On this date in 1947, William Graham Rowland was controversially hanged for murdering his lover Olive Balchin.
Balchin had been savagely bludgeoned to death with a hammer, but her condemned murderer was once a bit of a cause celebre for the anti-death penalty movement in Great Britain.
Though less compelling and memorable than the likes of Timothy Evans, Rowland’s case was one of those cases where the evidence pointed towards guilt but maybe not with the vehemence you’d like to see for the gallows.
The Crown and the accused fielded clashing eyewitnesses — the former put him on the scene; the latter said he was miles away — and blood on Rowland’s clothes proved to match Balchin’s blood type.
Five weeks before the execution, a convict in Liverpool Prison named David Ware claimed that it was he and not Rowland who actually murdered Olive Balchin. A commission of inquiry was hurriedly assembled to weigh in on whether an innocent man was about to swing. Ware provided them a reassuring retraction.
“I made these statements out of swank more than anything,” Ware told the commission. “I also thought I was putting myself in the position of a hero. I wanted to see myself in the headlines. In the past I wanted to be hung. It was worth while being hung to be a hero.” The inquiry commission issued its finding accordingly, on the very eve of Rowland’s scheduled hanging, which went off just as it had always been scheduled.
After Ware got out, he murdered a different woman by bludgeoning her to death with a hammer, then committed suicide in his jail cell. Rowland, for his part, turned out to have been already convicted of and reprieved from a different murder in 1934.