, describing the layout of the house and its occupants generally as:
He said that he called John O'Shea Kerry because he came from Kerry and said that John O'Shea never mixed with the other people in the house although he would speak to them and that he had been in John O'Shea's room once about six or seven months earlier when his mate was stopping with him and he was playing an accordion and asked him to stop in to play a tune.
He said that he last saw a John O'Shea alive about a week before he died, agreeing that he thought that it was on the Tuesday night, 24 April 1956 at about 8pm. He said that John O'Shea had had a jug of water in his hand at the tap in the room used as a wash-house on the landing at the right hand side, noting that it was not a wash-house but that it had a little washstand there in the corner. He said that he was getting the water to shave and that when they spoke he said, 'Good evening'.
The general labourer noted that they all cooked for themselves and did their cooking in their own rooms.
He added that he thought that he heard an accordion being played on the Wednesday night.
He said that on the Friday 27 April that he had been working all day in Acton and got back home at about 6pm, had his supper and then went out to the dogs at Harringay on his own after which he returned home, arriving between 10.45pm and 10.50pm, noting that he knew that it wasn't 11pm when he got back. He said that he had just about cleared himself at the dogs saying that he had started by losing a few bob and then won £1.
He said that he did not notice John O'Shea's room door open when he returned.
He said that the following day, Saturday 28 April 1956 that he went to work at 7.30am in Acton Vale at the railway bridge and left work at 12 midday and went off to the Askew Arms for two drinks and then got back home at about 1.10pm after which he had some dinner which he had in the boy's room below. He said that after dinner that he read some papers and then jumped into bed and fell asleep and that he later woke up and had a wash and went to the dogs at White City on his own, saying that he won a pound or so for himself and about £3 for one of the other boy's at the house and got back at about 11pm.
The evidence that the general labourer gave at the inquest went as follows:
Q: What did you do when you got home?
A: Well, I was passing up the stairs going on to my room and I saw this door about six inches open.
Q: Which door?
A: John O'Shea's room door, and I shouted, 'Hello Kerry', and there was no answer, I went up the stairs.
Q: Why did you shout?
A: He nearly always speaks to me and I hadn't seen the man the whole week.
Q: You hadn't seen him the whole week?
A: No sir, not since that Tuesday.
Q: So you called out, 'Hello Kerry'. What happened after that?
A: I just walked up the stairs, three steps, I was going into the other room.
Q: Which room?
A: The boy's room. I thought the boy might be in there.
Q: How much money had you won for him?
A: £3. 15.
A: I turned around and I saw his bottle of milk.
A: John O'Shea's bottle of milk, on the floor, it struck my mind the man was sick as I hadn't seen him.
A: I turned around and went back to John O'Shea's door.
Q: What happened there?
A: I said, 'Are you there Kerry', and I thought I could discern something hanging out of the bed.
Q: The light was not on?
A: No, just the light of the window.
Q: You said, 'Are you there Kerry'.
A: Yes. Then I searched around and found the switch and put it on. He was lying hanging over the bed, with his two legs hanging over the bed, and I put my hands under his knees to lift him up and saw he was stiff stone cold, so I gave a shout.
Q: So you gave a shout?
A: Yes sir.
Q: And who came?
A: One of the boys came as far as the door.
Q: And what did he say?
A: I said, 'This man is dead, what is going to be done?'
A: I said, 'The only thing to do is, you go for the Police and I'll go for the priest'.
The general labourer said that he and the boy were in John O'Shea's room when the priest arrived and said that the only thing that he recalled touching were some rosary beads that he found on John O'Shea's mantlepiece.
The landlady said that she knew little about John O'Shea, but said that she thought that she last saw him on the Friday evening at about 6.30pm going up the stairs, that being the day before he died. She said that she also heard him walking across his room and thought that he was making his dinner but said that he was otherwise a very quiet man and that half of the time she wouldn't know that he was there.
She said that she didn't see him go into his room but thought that he did and said that she thought that she heard him walking about in his room after 6.30pm, noting that she herself later went out at about 8.45pm to go to have a drink across at the Angel after which she returned to 22 Cambridge Grove at about 10.30pm and went to bed without noticing anything suspicious.
