A British Classic: The Murder Of Julia Wallace

A classic British murder case that seems more like the type of plot you would see on a TV detective show, yet the Julia Wallace murder was very real. To this day the guilt of one major suspect is still argued over. Was Julia’s husband William Herbert Wallace guilty of her murder?

julia wallace
The Victim Julia Wallace, who was murdered in 1931

The Mysterious Mr Qualtrough

Living in the Anfield area of Liverpool, England, William Herbert Wallace, aged 52, was an insurance salesman working for the Prudential. On January 19, 1931, William went out to a meeting of the Liverpool Chess Club. A senior member of the club approached William during the evening. He told William that the club had received a phone call and that a message for William had been taken. The note taken stated that a Mr R.M Qualtrough wished to purchase an insurance policy. William was invited to visit Qualtrough’s home the following evening in order to complete the sale.

The next evening William left his wife Julia to go meet Qualtrough at his home. William encountered a problem though as the address he was given didn’t seem to exist. There was no 25 Menlove Gardens East, the address left in the message to William Herbert Wallace. There was a Menlove Gardens North, West and South but no East.

William put this down to a possible error from the person taking the note so he continued in his search for the Qualtrough residence. During his search, he talked to both a police officer and a local newsagent but neither could help. After some 45 minutes, William Wallace decided to call it a day and head for home.

A Horrifying Discovery Of Julia Wallace

Julia Wallace Crime Scene
The crime scene of the brutal murder of Julia Wallace

Upon his arrival at home, William found both the front and rear doors locked. He failed to get an answer from his wife Julia after knocking. William was certain Julia wouldn’t have gone out as she had a bad cold. At this point, William saw his neighbours the Johnstons as they were about to head out for the evening. He told the Johnstons’ of his predicament at which point they advised him to try the back door one more time and if he couldn’t gain entry they would go and get their key. This time the back door opened.

The Johnstons and William made the way down the hallway and towards the lounge when they made a horrifying discovery. On the lounge floor lay the body of his bloody and bludgeoned wife Julia Wallace. Mr Johnston told his wife and William not to touch anything as he went to fetch the doctor and notify the police.

The postmortem examination revealed that Julia Wallace had received 11 brutal strikes to the head with a blunt object. The blows were strong enough to crush Julia’s skull.

Prime Suspect

William Herbert Wallace
William Wallace was quickly made prime suspect.

Investigators wasted no time at all in making William Herbert Wallace their number one suspect. Police quickly built a case and just two weeks after the brutal murder of Julia Wallace police charged her husband William with the murder.

The police discovered that the phone call made to the chess club the night prior to the murder was made from a phone box just 400 yards from the Wallace home. The theory was that William Wallace left himself the message to help provide him with an alibi for the following evening on which he would murder his wife. Investigators believed he committed the murder and then he rushed to catch his tram and use the Qualtrough search as an alibi.

William Wallace was sent before a jury for the murder of Julia Wallace. William denied been the man responsible for the crime but the jury didn’t believe him. After just an hour of deliberating the jurors announced a guilty verdict. William Wallace would be given the death sentence for the murder of his wife Julia Wallace.

The History-Making Appeal

William Wallace trial
William Wallace after his successful appeal.

Shocked by the verdict (as were almost the entirety of the British press), William made an appeal. His lawyers worked hard to rubbish the prosecution’s case piece by piece. They noted that the person that took the call at the chess club was certain it was not William Wallace’s voice on the other end of the phone.

The Lawyers also said that Wallace would have been covered in blood after the murder and that police’s own timetable of events left William no time to wash, change or dispose of his clothing. To this argument, they also pointed out that the officer used to reconstruct William Wallace’s journey was a lot younger and fitter than William, who was a middle-aged man with many ailments.

Finally, there was also a witness. A Milk Delivery boy had spoken to Julia Wallace. This was just moments before the time William Wallace boarded the tram to go to his meeting with Qualtrough. A bizarre theory exists surrounding this witness on behalf of those who believe William did commit the murders. The story goes that the woman the milk boy spoke to wasn’t Julia Wallace but William Wallace in drag. This case may be strange but I don’t believe it to be THAT strange.

For the first time in British legal history, a conviction for murder was overturned by the courts. The court’s ascertained that there was not enough evidence against William Wallace. He was to be released.

After his release, William Wallace returned to his previous employment. Wallace didn’t stay for long though as his health was starting to deteriorate. After resigning from his post and moving to the Wirell from Anfield William Wallace passed away. He died just 2 years after the murder of his wife Julia Wallace. Police never identified another suspect for the murder of Julia Wallace.

Another Suspect Revealed

Richard Gordon Parry
Richard Gordon Parry, was this man responsible for her murder?

