Unsolved Murders

Daisy Edith Wallis

Age: 36

Sex: female

Date: 15 Aug 1949

Place: 157 High Holborn, WC2, London

Source: find.galegroup.com

Daisy Edith Wallis was found stabbed to death in her office on Monday 15 August 1949.

She had been stabbed five times and strangled. Her post-mortem stated that she died from shock, blood-loss and multiple organ-failure. One stab wound had penetrated her heart.

It was thought that she had been stabbed by a thin bladed paper knife from her own desk and the police said that they were searching for the weapon. The hunt for the murder weapon was extended around Holborn to include Drury Lane, Covent Garden and Oxford Street and was carried out by large squads of officers who were assisted by dustmen who hunted through bombed yards and refuse bins.

She had been wearing a pink rayon dress. When she was found she was fully dressed and there was no sign of any sexual assault having taken place. Her clothes were described as crumpled, but not torn, and distressed, but not removed.

She was described as a thin but well-developed woman of about 5ft 5in and about 8 stone in weight. She was described as having been in good health at the time except that she suffered from rheumatism at times.

The police said that they had no motive for her murder. They said that they thought that the murderer had gone into her office just before 7pm as she was working late. A chief superintendent that reconstructed the crime said that he thought that the man had lunged at Daisy Wallis with a knife and that she had grabbed the phone to call the police and that the man had then snatched the telephone away from her and that she had then screamed and he had grasped her throat to silence her.  He said that he thought that that the murderer had slashed his own hands in the fight resulting in him splashing blood on the walls and stairs as he fled.

A man's fingerprints were found on some of the furniture, the telephone and the doorknob, but they were never identified.

The police were said to have taken several articles away from the office for examination, including two wooden office chairs, the seat of one of which was smashed. They also took the telephone away.

Daisy Wallis had run her own business, The Adelphi Secretarial Agency, where she was murdered. The police interviewed all the people that were known to be on her books and appealed for all men that were registered with her bureau who had not been questioned to come forward.

She had lived in Cornwall Gardens in Willesden with her parents. She was said to have been a clean living woman with no debts or bad habits and who maintained her own close circle of friends, although she was also described as having had a very wide circle of friends.

Daisy Wallis was a member of six London clubs and the police visited them in order to find any sources of information regarding her murder. The clubs were:

  • The Victoria Wells Theatrical Association.
  • The Players Theatre Club.
  • The London Film Club.
  • The Strathcona Club in Lancaster Gate.
  • The Overseas League.
  • The Hanger Hill Country Club.

However, the police said that their enquiries produced little more than confirmation that Daisy Wallis was a retiring cultured woman who spent an occasional hour with her friends.

She had started her business on 25 January 1949 in an office on the top floor of 157 High Holborn using money from her own savings after which she still had over £300 left.

The building had three floors and six offices. There was no receptionist and the building had one entrance which was shared by the other offices. The other businesses were a tailor, a dress-maker, a theatre agent and a fruit importer.

Her office was on the top floor, next to the fruit importer's office, and the room was small, being 11ft by 8ft. The room was furnished with just a chair, filing cabinet, rug, telephone, typewriter and duplicating machine and had a view out of the window over Dunn's Passage which was an alley between High Holborn and New Oxford Street.

Her business dealt with secretaries seeking positions, but she also carried out some printing work.

Her time in the office was described as uneventful, although on 10 June 1949, an opportunist thief broke into her office and stole her typewriter. The thief was questioned over Daisy Wallis's death, but it was found that at the time of her murder on 15 August 1949 that he had been in prison serving a 12-month sentence.

Daisy Wallis hired an assistant on Wednesday 10 August 1949 and Monday 15 August 1949 was the assistants first day at work with Daisy Wallis.

Daisy Wallis started the day at 7am when she got up and dressed in her pink rayon dress, black overcoat, black hat, stockings and shoes and left for work after breakfast just after 8am. From Cornwall Gardens, where she lived, she walked to Willesden Green Library where she got a bus to Notting Hill Gate tube station where she then took a tube to Holborn station, arriving at 157 High Holborn at 9am. When she arrived, as usual, the other occupants of the building were in and the office door was unlocked and open.

Her new assistant arrived shortly after at about 9.30am and after spending the morning explaining her system to her new assistant the pair went for lunch at 1pm to Rucco’s cafe where Daisy Wallis had a meal of meat, tomatoes and bread.

After they returned to the office, Daisy Wallis had three appointments, all of whom were female and all of whom had been secretaries looking for positions. It was noted that the three women were later questioned by the police and found to not be involved with her murder.

