On JANUARY 24th, 1907, Horace George Rayner, a 27-year-old clerk, arrived for an interview in the office of the pioneer London department-store owner William Whiteley and claimed to be his illegitimate son.

When his request for money was refused Rayner drew a gun and threatened suicide. Then, as Whiteley stepped out of his office and called for the police to be summoned, Rayner shot him, inflicting wounds from which he died.

Rayner’s suicide attempt, however, merely disfigured his face, causing him to lose the sight of an eye. Sentenced to death for murder, he was reprieved and given penal servitude for life.

His reprieve was believed to have been prompted by fears that his execution would bring calls for the abolition of capital punishment. He was not Whiteley’s son but may have believed he was, and his case aroused considerable public sympathy both for him and for his distraught wife, who was pregnant and daily expecting confinement.