When she was questioned at the inquest she said that John O'Shea normally had a bottle of milk delivered each day which he ordered from Incorporated. She said that he usually took the milk up himself but said that she sometimes took it up for him and said that when she did she would usually put it on the shelf outside his door. She added that she did do some cleaning, sweeping the rooms each week day and sometimes mopping them but did no more cleaning than that. She added that John O'Shea used to pay her each Saturday or Sunday but said that he used to keep it to the last minute.
She said that on the Saturday that she went out shopping after which she came back for a lie down and that later in the afternoon she went out for an evening in Richmond, getting back at about 11pm or just after 11pm. She said that it was when she got back that she was told that John O'Shea had died.
The pathologist arrived at 22 Cambridge Grove at about 1.30am on the Sunday morning 29 April 1956. He said:
'I met the Superintendent and other officers and I was shown the body of an adult man lying across a double bed. The body was resting on its side with the hips on the edge of the bed and the right leg resting on the floor and the left leg on top of it. There was a large quantity of vomited material, slightly bloodstained, on the mattress beneath head and shoulders, and I could see lacerated wound on left side of scalp from which blood had run down over scalp and neck.
The body was quite cold and stiff throughout. The same morning at half past nine I saw the same body at this mortuary, where the atmospheric temperature was approximately 50deg Fahrenheit and the temperature of the body 62deg. I then performed a post-mortem examination and found the deceased was quite a healthy man. There was no natural disease, and he was well nourished, 5ft 7 1/2in in height. He had sustained fractures of the left side of the skull, beneath a scalp wound of rather unusual features. Beneath the fracture of the skull was bleeding over the surface of the brain, particularly opposite the fracture, and there was a large quantity of vomited material in the back of the throat, voice box and air passages. I came to the conclusion that this man had died from asphyxia or suffocation due to inhalation of vomit which, in turn, was due to bleeding round the brain associated with fracture of the skull. I handed samples of blood and head hair to the Superintendent.
The scalp wound is well shown in one of those photographs, I think it is No.4, where its position above and behind the left ear can be seen, and it appeared to consist of two vertical wounds joined by a horizontal wound towards the top of the head. The fracture of the skull was 1 1/2in in diameter with sharp and rather clear cut edges, and the bone within that area of 1 1/2in was depressed and shattered into many fragments of bone. On the front of the area of a linear fracture ran forward to the left side of the front of the skull for a distance of four inches. I could not detect any smell of alcohol from the stomach which still contained a fairly large portion of a partially digested meal.
I subsequently had a further examination of this body and removed the pipe or tube leading from the bladder to the tip of the penis and from this I took a smear and this smear showed presence of spermatozoa, semen seed. The bladder was half full of urine and I thought it unlikely that this man had passed his urine since he had had sexual intercourse. I thought, in other words, if the time of sexual intercourse could be determined then it was probable that he died within three hours of that. I should explain, perhaps, that the ordinary investigation, the temperature of the body and development of stiffness, rigor mortis, had indicated that he must have been dead for 24 hours and, of course, after that time estimations of time of death become much more inaccurate than when the body is freshly dead'.
When he was further examined, he noted that John O'Shea had certainly died within 48 hours of his examination.
When he was further asked about whether he saw anything in the room that might have enlightened his view as a pathologist, he said, 'Well, I could see no weapon sir. I did see some blood on the wall which could have come from a weapon, it was a spray of blood such as one gets from a weapon, and that rather supported the opinion which I formed later that the wound on the head was due to at least two blows close together and, indeed, the character of the fracture of the skull, the marked re-shattering of bone, again suggested two blows rather than one'.
The Coroner then observed, 'And yet fairly accurately superimposed on each other?' to which the pathologist replied, 'Yes, remarkably accurately superimposed'.
The Coroner then asked about the blood spray that was found and the pathologist pointed out that it was in the photograph that showed the chimney place, saying that the blood spray was in the top left hand corner on the wall between the mirror and the edge of the chimney piece.
