Even the Inspector Cried…

The Criminal Street
9 min readAug 28, 2023
Black Burn Child Killer Rapist
Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

Chief Inspector, John Capstick, while reaching the crime scene, recorded his feelings as Lancashire County police photographer, Sergeant H.B Taylor took the pictures of the four-year-old body of June,

“I stared down at the pitiful form of June Anne Devaney, and I am not ashamed to say that I saw it through a mist of tears. Year of detective service had hardened me to many terrible things, but this tiny, pathetic body in its nightdress soaked with blood and mud was something no man could see unmoved. I swore, standing there in the rain, that I would bring her murderer to justice.”

The Night Britain Will Never Forget.

On the deadly night of 15 May 1948, there was a hush in the darkest night, slow quivering sounds of the breeze, and a remarkably silent yet vociferous sound at the Queen’s Park Hospital in Blackburn, Lancashire. As the light radiates from the soft-dimmed lamp of the night nurse’s table, all you can see is a pile of books, a pad, and a ballpoint pen, which shows the ambitions of the nurse, who wishes to become the ward sister. The other night staff, Nurse Gwendolyn Humphries, was occupied in preparing the breakfast trays for the six tiny occupants of ward C3. Everything was ordinary and almost the same except the fact that something very horrible was about to happen in the same night. Shortly after midnight, a few minutes entering 15 May, Nurse Humpries decided to check on the mere five-year-old patients of the ward, and as she saw those sweet creatures sleeping soundly in their cots, she returned to her kitchen and continued her breakfast preparations. A few moments later, she thought she heard a child call out from ward C3, so she went out to check wards C4 and C3. As she returned to the C3 ward, she saw that the porch door was open, but thinking that a single breeze could swing open it, Nurse Humpries closed it and went back to the kitchen to wash the dishes.

Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn
Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn | Source: LancsLive

It was twenty past one when she moved forward to her table after doing her kitchen job, but just then, she noticed that one of the cots of the C3 ward was empty. The child was June Anne Devaney, not quite four years of age, who was about to be discharged the next day as she recovered from mild pneumonia.

Hospital Ward from where June Anne Devaney was abducted
Hospital Ward from where June Anne Devaney was abducted | Source: LancsLive

The cot condition felt that somebody might pick June, so she started looking at the floor by the side of the cot, where her sharp gaze saw an imprint of a man’s foot. And in no time, she raised the alarm, and the entire night staff searched the extensive grounds of the hospital on seventy acres. After more than half an hour spent, there was no trace of the missing child, which led the police to arrive. Within minutes, they arrived, and with the aid of more powerful lightning, they were successful in coming across the ravaged body of June at 3:14 a.m. Her face was lying downwards in the long grass by the wall as if she was killed by her murderer, having swung her by legs to brutally bash her head against the wall. Savagely raped, in addition to severely mutilated by horrendously deep teeth marks embedded in the buttocks, her blood-soaked hospital nightgown was ripped into shreds. The body was in such a brutal state that everyone in the hospital cried in despair over her pitiful death. Just then, the investigation of the biggest hospital horror started.

A Determined Investigation.

Forty-three minutes later, after the body was found, Chief Inspector John Capstick of the Yard’s Murder Squad called the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Sir Archibald Hordern, and Chief Constable of Blackburn, Mr C.G Looms and Detective Sergeant John Stoneman, to find the killer of June.

There was an intensive inch-by-inch search by local police officers, where they found the Winchester bottle (a bottle to keep for drug patients), so they sent it for forensics. As expected, there were fresh prints from the bottle, which were of the man’s left hand. Furthermore, the footprints that the nurse found were on microscopic examinations. It led to the discovery of the impressions of man’s stockinged feet with minute fibers from red and blue woolen socks. These similar fibers were obtained from the window-ledge of the intruder from where he came into the hospital.

Bottle on which fingerprints were found, Police officers examining fingerprints, Window from which Peter Griffiths climbed into the ward | Source: LancsLive

John Capstick asked every single staff for anything suspicious seen and learned that a night prowler was spotted before midnight. One of the nurses gave a good description of him, but the fingerprints of him didn’t match anything from the crime scene.

Chief Inspector Capstick was so shocked and woebegone with the child’s body that his knees almost reached to ground, where he took an oath that no matter what, he would find the murderer of June. And he translated his words into his deeds.

Looking at the crime scene, he was certain to say that the murderer was a tall man, having a height of six feet, which subsequently proved appropriate to the case.

Capstick first involved the task of taking 50,000 sets of fingerprints and calling 35,000 houses, using police officers with inkpads and cards, door to door. He further took the case to the next level by taking the prints of the males who left town between or on the nights of 14 and 15 May, some of whom went to America and Singapore. Then, he focussed on released mental patients, and over 4,000 men were interviewed and fingerprinted.

