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EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN:
On Monday 13th of July at roughly 3:45pm, in the hallway of 105 Onslow Square in Kensington, SW7, 30-year-old German national Gunther Podola shot Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy dead. Traced to a nearby hotel at 95 Queen’s Gate, CID detectives and colleagues of the dead officer charged into Gunther’s room… thirty minutes later, he was escorted out, suffering bruises, weakness and amnesia.
With one officer dead and the culprit with no memory of what he was being charged with, the whole crux of the trial would be ‘who is telling the truth’, the vengeful officers or the killer with no memory.
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
Welcome to… erm… uh. (as before).
As 30-year-old Gunther Podola sat in the dock of the Old Bailey, the ghost of a cut still lingering above his left eye, he was not the only man on trial in the murder of Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy. As so was the testimony of his partner DS John Sandford and the recollections of the eight CID officers who stormed Room 15, and – it is said – caused the culprit’s amnesia whether by accident or brutality.
Justice Davies forewarned the jury “you will have to ask yourselves, do you believe Detective Sergeant John Sandford’s evidence and regard him as honest, accurate and reliable?”, as with no independent witnesses to either the culprit’s ‘assault’ or the officer’s murder, testimony was based on an amnesiac with a death sentence hanging over his head and eight celebrated CID officers keen to protect their careers, their colleagues, their reputations and the memory of an officer shot down in the line of duty.
But was Gunther’s amnesia an excuse, an accident, or police brutality? (loop/fade/white noise).
Thursday 16th July 1959, on the third floor of the Claremont House Hotel at 95 Queen’s Gate, all eight CID officers would clarify “at 3:45pm, we took up position facing the door of Room 15”; a small room barely big enough for one man, comprising a bed, a chair, a wardrobe, and no exits except this door.
Inside, as he washed, unaware that he was cornered, Gunther was believed to be armed and deadly.
With the hotel’s residents moved somewhere safe, this incident can only be based on the testimony of those eight CID officers standing outside of Room 15; Superintendent Hislop, Chief Inspector Acott, Inspector Vibart, DS’s Chambers & Davis, DC’s Morrisey & Vaughn, PC Collet and his police dog ‘Flame’.
…but when you examine the evidence, some of the details don’t make sense.
As expected, their statements describe a by-the-book operation by unflustered professionals in the midst of extraordinary circumstances; being tasked to apprehend a suspect, to preserve evidence, and to protect the lives of the public, themselves and the culprit who was yet to be proven guilty. There was no confusion of orders, no impatience to get it done, and - interestingly - no frustration or anger.
And yet, this wasn’t an ordinary blackmailer, this was the killer of their friend who just 48 hours earlier had been gunned down in cold blood; some saw him die, some were at his autopsy, and some would comfort his weeping widow and crying kids, in a callous murder which had caused so much outrage that a fund was set-up and many people sited this case as a reason not to abolish the death penalty.
They were professionals, but they were also human, whose judgement can be clouded by anger when standing before the room of the man who murdered their pal whose body lay on a cold mortuary slab.
In court, they would testify “we were issued with revolvers and truncheons”, which made sense as the unseen occupant of Room 15 was an armed suspect fleeing a policeman’s brutal murder, and yet they would all clarify “but neither were used or drawn”, which seems odd given the threat to their safety.
As their training decrees, it was said that DI Vibart announced their presence by hollering “Police, open this door”, which they had to being eight officers in plain dark suits. And yet, in their statements, none of the residents three floors below would report hearing the officer holler “Police, open up”, or even his name “Gunther Podola!” or any of his aliases to make him aware that it was him they were after.
Was this why Gunther didn’t reply, was he afraid, or did he not know it was the Police?
But that still leaves an unanswered question; with all of the officers stating, “the door was shut”, why did they choose to open it by force, when they could have unlocked it with the hotel’s master key?
The door was strong, so having given it a good run-up, when DI Vibart barged it with all his weight, the lock didn’t break and the jam didn’t splinter, it held firm and didn’t budge - everyone confirmed that. But when DS Chambers was requested to “break it down”, with the officers all confirming that they heard “a voice inside” and the “faint metal click of the door lock”, why did he barge the door?
DS Chambers described it as “a terrific crash” as the door smashed open (crash, screams, shouting)…
…again, the wood didn’t splinter and the lock didn’t snap, as Gunther had already opened it.
The Police’s lawyers would claim that his amnesia – if it was real – occurred when he hit his head on the door as the officers stormed in, as confirmed by “his left eye swelling and the cut above it was bleeding”. But with Gunther seen not being bent forward as the Police barged in, Dr Larkin confirmed “that slight concussion could not account for his amnesia”, and the door was unlikely to be the cause.
