Murder of June Anne Devaney

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June Anne Devaney
Born June 1944
Blackburn, Lancashire, England
Died 15 May 1948 (aged 3)
Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn, Lancashire England
Cause of death Shock due to multiple skull fractures and extensive internal injuries
Body discovered Queen's Park Hospital, Blackburn
Resting place Blackburn Cemetery
Nationality British
Known for Murder victim
Home town Blackburn
Parent(s) Albert and Emily Devaney

Coordinates: 53°44′14″N 2°27′40″W / 53.73722°N 2.46111°W / 53.73722; -2.46111

The Murder of June Anne Devaney was the murder of a girl aged 3 years 11 months which occurred on 15 May 1948 in which June Anne Devaney was abducted from her cot while an inpatient at Queen's Park Hospital in Blackburn, Lancashire. She was removed to the grounds of the hospital, where she was raped, before suffering extensive blunt force trauma to her skull by enduring her head being repeatedly swung into a sandstone wall. This assault caused the child to suffer extensive internal injuries and multiple skull fractures, causing June Anne to develop a fatal state of shock. Her murderer, 22-year-old Peter Griffiths, was arrested three months after the crime. He was subsequently tried and convicted of June Anne's murder and was hanged on 19 November 1948.[1]

To solve the crime, police obtained the fingerprints of every male aged 16 and over who had been in the vicinity of Blackburn on the night of the murder[2] to obtain the fingerprints of the perpetrator.

The investigation into the murder of June Anne Devaney would prove to be a milestone in the history of forensic science; this being the first time a mass fingerprinting exercise had been implemented to solve a murder in the United Kingdom.[3][4][5]

Murder[edit]

June Anne Devaney had been admitted to the Queen's Park Hospital in Blackburn, Lancashire on 5 May 1948, to recover from a mild bout of pneumonia. She was placed in ward CH3 of the premises.[6] Shortly after midnight on 15 May, nurse Gwendolyn Humphreys (who was in the ward's kitchen) heard a child's cry coming from the ward. She checked the ward, soothed the child and returned him to his cot, noting as she did so the child in the adjacent cot——June Anne Devaney —was sound asleep.[7] She then returned to her duties. At 1:20 am, she felt a draught and noticed an open door at the end of the ward. She closed it, and saw both that June Anne's cot was empty, and adult footprints—made by stockinged feet—were visible upon the highly waxed floor. Ominously, the drop side of the cot was still in place, meaning the child had to have been lifted from her cot.[8]

"I am not ashamed to say I saw it through a mist of tears. Years of detective service had hardened me to many terrible things, but this tiny pathetic body, in its nightdress soaked in blood and mud, was something no man could see unmoved, and it haunts me to this day ... I swore, standing there in the rain, that I would bring her murderer to justice."[9]
Detective Chief Inspector John Capstick, recalling his impressions upon first viewing the body of June Anne Devaney

Nurse Humphreys made a quick search of the ward, desperately attempting to find June Anne. After 30 minutes of fruitless searching, she contacted the local police. They arrived at 1:55 am and fully searched the hospital and its grounds, finding the child's body at 3:17 am. Her body lay face down in the grass alongside an 8 feet (2.4 m) tall sandstone boundary wall some 300 feet (91 m) from the ward,[n 1] and immediately apparent were extensive bloodstains and tearing to her nightdress, numerous skull fractures, and blood exuding from her nostrils.[10] The area where her body was discovered was promptly cordoned off, and at 4:20 a.m., the Chief Constable of Blackburn Police contacted Scotland Yard, seeking the assistance of an experienced investigator.[11]

As the child's body bore extensive injuries consistent with bludgeoning, the hospital became a crime scene, and the ward was secured and searched. A subsequent post mortem revealed that June Anne had died of shock due to both extensive internal injuries and multiple skull fractures.[12] The internal injuries were consistent with the child having been raped,[13] and the multiple, extensive fractures and blunt force trauma to her skull had been inflicted from the child being repeatedly swung into the boundary wall while her rapist and murderer had held her by her legs, ankles, or feet.[14] Numerous teeth marks were also notable on her left buttock, and puncture wounds were found on one ankle. Considering the area where the body was discovered, plus soon being contacted by a taxi driver who informed police that he had picked up a man with a local accent close to the hospital on the night of the crime, Blackburn Police came to believe early in the investigation that the crime would very likely have been committed by a local person, or an individual with extensive local geographical knowledge.[14][15]

