In the silent hours of 29 November 1943, the landlady of the John Barleycorn public house, Portsmouth, 63 year old Rose Robinson, was murdered in her bedroom. She had been strangled, the room had been ransacked and £400 stolen. Dr Keith Simpson carried out the post mortem and stated that the victim had been asphyxiated using the right hand.
A few weeks later, 47 year old Harold Loughans was arrested in London and boasted he had committed the murder. Loughans had only two complete fingers and three stubs on his right hand as a result of an accident many years before. This plaster cast impression was made of Loughan’s hand and examined by Dr Simpson who felt that the strangulation marks were consistent with Loughan’s deformed features. Despite his confession, at his trial in Winchester he pleaded not guilty and the jury could not agree on their verdict. A retrial took place at the Old Bailey but this time Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the Home Office forensic pathologist, who had the opportunity of examining Loughan’s hand, declared that it was impossible for the defendant to have had enough strength in his hand to have inflicted the injuries. He was acquitted. Some years later, Loughans told a Sunday newspaper that he had in fact committed the murder.