Guenther Podola

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Guenther Fritz Erwin Podola
Guenther Podola in 1959
Born (1929-02-08)8 February 1929
Berlin, Germany
Died 5 November 1959(1959-11-05) (aged 30)
Wandsworth prison, London
Cause of death Hanging
Other names Mike Colato
Occupation Thief
Criminal charge Murder
Criminal penalty Death
Criminal status Executed
Conviction(s) Murder

Guenther Fritz Erwin Podola (8 February 1929 – 5 November 1959) was a German-born petty thief, and the last man to be hanged in Britain for killing a police officer.[1] His trial was notable and controversial because of his defence of amnesia and the use of expert witnesses to determine whether his illness was real.[2]


Podola was born in Berlin, Germany. He was a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth movement.[3] Podola moved to Canada in August 1952. On 1 March 1957 he was sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment following a conviction for burglary in Montreal. Then on 26 March he was sentenced for another 11 counts of theft and burglary and imprisoned for 2 years. On 25 July 1958 Podola was released and deported back to West Germany.[3]


Podola moved to London on 21 May 1959. He assumed the alias of Mike Colato and pretended to be a gangster.[4] He broke into the house of an American model,[5] Verne Schiffmann, and stole jewellery and furs worth £2,000.[1] He tried to blackmail her in return for her possessions, asking for £500,[4] but she notified the police who attempted to arrest Podola on 12 July 1959 in Kensington.[6] Podola shot one of the officers, Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy, through the heart with a Radom 9mm semi-automatic pistol.[3] He was later apprehended and Podola claimed he was beaten up by the police[7] and that as a result he lost his memory of events.[1] The police claimed that he was merely hit on the head when they broke down the door to his hotel room.[4]


The start of the trial was delayed for nine days while a jury heard evidence of whether Podola was medically fit to stand trial.[8] After 3½ hours of deliberation, they decided he was.[3] A fresh jury was called to hear the trial itself.[3] When asked for his plea, he replied: "I do not remember the crime for which I stand accused ... I am unable to answer the charges."[8] He was defended by Frederick Lawton QC.[4] Neurologist Michael Ashby gave evidence as an expert medical witness at his trial, as did psychiatrist Archibald Leigh, who claimed Podola was feigning his illness.[7]

The jury took 38 minutes[8] to find Podola guilty of capital murder, and he was sentenced to "suffer death in the manner authorised by law" by the trial judge, Mr Justice Edmund Davies. He later confessed his guilt.[7] The Home Secretary, R.A. Butler, under a little-known and little-used power, referred the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which upheld the conviction, and the Attorney-General's refusal of leave to appeal to the House of Lords brought the case to a close in a fresh outburst of public controversy. Podola was hanged at Wandsworth prison at 9.45 a.m. on 5 November 1959.[5] He was buried in the prison graveyard (grave 59).[3] Apart from his execution being the last for that of a police officer's murder in the United Kingdom, it took place five years before the last execution of any criminal and six years before the suspension and later abolition of the death penalty.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Furneaux, Rupert (1960). "Crime Documentary Series 1 - Guenther Podola". Journal of Mental Science. London: Stevens & Sons. 107 (447): 348. 
  2. ^ The Modern Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, May 1961, pp. 413-415
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gunter Podola
  4. ^ a b c d Google books - Villain's Paradise: A History of Britain's Underworld, p452
  5. ^ a b Infamous Murders: Murdered on Duty - Crime And Investigation Network
  6. ^ Crimetime
  7. ^ a b c Royal College of Physicians
  8. ^ a b c Verdict on Podola - Time Magazine
  9. ^ [1]

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