When the Coroner asked the pathologist whether he thought that it was possible that the wound could have been cause by an accident, the pathologist said, 'Well, I have considered that possibility and I really can't say that it could possibly be an accident'. He also said that he did not think that it could have been self-inflicted.
When the pathologist was asked what type of weapon he thought would have been used he said that he thought that a hammer was the most likely thing.
When the pathologist was asked whether he thought that the injuries had been caused by a left-handed man he said, 'It is tempting to suggest it was made by a left-handed man from behind, but it can be nothing more than a suggestion, it could have been caused by a right-handed person from the front'.
The Coroner then said, 'And also, I suppose, the spray happened with the raising ot the weapon for the second blow and would be more likely possibly to be from a right handed person?', to which the pathologist responded, 'Yes, possibly'.
It was then noted that the pathologist had initially said that John O'Shea's cause of death was due to asphyxia due to vomit caused by the fracture of the skull, but he later said that in fact the cause of death was the skull fracture.
A cleaner at the inquest who gave evidence said that she had had sexual intercourse with John O'Shea on the night he died.
She had lived in Leffern Road in Shepherds Bush and said that she had first met John O'Shea just before Christmas 1955 but didn't know his name. She said that she remembered seeing him between 9.30pm and 10pm on 27 April 1956 in the Hammersmith Palace Tavern, saying that at the time he had been wearing a gabardine mac. She said that she remembered the date because it was her smaller brother's birthday. She said that she was not with him for more than five minutes from the time they met to the time he left her during which time they had sexual intercourse. She said that he had appeared normal and was not drunk and that he left her at the corner of the Hammersmith Palace Tavern. She added that she didn't know how much money he had had on him at the time and said that that was the last that she saw of him.
In her statement of 1959 she said:
'I live in Brackenbury Road, Hammersmith, W6. I am a married woman. I first met the man in his photograph when I used to go out at night about three years ago. I met him nearly every fortnight. I used to meet him at the top of Leamore Street, Hammersmith. I saw in a paper that he had been killed. I last met him on 27th April 1956. I read about him being killed in the West London a week later. On 27th April I met him on the corner of Leamore Street and King street. We went down Leamore Street. It was about 10pm We went into a basement at the back of Froys. I had intercourse with him. I was with him about 5 minutes. When we left the basement we went different ways. I used to go out about 9 o’clock. It took about ten minutes to get to Leamore Street. I walked down King Street. I think it was somewhere about 10pm when I met him. I dont know if he had a lot of money when I met him on this occasion'.
The general foreman at the company that John O'Shea worked for, John Green Limited, said that he had known John O'Shea for about six years and described him as a very willing and conscientious worker and a pretty good time keeper who really kept himself to himself and didn't mix a lot with anybody in particular and was very quiet.
When the Coroner asked the general foreman whether he knew anything about John O'Shea's money affairs he said that he didn't know about always, but said that on one particular occasion John O'Shea had come into the office with a query about his wages, noting that he thought that it was about three weeks before his murder. The general foreman said that when John O'Shea came in that he asked him for his packet so that he could query it and said that as John O'Shea got it out that a roll of notes fell out of John O'Shea's clothing and on to the office floor, and estimated that he must have had between £80 to £100 on him, saying that he thought that it was a roll of £1 notes.
The general foreman said that he had previously tried to advise John O'Shea to put his money away as it was a known fact that John O'Shea carried money on him and said that when he did so John O'Shea had told him that he was shortly going home to Ireland for a holiday and that there was the possibility that he might not return back to London.
He said that the he thought that the last time that John O'Shea was paid was on the Thursday 26 April 1956 and that he would have been paid about £13.
When the police gave evidence at the inquest in 1956 they said that they had made extensive enquiries resulting in about 2,000 people being spoken to and about 1,200 statements being taken, including from people across the provinces and Ireland.
The police said that they thought that the motive was robbery, noting that all of John O'Shea's money was missing apart from £2 10s which they found in a jacket that was hanging behind his bedroom door. They said that they thought that his murderer had taken approximately £100 from his wallet.
