Unsolved Murders

Alfred Oliver

Age: 60

Sex: male

Date: 22 Jun 1929

Place: 15 Cross Street, Reading

Alfred Oliver was killed in a robbery at his shop. He was a tobacconist. The murderer stole between £10 and £12.

It was thought that his killer had come into his shop and whilst being served had hit Alfred Oliver on the head over the counter before taking money from the till and leaving.

He was still alive when he was found shortly after and was taken to the hospital where he died the following day at 5.50pm.

It was initially thought that his killer might have been the same person that stole two fur coats from a motor-car in Broad Street, Reading soon after at 6pm. A description of the thief was given as that of a man between 30/40 years of age, 5ft. 7ins. tall, wearing a blue suit, clean shaven, red face and with a Scotch accent.

Cross street was described as being a short busy street consisting of shops and offices running between Broad Street and Friar Street which were the two main shopping thoroughfares in the town. Saturday was a market day and the Market Place was close by. In addition, on the Saturday that the crime took place the population of Reading was largely increased on account of the Ascot and Windsor race meetings.

Alfred Oliver's shop was about halfway down the street on the left-hand side going down from Friar Street, and consisted of a shop with a dining room behind and living apartments overhead. There was also a door at the side of the shop giving access to the private part of the premises via a long passage which itself also had a door at the other end that led into a small garden and then into the back courtyard which was known as Percey Place.

The shop extended left from the doorway to a counter that was 9ft. 6ins. long, and 3ft. high and 2ft. 6ins. wide. The counter ran from the shop and dining room along to the shop window which was enclosed by a wood partition.

There was a space between the end of the counter and the partition that would allow anyone to pass behind and thence into the dining area. Behind the counter there was about 2ft. 6ins. between it and the shelves containing stock at the back.

At the end of the counter Alfred Oliver had a chair that he could sit in and by glancing at a set of advertisement mirrors that hung on the wall between the shop and the dining area, in which he could see if anyone had entered his shop and be ready to serve them by the time they reached the counter. Anyone wanting to pass from the shop side to behind the counter would have had to have moved the chair to do so.

On the counter itself there were two large show cases, one used for tobacco and smoking accessories and the other for sweet stuffs in packets. There was 2ft. 6ins. between the two show cases and it was between them that most of the sales were conducted.

Behind the show case on the right that contained the sweets there were some scales, underneath which was the till, beneath the counter. In the till there were two bowls, one for silver and the other for copper. Notes were kept to either side of a piece of thick cardboard, £1 notes to one side and 10/- notes to the other, and were secured by an elastic band.

Behind the counter on the cigarette displays and between the show cases there was splattered blood for a width of 4ft. 2ins. and a height of 5ft. 6ins. from the ground. There were no blood stains on the floor on the public side of the shop and none on the counter.

It was noted that when assistance had been brought to Alfred Oliver, the chair had had to be moved and an examination of the rubber matting where the chair had been showed blood stains that corresponded to the feet of the chair indicating that the killer had not gone behind the counter via the gap and had not been behind the counter when he attacked Alfred Oliver, and as such that the killer had attacked Alfred Oliver while he had been in the act of serving at the centre of the counter.

Further examination of the shop found a blood-stained impression on the right hand show case and it was first thought to have been a thumb print.

Alfred Oliver had been married for nine years, which was his second marriage after his first wife had drowned herself some years before after the death of an only child.

Alfred Oliver and his wife were described as being supremely happy although with little outside life. Alfred Oliver was said to be chiefly concerned with his shop and his relaxation consisted of music. His trade was described as good and he had several customers of years standing although he did not have much passing trade.

His wife also had a business as a corsetiere although she used the private part of the house for that.

They were described as being financially sound, and Alfred Oliver as a man without an enemy who had conducted his business at the same address for 36 years.

On the day the shop was opened from 9am and business continued as usual until they had tea at 5pm. After tea Alfred Oliver's wife served in the shop from about 5.25pm to 5.50pm during which time she served several men customers. It was Alfred Oliver's habit to wash up after tea and he returned to the shop at 5.50pm at which time his wife went upstairs to do some domestic work. She said that she remembered hearing the clock strike 6pm when she went into the kitchen on the first floor and said that soon after she took her small Pekingese dog out into the courtyard of Percey Place where she remained until 6.15pm. She said that whilst outside she had spoken to the man from the first cottage in Percey Place and said that he admired her dog.

