Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Rattenbury and Stoner

The 1935 Rattenbury-Stoner murder case caused a sensation in its day. The facts were reminiscent of the even more famous Thompson-Bywaters case of 1922 (which inspired F Tennyson Jesse's classic novel, A Pin to See the Peep-Show): a young wife tires of her husband and takes a lover, a relationship which leads to the murder of the husband.

I was reminded of the case last week by a genuinely moving, and thought-provoking, article in ‘The Times’ about John, the son of Francis and Alma Rattenbury. Alma committed suicide after the murder, but although her lover was sentenced to hang, he won a reprieve. John, a young child at the time of the killing, grew up to be a successful architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright. The article, by journalist York Membery, reveals that the tragedy gave its innocent young victim ‘an understanding from a very early age of other people’s pain and sorrow.’ The late Sir David Napley, a renowned solicitor in his day, wrote a book suggesting that Alma herself killed Francis, while high on drugs, but John will have none of it.

The article coincides with the revival of Terence Rattigan’s play based on the case, Cause Celebre. Interestingly, the case also inspired two other plays, by John van Druten and Simon Gray. I gleaned this information from a wonderful, though relatively little known, book by Steve Haste. Called Criminal Sentences, it examines renderings of true crime cases in fiction and drama and is full of intriguing details.

No comments: