Many murders are senseless. Thomas Bates’s was one of them. He was about to close his newsagent’s shop at Edgbaston, Birmingham, at 6.30 p.m. on JUNE 2nd, 1962, when his last customer shot him and fled empty-handed.
The 47-year-old newsagent’s mother lived with him above the shop, and on hearing the shot she hurried down to find him lying in a pool of blood. He died within minutes, and the police appealed for customers who had been in the shop just before the shooting to come forward.
They soon did so, and the search for the killer focused on Oswald Augustus Grey, a 20-year-old unemployed Jamaican baker. His home was watched, and officers swooped when he was seen outside reaching into a dustbin. Caught in the act of retrieving bullets from the bin, he was arrested and taken in for questioning.
He admitted that the gun which shot Mr. Bates had been in his possession, but claimed he’d had it only briefly – at 3.30 on the afternoon of the shooting, and at 10 p.m. the same day. After he had given five different accounts as to who had the weapon at the time of the shooting, he was arrested and charged with murder.
While he awaited trial, the police made an intensive search for the gun but failed to find it. The bullets found in Grey’s possession were similar to the one that killed the newsagent.
Pleading “Not guilty” when he appeared at Birmingham Assizes, Grey claimed that another man had the gun when Mr. Bates was shot. But the man he named testified that he had never had the weapon, and the court heard that Grey had later sold it for £16 to a man he met at a party.
It took the jury only 15 minutes to decide that he was guilty. Sentenced to death, he spent his last days limbo-dancing in his condemned cell. Then an November 20th, 1962, he became the last man to be hanged at Winson Green Prison.