The only other occasion on which evidence of firearms identification has been put forward in England in a murder trial as a major issue was in March, 1933, and this case may be of interest as expert evidence was brought forward both by the prosecution and the defence.1
The facts leading up to the trial were briefly as follows.
A man named Zemenides, who styled himself as "Doctor," was the apparent head of the Cypriot community in London.
He had, not to put too fine a point on it, swindled
1 At least two cases have been reported very briefly in the daily Press in which an expert witness stated in evidence for the prosecution that a particular fired bullet could only have been fired from a particular pistol and not from any other. But in neither case, apparently, was there any possible doubt that the pistol produced had been used, and in one of them the report stated that the accused man admitted to having owned and used the pistol in question. It was not altogether easy, therefore, to understand the reason for calling expert evidence on a point on which there was no possible doubt or difference of opinion unless it was to qualify the witness for receipt of his fee.
a young pastry cook named Petrou, who had only recently arrived from Cyprus and could speak hardly any English, out of a sum of ^£9.
At 11.20 p.m. on the night of January 2nd. a man knocked on the door of the house where Zemenides lived, which was opened by a Mr. Deby, a fellow-lodger. The stranger was a dark man who asked for the doctor. A few minutes later Deby heard calls for help; and, on rushing out of his room, found Zemenides struggling with the stranger, who held a pistol in his hand. Deby shouted to the stranger not to be a fool, when the doctor took cover behind Deby. The stranger had a shot at the doctor, but missed. The doctor then tried to rush into his own room from the passage in which the struggle was taking place, but as he entered his room the stranger fired again and shot him through the heart. The stranger then bolted.
The passage in which the struggle had taken place was but dimly lit and Deby never got a chance of seeing the stranger's face clearly.
The police were later informed by a Cypriot that Petrou had used threatening language against the doctor, and that just before Christmas Petrou had bought a self-loading pistol from another Cypriot together with seven rounds of ammunition.
Petrou was identified by Deby and another man who had seen a stranger leave the doctor's house for the dark street. Neither of these identifications, however, were very positive, although they were identifications; but they broke down under subsequent cross-examination.
Petrou was then arrested and then another Cypriot told the police that Petrou had actually confessed to him that he had shot the doctor. And a few days later the police were informed that if they searched in the cellars of the house where Petrou lodged they might find something interesting. They did so and found, hidden behind some lumber, a -32 self-loading Browning pistol with five cartridges in the magazine.
Two of these cartridges were ordinary self-loading pistol cartridges, that is rimless with nickel-jacketed bullets, and three were '32 revolver cartridges with the rims filed down and with lead bullets.
And in the passage where the doctor was shot the police found two fired cartridge cases, one of which was a rimless self-loading pistol cartridge case, and the other a 32 revolver cartridge case with the rim filed down. Further, the bullet recovered from the doctor's body was a nickel-jacketed pistol bullet, while a lead revolver bullet was cut from the wainscoting of the passage.
The case against Petrou looked as complete as any case could be, but as a final touch, the prosecution called in the Home Office firearms expert to examine the "crime" bullets and cartridge cases. This expert did so and gave evidence at the Police Court that the bullet which had killed the doctor, and the two fired cartridge cases found in the passage, must beyond doubt have been fired by the pistol which was found hidden in Petrou s lodgings. The bullet extracted from the wainscoting was too deformed for useful examination.
It was at this juncture that I was called in by the defence, as was Mr. (now Lieut-Colonel) R. K. Wilson, whose exceptional knowledge of pistols proved quite invaluable.
I will admit at once that it never entered my head that there could be any mistake, as the evidence seemed overwhelming. But naturally I agreed to examine the "crime" bullet and cartridges in order to see whether they really did marry the suspect pistol.
In view of the fact that there were two fired cartridge
The Case of the Shot Cypriot Doctor ^
The upper row gives four different views of a bullet fired for test purposes from the pistol which was found on the premises of the accused tT*
man. The lower row gives four different views of a second test bullet fired from this same pistol. The diameters of both these two test bullets are identical. It will be seen that they fitted the bore very loosely, as the land engraving is shallow and barely reaches beyond the top of the cannelure, while neither bullet bottomed any of the grooves. The similarity between the major markings of the rifling engraving on thes* two bullets is very pronounced cases and only one bullet, and further in view of the comparative simplicity of cartridge evidence as opposed to bullet evidence, I decided to go nap on the cartridge cases and only to use the bullet as confirmatory evidence. Mr. Wilson agreed with this plan.
