Full Transcript - Episode #7 The Identikit Killing in the Curiosity Shop
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode seven of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. I love listening to true-crime podcasts, but sometimes I wish there was a way I could interact with other listeners and the podcast’s host whilst the episode plays? Well, now there is. Every Sunday at 9pm London time, Murder Mile will be hosting a “listen live” event, meaning all you have to do is press play on your iPod at 9pm precisely, and by using the hashtag #MMPodLIve via Twitter, you can listen to the latest episode, ask me any questions, and chat to other listeners, all by following the Twitter hashtag #MMPodLIve. Of course, if you can’t wait till Sunday, and you want to listen to episode seven now, that’s fine too. Enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End. Today’s episode is a guided walk of the brutal murder of Elsie Mae Batten, a part-time shop assistant who would be murdered over a matter of just fifteen pounds. And yet, how the culprit was caught would be a watershed moment in British Policing which would change murder investigations forever.
Murder Mile contains vivid descriptions which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as photos, videos and maps which accompany this series, so that no matter where you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there. My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile. Episode 7: The Identikit Killing at the Curiosity Shop.
Today, I’m standing in Cecil Court, WC2; a long, dark, windy little cut-through connecting the busy city streets of St Martin’s Lane and Charing Cross Road; it’s situated smack-bang in the middle of tourist hot-spots like Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden and is just one street away from the home of the Bedfordbury Baby-Batterer (a heart-wrenching case we discussed in episode 3).
Although this alley is bookended by two of London’s busiest roads, as long lines of cars stuck in traffic jams belch a great plumes of polluted fumes, with horns tooting, engines revving and the obligatory cockney cab-driver calling a dangerously-weaving cyclist a “c**t”, Cecil Court is in complete contrast to the city that surrounds it. It’s very quiet, very clean and it’s very posh.
Widely regarded as Bookseller’s Row; Cecil Court is a strangely thin, deceptively tall and eerily long Victorian shopping arcade with a series of unnervingly similar book-shops on the ground-floor, matching mansion flats above which loom over both sides, and is dotted with 19th century gas-lamps, almost as if electricity was never invented. Here, time has stood still, and the only people who seem to wander down this pedestrianised precinct are lost tourists looking for loos, the poor who peep in at the unpriced prints, and the upper classes who shop for dusty books, tatty maps and arty lithographs – all of which they’ll display but never read - in a desperate attempt to appear intellectual.
And yet, it was here that two unlikely people would meet for the very first and the very last time; Elsie Mae Batten and her killer Edwin Albert Bush. (INTESTITIAL)
Today, 23-25 Cecil Court is the home of Goldsboro Books, an independent book-dealer specialising in first editions and out-of-print rarities, all neatly displayed in high and wide windows and tall elegant cases, with the façade painted in British Racing Green, the door protected by wrought iron gates and ornate gold lettering above, which proudly displays its name and number. But back in the early 1960’s, 23 and 25 Cecil Court were two entirely separate shops, with number 25 owned by Mr E. Seligmann, a purveyor of rare books and prints, and number 23 owned by Mr Louis Meier. It was a curiosity shop which (as its name would suggest) also sold a hotch-potch of quirky, curious and unusual items, such as African tribal masks, shrunken human heads and badly stuffed beavers, as well as a wealth of medals, maps, stamps and antique military weapons including spears, swords and knives.
And although the curiosity shop at 23 Cecil Court was owned by Louis Meier and managed by Marie Grey, it would often be left in the capable hands of 59 year old Elsie May Batten.
Born Elsie May Thorneloe in Oadby (Leicestershire) in 1902, Elsie was one of three siblings with two younger brothers, all who worked for the family’s wholesale textile business and lived the life of a well-do-to middle class family, complete with a cook, a nurse and two domestic servants. But by 1933, Elsie had married the man of her dreams, a sculptor named Mark Winifred Batten, and had settled down in the very affluent area of Castletown Road in West Kensington (London).
Although a deeply devoted couple who’d be married for 28 years; Mark’s artistic career and reclusive temperament meant that during the week, as he chiselled away in his country studio at Christian’s River in the wilds of East Sussex, Elsie was left alone at home with their young daughter Griselda. But as Griselda grew up and moved out, Elsie needed a something to occupy her time. And so being a big fan of art, antiques and although she didn’t need the money, Elsie started work as a part-time assistant at Louis Meier’s curiosity shop at 23 Cecil Court…
…where eventually she would be found dead. (INTERSTITIAL)
Thursday 2nd March 1961 began like any other day, as with the ever-dependable Elsie being entrusted to open the shop and arrange window displays of assorted books, bits and bric-a-brac, she would also single-handedly manage the cash sales, inventory and any queries by the light sprinkling of customers, until around lunchtime when Louis and Marie would return from the local auctions.
Later that afternoon, as they were close to shutting up shop, a scruffy young man with beady little eyes, sticky-out ears and a tatty dark suit shuffled in and began to browse the knives, swords and daggers. Although the unkempt youth didn’t look as if he had tuppence to his name, Louis Meier engaged him politely about a piece which had caught his attention, but being unable to afford the £15 ornamental dress-sword, the disheveled young man shuffled out of the shop, empty-handed. His name was Edwin Albert Bush.
