Extract: Blood on the Page by Thomas Harding
In June 2006, police were called to number 9 Downshire Hill in Hampstead. The owner of the house, Allan Chappelow, was an award-winning photographer and biographer, an expert on George Bernard Shaw, and a notorious recluse, who had not been seen for several weeks. Someone had recently accessed his bank accounts, and attempted to withdraw large amounts of money. Inside the darkened house, officers found piles of rubbish, trees growing through the floor, and, in what was once the living room, the body of Chappelow, battered to death, partially burned and buried under four feet of paper.
The man eventually arrested on suspicion of his murder was a Chinese dissident named Wang Yam: a man who claimed to be the grandson of one of Mao’s closest aides, and a key negotiator in the Tiananmen Square protests. His trial was the first in modern British history to be held ‘in camera’: closed, carefully controlled, secret. Wang Yam was found guilty, but has always protested his innocence.
Thomas Harding has spent the past two years investigating the case, interviewing key witnesses, investigating officers, forensic experts and the journalists who broke the story, and has unearthed shocking and revelatory new material on the killing, the victim and the supposed perpetrator. It is a crime that has been described in the press and by the leading detective as ‘the greatest whodunnit’ of recent years: an extraordinary tale of isolation, deception and brutal violence, stretching from the quiet streets of north London to the Palace of Westminster and beyond.
Read on for an extract from Blood on the Page…
Blood on the Page
There was no return address on the white envelope that arrived through my letterbox on 18 December 2015. From the postmark, I saw that it had been sent from Peterborough, England, two days earlier. Inside was a card, its cover featuring a blue hummingbird hovering next to a white honeysuckle. Opening the card, I read the child-like writing:
Dear Mr Harding
Thank you speak with James!
I ask Inside Justice send you my related legal papers and ask my cousin give you a call. I hope you can come meet me one day!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.
With best regards,
The man who signed the card, Wang Yam, was serving a life sentence in Whitemoor Prison for murder. A decade earlier, his case had attracted considerable media attention – both for the shocking nature of the crime, but also because it was held in camera: closed, carefully controlled, secret.
‘James’ was Wang Yam’s lawyer, James Mullion. Inside Justice was a non-profit group that provided legal assistance to prisoners. The card itself was a surprise – my wife was not thrilled to be receiving post from a convicted murderer.
At some point in May 2006, an 86-year-old man named Allan Chappelow was bludgeoned to death in his home in Hampstead, north-west London. He was discovered more than four weeks later, buried under five feet of paper, curled up in a foetal position, partially burned and covered in wax. In September 2006, Wang Yam, a Chinese dissident, was arrested in Switzerland. He was extradited to Britain and convicted of Allan Chappelow’s murder. Ten years later, he was still protesting his innocence.
The police were certain that they had the right man, yet no forensic evidence was found linking the defendant to the crime scene. A pathologist described the killing as particularly brutal, but the prosecutors were unable to prove that the accused had a history of violence. The police said that after murdering Allan Chappelow, Wang Yam had repeatedly stolen post from his house in an attempt to assume his identity, but credit cards, PIN numbers and a passport were found untouched and in plain sight on the victim’s bed. The more I read about the case, the more confusing it became.
Allan Chappelow was my neighbour and Hampstead was my first home. In the 1970s, I delivered newspapers through its brass letterboxes, bought sweets from the Post Office, walked on Hampstead Heath with my family. It was on the Heath that I learned to ride my bike one summer – my father said he would pay me £1 if I could do it – and where I went sledging whenever it snowed.
Despite being so close to the metropolis, there was always a strong sense of community in Hampstead. For the Queen’s silver jubilee, we ate lunch at a long line of cloth-covered trestle tables arranged up and down our road. At the Keats Grove Library, kind old ladies read stories to me and other local children. And though we were Jewish, we joined our neighbours for Midnight Mass at the elegant church across the street most Christmases. On Halloween, my friends and I rang our neighbours’ bells, and when they did not answer, or they failed to hand over treats, we pushed lit firecrackers through their doors. Later, in my teenager years, I loitered outside Hampstead Tube station with my friends and our first girlfriends, unashamed of our displays of public affection.
