Murder of Olive Balchin

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Olive Balchin (c. 1906 – 20 October 1946) was a British murder victim whose body was found near a bomb site in Manchester, England. The murder weapon, a bloodstained hammer, was found nearby. After a lengthy investigation, police were given a description of a man who purchased a hammer from a local shopkeeper, which was similar to the description that eyewitnesses provided of a man last seen in the company of Balchin on the night of her murder.[1] Based on this information, police questioned Walter Graham Rowland, a man who had been convicted in 1934 of murdering his two-year-old child.[1][2] His death sentence for that crime had been commuted after serving eight years, due to the onset of World War II and the need for able-bodied men.[1]

A forensic examination of Rowland's clothes showed bloodstains matching Balchin's blood type as well as dust particles and plant debris traced to the bomb site.[3] Police arrested Rowland for her murder, and he was convicted and held at Strangeways Prison.[4]

While Rowland was in prison awaiting execution, a prisoner at Walton Jail in Liverpool, David J. Ware, made unprompted three confessions to the crime - first in writing to the governor of the prison, then to police, and finally to Rowland's lawyer.[3] The confession was quickly followed by a retraction wherein Ware admitted to confessing because he wanted to appear "swank," and said that he had obtained details of the murder from newspapers he read in prison.[3][5] There were also questions as to Ware's mental state, as he had been discharged from the British Army in 1943 after a diagnosis of manic depressive psychosis.[3] Additionally, unlike Rowland, there was no forensic evidence found that tied Ware to the murder scene.[3]

Despite the retraction, Rowland's lawyer argued for his conviction to be overturned on appeal because of Ware's confession. The motion failed and Rowland was hanged on 27 February 1947.[6] A Home Office inquiry determined that Ware had made a false confession, and therefore found no impropriety with regards to the conviction.[1]

In 1951, Ware attacked a woman with a hammer, and was found guilty of attempted murder.[7] He was deemed not criminally responsible due to insanity and was committed to Broadmoor Hospital.[8][9] This attack, coupled with his prior confession to the Balchin murder, led some in Britain to believe that Rowland had been falsely convicted and was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.[1][5] The matter is still occasionally raised in debates about the death penalty and wrongful convictions in Britain.[5][7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hostettler, John (2009-01-12). A History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales. Waterside Press. ISBN 9781906534790. 
  2. ^ Fraser, Frank; Morton, James (2012-12-31). Mad Frank's Britain. Random House. ISBN 9780753546260. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Sly, Nicola; Kiste, John Van der (2012-02-29). Lancashire Murders. The History Press. ISBN 9780752484211. 
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of murder p.471-2, By Patricia Pitman
  5. ^ a b c Seal, Lizzie (2014-03-05). Capital Punishment in Twentieth-Century Britain: Audience, Justice, Memory. Routledge. ISBN 9781136250729. 
  6. ^ The Deseret News – 27 Feb 1947
  7. ^ a b Ambler, Eric (2012-12-11). The Ability to Kill. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307950116. 
  8. ^ Koestler, Arthur. Reflections on Hanging. New York: Macmillan, 1957. p.115-128.
  9. ^ Hanged—and innocent? By Reginald Thomas Paget (Baron Paget), Samuel Sydney Silverman