DS Chambers who forced the door would state “Podola staggered backwards, he fell over a chair and finished up lying face up the floor with his head in the fireplace”, as the other officers followed him in.
It was a tiny room for eight officers, a police dog and a suspect, and yet, the crime-scene photos show no signs of a disturbance, nothing broken, and even a small wastepaper bin beside the fireplace where there the struggle took place being upright, as are the curtains, the wardrobe, the chair, and the bed.
DS Chambers stated “I fell on him with my full force, I held his arms down forcibly to stop him using a weapon” - only later finding his gun, not in the room but hidden in the attic, so Gunther was unarmed.
Dressed only in a vest and a pair of trousers, with the full 17 stone bulk of DS Chambers on top of this 12 stone weakling, “with Podola on his back struggling violently and continuing to resist for about 3 to 4 minutes”, two more officers fell on him “to assist in restraining the prisoner”. Held with his hands behind his back, his feet held together, and several burly coppers – weighing “at least thirty-stone” - forcing down upon him, Dr Ashby told the court “I do not know whether he lost consciousness from a head injury, a hysterical stupor or such a weight upon his chest”, but all agreed “Podola went limp”.
DS Chambers said “I felt him go limp under me, he stopped struggling. I drew DCI Acott’s attention to this and got off him, saying ‘I think he’s been knocked out. He’s had a bang over his eye’”. In total, “he was unconscious for not more than a few minutes”, although – having suffered a head injury, shock and suffocation with possibly oxygen starvation - no-one called for an ambulance, no-one checked his pulse or breathing, and he would be denied professional medical attention for at least the next hour.
Only, no-one would know anything of this, except the officers… and Gunther who now had amnesia.
Some may say that what happened next shows the Police’s professionalism, as just 48 hours after their colleague’s killing they cared for his killer’s culprit, whereas others may simply call it a whitewash.
DCI Acott ordered the bed stripped and searched for weapons, which was why blood was found on the mattress. “We put Podola on the bed, a blanket around his shoulder and a pillow behind his back”. Of course, these sheets could be used to muffle sounds and aid suffocation, but that’s just conjecture.
“DI Vibart, DC Morrissey and I (DS Chambers) gave him first aid. We bathed the cut over his eye… took him to the washbasin and gave him a good sluice round his head and neck”. He couldn’t do it himself as he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. But was he being washed or waterboarded, as being a lone suspect in a room full of officers and no other eyewitnesses, who would know different?
It was then that Gunther began to suffer a slew of unusual intermittent symptoms.
“Shortly afterwards, Podola began to shake violently” like he was having a seizure, only again no-one called for a doctor. Instead, blaming it on shock or his head injury, they kept him warm until it ceased.
When his convulsions settled, having said that he was thirsty, with his handcuffs briefly removed, “he greedily gulped down several glasses of cold water”, and although some officers remarked that “I felt he might be shamming”, “this was a ploy”, that could explain why his face and head were soaking wet?
At 4:15pm, a full 30 minutes after Room 15 was forcibly entered, although he had trouble standing up, Gunther was escorted from the Claremont House Hotel and into a police car, aided by two officers.
His movements were slow and unsteady, at no time did he speak or make a sound or statement, and keen to “protect his identity” or maybe to disguise his wounds “I had his head covered with a coat”.
With the killer of Detective Sergeant Purdy caught, this photo was front page news…
…and yet, he hadn’t been cautioned, charged or arrested.
Recollection and written record are very different things, as would be proved by the damning testimony of Roland Gray that, in post-war Berlin, Gunther Podola had blackmailed a grieving widow.
It was the evidence the prosecution needed, but it was littered with problems, as with every statement destroyed, they couldn’t confirm if his confession had been acquired under duress, coercion or assault.
The storming of Room 15 had some similarities, as although the officers were issued with notebooks for the purpose of recording the details to ensure a thorough record, “they had failed to take accurate notes of the events”, and even though eyewitnesses gave their statements that day, many officers did not submit theirs for at least a week, by which time they were suspiciously similar in style and tone.
Which takes us back to the events prior to the murder of Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy.
On Monday 13th July 1959 at 3:40pm, DS’s Sandford & Purdy approached a phone-booth in South Kensington station to apprehend a blackmailer known as Mr Fisher, an alias of Gunther Podola. But with Purdy dead and Podola an amnesiac, all we have is the testimony of DS Sandford, who the judge would ask the jury, “do you believe his evidence and regard him as honest, accurate and reliable?”.
If we re-examine those moments through Gunther’s eyes, they appear very different,
As how did he know they were police? Being cornered, it is said that DS Purdy declared: “we are Police Officers, who are you, what are you up to?”. But what if they didn’t, or what if he didn’t believe them?