John O'Shea's friend that had previously lodged with him between August and December 1955 said that he often saw John O'Shea's wallet and described it as follows:
Folding wallet, very old, black colour, about five to six inches long and about four to four and a half inches wide when closed. It had no fastener, but O'Shea usually had an elastic band round it or tied with ordinary twine to keep it closed. I saw both the elastic band and the twine on it together at any time. I cannot say definitely what it was actually tied with on the last occasion I saw it, but it was either the elastic band or the twine as described above.
I am satisfied hat John P O'Shea always carried about £200. 0. 0. in his wallet at all times. When he had his working clothes on, he carried the wallet in his hip pocket. I never saw him taking the wallet out of his hip pocket anywhere other than in the room where he lodged. I cannot say what pocket he carried the wallet in when he was wearing his good clothes. I was in a public house with John P O'Shea about three or four times, but on those occasions he paid for the drinks with loose change which he had in his pocket'.
When the Coroner questioned the police he asked, 'And I think if we turn to photograph No. 3 it shows two drawers, or rather one long drawer divided into two sections, opened, and there seem to be some papers on the bed, one of them has got 'hair' written on it, something to do with hair restorer. Does that suggest someone had pulled things out of the drawer?', to which the police replied, 'Yes, that drawer had been ransacked and part of the contents thrown on the bed'.
They also acknowledged that John O'Shea's pockets had been turned out.
When the Coroner summed up at the inquest he said:
'Well, now gentlemen, you have heard the evidence in this case of Mr John O'Shea. He was aged 43, a single man, and he was of Irish nationality, and he was working in this country, as you have heard, as a labourer, and he lived in this lodging house at 22 Cambridge Grove, Hammersmith, and had lived there some little time. The lodging house was let out in rooms as you have heard, occupied, as testified by the landlady, by men of Irish birth, and they did not seem to mix with each other very freely, they knew each other by sight and don't seem to have known a very great deal about each other's affairs. Now, on the night of Saturday, 28th April, 1956, that is to say about two months ago, John O'Shea was found lying dead in his room at 22 Cambridge Grove. You have seen a photograph of the attitude in which he was found and you have seen a photograph of the wound on the head which, in the opinion of the pathologist, killed him.
So you have a healthy man, a labourer, who was a quiet, respectable kind of person from all accounts, who died from head injuries, which in the pathologists opinion could not have been self-inflicted. The pathologist thinks that this is only surmise, it can't be absolutely proved, but he does think that the wounds were caused by some kind of instrument such as a hammer, and he further thinks from the nature of the wound, and I think for yourselves you can see from the spray of blood which was seen on the wall by the mirror which is where the deceased man was lying, that there were probably two blows delivered in much the same place, which killed Mr O'Shea. There is no suggestion that at the time of death he was drunk. It was probably at least 24 hours before the time he was found, according to the pathologists computation, that O'Shea was killed, and we can fix that a little bit more accurately from the evidence of the cleaner who tells us that she had intercourse with Mr O'Shea between 9.30 and 10 on the night of the 27th, which is the night that he was presumably killed, and that can be very well fixed because the pathologist found in the dead man's urethra, that is the channel leading to the outside along his penis, spermatozoa, and had he passed water subsequently to that and being killed, these would most certainly have been washed away. There was, you will remember, evidence that his bladder was half-filled with urine, so it does suggest he was killed between the time he left the cleaner, which was not later than 10 o’clock, and the time it would take a normal person to want to pass water, to be uncomfortable, so that does fit in concert with the pathologists findings as to temperature and so forth. It does fix the time he died with reasonable accuracy at between 10pm on the Friday 27th and one in the morning of Saturday 28th so he met his death at some time between 10 o'clock and 1 in the morning, on the night of Friday to the Saturday.
