LOOKING BACK: Murder of policeman shocked Eastbourne

Victim: Policeman Arthur Walls in the uniform of a sergeant
Victim: Policeman Arthur Walls in the uniform of a sergeant

On Wednesday, October 9 1912, a shocking murder took place in South Cliff Avenue, Eastbourne, but how many of our readers now remember the name George Mackay?

The horse drawn carriage called at 6 South Cliff Avenue for a distinguished lady named Countess Sztaray and she was pleased to see that it was driven by a cabman she knew well, David Potter.

The horse began to trot away from the house but hadn’t gone very far before Potter asked the Countess who the man was on the small balcony over her verandah. The Countess was horrified. The only explanation was that a burglar was trying to break into her home.

She immediately instructed Potter to turn around and head back so that she could dash inside and telephone for the police.

Inspector Arthur Walls was on the scene within minutes. He could clearly see the head and shoulders of a man, just where Potter had said he was, and called for him to come down and hand himself in.

The reply was a single shot that hit Walls near his heart. The assassin then dropped down and ran off into the surrounding streets.

The only clue he had left behind was a hat that he had dropped as he ran away.

A police cordon was thrown around Eastbourne. The railway station was watched carefully with officers told to be on the lookout for anyone behaving in a suspicious manner.

Meanwhile, a man using the name John Williams was in Eastbourne with his girlfriend, Florence Seymour. They had originally taken lodgings in Bolton Road but on the day of the murder had moved to 4 Tideswell Road where they had registered as Mr and Mrs Sinclair. Soon, “Mr Sinclair” was sending a hurried telegram to his brother in London, pleading for help. The brother, along with a friend, one Edgar Power, headed to Eastbourne.

Power soon put two and two together and realised that Mr Sinclair, alias John Williams, was actually George Mackay and that he was almost certainly the man responsible for the murder of Arthur Walls.

Power asked George Mackay directly if he were the killer, which of course he denied, but Florence Seymour said she had seen Mackay break up a revolver and hide it in the sand on the beach.

In due course Power and Florence went onto the beach to try to recover the weapon. They were seen scrabbling around in the sand by two alert police officers who took them in for questioning.

They soon revealed what they thought Mackay had done.

The police returned to the beach and after more searching, found the murder weapon. Mackay was arrested the following day.

At his trial, which opened at Lewes on December 12, Mackay could offer little in the way of a defence.

Found guilty of murder, he was hanged at Lewes Prison on Wednesday January 29 1913, by John Ellis who was assisted by William Willis.

This is just one sad story of a crime of murder that ended in an execution in the 20th century.

In fact, there are 865 such stories for that is the number of men, and women, who were executed on the United Kingdom between 1900 and 1964.

There are, of course, numerous books on individual crimes, especially the more famous ones such as Derek Bentley, Ruth Ellis, John George Haigh and the like but a new website tells the stories of every single one.

Indeed, in the months and years to come that website will expand until eventually it will cover every such crime of murder from 1900 to 1970 and will hold around 30,000 stories, many of which are lost in the mists of time.

The website, www.truecrimesltd.co.uk is a membership site with costs as little as £5 but with lots of free information available as well.

Plus, the producers of the site state that once the site holds 2,000 entries, the prices of membership will be doubled, but that anyone joining before then will always be able to renew at the present price.

Have a look for yourself and perhaps you will find another forgotten story like that of George Mackay and Inspector Arthur Walls. John J Eddleston <john@true-crimes.co.uk