1961: Edwin Bush, Identikitted

Add comment July 6th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1961, Edwin Bush was hanged at Pentonville Prison. On March 3 of that same year, he’d stabbed to death an assistant at a Loondon antiques shop just off Charing Cross, using a pair of antique daggers from the shop’s own stock. (The scene of this long-ago crime is presently a bookstore.)


The Identikit sketch, and the actual photo, of the culprit.

Although a small-time criminal, Bush was an important milestone in the evolution of the panopticon.

Poor Elsie May Batten had been attacked early in the morning, and nobody witnessed the crime. The killer/robber (he stole a sword that he later sold for 15 quid — nothing else) hadn’t left behind any usable physical clues.

“It could have taken weeks to identify the culprit,” notes this MyLondon.News profile, “but luckily a change in police technology would be of great assistance.” This new system, called Identikit,

used a standardised set of facial features to help a witness build a more accurate picture of a suspect.

In shop owner Louis Meier’s interview, Identikit was used to build a picture of the suspicious man who had gone into the shop the day before Elsie’s killing to admire the sword.

Another witness, who had seen a man and his blond girlfriend try to sell a sword on St Martin’s Lane that very same day, also did the Identikit procedure. Two facial likeness from two different witnesses were unmistakably the same man — and they were printed in the local newspapers asking people if they had seen a man looking like this and his blond girlfriend.

Janet Wheeler, the 17-year-old blond girlfriend of Bush, saw the Identikit and joked about how they fitted the description, unaware of what her boyfriend had done.

But Eddie couldn’t count on such naivete from Londoners who weren’t his girlfriend. An eagle-eyed beat cop recognized Bush from the same wanted pictures and arrested him on March 16, just steps away from the antiquarian. He was with Janet, shopping together for engagement rings. Once they had him, fingerprints, lineup identifications, and eventually a confession all fell into place.

What’s been left unspoken thus far is the story’s racial character, but that factor permeates everything. Edwin Bush’s mixed Asian-white parentage helped consign him to the periphery of London’s economic life, his unusual look possibly helped cinch the surveillance triumph for Identikit … and if Bush is to be believed, it was everyday racism that triggered his crime.

Provoked, he said, when he visited the store just to browse for the second consecutive day only to have Batten drop a racial slur on him (“You niggers are all the same. You come in and never buy anything.”), Bush

went back to the shop and started looking through the daggers, telling her that I might want to buy one, but I picked one up and hit her in the back. I then lost my nerve and picked up a stone vase and hit her with it. I grabbed a knife and hit her once in the stomach and once in the neck.

Of course, only Bush and Batten were present for their conversation, and it must be acknowledged that when Bush made this allegation about his victim, he needed to give the courts reason to mitigate his sentence.

You can hear all about the case on your run or commute in episode 7 of the Murder Mile UK crime podcast.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft

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