The Moon Street Murder by A.J. Redcliffe
The wife of a successful author was on trial for the crime. Would the jury find her innocent or guilty?
AT two minutes past seven on Tuesday, November 6, 1952, a reluctant sun raised a dull red rim above the horizon and the first intimations of dawn crept over the towers and spires of London town.
In the sitting-room at 13, Moon Street, Mayfair, the faint outlines of fine furnishings began to take on shape.
There was a large cream-coloured sofa and armchairs, a marble-topped coffee table and Bakelite telephone. On the mantelpiece of a grey stone fireplace, an ornate porcelainfaced clock quietly ticked.
On the grey carpet a huddle of shadows began to dissolve into the shape of a man, lying prone, arms outstretched, eyes open wide, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling.
The house was silent, with just the ticking of the clock and the musical chimes of the quarter hours until, at 8 a.m., it chimed the hour and the grainy light showed the man clearly.
He was aged about forty, clean shaven, slightly receding, f ine fair hair, rather good looking. He wore grey trousers and a blue, Royal Oxford check shirt, heavily stained. Victor Edward Sutton lay dead. The clock chimed eight, and for a few more minutes nothing happened, as though the room was holding its breath.
There was the sound of a key in the front door, then the front door opening and closing and the clatter of keys being dropped on to a small table.
“Hello, Mr Sutton,” a woman’s voice called. A cheery voice. “I’ll just put the kettle on, then I’ll see what you want for breakfast.”
There was the sound of a door opening and of a tap running, a kettle f illing and the soft pop of a gas ring.
“Do you know, you can still smell fireworks everywhere. I don’t know, money to burn, some folk, and at the end of the week they’ll be pleading poverty.”
A moment later the sitting-room door was opened by Mrs Dorothy Hartley. She was a thin, wiry little woman, aged seventy-one, in a floral apron, with cotton-white fluffy hair and flat black shoes. She paused. “He’s not here,” she said to herself. Then she saw that he was. “Oh!” Her hands went to her face. “Oh, dear Lord!”
She took a pace nearer to the body, then stopped. She made a move as though to bend and touch it, then stopped. Instead she edged around it. “Oh, dear!” she repeated. She reached for the telephone. She didn’t like telephones. Why did it take so long to dial three numbers? When she heard the nasal tones of the operator, she spoke into the mouthpiece with the answer. “Ambulance. Oh, and police.” Of course, there was all that blood. And the gun.
An hour or so later, Mrs Hartley was sitting opposite Detective Inspector Cameron Grant. They sat at the kitchen table with cups of tea. At thirty-four, Cameron Grant was one of the youngest inspectors in the City of London Police. He had short, dark hair, grey eyes and a ready and pleasing smile.
“Are you feeling a little better now?” he asked. She nodded. “A cup of tea always helps, but it was an awful shock. Poor Mr Sutton.”
“Victor Sutton. That rings a bell,” Grant said.
“Well, he’s famous. He writes books. You may have read one of them. I tried one, but it wasn’t to my liking. Very gloomy, and some bits a bit near the knuckle, if you get my drift. Still, he made a lot of money.” She took a sip of tea.
Outside the open door officers passed in and out of the sitting-room. There was the occasional pop and flash of a camera.
“What about Mrs Sutton?” Grant prompted.
“Well, she’s a writer, too. But different. A copywriter, whatever that is. Something to do with advertising, I think. She spends most of the week at a cottage in Kent. Comes up to town on Thursdays or Fridays. She needs to be quiet to work, she told me. Funny how-d’ye-do, if you ask me.” She sniffed. Grant smiled at her. “That’s why I’m asking you, Mrs Hartley. What was the marriage like?” “Well . . .” She hesitated, reluctant. “You can’t hurt Mr Sutton now, Mrs Hartley, and we need to know.”
“That’s true.” She sighed. “God rest his soul. To do such a thing. The truth is, he could be difficult. One minute as happy as Larry, the next minute as miserable as sin. And he had a temper on him, oh, gosh, yes, especially after drink. I’m not surprised Mrs Sutton spent time at the cottage.” “So it wasn’t a happy marriage?” Mrs Hartley shrugged. “I wouldn’t say that. All marriages have their ups and downs, don’t they?”
“I wouldn’t know, Mrs Hartley.” He smiled.
“Sometimes they were fine, especially when he was off the drink or his book was going well. At other times Mrs Sutton would roll her eyes and say, ‘What am I going to do with him, Mrs Hartley?’ Poor woman.”
She suddenly pushed back her chair and stood up.
“She’ll need to be told. Oh, how shall I . . .”
“That’s all right, Mrs Hartley,” Grant reassured her. “The Kent police have been to break the news. She’s on her way.”
Mrs Hartley took a hankie from her apron pocket and dabbed her eyes.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Inspector, if I’d known there was a gun in this house I wouldn’t have stayed.”
Mrs Hartley’s sister, Betty, came to 13, Moon Street and took her home. Inspector Grant understood that Betty was taking Dorothy to the Dolphin for a hot port and lemon “to stiffen her.”
Cameron Grant sat at the kitchen table. He’d looked around the house. It was full of money, fine paintings, antiques, thick carpets and, of course, any home in Mayfair was worth a fortune. So a comfortable lifestyle, but a disturbed life. A WPC popped her head around the door. “Mrs Sutton’s here, sir, with a friend.” “Right.” Grant stood up. Ellen Sutton was a slim, attractive young woman in her mid-thirties with shoulderlength blonde hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion.
There was a man with her. He was a few years older. He was tall, quite good looking with dark hair. He wore a belted trench coat and held a dark grey trilby. Inspector Grant held out his hand. “I’m Inspector Grant, Mrs Sutton. I know that this must be awful for you.” They shook hands. She looked at the man at her side. “This is Mr Stone. Samuel Stone; a friend. I called him when I heard. I just needed someone, you know.” Her eyes came back to the inspector. He nodded. “Of course, Mrs Sutton, but I will need to speak to you alone. Just for a few minutes.”
