Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Wartime Murder in Belsize Road


It was May 1942 and London was in the middle of the War, when Pauline Barker was murdered at 184 Belsize Road. The story did not receive much attention in the press. Here we use the Metropolitan Police files from the National Archives to look at the stories of the main participants in this sad crime. The house has since been demolished as part of the Council redevelopment in the area.

Pauline Barker was born in Islington in 1899, the daughter of Frederick Charles Barker and Lydia Care. He was a solo harpist and she was a leading contralto with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, they married in London in 1898. But the marriage did not go well and Frederick left Lydia in 1910 and she sued for divorce in 1911. Frederick said in the divorce papers the reason he left her was because of:

Her violent temper and ungovernable behaviour and constant and habitual use of filthy, disgusting and obscene language and constant disagreements for ten years which have rendered his married life most unhappy. He has continued to supply her with funds for the maintenance of her and the children, and is willing to continue to do so.

Lydia, who was then living in East Finchley, filed for the restitution of conjugal rights. In a letter through her solicitor, she asks for bygones to be bygones and that he return to her. If not, she will commence legal proceedings. When he got the letter, Frederick replied briefly: 

Dear Sirs, do not waste your eloquence. There is not the remote chance of my returning to my wife. My bitterest enemy could not wish me a worse wish!
Go on with your divorce. It is the only possible remedy.

After the hearing in the divorce court, the judge ordered him to pay Lydia the costs of £18 and 30s per week. He was allowed access to the children every other Saturday at his house, 18 The Parade, Twickenham. Frederick continued to perform and he died in 1924 in South Africa. Lydia bought up the three children in a house on Highgate Hill.

Pauline, the eldest, became an accomplished solo harpist like her father. She had engagements with the Russian Ballet and the BBC. She played on numerous radio broadcasts, especially from Belfast, from 1924 to 1930. Like her mother, she was also with the Carl Rosa Company. When she was eighteen she married 47 year old George Longfield Beasley. He was an electrical engineer who invented the Beasley-Gamewell system, an integrated fire and police alarm used in Windsor Castle and by several local councils. After three years of marriage George sued for divorce in 1921 on the grounds of Pauline’s adultery.

Two years later Pauline married Harry Lowe, who was a viola player and the conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra from about 1934 to 1945. But on a boat journey Pauline had an affair with a ship’s officer in 1931 and she and Harry separated. They were finally divorced in 1941.

Pauline first met Achilles Apergis who was a garage proprietor, when she was working in Belfast at the BBC studio.  His full name was Achilles George White Apergis, but he used the name Arthur Anderson. He was brought up in a middle-class family in south London and educated at Dulwich College. His father was a Captain in the Greek Army who married an English woman and he became a naturalised British Subject. Arthur had served in the Greek Cavalry for two or three years. His brother Hector Demetrius Apergis, was a GP at 55 Crouch Hall Road, with consulting rooms in Harley Street. Their parents lived at 47 Muswell Road, Muswell Hill.

In 1931 after his garage in Belfast had failed, Arthur came to London and contacted Pauline again. He worked as a motor engineer with various firms in Kilburn and Cricklewood and then briefly ran the St John’s Wood Garage at 9 Abbey Road. Arthur and Pauline began living together, firstly in 19 Alexandra Road where they stayed for six years. Then her mother Lydia, bought 184 Belsize Road and Pauline ran it as a guest house. But there were problems: the couple often quarrelled and Arthur liked to drink heavily in the local pubs. Lydia told the police she heard Arthur using foul language and struggling with Pauline in the bedroom at Belsize Road. He released her when he saw Lydia, saying sarcastically, ‘I didn’t know you had your ‘seconds’ around’. Pauline told her mother this was not unusual and that Apergis was frequently aggressive.

Katherine Maher, one of the lodgers, had lived there since December 1938 when Pauline Barker took over the boarding house. She said the relationship between Apergis and his wife was unhappy and she often heard them arguing. He used to hit her and on two occasions she heard him threaten to shoot her. Pauline had even asked Katherine to sleep in her room to prevent her husband coming in.

On 27 May 1942 after a particularly heated row, Arthur packed up his things and left. Pauline told Katherine it was because he was jealous of her talking with one of the lodgers, Philip Sedgwick. Pauline said she was glad Arthur had gone and hoped it would be for good, although she was surprised he left so peacefully and not threatened her. Then she showed Katherine bruises on her leg and thigh where Arthur had pushed her over in the kitchen the previous night.

At about 1pm on the afternoon of 31 May 1942, Katherine and Pauline were talking in the kitchen when they heard Arthur shout ‘Pauline’ from downstairs. Pauline called back, ‘I am just serving lunch, I will be down in a minute – what do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to speak to you a minute.’ She went downstairs and when she came back she told Katherine that Apergis had said he wanted to shoot her. Katherine looked out of the window and saw Arthur at the front of the house. He started to enter the gate but then changed his mind and walked in the direction of the Princess of Wales public house.