Gunther was German, a much-maligned nationality in post-war Britian, who as a fervent Nazi had fled Canada owing to his criminality, had possibly been brutalised by British Intelligence officers in Berlin, and a blackmailer who was operating in another criminal gang’s turf. How did he know? As being dressed in dark suits so they could blend in, all he had was the word of these plain-clothed officers.
Again, DS Sandford’s notebook was incomplete, and his statement taken a week later, having adopted CID’s lazy habit in which they would finesse and fudge any details over a cuppa with their colleagues.
It is stated that DS Purdy said: “we are taking you to Chelsea Police Station on suspicion of demanding money with menaces from Mrs Schiffman”, at which he was cautioned and made no reply. But why?
At that point, he wasn’t arrested or charged, he wasn’t handcuffed or searched, so did this spook him? And as he was escorted by two men in dark suits to their car, spotting that it wasn’t a marked police car but a black Wolseley saloon, did this fill him with dread, is this why he ran, and being cornered in the hallway of 105 Onslow Square, is this why he made the fateful decision to shoot his way out?
It doesn’t excuse his actions, but it could explain them.
1959 was a bad year for the Police, especially in Britain, and unequivocally in London. So bad were the beatings of “blacks, old lags and the poor by officers in private rooms with fists, truncheons, straps and boots”, that in May 1959, the National Council for Civil Liberties asked for a public inquiry.
As just three examples of Police brutality by London officers in 1959:
A Cypriot in Soho testified that “two officers in the presence of an inspector had beaten him black and blue with a stick” – the officers were not charged. In August, at Chelsea police station, a ‘black stoker’ was kicked and strangled in the cells – no charges were brought. And an RAF officer was “beaten for two hours with a ruler”, only for the officers to state “he got violent and slipped when we chased him”.
The Police in the 1950s had become too powerful and too corrupt.
Sir Robert Mark, the Met’ Police Commissioner would openly state “the CID were the most routinely corrupt organisation in London”, with many “being bent for the job” by taking bribes, dealing drugs, turning a blind-eye for profit, fitting up suspects and closing ranks when their crimes were queried.
By the late 1970s, Operation Countryman investigated hundreds of City of London police officers who had facilitated a series of armed robberies, with one cop stating, “all the blokes on the robbery squad had a drink in it, going right to the top”. Only every officer was acquitted as no-one would speak.
So common was this corruption, that Sir Paul Condon, Head of the Met in the 1990s coined the phrase “noble cause corruption” – as with cops too keen to nail the accused without enough proof – it was said “at every station there would be guys who excelled as scriptwriters… and the officers would leave their notebooks blank until a ‘scriptwriter’ provided everyone with “a carbon copy of the statement”.
Which is not to say that Gunther was framed for murder, he wasn’t…
…only the judge would ask whether the jury should take the Police’s statements as fact.
At 4:30pm, at the rear of Chelsea police station, Gunther ascended the steps to the charge room. Chief Inspector Haxby recalled “he was taken to the DI’s office for two minutes until the charge room was cleared… his left eye was swelling, he had a small cut over his eye and he was in a shocked condition”.
Although lightly dressed in vest and trousers with no shoes or socks, “as he kept fainting, all doors were opened and the fan switched on”, and being deemed “unfit to be charged, arrested or see a solicitor, the Duty Officer phoned the police surgeon, while two officers remained outside of his cell”.
At 5:10pm, one hour and forty minutes after his head injury and possible suffocation, Gunther was assessed by Dr Shanahan as “dazed, frightened and exhausted… suffering from a withdrawal reaction” (where shock causes the patient mentally shutdown) “but physically he was normal… he had a few minor scratches to his back and face… he was fit to be detained… but he was not fit to be charged”.
Moved to Cell no1, Gunther was “prescribed bed rest”, and not hospitalisation…
…but as he mentally shut down and his eye swelled further, physically he seemed to deteriorate.
PC’s Hannagan & Hall stated: “he slept a lot”, which may seem odd that a wanted a cop-killer held in an isolated cell in a police station known for its corruption and brutality would take a snooze, but was that symptomatic of his lack of empathy, a resignation to his fate, or was he slipping into a coma?
Chief Inspector Haxby testified “at no time did he speak or suffer any interrogation whatsoever”. In fact, according to his guards, “the only time he talked was when he requested to go to the toilet”.
Only, being unsteady on his feet, “he was assisted by PC Hind and myself to the toilet in the cell, where his trousers and pants were removed, and he was placed on the seat”, the PC’s would state. But oddly, with the Inspector Burdett “suggesting he had wet himself, the prisoner was stripped of his clothes”.