The last of Daisy Wallis's three appointments was a shorthand typist who had lived in West Court in North Wembley. She said that she had called at Daisy Wallis's office at about 5.15pm on the Monday 15 August 1949 and had been with her for about half an hour with regard to employment as a shorthand typist. She said that during that time she heard Daisy Wallis take a telephone call, noting that it appeared to be an ordinary business call. She said that when she left the office at about 5.50pm she noticed that the door to the pavement was open.

The other occupants all left at various times throughout the day.

  • The tailor left the building at 1am and didn't return until the next day.
  • The dressmaker left at 2.30pm and didn't return until the next day.
  • The theatre agent's secretary left at 12am and didn't return until the next day.
  • The fruit importer said that he popped his head round Daisy Wallis's door at 4.40pm to ask her a question about workman’s compensation and had a two-minute conversation with her and that he then left. His story was corroborated by the new assistant that had been in Daisy Wallis's office with her at the time.

A woman said that she telephoned Daisy Wallis's office at 6.20pm at Daisy Wallis's request, noting that although Daisy Wallis was usually quick to answer her phone, that the phone rang for about a minute and that she was about to hang-up when a man with a gruff voice answered. She said that when he answered he asked her abruptly who it was, and that when she asked whether it was the agency, the man replied, 'yeah what do you want?', and that when she asked whether Daisy Wallis was there he said, 'no, it’s a bit late to be phoning, besides she’s gone'. The woman said that she then said that she would call again the following day and said that the man replied in a rather rude manner, 'yeah, phone earlier next time' and then hung up.

It was noted that the identity of the man was never determined and that he could have been the murderer.

At about the same time. 6.30pm, a 19-year-old girl and her 16-year-old sister had been in their bedroom at the back of 158 High Holborn when they heard the sound of a woman screaming. However, they said that as the area was busy and near two pubs, they didn't think much of it. They later said that the cries had seemed to include the word 'murder'.

Shortly after, a husband and wife were walking along Dunn’s Passage which was beside 157 High Holborn at about 6.45pm, when they heard the sound of a woman gasping and sobbing and were then nearly knocked over by a man who was rushing off from the area. They described the man as being in his mid-twenties, about 5ft 4in tall, with a stocky build, dark hair, possibly sideboards, and a swarthy complexion. They said that he was well dressed and wearing an open-necked white tennis shirt, brown trousers and had been carrying a camel hair jacket as though he had had something to hide. The wife said, 'He was coming towards me at very great speed, and I had to stand to one side, press myself against the wall, to let him pass'.

When the wife was asked at the inquest by the coroner whether she had a look at the man, the wife said, 'Yes. He had to pull up so suddenly that I was able to get a very good view of him. I would say he was between 25-30, perhaps 28. I was able to give a description to the police. He was clean-shaven, not an unkempt person, quite well groomed. He had an open-necked white shirt on, and I had the impression that he had a sports coat under his arm, as if he had tucked it there un emergency. There was a little bit sticking out under his arm. He was not wearing a coat. One thing which impressed itself on my memory was that his right hand was clasped over his left wrist, as if he was either hiding, or shielding, or holding something'.

At the inquest, the coroner said, 'It would be interesting if the man came forward and it might be found that he happened to be somebody who was hurrying up the passage. That would get rid of the line of inquiry which otherwise plays an important part in the police inquiries. But he has not come forward. Without doubt this is murder. Motive? We know none'.

Daisy Wallis was found the following day dead in her office. She would ordinarily have got home by about 7.30pm and if she was going to meet a friend after work would ordinarily call her parents who she lived with to let them know, but would otherwise be home in that case by 11pm. Daisy Wallis's mother said that she became worried after Daisy Wallis failed to come home and that the following morning, 26 August 1949, she called the office at 157 High Holborn to see if Daisy Wallis was there but found that the line was engaged. She said, 'The operator at the telephone exchange told me that the phone was off the hook, so I guessed something was wrong'.

Later on that morning, the new assistant turned up for her second day at work at about 9.25am but found that the main door to the office was locked and so she called the office, but got no reply and then went to a nearby cafe where she waited there until she noticed that the door was open. In the meantime, before the new assistant notice that the door was open, at 9.45am, the dressmaker turned up for work. However, her office was on the second floor and she saw nothing suspicious. Later at 9.55am, the fruit-importer arrived and went into his office on the third floor next to Daisy Wallis's office, but saw nothing suspicious.