There is considerable absence of disturbance in that room apart from the deceased man, and I think you may very well think it unlikely that a powerful man of 43m and you will remember he cleaner told us in her opinion that at 10 o’clock at any rate he was quite sober, and the pathologist has found no evidence to the contrary in his post-mortem, and that was a thing which he did look for particularly, you may think it unlikely that a powerfully built man of 43 would have failed to put up a fight, which suggests that his assailant was a man whom he knew at any rate as an acquaintance, and who he was perhaps not entirely surprised to see, but we have heard there are a very large number of people with whom he came in contact, and we have heard that he was known at his work at least two years, and the general foreman, had known him for some six years, during which time he would have come in contact with people at his place of work and locality whom he might have known, so that does not really help a tremendous amount, and you can be very sure that the detective and members of the CID have had that consideration very strongly in mind. You have heard the detective tell us that they have, in fact, interviewed somewhere round 1,200 persons in this connection. Anyway, there were a very large number, so it does suggest it might have been, only might have been, some person whom he knew reasonably well. I think you can see for yourselves from the position of the body, it is in the way in which a man might have been sitting, when he was struck.
The second point in connection with this matter is that you have heard, again, the general foreman say that O'Shea had a reputation for carrying large sums of money on him, and if this was well known at work there is really no reason at all why other people should not have known about this too, and we have heard his brother-in-law say he was wishing to go back to Ireland, from whence he came, because he liked it better, because he was going to buy a farm, and had entered into some sort of negotiations for this very purpose, and you don’t buy farms, even a very small one, without a reasonable amount of money, and it does seem that this fact that O'Shea was a man who had some money at any rate, will be known to very large numbers of people. Anyway, whether he had money or not, the point surely is that he had a reputation for having sums of money, which is far more important than the reality. It is not really necessary to prove the fact if people thought that he might have.
Now, in addition, the possible motive for this man being found killed is borne out further by the fact that practically no money was found in his room at all at the time. We know he received £13 a the time he was killed. In the photographs as pointed out by the Superintendent, there is a drawer in his room which has been ransacked, which suggested someone in that room was looking for, and in fact probably found, money.
Now you can be quite sure that the CID have had all these considerations very much in mind indeed, and that during the last two months they have been very actively engaged indeed trying to find some clue or trace somebody who might have carried out this particular crime. Unfortunately, their efforts have not met with any success.
Now it therefore remains with you, as a Coroner's Jury, to return your verdict to what you think was the cause of death of Mr O'Shea, and I don't think you will find very much difficulty about that. I think the second part of your duty is to name a person or persons who could have, if you find that this blow was struck by some other person, struck O'Shea, and I am afraid it is not possible on the evidence which has been given before you this morning. You will have an opportunity to discuss the matter amongst yourselves, and there are really three things which are your duty. One is to find the identity of the deceased person. That is quite easy. We know how he died, and that is from asphyxia due to inhalation of vomit as a result of being rendered unconscious by fracture of the skull. We know that from the pathologists and indeed all the evidence you have had before you today, this wound could not have been self-inflicted, and it follows it was some other person or persons. If, indeed, this fracture of the skull was produced by another person striking Mr O'Shea, your verdict is one of murder. There doesn't seem to be any indication at all to suggest who that person or persons might have been. It will be your duty to say that the murder was carried out by a person or persons unknown, which is, in fact, an open verdict, it is not complete. I will now leave it to you to consult among yourselves and if you are agreeable on your verdict, let me know'.
The foreman of the jury then returned with the verdict that John O'Shea met his death by some person or persons unknown and that it was murder.
During the police investigation the police appealed for anyone who had had a lodger disappear to come forward.
It was further reported that during a reconstruction of the murder, it was determined that the front door to the building would not be closed during the evening so that tenants could come and go and that as such anyone could have slipped in.
The police said that they thought that there were people that had known John O'Shea who had not come forward.
During the investigation five cinemas in Hammersmith showed slides appealing for information about his murder. The five cinemas were the Hammersmith Gaumont, the Commodore, the Regal, the Broadway and the Classic. The police also broadcast a similar appeal over loudspeakers at Woolwich Stadium on Monday night to about 20,000 spectators at a hurling match at which most of the spectators were Irish.
John O'Shea was described as a devout Catholic. His father was dead but his brother with whom his mother lived, farmed about 62 acres of mountain land. The O'Shea farm at Shanacashel was said to have 15 to 20 arable acres and the farmhouse was described as being a one-story building with a corrugated and thatched roof.
