On the 12th of July 1959 Officer
Raymond Purdey was shot in the heart at point blank range while
attempting to arrest a blackmailer who claimed to have compromising
pictures of an American model.
The incident took place in Kensington,
London. The killer, Guenther Podola, evaded capture for a time, but the
police were determined he wouldn't escape.
When captured, Podola claimed he had
lost his memory, but in court the prosecution proved he was a cold-blooded
killer, who had tried to shoot his way out of trouble. On 5th November
1959, Podola was sent to the gallows at Wandsworth prison.
Guenther Fritz Erwin Podola (8
February 1929 –
5 November 1959)
was a German-born petty thief, and the last man to be hanged in Britain
for killing a police officer. His trial was notable and controversial
because of his defence of amnesia and the use of expert witnesses to
determine whether his illness was real.
Podola was born in Berlin, Germany. He was a
fanatical member of the Hitler Youth movement. Podola moved to Canada in
August 1952. On 1
March 1957 he was sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment following a
conviction for burglary in Montreal. Then on
26 March he was
sentenced for another 11 counts of theft and burglary and imprisoned for
2 years. On 25 July
1958 Podola was released and deported back to West Germany.
Podola moved to London on
21 May 1959.
He assumed the alias of Mike Colato and pretended to be a
gangster. He broke into the house of an American model, Verne Schiffmann,
and stole jewellery and furs worth £2,000. He tried to blackmail her in
return for her possessions, asking for £500, but she notified the police
who attempted to arrest Podola on
12 July 1959
in Kensington. Podola shot one of the officers, Detective Sergeant
Raymond Purdy, in the heart with a pistol. He was later apprehended and
Podola claimed he was beaten up by the police and that as a result he
lost his memory of events. The police claimed that he was merely hit on
the head when they broke down the door to his hotel room.
The start of the trial was delayed for 9 days while a
jury heard evidence of whether Podola was medically fit to stand trial.
After 3½ hours of deliberation, they decided he was. A fresh jury was
called to hear the trial itself. When asked for his plea, he replied: "I
do not remember the crime for which I stand accused ... I am unable to
answer the charges." He was defended by Frederick Lawton QC. Neurologist
Michael Ashby gave evidence as an expert medical witness at his trial,
as did psychiatrist Archibald Leigh, who claimed Podola was feigning his
The jury took 38 minutes to find Podola guilty, and
he later confessed his guilt.He was sentenced to death and hanged at
Wandsworth prison. Podola was buried in the prison graveyard (grave 59).
Fritz Erwin Podola
Gunter Podola 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.
Gunter Fritz Erwin
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.
Podola's Life in
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 1952 - Podola
worked as a general labourer at the Mount Gabriel Club, Quebec.
October 1952 to May 1953 - Farm labourer for Mr. McArthur Kelly, Huntingdon, Quebec.
May to July 1953 - Auto Mechanic with Messrs. Budd & Dyer,
July to October 1953 - Shipping Labourer with St. Lawrence Warehouse, Montreal.
October 1953 to May 1954 - Welder with Canadair, Montreal.
May to October 1954 - Delivery man with Messrs. Photographs Ltd, Montreal.
October 1954 to March 1956 - Shipper with Messrs. Segals Regd, Montreal.
March to June 1956 - Shipper with Messrs. Molly Clare Lingerie, Montreal.
June to October 1956 - Shipper 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.
arrives in England
4 August 1958, Podola arrives back in West Germany. He lives in
Gerlingen and Stuggart working as an unskilled labourer.
21 May 1959, Podola flies from Dusseldorf to London Airport. He spends
his time unemployed, staying in various hotels in the Kensington area of
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.
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, were 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
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
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.
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.
20 October 1959, the Court of Criminal Appeal announces its judgement in
the Podola Case. It basically states that Podola’s trail was fair and
the 2 November 1959, The Home Secretary then decided that the law should
take its course.
5 November 1959, Podola was hanged at Wandsworth Prison. Later that day,
after the Inquest, Podola was buried in the prison graveyard (grave 59).
Guenther Podola was a burglar
with a difference. Not content with the £2,000-worth of furs and
jewellery he stole from Mrs. Verne Schiffman’s South Kensington flat, he
then had the nerve to phone her. Posing as a private detective, he
claimed he had photos and tape-recordings placing her in a compromising
situation, and he tried to blackmail her, demanding £500.
She informed the police, and they tapped her phone.