“Of course.” She turned to the man. “I’ll be all right, Samuel, but if you’ll wait for me . . . ” He put a hand on her arm. “Of course.” He looked at Grant. “I’ll wait in the dining-room if that’s all right, inspector?” Grant nodded. “Yes, sir, the dining-room.” As Samuel Stone left, Grant pulled out a kitchen chair.
“Come and sit down, Mrs Sutton.” She sat with her hands in her lap. “When did you last see your husband?”
“I spoke to him yesterday on the telephone and saw him the day before, when I left to go to the cottage.” “I see. Where is the cottage, Mrs Sutton?” “Near Chislehurst in Kent, about an hour away. I need quiet to work. Victor is, or can be, noisy. He acts out each chapter before writing it. Charles Dickens used to do that, you know.” Grant smiled. “Actually, I did. How was your husband’s mood when you last saw him or spoke to him?” She shrugged. “He seemed fine. But Victor could change so quickly. They say that’s a sign of genius, a fine line between reason and unreason.” She reached into her coat pocket for a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes. She looked at Grant. “You know, I’ve not cried. Just the odd sob coming into my throat. You see, I can’t grasp it.” Grant nodded sympathetically. “You have Mr Stone to support you. Who is he?” She put a hand to her forehead. “Samuel is my agent, and Victor’s, too. He handles commissions, advances, royalties and
so on. Victor’s is the real money. Samuel’s been our agent for about six months. And also a friend. To us both.” “Is there a gun in the house, Mrs Sutton?” “Yes.” He waited for a moment, a half smile on his lips. “Can you tell me something about it?” “It’s a revolver, a Colt. Not very big; a snub-nosed, evil-looking thing. Victor had a permit or licence, whatever you call it.”
“Yes, it’s on our firearms register. Why did your husband need a gun, Mrs Sutton?”
“He got it some months ago. There had been a spate of burglaries nearby and one man had been assaulted. Victor said no creeping little thief was going to take what was his. What he had he’d hold.” Inspector Grant pursed his lips. “Were you happy to have a gun in the house?” She shook her head. “Good heavens, no. I was anxious that Mrs Hartley didn’t know. I was frightened because . . .” She stopped. “Because?” Grant prompted her. She sighed. “Sometimes when Victor had been drinking, or when he was going through one of his black moods, he’d wave the gun about. It terrif ied me. One little bullet, he’d say, and everything ends. Death is life’s greatest experience.” “Where was the gun kept, Mrs Sutton?” “He had it in a bedside cabinet. But I hid it. I wish now I’d thrown it in the Thames. He must have found it. Oh, Victor!” Again she dabbed her eyes.
“We found the gun beside your husband’s body,” Grant said quietly. “The doctor estimates time of death at between six and nine p.m. last night.
“Our firearms officer estimates that the revolver was discharged from a distance of four or five feet. Very few suicides shoot themselves twice. This isn’t suicide, Mrs Sutton. This is murder.”
Samantha Trent walked quickly towards her chambers in Lincoln’s Inn. She carried a blue cotton damask sack that contained her robe and her white horse-hair wig. The new year of 1953 had arrived bright but cold.
There was a coal fire in her room. She used the tongs to put on more coal and warmed her hands for a minute before taking off her coat.
A quick, perfunctory knock at the open door was followed by the portly figure of Tommy Taylor, Clerk of Chambers.
He was in his sixties and was responsible for negotiating the fees of each barrister. He was always impeccably dressed in black jacket, pinstripe trousers and grey silk tie.
Samantha saw that he had a brief tied in the traditional red ribbon close to his chest.
“You have something for me, Tommy?” she asked.
“I have, from Latimer and Cook,” he replied. “And I must be straight with you, Miss Trent, they wanted to instruct Sir Andrew.”
Sir Andrew Barnes Q.C. was Head of Chambers.
“He’s turned it down, but . . .” he raised a finger as though to prevent any protest from Samantha “. . . he recommended you and Latimer and Cook are quite happy. It’s the Moon Street murder.”
He held out the red-ribboned brief. Samantha took it.
On the cover it read In The High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Regina v Ellen Louise Sutton. She looked at Tommy quizzically. “Sir Andrew turned it down?” Tommy was not to be drawn. “It’s going to attract a lot of attention. It can only be good for your reputation, and it’s a good fee at thirty guineas a day.”
When Tommy had bustled away, Samantha slipped the red ribbon off the brief and began to read.
Half an hour later she understood why Sir Andrew Barnes Q.C. had turned it down. The trial would be sensational – a famous novelist murdered in his own house! His wife accused, facing the gallows.
Yes, it would attract a lot of publicity, but it wouldn’t do anything for Sir Andrew’s reputation.
If the evidence was correct, and unless something new or unexpected turned up, Ellen Louise Sutton was a dead woman walking.
Samantha attended the proceedings at the magistrates’ court to make a plea for bail, which she knew would be refused, and to meet her client. She found her in a holding cell in the basement of the court.
There was a bed, a concrete slab with a thin mattress on top, a small hand basin and a chair.
Ellen Sutton was sitting on the chair, dressed in a dark skirt, a pale blue blouse and a grey cardigan. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun, showing the slim whiteness of her neck. Her only jewellery was a gold wedding ring. She stood up. The two women shook hands. “My life is in your hands,” Ellen said. “More importantly, Mrs Sutton,” Samantha began, “in the hands of a jury. Please sit down; I’ll perch here.” She sat on the bed. “I’ll just tell you what will happen today. You’ll be formally charged and you will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. And what will you say?” She looked at her client.
“Not guilty,” Mrs Sutton replied quietly.