In contrast to Elsie’s privileged life, Edwin Albert Arthur Bush nicknamed “Eddie” was born in 1940, as London was gripped in the midst of the blitz, as German bombers pummeled the city with a eight month campaign of air-raids. And yet, from this point on, his short miserable life would only get harder, owing to Bush being a half-cast child born to a white British woman and an Asian father, during a racially hostile period in 1940’s Britain. So difficult was his upbringing, that in 1953 when a concerned charity investigated the squalid living conditions of his family - with two adults and six emaciated siblings all squeezed in just two tiny rooms - 12 year old Bush was taken into care and began a criminal career of burglary and theft, resulting in three stints in borstal (a brutal juvenile prison), all before he was 18. And although his criminal record listed his occupation as a “labourer”, by the age of 20, Bush was living in a squalid rented flat in the bombed-out slums of Honor Oak (South London); he was uneducated, unskilled, recently engaged… and he was broke.
On Friday 3rd March 1961 at a little after 9am, the ever-trustworthy Elsie arrived at 23 Cecil Court, she unlocked the door with the key she kept in her purse and began to arrange the window displays, just as she’d done many times before. As per usual, the curiosity shop was relatively quiet as there wasn’t much call for tribal masks, shrunken heads and umbrella-stands made from elephant feet at this time of the morning, so (whilst Louis and Marie were out at the auctions) Elsie went about her duties, hoping for an occasional customer to break-up the monotony.
At 11:15am, 15 year old apprentice sign-writer Peter Albert King was passing through Cecil Court when he spotted a second-hand billiard cue in the window display of Louis Meier’s curiosity shop. Although a timid young man, who was more adept at painting than talking, Peter tentatively walked into the shop to inquire about its price, a small bell above the door announcing his presence.
Inside, the shop was small, tight and dark; every shelf was stacked with dusty books, every wall was littered with portraits, and every drawer was stuffed full of trinkets, with a wealth of strange things either hanging from the ceiling, crammed into corners or piled high on desks. And having only one window at the front of the shop which was already chock full of stock, and illuminated by a small dim light, the tiny room was awash in an eerie mix of sickly yellow light from the tiny tungsten bulb which cast ominous dark shadows to the farthest parts of the shop. In the middle of it all, stood Peter, alone.
“Hello?” his tiny voice squeaked, wanting to be heard and yet not wanting to be a bother to anyone either, but there was no reply. “Hello?” he uttered louder, lightly projecting his voice towards long red velvet curtains which divided backroom from the shop. But as he ushered himself nearer, Peter peeped through a crack in the partially open curtains, and slumped face-down on the floor, he saw (what he initially thought was) a shop mannequin. Having started to shake, and thinking that perhaps this was maybe a lady who had fainted, Peter dashed out of the shop. Almost an hour later, Louis Meier discovered the body of Elsie May Batten.
Owing to the usual clutter of the curiosity shop’s backroom, it was hard to tell if a struggle had taken place, as she lay splayed across the floor, a scattered stack of newspapers under her body. But owing to the copious pools of blood and arterial spray which had splattered the walls, the floor and even speckled parts of the ceiling in a fine red mist, there was no denying the fact that Elsie was dead.
Although unruffled, when pathologist Dr Keith Simpson attended the scene, he noted that Elsie’s clothes were pock-marked with a series of small slits, suggesting she’d been stabbed multiple times with a razor-sharp dagger. So hard was she stabbed, that the imprint of the handle had formed a dark bruise around each bloody wound as the full length of the blade had been buried deep into her body.
Elsie had four critical injuries, either one of which would have been sufficient to end her life; a deep stab to her back which had ruptured her lungs, a second stab to her chest which had pierced her heart (made using a white ivory-handled eight inch dagger), and just above her shoulder, a brown-handled dagger was sticking out of her neck, its full nine-inch blade embedded in her flesh. And still, as if this sadistic level of violence wasn’t enough either subdue or even kill this small-framed 59 year old lady? Her murderer had bashed her over her head with a heavy stone vase, crushing her skull.
At 8.35pm, that evening, through a mix of tears and disbelief, her husband Mark Batten identified the bruised, bloodied and bludgeoned body of his beloved wife, Elsie. As a crime scene, it made very little sense. Although she’d been attacked with a shocking level anger, mild-mannered Elsie May Batten had no known enemies, no bad debts and no criminal record; she hadn’t been threatened, she wasn’t sexually assaulted and she hadn’t been robbed, as her handbag wasn’t stolen, the clasp was still shut and inside was her purse. And though there was very little cash in the till, it was all still there. The only thing that had been taken was an ornamental dress sword.
But with her death having occurred just after rush-hour, and most mornings in Cecil Court being unnaturally quiet, no one had witnessed the murder or the killer himself. Divisional Detective Superintendent Frank Pollard who headed up the murder investigation knew very little about Elsie’s assailant, based on the limited evidence before him… but what he did know was this.
