A few days ago we saw a newspaper report about a man who had been murdered in a place called Sandyford, just outside of Newcastle city centre. Back in the seventies I used to live round that way; quiet little terraces, high student population sort of place. The front page carried a large photograph of the murdered man, John Wells. He used to be a resident in our street. The police had a witness to the attack which led to the death but were appealing for information from the public.
Though we didn’t see anything of the crime itself, John was someone we were used to seeing amble up and down the street on his way to and from the local off-licence. Always smartly dressed usually with a broad-brimmed felt hat, he was always well-spoken and polite. And usually drunk. Not falling down drunk or rude and angry drunk but fairly fortified in a genteel way.
We assumed John was the owner of a house which had gone into multi-occupation and had been attracting all kinds of unsavoury loutish kids. Some noise and anti-social behaviour For this reason and with a passing nod to James Ellroy way with words, we dubbed it “the Hinky house.” Eventually John moved out, things quietened down and we never saw John again until his murder made the front page.
The paper carried some details of his life, stuff we never knew about. He was a divorcee, a philosophy graduate, a retired postman, an avid reader of poetry and so on. All the things we neer knew about him because we only ever exchanged a nod and some pleasantries.
And his life came to end on his way back from his local pub carrying some beer back home.
The two plain clothes officer asked about John’s movements, what kind of person he was and also made a careful note of my height, distinguishing features and where I was on the day of the murder. My alibi in place, they left to carry on with their enquiries. Once they'd gone I did some of my own. . .