Beside Devaney's cot, a glass 1946 Winchester bottle, partially filled with sterile water, was found alongside further soiled footprints which were clearly visible on the highly polished hospital floor;[14][15] furthermore, the pattern of these stockinged feet impressions evident throughout the ward revealed that June Anne's abductor and murderer had evidently removed his shoes after entering the premises before prowling throughout the ward to view each cot and bed before selecting June Anne's cot as the one from which he chose to abduct his victim.[16] The bottle itself had inexplicably been removed from its customary place (a trolley at the end of the ward) and placed beside the child's cot. This bottle itself was examined for fingerprints, being found to contain several sets.[17]

Investigation[edit]

After all hospital staff had their fingerprints compared against those upon the bottle,[n 2] a team of detectives from the Lancashire Constabulary traced all individuals who could have had a legitimate reason to have been in the ward within two years prior to the murder for the purposes of both alibi tracing, and fingerprint comparison, before all were eliminated as suspects. Following the completion of this exhaustive task, one unidentified set of fingerprints remained. This set of fingerprints was declared by the head of the Lancashire Fingerprint Bureau to have belonged to the child's murderer.[19]

After first establishing that no match for this set of fingerprints could be found within the police fingerprint bureau—meaning the perpetrator had not previously been convicted of any crime—attention turned to every male at or over the age of 16 within the local community. In a joint effort between local police forces and senior detectives from Scotland Yard, the Detective Chief Inspector in charge of the investigation, DCI John Capstick, then proposed that every male at or over the age of 16 who lived or was in the vicinity of Blackburn (then a town of 123,000 inhabitants) between 14 and 15 May be fingerprinted.[20] The public were asked to cooperate with police throughout this undertaking, with the promise that all records obtained would not be compared for usage in other cases, and that these records would be destroyed at the completion of this task.[n 3]

The mass operation began, and a special card was developed so that the identifiable sections of the perpetrator's left hand found upon the bottle (the left forefinger, middle finger, ring finger and a section of the left palm) could be recorded swiftly. The card also recorded the individual's name, address, and National Identity Registration Number. Also on the card was a section pertaining to the individual's movements between 11 p.m. on 14 May and 2 a.m. 15 May.[14][15][21]

The task-force to carry out this endeavour was led by Inspector W. Barton and comprised a team of 20 officers who, armed with details from the Electoral Register, set about the districts collecting fingerprints and comparing them against those upon the Winchester bottle. Over the course of two months, over 40,000 sets of prints were taken from more than 35,000 homes without a match being found.[n 4] Upon completion of this exercise in late July, police then concentrated on people who had not been listed upon the Electoral Register. By way of checking the issue of ration books and the Registration Number of the individual by which they and their owners were identified, officers began tracing all male individuals whose fingerprints had not yet been collected.[23]

Comparison[edit]

One of the Blackburn addresses to be checked on 11 August was that of Peter Griffiths, a 22-year-old ex-serviceman who lived in Briley Street, and who worked as a packer on the night shift at a local flour mill. When asked to provide his fingerprints for comparison, Griffiths—whose niece had been in Queen's Park Hospital at the time June Anne had been abducted[24]—supplied them without hesitation.[14] At 3:00 p.m. on 12 August, a comparison for the fingerprints upon the Winchester bottle was made with the fingerprints obtained from Peter Griffiths.[15]

By the time this comparison had been made, officers had taken 46,253 sets of fingerprints, and had less than 200 sets of prints left to check before the completion of their task.

Arrest[edit]

Peter Griffiths was arrested by DCI Capstick as he left his Blackburn home to attend work on the evening of 12 August.[25] He was taken to Blackburn Police Headquarters, where he was formally cautioned as to his right to silence. During the ride to police headquarters, and throughout his first interview, Griffiths attempted to deny any involvement,[26] although when confronted with the fact his fingerprints had been a perfect match for those upon the bottle, he turned towards DCI Capstick and stated: "Well, if they are my fingerprints on the bottle, I'll tell you all about it."[27]

Confession[edit]

In the statement he then gave to detectives, Griffiths claimed that on the night of the 14th, he had chosen to go for a night's "drinking alone" in Blackburn, and that as a result of his heavy drinking, by closing time, he had become severely intoxicated.[n 5] He had then chosen to walk around in an attempt to "sober up" before returning home. Griffiths then claimed to have spoken with a man in a parked car, whom he had asked to light his (Griffiths') cigarette. According to Griffiths, this man, noting his state of intoxication, had said to him: "Get in, open the window and I'll give you a spin."[30] This man had soon parked his car in close proximity to Queen's Park Hospital, and it had been at this stage at which Griffiths had chosen to break into the premises to commit his crime.[n 6] He had, he stated, picked up the Winchester bottle to use as a weapon in the event any member of staff had attempted to challenge him after he had entered the premises, before he had chosen June Anne as his victim.