Hampstead was not only the backdrop to my childhood, it was the stage upon which it took place. I knew the trees on the Heath and the names of the most generous shopkeepers (who gave me lollipops if I waited quietly while my parents shopped). I knew where to have the heels of our shoes replaced, our watches mended, our pictures framed. I knew which shop baked the best bread, sold the best flowers, made the best hot chocolate. It was, is, a physical knowledge. It’s a place I thought I knew well.
The murder of Allan Chappelow is a tragic and shocking story – and one that is, for what appears to be an open-and-shut case, uncomfortably complicated. Indeed, as I began to research it further, a senior barrister warned me that I was heading into ‘murky, murky waters’. He was right.
A crime of this significance reduces its perpetrator and victim to familiar tropes – an elderly man beaten to death, a killer on the run. But there was so much more to it than that. I wanted to find out not only about Allan Chappelow’s death, but also his life. How does a man come to live by himself in a derelict house in one of the smartest streets in London? And I also wanted to know about the man blamed for his death. How is innocence proved? What drives someone to murder? In a court of law, two stories are put forward, a jury is asked to decide which they believe and one version wins out. Life, however, is very rarely that neat.
I also realised that this story offered a rare chance to understand how a modern murder investigation works. In an age of constant connectivity, cheap international travel, DNA testing, blood scatter analysis and forensic phonetics, tracking a criminal and then building a solid case that will persuade a jury requires dedicated methodical investigative work, and long tedious hours spent collecting, documenting and then sifting through evidence; a far cry from the ‘Eureka’ moments featured on television police procedurals. But the more I tried to connect the police’s dots, the less clear the picture became.
And so I looked beyond the investigation. I tried to establish who these men really were. To accurately chronicle the lives of others is never an easy task; ‘objectivity’ is corrupted by the subjective lens of the author and the sources he or she relies upon. My effort, however, was made harder still because the crime took place within a shadowy world inhabited by conmen, eccentrics and fantasists, where nothing was quite as it seemed. I tracked down witnesses and experts never interviewed by the police, who shed new light on the case. One question led to another, one piece of evidence led to ten more, and so new and competing narratives began to emerge.
As my research continued, larger questions loomed. Why was the trial of Wang Yam held in closed court? Is it possible to hold a fair trial in secret? In this time of growing terrorist and criminal threats, are individuals and press freedoms being sacrificed on the altar of national security?
More than this, there was something about these two lives, both Wang Yam’s and Allan Chappelow’s, that intrigued me. Perhaps through their stories, I could hope to better understand what it is like to live on the fringes of society, what takes place behind closed doors, what can happen when no one is watching.
Blood on the Page is a work of non-fiction. I have tried to be transparent in my process and to articulate the ambiguities of the case. Where possible, I have allowed the story’s main characters to speak for themselves, uninterrupted, relying on their version of events. I have also noted where doubts have emerged about the veracity of their claims, where I have struggled to unearth the truth, or if I have been prevented from disclosing certain facts.
Obtaining the police’s point of view proved difficult, with those officers still active in the Metropolitan Police declining to share their memories. Luckily, the two investigators in charge of the case had both recently retired and were willing to speak to me. Their recollections proved invaluable. To further understand the police’s case, I read through thousands of pages of evidence and reviewed witness statements, expert testimony, forensic reports, bank records, travel documents, letters, photographs and email correspondence.
To explain Wang Yam’s role in this tale, I relied primarily on his memory. During thirty hours of telephone interviews, conducted from his prison cell, I asked him probing questions about his life, frequently going back over the same material to double-check the details. Where I could, I attempted to verify his recollections by speaking with family members or former associates.
For Allan Chappelow’s biography, I was dependent on his own words, in various books and letters; his photographs, shot over half a century; along with the testimony of his relatives, friends and neighbours. I also knew Allan Chappelow myself. For eighteen years, I lived four doors away from him. That is to say, I knew him as a child knows the peculiar old man who lives up the street, the neighbour who occasionally said hello as he passed by, though I don’t think he’d have recognised me and certainly wouldn’t have known my name. Nevertheless, it was because I knew him that I never forgot that at its heart this was a deeply sad tale, about the klilling of a frail old man, whose friends and family still mourn his loss. A tragic story with long-lasting consequences.
So when I received the Christmas card from Wang Yam, I was faced with a decision: look away or try and seek out the truth. I wrote back. I wanted to know why the trial was held in secret. I wanted to know who killed my neighbour.