Princess of Wales, looking down Belsize Road

The Princess of Wales was on the corner of Belsize Road and Abbey Road, where the Lillie Langtry is today. At the time the landlord was Alfred Rice. He said in his police statement that he had known ‘Andy’ Apergis for the past five years and he thought he was a Greek. He also knew Pauline Barker, and that they lived as man and wife, but were not married. At about 7.05pm on 31 May he saw Apergis in the saloon bar and thought that he’d been drinking but was not drunk. Apergis said, ‘Rice, I may not see you anymore; I am going to commit a murder’. Rice said, ‘Don’t be a fool, pull yourself together’. Apergis said, ‘All right’ and left.

Allan Philip Sedgwick said he had only been a boarder at the house since 7 May 1942. On 31 May he was in the lounge, the back room on the ground floor. Mrs Barker as he called Pauline, had left ten minutes previously to go up to the kitchen to get his supper, consisting of some sandwiches and a glass of milk. At about 7pm the man he knew as Mr Barker opened the lounge door and said, ‘Where is Mrs Barker?’ Sedgwick replied that she was upstairs in the kitchen. Mr Barker walked out and shut the door. About two minutes later Sedgwick heard a loud bang, followed by someone running down the stairs and the front door slamming. When he went up to the kitchen, Sedgwick found Pauline lying on the first floor landing. There was a strong smell of gunpowder. Finding no pulse he telephoned 999 and told the police what had happened. He waited at the front door until an ambulance and the police arrived.

Horse bus outside the Princess of Wales

Arthur didn’t go far, just back to the Princess of Wales which was only six houses away. He told Alfred Rice: ‘I have done it.’ Rice said, ‘You haven’t!’ Apergis said, ‘On my honour as a Greek she is lying stone dead. My honour as a Greek means more than anything. It was a clean shot, all she went was ‘ough’. I put a pillow under her head to make her comfortable.

Arthur took the loaded gun from a holster at his waist and handed it to Rice. He said it was a lovely gun and did Rice want it? ‘I don’t want to get you into trouble, so if you want it I will tell the police I threw it away.’ To get it off him Rice said, ‘Thanks old boy, I will have it.’ Arthur took the empty cartridge case out and then gave Rice the gun and the holster. He also gave him a book of National Savings Certificates; ‘this should cover the three or four pounds I owe you.’

Then he said, ‘Buy me a double scotch because I may not see you again, and I am waiting for the police to come.’ The barmaid handed Apergis a double scotch which he drank at the bar. When Rice went into the office to phone Apergis’s brother, Apergis followed him and put 16 bullets into Rice’s jacket pocket. Then Rice heard an ambulance outside and realised that something serious had really happened.

Detective Inspector Herbert Cripps said the landlord Alfred Rice, left the pub and met Detective Sergeant Pilgrim at 184 Belsize Road and told him Apergis was waiting in the pub bar. At 7.33 Dr Rees, the police divisional surgeon arrived at the house and found Pauline Barker had been shot through the heart.  At 7.45 Apergis was arrested in the pub and taken to West Hampstead Police station in West End Lane next to the Railway Hotel. Rice later gave the police the Colt 45 gun, the bullets, the holster, and the book of certificates.

At 11.10am on the 1 June DI Cripps charged Apergis under the name of Arthur Anderson. He made no statement. At 4pm on the same day Cripps was at the mortuary adjoining St Pancras Coroner’s Court when Sir Bernard Spilsbury performed a post mortem. This showed that the gun had been fired at close range, the single bullet passed through her heart and Pauline died instantly.

On 29 June 1942 at the Old Bailey, Arthur Anderson, 52, motor engineer of 184 Belsize Road, was charged with the wilful murder of Pauline Barker on 31 May at the same address. He pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ by reason of insanity.

In court his brother Dr Apergis said there was no insanity in the family. The defence called two eminent psychologists to demonstrate that Anderson was insane at the time he committed the offence, but the jury was not convinced. The medical officer at Brixton Prison rebutted the evidence saying he had the prisoner under his charge for 26 days and in his opinion there was no evidence of insanity. The jury, which included four women, found Anderson guilty of murder. But they added a strong recommendation for mercy.

In his report, DI Cripps says the jury was told by the Lord Chief Justice that what happened to Anderson if found guilty was not a matter for them. Their sole duty was to record a verdict in accordance with the evidence before them. Cripps felt the recommendation for mercy was an obvious response, as having found Anderson guilty of murder, the jury knew he would be sentenced to hang.

On 16 July 1942 the Home Secretary informed the Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard;
That having carefully considered all the circumstances of the case of Arthur Anderson, now under sentence of death in Wandsworth Prison, and having caused a special Medical Inquiry to be made as to the mental state of the prisoner, the Secretary of State had been unable to find any sufficient ground to advise His Majesty to interfere with the due course of law.

Following the decision, Arthur Anderson was hanged at Wandsworth Prison by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris at 9am on 21 July 1942.

After reading all the evidence, we still don’t know why he killed Pauline.

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