On May 14, 1948, three-year-old June Devaney is kidnapped from her room at Queen's Park Hospital in Blackburn, England. The child had been recovering from a recent bout of pneumonia. Nurses discovered her missing at 1:20 a.m. the next day, and police were immediately summoned to investigate.
Two hours later, her body was found with multiple skull fractures. An autopsy revealed that the young girl had been sexually molested and died from blunt force trauma to the head. Two significant clues were found at the hospital that would prove helpful in catching the killer: footprints on the freshly cleaned floor and a water bottle that had been moved. Although there were several fingerprints on the bottle, police were able to account for all but one set. These prints also failed to match any of those in the police's database of known criminals. Investigators fingerprinted and interviewed over 2,000 people who had access to the hospital. Still, they couldn't find a match. Detective’s went even further and decided that every man in the town of Blackburn, a city with more than 25,000 homes, would be fingerprinted. A procedure such as this would be impossible in the U.S. where 4th Amendment protections prevent searches without probable cause. The plan went into effect in Blackburn on May 23rd, with police assurances that the collected prints would be destroyed afterward. Two months later, the police had collected over 40,000 sets of prints yet still had not turned up a match. Checking against every registry they could find, authorities determined that there were still a few men in town who hadn't provided their prints. On August 11th, police caught up with one of these men, Peter Griffiths. His footprints matched the ones found at the scene. When his fingerprints also came back a match, he confessed to the awful crime, blaming it on alcohol. Griffiths was found guilty of murder and was executed on November 19, 1948.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: