How Badly Can a Government Criminal Prosecution Get Botched?
Would you believe twice over? In 1909 Mr. George Harry Storrs was a very wealthy industrialist who lived at a private home called "Gorse Hall" near Stalybridge, in the county of Cheshire, England. He seemed to have everything a man could want - wealth, health, a happy marriage (apparently), a household with two loyal servants (married too) and a niece. But in the summer of 1909 something, that has never been cleared up, happened. Storrs started improving the "security of his home", including installing a loud bell on the roof which - "in case of emergency" could be rung so that the police could rush over within ten minutes or so to protect the household. This behavior was attributed to an incident where his family saw a mysterious man stalking the grounds, and firing a bullet at Storrs through his parlor window. The police investigated, but Storrs (when asked who had a grudge) was less than forthcoming.
For the next two months the police did keep an eye on the Hall, but nothing unusual (except the testing of the bell one night) occurred. They began to slough off their special policing. Then, on November 1, 1909, a man broke into the Hall with a pistol. He threatened the household, and closed in on a frightened Storrs. There was a struggle, and Storrs was stabbed to death. The man fled, leaving four witnesses. The police came (once the bell was rung again) and tried to get a coherent story from the four witnesses - barely they put one together. The descriptions of this intruder were not very good or specific. And soon, the number of witnesses dwindled, when Mr. Storr's faithful butler committed suicide out of shame for not saving his employer's life.
Police investigation soon turned on a distant cousin of Storrs, Cornelius Howard. Howard had a grudge towards Storrs regarding family money matters. He had a weak alibi for the night of the murder. So he was eventually arrested. There was a trial in 1910, and the evidence against Howard was so weak he was acquitted.
Frequently on television shows like LAW AND ORDER one sees the detectives and district attorneys, when defeated at first, re-evaluating the evidence and finally catching the real criminal. But the Gorse Hall case demonstrates the pitfalls of, "if at first you don't succeed - try, try, again" when applied to law.
The police discovered that Mr. Storrs had interfered with the love affair of an employee (a young woman) and one Mark Wilde. Wilde, like Howard before him, had a weak alibi for November 1, 1909. So he was arrested. His trial took place within two months of Howard's. Again, aside from the weak alibi, and so-called motive, there was little to go by. To make matters worse, Howard (who was apparently angry at the authorities for putting him through the first trial) sat through the second one near Wilde. Wilde (who was defended by the same barrister as Howard had been) was acquitted too!! At the end of the trial, Howard purposely walked over towards Wilde (who approached Howard as firmly) and they loudly congratulated each other. That's something you don't usually see on LAW AND ORDER.
The police never solved it. Jonathan Goodman, in his book THE STABBING OF GEORGE HARRY STORRS, reviewed the evidence, and pointed out that the case against either Howard or Wilde, had it been pushed harder, would have been stronger on either of those defendants. But Goodman dug a little deeper into the secret life of the victim. It seems there were rumors about Storrs having had an affair with a foreign woman worker at his factory, who may have gotten pregnant, and committed suicide. There was some faint possibility that she had a brother who may have known who got his sister into her tragic situation. It may be that Storrs' fear of retaliation, that he dared not reveal to the police or anyone, was based on this sexual affair, and that he was killed by the brother. It's an interesting problem - and one of the few that actually have three possible solutions.
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