British Executions

John Williams

Age: 29

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 29 Jan 1913

Crime Location: 6 South Cliff Avenue, Eastbourne

Execution Place: Lewes

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


John Williams was convicted of the murder of Arthur Walls and sentenced to death.

He shot him at 6 South Cliff Avenue, Eastbourne on 9 October 1912.

6 South Cliff Avenue was a terraced house with about nine or ten rooms. A Countess lived there with a friend and had two servants. The Countess was known to be rich and commonly thought to have kept expensive jewels at her home.

John Williams was a burglar and had been hiding about the property at 6 South Cliff Avenue. It was said that he had earlier been seen walking about the street and that he had been casing the house to burgle it later. He was seen hiding in the shadows on the balcony above the door by a coachman who was picking up a woman that lived at the house and her friend. When they left, the coachman told the woman about what they had seen, and they went back to 6 South Cliff Avenue where the woman went in and called the police. Her friend then went into the house with her and the coachman waited outside.

After calling the police, Arthur Walls, a police inspector came along and whilst looking about outside the house was shot dead. John Williams then ran off but was later caught.

The coachman was employed by W Chapman & Sons, Jobmasters at the Royal Victoria Mews in Susans Road, Eastbourne and had worked with them for 16 years.

He said that on the 9 October 1912 he drove a single horse brougham to 6 South Cliff Avenue, arriving at 7.15pm. He said that he waited outside the house with his horse facing down the hill towards Silverdale Road and saw a hairdresser that had been to see the Countess that lived at the house, leave at about 7.20pm. He said that when the hairdresser came out of the house, his attention was attracted towards the door, saying that he saw something move on the balcony over the door. He said that at first he couldn't see what it was, but said that when he looked again he could see the outline of a man's head and shoulder. He said that the man moved his head slightly and it was then that he saw that it was a man. He said that the man was lying on his left side with his face towards the house and his head on the St John's Road side. He said that he couldn't see the man's legs.

The coachman said that he sat still and said that the Countess came out with a friend and got into his coach. He said that just before the countess came out he saw the man move his head again. He said that he had been there for about 10 minutes in total waiting for the Countess to come out.

The coachman said that when the Countess came out, she spoke to him and said that the man on the balcony would have been able to hear what she said as the brougham was only about 6 or 7 yards from the front door. He said that the Countess said to him, 'You haven't been here for a long time. Drive me to Burlington'. He said that the Countess and her friend then got into the brougham and he drove off down South Cliff Avenue into Silverdale Road. However, he said that before arriving at Compton Street, he pulled up and spoke to the Countess, and said that in consequence of what she said he drove back to her house.

The coachman said that when they got back to the house, the ladies got out. He said that his horse was facing towards St John's Road. He said that the Countess went to her door and rang the bell and then went into the house whilst the other lady waited outside looking up at the door. However, he said that after 2 or 3 minutes the other lady went into the house as well and the front door was left open.

The coachman said that after about ten minutes he saw Arthur Walls, who was in uniform, come along the street from the direction of St John's Road, noting that he was on the opposite side of the road to him. He said that during the time that he had been waiting he had seen no other people in the street.

The coachman said that he then whistled to Arthur Walls as he got opposite him and said that Arthur Walls asked, 'Is that no. 6?' and said that he replied, 'Yes'. The coachman said that Arthur Walls then went up to the front door of the house which was open and spoke to someone in the hall after which he stepped back out into the centre of the path and shaded his eyes with his hands and said, 'Come on old chap come on, come down'. The coachman said that the man on the balcony then got up into a sitting position by twisting himself to the right, at which point he was facing North.

The coachman said that he could just see a flash of light on the right side of the man's face, and said that the man appeared to be clean shaven and formed the opinion that he was between 30 to 35 years old. He said that it was his idea that the man was also of a slim build. He said that as the flash of light came on him he noticed that the man was wearing a trilby hat and a dark jacket.

The coachman said that after Arthur Walls had spoken to the man he appeared to step to the right of the doorway into some shrubs there, apparently to receive the man as he came down. However, he said that he then saw a flash and heard the report of a firearm. He said that the flash came from the right-hand corner of the ledge looking at the house. He said that he then saw Arthur Walls stagger towards the gate.

The coachman said that his horse then became restive and so he whipped it up and drove up to St John's Road, noting that before he reached St John's Road he heard a second report, at which time he was about 20 yards from St John's Road.

The coachman said that as he got to the corner of South Cliff Road and St John's Road, he saw a man standing there who was a stranger to him. He said that he spoke to the man and then drove on and then saw a cabman who got on his box by the side of him and said that he then drove back to South Cliff Avenue by Silverdale Road.

The coachman said that when they got to South Cliff Avenue, he saw the body of Arthur Walls lying in the roadway opposite 4 South Cliff Avenue. He said that there were two men with him and three women when he got back. He said that the woman were apparently servants. He said that he then stayed there for further orders.

The Countess said that she had lived at 6 South Cliff Avenue for nearly eight years and said that on the night of 9 October 1912 she came out of her house at 7.25pm and got into the cab with a friend to drive to the Burlington Hotel. However, she said that on the way, the coachman stopped and told her something and so they returned home. She said that when she got out of the brougham and looked up at her porch, she saw something like a bundle there. She said that she then rang the doorbell and went in and telephoned the police at the Town Hall. She said that as she did that, her friend was waiting outside, and said that after making the call she went out and asked her friend to come in, which she did. The Countess said that she then telephoned the police again and said that directly afterwards she heard a shot and said that her friend then came up the stairs and she called the police again. She said that she then heard another shot and called the police a fourth time. She said that there was only an interval of a few seconds between the two shots.

A fly proprietor said that he had been riding his bicycle at about 7.40pm towards South Cliff along the sea front when he saw a cabman opposite a cab shelter opposite Silverdale Road and then saw a horse gallop down South Cliff. He said that he then rode down Silverdale Road to South Cliff Avenue and that when he got there, he saw Arthur Walls lying there in the road about 4 feet from the kerb. He said that he undid Arthur Walls's collar and then sent a maid who came by off to get a doctor. He said that the lamp on his bicycle was alight and he saw that Arthur Walls's tunic and shirt were covered in blood. He said that Arthur Walls died just shortly after the doctor arrived.

The fly operator said that he then looked around with his torch and saw a trilby hat in the gully just about at the bottom of 4 South Cliff Avenue.

The police surgeon that carried out the post-mortem on Arthur Walls said that he found no external lacerations on his body of any sort except for between his second and third ribs on the left side where he found a small lacerated wound two inches from the middle line and eight inches from the point of his left shoulder. He said that he then opened his chest and found inside a wound on the internal edge of his left lung that corresponded in situation with the wound between the two ribs. He said that he then found a wound in the heart in the upper part of the left ventricle near to where the heart touched the lung, and then following the wound through he found that it went right through the heart, coming out at the right auricle, noting that the wound had also gone through the diaphragm. He said then that the wound could be traced to the under part of the liver and said that he finally found the bullet in the under surface of the right kidney.

The doctor said that judging by the track of the bullet, it must have been fired from above and on the left side of Arthur Walls and said that he thought that death would have taken place very quickly. He concluded by saying that in his opinion, Arthur Walls's cause of death was a wound to the heart caused by a bullet.

The police said that they had failed to get a clear description of the man that had carried out the murder and had found no fingerprints, but said that later on the evening of 10 September 1912, the day following the murder, a man came to see them at Eastbourne Police Station. He was later seen by detectives from Scotland Yard who had travelled down to investigate the case and said that he would say nothing unless they would promise that his name should not be mentioned in the matter. The police said that they endeavoured to avoid giving him that promise but said that the man was obdurate and they found that unless they did, they would get nothing from him. The police said that when they tried to get a statement from the man, he refused and so they made pencil notes.