“Right. I’ll ask for bail, but it will be refused, I’m afraid.” “So it’s back to Holloway?” “I’m afraid so. Now, can you tell me, Mrs Sutton, if you can think of anyone who hated your husband, had a grudge against him or had any reason at all to kill him?” “No. There just isn’t anyone.” “Who else, apart from you, was closest to your husband?”
“Victor has a half sister, Alma, who used to drop in quite frequently, usually when I wasn’t there. She and I don’t get on particularly well. We were civil, of course, but never close.” Samantha was making notes. “Who else?” “Well, Ann was there at least three times a week. Ann Price. She typed up his work, answered letters and so on.”
“Right.” Samantha finished writing then looked straight at her client. “Were you having an affair, Mrs Sutton? Did your husband find out?”
“No, I was not having an affair! I have never had an affair.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s the kind of question that will eventually be put to you by the prosecution. You answered well.” Samantha wondered if it was the truth. “Now it’s time to go into court.”
Ten minutes later it was all over. Ellen Sutton was remanded in custody until the date of her trial. Even though the proceedings were brief and a formality, the court had been crowded with newspaper reporters and the public.
It was the first time she had been put on show, and the reporters’ pencils had been busy, scribbling about this strikingly beautiful blonde bombshell, pale and fragile, dignified, without emotion. There would be many column inches of newsprint, and this was only the beginning.
As Samantha began to leave court a man approached her, a hesitant smile on his face.
“Miss Trent, I’m Detective Inspector Grant. Cameron Grant.” His grey eyes were looking into hers. He seemed nervous.
“I just wanted to say that Mrs Sutton will be well represented. I saw you the other day defending some poor old chap for shoplifting. You made mincemeat of the store detective. You wouldn’t have noticed me.” She had, actually. “What can I do for you, Mr Grant?” He wasn’t smiling. “Nothing. I just wanted you to know that we both want justice. In that respect we are both on the same side.”
She looked at him uncertainly. Both on the same side? He had prepared the case against Ellen Sutton; she was to defend it. What did he want? He was smiling at her again. “I’d like to take you for a coffee. There’s a café just around the corner. Please say yes, because you know a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.” She laughed. “Gilbert and Sullivan!”
“Do you like G and S?” “I do. Mum and Dad are still involved in their local society.”
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
“I was once a pirate, but that was in Penzance, of course. Don’t tell anyone. Promise?” “I promise,” she replied solemnly. “Coffee?” he prompted. “Yes, all right.”
Samantha decided she’d like to speak to Victor Sutton’s secretary. She got her number from her new friend Inspector Grant, and set up a meeting.
Samantha and Cameron Grant had had coffee and chatted. They were both single, having been far too busy with exams and establishing a career to have more than passing romantic interludes, or skirmishes, as Cameron called them.
Miss Price lived in a comfortable twobedroom flat about a 15-minute walk from Moon Street. Her mother lived with her.
Ann Price was in her early to mid-fifties, an elegant-looking woman, smartly dressed with hair carefully permed and two strands of pearls at her throat.
The older lady, in her eighties, sat in a wing-backed chair, a plaid shawl over her knees. Next to her chair was a small oval table with a teacup and saucer and two small bottles, one of which Samantha could see contained barbiturates. Samantha began. “As you may know, I am representing Mrs Sutton in this dreadful business, and I hoped you might help me to get a better picture of the background to the shooting.” Ann Price gave a slight shrug. “I don’t know if I can shed much light on things, but go ahead.”
“What kind of work exactly did you do for Mr Sutton?”
“He would only write in longhand. Terrible handwriting, but I could read it. And he would dictate his correspondence.” “Was there much of that?” “Oh, yes. People all over the world would write to him about his work, and there were always young writers asking for advice. He always answered. He was brilliant.” Ann Price’s eyes were shining. “No-one really knew how passionate he was about his work. That’s why he was sometimes wild or angry. He was a brilliant artist.”
Her face was flushed, her breathing heavier. Samantha could tell that Miss Price was in love with Mr Sutton. Had she told him? Was she a woman scorned, perhaps? A middle-aged woman in love with a younger man, then rejected?
“Did you ever meet Mr Sutton’s sister?” Samantha asked.
“Half sister. Alma Vardy. She’s a widow. She has a hairdresser’s, but she calls it a salon.” “Did you get on with Alma?” Miss Price shrugged. “She said hello. For some reason I got the impression that she saw me as someone who was a servant. Silly woman.” Old Mrs Price suddenly piped up. “A snob, that’s what you said, Ann. Beggars on horseback.” “Thank you, Mother.” The old lady sank back in her chair, satisfied with her contribution to events.
“How about Samuel Stone?” Samantha continued.
“Ah, Mr Stone. He thinks rather a lot of himself, does Mr Stone. A ladies’ man. Well, his charm didn’t cut any ice with me.”
“What about Mrs Sutton?” Samantha asked quickly.
“Oh, she liked him. He was always fussing around her like a puppy. But . . .” she paused and looked directly at Samantha “. . . I never saw anything untoward. Why would she entertain a man like Samuel Stone when she was married to a man like Victor Sutton? The only consolation is that he died at the height of his powers, so his talent can never fade.” They were both silent for a moment. “One more thing, Miss Price,” Samantha began. “Where were you –”
“When Mr Sutton was killed?” Miss Price finished the sentence. “I was here all evening with Mother. We listened to the wireless, didn’t we, Mother?”
“We usually do,” her mother confirmed.
Damp drizzle did not make Holloway Women’s Prison any more attractive. It was sad and grey on the outside, and sad and pale green on the inside.
A succession of heavy prison officers and even heavier doors admitted Samantha Trent to the remand section of the prison building.
She was taken to a small interview room with a wooden table bolted to the floor and two wooden chairs. A high grilled window admitted the dull light of a dull day.
Sitting at the table, Samantha could hear the occasional clang of doors and the odd unintelligible shouts or bursts of laughter that bounced off the bare green walls. There was the faint odour of cabbage and disinfectant.