What they needed to do was to find the ornamental dress sword and the man who had taken it. Luckily, a change in police technology was taking place, which would prove invaluable in identifying her killer, as having previously relied on sketch artists to translate a witness’s testimony into a facial portrait (the results of which could vary wildly) DS Pollard decided to try out a new innovation called Identikit. Invented by Hugh C Macdonald of the Los Angeles Police, Identikit used a standardised series of facial features (such as eyes, nose, ears, hair, chin and cheeks) which were imprinted onto interchangeable transparencies, so a witness could build an accurate facial likeness of the suspect.
On Saturday 4th March, Detective Sergeant Raymond Dagg interviewed Louis Meier and based on his testimony compiled an identikit profile of the “scruffy Indian youth” who’d come into his curiosity shop and had admired the missing ornamental dress sword just two days before. And having heard from Paul Roberts, the son of a local gun-dealer in nearby St Martin’s Lane that a youth fitting that description had attempted to sell him a similar sounding sword that same day, whilst in the company of a blonde female, DS Dagg compiled a second Identikit and showed the results to DS Pollard.
The results were remarkable; two facial likenesses, from two independent witnesses, of what was clearly one man. Both Identikits were issued to the press and printed side-by-side in the local newspapers in the hope that someone would recognise the man. And they did.
Miss Janet Edna Wheeler of Floyd Road in Charlton, the 17 year old blonde girlfriend of Edwin Albert Bush spotted the two Identikits in the paper, and reading that the Police were “looking for an Indian man with a blonde girl” she joked about how they fitted the description, unaware of her boyfriend’s heinous and bloody crime.
On Wednesday 8th March 1961, just five days after the brutal murder of Elsie May Batten; Edwin Bush and Janet Wheeler were out in London’s West End shopping for engagement rings. With his wallet flush with cash, having recently sold an ornamental dress sword for £15 (roughly £240 today), they walked hand-in-hand, up Charing Cross Road, passed Cecil Court and turned left into Soho.
On duty that day was Police Constable Arthur Cole (PC 341) of ‘C’ Division at West End Central Police station. With part of his beat being Old Compton Street, PC Cole patrolled his usual patch and spotted the strangely familiar sight of a couple browsing for rings in a pawn-shop window; she was a 17 year old blonde and he was a 21 year old Indian male, whose striking features exactly matched the Identikit image that he held in his hand.
Edwin Bush was interviewed by DS Pollard that evening, and although he denied any involvement in the murder; his palm print was found on the brown-handled dagger, his fingerprints were found on the ornamental dress sword, the unique cuts and grooves which peppered the sole of the bloody footprint exactly matched the shoes he was still wearing, and even though he had to agree that the Identikit was a remarkable likeness to his own face, Bush was positively picked-put in an ID parade by Paul Roberts, the son of the gun-shop owner who Bush had attempted to sell the dress sword to, and was charged with the unlawful murder of Elsie May Batten.
And yet oddly, Louis Meier, the owner of the curiosity shop at 23 Cecil Court, whose own description had helped compile the Identikit image which had ultimately captured the culprit, failed to spot Bush in a Police line-up of just six men.
Bush confessed that evening and made a full statement in which he stated: "I went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck", later commenting that, "I am sorry I done it, I don't know what came over me. Speaking personally the world is better off without me."
Edwin Bush stood trial at the Central Criminal Court (known as The Old Bailey) on the 10th May 1961, in a case which lasted just two days. And although he claimed that his attack on Elsie May Batten was motivated solely by her making unsavoury racial slurs against him as they haggled over the price, Bush was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Edwin Albert Arthur Bush was executed at Pentonville Prison on the 6th July 1961 by hangman Harry Allen, four years before the abolition of the UK Death Penalty. And yet, owing to an odd quirk in British Law, Bush was not charged with murder (a sentence which carries a mandatory life sentence of 25 years), but under section 5 of the 1957 Homicide Act, he was charged with “murder in the course or furtherance of theft”, a crime which carries the death sentence. Meaning that, if he’d killed Elsie, but hadn’t stolen that ornamental dress sword… he may still be alive today (having served his sentence).
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile. If you like it, share it. And if you love it, then please do rate us. It only takes a second and is very much appreciated. Don’t forget to join us for Murder Mile live this Sunday @ 9pm GMT, you can join in the conversation by following the hashtag #MMPodLive. And, if you’re in London, pop along to Murder Mile Walk, my guided walk of Soho’s most infamous murder cases, featuring 12 murderers, 15 locations and 75 mysterious deaths over one mile, in just two hours. Tickets are available via www.murdermiletours.com
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next week’s episode is entitled: The Brutal Death of Ginger Rae
Thank you and sleep well.
#1 - Murder case file at the National Archives -link
#2 - A History of Cecil Court - link
#3 - A History of Cecil Court (v2) - link
As well as National Newspapers Online, Westminster Coroner's Court and Ancestry.com.
With additional music used under a Creative Commons Licence 4.0 (Attribution) via Free Music Archive, with all additional tracks written & performed by Kevin Macleod.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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