Griffiths refused to talk in much detail as to the atrocities he inflicted upon the child, beyond claiming that he had killed June Anne in a fit of rage when she had begun crying after he had carried her from the premises. Nonetheless, in one section of his statement, Griffiths stated that as he had carried the child across the field to where he assaulted and murdered her, June Anne had trustingly placed her arms around his neck. Although he showed no remorse for his actions (which he blamed upon his state of intoxication) throughout the course of his confession, he did end his formal statement with a sentence indicating he wished to be hanged for his crime: "I hope I get what I deserve."[32]

On the evening of 13 August, Peter Griffiths was formally charged with the murder of June Anne Devaney.[33] Beyond providing investigators with a further set of his fingerprints and foot impressions for additional comparison with those upon the Winchester bottle and upon the floor of the ward of the Queen's Park Hospital, he would refuse to cooperate with all subsequent requests either to discuss aspects of his crime, or to provide blood or pubic hair samples for additional comparison with samples obtained at the crime scene prior to his upcoming trial; simply making statements to the effect of, "I don't wish to say anything" when these requests were made.[34]

Following Griffiths' confession, he was immediately remanded into custody at Walton Gaol to await trial.

To both substantiate Griffiths' confession, and to garner further evidence, investigators went to his house to conduct a thorough search. During this search, a ticket was found from a local pawnbroker, dated 31 May 1948, for a suit belonging to Griffiths. Police collected this suit, only for the police forensics laboratory to discover that it bore bloodstains in several locations on both the jacket and trousers. These bloodstains were found to be the same blood type of June Anne Devaney—type A.[35] Furthermore, fibres from this suit proved to be a perfect match to fibres found upon the child's body, clothing, and the window ledge where her murderer had entered the hospital,[36] thus proving this to have been the suit Griffiths had been wearing on the night of the crime.

Trial[edit]

The trial of Peter Griffiths began on 15 October 1948. He was tried before Mr. Justice Oliver at the assize court of Lancaster,[15] and chose to enter a formal plea of not guilty to the charge of murder on this date.[37]

Among those to testify on behalf of the prosecution was Inspector Colin Campbell, who testified as to the prints on the Winchester bottle being a precise match for the samples Griffiths had twice provided for investigators, and which he readily acknowledged were his own. To demonstrate this, enlarged copies of both sets of fingerprints were displayed to the jury, with Inspector Campbell indicating 16 ridge characteristics which were in agreement on both sets of impressions. Inspector Campbell also testified as to the stockinged feet impressions Griffiths had provided for investigators also being remarkably similar in characteristics with those found upon the ward from which June Anne had been abducted. Also to testify on behalf of the prosecution were individuals who described how the suit Griffiths had pawned shortly after the murder was found to be heavily bloodstained in several locations on both the jacket and trousers, and that these bloodstains were of the same blood type of June Anne Devaney. The jurors were told how fibres from this suit were of a perfect match to fibres found on the child's clothing, body, and on the window ledge where her murderer had evidently entered the hospital. None of these experts were cross-examined by Griffiths' defence counsel.

During the trial, Griffiths' defence counsel openly stated they were not fighting for his freedom, but for his life (murder being a capital offence in the United Kingdom at the time). As Griffiths had already pleaded guilty to the offence,[38] all that remained was a question of his sanity, and as such, the defence had entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. This opinion was voiced by Dr. Alaistair Robertson Grant, who stated for the defence that Griffiths was displaying the early signs of schizophrenia (a condition for which he had treated Griffiths' father some thirty years previously when he had been hospitalised with the condition). Dr. Grant stated to the jury that although Griffiths knew what he was doing, he did not realise the criminality of his actions. To refute this testimony, the prosecution produced the medical officer from Walton Gaol, a Dr. F.H. Brisby. Dr. Brisby testified on 18 October as to his observations of Griffiths while he had been held on remand since 14 August. He stated that, based on his observations of Griffiths throughout his incarceration, Griffiths was sane when he had committed the crime.[15]

During the trial, Griffiths described how he had entered the hospital while intoxicated, and had then picked up the Winchester sterile water bottle, which he stated to the Court he had intended to use as a weapon if he was challenged. He also described how he had lifted June Anne Devaney from her cot and then carried her, in his right arm, out of the hospital, down the field to where he had proceeded to beat and rape her, adding that the child had trustingly placed her arms around his neck as he had carried her to this destination. Although he confessed to having swung the child's head into the boundary wall approximately four times, Griffiths made no response when he was specifically asked about the sexual aspect of the assault. (After hearing Griffiths' recollection of the events, Dr. Alaistair Grant privately conceded that Griffiths was of sound mind.[15])

