Happy publication day to Graeme Sheppard for A Death in Peking. I’m quite fascinated by true life crime, especially cold cases. This sounds like an intriguing book about the true story of Pamela Werner, a British woman murdered in China. Graeme has written a guest post to tell us more about this historical crime. But first, the blurb.
The brutal murder of 19-year-old Pamela Werner in the city of Peking one night in January 1937 shocked the world, but the police never found or named the murderer. A best-selling book, Midnight in Peking, declared the murderer to be an American dentist, but English policeman Graeme Sheppard, 30 years with the British Police, decided that conclusion was flawed, and spent years investigating all aspects of the case and came up with an entirely different conclusion. So who did it? Who killed Pamela?
Most police officers don’t read about crime in their spare time, they experience more than enough of it at work. That was certainly my position, so initially it was with reluctance that I agreed to read a book about the murder of Pamela Werner, a young British woman in 1937 China: Midnight in Peking by Paul French.
Pamela left a skating rink in the city of Peking on her own and cycled off into the dark. She never made it home. Her body was found the next morning in a shallow ditch under the shadow of the city wall. She had been badly mutilated and, most mysteriously, her heart had been stolen. The case petrified Peking’s foreign community and attracted a lot of attention. But it went unsolved.
Midnight in Peking, published in 2011 by Penguin, named the guilty party as not one, but several local residents – an American dentist, a former US Marine, and an Italian doctor – as charged by the archived investigative letters of the victim’s elderly father, retired British consul, E.T.C. Werner. The book was a best-seller.
But I wasn’t convinced. Not at all. From a policing perspective, the evidence simply didn’t add up. I could not conceive how the British and Chinese police had somehow failed to identify suspects where the father claimed to have succeeded.
Intrigued, I visited the UK National Archives in London and examined the father’s letters for myself – some 160 typed pages addressed to the Foreign Office. And I found that my instinct had been correct. Not only were the accusations far from being objective, but they also revealed Werner’s bizarre personality and methodology; from a police perspective, in no way could the allegations be taken seriously, not without corroboration. It brought the case back to square one – unsolved.
So what had the police found, I wondered. Some eighty years after the murder I “put my police hat on” and set about investigating the crime. How far could I get? In common with the police of the day, I had no access to DNA, no CCTV, no offender profiling, no internet or credit-card monitoring, no mobile phone records; the officers in the case were largely confined to the policing basics of: securing witnesses, identifying exhibits, and divining real intelligence from mere rumour.
The problem I faced was whatever the police did possess had now disappeared: case papers, crime reports, fingerprints, exhibits. All were now lost or destroyed. I would have to look further afield.
Perseverance brings its reward. An international murder created a similar archive: from the USA to Australia, from China to Italy, from Canada to Singapore: letters about the murder between diplomats; notes and memoirs; articles in newspapers; military personnel records; church missionary documents; secret reports of espionage and political assassination. I even managed to find and speak with people Pamela had lived with just before her death – children she’d shared a home with.
Placed together, the material revealed a still wider range of suspects, even implicating the Japanese military. As to identifying the offender, the recorded quotes of British Chief Inspector Richard Dennis pointed the way for me; Pamela’s murderer was no stranger to her.
A Death in Peking is the result: an evidence-based account of what occurred on that night back in 1937. Eighty years after the crime, sadly my work will lead to no arrest, but the book does the next best thing: it states the motive and names the most likely offender.
Thank you Graeme. If that’s whetted your appetite, then you can buy the book by clicking here.
Born and raised in London, Graeme Sheppard is a retired police officer with thirty years’ service with the Metropolitan Police and in the Northeast of England. He has commendations for crime detection and first-hand experience of many murder investigations.
His enthusiasm for history and sharp eye for telling evidence has resulted in articles in History Today. He now lives and writes in Hampshire.
You can find out more about Graeme at his website pamelawernermurderpeking.com