They said that the man said that he was a doctor and that he lived at 145 Cavendish Street and 125 Queens Road in Finsbury Park and said that he knew who the murderer was, saying that it was Frank Seymour, alias Scott and Murray and who had at one time lived at 52 Burton Road in Harrow-on-the-Hill. He said that he was 5ft 7in or 8in, aged about 32 or 33, of medium build and of muscular development as a wrestler. He said that Seymour carried a revolver in his belt strapped round his waist and that it was nickel plated. He then went on to say that Seymour was then known as John Williams and that he had recently resided in the neighbourhood of Finsbury Park. He said that he had made the acquaintance of John Williams through him calling at his house to treat him for a wound to his left wrist which he described as a long incision about four inches long which he had got the impression that he had received when leaving a portico in Bournemouth.

The police said that when they asked the man how he knew that John Williams carried a revolver, he told them that when he had been dressing John Williams's wound, John Williams had fainted and that when he undid his clothing he had seen the revolver in his belt.

The man then told the police that John Williams had resided at 4 Tideswell Road in Eastbourne but had left by the 2.26pm train that day for London.

The man said that when he had requested payment from John Williams for his services, John Williams had offered him a ring set with five pearls,  three of which he said were good ones, and two being indifferent, and said that he then had reason to believe that they were stolen by means of portico climbing in Bournemouth.

The police report stated that they asked the man how he had come by that information noting that it was evident that he was not telling the whole truth, but that it appeared that he knew more than he wished to tell them and thought that there was more that could be extracted from him.

The man admitted that he had come to Eastbourne to see John Williams's wife and that he had arranged to take her back to London that evening and then told them that he had no more time to talk as he had arranged to meet John Williams's wife at Eastbourne Station in order to catch the 7.45pm train and that it was at that time 7.20pm.

The police said that the information that the man had told them, him purporting to be a reputable medical practitioner, created a very unfavourable impression, but in the light of them being positive that he knew more than he had told them, they let him go, but arranged for him and John Williams's wife to be followed to London and to then act as circumstances admitted.

When the police followed the man and the woman on the train to Victoria Station in London, they said that they saw them meet John Williams's brother. They then saw the woman enter the Devon Hotel on Vauxhall Bridge Road where she remained for the night. They said that the doctor then went off to the Windsor Castle Public House where he was again met by John Williams's brother, but said that they got into a taxi-cab together and before they could get a taxi-cab to follow, the two suspects had disappeared in the fog up Victoria Street and they were unable to find them.

The police report stated that they had since determined that the taxi-cab had gone off to Westminster Bridge Station where they met John Williams and went to a public house where they stayed until about midnight after which John Williams left them and went to stay for the night at a hotel on the Westminster Bridge Road.

However, the police report stated that the doctor called them on the morning of 11 September 1912 and they arranged for him to come to their office, but the doctor told him that he had arranged to meet John Williams at Moorgate Street Station at 1pm, and so they decided, to avert suspicion, to arrest both the doctor and John Williams.

The police went to Moorgate Street where they saw the doctor and John Williams meet and said that they followed them into a buffet belonging to Spiers and Ponds at Moorgate Street Station where, whilst the doctor and John Williams were in conversation, the pinioned John Williams from behind, with two other officers taking hold of him by either side.

The police then told John Williams that they were going to arrest him for the murder in Eastbourne and put him in a taxi-cab and took him to Cannon Row Police Station. On the way, John Williams said, 'I am perfectly innocent of this. I would not do such a thing'. When the policeman asked him where he had been on that evening, John Williams said, 'I say nothing'. Shortly after, he said, 'Whoever did that did it to get the Countess' papers for political purposes. This is what I think anyway. No doubt she is mixed up in some foreign political business'. After a pause, he said, 'I would not commit a crime like that. If I can get anything by my wits that is another matter, but I have been going straight for the past twelve months. Of course, you have to do your business and I know you won’t miss much, but I have never carried a gun, Kid'.

The police then went off and questioned the woman who they described as his wife. They said that they intercepted her in Victoria Street as she was about to enter a restaurant and convinced her with some difficulty to go to the police station with them. The police said that they took a statement from her, but however, said that they were certain that she was not telling the truth. However, they said that she admitted that on the evening of 9 September 1912 that they had been to the top of South Cliff Avenue in Eastbourne and John Williams had been absent from her for about 20 minutes or half an hour. She added that when he had left, he had been wearing his soft felt trilby hat, but said that when he returned, he didn't have it. The police noted that the doctor was with them during the interview and noted that it was only by means of his intervention that they had been able to extract so much from her.