On a clear day it is possible to see the whole of London from the top of Parliament Hill. The south edge of Hampstead Heath stretches down to a running track at Gospel Oak, before giving way to the family houses of Kentish Town and the tower blocks of Camden. The arched roof of the international railway station at St Pancras comes next, and beyond lie the capital’s many iconic buildings: St Paul’s Cathedral, the BT Tower, the Gherkin and the Shard. Then the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, marking the route of the River Thames, and, still further, mounting the horizon, one can spot the chalk downs that hug the city’s southern rim nearly 30 miles away.
In summer, Parliament Hill, with its near constant breeze, is a popular place to fly a kite, have a picnic, or just sit on one of the many wooden benches and take in the view. Heading westwards down the slope away from the city panorama, a narrow paved path leads through a tunnel of oak, maple and beech trees, before crossing between two ponds, one inhabited by swans and ducks, the other for the men and women brave enough to take its cool waters. Further on, the path widens into a flat scrubby area. Twice a year for the Easter and summer bank holidays, this space is filled with Ferris wheels, haunted houses, merry‑go‑rounds and bumper car rides. It is here that Hampstead Heath, London’s largest park, with its 320 hectares of grasslands, woods and waterways, finally comes to an end, and the streets of Hampstead begin.
For centuries a village outside of London, Hampstead was untroubled by the intrigues and passions of England’s capital. Later, it attracted patients with pulmonary disorders, its altitude providing a refuge from the city centre’s polluted streets. Next came the poets and the artists, the novelists and the actors, creating Hampstead’s bohemian culture and colourful reputation. By the end of the twentieth century, given its proximity to central London – it is only a thirty-minute bus or train ride to Soho or Covent Garden – and with its beautiful houses, boutique shops and elegant cafés, Hampstead was colonised by corporate lawyers and top-flight bankers, international celebrities, oligarchs, media moguls and art dealers.
But Hampstead is also said to have a dark side. At night, when the shops are shuttered and the streets empty, when the blue light of television screens flicker through the curtained windows, a tension descends. Residents know not to approach Hampstead Heath after sundown. The police declared parts of the Heath ‘no go areas’ following a string of violent robberies. Delinquents, thieves and perverts were believed to roam the woods, prowling for lone walkers, women, children. The stuff of gothic novels.
When the sun is out, however, it’s a different world. On the southwest edge of the Heath, drinkers congregate on the large front terrace of the Freemasons Arms, a sprawling inn located at the foot of Downshire Hill, one of London’s most expensive streets. Moving up Downshire Hill towards Hampstead High Street, walkers pass a handful of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century brick homes, each in fine repair, with wrought-iron gates and tidy front gardens. Further along, on the corner of Keats Grove – a narrow, steeply descending lane where the poet John Keats once lived – is St John’s, a cream-coloured church with a black and gold clock and bell tower. Opposite the church, on the right side of Downshire Hill, stands a row of elegant white-washed Regency properties set back approximately 50 metres from the pavement’s edge.
A little further on, on the left side, squats an ultra-modern cube-shaped house made entirely of glass panes and thin blue steel beams, then a large Victorian red-bricked block of flats. Finally, dominating the top of the road, on the corners of Downshire Hill and Hampstead High Street, is a three-storey police station. Now empty, it had for more than a century stood sentinel, providing protection to the residents and shopkeepers of Hampstead.
At 11.55 a.m. on 12 June 2006, two police constables, Mike Cole and Sam Azouelos, were driving down Hampstead High Street when they received a request from dispatch on the Mobile Data Terminal. Cole was at the wheel of the white Ford Fiesta. They were to make their way immediately to 9 Downshire Hill in Hampstead. The message then provided the following background information:
HSBC customer ALAN [sic] CHAPPELOW (86 years old) has had unusual transactions made on his bank account, which may be fraudulent. The HSBC fraud department have tried to contact him but they have been unable to do so. When they rang his number an oriental man answered the phone pretending to be MR CHAPPELOW. The caller requests police check on the welfare of MR CHAPPELOW and if they manage to make contact with him, can he be asked to ring the informant asap.
Ten minutes after receiving the request, Cole and Azouelos arrived at Downshire Hill. Number 9 stood almost exactly half way down the road on the left-hand side, a hundred metres from St John’s Church. Pulling up in front of the house, Cole and Azouelos saw two other uniformed police officers waiting for them: Chantal Thomas and Ben Roberts. Already 22 degrees centigrade, it was unusually warm for this time of year. The forecasters predicted that the temperature would climb to 24 degrees by mid-afternoon; there might even be thunderstorms later in the day. Leaving their jackets inside the car, Cole and Azouelos locked the doors and walked towards their colleagues.
