Gunter Podola

Guenther Fritz Erwin was the last person executed in this country for the murder of a policeman. Such a crime was a capital offence under The Homicide Act 1957. During the period 1900 and 1975, 33 men serving with London’s Metropolitan Police were murdered on duty.

Podola was born on 8 February 1929 in the Templehof area of Berlin. His Mother, Elizabeth, died in Berlin on 12 February 1955 at the age of 62. His Father, a barber by trade, was killed fighting with the German army on the Russian Front during World War Two. Podola grew up in the working class district around Alexander Square, Berlin. Although he was too young to fight in the war, Podola was known to be a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth movement.

On 17 June 1952, Podola applied at The Allied Travel Office in West Berlin to travel to Canada. After obtaining his Canadian Immigrant’s Visa on 4 July 1952, Podola arrives at Halifax, Canada, on 14 August 1952.

August to October 1952Worked as a general labourer at the Mount Gabriel Club, Quebec.
October 1952 to May 1953Farm labourer for Mr. McArthur Kelly, Huntingdon, Quebec.
May to July 1953Auto Mechanic with Messrs. Budd & Dyer, Montreal.
July to October 1953Shipping Labourer with St. Lawrence Warehouse, Montreal.
October 1953 to May 1954Welder with Canadair, Montreal.
May to October 1954Delivery man with Messrs. Photographs Ltd, Montreal.
October 1954 to March 1956Shipper with Messrs. Segals Regd, Montreal.
March to June 1956Shipper with Messrs. Molly Clare Lingerie, Montreal.
June to October 1956Shipper with Messrs, Popular Gowns, Montreal.

Podola was sentenced to 10 days’ imprisonment. following a conviction for theft by house-breaking in Montreal on 1 March 1957. This was quickly followed by a conviction on 26 March 1957 at Montreal, for 11 counts of theft & house-breaking. On this occasion Podola was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment. On 25 July 1958, Podola was released from prison and deported back to West Germany.

On 4 August 1958, Podola arrives back in West Germany. He lives in Gerlingen and Stuggart working as an unskilled labourer.

On 21 May 1959, Podola flies from Dusseldorf to London Airport. He spends his time unemployed, staying in various hotels in the Kensington area of London.

On 13 July 1959, Podola was in a telephone box by South Kensington Tube Station, attempting to blackmail a Mrs. Schiffman. She had already warned the police about Podola’s previous blackmail attempts. Detective Sergeants Purdy and Sandford went to the phone box and arrested Podola. As they were walking to the police car, Podola escaped and ran into the hall of a block of flats in Onslow Square, Kensington, where he was re-captured. Detective Sergeant Sandford went to get the Police Car, leaving Detective Sergeant Purdy guarding Podola in the hall of the flats. While Detective Sergeant Purdy was distracted, Podola pulled out an automatic pistol and shot Purdy in the heart. Detective Sergeant Purdy, aged 43, died almost immediately, and Podola escaped.

On 16 July 1959, after several enquires in the Kensington area, Police were led to a hotel in Queen’s Gate, South Kensington. The Police charged into Podola’s room, where there was a scuffle, during which Podola was knocked over. After being arrested, Podola was taken to Chelsea Police Station. At the Police Station, Podola seemed to be shocked and appeared to be fainting. He was then taken under guard to St. Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham Road. The automatic pistol which killed Purdy was found in the hotel’s attic.

At the Central Criminal Court, London, on 18 July 1959, the trail of Podola for the capital murder of Detective Sergeant Purdy took place before Mr. Justice Edmund Davies, with the Prosecution led by Mr Maxwell Turner and Podola represented by Mr Frederick Lawton.

The defence attempted to prove that the defendant was not fit to plead, through his loss of memory of events prior to the 13th caused by the scuffle during his arrest. If the jury decided that Podola’s loss of memory was genuine, then the judge would rule on whether the loss of memory constituted being unfit to plead. After 3½ hours, the jury decided that the loss of memory was faked.

The next day, 19 July 1959, Podola’s trial began before the same judge, but a fresh jury. Podola’s counsel stated that he been unable to get any instructions from his client. So he confined himself to testing the prosecution’s evidence. He suggested that the automatic pistol had gone off accidentally as Podola handed the gun to Purdy. Mr. Nickolls of the Metropolitan Police Forensic Laboratory gave evidence which eliminated this theory.

In his evidence from the dock, Podola stated that he could make no defence as he could not remember the alleged crime itself or the circumstances leading up to it. After an absence of just 35 minutes, the jury found Podola guilty of capital murder, and Mr. Justice Edmund Davies sentenced Podola to death.

Although Podola did not appeal his conviction, the Home Secretary referred the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal under section 19(a) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1907 for consideration of the question whether the onus of proof of unfitness (or fitness) to plead rests on the prosecution or defence.

On 15 October 1959, The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed the appeal, reserving its judgement for a later date. Podola’s request for an Attorney-General’s Fiat was rejected.

The Home Secretary then established a Medical Committee, which consisted of Drs. Snell, Mather and Pearce, to examine Podola’s mental condition. They reported unanimously that Podola’s amnesia had been faked, and theyhad no medial recommendation to make.

Podola then claimed that his memory had recovered and that he had been house-breaking at the time of the murder. He also claimed that he had a “double” called Bob Levine. This was investigated by the police, but they did not find any such character, neither here nor in Canada.

On 20 October 1959, the Court of Criminal Appeal announced its judgement in the Podola Case. It basically states that Podola’s trail was fair and just.

On the 2 November 1959, The Home Secretary then decided that the law should take its course.

On 5 November 1959, Podola was hanged at Wandsworth Prison. Later that day, after the Inquest, Podola was buried in the prison graveyard (grave 59).

Raymond William Purdy was born on 18 June 1916. In July 1940, Purdy married Irene Eileen Ricketts. After his murder, William Purdy was buried in Surbiton Cemetery, Kingston-upon-Thames.

The press coverage of the murder of Raymond Purdy was extensive.

16/07/1959Interpol Join Hunt For Gunman
17/07/1959Man Held In Case Of Shot Detective
18/07/1959Hospital Tests On Podola
20/07/1959Commons Question On Podola
21/07/1959Commons Scene Over Podola
21/07/1959Podola In Court Five Minutes
22/07/1959Hospital Statement On Podola
29/07/1959Podola Defence “Difficulty”
05/08/1959Podola Case Opens Next Week
15/08/1959Podola is Sent For Trial
11/09/1959Podola Jury To Decide Issue Of Fitness
12/09/1959Doctor Questioned In Podola Case
15/09/1959Podola Gives Evidence
16/09/1959Two Doctors Believe That Amnesia is Genuine
17/09/1959Doctor Speaks Of Fight Of Several Minutes
23/09/1959Jury Find Memory “Loss” Not Genuine
24/09/1959Podola: Sergeant Tells Of Point-Blank Shooting
25/09/1959Podola Sentenced To Death For “Foul And Terrible Deed”
02/10/1959Petition On Behalf Of Podola
07/10/1959Podola: Mr. Butler Acts
15/10/1959Podola Hearing Begins
16/10/1959Podola Appeal Dismissed
17/10/1959M.P.’S Allegations In Podola Case
23/10/1959No Podola Hearing In Lords
29/10/1959A New Petition On Podola’s Behalf
04/11/1959No Reprieve For Podola
05/11/1959Podola Execution To-Day
Headlines from “The Times” newspaper regarding the Podola case.