“Next time he calls,” detectives told her, “keep him talking. We’ll see
if we can trace where he’s phoning from.”
When the blackmailer rang again on July 13th, 1959,
his call was traced to a South Kensington kiosk where he was arrested by
two detectives. He broke free and made a dash for it, but was recaptured
shortly afterwards when he was cornered on a window-sill in the hallway
of a block of flats.
One of the detectives went to phone for a patrol car,
leaving his colleague Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy guarding the
prisoner. Seconds later the man produced a gun, shot Purdy dead and
The police knew neither who he was nor where he had
gone. But they had a clue, provided by Purdy’s widow. When her husband’s
personal possessions were returned to her she found a small notebook
among them which wasn’t his. She handed it back to his colleagues, who
realised that Purdy must have taken it from the wanted man.
The notebook was full of phone numbers. Calling them,
detectives learned that Purdy’s killer was a German who had spent time
in Canada. A palm-print had been found on the window-sill where he was
cornered, and a copy of it was sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
They reported that it belonged to Guenther Podola, who had been deported
as an undesirable alien, and they also supplied Scotland Yard with his
Then the manager of a South Kensington hotel reported
that a Paul Camay of Montreal had booked in on June 25th, but since July
13th — the day of the shooting — he had not left his room. Shown the
photo of Podola, the manager said, “That’s Paul Camay — he’s in Room
Arrested and charged with Purdy’s murder, Podola had
a novel defence when he appeared at the Old Bailey. His counsel Mr.
Frederick Lawton QC told the court: “I rise at the very outset of this
case because this case is not a usual case at all. It has one very, very
unusual feature. I stand here today, my learned friend by my side,
Podola’s solicitor in front of me, and the three of us have no idea what
his defence is at all. We have no idea whether he wishes to say the
witnesses for the prosecution are mistaken, inaccurate or lying; no idea
whether he wishes to say the gun was discharged accidentally.
“We have no idea whether he wishes to say he was
provoked, and we have no information about his past. This is because he
has been unable to give us any instructions, unable to tell us because
he has lost his memory. And the consequences, members of the jury, of
losing his memory are that he is unable to defend himself.”
Police who arrested him had broken down Podola’s door,
knocking him over, and he had been taken to hospital apparently semi-conscious.
On recovering he claimed he could remember nothing.
The court heard from four doctors who thought he was
afflicted by amnesia, and two who believed he was faking. But the
prosecution claimed he had given himself away in a letter written while
he was on remand, and Purdy’s partner Detective Sergeant John Sandford
testified that he had seen the shooting. Moreover, the fatal bullet was
proved to have been fired from a gun found among Podola’s possessions.
Nevertheless, Podola told the jury: “I cannot put
forward any defence. The reason for this is that I have lost my memory
of all these events. I cannot remember the crime. I do not remember the
circumstances leading up to the events or to this shooting. I do not
know if I did it or whether it was an accident or an act of self-defence.
I do not know if at that time I realised the man was in fact a
detective. I do not know in fact whether I was provoked in any way. For
these reasons I am unable to admit or deny the charge against me.”
Unimpressed, the jury retired for only 30 minutes
before returning to find him guilty, and he was sentenced to death. The
Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that loss of memory does not constitute
unfitness to plead, and Podola was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on
NOVEMBER 5th, 1959.
Podola, Guenther Fritz
Podola was born in Berlin on 8 February 1929. He was
the only child living in difficult times. His father was a banker who
died in 1943 at Stalingrad and his mother was raped by Russian soldiers
during the fall of Berlin. He escaped to the West in 1952, abandoning a
woman with whom his was living, and his son. Podola moved on to Canada
but was deported back to West Germany, in July 1958, after being jailed
for theft and burglary. In May 1959 he moved to London and became a
gangster. He changed his name and was known as Mike Colato.
On 3 July Podola burgled the Rowland Gardens, South
Kensington, flat of Mrs Verne Schiffman. She was a 30-year-old model who
was in London on holiday. Podola's haul from the burglary included
jewellery and some furs with a total value of about £2,000 which was a
lot of money. Posing as an American private investigator named Levine,
Podola wrote to Mrs Schiffman offering to return some compromising
photos and tapes, that he said he had, for £500.