It wasn’t until 1969 when author Jonathan Goodman identified another possible suspect in his book The Killing Of Julia Wallace. Goodman claimed a co-worker of William’s at the Prudential was the killer. Unfortunately due to fear of being sued for libel Goodman withheld the name of the suspect. It would be 15 more years before the name was revealed.

In 1984 the suspect was finally named in the book Wallace: The Final Verdict by Roger Wilkes. The suspect’s name was Richard Gordon Parry. Wilkes claimed in his book that Parry had been questioned during the original investigation in 1931. Parry was cleared when his fiance Lily Loyd said he was with her. It wasn’t until later that Lily Loyd retracted the statement.

A Bitter Ex?

Lily Loyd told William Wallace’s solicitor that Parry wasn’t with her at the times they stated. I feel it fair to point out though that this was after Parry had ended the relationship with Loyd. Was this an act of bitterness and revenge by a woman scorned or the actions of a woman who regretted lying for a man she used to love?

It is also claimed there is evidence of Parry been seen with another piece of incriminating evidence. On the same night the murder of Julia Wallace took place Parry took his car for a wash. Whilst cleaning the vehicle a witness claims that they saw a bloody glove inside the vehicle. It was said the police were told of this but chose to suppress the evidence as they had already made up their minds that William Wallace was the man responsible.

Why Would Richard Gordon Parry Commit The Julia Wallace Murder?

Reasons have varied as to why Richard Gordon Parry would have murdered Julia Wallace at all. One theory is that it was merely a robbery that went badly wrong. He knew Julia Wallace and so she may have granted him access. Did she catch him in the act of taking £4 of William’s Prudential collections and pay the ultimate price?  Why though, if it was a robbery and you’ve already murdered the occupant, didn’t he take the rest of the money that was in the house?

Another reason given is that Parry and Julia Wallace were having an affair. By his own admission, Parry would visit Julia Wallace for tea and listen to music. An Affair is not impossible but it is probably worth pointing out Parry was just 22 at the time. Julia Wallace, on the other hand, was much older, in fact, Julia Wallace’s age is another little curiosity.

On her headstone, it claims Julia Wallace was 52 at the time of her death. When she signed her marriage certificate in 1914 she claimed to be 37, which would make her 54 when she died. Yet even more bizarrely research has since revealed she was actually born in 1861, making her 69 years old at the time of her murder. Anyway, whatever Julia’s age, this theory is based on the idea that Julia Wallace was going to come clean about the affair with Parry to her husband and he stopped her.

Plain and Simple Revenge

The final reason mainly used to suspect Parry is plain and simple revenge. Parry had covered for Wallace’s round at work the previous week as William Wallace had been ill. Upon his return, Wallace noticed the payments were short and saw fit to report his colleague to management. Or did he?

It actually appears this is a myth and that Parry was never reported and fired over the incident. In fact, Parry continued to work for the Prudential for another year, before leaving of his own accord.

These theories of why Parry may have committed the murder are possible. However, would he really go through all the effort with the phone call so he could get William out of the way? Surely too much could easily have gone wrong. What if William didn’t get the message, just ignored it, or returned as soon as he found the address didn’t exist?

A Deathbed Confession

Jack and Florence Johnston
Jack, who allegedly made a deathbed confession, and his wife Florence.

More recently a finger or two has also been pointed at another suspect (or suspects). The Wallace’s neighbours Jack and Florence Johnston, who discovered the body with William, have been named as the killers by Tom Slemen in a section of the book Murder On Merseyside.

According to this story, Jack Johnston made a deathbed confession to the murder of Julia Wallace. Jack said that he and his wife Florence had first taken the Wallaces’ pet cat. Next, they had planned to get William out of the way (the Qualtrough phone call) and then Florence would lure Julia around to her house to retrieve the cat whilst Jack snuck into the Wallaces’ and burgled them.

The plan apparently deviated when the pair believed that they had witnessed Julia accompany her husband on his trip to Menlove Gardens. The pair apparently decided to rob the premises at this point (using the key to the door they already had). To the Johnstons surprise, however, Julia was still sat in the lounge. It was then in a moment of panic that Jack battered Julia Wallace to death.

Moving Out

A known fact is that the Johnstons actually moved out of there home the very next day after the murder of Julia Wallace took place, to move in with their daughter. A mere coincidence? or a way of removing themselves from the investigation? The author Tom Slemen believes the latter in his theory. I, on the other hand, have to disagree.

Surely such suspicious behaviour would have actually put them much higher on the suspect list of investigators. The Johnstons and their family members have always stated the move was already planned and that is where the Johnstons were headed when they saw William Wallace on the evening of the murder.

