Unfortunately we have been unable to find photographs of my older brother’s birthday party, which Johnny (as he was known to my family), attended. I have a sneaking suspicion that he was eradicated from the family records after his conviction. I don’t remember him at all as I was very young, but I do have hazy recollections of the shock and horror which rippled through my family at the time. I spoke earlier today to my 93 year-old mother, who maintains that Johnny was a lovely boy who ‘got in with the wrong crowd’. When my parents moved to their first marital home after the war in 1946, the Constantines were their neighbours. All the families on their road had young children, and got on well. By the time that news of Johnny’s crime broke, we had moved away from our home city of Nottingham for a couple of years and had only just returned. I remember whispered conversations and telephone calls and, when I was growing up, my mother would often recount the story, telling us that Johnny’s father had ‘washed his hands of him’! My brother, who is eight years older than me, has a better recollection of Johnny as the teenage boy who everyone on the street got on with, and possibly looked up to. At my brother’s birthday party, Johnny was happy to be dressed in fancy dress by my Dad and join in the fun. We spoke today, my brother and I, of our regret at not being able to trace those photographs.
I can easily find details of Johnny’s execution, as it was recorded in Hansard, and there is an occasional mention of him in a book about murder, executions or the 1960s. An Internet search revealed that he was married and someone in a history forum mentioned that his wife worked with her. This would accord with my parents’ memories that they had met him when he was a young man, with a girl on his arm.
So what made Johnny ‘turn bad’? Was my Mum’s explanation that he had been led on by his ‘friends’ correct? Was it desperation? Was he not managing to pay the rent? Did he have gambling debts? Was it a moment of madness? Without delving further into court records we can only speculate.
Here is the crime of which he was convicted according to ‘Hanged at Lincoln’ by Stephen Wade (the noose on the front cover leaves us in no doubt as to the fate of the subjects!).
“ Lily Parry lived over her shop and always kept the takings in her bedroom at night. A young girl, Judith Reddish, stayed there, and on 22nd April 1960 she arrived back from an evening out and settled down for the night, then Mrs Parry locked up and went to bed. Early the next day, blood was seen coming from under Mrs Parry's bedroom door, the police arrived and found her, skull broken and almost dead. She died later in hospital.
John Constantine lived in the same street, Waterloo Promenade, Nottingham. His place had a room that was close to the shop and he was duly questioned. He admitted that he had robbed the shop but denied committing murder. He did however say that he had hit out at a figure that had advanced towards him. He said at first that he had hit her with a crowbar but changed his story later. He tried to blame someone else, and blamed another man, Colathan, who was allegedly his accomplice, but Colathan had an alibi, which was confirmed by several people.
The defence brought in the famous ‘dog didn’t bark’ storyline. As Mrs Parry had a dog and it had not barked; they argued that the dog must have been kept silent by an accomplice, but that was not accepted by the jury and they returned a guilty verdict. An appeal failed, and then a reprieve request was turned down. Harry Allen was the executioner, and, as N.V. Gagen pointed out, there was no high-profile media interest in the execution - only four journalists were present - and no execution notice was posted on the prison gates."
And that was the end of Johnny’s story. Researching this has brought back many childhood memories; however, I am left with the haunting vision of a young man, now forgotten, who only exits in the imagination and blurred memories of the few who knew him.
The dog who didn’t bark or ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night’? Well, that was Conan Doyle and a Sherlock Holmes story, 'Silver Blaze’.
Over half a century has passed since that carefree young lad at my brother’s birthday party took an implement of some kind and beat an elderly widow to death. Researching the story has awakened ghosts from my past; memories of my childhood, and a time when a British jury could convict a young man to death. I offer no judgement of my own, and this is not the place to debate Capital Punishment, about which I’m sure many of you have their own views. Instead I ask you to ponder on the two families torn apart and the needless loss of life; as in so many of these cases, before and since; an elderly widow, probably contentedly looking forward to eventual retirement, and a young man, so desperate that he robbed and killed a neighbour for a few pounds.
I told you that, sadly there are no pictures this week which are relevant to the Sepia Saturday prompt picture, instead you will have to be content with my sepia-tinted memories.
And let the above picture act a s a sobering reminder of the dark days when a ‘criminal' could simply be left to die and his body left to rot as a warning to others. I took this picture last year at a Medieval Fair in Leon, Spain.
It’s visiting hours at Sepia Saturday so why not head over there and see what other contributors have made of the prompt picture?