Accordingly I determined to get a large number of cartridge cases all of which had been fired by the suspect pistol, and so find the thumb-mark of the pistol beyond any possible doubt. Mr. Wilson fired 50 shots into water, using self-loading pistol ammunition made by the F.N. factory, as this factory also makes the Browning pistols. I collected every one of the 50 fired nickel-jacketed bullets and 49 of the fired cartridge cases, one being lost. I then took these exhibits home and began work on the cartridge cases.
The thumb-mark of the pistol was soon obvious. On every cartridge the ejector mark was a deep nick in the rim, and running across the cap, tangential to the striker indentation and immediately opposite the ejector mark, was a pronounced "ridge," which was obviously the impression of a deep tool cut on the breech face of the pistol. This ridge and the ejector mark were so clearly marked on every cartridge that they could easily be seen with a pocket lens, while in many cases they were visible to the naked eye.
Another constant peculiarity was the "ex-centricity" of the striker indentation. When the cartridges were orientated with the ejector mark at 9 o'clock the "ex-centricity" of the striker indentation was quite constant at 1 o'clock.
I then examined the bullets and found that the bore of the pistol was obviously of very large diameter. In every case the land engraving was comparatively faint and only reached just above the cannelure of the bullet, while in not one single bullet was there groove engraving all round the circumference. The majority of the bullets had clearly never bottomed the grooves at all, as they were entirely innocent of any groove engraving; and those which did show some groove engraving were only engraved thus on one side, proving that the bullets could not have fitted the bore tightly all round.
A day or two later the police brought the "crime" bullets and fired cartridge cases to my London Office, where Mr. Wilson and I examined them together and compared them with our test bullets and cartridge cases.
Until I made this examination I felt quite confident that I would find the same thumb-mark on the two "crime" cartridge cases as I had found on the 49 test cases, and which I have already described. But to my utter astonishment I found that the markings on these two "crime" cases were totally and utterly different from those on any of my test cases.
There was no sign of any ejector mark; nor was there any sign of the "ridge" across the cap. But in each striker indentation there was a slight, but perfectly distinct, striker scrape on one side. This scrape enabled me to orientate the cases, and when the scrape was placed at 9 o'clock, when the cases would be orientated similarly to the test cases with the ejector mark at 9 o'clock, the "ex-centricity" of both striker indentations was markedly at 6 o'clock.
To say that I was astounded is to put it mildly. On examining the breech of the suspect pistol I found that, sure enough, there was a deep tool cut across the face on the opposite side of the striker hole to the ejector.
I was by now convinced that there had been a mistake and that the pistol found hidden in Petrou's cellar could not possibly have been used for the murder of Zemenides, but I was determined to make every check that was possible, and so turned my attention to the "crime" bullet.
Here the difference was, if possible, even more pronounced. For instead of being lightly engraved by an obviously loose barrel, the bullet was heavily engraved all round both by the lands and grooves of what was clearly a very tight barrel, and the land engraving was so deep that it reached well up above the cannelure.
There was no need for any examination of striations or minor markings: the difference in the major markings was glaring.
But even now I felt that more evidence would be required to convince a non-technical jury in view of the damning chain of circumstantial evidence against the wretched Petrou. So Mr. Wilson and I decided to repeat our firing test, using pistol ammunition of the S.F.M. brand, which was the brand used for the fatal shot, and •32 revolver ammunition with the rims filed down. Our purpose was to provide evidence which would satisfy a jury that the thumb-mark of the pistol must be imprinted on every cartridge fired, irrespective of its make; and we felt that the greater the number of fired cartridges that we could produce with this thumb-mark, the more convincing would be the testimony in the eyes of a jury.
Accordingly we repeated the test with 48 rounds of S.F.M. pistol ammunition and 13 rounds of 32 revolver ammunition with the rims filed down. The S.F.M. ammunition was very old, and many of the pressures were very feeble—far weaker than those which had been developed in either of the crime cartridges, as could be told by the striker indentations: the pressure developed in the revolver cartridge with the filed rim had been normal, while that in the pistol cartridge "soft," although far from feeble.
Consequently this second test of ours was very severe. But the result was the same, and on every single cartridge case of the whole no which we had fired from the suspect pistol the same thumb-mark was visible.
On hearing our opinion the defending solicitor spared no pains in making the most searching enquiries, the result of which convinced him that the whole affair was a "plant." The doctor had had many enemies in the Cypriot colony, and it seemed probable that one of these had actually shot the doctor and had fled the country later on.
Petrou's story had, from the very first, been a complete denial of everything. He declared that he had never even seen the pistol before, let alone bought it, and that he knew nothing of the murder. He merely reiterated "I am innocent and God will help me."
Accordingly the defence took the line that the whole case against Petrou was a "frame up," and that the pistol found in the cellar of his lodgings had been hidden there by one of the conspirators in order to throw suspicion on Petrou. Unfortunately for the conspirators they had planted the wrong pistol.
The most dangerous point was the similarity between the ammunition found in the pistol and that of the "crime" cartridges. But, as I have explained before, it is by no means easy for unauthorised persons to obtain ammunition, and so filing the rims off revolver cartridges is a common practice in order to make them suitable for self-loading pistol and cannot be regarded as being any sort of proof of connection with a murder.
We were very pressed for time, but I took as many photographs as I could of different test cartridge cases, and I selected two test bullets of exactly the same diameter as the "crime" bullet and took twelve photographs of each of these, as well as of the "crime" bullet. The two test bullets were entirely free of any sign of groove engraving, although of identical diameter to the "crime" bullet which was heavily engraved all round.
Plate XXXVIII shows six of the test cartridges, two F.N., two S.F.M. and two «32 revolver cartridges with the rims filed. In every one the ejector mark and "ridge" are clearly shown, while it will be seen that with the ejector mark at 9 o'clock the ex-centricity of the striker indentation is constantly towards 1 o'clock.
Plate XXXIX shows another S.F.M. test cartridge, which I have included for purposes of comparison, and the two "crime" cartridges.
The photographs of these two "crime" cartridges are not as clear as they should be. This was because I was given to understand that I would have to photograph the Crown exhibits in London, where the only available place was my office.
I was, therefore, compelled to improvise a portable apparatus which could not possibly be as steady as a proper bench. I was also greatly troubled by traffic and other vibration, and even though I reduced my exposures by omitting a screen, there was enough vibration slighdy to blur the image, while the omission of the screen resulted in a certain loss of contrast. But difficulties such as these are typical of those under which the defence may have to work, although it is a pleasure to be able to place on record the ungrudging help which was given wholeheartedly by the police themselves. In fact, I have always found the police only too ready to help in every way, and it has invariably been a privilege to see how anxious they are to be absolutely fair.
The photographs in Plate XXXIX of the two "crime" cases, however, show that there was no ejector mark, nor any "ridge" on either, but in each case the end of the line indicates the small striker scrape. Not only did this convince me that the pistol which had been used for the murder probably had an abnormally long striker or was of a type in which the striker acted as the ejector—for there was no sign of a striker scrape in any one of the no test cartridges—but, as I have said, it enabled me to orientate the "crime" cases as if they had had ejector marks. And when orientated in a manner corresponding to the test cases, as has been done in Plate XXXIX, the striker indentation is in each case out of the centre towards 6 o'clock. The bases of both the "crime" cartridges were scored by the lip of the magazine, as described on page 124, but those marks were of no moment. And the absence of the ejector mark suggested that the pistol must have been of a type in which either the firing pin, or the next cartridge in the magazine acted as an ejector.
Plate XL shows four different views of the two test bullets, and Plate XLI four views of test bullet No. 2 and four similar views of the "crime" bullet. When it is remembered that the mean diameters of all these three bullets were identical, the difference in the engraving of the rifling is blatant.
The Home Office expert based his evidence of identification chiefly on bullet evidence. He had fired a single test round. He declared that the markings on the base of the test cartridge were identical to those on the two "crime" cartridges, but this statement was supported by no evidence other than photographs of the "crime" cartridges. This absence of a similar photograph of his test cartridge, which was essential for purposes of comparison, obviously rendered this evidence of little value. I examined his test cartridge in court and the ejector mark and "ridge" could easily be distinguished with a pocket lens.
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