When she went back into the doorway of the dining room leading to the shop she saw Alfred Oliver in a sitting position on the floor with his back against the stock shelves and with his hand to his mouth holding a handkerchief in his hand. She said that there was also a large pool of blood on Alfred Oliver's right under the chair in which his false teeth were lying broken. His broken glasses were on the floor to his left along with a portion of the scales. Both the portion of scales and broken glasses were blood stained which indicated that they were knocked down by his killer when he reached over the counter to the till and that the bloodstain on the case was probably made by the killer when he was doing so.

Alfred Oliver's wife said that she asked Alfred Oliver what had happened and he had said 'I don't know darling'.

Alfred Oliver's wife said that she then retraced her steps through the dining room to the passage and then went out through the front door to the cafe a few doors away to get assistance.

A man then went into the shop and moved the chair that Alfred Oliver ordinarily sat in to get behind the counter and then helped to move Alfred Oliver into the dining room where he was attended to. A plain clothes policeman then arrived from the butcher’s shop and soon after the doctor. Alfred Oliver was still alive but could only mumble. An ambulance was then called and Alfred Oliver was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital. At the time Alfred Oliver was sufficiently conscious to say that he didn't want to go to hospital but agreed to after his wife persuaded him.

Alfred Oliver's wife then examined the till and found that all of the notes had been taken and estimated the amount to be between £10 and £12. The silver and copper appeared to be untouched.

The police remained with Alfred Oliver at the hospital in the hope that he might say something to help their enquiries but all he said at 9.05pm was, 'Sitting in shop, 6 or 5 past, reading book - A day from London to Penzance - remember no more'.  It was noted that that particular book was found open on a ledge under the counter close to his chair and it appeared that he had been reading the book when his assailant had entered and that he had put it down when he had gone forward to serve.

Numerous people were questioned without much success. The police took care to not to turn anyone away at the police station and took statements from everyone, even when they were known in advance to be of little value to the investigation, in order to create a favourable impression amongst the callers so that they in turn would induce other that might have information to come forward. In short, no one was turned away and every attention given.

Two other tobacconists gave a statement detailing they had had two suspicious men into their shop at 42 Caversham Road in Reading on the Saturday morning asking for an unknown brand of tobacco and behaving in such a way as to arouse suspicion and implicate them with the crime. They were both sent to look at the Crime Index but without luck.

The bloodstained showcase was also taken back to the Finger Print Department.

On 24 June 1929, at 4pm, a man gave himself up for the murder at Pangbourne Police station. Two policemen from the investigation went at once to interview the man who was a 61-year old tailor of no fixed abode, but the statement that he gave contained so many errors that they knew that he was making a bogus confession. He was drunk at the time and said that the crime took place at 9.30pm and described Alfred Oliver as have worn a beard. He eventually confessed that his story was untrue.

On 25 June 1929 a man went to the police and told them that he had handed over a cheque to Alfred Oliver for £1 drawn on Barclays Bank at Station Road in Reading at 1.45pm on 22 June 1929 and upon enquiry it was found that the cheque was missing from the till and enquiries were made to trace it. It was thought that the killer had either destroyed it or was holding on to it until a favourable time to cash it. Details of the cheque were published in the newspapers.

One statement that was thought of as important was that of a woman who said that she had gone past Alfred Oliver's shop at about 6.10pm and glanced in and saw a rather tall man, of middle age, with iron grey hair, respectably dressed and wearing a hat, standing in the doorway. She said that he had blood on his face as though he had had a nose bleed or had been fighting and appeared to be talking to someone in the shop. The police noted that the woman was an elderly lady and quite composed in manner and that her statement could probably be relied upon and that it would appear that in all probability, the man was probably the murderer.

Another woman said that she had seen a man run from Alfred Oliver's shop at about 6.08pm and go down towards Friar Street. She said that he was between 25 and 26 years of age, 5ft. 7ins. had a stocky build and was wearing a blue suit. It was noted that before she had given the man’s age as between 26-26 she had said that he was middle aged but had then corrected herself.

