Detective Frederick R. Cherrill and the Lee Case Part 1

About the detective Frederick R. Cherrill and the Lee case, account of the crime, biography of the detective.


The Crime

On June 1, 1948, the milkman delivered a bottle of milk to the front stoop of Mrs. Freeman Lee's rundown mansion, only to discover that the bottles he had delivered the previous two days were still there, warm and untouched. Mrs. Lee, a 94-year-old widow, lived alone on the weed-infested estate in Maidenhead, England. An inheritance from her late barrister husband had dwindled long ago, and for some years she had been supported by a legal benevolent society. When the milkman suggested to Mrs. Lee's neighbor that something was amiss, the neighbor scoffed but agreed to investigate. After peering through the letter drop, he ran to call the police.

Mrs. Lee always kept her key ring fastened securely to her person, but the neighbor had spied the keys and a shoe on the floor next to a large, strapped trunk. When Constable Langton and Mrs. Lee's solicitor, Kenneth Thomas, arrived, Langton pried open a window and the two men searched the residence.

The old house reeked of camphor and dust, and thick spiderwebs laced most of the rooms. The single room that Mrs. Lee inhabited was crammed haphazardly with tallboys and vanities, easy chairs and cushions, all littered with personal toilet articles and condiment jars. Her bed was strewn with sheets and quilts. Next to the fireplace, on a dinner tray, had hardened the remains of the old woman's last meal.

Constable Langton and Mr. Thomas searched the entire residence and lawn for Mrs. Lee. There was not a trace of the old woman. Langton was telephoning headquarters when Thomas slowly unbuckled the straps on an old trunk. The lid creaked back on its hinges. Thomas's face knotted. Folded into the trunk was the body of Mrs. Freeman Lee.

Mrs. Lee had been tied with a woolen shawl, gagged with a handkerchief, beaten over the head with her shoe, and crammed into the trunk. But the coroner's report indicated she was then still alive. Old Mrs. Lee had suffocated in the trunk.

Enter the Detective

A portly and conservative man rarely seen without his black derby, Frederick Cherrill was the head of the Fingerprint Dept. of Scotland Yard from 1938 to 1953. In his 39 years with the Yard, he solved more murders than any other detective of his era. He could glance at an inked pattern of ridges and whorls and tell from memory the owner of the prints.

As a young man, Cherrill studied painting and wood carving in art school. But while convalescing from an operation, he met a policeman who fired his earlier ambition to become a detective.

In 1914, at 22, Cherrill was appointed to the London Metropolitan Police Force. Between walking beats, he studied fingerprinting. Cherrill was intrigued by the fact that a man could be positively identified by the markings of a single fingerprint. The chance of one fingerprint being identical with another was estimated at one in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

It was six years before Cherrill was assigned to the Fingerprint Bureau of Scotland Yard. Ten year later, he developed what is known as the Single Fingerprint System, now in use all over the world.

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