Authors: Paul Adams
For my father, Arthur P. Adams (1919-2004),
of whom my memories are of nothing but kindness.
I would like to thank and acknowledge the help of a number of people, who, either through supplying information, assisting with and allowing the reproduction of illustrations, or by their general encouragement and support, have made the writing of this book not only possible, but for someone embarking on their first extended solo work, more of an enjoyable experience and less like the ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. I am indebted to Richard Lee Van den Daele, Steve Fielding, Eddie Brazil, Rob Nicholson, Peter Underwood, Charles Beck, Phil Baker, Tony Broughall, Richard Clarke, Keith Stokes, Veronica Keen, Rita Goold, Bob Cracknell, Andy York, Donald Whannel, Chris Hobbs, Keith Brannen, Stephen Butt, Glynis Baxter at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, Andrew Leah, Paul Heslop, John Mooney, the Governors of HMP Walton, HMP Manchester and HMP Hull, the Metropolitan Police Crime Museum, Mark Slater at Manchester City Council, the staff at the National Archives, the staff at Leagrave Public Library and St Albans Central Library, Janice Fleckney, Jane Santana, Matilda Richards at The History Press, and especially to Aban, Idris, Isa and Sakina, for their patience and inspiration.
Sergeant Davies, 1754
William Corder and Maria Marten, 1828
Robert Lees and Jack the Ripper, 1888
Ernest Dyer, 1922
Netta Fornario, 1929
Harry Price and Ludwig Dahl, 1934
Frederick Nodder and Mona Tinsley, 1937
Doris Harrison, 1957
Gerard Croiset, 1960s
Anne Noblett, 1974
Suzanne Padfield and Inessa Tchurina, 1980
Christine Holohan and Jacqueline Poole, 1983
Brady and Hindley, 1985
Muhammad Bashir, 1991
Around lunchtime on 10 October 1977, Detective Chief Inspector Tony Fletcher, head of the Fingerprint Bureau of the Greater Manchester Police, received a call to attend a crime scene at a section of disused allotments near Princess Road in the Chorlton district of Manchester, where the naked body of a young woman had been found by two local men. When Fletcher, an experienced police officer, arrived, his initial thought was that a maniac had exhumed and violated a body from the adjacent Southern Cemetery; it was only when a search of the immediate area recovered items of female clothing: a skirt, cardigan, boots and underwear, that it became clear a horrific crime had taken place. Fletcher fingerprinted the body and the following day visited the home of Alan Royle, who had reported his common-law wife Jean Royle, also known as Jean Jordan, as missing. From a fingerprint match found in the house, as well as Royle’s description of his wife’s clothing, the identity was established. Results from a post-mortem examination quickly confirmed to the Greater Manchester Police that a brutal serial killer – who had already murdered five women in the west of Yorkshire over the preceding two years – had now finally crossed the Pennines: Jean Jordan had become the sixth victim of the infamous ‘Yorkshire Ripper’. Seven months later, DCI Fletcher was called to the grounds of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, where he fingerprinted the body of another woman whose injuries, and the circumstances in which she had been found, made it immediately clear that the murderer had claimed another – his ninth – victim. It would not be until twenty months later that the killer, who ultimately went on to claim a further four lives, would be brought to justice, and the case is one we will return to in due course.
As well as the numerous crime scenes, some gruesome, many others mundane, at which Fletcher was called upon to carry out fingerprint work during the course of his professional police career, there were other more specific and at times quite bizarre assignments, such as the fingerprinting of Harold, an orang-utan (known to his keepers as ‘Harold the Bastard’) at Belle Vue Zooological Gardens, as well as Asru, an Egyptian mummy which makes up part of the collection held at the archaeology department of the Manchester Museum. Despite their unusualness, perhaps the most
task ever to come his way took place sixteen years before his involvement with the Ripper inquiry, when Fletcher was approached by a Manchester ghost hunter with a request to attempt to obtain the fingerprints of a phantom …
The Manchester Psychical Research Society was a small paranormal group particularly active in the late 1950s and early ’60s – a time when ghost hunting was looked on in the UK as an interesting hobby carried out by an eccentric minority rather than the full-scale entertainment industry that cable and satellite television has attempted to make it in the past ten years. Under the Honorary Presidency of George A. Knowlson BA of Rishton, Bradford – a retired headmaster with an interest in the supernormal – the society met on Tuesday evenings at the Milton Hall in Deansgate, Manchester for lectures and discussions on the many aspects of psychic phenomena and spiritualism. The organisation’s Investigation Officer and leading light was David Cohen, a machine operator in his early fifties. By day Cohen stitched raincoats in a Manchester factory, while his nights, weekends and holidays were given over almost exclusively to a determined and enthusiastic study of poltergeists, mediums and hauntings.