After a few minutes the door opened and a women officer brought in Ellen Sutton.
“I’ll be outside,” the off icer said and closed the door. Ellen sat opposite Samantha. “How are you?” Samantha asked. Ellen shrugged. “Your trial starts next Monday and I just wanted to go over a few points with you.” She smiled reassuringly at Ellen. She was pale, rather hollow-eyed and seemed thinner, but she was still an attractive woman.
“First of all,” Samantha went on, “we need to confirm your appearance. I want you to look as you do now, your hair in a neat bun and without make-up. Have you a dark dress with a V-neck?” Mrs Sutton nodded. “My grey.” “Good.” Samantha wanted her to look frail, vulnerable. She had a slim, graceful neck. She wanted the jury to see that, but she didn’t tell Mrs Sutton why. “When you come into the dock, Mrs Sutton, I want you to look directly at the jury and nowhere else. Establish eye contact. Yes?” Her client nodded. “The prosecution will put their case and the witnesses for the prosecution will give evidence. I will try to sow seeds of doubt. We have to establish reasonable doubt. Our main problem is the witness who says he saw you go into the house at about six o’clock that night.” Ellen Sutton sighed forcefully. “He didn’t, because I didn’t. He’s mistaken or telling lies. I know him. He’s old and often smells of drink.”
“That’s the line we’ll take,” Samantha agreed. “Now, you are quite sure that no-one could verify that you were in your cottage all that evening?”
Mrs Sutton’s hands were in front of her on the table, her fingers twisting together. She shook her head.
“I spoke to no-one; I telephoned no-one; I saw no-one. I only wish some children had knocked at the door for a penny for the guy. Just think, a penny could have saved my life.” “What did you do that night?” “I worked most of the day. About seven in the evening I ran a bath. When I came down I had a whisky and soda and went to bed.”
“OK, Mrs Sutton, I’ll be working on your case over the weekend and I’ll see you on Monday.” Samantha stood up. Ellen Sutton raised her eyes and looked at Samantha for a moment.
“I keep waiting to wake up. I tell myself this is all just a dream.”
Samantha could only feel that this dream might very well become a nightmare. She was at the door, ready to call the prison officer when she turned.
“You said you hid the gun from your husband. Where did you hide it?”
“I put it in a little cupboard in the hall. There’s just the electricity meter in there.”
“Right.” Samantha nodded. “Did you tell anyone you’d hidden the gun?” “Only Samuel.” “Did you tell him where you’d hidden it?” Ellen put a hand to her forehead. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I might have. Is it important?” Samantha knocked at the door. “Probably not. I’ll see you on Monday.” Samantha was glad to get out of Holloway Prison and she had no doubt that was true for everyone.
She was walking towards her car when a burgundy Wolseley swished to a halt a few yards away and Samuel Stone got out and locked the door. Samantha recognised him from the committal proceedings and she walked over.
“Mr Stone? I’m Samantha Trent, Mrs Sutton’s counsel.” He looked at her and smiled. “Ah, yes, of course.” “I take it you are visiting Mrs Sutton?” Samantha asked.
“Yes, She needs her friends to see her through this awful business. Miss Trent,
Ellen is incapable of shooting anyone.”
“Let’s hope the jury will agree. I’ll see you next week, Mr Stone.”
When Samantha left the grim environs of Holloway, she decided that she would try to forget the Moon Street murder completely.
She would spend the entire weekend preparing for it, but for the rest of Friday she would think of more pleasant things. That evening she was going out with a very attractive policeman.
He’d phoned her in her chambers to say he had managed to procure, with tremendous difficulty and great expense, two tickets for a performance of “The Gondoliers” by an amateur company in Hampstead, and would she like to go. It was in the church hall. Of course she said yes.
He picked her up promptly in his little black Austin 7.
“Well, Inspector Grant, I expected a shiny, black squad car with the siren blaring all the way to the theatre,” she said as she got in. “Sorry, church hall.”
“Sorry.” He grinned. “This was the only one I could borrow from the station car park, but I could snap the cuffs on you, if you like!”
“No! I’ll come quietly.”
The one thing you get from an amateur performance is enthusiasm. You accepted it for what it was, and it was fun. Samantha loved it and forgot for a while her responsibility for a woman facing the gallows.
It was exactly what she needed, and as she glanced at her laughing, clapping escort she realised that he had know that all along. He came back to her flat for a coffee. “It was good to see you laughing tonight, and to see a pair of sparkling eyes. You’ll do a good job, you know, and all you can do is your best.”
“I know. And thank you for tonight, Cameron. You’re very kind and sensitive. For a copper!”
His grey eyes were looking into her blue eyes, and then the long arm of the law came around her and they kissed goodnight.
All thoughts of murder faded away in that tender embrace.
The statue of Justice that stands at the peak of the dome of the Old Bailey is not, as many people believe, blindfolded. She gazes out at the world with clear, penetrating eyes, carrying the scales of justice in her left hand and the great sword of justice in her right.
The courts of the Old Bailey stand on the site of the notorious Newgate Prison, and once formed the defensive wall, or bailey, of the city. It was once a place of execution, too, and it is still possible to trace the steps to that place between the narrow, tiled and arched walls of Deadman’s Walk.
A hundred feet below the feet of Lady Justice is Number 1 Court, dark and oak-panelled with its tiers of wooden benches for the public. Below them are the benches for the lawyers and clerks, whilst looking down on them is the judge’s chair which faces the dock where so many had stood on trial for their life.
The jury that day consisted of ten men and two women, which pleased Samantha somewhat, though she would have preferred an all-male jury. Women were notoriously harder on defendants of their own gender.
They perhaps would not be swayed by a beautiful woman with tear-filled eyes and a pale complexion. Men would.