The police noted that when the doctor and the woman had come up to London from Eastbourne on the evening of 10 September 1912 they had had a dressing case and a gladstone bag with them that they had deposited in the cloak room at Victoria Station, however, they said that they later found that they had been removed to the Devon Hotel where they took possession of them.

The police said that they later allowed the doctor to have an interview with the woman at the police station and said that the doctor said that during their conversation he had seen the woman throw a cloak room ticket into the fire, but said that he had been quick enough to read the number on it which he then communicated to the police. The police said that when they went to Victoria Station, they found that the ticket related to a portmanteau and another gladstone bag. However, they said that they could not obtain possession of the items without the ticket. However, they said that the cloak room attendants allowed them to see the contents and said that they were able to see that amongst the items they contained were a waist belt to which was attached a revolver holster which certainly corroborated the information given by the doctor to the police when he first went to the police station. However, the railway authorities said that they would agree to give up the luggage upon receipt of a written request from the Commissioner, which they were able to supply, and so took possession of them on the morning of 11 September 1912.

When the police took John Williams to Eastbourne accompanied by police officers, he made a number of statements, which although were not taken down verbatim, included, 'I see you have my luggage. There is nothing in that but a gun case, there is no gun. I used to carry a gun in it when in South Africa'. The police noted that that was somewhat significant considering that John Williams had previously claimed that he had never carried a gun.

The police report noted that when they arrived at Eastbourne, they had taken every precaution to prevent John Williams's photograph being taken, and added that although the Chief Constable had taken every possible step to prevent it, they deemed it advisable to cover John Williams's head with a cloth, noting that that was fortunate as a good photograph of them alighting from the carriage appeared in the Daily Sketch.

Following his arrival at Eastbourne, John Williams was then put up for identification in the usual manner, however, neither the cabman nor anyone else could identify him.

When the police questioned John Williams about his hat, he said that he had lost it. When the police examined the hat, they found a label that allowed them to trace it to a shop at 29 Old Christchurch Road in Bournemouth where the owners said that they had sold it between 14 April 1912 and the end of August 1912. However, they said that they were unable to identify John Williams as the purchaser. However, the police said that they knew that John Williams had been living in Bournemouth for a time.

The police noted that they had never lost touch with the doctor and said that it was through him that they found that the pistol had been buried somewhere on the beach at Eastbourne. However, they said that it was impossible to find it without some clear indication of its whereabout. However, the police report noted that he doctor was able to induce the woman to come to Eastbourne on 15 October 1912. He accompanied her to Eastbourne but then left her and she was followed by three policemen. They said that they saw her go to the front near the Redoubt which was at the east end of the town where she remained for a considerable amount of time on a seat, after which she left the front an entered a cab and drove to the General Post Office where the doctor met her. However, they said that because they were aware that she had not recovered the revolver, they didn't intercept them. The doctor then took the woman to a refreshment room and excused himself and he went and met one of the police detectives. It was then agreed that the doctor would accompany the woman to the beach and try to find the revolver, which they did, but they were however, unable to find it. Following that the police intercepted them both as they were leaving Eastbourne Railway station and demanded an explanation for their conduct, however, they said that they didn't get anything satisfactory from the woman, and so the police told them that they would have to take them to the police station where they cautioned the woman and told her that they were going to ask her some questions, noting that she didn't have to answer them. They added, that in fairness, they also told her that she had been under observation all day.

When the police asked the woman why she was in Eastbourne that day she replied, 'The doctor brought me down for a change'.  When the police asked her where she had been, the woman said, 'On the front', and when they asked what she was doing there, she fainted. When she recovered, she vomited and became ill. She was then laid out on a table and at the doctors request, he was allowed to speak to her alone after which the woman said that she desired to make a statement and would tell the whole truth.

