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Thread: Murder in Newcastle

  1. #1
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    Default Murder in Newcastle

    The following cries out for further investigation of the Newcastle newspapers, and if anyone is able to consult same I would be much obliged for their assistance.

    "F/L J.D. Macdonald, J5064, appeared at the assizes which opened in Newcastle this date [29 May 1945] on a charge of murder. D/L S/ Berger of the Legal Branch of this H.Q. [RCAF Overseas Headquarters] had been looking after the case and attended the opening of the assizes., The trial was set for 6th June. Viscount Bennett, who had been a friend of F/L Macdonald's family in Calgary for many years, visited G/C Walter Martin, J.A.G. [Judge Advocate General] to discuss the case. He was advised that Mr. Frankham, the soliciter in Newcastle had engaged Mr. Strentfield, KC as Counsel."

    So far so good, but to this is then added the following:

    "F/L Macdonald was later acquitted of the charge, his counsel making the unusual plea that the song 'Lay That Pistol Down' had been instrumental in causing the accidental shooting."

    A most unusual case (and defence) indeed. What happened ?

    For English friends, "Viscount Bennett" was Richard B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, 1930-1935, who lived in exile in Britain, 1938-1947 and is the only Canadiian former PM who, having died abroad, was not repatriated to a Canadian burial.

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    Hi Hugh,
    I'll have to read this a few more times to get my head around it. I will be in Newcastle in the next couple of weeks and I will have a look, see what I can find. I presume you mean Newcastle upon Tyne and not the Midlands one?

    Best Wishes.
    Robert.

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    Sounds like this story would be a good basis for a detective novel (indeed, there was a book by this title published in 1945, though I presume it had nothing to do with the case under review). I imagine it was the version of the song sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters that caused the trouble in Newcastle. For what it's worth, here are the lyrics:


    Lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down.
    Oh, drinkin beer in a cabaret
    Was I havin fun!
    Until one night she caught me right
    And now I'm on the run.

    Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down.
    Oh, I'll sing you every night Bing and I'll woo you every day.
    I'll be your regular mama and I'll put that gun away.

    Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama
    Lay that thing down before it goes off and hurts somebody!
    Oh, she kicked out my windshield and she hit me over the head.
    She cussed and cried and said I lied and she wished that I was dead.

    Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down.
    We're 3 tough gals from deep down Texas way.
    We got no pals, they don't like the way we play.
    We're a rough rootin tootin shootin trio
    But you ought to see my sister Cleo
    She's a terror make no error
    But there ain't no nicer terror
    Here's what we tell her:

    Lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down
    Pappy made a batch of corn, The revenuers came.
    The draugh was slow, so now they know you can't do that to Mame.

    Lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down
    Oh, singing songs in a cabaret - Was I havin fun!
    Until one night it didn't seem right, and now I'm on the run.

    Oh, lay that pistol down, Babe. Lay that pistol down.
    Pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down.
    Oh, pistol packin mama - Lay that pistol down.

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    Default Murder in Newcastle

    The diary entry of RCAF Overseas HQ did not specify which "Newcastle" was meant, and in my ignorance of British geography I had assumed it to be Newcastle-on-Tyne (being unaware of any other). Which of these two Newcastles would have been closest to Yorkshire (where RCAF bomber squadrons were concentrated and hence where our man might more probably have been based) ?

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    Hi Hugh,
    Equal distance. Newcastle upon Tyne to the north and Newcastle-under-Lyme to the south west. I'll take a look, it won't take long and at least it will eliminate one or the other.

    Best Wishes.
    Robert.

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    Presumably get drunk and started to play with weapons. A friendly pilot mentioned, they were doing that during the war, recreating western movie scenes, until accidentally shot bullet went through a flying boot, fortunately missing the foot of the owner. As he wryly noted, they were just drinking since then.

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    Hugh,

    I do not usually submit a "nil return" to a request for information, however in this case I find it passing curious that the London Times makes no mention of this incident. I have searched the 1945 editions without success for any mention of the people named in your post above, including variations on the spelling of their surnames.

    The Times reported on Canadians quite regularly, including several articles about the Aldershot riots of 4 July 1945, the charging of a member of the Essex Scottish for high treason while in captivity, and many other instances of crimes of a minor nature committed by Canadians.

    Again, curious as to why a murder charge at a civil assize was not reported in the Times, whereas many other less sensational charges involving Canadians were reported.

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    Hi Hugh

    It's probably worth a likely lad like myself checking the Court Martial registers at Kew in TNA AIR 21/3 (if my memory serves me correctly). It probably won't give you a lot more information, but should name the unit, date of the crime, place and date of trial, under which KR the man was tried, and the outcome. Even if acquited of murder, he may have suffered other penalties at the hands of the JAG, e.g. imprisonment (term usually recorded), reduction in rank or seniority, etc. It might not yield much, but might be worth checking if only to tick the box. AIR 21/3 is a large book, ca. 40cmx40cm, weighing a good 5kg and has all 'crimes' listed in chronological order of trial date.

    Steve
    41 (F) Squadron RAF at War and Peace, April 1916-March 1946
    http://brew.clients.ch/41sqnraf.htm

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    Hi
    Steve has a good point but I believe that Military Courts were never empowered to deal with Murder it has always been a Civil crime.If a murder was considered to have taken place,even within a Military environment, then the Civil Authorities would have to be involved although a Military Charge and Court Martial could be the starting point prior to handover to the Civilian Authority.
    Regards
    Dick

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    As a chap who has been a military police officer for more time than I care to remember, I may be able to clarify one or two points. As discussed, during this period (and in fact, now), all capital cases occuring in the UK were dealt with by the civil authority and investigated by the civil police (with CMP/RAF Police assistance as required). Unless the alleged crime occured overseas, the military authority would have had no jurisdiction i.e. no GCM, no charge and no handover.

    Rgds

    Jonny
    Last edited by jonny; 9th January 2009 at 15:45.

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