Opposing Samantha, for the Crown, was Mr Rex Silverman. He was not a flamboyant character. He was tall and thin with sharp features and a sharper mind. He nodded to Samantha.
“Good luck, Miss Trent. I rather fear you’ll need it.”
“Thank you. I’ll try to give you a run for your money.”
He gave her a thin-lipped smile.
The judge was His Honour Mr Justice Finch, a bulky, florid-faced man. Samantha thought that he wouldn’t look out of place behind a butcher’s counter with a striped apron and a straw hat. But there he was in his red robes and full bottomed wig.
So all the participants in the drama were gathered together. The public had queued for hours and the benches were full. There was the rustle of paper bags of sweets. One woman had brought her knitting like a modern-day Madame Defarge beside the guillotine.
The lawyers in their black robes and white wigs sat facing the judge, their backs to the dock. The jury, in their Sunday clothes, sat nervous and tense. They were all there, save one. “Put up the prisoner,” Mr Justice Finch announced.
There was a buzz in the courtroom as if a great swarm of flies had been disturbed, and the eyes of every person in the room turned to the dock.
Eagerly they strained their necks to get a glimpse of her. People in the back row stood up on tiptoe, others laid a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them to catch sight of her.
Ellen Louise Sutton, in the prime of life, stood in the shadow of death, and that was the fascination that caused the buzz and the wide, hungry eyes.
She stood alone, a small figure at the bar of the dock, in her dark grey dress with her pale blonde hair pinned up and her graceful, slender neck. As Samantha had asked, she looked directly at the jury.
As the buzz settled, the Clerk of the Court stood up and faced the dock.
“Ellen Louise Sutton, you are charged that on the fifth day of November, nineteen fifty-two, you did unlawfully murder Victor Edward Sutton. How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?”
“Not guilty.” The voice was low but audible. And the trial began.
The first witness for the Crown was Dr Alan McKenna, who certified the cause of death as massive trauma to the heart caused by two bullet wounds. He estimated the time of death at between six and nine on the evening of November 5, 1952.
“Was the deceased in a good state of health otherwise, Doctor?” Mr Silverman asked. “He was.” “So he was struck down in the prime of his life.” Mr Silverman glanced at the jury. “Thank you, Doctor.” Samantha had no questions. Mr Berry was the police firearms expert. He was a smartly dressed man of military bearing in a blue blazer and regimental tie. Mr Silverman held up a revolver. “This is exhibit A, my lord. Mr Berry, you have examined this weapon?” Mr Berry nodded. “I am satisfied that it was the firearm that discharged the two bullets recovered from the deceased’s body. I calculate that it was fired from a distance of four or five feet.”
“Thank you, Mr Berry.” Mr Silverman sat down. Samantha rose. “You say four or five feet, Mr Berry. Could it have been three or four?”
“Er, well . . . yes, I suppose it could have been.” “Could we suppose three? Or less?” Mr Berry screwed up his face. “That’s very unlikely.” “But not impossible?” The witness shrugged and Samantha pressed on. She needed to sow tiny seeds.
“Couldn’t Mr Sutton have held the gun at arm’s length and pulled the trigger with his thumb? That wouldn’t have been impossible.”
Mr Berry shook his head and blew out his cheeks. The judge intervened. “I must remind the jury that we are dealing with matters that are probable, rather than things that are not impossible.”
Mr Silverman rose to his feet. Again he held up the revolver. Samantha hadn’t touched it. She didn’t want the jury to see it in a woman’s hand.
“This is quite a small weapon, Mr Berry, is it not?” Mr Silverman said. “Nowhere near the size and weight of an Army issue Webley, for example. A woman could easily fire it, do you think?”
“A woman could fire it, yes.”
DC Draper testified that he had searched Mrs Sutton’s car two days after the murder and had found a parking ticket issued at 6:10 p.m. on November 5, 1952 from
Safe Park Limited, a car park about 200 yards from Moon Street. As Silverman sat, Samantha stood. “Where exactly did you find the ticket?” “Under the driver’s seat, miss.” “So it was easily seen, not pushed down the side of the seat. In plain view, almost?” “Yes, miss.” “What kind of car is it?” “A beauty.” He glanced apprehensively at the judge. “Sorry, m’lord. It’s a 1949 MG, two-seater convertible. A TC in British racing green.” “TC?” The judge enquired. “Touring Car, m’lord. A small sports car.” “Did you make enquiries at Safe Park?” Samantha continued. “I did.” “Did the attendant on duty that night recall seeing that car? It’s quite a distinctive car.”
“No, miss, but they have cars in and out all the –”
“Thank you, Mr Draper.” She cut him short.
Perhaps another small seed was planted, but the easy part was over.
Victor Sutton’s half sister was next to take the oath, the Bible in her right hand.
“I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” she recited in a strong, clear voice. Rex Silverman began. “Mrs Vardy, you are the half sister of Victor Sutton, are you not?” “I am. We had the same father.” “You are a widow.” “I am. My husband was killed in the Normandy landings. He won the MC. I have his medal, but not him.” This produced an almost palpable wave of sympathy.
“How would you say relations were between Mr Sutton and his wife? Were they happy?”
“No.” Her reply was quick, sharp. Her dark eyes flashed at the woman in the dock.
Alma Vardy’s eyes came back to Mr Silverman briefly, and then went back to Ellen Sutton.
“She was carrying on an affair with Samuel Stone.”
There was a stir. The two women stared at each other, one in anger, the other in dismay. Alma Vardy went on. “It was obvious. He was always there. He visited her at the cottage. The way they looked at each other. You can’t hide that. I told Victor what I thought. He said he already suspected and he was going to have it out with her. If it was true he’d get rid of her. Divorce her, I mean. Well, she’d soon lose her life of luxury, wouldn’t she?”
The last sentence was directed to the jury and, Samantha thought, she had rehearsed it. The woman had provided a motive for murder.