The house could not be seen from the road. The view was barred by a crumbling stucco wall overgrown by a sprawling oak tree, rhododendron bushes which had gone wild and two ivy-strewn columns upon which hung a pair of wrought-iron gates. One of the columns stood straight, perhaps supported by the oak tree; the other leaned over at an acute angle, its curved crown boasting the words ‘Manor House’ in bottle-blue capitals. Someone had cared enough to rip the ivy stems away to reveal the house’s name, but not enough to repaint its peeling letters.
The gate was ajar. The four police officers walked up a buckled concrete pathway, past an old Norton motorcycle shrouded by a moss-covered tarpaulin, towards the front door. In its prime, the house must have been extraordinarily handsome: a three-storey cream-coloured building with two ornate balconies, arched windows and a flat roof. Now it was dilapidated. Giant ivy climbed up its façade, extending skywards in the shape of an upturned pitch-fork, partially covering the windows.
PC Azouelos, leading the unit, knocked firmly on one side of the tall, blue double-fronted doors, but there was no answer. The doors were locked and there didn’t appear to be any signs of forced entry. Looking to see if there was another way into the building, Azouelos walked around the property, peering into the groundfloor windows, each of which was barred by blue steel rods. To the right of the house was a narrow passage blocked by a brick wall. Azouelos pulled himself up on to the wall between numbers 9 and 10, walked carefully along the narrow ledge, and then jumped back into the alley on the other side. Now in the back garden, so overgrown by trees, bushes and shrubs that it was hard to tell where one plant began and another ended, he found that the home’s rear windows were also locked and barred by steel rods.
Returning to the front of the property, Azouelos spoke to his colleagues. After a brief discussion, they decided to enter the building by force. The heavy front doors were eight feet high, with small glass windows cut in at eye-level. Azouelos pulled his black baton from the holster on his belt and smashed one of the panes. He then reached in and tried to open the lock from the inside but there was a board attached to the back of the door preventing him from releasing the catch. Taking a step back, the police officer kicked hard at the lock and the door swung open.
Inside, the front hallway reached back into darkness. It was fifteen feet long and entirely filled with rubbish. The floor was covered with old newspapers, plastic bags, bottles, fragments of wood and rubble. Loose electricity cables hung from the ceiling. At the far end of the hallway was a large white door, also locked. Azouelos tried kicking it open too, but this time, even though he used considerable force, it would not budge.
Once again, the police officers discussed their predicament. Worried that something may have happened to the elderly occupant – perhaps he had fallen and couldn’t make it to the phone, or he was locked in a room – they agreed that entry was necessary, and for this they would need better tools. While their colleagues remained at the house, Azouelos and Cole now drove to their home police station in West Hampstead and, having secured authorisation from their supervising officer Detective Sergeant Nick Giles, returned to Downshire Hill shortly after 1 p.m. This time they were armed with a bright red tubular steel battering ram a little over half a metre in length that they called the ‘enforcer’. Back at the house, and with his partner standing behind him, PC Cole grabbed the handles of the enforcer with his gloved hands and swung it at the door. Nothing happened. It took five or six attempts before the lock finally gave and they were able to push their way through.
‘It was immediately apparent how untidy and cluttered the house was,’ Azouelos later wrote in his official police report. ‘There was dust everywhere and bits of paper, books and junk piled up high in every room. It looked as though the owner had never thrown anything away.’ Stepping further into the house he noted a certain odour. ‘I have smelt death on previous occasions, and I can only describe the smell as being sickly and sweet. The house did not smell like this, but more like what I believed to be urine from some sort of animal. There was so much rubbish and junk in [it], and it was so poorly looked after, I thought that the smell could be attributed to anything.’
In one room he found a tartan shopping trolley containing empty boxes of Mr Kipling Bakewell tarts. To the left of the staircase was a large living room that faced the street. It was too dark to see inside. Towards the back of the house, overlooking the garden, was a smaller room, piled chest-high with books, papers, metal shelves, and other detritus. Given the amount of rubbish, he decided not to enter.
