England · Newspaper clippings

Man who avoided execution once is hanged for murder

January 2, 1953
London, England
John James Alcott (22) is hanged for murder

Alcott had nearly been executed a few years before his hanging. In 1949, at the age of 17, Alcott was in the Army and stationed in Germany. He claimed he was traveling with another man when the pair came across a lodging house and decided to spend the night. Night watchman Peter Helm offered Alcott and his companion coffee but, according to Alcott, threw boiling water in their faces instead. In defense, Alcott claimed, the travelers grabbed what weapons they could and beat Helm with a fire extinguisher and an empty whiskey bottle. Helm later succumbed to his injuries.

Alcott was court marshaled, convicted, and sentenced to death, though a legal technicality saved him. The law stated a defendant’s next of kin needed to be notified of the trial but Alcott’s mother was not informed and he was released.

Alcott mostly stayed out of legal trouble until August of 1952 when he robbed and killed railway booking clerk Geoffrey Dean. Dean was stabbed behind his ear which severed his jugular vein and lingual artery and caused massive bleeding. Though the stab wound to the neck was fatal, Dead was stabbed an additional 20 or more times: 9 times to his back, 7 to his front with at least one wound penetrating his heart, and multiple lesser wounds to his face, limbs, and abdomen. The motive behind Dean’s murder seemed to be robbery; £169 (roughly £4,800 today) was missing from the safe.

Police tracked Alcott to a boarding house owned by a woman named Mrs. Dagger who verified she had a boarder by the name J. J. Alcott. Alcott was not home at the time of the police’s arrival, but Dagger allowed them to search his room, at which point they found a blood-stained jacket and blood-stained bank notes. Police waited for Alcott to return and he was promptly arrested.

Alcott made no attempt to hide his guilt, explaining “that’s some of the money” when police searched him and found over £100 in his pockets. “You will find the murder weapon in the chimney,” he added, which police retrieved as well as documents stolen from the railway office.

Along with the forensic evidence and full confession by Alcott, eye witnesses also placed him at the scene directly before the murder. He attempted an insanity defense which was ineffective, preventing Alcott from escaping the hangman a second time.

Sources:
Brandon, David and Brooke, Alan. Blood on the Tracks: A History of Railway Crime in Britain
Sly, Nicola. Hampshire Murders. The History Press, 2009
Fraser, Frankie. Mad Frank’s Britain. London: Virgin Books Ltd., 2002
“Condemned Man’s Appeal Fails.” The Guardian [London, England]. December 18, 1952

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