She stood up to cross-examine this most dangerous woman.
“Mrs Vardy, did you ever witness any physical contact between Ellen Sutton and Samuel Stone?” “No.” “So you never found them in each other’s arms?”
“No. They were careful. But she was deceiving Victor, a man who gave her everything she wanted.” She suddenly extended her arm and pointed at the dock with a red-nailed finger. “And she killed him!”
The effect on the court was immediate. Now there was a buzzing! Again Samantha thought she must have rehearsed this. She had to take the initiative away from her, reduce the tension.
“Are you involved at all in amateur dramatics, Mrs Vardy?”
There was a little murmur of amusement. The judge did not intervene.
Mrs Vardy’s hard eyes were on Samantha. Samantha raised the volume of her voice, louder and harder.
“You saw no physical signs of affection, but you’re ready to shout adultery and murder. It really won’t do, Mrs Vardy. A court of law requires proof.” She sat down. Mr Silverman re-examined the witness, who insisted there was an affair going on and Victor must have confronted his wife.
The judge glanced at the clock on the wall.
“Have we time for your last witness, Mr Silverman?” “His testimony is quite brief, m’lord.” Quite brief, Samantha thought, but quite deadly. She must sow the seeds.
An elderly man shuffled into the witness box and took the oath. His grey hair was long and unkempt and his face suggested a history of heavy drinking.
“You’re a newspaper seller, Mr Grafton, are you not?” Mr Silverman began.
“That’s right. I sell papers on the corner of Moon Street, mornin’ and evenin’. Have done for two years. People call me Billy Papers.” He looked around the courtroom as though expecting some kind of acclaim.
“So you know the inhabitants of Moon Street?”
“S’right. I knows all by sight and most by name. I sees all their comings and goings.” “Did you know Victor Sutton?” “He sometimes bought an ‘Evening Standard’. I knew him.”
Mr Silverman was now approaching his point.
“Do you know the person in the dock, Mrs Ellen Sutton?”
Billy Papers didn’t look at the person in the dock.
“I know her, and that woman secretary who comes and goes. I knows ’em all.”
“Were you selling papers on Moon Street on the evening of November fifth last year?”
“Yes. I was there from five o’clock to just after half-past six. Normal.”
“Mr Grafton.” Mr Silverman paused for a second. “Mr Grafton, during that time did you see anyone enter or leave number thirteen Moon Street?” “Yes.” “Who?”
“I sees Mrs Sutton come down the street and go into number thirteen.” There was the buzz of the flies. “Silence! Silence!” the Clerk of the Court shouted, and the flies gradually settled. Mr Silverman continued. “About what time was this, Mr Grafton?” “Shortly after six, it was.” “Did you see Mrs Sutton again that night?” He nodded. “She come out again about twenty minutes later and hurried off down the street.”
Mr Silverman sat down, trying not to look triumphant. Samantha stood up.
As Cameron had said, she could only do her best. She smiled up at the witness. “I believe you have been selling papers on that corner for two years, Mr Grafton?”
“That’s right.” He nodded. “Hail or shine.” He looked around for approval.
“Ever since you came out of prison, in fact,” Samantha stated. “You’re no stranger to being in a court of law, are you? Let’s see.”
She consulted a piece of paper she held in her hand.
“Convictions for drunkenness, shop-lifting, assaulting a police officer and theft. You are hardly a reliable, upstanding citizen, are you, Mr Grafton?” She knew she was clutching at straws. “I saw what I saw,” he replied sullenly. “What exactly did you see? You told the police you saw a woman in a dark fur coat across the road. She had blonde hair. It’s a dark November night. How many blonde women are there in London who have a fur coat? Were you sober?” “I saw what I saw, and I saw Mrs Sutton.” Samantha pressed him, she must make him falter.
“You told the police that when you noticed this woman she was walking quickly with her head down, so how can you definitely identify that woman as Mrs Sutton?”
“Because a firework burst right overhead and she looked up and I saw her face clear. It was Mrs Sutton.”
That brought an end to the day’s proceedings.
Samantha and Cameron had decided that it would be unwise to meet whilst the trial was in progress, so she went home, cooked a meal, had a good soak in the bath and sat on the sofa in her pyjamas. She poured herself a glass of red wine. Then her telephone rang. It was him. “I just needed to know how you are. You did well, you know. Very well.”
“Thank you, Cameron.” It was so good to hear his voice and to say his name.
“Have you had something to eat?” he asked.
“Yes, I have. I’ve had a bath and brushed my teeth. Although I haven’t said my prayers yet.” He chuckled. “I need to make sure you’re looking after yourself. You’re precious. What are you doing now?”
“I’m sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas sipping a glass of wine with Edward.” For a few seconds there was silence. “Edward? Who is Edward?” His voice was a touch louder. She was pleased.
“He is Mr Edward Bear. I’ve known him for a very long time.” Again he chuckled. “See how quickly you can make me jealous! Get to bed now and sleep well. I’ll be thinking of you.” “Thank you. Good night.” He had made the day better and the prospect of tomorrow less daunting.
The actors and the audience were again assembled. The queue waiting to scramble for the public seats had been even longer and the elbow-jabbing surge more determined, because today it was expected that the woman accused of murder would take the stand, and they were hungry to see her.
But before the main course there would be the hors d’oeuvre, and Samuel Stone was called to the stand. Stone was to be the only witness for the defence, and Samantha knew that it was essential to scotch the allegation of an illicit affair, which could have provided the spark for murder.
As he stood in the witness box in a dark grey suit and brown tie, he looked smart and attractive.
“Mr Stone,” Samantha began, “you acted as a literary agent for both Mr and Mrs Sutton, and you would frequently visit number thirteen Moon Street on business, is that correct? How long have you been their agent?” Mr Stone nodded. “About six months. It just so happened that my girlfriend went to Mrs Vardy’s hair salon and mentioned that I was a successful literary agent. Then one thing led to another, as they do.”
