Guenther Fritz Erwin Podola was perhaps the most unusual capital murder case to be the tried under the provisions of the Homicide Act of 1957.
His actions were not in dispute but whether his amnesia bought on by a blow to the head incurred during his arrest was real or not was the question.
Podola had been born in
On the 13th of July 1959, he was once again engaged in crime in
Fingerprint evidence from the murder scene together with Podola’s description were sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who were able to supply the real identity of Mr. Fisher.
On the 14th of August Podola was committed for trial at the Old Bailey by West London Magistrates sitting in camera, at the request of the defence, on the capital charge of murdering a police officer in the execution of his duty.
It would be the largest calendar at a Sessions since the Old Bailey since it opened in its then form in 1907, with over 300 defendants, including five charged with murder.
Podola claimed to have no memory of his arrest or the shooting of D.S. Purdy. Even though it could be proved that he had shot Purdy, if he genuinely couldn't recall doing so and was not mentally fit to stand trial, he would have had to have been acquitted. A jury hearing commenced before Mr. Justice Edmund Davies on September 10th 1959 to determine whether the defendant’s claimed amnesia was genuine or not. Expert witnesses were called by both sides. After 3 1/2 hours of deliberation they concluded it was not and so the trial proper could move forward.
The murder trial opened, again before Mr.
Justice Edmund Davies sitting with a new jury, on the 24th of September. Podola’s solicitor was Mr F. Morris Williams who had
briefed Mr. F H Lawton QC. for the defence, assisted
by Mr. R J Harvey. The prosecution was
led by Mr. Maxwell Turner, assisted by Mr. John Buzzard.
In the normal way Podola was asked to plead to the charges and replied "I do not remember the crime for which I stand accused ... I am unable to answer the charges."
Mr. Lawton told the jury that Podola had a complete loss of memory of events before the 17th of July. There was a considerable amount of procedural wrangling but in the end Mr. Justice Davies decided that it was for the defence to prove insanity in this instance. In doing so he noted that he was departing from the judgement of Mr. Justice Salmon in 1957 on a similar argument.
Mr. Lawton then told the jury “I stand here
today with my learned friend by my side and Podola’s
solicitor in front of me and the three of us have no idea what his defence is
at all.” “What happened on the occasion
of his arrest is part of the memory lost.”
Podola had been taken to
The jury of ten men and two women rejected his defence of memory loss, convicting him on the 25th of September, after only 38 minutes of discussion.
Prisoner 9594, Podola
did not lodge an appeal himself because he had no legal grounds to appeal the
jury’s decision that he was fit to plead to the murder charge against him. However the Home Secretary, Richard Austen “Rab”
A petition for a reprieve was collected and
presented to the Home Secretary but the German Embassy declined to get
Podola was duly hanged at Wandsworth prison by Harry Allen and Royston
Outside the prison a woman in black walked up to the gates and placed a bowl of violets there. Some 100 people had gathered to witness the posting of the notice of execution, the 12th to be carried out under the new Act and the last of six in 1959.
This was one of the first capital cases that I remember as a boy in 1959. I suppose it was his odd sounding name, to a child's view of the world, that caught my attention.