Its hard enough for detectives to solve murder cases, but it becomes harder still when the victim has led a double life. And the man found dead in a blazing basement flat at No. 27 Doggett Road, Catford, south London, in the early morning of Saturday, APRIL 22nd, 1972, had certainly led a double life. Police werent even sure at first whether he was a man or a woman.
He was identified as Maxwell Confait, 26. He was a homosexual prostitute and a transvestite who preferred to be called Michelle. A cord had been twisted around his neck and death was caused by asphyxia from this ligature.
The fire was discovered by a friend of Confait who shared his fondness for wearing womens clothes. This friend was the first suspect, but a few days after it happened he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, suffering from loss of memory.
Two days after the murder of Confait there was a spate of small fires around Doggett Road. Driving his Panda car along Nelgarde Road, a policeman stopped an 18-year-old youth and asked him about the fires. The youth, who had a mental age of eight, admitted he was involved.
Asked if he knew anything about the fire in Confaits flat, the youth was alleged to have said, I was with my mate. We lit it, but put it out. It was smoking when we left.
The youth was arrested, and so was his 15-year-old mate, who lived in Doggett Road. A third youth, aged 14, was also taken into custody. In circumstances that fell far short of the rules governing police interviews, the 18-year-old and the 15-year-old admitted killing Maxwell Confait and starting the fire in his flat, and both were charged with murder. The murder charge against the 14-year-old was later dropped, but he still faced lesser charges.
An Old Bailey jury decided that the 18-year-old was guilty of manslaughter, on grounds of diminished responsibility, and he was ordered to be detained at Rampton Hospital. The 15-year-old was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life. The 14-year-old was found guilty of arson and burglary and sent to a young offenders institution for four years.
The case gave off the bad smell of a miscarriage of justice and was seized on by Press and Parliament, especially when Confaits friend, the first suspect, committed suicide by swallowing cyanide in May, 1974. In October, 1975, the Home Office finally sent the case back to the Court of Appeal.
In his judgment Lord Justice Scarman noted that as there was no sign of a struggle Confait must have known his killer. All three prisoners were immediately freed, and exonerated from any involvement in the murder. The court found too that there was insufficient evidence for the main arson charge and that the other minor offences had deserved only a probation order.