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Larry Henderson, Kris Hollington
THE UNKNOWN BABY
The phone rang. My heart leapt. It was 10pm on a Saturday. There was only one reason why the phone would ring at that time.
"You're the on-call SOCO?"
"This is the duty officer from Gerald Road. There's been an incident at Victoria Coach Station and we need you to attend."
My home was in Surrey and I explained I was without a car, and it might take me a while to get to the Yard where my mini-van and forensic gear was stashed.
"No problem, I'll send a fast car. Be ready."
I barely had time to explain to Jennifer and get my coat on when a blue Rover P6 screeched to a halt outside. We were burning rubber before I'd managed to close the rear passenger door, falling into the seat.
The speed was insane but I managed to tear my eyes from the road just long enough to ask them about the case in hand.
"What's the incident?"
"A concealed birth in the ladies' toilets - the baby died."
"What! Isn't that a job for a Laboratory Liaison Sergeant?"
"Normally yes, but he's busy with a murder, so the Duty Inspector asked for you."
I'd only been on the job a couple of weeks. I wasn't ready for this. My mouth was suddenly too dry for me to ask anything else.
Sick with anxiety, I asked myself over and over: How was I going to cope with a dead baby, and possibly its mum too?
I was ejected at the Yard; the car was gone before I had time to say 'Thanks guys'.
Arriving at the coach station five minutes later in my olive-green mini-van, I found the duty officer, an inspector, and was amazed to find myself behaving like a seasoned professional.
"Is it confirmed as a dead baby?" I asked.
"Any sign of the mother?"
"Have all the cubicles been searched?"
"OK, what would you like me to do?"
"Package up the baby for the mortuary and PM (post-mortem) and examine the cubicles."
"Which police constable is exhibiting the baby, or would you prefer to be down as the finder? Probably easier if we use the constable for continuity," I added, answering my own question. I rattled the words off as if I was an experienced examiner, but I was trembling inside.
"OK, fine," the inspector said, "I'll leave you to it. When you're finished let the WPC (Woman Police Constable) know so the toilets can be reopened to the public. After that, can you take the baby to the Westminster Mortuary?"
I quavered a little at the mention of the word 'mortuary'.
"OK, but I'll need the constable with me to maintain continuity as he can identify the baby tomorrow for the Pathologist".
Who is this other person, I wondered, saying all this stuff so confidently?
* * *
I had arrived at Belgravia Station in Gerald Road, a three-storey white building with stone archway entrance and blue Police Lamp as a quiet, unassuming, newly-wed ex-research chemist from the north east of England. I had thought a career in forensic science sounded intriguing, with a great deal of varied and challenging work but I had no idea about the macho world I was about to step into, nor just how challenging the work would be from Day One.
All the houses were bright white with smart and shiny black doors. I could hear an opera singer going through her scales. A blue plaque told me that Sir Noel Coward lived here from 1930 to 1956. Not a typical street for a police station, to say the least. Taking the plunge, I stepped through the archway and then through double-leaf doors and turned right to the front counter. A uniform sergeant was sitting behind a desk. With white, collar-length hair and a large white, well-trimmed beard, he looked extremely distinguished. He escorted me up two flights to the uniform Chief Superintendent's Office. The Chief Super bade me welcome, and explained that he would give me the chance to organize a talk to the station personnel advising them what it was I did. Next stop was the Detective Inspector's office.
"Here's the new SOCO for you Inspector," the sergeant said. "I'll leave you to it."
I'm not a bit of kit I thought, but there it was. I realized the first hurdle would be establishing some kind of identity and trust with my colleagues. At the moment I was an unknown quantity - a civilian to boot.
Detective Inspector Elsdon was a rotund, white-haired figure who must have just scraped through the minimum acceptable height qualification to make it into the Force. I noted the glass of milk on his desk (he suffered from ulcers, not a man to stress out if you could avoid it). After a short conversation, I was introduced to the CID guys, and presented with my own tiny little desk in the corner of the office. I felt like a pet rabbit sitting in my hutch.
I was called to action a moment later.
"OK SOCs, we have a burglary to go to," said a voice behind me. This man introduced himself as Andy, a DC (Detective Constable) in his late twenties.
"It's your first day SOCs, so don't go berserk. It's an office burglary in Knightsbridge not the crime of the century."
"I'll just pop to the toilet before we head off, OK?"