But no luck, despite the best practices, there was no clue of the murderer. Still, Capstick then got 3000 more sets of fingerprints from the aliens residing in the refugee camps of the area. The fingerprinting was extended to such mass that every sex offender, released from prison, tramp, and alcoholics were included. Chief Inspector planned the next move by receiving a visit from Inspector William Barton, who checked and rechecked the files against Electoral Roll and found that the serving soldier or airman must have missed the fingerprints as the wartime had left a legacy of loopholes. And this led to another 50,000 fingerprints, which also failed to turn up the criminal. Next, a further 200 males, including servicemen, who escaped the attention of the officers were interrogated and fingerprinted. And as the DI, Colin Campbell was checking the photographed prints, one of the cards, no. 46,253, from a house in Birley Street, Blackburn was placed, and suddenly, he got what everyone wanted for so long.

The fingerprint match was of the former guardsman, Peter Griffiths, twenty-two of 31 Birley Street, Blackburn, now working in the flour mill. It was three months after the spine-chilling murder of Jane that the police officers got a clue of the offender.

The Arrest, Confession, and More.

At 9 p.m. of the same evening, Capstick, accompanied by Inspector Barton and Detective Sergeant Ernest Millen of the Yard’s Murder Squad, drove to Birley Street, stood out, and positioned themselves in the doorway of the house opposite the No 31. After fifteen minutes, when the door of the house opened, a tall and slender young man walked out into the street. John Capstick was arrested with Inspector Barton for what happened in the Queen’s Park Hospital on the night of 14–15 May 1948.

Peter Griffiths Black Burn Child Killer Rapist
Peter Griffiths Black Burn Child Killer | Source: LancsLive

On the way to the police station, the accused repeatedly denied all the offenses, but suddenly, he asked if they wanted to interview him because of the fingerprints. And as the policeman turned, he said,

“I suppose they’re my fingerprints you found on the bottle. If so, I ‘tell you all about it.”

Soon after, Peter Griffiths confessed, saying that on the evening of the 14 May, he drank thirteen pints of beer and a large quantity of rum. As he walked down to clear his thoughts, a stranger gave him a lift in his car, dropping him near the hospital. Now, this part of the statement was wrong as no stranger dropped him, and he rented a cab to move there.

Peter Griffiths | Source: LancsLive

Then he began describing that he was outside the children’s hospital ward, where he left his shoes outside, picked up the bottle, and walked halfway down the ward with it in his hand, then put it on the floor. This is the part that explains how he took the child from the ward.

“I remember the child woke up and started to cry, and I hushed her. She then opened her eyes and saw me… I picked her up out of the cot and took her outside by the same door. I carried her in my right arm, and she put her arms around my neck, and I walked with her down the hospital field. I put her down on the grass.”

The statement made no mention of the sexual attack, but he admitted killing her. At two pm around, he reached his home and slept on the couch peacefully.

“My mother and father asked me where I had been the previous night and what time I had come home. I said that I had been out boozing and had got home at midnight. This is all I can say. I’m sorry for both parents’ sake and I hope I get what I deserve.”

The Forensics reported that the blood of June Anne was found on the offender’s trousers, the fibers of his suit were identical to the fibers from the dead child’s nightdress and the pair of socks had the same material which was found on the polished floors of the war and the window-ledge over which he climbed. One of the strange finds was a sheet of the notepaper, which was entitled, ‘Warning’ and said,

“For lo and behold, when the beast

Looked down upon the face of beauty

It stayed its hand from killing

And from that day on

It was as one dead.”

It is not known whether the verse was written by Griffith before or after the murder.

Peter Griffiths was committed for trial at Lancaster Assizes on 15 October 1948, where he counseled the insanity plea, stating that he was a schizophrenic, but the Judge took less than twenty minutes to reach the unanimous verdict of guilty of murder. On 19 October 1948, he was hanged at Walton Prison.

Mr E.G Robey and fingerprints expert Detective Inspector Campbell
Mr E.G Robey for the prosecution and fingerprints expert Detective Inspector Campbell | Source: LancsLive

Opinions.

Though the entire court and police worked from tip to toe to give justice to little June, the horrific details are truly disturbing, and no death penalty can repeal how dreadfully June was murdered. The insanity plea itself tells that the shameless offender had no guilt for what he did to the little creature, who with her bigger eyes asked to let go. The monstrous act of the offender is unforgiven.

Bibliography.

The Evil That Men Do: Twenty Man-Made Murders byGeorgina Lloyd.

--

--

The Criminal Street

An online repository to briefly read about serial killers, their crimes & their trials. Every story is resource-backed, ones that you may check out at the end.