John O'Shea was described by his brother as having been a quiet and inoffensive boy that would play the melodeon at local dances. It was also reported that he had two sisters who lived in West London.
His brother said that there had been some discussion with the owner of a 64 acre farm that the owner wanted £500 for but it was said that the owner had wanted to continue to live in the farm house and that that had not suited John O'Shea.
His brother said that John O'Shea used to play his accordion at local dances although he didn't dance himself, and that he would also fish in the nearby river for trout.
It was reported that John O'Shea's main amusement was to sit in his room alone playing the accordion and humming to himself the music of a wide repertoire of Irish songs. He was also known as 'Squeeze-Box Kerry'.
It was reported that he had bought the piano-accordion second hand and that for nearly four months he had used to practice in his room. It was further reported that he always made sure that his fellow lodgers did not object, but it was heard that during the week before he died there had been objections after he had played the same tune every time, 'The Mountain of Mourne', after which he tried another melody, 'The Kerry Dancers'. However, it was further noted that nobody heard him playing on the Friday or Saturday.
It was thought that he might have been murdered by someone that he had arranged to meet in his room and that the man that had murdered John O'Shea might have pretended to have been fond of music and to have asked to hear him play the accordion.
It was also reported that John O'Sheas would to go to Irish dances and club evenings to sit and listen to traditional Irish music and that he would be 'delighted' if a stranger would go back to his room and listen to him play the tunes on his wheezy second-hand accordion. It was additionally reported that it was almost certainly such a man, whether stranger of friend, who had killed him.
One of his elder sisters was reported as saying, 'If only John had taken my advice and put his money in the bank I am sure this terrible thing would never have happened. When I tried to persuade him not to keep so much money in his room he did not take any notice. He was so honest and trusting himself that he did not believe anyone would be so wicked as to steal his money'. She added that John O'Shea had been saving all his life and thought that he had had about £400 in his room.
However, it was later reported on Friday 15 June 1956 that John O'Shea had left a four-figure estate believed to have been worth well over £1,000, that sum not including the £2-300 thought to have been stolen from his room. A solicitor in Killorglin Co Kerry was appointed to administer his estate. It was also reported that he had nearly £300 in a savings bank account.
It was reported that after the discovery of the crime that crowds were constantly round the house.
John O'Shea's body was later taken to Ireland for burial after a requiem mass had been held at St Augustine's Church in Hammersmith and he was buried in a little cemetery at his home near to the farm that he had been saving up to buy.
John O'Shea's mother later showed the press one of the last letters that John O'Shea had written to her which read, 'Dear Mother, Just a line in reply to your letter received this evening. I was wondering what was wrong when you were not writing. I knew you were sick, as everybody is laid up here and in Ireland. I had a bad cold in my chest, but I am better now, Thanks God. I was not off any day with it'. His mother added that he had sent her a more recent letter in which he had expressed an intention to come home the following week, but she said that she had destroyed it. She said, 'He always came home every Christmas until the last one. Then he remained in England, as it was his intention to return home for good this summer'.
It was later suggested that John O'Shea's murderer might have fled to Ireland and it was also reported that it was hoped that he might be caught at a port as he did so.
It was reported on 9 May 1957 that every Irish man that came into custody was being asked to consent to having their fingerprints taken in an effort to trace John O'Shea's murderer.
In 1958 it was reported that the police had recovered a partial fingerprint from a worn concertina that was found in his room, it being said that the killer had ripped open the concertina looking for money. The report stated that Scotland Yard men were waiting in pubs and cafes for a suspected killer's fingerprints to be left on a beer glass or teacup, which they were then hoping to compare to the partial print that they had found. It was further reported that the police had been shadowing a suspect for two years and that they were confident of arresting him and his blonde girlfriend on a charge of joint murder within seven days. It was further reported that the blonde woman was known to have visited John O'Shea at his flat in Cambridge Grove the night before his death after she and her boyfriend had met John O'Shea in a Hammersmith bar. It was also reported that five detectives were at the time stalking the killer, but that had said that his 'shadow' changed every week. It was additionally reported that the police had hoped for two years that they hoped that the killer or his girlfriend would make the one slip in conversation.
