“Go to 5 Upper Abbey Street. There is a dead man,” said the note handed to Dublin Police on AUGUST 23rd, 1948, by Mrs. William Gambon. Officers went to the address, and found John Long, 39, lying dead on a bed. His face had been battered with an iron bar which lay nearby, and his wallet lay empty on the floor.

The next day William Gambon, 28, walked into Dublin’s Shore Street police station and handed the desk sergeant a newspaper containing a report of the murder. He had come to give himself up, he said, because there was “nothing else for it.”

A strange story then unfolded. Gambon and John Long had met as fellow-patients in a Dublin hospital in the early 1940s and had become friends. Mr. Long subsequently found work in England while Gambon remained in Dublin, but the two kept in touch. Six years later Mr. Long was still sending Gambon money because he was unemployed and living in a hostel. But Mr. Long wasn’t much better off. Although he had a job, his home was a Ministry of Works camp in Buckinghamshire.

Gambon married in April, 1948, and rented a room at 5 Upper Abbey Street. He was still out of work and Mr. Long continued to send him money, following this up with a letter that summer saying he was coming to Dublin on holiday and would arrive on August 21st.

He had no relatives, and his association with Gambon was apparently prompted by loneliness. The unemployed Dubliner had never had a better friend, so what had gone wrong when the two were reunited?

Gambon told the police that he and Mr. Long had fallen out over a game of cards. They were playing pontoon, Gambon had won £60 from his friend, and he said that Mr. Long had become “cranky,” demanding the money back. Their argument had developed into a fight, and in his statement Gambon said: “I saw a bar on the washstand which I used for holding up the window. I took the bar in my hand and pushed him away from me with it, back into the bed. After that everything went blank.”

At Gambon’s trial, however, the state pathologist was asked by the prosecutor: “Is it your opinion that when the first blow was struck the deceased’s head was on the pillow?”


“Is it your opinion that it was in the normal sleeping position when the first blow was struck?”

“Yes, it was turned sideways.”

In the witness-box Gambon said that Mr. Long had accused him of winning the money at cards through cheating. Their argument had become heated. Mr. Long had threatened to get out of bed and kick his friend’s guts out. Then he had grabbed Gambon’s throat, and Gambon said he seized the bar and struck Mr. Long in self-defence.

He told the court he had not intended to kill John Long. “I regarded him as the best friend I ever had.”

After he was convicted and sentenced to death, Gambon told his solicitor he didn’t want a reprieve because he could see no future for himself in this world. He entered the next on November 24th, 1948, on the scaffold at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.