Returning outside, he placed a call on the radio asking for a third unit to assist. He and Cole continued with their search. They looked downstairs in the basement, a dark cavernous room filled high with junk, bundles of yellowed papers, piles of books and broken furniture. They explored the kitchen, which housed a small wooden table, two chairs and a fridge that didn’t look like it had been used in years. They looked in another large room on the ground floor – perhaps at one time a dining room, it too was crammed with broken furniture, piles of papers and bags of rubble, as if someone had stopped mid-way through a renovation project. The air was heavy with dust and the place was damp and dark; none of the lights worked.
Azouelos walked upstairs, noticing what appeared to be buckets of urine on the steps. On the next floor he found a bathroom, its tub overflowing with books, magazines and plastic bottles. The toilet was stuffed with paper. In a bedroom, he looked under the blankets and beneath the bed, opening a cupboard and pushing around bundles of clothes. Nothing. He then entered another room where a bed was covered with old clothes and a blue sleeping bag. He assumed this was Chappelow’s bedroom. On a small shelf next to the bed was an old radio cassette player. Another shelf contained some books and diaries. The room was hot and sweaty, which made the search uncomfortable. On the bedside table was a bottle filled with a brown liquid. Azouelos guessed that it too was urine. Various documents littered the floor. Amongst these was a Daily Mail newspaper dated 6 May 2006.
More officers arrived at the house, bringing powerful torches to make the search easier. Despite extensive efforts, however, they were unable to find traces of the owner. One of the investigators later recalled how ‘every surface and area was covered in dust and everything had a grey look to it’. She approached the stairs but was worried that they were too unsafe to climb. One room was piled so high with papers and other rubbish that she could not see in. ‘The house’, she wrote, ‘had the appearance of a derelict property which was not inhabitable.’
Two hours after he and Azouelos had first entered the house, Mike Cole called Detective Sergeant Nick Giles and provided him with an update. If a body was found it would be Giles’s responsibility to secure the site and then inform the homicide squad, who would in turn dispatch a crime scene investigation team. But a body had not yet been found. Giles told Cole to look for evidence that might point to Allan Chappelow’s whereabouts. A short while later, Cole found papers documenting a flight to the USA, leaving on 26 March and returning on 1 May, six weeks before the search. They also found a cheque book, a Sainsbury’s credit card, a British passport (all in Chappelow’s name) and an article about the history of the American avocado plant.
Finally, at around 5 p.m., they ended the search. Cole called a local carpenter to ‘board up’ the broken front doors, and a few minutes later a young man arrived. He screwed two hooks above and below the lock of the white door at the back of the hallway, before adding two padlocks to secure the site. The blue double doors at the front of the house were pulled shut but left unlocked. Back at the West Hampstead police station Giles told Cole to file a ‘comprehensive low risk’ missing person report on the Metropolitan Police’s Merlin database.
A few hours later, at 10 p.m., Mike Cole called the neighbour, Lady Listowel, who lived at 10 Downshire Hill. She reported that Chappelow had indeed returned from holiday at the start of May, but that she had not seen him for a few weeks. He would have told her if he was going away again. Before finishing his shift, Cole made a copy of the photograph in Chappelow’s passport and asked the night sergeant to drop it off at the missing persons unit.
What had happened to Allan Chappelow? Cole wondered. Perhaps, despite his neighbour’s assertion, he had gone away again on holiday, or maybe he was staying with friends. Either way, HSBC needed to be informed that so far they had been unable to find their elderly client.
Allan Gordon Chappelow was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 20 August 1919. His father, Archibald Cecil Chappelow, was a 37‑year-old English decorator and upholsterer, who was at that time teaching a course on antique restoration at Copenhagen University. Keen to avoid military service at the outbreak of the First World War, he had moved to Denmark, which remained neutral throughout the hostilities.
Allan’s 39-year-old mother Karen grew up in the small town of Hillerød, just north of Copenhagen. She and Archibald had met three years earlier at the university and had married soon after. Karen spent her days managing the family’s home and looking after the children, particularly Allan’s older brother Paul who had cerebral palsy. In a letter to an American cousin, Archibald wrote that Paul ‘had the misfortune to be injured at birth and is a cripple. His hands are affected somewhat and his speech jerky and his walk somewhat haphazard. He is, however, nice looking, cheerful and healthy and is a great reader and a book grubber.’