On 25 June 1929 a 20-year-old youth was interviewed at the police station. He said that he worked for a boot and shoe dealer in Broad Street, Reading, about ten minutes walk from Alfred Oliver's shop. He said that he had been allowed some time off work on the Saturday to visit his sister in hospital and returned to work at 3.45pm. He said that he continued on ordinary duty until he went to the Post Office in Friar Street which he reached at about 6.08pm. He said that to get there he had gone through Cross Street and that on the way back he decided to go into Alfred Oliver's shop to get some Players. He said that it was the first time that he had ever been in his shop and that he went to the counter with a half crown in his left hand but no one came to serve him and after knocking on the counter with his knuckles he thought he heard something and leaning over he saw Alfred Oliver on the floor. He said that Alfred Oliver was lying partly on his side or stomach with his legs close together, right foot on left, back to the counter and feet towards the dining room. However, he said that he became frightened and turned to leave the shop, and whilst looking over his shoulder said he thought he saw blood.

In his second statement, he said that he still had his half-crown in his hand when he got home.

When he got home his mother asked him what was wrong as he looked white and he told her what he had seen and said that it had frightened him. He also told her that Alfred Oliver had had a faint and had struck his head. He then changed and some friends went to see him and they later wanted to go to Cross street to see what was happening be he demurred at going. He told both his friends what he had seen although their accounts seemed to differ. In one account they said that the boy had said that he had gone to the post office on his bike and in the other he had not had his bike. Both his mother and his friends advised him to go to the police but he did not do so until the police brought him to the police station. His statements regarding his movements all seemed to corroborate. His clothes were closely examined but no blood was found. A policeman who questioned him said that he subjected him to close questioning twice but at both interviews he was quite resolute and his answers showed no signs of wavering. The police report states that it seemed incredible that a man of his age could leave a scene such as he had witnessed and not call for assistance and the policeman that questioned him stated that he was not satisfied that the boy had told them all he knew and added that they might be seeing him again.

The boy was later to have reported hitting his sister on the head with a jemmy but when questioned by the police he denied it and the story turned out to be gossip.

The police made an appeal in the press for information regarding any bloodstained notes and several people came forward but in all cases there were able to satisfy themselves that the stains were not blood. Ten people in total presented suspect notes.

Later on 29 June 1929 the police were informed that a man had said that he knew who did the murder. They went to interview him and he said that he knew three knife grinders who he described as being without money before the murder but had plenty the morning after. He said that he last saw them going in the direction of Andover and he thought that they had done the murder and added that two of them, who were brothers, had been in prison for violence. Enquiries were made but it was not thought that the men had been connected with the crime.

On 29 June 1929 a man was arrested for sleeping rough in Hyde Park and he had told the police that he had seen a man throw a bloodstained parcel over a railway bridge near Reading on the evening of 22 June 1929. The man was called in for questioning and he said that he had been standing on a railway bridge about two miles from Reading on the London side waiting to get a lift on a motor car for London after 7pm on 22 June when a man who he described and whom he said he had seen earlier at the Ascot races came up to him and after some conversation threw a parcel over the bridge and on to a passing goods train. The man had said that he noticed that when the parcel dropped it partly opened and he saw that it appeared to be bloodstained. He said that the man then walked away without saying why he had thrown the parcel away.

The man was later taken to the Sonning Cutting Railway Bridge where he pointed out the place where the parcel had been thrown which was above the down main line. The line was then searched and it was later determined that the train in question would have been composed of empty goods wagons going from Old Oak Common to various places in South Wales. The police then contacted the chief of Police of the Great Western Railway and every effort was made to trace the parcel but without success.

The man was asked to keep in touch with them through the police of the various towns that he went to and it was noted that since giving his evidence he had gone as far North as Lancashire and Yorkshire and was at the time the police report was written in Torquay. The report npted that the man appeared to spend his time riding about from place to place on any car he could get a lift by and that it was illuminating from the point of showing the ease with which tramps got about the country. The police report stated that his story could be true or it could have been mythical.

On 3 July 1929 a tinker was arrested at a lodging house for attempting to slash a man with a razor. When he was in custody he said that he thought he could help with the murder inquiry and said that he had met an Italian who had approached him with a plan to rob a shopkeeper in Reading and that later on the Saturday night the Italian had said to him 'Just done it for a fellow and I've got the poke'. The tinker said that he had also lost a hammer from his tools. He also told the police that he was known as the 'Spiteful Tinker' and boasted of having murdered a man in Eastbourne with a soldering iron.

The Italian was identified and he had said that he had been at Ascot on the Saturday taking down stalls and gave other accounts of his movements which rendered it almost impossible for him to have committed the crime.