Of course, with the charge room cleared, the only witnesses to what happened were the officers…
…until at 12:30am, as seeing “a decline in his health”, Gunther was removed to hospital by stretcher.
Denied medical attention for two hours, hospitalisation for ten, and confined to a cell for six hours without a solicitor, his treatment caused such an outcry that it was debated in the House of Commons by Baronet Reginald Paget, a highly respected barrister and Labour MP, to Home Secretary Rab Butler.
(House of Commons sounds):
Mr Paget: “I ask the Home Secretary what happened to Guenter Podola during the six hours at Chelsea Police Station which necessitated his removal to hospital on a stretcher… my concern is not whether he was charged, but on those officers who beat him unconscious”. To which Mr Butler retorted “Mr Paget has no right to say that Podola was beaten unconscious, and he had no proof that is so…”, as according to the police he was simply “resting” and was hospitalised owing to “mental exhaustion”.
Mr Paget would fight on “with respect, the people should be safe in British police stations, and that the idea that either vengeance or beatings occur in British police stations is utterly unacceptable”.
When questioned, Detective Superintendent Hislop denied that anything was being “hushed up”.
At 12:50am, on Friday 17th July 1959, Gunther was admitted to St Stephen’s Hospital.
According to Dr Latham, whose notes (along with his colleagues were exceptional and as independent witnesses would provide the backbone of the medical testimony) would state of his physical wounds “he had a ½ inch laceration over left eyebrow, a ½ inch bruise over left forehead, a slight swelling over left jaw, minimal bruising to his upper arm and blood in nostrils”, but no evidence of skull fractures.
Moved to Ward B5, Dr Ashton would state “It is difficult to assess this patient because he is completely uncommunicative and because of his head injury it has obscured his personality”. That day, Dr Phillip Harvey, consulting physician at St Stephen’s sent a letter to the police reporting “Mr Podola is suffering from the after-effects of concussion and a cerebral contusion…”, a bleeding on the surface of the brain, “I anticipate the need for a further two to three days here… as his recovery will be slow”.
And it was.
Guarded by three shifts of two officers twenty-four hours-a-day over the next four days whilst chained to the bed, Gunther needed help from the nurses and the officers to do even the simplest of things; to walk, to stand and to sit; he had difficulty raising a spoon of food, smoking a cigarette, and again, this 30-year-old man needed two adults to remove his pants and to sit him on the toilet, like a baby.
Repeating the same basic phrase to the doctor, “what happened to me?”, Gunther had no memory of his injuries, the assault or the murder, he would have no memory of his four days in hospital, or even of the life he had lived up until that point, except for a few fragments which flashed before his mind.
When asked, he didn’t even know his name.
Dr Harvey confirmed “it was clear that severe retrograde amnesia was present”, where you can't recall memories formed before the incident that caused the amnesia, but that “he is fit to be interviewed and to understand the nature of the charge, but he is not able at this moment to act in a testamentary capacity regarding events leading up to his admission because of the presence of retrograde amnesia”.
His bruises and cuts would heal, but so painfully slow was his mental recovery, that even eight weeks later when Gunther stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of DS Purdy, although nine days of the eleven-day trial was solely to decide if he was fit to stand or give evidence, he could recall nothing.
On Monday 20th of July, four days after the incident, Mr Williams, Gunther’s court-appointed solicitor was permitted to speak to his client, but so damaged was his memory that when he was handed a document to sign, he had no idea what it meant, and his solicitor had to spell his name for him.
At 2:50pm, back at Chelsea Police Station and this time with his solicitor present, Gunther was formally charged by Superintendent Hislop for the murder of DS Purdy. He was cautioned but made no reply, before being committed to criminal trial following a hearing at West London Magistrates Court.
Tried at the Old Bailey for a crime he couldn’t recall, the police would deny any accusations of brutality, statement-doctoring or a cover-up. Their defence was that – laughable as it may seem – that Gunther’s state of amnesia was merely a convenient ploy to escape a death sentence, at the hangman’s noose.
Gunther was unable to testify against these eight celebrated CID officers keen to protect their careers, their colleagues, their reputations and the memory of a police officer killed in the line of duty. It was a case which Justice Edmund Davies would state was reliant on whether the jury believed them “and could or should regard DS Sandford (and his colleagues) as honest, accurate and reliable”?
Recollection and written record are two very different things, but if the Police’s statements were an accurate report of the events, as they would vehemently claim, that left the jury with an odd quandary.
If the Police were telling the truth…
…then Gunther Podola was lying.
Part Three of Three of Shattered Memory continues next week.
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
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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