Daisy Wallis's new assistant who had been in the cafe drinking coffee then noticed that the office door was open and entered 157 High Holborn and went up to the third floor office of The Adelphi Secretarial Agency and then saw Daisy Wallis dead on the floor beside her desk.

The police were then called at 10.02am and arrived at the scene at 10.06am. They said that there were no signs of a forced entry, noting that the rim-lock and hasp on the outside of the office door was in order and that the padlock and key were where Daisy Wallis had left them the day before, on the top of the cupboard.

The police later found faint traces of smeared blood on the wall of the stairwell on the third floor, and determined that it was type 'O', which was the same type as Daisy Wallis's blood and very common. It was suggested that the murderer might have slipped as he was going down the stairs.

The police found no signs of disorder in Daisy Wallis's office, noting that there was still a half-drunk cup of tea there and that her files were all still neatly stacked and that some fresh flowers were still there in a vase.

The only signs of disorder were the phone that was off the hook and dangling from the front of the desk and her chair which was pushed back a bit which had resulted in the red rug becoming ruffled. The telephone number for the office was Holborn 7155.

The police also noted that nothing appeared to have been taken either, saying that her handbag was still there unopened, that her jewellery was untouched and that her typewriter and duplicating machine were still in place. They also noted that none of her cupboards had been ransacked, that no cash that was present had been taken and no other valuables were noted as being missing, and concluded that as such, no robbery had taken place.

Daisy Wallis's body was found slumped by her desk about three feet from the door, lying face up and on her back, with her legs bent-back and to her side. Her arms were raised as though to her head and a pool of blood had spread across the floor under her torso. The police said that from the state of her rigormortis that they thought that she had been dead for at least sixteen hours and that she had been stabbed the previous evening.

She had been stabbed five times and had other wounds to her arms, hands and cheeks and had defence wounds to the palms of her hands indicating that she had attempted to defend herself by grasping the knife.

It was said, 'She obviously put up a reasonably good defence. She had grasped the weapon and held her arm up to defend herself'.

She had three stab wounds to her back, one below her left shoulder that had exited via her armpit, one stab wound that had fractured her forth dorsal vertebrae and fourth rib, and another stab wound to her right shoulder that had cracked her ninth rib and torn through into her right lung.  She had two other stab wounds, one below her left nipple that had broken her seventh rib and entered her liver, stomach and left kidney and another stab wound that had entered her left breast that had broken her fifth rib and gone through her left lung and pierced her heart.

After stabbing her, her assailant had then strangled her with blood stained hands, leaving hand marks around her neck.

The pathologist said that it appeared that she had been stabbed by a relatively taller person, or that she had been sitting down at the time that she was attacked.

Her post-mortem revealed that Daisy Wallis showed no signs to suggest that she had been pregnant, had had an abortion, had suffered from any sexual disease and no surgical scars were found on her. The pathologist also noted that it did not appear that Daisy Wallis had had sex for at least several years, which was said to have been in keeping with her good morals and high standards.

It was later reported on Saturday 20 August 1949 that a chemist in the West End had come forward to say that he had treated a swarthy man of foreign or Italian appearance on the Tuesday, 16 August 1949 for cuts on his left arm. He said that the man answered to the description of the man that the couple had seen rushing out of Dunn's Passage and that he had appeared agitated.

The police also visited Daisy Wallis's home where they found a number of shorthand diaries, but but said that nothing material had been deciphered from them.

The police said that they had spoken to over 600 people during their investigation.

When the coroner returned a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown at the inquest at St Pancras on Friday 28 October 1949, he said, 'The fact that such a crime takes place in the middle of one of the most populous parts of London does not necessarily mean that the police with all their assiduity must succeed in finding who is responsible'.

The coroner also said, 'It is an unusual crime because the use of the knife in this country is not common, the use of the double-edged knife is possibly less common, and here this person has had seven wounds'.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see "News In Brief." Times [London, England] 29 Oct. 1949: 2. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see National Archives - MEPO 3/3140

see Belfast News-Letter - Monday 22 August 1949

see Portsmouth Evening News - Wednesday 17 August 1949

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 19 August 1949

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 17 August 1949

see Nottingham Journal - Wednesday 17 August 1949

see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 17 August 1949

see Gloucester Citizen - Wednesday 17 August 1949

see Daily Mirror - Friday 28 October 1949

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 27 October 1949

see Nottingham Evening Post - Friday 19 August 1949

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Saturday 20 August 1949

see Portsmouth Evening News - Friday 19 August 1949

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 20 August 1949

see Murder Mile Tours