Insanity or cold blood? A wartime Belsize Road murder

It was May 1942 when Pauline Barker was murdered at 184 Belsize Road. In the midst of war, the story received scant attention in the press. But it is a sad tale of unhappy marriages and unclear motives.

Pauline Barker was born in Islington in 1899, the daughter of Frederick Charles Barker and Lydia Care, who had married the year before He was a solo harpist and she was a leading contralto with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, they married in London in 1898. Frederick left Lydia in 1910 because of

Her violent temper and ungovernable behaviour and constant and habitual use of filthy, disgusting and obscene language and constant disagreements for ten years which have rendered his married life most unhappy. He has continued to supply her with funds for the maintenance of her and the children, and is willing to continue to do so.

Lydia was willing to let bygones be bygones but Frederick was having none of it.

Dear Sirs, do not waste your eloquence. There is not the remote chance of my returning to my wife. My bitterest enemy could not wish me a worse wish!
Go on with your divorce. It is the only possible remedy.

Lydia bought up Pauline and her two younger siblings in a house on Highgate Hill and Frederick saw them every other Saturday.

Pauline became an accomplished solo harpist like her father. Aged 18, she married 47-year-old George Longfield Beasley (he invented the Beasley-Gamewell system, an integrated fire and police alarm used in Windsor Castle and by several local councils), but after three years, George sued for divorce on the grounds of Pauline’s adultery.

Two years later Pauline married Harry Lowe, who was a viola player and later the conductor of the BBC Theatre Orchestra. But on a boat journey in 1931, Pauline had an affair with a ship’s officer and she and Harry separated, divorcing ten years later, the year before her death.

Pauline’s work flourished as her relationships stumbled. She had engagements with the Russian Ballet and the BBC and played on numerous radio broadcasts from 1924 to 1930, mostly from Belfast. This was where she first met Achilles Apergis, who was a garage proprietor. His full name was Achilles George White Apergis, but he used the name Arthur Anderson. He was brought up in a middle-class family in south London, educated at Dulwich College, and served in the Greek cavalry. His father was a captain in the Greek Army who married an English woman and he became a naturalised British subject.

In 1931, after his Belfast garage failed, Arthur came to London and contacted Pauline again. He worked as a motor engineer with various firms in Kilburn and Cricklewood and then briefly ran the St John’s Wood Garage at 9 Abbey Road. Arthur and Pauline began living together, firstly at 19 Alexandra Road where they stayed for six years. Then Pauline’s mother Lydia, bought 184 Belsize Road, which Pauline ran as a guest house.

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

184 Belsize Road before the Abbey estate was built

The relationship did not run smoothly. The couple often quarrelled and Arthur liked to drink heavily in the local pubs. Lydia told the police she heard Arthur using foul language and struggling with Pauline in the bedroom at Belsize Road. He released her when he saw Lydia, saying sarcastically, ‘I didn’t know you had your ‘seconds’ around’. Pauline told her mother this was not unusual and that Apergis was frequently aggressive.

Katherine Maher, one of Pauline’s lodgers, said the relationship between Apergis and his wife was unhappy and she often heard them arguing. He used to hit her and on two occasions she heard him threaten to shoot her. Pauline had even asked Katherine to sleep in her room to prevent her husband coming in.

On 27 May 1942, after a particularly heated row, Arthur packed up his things and left. Pauline told Katherine it was because he was jealous of her talking with one of the lodgers, Philip Sedgwick, who had moved in less than three weeks earlier. Pauline said she was glad Arthur had gone and hoped it would be for good, although she was surprised he left so peacefully without threatening her. She showed Katherine bruises on her leg and thigh where Arthur had pushed her over in the kitchen the previous night.

At about 1pm on the afternoon of 31 May, Katherine and Pauline were talking in the kitchen when they heard Arthur shout ‘Pauline’ from downstairs. Pauline called back, ‘I am just serving lunch, I will be down in a minute – what do you want?’ He said, ‘I want to speak to you a minute.’ She went downstairs and when she came back she told Katherine that Apergis had said he wanted to shoot her. Katherine looked out of the window and saw Arthur at the front of the house. He started to enter the gate but then changed his mind and walked in the direction of the Princess of Wales public house.

