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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 Canada
On 17 June 1952, Podola applied at The Allied Travel Office in West Berlin to travel to Canada. After obtaining his Canadian Immigrants Visa on 4 July 1952, Podola arrives at Halifax, Canada, on 14 August 1952.
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.
Podola arrives in England
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 Podolas 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 Queens Gate, South Kensington. The Police charged into Podolas 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. Stephens Hospital, Fulham Road. The automatic pistol which killed Purdy was found in the hotels attic.
Podolas trial commences
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 Podolas 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, Podolas trial began before the same judge, but a fresh jury. Podolas counsel stated that he been unable to get any instructions from his client. So he confined himself to testing the prosecutions 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.
Appeal and Execution
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. Podolas request for an Attorney-Generals Fiat was rejected.
The Home Secretary then established a Medical Committee, which consisted of Drs. Snell, Mather and Pearce, to examine Podolas mental condition. They reported unanimously that Podolas 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 announces its judgement in the Podola Case. It basically states that Podolas 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).