Mrs Schiffman received
the letter on 7 July and, having nothing to fear from the blackmail
threats, informed the police. Podola, posing as Mr Fisher who, he said,
was acting on behalf of Levine, rang Mrs Schiffman on 12 July and wanted
to know her reply to the offer. She informed the police and they placed
a tap on her telephone.
When Podola called again at about 3.30pm the next day
everything was in place to catch him. Mrs Schiffman managed to keep
Podola talking while the call was traced. It was made from a telephone
kiosk at South Kensington underground station. Mrs Schiffman was still
talking to the man when she heard him say 'Hey, what do you want?' After
the sounds of a scuffle a man came on the line and said to her, 'This is
Detective Sergeant Purdy. Remember my name.'
Raymond Purdy, and his colleague Detective Sergeant
John Sandford, had been alerted to the situation and driven to South
Kensington from Chelsea police station. They had apprehended Podola at
the station and, as they emerged into the street, Podola broke free. He
ran into a block of flats at 105 Onslow Square and tried to hide behind
a pillar in the hall. He was soon spotted and recaptured.
Purdy told the man to sit on a window ledge, which he
did. DS Sandford went to summon assistance from the caretaker of the
flats. He was unable to find the man and called out to Purdy to tell him.
His call distracted the detective and Podola, taking advantage of the
policeman's loss of attention, drew a gun, a 9mm FB Radom V15, shot
Purdy in the heart and fled. Identification was not difficult as Podola
had left his fingerprints in the hall of the building.
A couple of days later the manager of the Claremont
House Hotel, Kensington, informed the police that one of his guests,
Paul Camay, was behaving strangely and seemed to be hiding. The manager
identified Podola and Camay as the same man from photos taken by the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the time of his deportation.
At 3.45 that afternoon, Thursday 16 July, police
hammered on the door of the room Podola was hiding in and shouted for
him to open the door. Police heard a clicking noise, like the sound of a
gun cocking though it was probably Podola removing the key to look
through the keyhole, and sixteen stone DS Chambers charged the door. The
door burst open, the handle struck Podola in the eye and Chambers landed
on top of him. He was quickly overpowered and he was removed to Chelsea
He was examined by the police surgeon who described him
as 'dazed, frightened and exhausted.' The following day he was removed
to St Stephen's Hospital where he seemed only vaguely aware of his
His medical trial opened at the Old Bailey on 10
September 1959 and over the next nine days the jury heard submissions
that Podola was suffering from amnesia as a result of the injuries he
sustained during his arrest and could not, therefore, present a coherent
defence. The jury concluded that Podola was not suffering from a genuine
loss of memory and that he should stand trial for Purdy's murder.
The second trial, on a charge of capital murder,
began on 24 September and lasted two days. The jury took half an hour to
find him guilty and he was sentenced to death. Podola was hanged at
Wandsworth Prison on 5 November 1959. Podola became the last man to be
executed in Britain for the killing of a policeman.
Verdict on Podola
Monday, Oct. 05, 1959
nine days the murder trial of Berlin-born Gunther Fritz Podola, 30, was
postponed while a London jury considered a plea the like of which had
never before been heard in an English court of law. The plea: in "the
very severe fright" caused by the violence of his arrest, Podola had
lost his memory, and so was unfit to plead to the charge of shooting a
London cop. Last week, after a procession of experts had offered
conflicting medical opinion on whether Podola was, in fact, suffering
from "hysterical amnesia," the jury finally decided that he was fit to
Next day, when the full trial finally got under way,
Podola coolly persisted in his disclaimer: "I do not remember the crime
for which I stand accused ... I am unable to answer the charges." The
jury spent only 38 minutes in arriving at a verdict of guilty. Covering
his wig with the dread black cap, Judge Edmund Davies slowly told Podola:
"You have been convicted on evidence of the most compelling character
and certainty of the capital murder* of a police officer by shooting him
down in the prime of his manhood. For that foul and terrible deed but
one sentence is prescribed, and that I now pronounce."
Before anyone else in the courtroom could move,
Gunther Podola turned calmly away and stepped quickly and surely down
the steps from the dock to the cells below. Faithful to the last to his
profession of emotional shock and indifference, he showed no sign of
realizing that he had just been sentenced to die on the gallows.
* Under Britain's 1957 Homicide Act, the only murders
for which the death penalty is prescribed or permitted are those
committed 1) with firearms or explosives, 2) against police or prison
officers, 3) in resisting arrest or escaping from custody, 4) in
furtherance of theft, or 5) for murder committed a second or subsequent