The Princess of Wales, on the corner of Belsize Road and Abbey Road, stood here the Lillie Langtry is today. Alfred Rice, the landlord, said in his police statement that he had known ‘Andy’ Apergis for the past five years and he also knew Pauline Barker and that although they lived as man and wife, they weren’t married. At about 7.05pm the evening of 31 May, he saw Apergis in the saloon bar and thought that he’d been drinking but was not drunk. Apergis said, ‘Rice, I may not see you anymore; I am going to commit a murder’. Rice said, ‘Don’t be a fool, pull yourself together’. Apergis said, ‘All right’ and left.

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

Princess of Wales pub looking down Belsize Road

That evening, Philip Sedgwick was in the lounge on the ground floor when the man he knew as Mr Barker opened the lounge door asking for Mrs Barker. Sedgwick replied that she was upstairs in the kitchen. Mr Barker walked out and shut the door. Two minutes later Sedgwick heard a loud bang, followed by someone running down the stairs and the front door slamming. When he went up to the kitchen, Sedgwick found Pauline lying on the first-floor landing. There was a strong smell of gunpowder. Finding no pulse he telephoned 999 and told the police what had happened. He waited at the front door until an ambulance and the police arrived.

Arthur had gone back to the pub – just six houses away, confessing to Alfred Rice: ‘I have done it.’ Rice said, ‘You haven’t!’ Apergis said, ‘On my honour as a Greek she is lying stone dead. My honour as a Greek means more than anything. It was a clean shot, all she went was ‘ough’. I put a pillow under her head to make her comfortable.’

Arthur took the loaded Colt 45 from a holster at his waist and handed it to Rice. ‘I don’t want to get you into trouble’, he said,’so if you want it I will tell the police I threw it away.’ In order to get the gun off him Rice said, ‘Thanks old boy, I will have it.’ Arthur took the empty cartridge case out and then gave Rice the gun and the holster. He also gave him a book of National Savings Certificates; ‘this should cover the three or four pounds I owe you.’

Then he said, ‘Buy me a double scotch because I may not see you again, and I am waiting for the police to come.’ The barmaid handed Apergis a double scotch which he drank at the bar. When Rice went into the office to phone Apergis’s brother, Apergis followed him and put 16 bullets into Rice’s jacket pocket. Then Rice heard an ambulance outside and realised that something serious had really happened.

Rice left the pub and met Detective Sergeant Pilgrim at 184 Belsize Road and told him Apergis was waiting in the pub bar. At 7.33pm Dr Rees, the police divisional surgeon arrived at the house and found Pauline Barker had been shot through the heart. At 7.45pm Apergis was arrested in the pub and taken to West Hampstead Police station, which was then on West End Lane next to the Railway Hotel . Rice later gave the police the gun, the bullets, the holster, and the book of certificates.

The next morning, Detective Inspector Herbert Cripps charged Apergis under the name of Arthur Anderson. He made no statement. The post mortem, carried out later that day, showed that the gun had been fired at close range, the single bullet passed through her heart and Pauline died instantly.

On 29 June, at the Old Bailey, Arthur Anderson, 52 was charged with the wilful murder of Pauline Barker. He pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ by reason of insanity. In court, his brother Dr Apergis said there was no insanity in the family. The defence called two eminent psychologists to demonstrate that Anderson was insane at the time he committed the offence, but the jury was not convinced. The medical officer at Brixton Prison also said that in the 26 days the prisoner had been in his charge there had been no evidence of insanity. The jury, which included four women, found Anderson guilty of murder. But they added a strong recommendation for mercy knowing that he would be sentenced to hang.

On 16 July, the Home Secretary informed the Commissioner of Police at Scotland Yard that even after a special medical inquiry into his mental state, there were not sufficient grounds to advise His Majesty to interfere with the due course of law.

Following the decision, Arthur Anderson was hanged at Wandsworth Prison by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris at 9am on 21 July.

After reading all the evidence from the Metropolitan police files, we still don’t know why Arthur killed Pauline. The house has since been demolished as part of the Council redevelopment in the area.

Ed: We’re delighted to welcome back Dick & Marianne to West Hampstead Life, where we’ll be exclusively publishing their local history articles. They’ve been active while WHL was on hiatus, and you can catch up with the stories you’ve missed here, and read the History archives on this site here.