Soon after Allan’s birth, and within six months of the war’s end, the family returned to London, moving in with Archibald’s father, George Chappelow, who lived in a small house in Hampstead. It was a little cramped, but the family was happy to be reunited. Archibald then joined his father’s firm: George Chappelow & Son, which had been established before the war. According to the company’s letterhead, they were ‘Building and decorative contractors, General House and Property Upholders’. Based at 27a Charles Street, off Berkeley Square in Mayfair, their clients included the theatres, galleries, restaurants and clubs of London’s West End. Allan’s father and grandfather loved working together, and when not in the office, they played lawn tennis and billiards, or took their wives to the theatre.
A few years later, and with help from George, Archibald, Karen and their two sons were able to move into the large house at 9 Downshire Hill in Hampstead. They were glad to finally have their own space. Built in 1823, their new house was in fine condition, both inside and out. Up until the end of the nineteenth century the property had been home to the lord of the manor of Belsize (from bel assis, meaning ‘well situated’), and was therefore called Manor House. The property contained both front and back gardens filled with a mixture of trees and shrubs, and the face of the house sported two elegant iron balconies. Inside, there was an L‑shaped double drawing room, with long French windows leading outside,
and a wood-panelled staircase that the Chappelows agreed would be well-suited as a picture gallery. ‘It is well-nigh a perfect example of late Regency,’ Archibald later wrote in his book Old Homes of England. ‘It might be a small country house set amidst natural wood surroundings’, he noted, but ‘it is only 2 miles from Oxford Street’ in central London.
Allan’s parents were political progressives who supported radical reform. As members of the Fabian Society, which had been founded in 1884, they believed in a transition towards socialism, particularly a more equal distribution of assets. Growing up, Allan was repeatedly told stories about his pioneering relatives. His great-great-grandfather, Joseph Stevens, for instance, was a preacher and an advocate for social change, campaigning for an improvement in factory conditions. In 1838, Stevens had been arrested and charged with ‘attending an unlawful meeting’ and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He emerged, however, with his reputation intact and was well regarded by his peers. Allan’s second cousin was Grace Chappelow, one of the leading members of the women’s suffrage movement. She had been arrested on numerous occasions, had participated in prison hunger strikes and had suffered the humiliation and pain of being force-fed by the authorities. And then there was his uncle Eric Chappelow, Archibald’s brother, a poet who had been a conscientious objector during World War One. Arrested and charged with cowardice and treason, he was one of 6,000 ‘conchies’ to be imprisoned by the British during the Great War, causing a national outcry and calls for reform. Despite the family’s protests, Eric had spent four months in prison. Later, the government admitted that it had been wrong to imprison Eric and the other conscientious objectors.
In a letter to a cousin in the USA, Archibald talked about his personal values and described the family’s character:
Personally I never did believe in War and never shall be able to. I often wonder if it might not be nice to bring my family over to some place where the sun shines and live a simple open life, avoiding newspapers and not worrying about money except just to live. I think the Chappelows manage to get a good deal out of life, although few of them seem to make money, or keep it when they do! I believe the history of our family is very interesting; we have done quite good things in our time and always been an outspoken, fearless people. We are ‘honourable’ too, for I do not know of any member of the family having gone bankrupt.
In addition to stories about his heroic relatives, the young Allan was also told about the tragedies that had befallen the family. One tale in particular was often repeated by his grandfather George, leaving the boy with a profound sense of the importance of personal security.
Edward Rayner Chappelow, Allan’s great-uncle, had been fond of adventure. He joined the merchant navy and sailed the seas, he fought against the ‘kaffirs’ in South Africa and loaded guano onto boats in Peru. In the spring of 1885, Edward arrived in California ready to settle down. He abstained from drink, purchased his own nursery and began cultivating the land. One day Eric went to a small community in east Los Angeles to collect a $2,000 debt that he was owed. As it was late, he was unable to deposit the money in a bank. On his way home he was attacked by a gang of youths who stabbed him to death, dragging his body to a small wooden shed which was then set on fire with paraffin. Edward was just twenty-seven years old.
No matter his family’s colourful history, Allan’s childhood was typical
for someone brought up in middle-class Hampstead. In September 1927, he started at The Hall, a private elementary school fifteen minutes’ walk away from Downshire Hill. Known for its high academic achievement, as well as its pink blazers, cap and tie, it was here that he was taught Shakespeare, learned to read Latin, and how to purchase tasty sweets at the tuck shop.