When the police looked into the tinker’s story of having murdered a man with a soldering iron they found out that he had not killed anyone but rather had hit a man over the head with a soldering iron at Tunbridge Wells and had received a sentence of two months hard labour. The police also considered the possibility that the tinker might have been the murderer and made some investigations but concluded that if he had have come into the possession of some money, his craving for alcohol would have asserted itself in a marked degree and people that were questioned noted nothing out of the ordinary in his behaviour or seen him spending any more money than usual at the time.

On the morning of 4 July 1929 a boot traveller went into the police station to say that he had overheard a barmaid at The George pub in Aldershot say that she knew who the murderer was but was not telling the police. When the police went to The George pub they found that the young woman had been discharged that morning for being too familiar with customers. However, they later traced her through a postman that she had arranged to meet that evening and questioned her at the police station. She told them that on the day of the murder she had been working at The Wheatsheaf Hotel and that a customer there had told her that he had lost his money at Ascot and then later remarked that it was a 'nice night for a murder and that he had a good mind to do somebody in'. However, the police described her as of an immoral type and noted that she had been discharged from two places of employment for freedom with men. It was noted that she had probably said what she had said to appear important and that she had also given her story to the press and the police said they were of the opinion that she was satisfied with the temporary notoriety.

On 8 July 1929 another man was arrested and made claims to be in Reading on the day of the murder and said he picked up a few pounds (£15) before he left. However, he was described as a man that generally managed to appear in any sensational murder case and he later withdrew his statement and made another which was corroborated by his wife who said that when he had come home on the Saturday night he had had only had 2/- on him.

The police report detailed the number of newspaper articles written on the case describing them as highly colourful and invented by the reporters concerned.  The report refers to the story of clothing that was found on Peppard Common which the newspapers described as being connected to the case but the police said that the clothing, which they also examined, was in a filthy condition and covered in mildew and had without a doubt been in the bushes for some months and did not bear any bloodstains as claimed in the Press.

The police later received information that a known convict might have been the man they were looking for. The report states that the man had gone with another man to Reading to commit crime. The other man was in custody at that time for the theft of a motor car. The man was later arrested on 15 July 1929 and interviewed. He denied having been to Reading in the last five years or having anything to do with the murder, although could not account for his whereabouts on 22 June 1929. The police noted that further enquiries would have been required to gain further evidence against him or rule him out but noted that if there were new evidence his statement would have been damming weight against him.

The first report concluded stating that the case was at a deadlock, with the evidence, even after exhaustive enquires, being meagre. It noted that other than the woman that saw the man with the grey hair, no one had seen anyone at or near the shop. It also stated that no murder weapon had been found, and none was missing from the shop. It was also noted that the blood-stained impression was of little value and as such it was impossible to concentrate on any particular person or line of enquiry. It stated that it was hoped that every possible link would be followed in the hope of bring the dastardly crime to a successful end. It also stated that all suspects, other than the youth, could, for that moment, be eliminated.

Later the police interviewed the youth again after hearing that he had hit his sister with a jemmy. When they called him in to be interviewed they placed paper on the table in the hope that he would put his hands on it and allow them to get his fingerprints. He did that and the police were able to determine that his fingerprints did not match the print that they recovered from the shop.

On 19 July 1929 the police received another lead regarding an actor who matched the description of the man seen in the shop doorway by the woman. He was an American actor that was touring with a theatre company that was playing 'The Monster', which at the time was in St. Helens. The man was found to have arrived in the country on 23 April 1920 and was described as a very fine actor but that he had given way to drink and was seldom properly sober. In the play he was playing the role of a tramp that turned out to be a detective. During the week ending 22 June 1929 he had been performing at The County Theatre in Reading after which it went on to play in Maidstone.

Whilst the play had been in Reading the actor had been drinking very heavily which had caused several people to notice him. One man who was a hairdresser’s assistant said that on 21 June 1929 he saw a man who the police described as undoubtedly the actor, acting suspiciously in his shop which was divided into two sections, the front being for the sale of tobacco etc., and the rear, behind a screen, as a hairdressing saloon. The man said that he saw the actor bending over his counter and looking all around and that he later spoke about some pipes that he had seen and when he showed him a particular pipe costing 7/6d the actor had said 'Good God man don't tempt me I've got no money'. He said that the actor spoke of acting in 'The Monster' and the description he gave matched that of the actor.