However, it was found that the woman could not make a statement and so they agreed to question her. She then admitted that she was not married to John Williams, which the police said was of vital importance to them.

During her statement she said that she had had a brown paper parcel with her when they were in Eastbourne and it was said that it contained rope but that she threw it away. In court it was heard that the rope had belonged to a certain criminal.

Following the questioning, the  woman was given a bed, and in the early hours of the morning, with lamps, the police went to the beach to the area where the woman had been searching and after considerable labour they were able to find the revolver which was in two parts, minus the hammer and two screws, which they said corroborated the woman’s statement.

After receiving a letter, the police then found out that John Williams had a brother, who was the man that they had previously seen at Victoria Station, and they went to interview him and said that he told them that about three months earlier John Williams had threatened to shoot him and his wife and that he had held the revolver at his wife's head. The brother then said that the effect on his wife was such that some of her hair turned grey that night.

However, it was also claimed by the doctor that on 18 September 1912, John Williams's brother and two other men came to his house and tried to intimidate him into signing a statement to the effect that he had seen a ticket marked 6 7/8 in the soft felt hat and also that the hammer to John Williams's revolver had been missing when he had last seen it when John Williams had been living at 23 Digby Road in Finsbury Park. however, the doctor said that he refused to sign it and managed to get out of the room. The doctor told the police what had happened and the police spoke to the brother about the incident, warning him that if it came to light that it would not do well for his brother, but the brother denied that there had been any intimidation. However, the police advised the doctor to move from his present address, which he did.

The police determined that John Williams had been in court several times as follows, often using false names:

  • 23 January 1892: Edinburgh Police Court, charged with theft of pigeon with his brother which he then sold to a butcher but the charge was withdrawn.
  • 31 December 1892: Edinburgh Police Court, charged with theft of three tin pitchers of cream from the street and put under £1 caution or three days.
  • 15 February 1894: Edinburgh Police Court, charged with fraud after he went into the baker's shop and falsely said that he had been sent by a customer for bread.
  • 9 April 1894: Edinburgh Sheriff's Court, stole five golf clubs from the hallway of a house but was caught by the owner, however, the charge was found not proven.
  • 5 August 1897: Edinburgh Court, theft of £1.7.3 from a dairy shop by entering through a fan light during the night with his brother, 7 days imprisonment.
  • 30 August 1897: Edinburgh Sheriff's Court, attempted fraud, called on a lady and falsely represented that he had been sent by another lady for the loan of 10/- which she refused, 10 days.
  • 6 December 1897: Edinburgh Court, 7 cases of fraud after he went to various law firms asking caretakers saying that the Railway Station had sent him to collect payment for parcels that had been left at the station by a member of the firm, 30 days.
  • 27 January1898: Edinburgh Court, fraud, he collected money from a law firm saying that a case had been left on a ship.
  • 1 September 1998: Edinburgh Sheriff and Jury Court: theft (housebreaking), he entered a dressmaker’s shop in the night through a fan light and stole a child's dress, 2 months.
  • 29 September 1900: Middleburg, Transvaal, court martial for committing an act to the prejudice of good order, 3 months.
  • 21 April 1902: District Court Martial Cape Town, stealing money from a comrade, 2 years hard labour, as John Thompson.
  • 16 May 1092: District Court Martial Cape Town, escaping from custody, 2 years, as John Thompson.
  • 9 August 1904: High Court Kimberley, theft and receiving stolen goods, 9 months, as Harry Wilson.
  • 5 March 1907: Johannesburg B Court, charged with being an undesirable, 1 month and deportation. He was deported from South Africa on 22 April 1907 on the SS Goth and returned to England.
  • 16 October 1907: Wells Quarter Sessions, 9 months hard labour, housebreaking, as Sid Hamilton.
  • 28 September 1908: Folkestone Borough Sessions, 21 months hard labour for burglary, as John Williams.
  • 8 November 1910: London County Sessions, 12 months hard labour, housebreaking with intent.

