|Posted by justiceforwulliebeck on August 24, 2011 at 12:40 PM|
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The years around the turn of the twentieth century provided a more notorious case of mistaken identity than Dr Hessel. Adolf Beck was arrested on two occasions, in 1896 and 1904, after female victims of fraud wrongly identified him in the street. The frauds all had a distinctive method whereby a man, purporting to be a member of the aristocracy, would approach women, invite them to go sailing with him, and present them with a cheque (which bounced) for the purchase of clothes. He, in turn, took one or more of their rings as a sample of their finger size, saying that he would go to a jeweller's to buy a better ring. The man then disappeared, having pawned the victim's ring.
The culprit, a German named Weiss, was convicted in 1877, but Beck was picked out in the street, and at identification parades in 1896 and convicted, despite dubious evidence from a handwriting expert. After his release he was again picked out in the street, and convicted again of more incidents of the same method in 1904, but whilst in prison, awaiting sentence for his second wrongful conviction, the real offender played the same trick on two other women and, by good fortune, was immediately arrested. Beck at last had a cast-iron alibi because this time he was in prison, and the identity of the other man could be established.
Beck was prosecuted because of the peculiar and consistent method of the frauds, his similarity in appearance to the real offender, the opinion of a handwriting expert named Gurrin, and a succession of female victims who identified him for two prosecutions. The recollections of the women may have been at fault, but they were in good company. Elliss Spurrell, the police officer who had originally arrested Weiss, alias John Smith in 1877, gave evidence at the magistrates court that Adolf Beck was the same man, and the prosecuting counsel at the Old Bailey in the 'John Smith' case was the trial judge, Sir Forrest Fulton, who dealt with Adolf Beck's first trial in 1896.
The credit for resolving this miscarriage of justice lay firstly with the 1904 trial judge, Mr Justice Grantham, who had lingering doubts about Beck's guilt and had delayed concluding the case despite apparently strong prosecution evidence and procedures. It was in this period of delay, before being sentenced, that the crucial arrest of the real offender took place. Much credit is also due to Inspector John Kane for his action in making a series of formal reports to investigate William Thomas thoroughly, and to establish that he was the same man as the John Smith who had been convicted in 1877.
Kane had been in court during Beck's 1896 trial and knew that it had been accepted on both sides that the handwriting in the 1877 and the 1896 frauds was identical. The issue was whether the handwriting expert Gurrin was right to claim that the writing was Beck's being disguised. Kane examined the writing of the recent prisoner William Thomas and found that it was strikingly similar to the letters on which Beck had been convicted. Beck was Norwegian, and claimed that the fraudster was a German. John Kane established the real identity of the original John Smith (and hence also of the recently arrested William Thomas) as a German, or Austrian, named William Weiss. He brought three witnesses who had identified Beck to an identification parade, and they unhesitatingly picked out Weiss as the culprit. This proved Beck's innocence, and he was awarded £5,000 compensation for the miscarriage of justice he had suffered.