It was an unusual nocturnal sight by any stretch: a man wheeling a childs pushchair along Moor Street, Burton-on-Trent, containing a very large safe. It caught the attention of Police Constable Brindley Booth, who gave chase. The pushchair-pusher, aware that he was being followed, hid round a corner and as the constable came panting up, the pusher stepped out and hit him on the head with what might have been a jemmy.
The constable fell, but got up. He later made a statement describing his attacker: about 35, tallish, with bushy fair hair and a bit of a curl at the front. But by then he was suffering the effects of the blow, and his mind was wandering
The safe, it transpired, was stolen from the local Picturedrome Cinema earlier that evening, May 29th, 1946, and contained only £42.
When police reinforcements arrived the constable was found collapsed over the safe he was guarding. He was taken to hospital where he died on Thursday, June 6th.
The subsequent investigation led to the possible involvement of a black American soldier named Freeman Reese. But could there have been more than one thief since PC Booth had not mentioned that his attacker was black?
Astonishingly, it took 10 years to find out more, when a spot check on a black man in the Isle of Man revealed him to be none other than Freeman Reese. Yes, he said, he had robbed the Burton cinema, but he didnt attack Constable Booth. I had a white accomplice, he said. I knew him only as Slim. The robbery was his idea.
We were pushing the pushchair away from the cinema when I saw the policeman. I stopped and Slim began pushing the pram to the right, with the policeman following him. I ran to a house in Heath Road.
There wasnt enough evidence to pin the murder on Reese, but his freedom was very temporary. US military police were waiting for him outside the court. They handcuffed him, bundled him into a truck, and took him off to be court-martialled for desertion. He got 20 years hard labour, later reduced to 12 years on appeal.
So who was Slim? The police didnt think he existed. They never sought anyone else and closed the case. Ironically, their prime suspect had been cleared by the statement of their deceased colleague, the victim.