Monday, 21 January 2008

Jonathan Goodman

Jonathan Goodman, who died earlier this month, was one of the leading British criminologists of the past forty years. He was probably best known for a book about one of Liverpool’s most celebrated real life murder mysteries, the killing of Julia Wallace. The Wallace case attracted the interest of crime writers as eminent as Raymond Chandler and Dorothy L. Sayers; DLS wrote an essay about the puzzle (she believed, no doubt rightly, that Julia’s husband was innocent of the murder) and, in a letter to John Dickson Carr in 1937 expressed astonishment that he had never heard of it, saying ‘it certainly is a grand case.’

Less celebrated, but equally intriguing, is a crime committed at Gorse Hall, Stalybridge, (about 40 miles from Liverpool and close to the area where Dr Harold Shipman later pursued his murderous trade), which Goodman considered in an excellent book, The Stabbing of George Harry Storrs. The Storrs case dates back to the early years of the last century, but it continues to intrigue. Two different people were tried for the murder, but neither was convicted. Gill Linscott used some of the basic facts in her Nell Bray mystery, Dead Man’s Music.

I first became interested in the Crippen case when I created a character – Nic Gabriel in Take My Breath Away – who had written a book about it. Over the years I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the story. My own researches into the case were greatly assisted by Goodman’s The Crippen File, a wide-ranging collection of newspaper cuttings and other documents about the police investigation and trial of one of my favourite (alleged) murderers. I tried to make contact with Goodman to discuss the case a while ago, only to learn he was unwell. Thus a conversation that I would have found fascinating never happened. Goodman’s other work included The Passing of Starr Faithfull, and The Burning of Evelyn Foster. Bloody Versicles: the rhymes of crime, is a unique compilation of felonious verse: here is a segment of one grotesquely unfair ditty from the time of the Wallace case:

‘Willie had a mistress,
Willie had a wife.
He only wanted one of them,
So Willie took a life.'

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