It was also reported that a number of payslips were also found torn up in his room.
After the man went to the offices of the Empire News in August 1959 to confess he was charged with John O'Shea's murder and sent for trial. However, he later withdrew his confession and said that he had been smoking reefers and taking the drug preludin for about two and a half years and had become fed up with life. He said that he smoked the reefers because they made him happy and had been taking about twenty preludin tablets a day which gave him the courage to make the statement that he made.
It was noted that the man had been arrested the year before under a different name for carrying an offensive weapon, a sheath knife, for which he pleaded guilty. The medical doctor at HMP Brixton that examined him reported on 12 October 1959:
'He has been kept under close observation since his reception into prison on 27.8.58.
I have observed and examined him, have received reports from the Officers who have had nursing charge of him, have been supplied with details as to his early history and have had many interviews with him.
I first met this man in October of last year when he was remanded in custody for a week for mental observation. At that time he was charged with being in possession of an offensive weapon, a sheath knife. He had pleaded guilty. No details were known as to his previous history but his demeanour suggested to the Court that a report on his mental state might be of assistance. He gave me a history which I now know to be completely false, that his parents had been killed in an air raid, that he had no relations and that he had been working as a dock labourer in Liverpool and was simply in London on holiday. At that time it was clear to me that he was being untruthful and his whole manner was suggestive of mental disorder to such an extent that I was extremely suspicious that he was in fact an escapee from a Mental Hospital. My report to the Learned Magistrates at Clerkenwell Magistrates' Court on 21 October 1958 was to this effect:
At court, however, he was given a conditional discharge.
When he came under my care on this occasion on 27th August 1959, he had an apparently clear memory of being here before and of the narrative he then gave me. He said that since then he had simply knocked around with no fixed abode. He then went on to volunteer that he was here for murdering a man called O'Shea in 1956 and that he gave himself up because he was 'going off his rocker and taking drugs, marihuana'. He then went on to inform me that in 1953 he had nearly killed a man in Dublin and had 12 months' imprisonment for it, and that this feeling got hold of him and he had no power to resist it, that he was weak willed. He told me how he had gone to the office of a newspaper and how they told him to think it over and come back in a week, but that he went back on the following Wednesday when the police were informed. He then gave me a detailed narrative of how this alleged murder was committed. His manner and general demeanour on this occasion was strongly suggestive of mental abnormality, and indeed, almost exactly the same picture she presented when I had seen him a year before, but he was, to some extent more cooperative. He told me that he got times when he went very moody, by this he clearly meant depressed, and in this phase, he volunteered, if he had a weapon he'd use it. He had no girlfriends, he slept badly, he spent his evenings mostly in public houses or night-clubs looking at people but finding himself unable to mix with them or converse. Also that he had thought of going into a mental hospital for treatment for depression, and at these times he would like to see somebody dead with blood all over the place, as it gave him a superior feeling.
He told me also that he had taken marihuana, or Indian hemp and when under the influence of this drug he could hear people calling his name or shouting at him and saying, 'watch him', he also added that when he had marijuana he felt '10 ft tall and owns the world'. At this interview he was very tense, manneristic, suspicious and, on certain points, very evasive, particularly on those questions I put to him that appeared to suggest mental abnormality.
For about a week after he came in this was his general attitude. He showed mild phases of depression, at other times he was sullen or suspicious and did not sleep very well, but reports as to his behaviour in the ward do not indicate other overt abnormality. Owing to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to see him for some time and then the whole picture had completely changed.
He told me that his statement was not true, that he made it when he was drunk and under the influence of 'reefers' (marijuana) and preludin and that he was under the influence of these drugs when he made a statement to the press an and the police officer. Questioned as to how he got the drugs he showed many inconsistencies. He certainly knew something about them and how they can be obtained, but the whole story of this aspect of his case was unconvincing. He then gave me a history which confirmed more or less the details of certain antecedents as known to the police.
He was born in Dublin and after a period of three years as a mechanical crane driver he went to the docks. Then, since 1948, he has had a number of convictions and he informed me that he came to England in 1957 and since then has been twice in prison, coming out on the last occasion in June this year. He repeated his story that when he went to the newspaper office he was under the influence of drugs and that he was still under the influence when he made his statement to the police. When I pointed out that when he gave me his narrative on August 27th he told me exactly the same story he said that he was still under the influence of the drugs. I do not think he was. He admits to attacks of depression. He appears to have an improper appreciation of the situation and when I asked him at a later interview if he did in fact realise how serious his position was, his reply was, 'You cannot help me because I did not do it', adding that he was in Dublin at the time and only read about it. He said that he was not at that time taking any drugs.
In discussing his statement about the attacks of depression and asked about suicide, he said that maybe confessing to murder maybe destroying himself.
This is a case of quite exceptional difficulty. In October of last year he was mentally in an abnormal state, the degree of which was hard to assess. This was equally true of his mental state when he first came under my care. I believe this man to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, probably a slowly developing and insidious form of the disease and that he suffered from transient attacks of depression. This schizophrenic illness is subject to phases of exacerbation and remission and in the phase of exacerbation it would be within the realm of possibility that he would imagine himself to be a participant in an episode, in his particular case, an episode involved in violence. On the other hand, there is nothing in his story that would negative the fact that in his schizophrenic phases he could tell the truth as to past events, and on his first narrative to he certainly did seem to give me a very convincing and detailed description of his movements and actions relative to the charge. There is no suggestion on his part that he was under the influence of drink or drugs at that time.
When asked how he remembered the affairs in such detail after a lapse of three years he says that maybe he saw a paper account just before going to the newspaper office, and then says his whole confession was an act of bravado due to his being under the influence of drugs.
He is still very suspicious, imagines that I am out to trap him but in what way is not known except that he resents any questions put to him the answer to which might indicate mental morbidity. I can but summarise by saying that when this man was under my care a year ago he was mentally very abnormal. When he first came under my care on this present occasion he was in a similar state but is recovering although there is strong paranoid schizophrenic contamination in his thought processes. It is also of some significance that tests to determine his intelligence quotient show that he has been of average intelligence but some of his responses show deterioration such as is typically found associated with disease of the brain in its early stages.
I have found nothing to suggest that if he did in fact commit the offence he was at the time suffering from any diseases of the mind such as would prevent him from knowing what he was doing or that it was wrong nor is there any evidence that at that time he was suffering from any mental state induced by disease as would substantially impair his responsibility for his acts or omissions.
At this moment he could not be considered insane and he is fit to plead to the indictment and fit to stand his trial'.
It was noted that the Reference section of Hammersmith Library in Brook Green Road, W6 kept a permanent file of all copies of the West London Observer Newspaper which was kept bound in yearly volumes and it was determined that a man had taken the volume out on 26 August 1959. The librarian that signed the record book for its use said that the volume was bound in a grey cover and had a black spine and a triangular black piece at the corner with 'West London Observer. 1956' in gold letters on the spine. She said that she could not remember who asked for it but said that she thought that it had been a man noting that she could not remember a woman ever having asked for it.
Similar inquiries were made at the Hammersmith Central Library where requests for back numbers of the West London Observer for 1956 were made, with particular reference to dates between 1 May 1956 and 29 June 1956 and it was found that in 1959 there were three requests:
In 1958 there were no requests.
In 1957 there were five relevant requests:
It was noted that in 1956 there were 56 requests for copies of the West London Observer of which approximately two-thirds were for the current weekly copy, with the remainder being for back numbers in 1956, in particular on 11.12.56, No 45, there was a request for copies of the West London Observer between April and July 1956.
It was noted that for the trial the police took copies of all the entries in the West London Observer relating to the case in evidence for the trial.
However, after the man was acquitted, no further developments were made.
see National Archives - CRIM 1/3252, DPP 2/2995, MEPO 2/10024
see A Calendar Of Murder, Criminal Homicide In England Since 1957, Terence Morris and Louis Blom-Cooper
see "Crime Confession 'Under Drugs'." Times [London, England] 2 Dec. 1959: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Tuesday 01 December 1959
see Hammersmith & Shepherds Bush Gazette - Friday 29 June 1956