Who killed Julia Wallace? The classic locked-door mystery

When Wiliam Herbert Wallace returned to his Liverpool home from work one January night in 1931, he found his wife Julia dead on the floor of the parlor, her head caved in by a heavy object and her blood spread across the room.

Deanna Cioppa, a writer and editor and fan of true-crime stories, has all of the details of this fascinating case in a recent article on MentalFloss.com. She also summarizes some of the theories of the case that have developed from subsequent examinations of the case.

A fortnight’s investigation by local police resulted in the arrest and trial of Wallace for the murder of his wife. Wallace, a stoic, showed little emotion during his trial, and some believe that was a big reason why the jury convicted him after only an hour of deliberation. He was sentenced to be hanged, but in an unprecedented move, the Court of Criminal Appeals set aside the verdict because of a lack of evidence.

The freed Wallace went back to his job at the Prudential Insurance Company, but the case had generated such publicity and emotion that he could not resume as a salesman. Nor could he live at his residence. Prudential officials, who believed in his innocence and paid for his defense, gave him an off-the-street clerk’s job.

Two years later, however, he was dead of natural causes.

The mystery of his wife’s murder did not die. One group it continued to fascinate was top-tier mystery writers such as Dorothy L. Sayers, P.D. James, and Raymond Chandler.

James analyzed all of the evidence in the case and came to a conclusion that she offered in the Sunday Times in 2013. (Here’s an article in The Guardian about that analysis; the Sunday Times article is not available.)  Sayers wrote a chapter about the case for the 1936 book The Anatomy of Murder. which is available on archive.org.

The Trial of William Herbert Wallace by W.F. Wyndham-Brown, a 1933 book about the case, is also available for a free download from archive.org.

If you are interested in the case, start with Cioppa’s article and go from there.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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