Did Ronald True know he'd committed a brutal and violent murder?
The verdict had been delivered.
Ronald True was guilty of murder.
‘The sentence of this court is that you will be taken from here to the place of execution,’ the judge began. ‘And there, you will hanged by the neck until you are dead. May God have mercy upon your soul.’
The defence had failed. Lost the case.
Without a successful appeal, Ronald True would pay for it with his life.
But his lawyers were ready to fight.
And to do that, they would take Ronald True’s case to the highest authority in the country – the Home Secretary.
R0nald True’s case was a straightforward one.
He’d stalked and murdered Gertrude Yates.
She was a prostitute.
And she’d done well out of it.
Before, she’d worked behind the counter of a boutique selling fashionable clothes to rich women in London’s West End.
But now, she was one of those rich women herself. Could afford whatever designer clothes she wanted.
It was 1922.
Britain was in an economic slump after the First World War. You did what you could to get by.
And if for 25-year-old Gertrude that meant selling her body, then so be it.
But Gertrude didn’t call herself a prostitute. She was a ‘lady with gentlemen friends’. And to appear even more ladylike, she’d ditched her outdated name, calling herself Olive Young instead.
She set herself up in a small flat in west London.
Decorated it with postcards bought by the seaside, pots and plants, and porcelain Pierrot dolls in black and white satin.
There, she’d invite her clients.
One of those clients was Ronald True.
The first time Ronald spent the night with Olive was 18 February 1922.
And, straightaway, Ronald True was infatuated.
He was a handsome man, and just 31. Well brought up, privately educated, refined, and nicely spoken.
But Olive hadn’t liked him.
There was something about him that scared her, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
And in the morning after he’d gone, she’d found £5 missing from her purse.
He’d taken it.
Olive decided she wouldn’t see Ronald again.
But Ronald had different ideas.
For the next 12 days, he called her, waited outside her flat. He begged her for another night together…
On Sunday, 5 March, Olive gave in.
She’d found him waiting on the steps of her building on her way back from a night out.
And she’d let him in.
The next morning, Ronald passed Olive’s cleaner on his way out of the flat.
‘Don’t disturb Miss Young,’ he told her. ‘We were late last night, and she is in a deep sleep.’
The cleaner agreed to come back later. And when she did, she found Olive sprawled across the bathroom floor.
She’d been battered to death with a rolling pin. All her jewellery had been stolen.
Later that same day, Ronald True was arrested and charged with murder.
He made no attempt to deny what he’d done.
But when his case same to court, his lawyers argued he wasn’t guilty.
Because he was insane.
Under the law at the time, as today, everyone charged with a crime was presumed sane until proven to be otherwise. And to be proved insane, a person would have to show he or she hadn’t known what they were doing was wrong.
Ronald’s private education, his well-spoken manner, his former career in the Royal Flying Corps…they all worked against him.
Men like Ronald didn’t go insane. He must have known what he was doing.
He’d been found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death.
The only thing his lawyers could do to save his life was to appeal. And the highest authority to hear an appeal was the Home Secretary, Edward Shortt.
He was a Liberal, serving in the government of David Lloyd George.
Before entering politics, he’d been a barrister himself.
He’d hear the facts of Ronald True’s case, just as the jury had. And he’d make the final decision.
And so, once again, it was up to the lawyers to prove Ronald was insane, and as a result, not legally responsible for his actions.
There was no question he’d killed Olive. But had he known what he was doing?
Perhaps, they argued, the start of Ronald’s problems had been when he’d joined the Royal Flying Corps.
He’d qualified as a pilot. But soon after, he’d been seriously injured when trying to land his plane.
It had meant months in hospital.
And there, Ronald had become addicted to morphine.
The drug had been given to him because it’s an effective painkiller.
But over-use and addiction can lead to paranoia, depression, mood swings, emotional instability…
Shortly after his release from hospital, Ronald started telling people he had an evil doppelganger.
Had the morphine added fuel to the fire of an underlying, and previously undiagnosed, mental health condition?
His addiction cost him his job. The Flying Corps discharged him.
Ronald was one of the lucky ones. His family was rich and well connected. They provided him with an allowance, so he wouldn’t need to worry about money.
But Ronald started stealing and thieving, anyway.
Perhaps he hadn’t been able to stop himself, or reason with himself.
Another symptom of his insanity?
And why, the lawyers argued, would a man with a private income steal £5 from a prostitute? Unless, of course, he was insane.
Medical experts backed their arguments.
But the prosecution had disagreed. They’d claimed Ronald had known what he’d done was wrong. He’d tried to talk the cleaner out of going into Olive’s flat, after all.
Didn’t that show he was in control of himself?
Edward Shortt had a decision to make.
He ruled Ronald True was insane, and as such he hadn’t been able to determine right from wrong, and was not legally responsible for the murder of Olive Young.
The death sentence was overturned, and Ronald taken instead to Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where lived until his death aged 60, in 1951.
The decision resulted in a parliamentary debate on the law relating to insanity, but the rules were left unchanged.