Town in mourning for police officer

Photo of Steve Walls
Photo of Steve Walls

THIS fascinating photograph of the funeral of murdered police officer Arthur Walls in Eastbourne in 1912 has been sent in by Looking Back reader Steve Hicknott.

The shooting of Inspector Walls went on to become known as the Case of the Hooded Man and the Eastbourne Murder which took its name from the hood the defendant, John Williams, wore when travelling to and from court.

On October 9 1912 the driver of a horse-drawn carriage noticed a man crouching near the front door of the house of Countess Flora Sztaray in South Cliff Avenue. Sztaray was known to possess large amounts of valuable jewellery and to be married to a rich Hungarian nobleman. Police were called and Inspector Arthur Walls was sent to investigate. When Walls arrived on the scene, he saw a man lying on the portico above the front door. Walls called out, “Now then, my man, you just come down.” The man fired two shots, the first of which struck and killed Walls.

After the murder, with no witnesses and little forensic evidence, Edgar Power, a former medical student, told the police that his friend John Williams had committed the murder. Power helped the police conduct a sting operation to catch Williams and police also interrogated Williams’s girlfriend Florence Seymour, who then confessed to having helped Williams hide the murder weapon.

However, Seymour later recanted her story, and another man came forth claiming to know the identity of the real killer. This new evidence, along with the behaviour of the judge in both the initial case and the appeal, made the case controversial enough that Members of Parliament from the three major political parties directly questioned the Home Secretary on the matter. Despite many requests for clemency, all appeals were denied, and Williams was executed in 1913.

The case was one of the first investigations in Britain to use the emerging science of ballistics.