The toilets were on the same floor as the CID office. I bolted the door, trousers down, sat up straight and jumped in surprise when a copy of the Daily Telegraph was shoved underneath the cubicle door. This would have been disconcerting enough on its own, but the paper was on fire. The flames were high and there was nowhere to run, especially as, um, things were underway, so to speak. I multi-tasked and stamped on the flames until they were out and walked back into the CID office as if nothing had happened. This was my introduction into that oh-so-special, so-called 'police humour'. The arsonist's identity was never revealed (and I never made inquiries).
After a terrifying jaunt around the enormous Park Lane roundabout with Andy yelling at me to ignore the Mad-Max-style traffic and get moving, we arrived at the Knightsbridge offices. My first crime scene. The burglar or burglars had approached via a metal fire escape at the rear and climbed through a third floor toilet window, probably left open overnight, as there were no signs of a forced entry.
Desk drawers had been emptied onto the floor and filing cabinets had been prized open with (probably) a screwdriver, which had also left striation marks (scratches) on the metallic surface of the cash box. Forensically, there were instrument marks to be cast and retained using a rubber solution called 'Silcoset.' Two compounds are mixed together and pasted over the area of interest. Once it's set into a rigid rubber mould, the cast is removed and the scratches can then be compared under a microscope with a suspected tool. Striation marks are specific to the wear and tear on the screwdriver blade, knife or jemmy. The screwdriver used here had a nine-millimetre blade and there were deep scratches on the edge of a cash box where it had been forced open. The point of entry was my main focus, to be examined for shoe marks, fibres, blood and finger marks. Cash boxes, items taken from desk drawers were all of interest. I was hoping to find a couple of finger marks. This meant taking fingerprints of staff who'd touched the items. Elimination prints are important otherwise the Fingerprint Department would spend needless time searching legitimate finger marks against known criminals. I had a rush of panic at all the things I needed to do. I wanted to take my time. I could have spent the whole day examining every item.
"How long do you think you will be SOCs?" Andy said restlessly, looking at his watch.
"I will need another hour to cast the instrument marks, take a Polaroid photograph of the position of the finger marks at the point of entry, and elimination prints are needed of some members of staff."
"OK take possession of the cash box that was forced, it will save taking a cast of the instrument marks."
Of course, the cash box was now unusable.
"I will take the elimination prints," Andy said, "And then we'll be ready to go, as I have another appointment."
I was delighted to find a couple of unknown prints and although this wasn't exactly the examination of the century, I was satisfied I hadn't missed any crucial evidence. Alas, the great Knightsbridge burglary was never solved.
I left new Scotland Yard at 6pm, having parked my minivan, and congratulated myself on getting through the day without any cock-ups. I rushed home and excitedly related the day's events to Jennifer.
I worked forty-one hours per week including lunch breaks and I was expected to work every other weekend covering the whole District: Cannon Row, Rochester Row, Gerald Road, and Hyde Park. My counterpart, Mick at Rochester Row, covered the other two weekends. There were three times as many burglaries reported at Rochester Row compared to Gerald Road and Saturdays were therefore four times busier than my weekdays. After a week of attending non-stop burglaries I felt like I was getting a feel for the job, until, that is, I got the call that brought me to Victoria Coach Station late on a Saturday night.
* * *
Never had a public toilet been loaded with such foreboding. I entered, followed by the constable who found the baby.
It was just as you would expect. Cubicles, sinks. Tidier and better-smelling than the gents.
Except this one had a dead baby in it.
"It's in there," the constable said, directing me to a middle cubicle.
The door was open. The baby was inside a white plastic bag, left lying on the cubicle floor.
"Ok, wait there," I replied. I knelt down, opened the bag and lifted out the baby. It sounds terrible, but it felt like I was picking up a cold chicken off the supermarket shelf. It was a boy. He was very cold; rigor mortis had set in. I placed the tiny creature in a large brown paper sack, folded the sack top over, placed two labels signed by the constable over the fold and used sticky tape to secure them. I attached an exhibit label to the sack, known as a 420A label. I would sign this label after the constable, as it has to be signed in chronological order by everyone who handles the exhibit. This was to preserve the integrity of the 'exhibit' (I'm sorry but it's the police term), so when the pathologist examined the baby, he would be satisfied the body was in precisely the same state in which it was discovered. This done, I labelled the sack: Unknown Baby, ex GB/1, Victoria Coach Station, police station code AL with the date. I also dated and signed the 420A label.
I appeared calm and collected but I was constantly asking myself: "What do I do next?"
I searched the cubicle for traces of blood, and examined the metal sanitary towel container in which the cleaner had found the baby. Then I looked at all the other cubicles, peering into each sanitary towel container and lifting toilet seats, expecting to find the ' After-birth' (I wasn't even sure what that might be). Nothing. I checked the gents but they were clean, evidentially speaking.