According to headmaster Gerard Wathen’s private notes, after a ‘baddish’ first term, Allan was ‘much improved’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘good with his hands’. Another entry reported that the pupil was ‘not at all hopeless’ and ‘in some ways unusually clever’. Wathen recorded that Allan’s father was an ‘artist-architect’, his mother was a ‘Dane’, and his brother ‘daft’. The headmaster also recorded that in February 1930 Allan was ‘caned’ by a Ms Bolton. The infraction’s cause was not, however, given.
Like many other institutions of the day, corporal punishment was employed at The Hall. Indeed, in the 1932 edition of the school magazine, a student composed the following playful alphabetised verse:
R is for Rudeness (no not Mr Rotherham). It’s what the staff say when the boys come to bother ’em.
S is for Sita, best-seller it seems, for some humourist said, ‘Go to him for ice-creams.’
T’s for Thrashing, a penalty rare. You go to the study, the Principal’s there.
Sport also featured prominently in Allan’s youth. While he didn’t play tennis with his father and grandfather, Allan was encouraged to participate in team sports. In his last year at The Hall, he was the wicket-keeper for the school’s cricket team, and his efforts for the rugby team warranted a headmaster comment in the 1933 school magazine. ‘Chappelow (forward) needs more energy’, wrote Wathen. ‘He is more useful in mud than on dry turf, when greater speed is necessary.’
In his free time, Allan fed the ducks at the ponds on Hampstead Heath and climbed Parliament Hill to catch the view over London. He collected bread from the Rumbolds bakery in South End Green and accompanied his mother while she purchased fruit and vegetables at the market on Hampstead High Street. While he didn’t attend St John’s Church across the road, or any other congregation for that matter – his family were strictly atheist – he enjoyed the holidays: standing on the roof of 9 Downshire Hill to watch the Guy Fawkes fireworks, taking part in Easter egg hunts in the back garden, and enjoying Christmas lunches with his family in the formal dining room.
Even at a young age Allan was an avid reader, made easier when an optician prescribed a pair of thick-glassed spectacles that corrected
his long-sightedness. He spent hours in his small bedroom, poring through the popular books of the day, such as Swallows and Amazons, Emil and the Detectives and The Railway Children. In pride of place next to his bed was a small wooden bookshelf in which he arranged his favourite titles.
Most of all, Allan loved stamp collecting, for, like his mother Karen, he was an ardent philatelist. Whenever a letter arrived at the house, he pleaded that he be given the envelope. If successful, he used a gently boiling kettle to carefully steam off the stamp, before setting it aside to dry and then adding it to one of his albums, according to its colour, value and type. He particularly liked the foreign stamps, which featured heads of states, exotic animals and strange-looking plants. Sitting on his bed he idled away the hours leafing through the albums, thinking of distant lands, which he hoped one day to visit.
The second day of searching 9 Downshire Hill began at 3 p.m. on Tuesday 13 June 2006. Mike Cole had spoken again to his supervisor, Detective Sergeant Nick Giles, who said that Allan Chappelow’s bank had reported another attempted use of his credit card. With suspicions rising that a serious crime had been committed, the police decided to return to the property as soon as possible.
As his partner, Sam Azouelos, was now on leave, Mike Cole drove with Police Constable Terry Seward to Kentish Town police station, 2 miles from Hampstead, where he picked up the keys and continued on to 9 Downshire Hill. DS Nick Giles was waiting for them outside the gate. Cole opened the front door and provided a brief tour of the ruined property. Their plan was to make a more thorough search of the premises.
‘On entering the house,’ Seward later wrote in a report, ‘I could smell dust and the smell of something rotting.’ The house was cool, despite the heat outside. Seward put on a pair of disposable gloves and headed up to the first floor. Half way up the stairs he noticed a swarm of bluebottle flies buzzing near a window. ‘The rotting smell was at its worst here,’ he wrote.
Seeing a ladder upstairs, DS Giles climbed into the attic, opened a trapdoor and stepped onto the flat roof. He walked around for a few minutes, but there was no trace of the elderly man. He looked over the edge to where Chappelow may have fallen, but all he could see in the garden below were trees and bushes. He saw Seward in front of the house and called down to him to check the garden, but nothing was found.
