The Detective’s “Murder Bag”

This is an unusual post in that it is not a review of a short story or novel, nor even of a non-fiction tome about the mystery genre. Instead, I am sharing with you today an excerpt I received from what I am guessing was once a compendium of The Boy’s Own Paper magazine issues.

The article 'The Detective's "Murder Bag" is depicted on a page of a compendium which collects The Boy's Own Paper magazine issues. This piece of paper has a red background.

The excerpt is an article by Cecil Bishop (Late of the C. I. D. New Scotland Yard), entitled ‘The Detective’s “Murder Bag”’. It was originally published in The Boy’s Own Paper on 9th June 1938. As you probably have already assumed, a “Murder Bag” was the kit a detective had to take with them when called to investigate a fresh crime scene. To learn about the interesting history of this kit I would recommend reading this blog post by Strange Remains.

Interestingly Cecil Bishop posits a different history for the “murder bag” than Strange Remains, who mention the Mahon murder case from 1924 being instrumental in the regular adoption of such a bag. Conversely, Bishop writes that the bag was ‘suggested by a detective who, calling to investigate a particularly gruesome crime at a farm some years ago, found his investigations considerably handicapped by lack of proper materials and instruments.’ Given that the Mahon murder took place at a beach bungalow in Eastbourne, I don’t think the two cases could be the same. I suspect Bishop looking back on his career may have had different recall about the topic based on his professional experiences. He obviously did not have the same access to research material as the modern-day blogger has.

So, what items do you think go into a “murder bag”?

Well, I must admit Bishop does not lead with the most dramatic stuff, kicking off his list with ‘papers, pencils and pens are waiting in a document-holder.’ Exciting stuff! However, things do get more interesting as the article progresses. When it comes to the rubber gloves, he mentions that occasionally, ‘it may be necessary’ for the detective ‘to examine gruesome remains […] in cases of emergency’ when a Home Office specialist is not immediately available. In such a scenario the detective, Bishop says, may have to ‘make a preliminary examination.’ He goes on to write that the detective had to use sealing wax on the jars used to contain the remains and place his fingerprint upon the wax to ensure that it was not opened, and the evidence tampered with. This topic leads up to Bishop’s rather darkly comic anecdote:

‘I was once assisting in an unpleasant case, and after taking a number of portions of a body, started back. On the way I stopped to have tea – and carelessly left my bag behind in the restaurant. Imagine my amazement when I returned for it, to find everyone in a state of great excitement. An inquisitive waitress had opened the bag, given a shriek, and phoned to Scotland Yard to say that a “trunk” murderer had left the body in their restaurant!’

Seriously how can anyone forget that sort of bag?!!

One item which is interestingly not included in the kit is a camera, the reason given that a local photographer, if a police one is not available, is usually the best person for the task. This short article finishes on two interesting of their times points:

  • ‘All detectives […] keep a bag ready at the Yard, and regulations demand that they shall have evening dress, morning dress and other “kits” always ready.’
  • ‘If you happen to meet a detective-inspector hurrying to investigate a murder case, do not expect to see him carrying a “murder bag”. That will be in the strong hands of his trusty sergeant.’

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