The trial lasted for two days. Following closing arguments delivered by both counsels, the jury retired to consider their verdict, although they would deliberate for just 23 minutes[39] before announcing they had reached their verdict.[40] Peter Griffiths was found guilty of June Anne Devaney's murder. In response to this verdict, Mr. Justice Oliver donned his formal black cap and made the following speech:

Peter Griffiths did not lodge an appeal against his conviction. He was hanged at Liverpool Prison on 19 November 1948. His body was later buried within the confines of the prison.[41]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The site where Devaney's body was discovered is now covered by the patients' car park of the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital
  2. ^ Initial comparison had begun with all persons with general access to the hospital itself—2,017 persons in all. Of these persons, 642 had specific access to the children's ward. All were checked, and all were eliminated from the inquiry.[18]
  3. ^ All records obtained were destroyed just weeks prior to the execution of the perpetrator of the crime. They would be destroyed in a mass pulping exercise at a local papermill, with the local press present to record the destruction of the records.[15]
  4. ^ Such was the level of public outrage generated by the murder of June Anne Devaney, that throughout the duration of this mammoth task, only very seldom did officers encounter a refusal by a member of the public to submit his fingerprints for comparison with those upon the Winchester bottle. On the rare instance a member of the public did refuse to give his fingerprints, this individual was visited by a senior police officer, who in each instance, succeeded in obtaining the individual's fingerprints.[22]
  5. ^ Griffiths claimed to have drank at least 11 pints of bitter, two double shots of rum,[28] and one pint of Guinness on the night he killed June Anne Devaney.[29]
  6. ^ This claim to have been offered a lift by an unknown stranger in a car was called into question by a taxi driver who informed investigators that on the night of the murder, he had given a lift to a man matching Griffith's description, who had specifically requested to be driven to a quarry located adjacent to the Queen's Park Hospital. This taxi driver's account, if correct, suggests the murder of June Anne was premeditated from the outset.[31]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 132
  2. ^ "Freedom of Information: Records released as a result of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests" (PDF). The National Archives. HM Government of the United Kingdom. June 2005. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "The Fingerprint Society commemorates 60 years since landmark fingerprint identification". Fpsociety.org.uk. The Fingerprint Society. 2008. Archived from the original on 6 March 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Sixty years of fingerprints" (Video). BBC News. 20 August 2008. Retrieved 30 September 2012. 
  5. ^ mentalfloss.com
  6. ^ Avalanche Journal May 16, 1948 p. 1
  7. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  8. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 173
  9. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 173
  10. ^ Case Study: Peter Griffiths
  11. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  12. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  13. ^ The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes p. 108
  14. ^ a b c d e "A brutal murder begins an unusual investigation". This Day in History — 5/14/1948. History.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Woodruff, Lorna. "The Murder of June Anne Devaney". Cottontown.org. Archived from the original on 4 April 2012. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 
  16. ^ Case Study: Peter Griffiths
  17. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 174
  18. ^ The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes p. 108
  19. ^ The Murder Guide p. 129
  20. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  21. ^ "1939 Register Service". NHS Information Centre. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  22. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  23. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 174
  24. ^ The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes p. 109
  25. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 130
  26. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 174
  27. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 6 July 2017. 
  28. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 130
  29. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 130
  30. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 130
  31. ^ Real-Life Crimes (1993) ISSN 9-771354-950013
  32. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain pp. 130-131
  33. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 130
  34. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  35. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 174
  36. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 175
  37. ^ Carl Mulvey (18 March 1949). "Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin". Retrieved 9 July 2017. 
  38. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 131
  39. ^ Chronicle of 20th Century Murder p. 174
  40. ^ The Murder Guide to Great Britain p. 132
  41. ^ "Peter Griffiths - 1948". BritishExecutions.co.uk. 19 November 1948. Retrieved 27 September 2012. 

Cited works and further reading[edit]

  • Godwin, George (1950). The Trial of Peter Griffiths (The Blackburn Baby Murder). Notable British Trials series. London: William Hodge and Company Ltd. 
  • Evans, Colin (1996). The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes. New York City: John Wiley & Sons Inc. ISBN 0-471-07650-3. 
  • Innes, Brian; Jane Singer (2008). Fingerprints and Impressions. New York City: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-765-68114-0. 
  • Lane, Brian (1995). Chronicle of 20th Century Murder. Wiltshire: Select Editions. ISBN 978-0-425-14649-1. 
  • Lane, Brian (1991). The Murder Guide to Great Britain. London: Robinson Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-854-87083-1. 
  • Thorwald, Jürgen (1965). The Century of the Detective. California: Harcourt, Brace & World. ISBN 978-0-151-16350-2. 

External links[edit]