The case of Edwin Bush is notable as it was the first case in the UK involving the use of the Identikit System.
This case illustrates an aspect of the Homicide Act 1957. If no item had been stolen from the premises, then the murderer could not have been sentenced to death under the Act.
Edwin Albert Arthur Bush, born in 1940, was the son of a Pakistani father and English mother. After his parents split up, Bush lived with his mother in Ewart Road, Honor Oak. Due to an accident, he was unemployed and short of money.
The antique shop in Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road was opened at 9am by Mrs. Elsie Batten until midday and then Mr. Louis Meier staffed the shop in the afternoons. Mrs. Elsie Batten was the wife of Mr. Mark Batten, a former president of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
Edwin Bush and his girlfriend Janet Edna Wheeler, of Floyd Road, Charlton, were out shopping in London’s West End, to buy an engagement ring. A policeman who had seen the identkit picture of Bush, recognised him and arrested him.
On 10 May 1961 the trial of Edwin Bush, aged 21, started at the Central Criminal Court, London. The trial judge was Mr. Justice Stevenson. The prosecution case was presented by Mr. M. Griffith-Jones. Bush was represented by Mr. Christmas Humphreys.
Edwin Bush pleaded not guilty to the capital murder of Mrs. Batten in the course or furtherance of theft.
On 2 March 1961 Bush called at the shop saying he wanted to buy a present for his girl. He looked around and was attracted by a ceremonial sword. Told that the sword’s price was £15 (approximately £233 in 2021 money), Bush said that was too much. He then examined a cheaper sword and a pile of daggers, from he chose three of the sharpest. He then left the shop without buying anything. He then went to a gun shop near by and asked Mr. Roberts, the shop owner, if he would be interested in buying a ceremonial sword. Mr. Roberts said he might be but would need to see it first.
The next day, 3 March 1961, Bush left home at 7am. At 9.30am Mrs. Batten arrived at the shop was seen by a neighbour. At about 10am Bush arrived at the gun shop carrying with him a ceremonial sword which had come from the antique shop operated by Mr. Meier and Mrs. Batten. The sword was wrapped in brown paper which was later found to have Bush’s palm print and fingerprints on it.
When Mr. Meier arrived at his shop at midday, he found the body of Mrs. Batten on the floor. There were two daggers sticking into her neck and chest and a third underneath her. Mrs. Batten’s skull had been fractured by a blow from a stone jar. The only item missing from the shop was the ceremonial sword. On a piece of board in the shop was a shoe print made by one of the shoes which Bush was wearing.
Mr. Griffith-Jones said that in this case the police tried out for the first time a system already in use in America. It was the “Identkit Set”, which consisted of a number of transparent plastic material having the outlines of noses, chins and eyes. The police would get descriptions from witnesses and they would put the pieces together and witnesses would be asked “Is that like the face of the man you saw?”
The prosecution stated that Bush had concluded a statement
I am sorry I done it. I don’t know what came over me. Speaking personally the world is better off without me.The Times newspaper, 11 May 1961.
Edwin Bush then testified on his behalf.
He stated that he lost his temper with Mrs. Batten and struck her on the head with a stone jar because she made an offensive remark about coloured people. Although he did not remember what happened after that he supposed he must have stabbed her with the daggers which were found in her body.
Bush testified that he never regarded himself as being coloured and when anyone passed any term of abuse in relation to coloured people, he lost his temper. He said that he was getting engaged to Miss. Wheeler on 8 March 1961 and although he wanted to buy her an engagement ring, he had no money to pay for it.
When asked by his counsel, Mr. Christmas Humphreys, where the money was going to come from, Bush replied
I was going to pinch the sword from the antique shop and sell it.The Times newspaper, 12 May 1961.
On 2 March 1961 Bush made his first trip into the antique shop and took a fancy to the ceremonial sword. The next morning, 3 March 1961, he returned intending to “pinch it”.
I was going to wait till the woman turned round and then run out with it.The Times newspaper, 12 Mary 1961.
Bush stated that when he started haggling about the price, Mrs. Batten made remarks about his colour. She said “You niggers are all the same, you come in and never buy anything”. He then testified that he hit her with his fist. She fell down and started screaming.
I lost my nerve and hit her with the stone. I can’t remember much after that.The Times newspaper, 12 May 1961.
When asked by his counsel, Mr. Christmas Humphreys, whether he had in some way stabbed her, Bush replied
I must have done.The Times newspaper, 12 May 1961.
Mr. Griffith-Jones then asked Bush if he was disputing that he had stolen the sword? Bush replied that he was not disputing it. Bush also replied in the affirmative when asked
Between the time you went into that shop in order to steal and the time you came out you had killed this lady with three daggers and the stone jar.The Times newspaper, 12 May 1961.
The judge then made his summing up of the case. The jury of ten men and two women took just over two hours to find Bush guilty of the capital murder of Mrs. Batten in the course or furtherance of theft.
The judge told Bush
The jury have reached the only possible verdict in this case.The Times newspaper, 13 Mary 1961.
The judge then sentenced Edwin Bush to death.
On 17 May 1961 Edwin Bush lodged notice of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Edwin Bush’s appeal was heard at the Court of Criminal Appeal on 13 June 1961, before the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Ashworth and Mr. Justice Salmon. The Crown was represented by Mr. Alastair Morton, Bush by Mr. Christmas Humphreys, QC and Mr. Richard Body.
The appeal was brought on the ground that Bush had been wrongly advised by his counsel to plead guilty to murder. Bush said that he killed Mrs. Batten in an uncontrollable fit of temper as a result of having been called a dirty nigger.
The Lord Chief Justice gave the court’s ruling. The The jury could not shut their eyes to the fact that immediately after killing Mrs. Batten, Bush took a sword and went to a gunsmith where he hoped to sell it. Whatever its significance, on an earlier visit to the antique shop he had put three sharp daggers aside on top of a pile of knives.
It appeared to the Court that Bush was obsessed with the idea that he must have the sword, and he went to the extreme length of killing to get it. The trial judge’s summing up was fair and there was ample evidence to support the verdict.
Bush’s appeal was dismissed.
The Home Office announced that the execution of Edwin Bush had been fixed for 6 July 1961, at Pentonville Prison.
On 4 July 1961 the Home Secretary had been unable to recommend a reprieve for Edwin Bush.
On 6 July 1961 Edwin Albert Bush was executed by hanging at Pentonville Prison. Later that day, after the Inquest, Bush was buried within the prison grounds.