In the spring of 1959, Cohen had been asked to visit an unassuming house in the Fallowfield district of South Manchester. The owner, a recently widowed woman with a teenage son and a younger daughter, claimed their terraced house was haunted by the ghost of an old man named Nicholas, who appeared to the young boy in his bedroom at night and, in what must be a first where the paranormal is concerned, played Ravel’s
on the youth’s own violin. Over the course of several months the mother had heard the sound of music (always the same piece) coming from the adjacent bedroom, and on every occasion when she had gotten out of bed and looked into the room, her son was apparently asleep with the violin closed away in its case. Distressed by what was happening, the woman had eventually tackled the teenager about the bizarre music and he had calmly explained the reason behind the nocturnal concerts. Relieved that she was not suffering a breakdown, and in the hope that the ghostly musician could be persuaded to leave, the lady contacted the Manchester Psychical Research Society and its Investigation Officer quickly swung into action.
Cohen and other members of the society began holding séances in the living room of the Fallowfield house in an attempt to establish contact with ‘Nicholas’. These experiments continued regularly for a period of two years and, by the beginning of 1961, had successfully progressed to the point that during blackout phases of the séance meetings, a pair of hands apparently began to materialise and interact with the sitters. It is at this point that Cohen approached Tony Fletcher, then recently appointed to the Greater Manchester Police’s Fingerprint Bureau, and the case changed from a
-type scenario into something far more interesting.
During the 1930s, materialised ‘spirit’ hands which had appeared at séances given by an American medium known as ‘Margery’ had left impressions in specially prepared wax that were later discovered to be fake; the fingerprints, rather than belonging to a spirit control, were in fact those of the family dentist who was very much alive. Mindful of the ‘Margery’ exposure, Cohen wished to recruit the services of a professional fingerprint expert who would attend one of his Fallowfield séances in order to take the prints of the materialised Nicholas, which would then be compared with the hands of all the sitters in the room. If either the mother or her son were playing tricks, then the test would quickly show who the violin-playing spectre really was. On the other hand, literally, there was a hope that what would be produced was physical evidence of a genuine materialisation.
Unfortunately for Cohen, Fletcher declined to co-operate (a decision he later admitted he regretted) as he didn’t believe in ghosts and felt becoming involved in the affair would make him appear foolish. However, Sergeant Rowland Mason, a colleague of Fletcher’s and a well-respected member of the Bureau, was less sceptical and eventually agreed to take part, albeit in a private capacity. Mason visited the house accompanied by David Cohen and attended two séances, which were held on Friday evenings. He quickly became mystified by his experiences. In the darkened room the table, around which the woman, her son, Cohen and the policeman were sitting, rose into the air and practically touched the ceiling; a tambourine marked with luminous paint began moving about the room, constantly changing its direction and travelling at such a speed that it seemed impossible that anyone present could be faking the effect, while the table itself shook violently and loud knocks sounded across its surface. The highlight of the second sitting was the manifestation of what purported to be the hands of Nicholas himself, which in the blackness touched Mason on the shoulders and arms. These hands have been described by David Cohen as being ‘dry and scaly’ and having lace cuffs over the wrists, although Mason at that time was only able to feel their touch and could not confirm the appearance.
At a third séance, the policeman decided to try and catch the ghost’s fingerprints by surreptitiously dusting the tambourine prior to the commencement of the sitting. Alone in the living room, he managed to wipe the instrument clean, dust it with mercury powder and replace it on the sideboard without anyone apparently noticing. Soon after the blackout séance had begun, Mason was shocked to suddenly have the duster with which he had wiped the edges of the tambourine – and had left lying on the sideboard – thrown into his face. A recording of Ravel’s
was played on a portable tape machine and, as before, there were levitations and knocks on the table and the tambourine flew wildly about the room. When the lights came on, Rowland quickly seized the tambourine and dusted it with fingerprint powder. To his astonishment, the instrument was as clean as he had left it at the beginning of the sitting. On a fourth visit, he openly dusted the tambourine before the commencement of the séance and again it was found to be clean at the end of the evening, despite having been seen to rise from the sideboard and circle the room. At this séance, ‘Nicholas’ was asked by David Cohen whether he would consent to have his fingerprints taken and, through a series of knocks on the table, replied in the affirmative.
At the next séance, Mason brought a chemically charged pad and sensitized paper to the house and placed it on the séance table in front of him. During the course of the sitting, Mason was able to catch hold of what appeared to be a dry human hand in the darkness and, with his own free hand, guided it first to the fingerprint pad and then to the specially prepared paper. Despite the blackout, the policeman was confident that he had managed to bring about what appeared to be the first professional fingerprinting of a paranormal entity. The next morning, Mason brought the paper to the Bureau and showed it to his colleagues. Instead of a set of fingerprints, they were able to see a strange set of marks which resembled three parallel scratches, each about one inch in length. ‘They could have been made by a bird’s claw; they could equally have been made by three fingernails scratching the paper,’ was how Tony Fletcher, who inspected the marks personally, later described them.