Life After Trial Murder and William Herbert Wallace Part 3

About William Herbert Wallace, the prime suspect when his wife was found murdered despite a lack of evidence, life after the not guilty verdict


"Can you wonder," he wrote, "that when I sit alone in the evenings with my chess-board in front of me, the shadow of the dock, the shadow of the Judge in the black cap-yes, even the shadow of the scaffold itself-rise up before my very eyes? I push away the chess-board . . . ."

Obsessed by a yearning to bring Julia's killer to justice and haunted by fears for his own safety, he became afraid of shadows. Perhaps with good reason. "I know the murderer," he stated forthrightly in a newspaper article. "In front of the porch of this lonely house of mine, I have fitted an electric switch and lamp. They are not there for the convenience of friendly visitors . . . but to safeguard my life . . . . The figure which one day I fully expect to see, crouching and ready to strike, will be that of Qualtrough, the man who murdered my wife."

But Wallace was not murdered by his wife's murderer. Just before Christmas, 1932, he was stricken by the kidney ailment that had plagued him for years. When on Feb. 9 the pain became unendurable, he allowed himself to be taken to a hospital, but little could be done for him, and he died on Feb. 26. His last words, spoken to his nephew the night before, were "Do good with your life."

It was tragically ironic advice. Wallace, the erstwhile draper's assistant who, as a young man, had traveled to India and Shanghai in search of adventure and ended up with clerical jobs and 16 years of collecting insurance premiums in mean, mediocre streets, had done little with his own life other than finish it in a searing blaze of notoriety.

Nearly 50 years later, the questions still tantalize. Had the nondescript insurance agent fashioned one of the most ingenious murder plots outside the realm of fiction? Had the disease that ravaged his body also warped his mind, driving him to a brutal act of frenzy? Or is "Qualtrough" a respected elder of a Liverpudlian community, an unmasked murderer who will bear his guilty secret to the grave? Naturally, there are no answers. An open ending is the only ending for a perfect murder mystery.

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