Another person that had seen the actor was an assistant at Newberry's Tobacco shop at 155 Friar Street which was on the corner of Cross Street. She said that the actor came in and enquired about the price of some pipes saying that he wanted to send them to a friend abroad but said that he had no money to pay for them but would call again the next day but failed to do so.

The actor was also seen several times by a man who knew him to be an actor in 'The Monster'. He said he saw him talking to a motorcycle in the street whilst drunk on 18 June 1929, and then later outside the theatre on 19 June 1929 at 6.05pm and then again later talking to a paper seller at the top of Cross Street at 12.15pm on 22 June1929, the day of the murder.

He was also seen in the The Bull Hotel at 11am on Friday 21 June 1929 when he asked a man where the Welcome Cafe was. The man that saw him said that he saw him again the next day, 22 June opposite the Post Office at the end of Cross Street.

Several other people said that they had seen the actor or had said that they had seen a person that looked like the actor in the area on the day of the murder.

When the stage manager of the County Theatre was questioned he said that the actor had treated him and two others to three drinks on the day of the murder at about 2pm. Another man who was part of the party said that they had been in the Tudor pub and that the actor had later said that he had wanted to go to Cross Street to get some papers. The police report states that that was important because the actor said that he didn't know Cross Street.

Another man said that he saw the actor staggering about in Cross |Street at about 3pm noting that the man had his coat around his shoulders in cape fashion which was something that the actor used to do. A man that matched the actor’s description was also seen acting in a peculiar manner outside the Welcome Restaurant at 4.30pm. The man said that people were laughing at the actor who appeared to be drunk or mentally defective and of an arrogant or bullying manner. A woman from the Welcome Cafe said that the actor came in at 4.15pm and ordered four fried eggs, two rashers, bread and butter, and a cup of tea. She said that he appeared in the advanced condition of drunkenness and in her opinion on the verge of delirium tremens. She said that when she told him how much his bill would be he had difficulty in finding his money but then eventually produced some silver wrapped up in a 10/- note and paid for it. She said that whilst he was there he had asked her for the way to the County Theatre and said that he left at about 5.15pm.

A woman later saw the actor in Cross Street between 5pm and 6pm on the day of the murder, 22 June 1929 and said that he was looking at the windows and muttering to himself the whole time. The police report stated that it was a habit of the actor to mutter to himself which he had done whilst later being questioned between 24 and 26 July.

A woman who said that she had gone into Alfred Oliver's shop between 5.20pm and 5.30pm to buy some tobacco and cigarettes said that she saw a man matching the description of the actor staggering about on the pavement and said that she then saw him go off in the direction of Friar Street.

Whilst the actor was in Reading he lodged at Kings Meadow Road although had his meals across the road at Vastern Road. On the afternoon of 22 June the woman that lived at Vastern Road said that they had lunch and that the actor was drunk. She decided to let him sleep and the woman said that she noticed that he had a bottle of whisky in his pocket and that she tried to take it away from him but he had denied that it was whisky and he then left and went to his own lodgings at Kings Meadow Road. She said that he left at about 4pm but the police report stated that it might have been earlier based on other reports of sightings. The woman at Kings Meadow Road said that the actor didn't go to his room but sat and had a cup of tea with her but was nearly drunk and spilt some tea. She said that he stayed for about half an hour and that when she had mentioned that he would be late for the theatre that he had said 'Oh no I shan't, I can get from here and on the stage in seven minutes'. The other woman said that she next saw the actor under the railway arch near their lodgings at 5pm and that he then said that he was going to have his tea.

The woman at Kings Meadow Road said that she could not swear to what time the actor left but said that it would not have been before 6pm but could not say how much later it was. However, when he left the house he was running and was seen by two women who also lived on Kings Meadow Road. The two women said that could not fix the time but said that it was a few minutes after 6pm. One of the women said that she had just come from the Town Hall where she had looked at the clock and seen that it was 2 or 3 minutes past 6pm and that when she got back to Kings Meadow Road she saw the actor then rush out. The police later accompanied the woman from the Town Hall to her house on Kings Meadow Road and calculated that it took her six minutes exactly. A policeman also walked from the actor’s lodgings to Alfred Oliver’s shop at a normal pace and said that it took 4.45 minutes and that naturally a man running would do it in less time. The policeman then said that he walked on from Alfred Oliver's shop to the theatre stage door and said that it took him 2.20 minutes which made a total walking time of 7.05 minutes.

