History of the Metropolitan Police
PC Gutteridge murder - 1927
One of the famous early cases involving what we now call ballistics was the murder of an Essex police officer PC George Gutteridge in 1927.
On Tuesday 27 th September 1927 just before 6am a post office worker, Bill Ward, was driving in Essex the village of Stapleford Abbott. Suddenly he saw a body by a bank at the side of the road and found PC George Gutteridge wearing his full uniform and cape, with his helmet and notebook beside him, and his pencil still in his hand. He had been cruelly murdered by being shot four times in the face. Detective Inspector Crockford from Romford took up the investigation.
About 10 miles away a Morris Cowley motor car belonging to Dr Edward Lovell had been stolen from his garage in London Road Billericay. Some of his medical instruments and some drugs were in the car. But by the time the theft was reported, the car itself had already been spotted 42 miles away in a narrow passage behind 21 Faxley Road, Brixton. There were blood splashes on one of the running boards.
The police recovered the car and found a cartridge case marked RLIV. This marking indicated that it was an old Mark IV type made at the Royal Laboratory in Woolwich Arsenal for troops in the First World War. The case seemed to have been scarred by a fault in the breech block of the gun which had fired it. The foremost gun expert of the day was Mr Robert Churchill who found that the bullet would have been fired by a Webley revolver.
It looked as if the murder of PC George Gutteridge was linked with the theft of the car. And the car's mileometer showed that it had been driven the same distance - 42 miles - as the distance from Dr Lovell's garage direct to Brixton - and the scene of the murder was on the direct route if the car had been driven along by-ways to avoid detection. Detective Chief Inspector James Berrett of Scotland Yard took up enquiries.
The murder hunt went on for four months. At one point DCI Berrett and his assistant Sergeant Harris worked 130 out of 160 consecutive hours. The police suspected two car thieves Frederick Browne and Pat Kennedy but did not have any evidence. Two Webley revolvers were found in the River Thames, but Mr Churchill proved that they could not have been the murder weapon because they did not make the same mark on the cartridge cases.
Eventually the police had evidence against Browne for the theft of another car, a Vauxhall, and raided his premises. They found cartridges and a loaded Smith & Wesson in his room off Lavender Hill. He had been using a car he had part exchanged for the stolen Vauxhall the police were interested in. And when the police searched that car they found yet another loaded revolver in a secret recess in the car. And it was a Webley.
And it was that Webley which Mr Churchill examined and found to be the very same one which had caused the peculiar mark on the cartridge case. Later Browne's accomplice Patrick (or William) Kennedy was arrested, but only after he had pressed a loaded firearm into the ribs of Sergeant Mattinson of Liverpool Police and pulled the trigger. But the gun clicked as a bullet jammed in the barrel, Sergeant Mattinson survived and both Kennedy and Browne were now in custody. They were later convicted of murder.
The Sunday Dispatch newspaper carried the headline "Hanged by a microscope" reflecting the fact that microscopic examination of the cartridge cases had provided the crucial evidence to convict them of an awful murder.