Another problem I find with this theory is the act of the murder itself. Would Jack really have had to murder Julia just because she was in the house and saw them? Surely they could have come up with an excuse for being in the home. At the time there was a known burglar operating in the area, wouldn’t it be likely they would say they thought they saw a burglar.

In any case, the family claim that the deathbed confession simply never happened. They state categorically that there was always a family member with Jack whilst on his deathbed and they would have heard it themselves. Are members of the family covering for a murderer or was the deathbed confession story just that, a story?

Final Thoughts

This case is just so strange I honestly have no idea who I favour as a suspect. The Qualtrough phonecall is such a risky way of getting William out of the way. There is no way of guaranteeing William Wallace would go or that he would have found out in advance the address never existed. This sways me towards William Wallace been the killer.

Yet, the case against William also has its faults, many of which his lawyers rightly pointed out. Did William really have time to kill Julia, clean up, and get to his alibi in the time William had available, especially if the witness who spoke to Julia is to be believed about the time.

Truth is I think the Julia Wallace murder is a totally fascinating story, but it’s one I have no idea about what the true story maybe. If you have any theories or thoughts please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until next time.

6 thoughts on “A British Classic: The Murder Of Julia Wallace”

  1. Hi Adam I agree with your break down . I think Wallace probably was the killer and simply got lucky in a few aspects. As he was chronically ill, perhaps he was willing to take a risk or two. There is too much to explain with other theories.

  2. Wallace was an amateur scientist. He didn’t need a complicated plan to kill Julia. He could have poisoned her! She was delicate and in her late 60’s. I rule out Wallace.
    Gordon Parry was a thief. He had been sacked from the Prudential for taking money.
    He often visited Julia Wallace. He knew the routine, of the house, when insurance money was collected and banked by Wallace for the Pru..
    Wallace had been ill with the flu, so no insurance money of significance was in the house, although expected by Parry.
    The surname Qualtrough is from the Isle of Man. Only 12 families named Qualtrough lived in Liverpool at that time. All interviewed and with no connections to the case. A rare name.
    Someone would be associated with it in some way, and know the connections to the Isle of Man.
    Parry lived in Tuebrook Liverpool.. There are approx 9 street names associated with the Isle of Man in Tuebrook.
    The Parry family, through work, were involved in Liverpool Corporation and being the Librarian of Liverpool. They may been very interested in the History of the Tuebrook area.and their connections to the Isle of Man. Perhaps the Builder or Architect.was named Qualtrough and streets were dedicated by him?.
    It would be possible for the Isle of Man and the Qualtrough name to be known to Parry. A history of the district he lived in using Isle of Man names.He was keen In amateur dramatics and capable to concoct a complicated story of a man called Qualtrough and wanting a new Insurance policy for a daughter,to remove Wallace from his house. It would be easier, for a person to use the name Smith Jones or Williams? Why would Wallace do it?
    The girlfriend of Parry, from his very early youth, retracted her statement that he was with her on 20th January. She, in later life, lived on the Isle of Man.
    Parry was a con man. His dramatic society met above the club where Wallace played chess. He knew when to contact the club to leave his Qualtrough message, as the rota for chess matches were fully visible with Wallace’s name and dates he would be, especially on the 19th January the day before the murder.Setting the scene for the following day.
    I was born in Liverpool, but have lived on the Isle of Man for over 40 years. This is why the case interests me.
    I am still trying to trace when the houses in Parry’s area were built, who by, and if the name Qualtrough will appear!
    Wallace didn’t live in this area of Tuebrook.
    Why was a Manx name used, in an area with Manx name connections, and where Parry lived?

    • When Qualtrough said in the message he would like to do something for his girls 21st he could of meant girlfriend not daughter as some people think parry might of thought that excuse up as his own (22nd) birthday was only the monday before the phone call

      • In the telephone message “Qualtrough” says he can’t call back because he’s “attending his daughter’s 21st birthday.” Parry, as part of his alibi, told police he ” visited Mrs Williamson on Tuesday night to discuss her daughter’s 21st birthday party.

        Parry gave a false statement to police about the night of the Qualtrough call. He claimed he was with his girlfriend from 5.30 PM to 11.30 PM but his girlfriend and her mother both stated he didn’t arrive until 7.35 PM.

        Significantly, Parry made this claim before it was known that the police had traced the Qualtrough call. If Parry had not made the call, how would he know he needed an alibi for when it was made ?

  3. On the mainland England across from the Isle of Man in northern Lancaster ,was where Wallace grew up , there was a number of Qualtroughs in and around this small village, yet Wallace was heard to say he had never heard the name before!

  4. Wallace’s growing up years in a small village in northern Lancashire across the water from Isle of Man , had a fair number of people called Qualtrough, yet he claimed never to have heard the name before!

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