No one actually remembered the actor arriving at the theatre. However, it was stated that the first house commenced at 6.50pm and that it was theatrical custom to make a call half an hour before the rise of the curtain making it about 6.20pm that he would have been there by.

It was also noted that the woman who had seen a man run from Alfred Oliver’s shop at 6.08pm had been wearing a blue suit and it was found that the actor had been wearing a blue serge suit and that the direction that he had taken would have been the same direction used to get to the theatre.

The police report states that the next alleged sighting of the actor was at 6.12pm by the woman that had seen the man with the grey hair. The report notes that the woman had said that she had just looked at the clock on the Town Hall and said that it was 6.10pm when she did so and that she was sure of it. The woman had said that when she had glanced in the shop doorway she had noticed a rather tall man with iron grey hair middle age, respectably dressed, and wearing no hat, standing inside the front door. She had said that there was blood on his face, and that it appeared as if he had a nose bleed and had rubbed it on his face. She said that she had thought that he had been fighting. The police reported noted that when the actor was excited he was in the habit of drawing his hands across his face.

The actor was later interviewed on 25 July 1929. Because it was thought that it would be impossible to find people that matched the actors build for an identity parade the two women that had seen him were taken to a place near the Palace Theatre in Nottingham where it was thought that the actor would pass. When the actor did pass both the woman identified him as the man that they had seen. One of the woman was the woman who had seen the man with steel grey hair in the doorway to Alfred Oliver’s shop at 6.12pm. However, another man said that he knew the actor was in the theatre at 6pm as he had heard his voice in the dressing room, However, the police report states that that must have been wrong if the statements of the women from Kings Meadow Road were correct. The stage manager said that he thought he saw the actor in the theatre half an hour before the curtain went up and added that if he had not been there then the person that made the call would have reported him to him as being missing.

The woman that the actor ate his meals with who was lodging at Vastern Road said that she heard the actor arrive at the theatre at about 5-7 minutes before the call was made which would have put his arrival at between 6.13pm and 6.15pm.

The actor played that night in both houses and was said to have left the theatre at 12.30am. He was seen in his dressing room the worse for drink and having problems trying to close his trunk which was already packed and a man had to close it for him. A man said that the actor stayed in the theatre until 12.45am and when he left he was not wearing his blue suit and had a paper package under his arm and a walking stick. It was not known what was in the paper parcel.

The police report later stated that if the actor had been the murderer then it was quite likely that the paper package had contained vital evidence that had then been destroyed. When later questioned the actor said that he didn’t remember having a paper package.

The following Monday, 24 June 1929 at Maidstone the actor reported his blue trousers as being missing to a woman along with 3 £1 notes. It was thought at the time that his trousers had been left in Reading but a man vouched for the fact that they were not in the dressing room. His trousers were actually later found in a basket and still had money in them.

A woman that saw the actor get home on the night of 22 June 1929 said that when he returned he had been running as though someone were after him and that he was wearing his old stage clothes.

When the actor went to Maidstone he asked his friend if he could borrow some money as he said he had lost his in his trousers and she said she lent him 4/6d. He was also said to have borrowed 3/- from another man.

When he reached his lodgings in Maidstone at Brewer Street the landlady described him as mad drunk and unkempt, and looked as though he was getting over the effects of drink. A servant said that when he arrived he was wearing a blue jacket, grey trousers and had his shirt outside of his trousers. On the Monday he missed his performance at the theatre. Later at Brewer Street he asked a woman for some Benzoline to get some spots off of his jacket and went into the garden where he spent half an hour cleaning his coat.

When the police interviewed the actor at his lodgings in Nottingham they found him partially dressed. They asked him if he could come to the police station to assist with their enquiries and he said 'Murder. What do you want me for? I can't tell you anything. I don't know where I was that day. Are you accusing me?'. When the policeman said that he was accusing no one the actor said 'Sure, I must tell my manageress though'. The police said that the actor then went to see his manageress in the other room and said 'There's three police officers here, they want me to go to the police station about that murder in Reading'. The manageress was said to then become hysterical and said 'What have you done now, hold me, I am going to fall'. When the manageress's husband came down he said 'Oh, this is ridiculous if you want him for murder, I can prove where he was, why not take the whole company, why only him'.