Hold on! What about fingerprints? This was a serious crime, potentially a murder, and therefore a specialized fingerprint officer would have to examine the cubicle. I told the Duty Officer to get onto the Yard for the on-call fingerprint officer.
He arrived in less than twenty minutes and immediately started to throw his weight about.
"I should have been called sooner, this is a serious crime!"
"I had to carry out the forensic examination before you started covering everything in aluminium powder."
He wasn't happy.
"Why are you dealing with such a serious crime?" he demanded.
I had no other answer except for the fact I was the on-call SOCO, experienced or not and I'd been trained to do the job. His questions and apparent dismay at my presence did make me think twice, however and then it hit me that I hadn't labelled the brown paper sack into which I'd placed the plastic bag that had contained the baby. It would have to be examined for fingerprints. I left the fingerprint guy to it (he started moaning to the duty officer about my presence before I was out of earshot) and walked back as quickly as I dared to the mini-van where I placed the necessary fingerprint labels on the sack.
Eventually, about three hours After I'd arrived, I left for Rochester Row to pick up the key for the mortuary. George, the police constable who'd been guarding the scene came with me. As we talked, it emerged that George was also a newbie; he'd only been in the job for three weeks.
"So have you been in the mortuary yet?" I asked.
Young George shook his head, turning pale.
It was about 2am when we arrived at Horseferry Road mortuary, which was a short distance from the Houses of Parliament. Our grim errand was given a haunted air by the quiet streets and the unlit mortuary building. I cradled the brown paper sack while George put the key in the lock of the side door, normally used by undertakers, and turned the handle. The door creaked like it belonged to Dracula's castle. George was visibly trembling by the time it was open and, as my hands were full, it was down to George to find a light switch. He stretched out his arm, palm open, looking for a switch and laid it directly on the cold face of a dead woman an undertaker had dropped off earlier. George screamed and ran out of the building, leaving me literally holding the baby, in total darkness. I couldn't find a light switch, so I carefully laid the sack out of the way, next to the trolley with the dead lady and legged it After George. He wasn't outside, the poor fellow must have kept going back to the nick, so I drove back to 'Roch,' with the key and handed it back to the front desk sergeant.
"Everything OK Larry?"
"Yeah Sarge, no problems," I replied casually.
I got back home by about 3.30am. I needed to be back at work in a few hours and it occurred to me that this wasn't the best rota/covering system, and it took several years for the standby rota to be replaced by a full night duty system with two SOCOs available for serious incidents anywhere in London.
The mother of the baby was never identified. We assumed she'd given birth before travelling to Victoria Coach Station and had hid the dead baby in the sanitary towel box, before boarding a coach to wherever. It was a heartbreaking experience and I think it was too much for George to bear. He never reappeared; he quit the Force and I'm pretty certain he never looked back.CHAPTER 2
THE RUSSIAN PRINCE
In those early days every job was an education, and I often found myself face-to-face with the great and the good; people I would have never dreamed of meeting.
For some reason, the weekend call outs always seemed to provide the most challenging jobs. Rochester Row CID called me at 11.30pm one Saturday evening. A burglar had stolen jewellery and watches of incalculable value from the home of a Russian prince who claimed to be descended from Tsar Nicholas II. He was deeply upset and wanted to have his staff clean up the place before he went to bed (the burglar had been of the smash-your-way-in-and-ransack-the place variety), and this was why I had been summoned.
The Prince was a very distinguished-looking gentleman. He was in his sixties with long white hair and a drooping white moustache. His clothes were made to measure and were probably worth more than my house, with his Cuban-heeled soft brown leather ankle boots probably costing more than I made in a year. I started my examination with the thick and heavy front door, which had been ruthlessly jemmied and we chatted for about thirty minutes while I worked.
"They were heirlooms," the prince mourned. "My last remaining connection to my family, to my homeland."
This was the height of the Cold War, and Communism was still going strong in Russia, so returning home was clearly impossible for the Prince. He grew more and more upset as he started to realize that he would probably never see his treasures again.
Once I'd finished, I explained to the Prince that I needed to take his fingerprints and those of his male friend who had accompanied him to the opera that evening, as well as those of his staff (who were also out at the time of the burglary) for the purposes of elimination. This didn't need to be done now, as it was so late, and I said I'd return the following morning at 11am, so he could get some rest and alert his friend and his staff.
I arrived at Gerald Road on Sunday at 9am to find my phone ringing. It was the DI (Detective Inspector) from Rochester Row.