It was also found that he had previously been convicted for offences in South Africa. On 19 October 1899, using his real name of George McKay, he enlisted in the Royal Scots Regiment at Edinburgh and on 16 May 1900 he was sent with his regiment to South Africa where he deserted on 15 October 1901. It was noted that he had not borne a good character whilst in the army and on 29 September 1900 while at Middleburg in the Transvaal, he was sentenced to six months after a court martial for committing an act to the prejudice of good order, although on 29 October 1900 his sentence was reduced to three months.

The police report stated that they had failed to find that John Williams had done any honest work in England, and said that there was good reason to believe that since his liberation from prison he had been associated with thieves and had been committing crime, especially in the provinces, and note that property traced to his possession had been identified as having come from at least five cases of larceny, the first being committed in Bournemouth on 22 May 1912.

At his trial on 12 December 1912 at the Lewes Assizes, the woman, who was introduced as the prime witness, said that everything she had said in her statements was untrue and that she had only made it because the doctor had told her that she would be arrested for murder if she didn't. she then went on to say nothing that would incriminate John Williams.

When the doctor was called, he told the court how John Williams had boasted about shooting Arthur Walls after he had chaffed him about being a poor shot.

In court John Williams gave evidence on his own behalf and admitted that he was a burglar and that he had been in Eastbourne on the fatal evening, and further admitted that the buried revolver was his. although he had previously told the police that he had got the revolver in South Africa, in court he said that he had bought the revolver 9 months earlier for 2/- from an unknown man in a cafe in Commercial Road in London and that it had been minus the hammer then, and that the reason that he had buried it was because he didn't want it to be found on him, although it was useless and that he had cleaned it beforehand because he had not wanted his fingerprints to be found on it. However, the police report noted that that was an ridiculous assertion as no finger impressions would remain on nickel when buried in wet shingle and said that they thought that the real reason he had cleaned it was because he wanted to prevent anyone from proving that it had recently been fired or that he had ever had such a weapon.

The court was also given evidence based on the ballistics reports after the gun had been examined, which was a new field at the time. The police had attempted to photograph the inside of the gun barrel to demonstrate that it had certain marks, but that failed. However, they made a wax cast of the inside of the barrel and were able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the jury that the bullet that had killed Arthur Walls had been fired from the gun that they had found on the beach.

When the judge summed the case up, he said that the evidence was circumstantial, but that people had been convicted on less evidence and noted that burying his gun and fleeing Eastbourne was exactly what you would expect a guilty person to do.

After John Williams was convicted, he appealed stating that the judge had misdirected the jury, but the court of appeal said that they could find no evidence to support that claim and his appeal was dismissed.

After that, the criminal whose rope the woman had had on the beach which she had thrown away wrote a letter saying that he knew who the real murderer was and said that it was his brother who had since gone to France. the police interviewed the criminal and his letter was later sent to the Home Secretary along with a statement made by the woman stating that she had made her statement after the police had threatened her. A petition with over 35,000 names on it calling for John Williams's reprieve was also sent to the Home Secretary.

The police report noted that they had been able to trace two convictions to the doctor, the last being six years earlier. However, the report noted that whatever his previous character, that he was absolutely the only person in a position, able and willing to tell them who the murderer was. The report further noted that the doctor had assisted throughout the investigation in every possible way, and said that if it were not for him, they would not have found the revolver. The report further stated that in fairness to him, it was incumbent on the police to say that whatever he had told them in connection with the case had been the truth and that they had been able to corroborate it in almost every detail. The police noted that he had previously given reliable information to the police, but that in the case of John Williams, the services rendered by him, to them and the public, deserved the highest commendation and approbation of all right-thinking persons. The report went on further to state that the doctor should be remunerated in no grudging spirit, for he was worthy of every consideration, stating that it was no small matter for a man who had been convicted to submit himself to be publicly pilloried in the witness-box, and the report stated that the police did not hesitate to say that had it not been for his information and assistance, they would never have succeeded in bringing John Williams to justice.

John Williams was executed on 29 January 1913.

see National Archives MEPO 3/226, HO 144/1232/229015-26to80, HO 144/1231/229015-1to24

see Old Police Cell Museum

see Aberdeen Journal - Friday 13 December 1912

see Wikipedia