When he was interviewed he denied all knowledge of Cross street or of visiting any tobacco shops in Reading. He also denied enquiring about sending pipes to America but said that he had done so in York and Grimsby when there. He also denied saying to anyone that he was going to get a paper in Cross Street. He also said that he could not remember when he had left his lodgings for the theatre. He admitted to wearing a blue suit and also that he had gone home in grey trousers.

The police also placed sheets of paper on the table in the hope of getting the actors finger prints which they did but they were not able to match them to the print they found in the shop which they later said might have been a palm print. It was also noted that as they were at that time unable to get a palm print from Alfred Oliver that the print, if it was a palm print, could have been his, made when he collapsed, and not that of he murderer.

When he was being questioned the actor became very theatrical and walked around the room saying that he was an American citizen and that where he was from innocent shop keepers were not murdered, but after eight minutes when he realised that his bluster would not work he sat down and started to cry and said he would sign any caution that the police wanted, but they told him that that would not be necessary.

When the police asked the actor if they could examine his blue coat he made no objection. However, the examination found no blood stains although it did state that the jacket had been recently chemically cleaned and that the lining of a pocket also appeared to have been recently cleaned and was faded.

The police interviewed the actor again on 8 August 1929. He denied leaving the theatre with a stick, saying that he had lost his earlier. He also said that he could not remember leaving with a parcel and said that he would not have arrived in Maidstone in his blue jacket as it would have been packed at the time. He also said that he had a credit balance of about £35 in the Lloyds Bank in Chatham and £4 in savings at a bank in Bradford.

It was noted that although he denied being in Cross Street, the police had found eleven people that said they had seen him or someone like him there.

Later on 9 August 1929 at St. Albans, the theatre manageress noticed the actors blue trousers in a basket at the theatre. She also noticed that there was money in the pockets and decided to get the police but on her way out she met the actor and told him. The police were later informed and went to look at the trousers. The police then went to the theatre and examined the trousers and found that they contained the following:

  • 1 x £1 Bank of England note
  • 1 x 10/- Bank of England note
  • 5/- silver
  • 1/0 copper
  • 4 x 1 1/2d stamps
  • 4 x 1/2d stamps
  • small key
  • 1 stud
  • 3 buttons
  • a telegram

However, at the inquest on 20-22 October 1929, the Coroner's jury returned a verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown and the actor was left a free man. He later died from alcohol related issues in 1940 aged 60. At the time he had stated to the newspapers that the investigation had destroyed his acting career.

Later on 27 October 1929 another man in Glasgow confessed to the murder. The police sent two men to Glasgow to bring the man back to London for questioning. He had said that he had been with two men, one a hairdresser from Reading and the other a 'tick tack' man from the racecourse. He said that the tick tack man had told him that Alfred Oliver kept about £50-£60 in a drawer under the counter in his shop and said that he went in with an iron bolt that he had found on a railway line and then hit Alfred Oliver and taken a few pounds and silver from the till before decamping. The police went to Glasgow to see the man and said that on the train journey back with him it became more and more evident that his story was probably untrue and only the result of a confused mind. He told the police that voices in his head were telling him that he was the murderer even though he thought he had never been away from home. When he was later interviewed, he said that he had done no regular work since 1924 and had suffered with 'confusional psychosis' and had been under the care of a doctor at Govan Hall. He said that he attributed his condition to having been buried on the Somme in 1916 when he had his shoulder blades injured, ribs broken and a testical crushed. He said that he had also suffered from malaria and dysentery which he had contracted in Mesopotamia. He said that he had first heard the voices on 23 October 1929 accusing him of the Reading murder and that the two people that he had mentioned were both patients that he knew at Ewell Hospital. He said that he swallowed every bit that was published about the crime in the newspapers. He said that owing to the voices he took 5 or 6 glasses of whisky on 23 October 1929 and repeated that on the Saturday night when he also took some syrup of chloral in order to sleep and that when he woke up on the Sunday morning he felt even worse and left his house and had some more to drink and as a result he found himself in the position where he needed to either fling himself into the River Clyde or give himself up to the police and as such he choose the lesser of the two evils and confessed to the murder.

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

see www.amazon.co.uk

see Western Morning News - Wednesday 23 October 1929

see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Wednesday 26 June 192

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1650

see Murder in Old Berkshire: A Collection of Sudden Deaths by Roger Long p33-48

see Real-Life Crimes, 130, p2858-2863

see The Ordeal of Philip Yale Drew: A Real Life Murder Melodrama in Three Acts, Richard Whittington-Egan