His girlfriend! That was an unexpected gem! Samantha’s spirits rose. She continued with her questions. “What is your personal relationship with Mrs Sutton?” “I’m in love with her.” The flies began to buzz, an entire swarm. Samantha stared at her defence witness. Was the man a complete fool?
The judge allowed the flies to settle and she knew she would have to press on. “And Mrs Sutton’s feelings?” “She doesn’t feel the same about me as I do about her, although . . .” He stopped. Samantha had to grasp the nettle. “Has there ever been any intimate relationship between you and Ellen Sutton?” “No.” Samantha decided to leave it at that, and Mr Silverman was quick on his feet.
“Mr Stone, did you ever visit Mrs Sutton at her cottage?”
“A few times. Just to discuss business and we’d have a cup of tea.”
“A cup of tea? Really?” Mr Silverman’s last dart was a sharp one. “You said your girlfriend used to go to Mrs Vardy’s hair salon. Is she still your girlfriend, Mr Stone?” “No,” was the reply. “I thought not. Thank you.” Samantha looked at Judge Finch. “I call my last witness, m’lord. I call Ellen Louise Sutton.”
Now there was a stir in the crowd. The audience had enjoyed their starters but were now looking forward to the main course. Here was something they could get their teeth into.
Samantha intended to go through Ellen’s testimony quickly and simply, to show her to be a distraught young woman, bewildered and innocent.
“Mrs Sutton, did you love your husband?” “Yes, I did, and I still do.” “Were you, during the course of your marriage, ever unfaithful to him?” Ellen shook her head vehemently. “No! Never. I loved Victor.” “Did you, on the fifth night of November, go to Moon Street?’”
“No. I was in Kent. I never went into London or to the house.”
“Do you deny that the woman William Grafton says he saw was you?” She glanced desperately at the jury. “He’s wrong. He’s mistaken. He’s just horribly, terribly wrong.”
“Mrs Sutton, did you murder your husband?”
“No!” Again she pleaded to the jury. “You must believe me!”
It was Rex Silverman’s turn. His voice was soft, almost gentle.
“Mrs Sutton, you have no alibi, a parking ticket was found in your car, an eye witness saw you enter and leave number thirteen Moon Street, your fingerprints were on the gun as well as your husband’s. Now, isn’t it the truth that he accused you of having an affair? He was angry.” His voice was softer now, coaxing. “Perhaps he waved the gun about, threatened you. You were in fear of your life. Perhaps you seized the gun and he came at you. You panicked, and in your panic you fired. Isn’t that what happened, Mrs Sutton?”
Samantha had to admire Silverman. He was offering Ellen a way out, an escape from the rope. Manslaughter, perhaps. Or even self defence. Better than murder.
Ellen Sutton’s voice came loud and strong.
“I did not shoot my husband! I was not there!”
Mr Justice Finch summed up the evidence and the jury retired to consider their verdict.
The longer a jury is out, the better the chance of acquittal. It indicates argument, disagreement, someone not convinced. The jury in the Moon Street murder case was out for only three hours.
In the reassembled court, the watchers sat with quicker beating hearts, dry mouths, clenched hands. If they felt like this, how did the woman in the dock feel?
The 12 jurors filed in without a glance at the accused who stood to face her fate. The Clerk of the Court stood. The foreman of the jury stood.
The Clerk of the Court spoke first, his voice loud. “Are you agreed on your verdict?” “We are.” A smaller voice. The watchers craned forward.
“Do you find the accused, Ellen Louise Sutton, guilty or not guilty?” “Guilty.” There was a sharp intake of breath from the watchers, and every eye, every head, turned to the condemned woman, frail, white-faced, with fear in her eyes.
Another clerk appeared from behind the judge’s chair and placed the black cap upon his head. The black cap is not a cap – it is a piece of black silk, rather like a large handkerchief. Mr Justice Finch spoke. “Ellen Louise Sutton, you have been found guilty of the unlawful killing of Victor Edward Sutton. It is the sentence of this court that you be taken hence to a lawful place of execution and there hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy on your soul. Take her down.”
Later that afternoon Samantha sat at her desk in chambers staring into space when Tommy Taylor appeared at the door. “Are you all right, Miss Trent?” “Yes, thank you, Tommy. I’ll survive, which is more than Ellen Sutton will.”
“I don’t know, miss. I can’t see them hanging a woman.”
“They hanged Edith Thompson in 1923 for the murder of her husband, and it was her lover who did the killing while she was shouting for him to stop. So there you are, Tommy.”
“May I come in?” There was another man at the doorway now: Cameron Grant. Tommy slipped away. Soon Cameron was holding her tightly in his arms.
“You did everything you could. Everything.”
“Cameron, I don’t believe she did it.” A tear slid down her cheek. “Neither do I.” She moved a little out of his arms and looked up at him. “You don’t?” He shook his head. “You remember what Alma Vardy said
about seeing glances between Samuel Stone and Ellen? You can’t hide that, she said. Well, I think that’s true, and I saw such a glance – brief, quick – between Samuel Stone and Alma Vardy.”
“You think there’s something between them? That Samuel Stone is Alma’s lover, not Ellen’s?” He shrugged. “It’s possible. He wasn’t the most convincing witness for the defence, was he? Saying the right words, but leaving the wrong impression.” Samantha put her hand to her forehead. “Motive! None for Stone, perhaps, but Alma? Of course! Under English law no murderer can profit from their victim. As soon as Ellen is dead, Victor’s house, his money and his royalties will go to his next of kin, who is his half sister –”
“Alma Vardy!” Samantha and Cameron said together. Samantha clutched Cameron’s arm. “If we are right and somehow they killed Victor Sutton, what we are witnessing now is legal murder. They will have the state commit murder and Ellen Sutton is the victim.” She shuddered. “How horrible.” Cameron Grant produced a notebook from his pocket and started flicking through the pages.