While the search continued inside the house, other police officers collected statements from the local residents. The neighbours told the police officers that they had seen little of Allan Chappelow in recent years. They had come to view him as an eccentric and recluse. When one of the neighbours had asked if they could visit him at home, Chappelow had politely declined. It was assumed that he was embarrassed about the state of his house.
Lady Listowel, who lived at number 10, repeated that she hadn’t seen her neighbour since his return from America at the beginning of May. A slight but elegant woman in her seventies, she and her husband William Hare, 5th Earl of Listowel, had moved into their large Regency house in 1987. She knew Allan quite well, she said, and kept an eye on his home whenever he was away. When people on the street mocked Allan for being a recluse or for not taking care of his property, Lady Pamela defended him. ‘He is a very dear boy,’ she would say. She rather liked his overgrown garden and the wildlife it attracted, and she appreciated his colourful character. She found him to be intelligent, charming and outgoing and she was never bothered by the condition of his house. Some people might not like to live like that, most people in fact, but Allan had lived there since he was a teenager; it made him comfortable, and so who was she to judge?
Peter Tausig, who lived at number 11, said he too hadn’t seen Allan for a while. Sixty-six years old and now retired from his job as a banker, Tausig said that he often bumped into his elderly neighbour on the street, typically when Allan was on his way to read the newspaper at the library in Keats Grove. Tausig believed that he was one of the few people on the street who was close to Allan. Two or three years earlier, Allan had told him that his post was no longer being delivered. Tausig offered to help. After learning the problem was Allan’s overgrown garden, he arranged for some of the trees and bushes to be cut back. From then on, Allan occasionally popped in for tea at Tausig’s house. He would not talk about himself; instead he spoke about politics, particularly his loathing for George Bush and Tony Blair and their ‘unwarranted’ invasion of Iraq.
Four months earlier, Allan had told Tausig that he was planning to visit Texas. ‘He seemed excited,’ Tausig remembered. ‘He said that he was onto something new, something big, that his next book on George Bernard Shaw would be his magnum opus.’
Meanwhile, inside 9 Downshire Hill, Cole looked for any correspondence or useful information that he may have missed the day before. He spent a few hours leafing through bank statements, letters, magazines and diaries, but nothing useful could be found. Cole asked DS Giles what he should do with the travel documents and passport that he had removed the previous day. His boss told him to put them back where he had found them.
After another look around the property, Cole and the other policemen left the premises. The doors were locked once again and the keys were returned to Kentish Town station before dinnertime.
By the morning of Wednesday 14 June, two days after Cole’s first visit to the house, DS Nick Giles decided to take command of the search. He had been in touch with Allan Chappelow’s distant relatives – Michael Chappelow, an art dealer, and James Chappelow, a teacher from Hemel Hempstead – who both said it was extremely unlikely that the old man would be anywhere but in his house. The detective sergeant was becoming increasingly concerned that something untoward had happened. After two days of searching, it was still not clear whether Allan Chappelow was or was not in 9 Downshire Hill. Half of the rooms were so filled with debris that they had been unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation. The best way to be entirely sure would be to empty every room. This would take weeks, however, as a specialised search team would have to carry out the work with each item having to be photographed and catalogued prior to being moved. In the meantime, there was one other option: the dog unit.
Around 3 p.m., DS Giles returned to the property where he met Paul Vardon and Scott Stepney, each of whom was accompanied by a black-and-tan German Shepherd. Stepney and his dog went upstairs whilst Vardon took his dog, Lacey, around the ground floor. The hallways, stairs and the room on the left proved of little interest to Lacey, but as soon as she approached the room to the right, which was piled high with papers, she let out a specific low bark and started digging at the papers with her paws. Vardon told Giles that it was reasonable to conclude that there was some sort of decomposing flesh in the room. It could be anything from rotting food to a dead animal, but Vardon said that most likely it was a corpse. The only way to check was by carefully removing the debris. Satisfied that they were at last making progress, DS Giles once again locked the front entranceway, and then cordoned off the entire property with blue and white tape.
At 4 p.m., and now back on the pavement in front of the house, it was time for DS Giles to pass the case up the chain of command. He called his boss and told him that they had found something, and although he couldn’t yet be certain, he thought it highly likely that it was the body of Allan Chappelow. He now recommended that a crime scene investigator be sent out to the property before it was further disturbed.
This was now a matter for north-west London’s homicide unit, and the officer on call, Pete Lansdown.
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