“Ah, here we are. William Grafton, the loveable Billy Papers, said Mrs Sutton let herself in to thirteen Moon Street. She had a key.” He looked at Samantha. “Do we know who had a key to number thirteen?”
“No, but we can find out.” She reached for the telephone. A minute later she was speaking to Ann Price.
After a few pleasantries she got to the point.
“Miss Price, can you tell me who had a key to the house?”
“Of course,” Miss Price replied. “Mr and Mrs Sutton naturally. Mrs Hartley had one, and I had one.”
“Miss Price, what about Mrs Vardy? Did she have a key?” “Oh, no. She always rang the bell.” “Thank you for your help.” Samantha replaced the receiver and looked at Cameron.
“It means nothing,” he said. “When I got to the house that morning the key was on a table in the hall. Mrs Hartley put it there each morning and it stayed there until she left. Either Stone or Alma could have taken it for half an hour and had a copy cut.”
“Cameron, you know the parking ticket in Ellen’s car. Don’t you think it was stupidly careless of her?” He held up his hands in surrender. “I know. Everything about the case was so neat, but the evidence was there and I had to present it.” Samantha reached for her coat. “Can we go to the parking lot? We know they couldn’t remember the MG convertible, but perhaps they could remember another car.” She sighed. “Although it’s very unlikely. What do you think?” “Let’s go.” They were lucky to find the car park attendant who had been on duty that night at his post.
“As I told you before, I don’t remember no racing green MG convertible, but that don’t mean nothin’. It don’t mean it weren’t here.” Samantha spoke to him. “Yes, we understand, Mr Kelly, but I was wondering if by any chance you could remember a rather smart, burgundy red Wolseley. Please try.”
“S’matter of fact, I do,” Mr Kelly announced triumphantly.
Samantha and Cameron exchanged excited glances. Mr Kelly explained. “This chap now, I can’t describe him or nothin’, but he drove in. I give him his ticket and he reversed and drove off. And it ain’t cheap here, being in Mayfair like.”
“Thank you, Mr Kelly,” they both said together.
“He didn’t want to park, he just wanted the ticket to plant in Ellen Sutton’s car,” Cameron said as they returned to their own car. Samantha clutched Cameron’s arm. “Oh, Cameron, we may be getting somewhere, but there’s still the evidence of Grafton, Billy Papers. He identified Ellen going into the house.”
“Well, you know, I just might pay Billy Papers a visit,” Cameron said grimly. “Can I come?” He grinned. “Come on.” But there was no answer at Billy Papers’s council flat. A neighbour said he’d gone on holiday for about two weeks, though he’d never been known to go away before.
A two-week holiday and Ellen Sutton was due to hang by the neck in 17 days.
On Samantha Trent’s desk the telephone jangled. “Yes?” It was Cameron, his voice urgent. “Grafton is back. He’s in St Thomas’s hospital. Meet me.”
Cameron Grant was talking to a uniformed officer at the door of a hospital room. He looked anxious.
“He’s still conscious,” he told her, “but only just.” “What happened?” “Hit and run. The constable here tells me they’ve got pieces of glass from a headlamp and a scrape of paint on a wall. Dark red, would you believe.”
The door of the room opened and a young doctor came out.
“You know he hasn’t got long, don’t you?” she said. “Massive internal injuries. You can go in.” The inspector looked at the constable. “Got your notebook?” He turned to Samantha. “I’m going to try for a deathbed testimony.”
Billy Papers, his eyes closed, was breathing heavily. They gathered by the bed. He opened his eyes.
“William Grafton, I am Detective Inspector Grant. William, do you know that you are dying?” The old man nodded weakly. “Yes.” Cameron leaned closer. “Mr Grafton, Ellen Sutton is sitting in the condemned cell at this moment. Tomorrow she will die. Did you see her that night in Moon Street?”
The old man’s breath was rasping. Samantha could feel her nails digging into her hands.
“Saw a woman in fur coat. Had long blonde hair. Then the fireworks. She looked up. Not Mrs Sutton. Mrs Vardy.” Cameron nodded slowly. “Are you sure, Mr Grafton, that the woman you saw going into thirteen Moon Street was Alma Vardy?”
“Yes.” He nodded weakly. “She gave me money to lie. God forgive me. I just wanted a few years in comfort so I asked for more. Instead, this.”
He made an effort to turn his face to Cameron.
“Tell her sorry. Better me than her.” Then his eyes closed.
Cameron stood up and looked at Samantha.
“That’s it. At the last gasp, that’s it.”
Samuel Stone was the first to crack. Yes, it was his car, he pleaded desperately, but it was Alma Vardy who had taken it. When Grafton demanded more money, she’d arranged to meet him and ran him down.
Yes, he’d planted the parking ticket in Ellen’s car. He didn’t know why Alma wanted him to get the ticket. He didn’t know she was going to shoot Victor.
“You must believe me,” he said desperately. “That’s up to a jury,” Inspector Grant said. Stone shook his head in despair. “I fell in love with the wrong woman.” Alma Vardy was much tougher. “You’d expect to find a blonde wig in a hair salon, wouldn’t you?” She sneered. Otherwise she sat stony faced, cold and emotionless.
“What’s the jury’s decision going to be, do you think?” Samantha asked.
Cameron took her hand across the crisp white table cloth.
“They’ll get what they deserve, especially when you think about the murder they nearly succeeded in committing.”
Samantha shuddered then took a sip of wine. He smiled at her. “Did you enjoy the meal?” She returned his smile. “Cor, guv’nor, you coppers don’t ’alf know how to treat a poor girl.”
“It’s as it should be, my girl. What’s more, I’ve found a company doing ‘The Pirates Of Penzance’. And they say a copper’s lot is not a happy one. Well, mine is. Most definitely.”