It was Friday August 20th 1886, and James Gray Lowe was in London. He was a businessman from Manchester, and according to friends had travelled to the capital to collect a part payment of a debt that was due to him. He received £1200 of £2000 that was owed, paid in cash and went to the station to buy a first class ticket home on the 12.01am London-Edinburgh Express. He paid for the ticket in cash and had change to the sum of around 15 shillings in return.
Lowe was known to have debts of his own, but nothing that he was being pressured to pay or had fallen behind with. His payments of these monies was regular and up to date, and his creditors were happy with the arrangements. His business appeared to be doing well, and Lowe did not appear to be struggling financially. It could be theorised that a portion at least of the money he had collected would perhaps be used to settle some of these outstanding tickets.
Lowe found an empty carriage, numbered 643 and stepped inside. To discourage anybody from attempting to share his carriage, he closed the window and pulled down the blind. Another passenger running a little late, almost missed the train. Running down the platform, Mr Groves took the closed blind into account and not wishing to disturb the carriage occupants made his way to the carriage next door, which was also vacant. He was travelling as far as Nottingham. Shortly after the train pulled away, he closed his eyes for a short nap.
After the train passed through Luton station, Groves was rudely awoken by the sound of a sharp crack, ostensibly the sound of a stone hitting his carriage window. He shot up from his slumber and crossed to the window, expecting to see a hole or crack of some sort, judging by the force of the noise he heard. Despite running his hands over both the inside and the outside of the window he found nothing however to suggest such an incident, and decided he had dreamed the whole episode. He returned to his seat and nodded back off.
Sometime later, he was disturbed for a second time as the train pulled into Leicester station. Opening his window, he found the guard had discovered a gun laying on the running board of the train somewhere near the door to Lowe’s carriage next to his own. The guard had then pulled open the door and there was the poor man lying dead from a single gunshot wound to the head. The only sign of disturbance was a broken umbrella near the body. The mystery begun.
Lowe’s body was examined, as was the carriage. The window was intact and closed as it had been since departing London. There was no blood splatter within the carriage, nor significant staining upon the victim’s clothes to indicate suicide, nor any sign of a struggle aside the broken umbrella to indicate murder. The gun found outside of the carriage on the running board – a footplate that runs the length of each carriage below the doors – was identified as the weapon that had fired the shot that killed Mr Lowe. However, it was clear that two shots, not one, had been found, one having misfired and jammed within the weapon. Contemporary accounts have this as the FIRST shot, which remained within the chamber, and the second shot being the fatal one.
An inquest was convened at the Guildhall in Leicester, where gunshot experts gathered to examine the evidence. A reconstruction using a dead dog showed that with the eight-inch barrel of the gun, it was possible if the victim had committed suicide, the only way he could have done it was to lean out of the train window and hold the gun at a certain angle with his right hand. This was ruled out with further measurements of the victim’s arm, and lack of burn pattern to his head, which demonstrated that the gun had to be held with the barrel a minimum of 12 inches away from the head to achieve the desired effect without leaving scorching. Not only was this nigh on impossible a target to achieve as a self-inflicted injury, there were no splatter marks, residue or bloodstains about the victim’s hands or clothing. But there was no blood splatter within the carriage either, suggesting the victim had to have been shot with his head out of the window. But the window was closed, therefore he can’t have committed suicide.
It was next questioned how the gun had ended up on the running board. The carriage had been removed to a solitary engine shed to await further inspection. The enquiry team went to take a look. It was offered and refuted that the perpetrator could have been outside of the carriage following the departure from Luton, firing in through the window, which he closed afterwards and then walked along the running board to the carriage behind, dropping the gun on the running board in the process. He may then have disembarked at the next stop, Bedford station. Bedford engine staff refuted this, citing that the gun would have slid off during the journey, the murderer would likely have been knocked off the running board by any one of a number of trackside obstacles, and they had greased the wheels at Bedford at 1.22am, which required climbing around between the boards to get to the wheels, directly under carriage no. 643. They saw no gun.
The gun was a replica of an American Smith and Wesson model, made in Belgium. Extensive enquiries of every gun shop owner in London failed to locate anybody who had purchased such a weapon. Despite several proposed scenarios, no motive for suicide could be found. Mr Lowe was substantially insured, by his own merits, the most recent policy being taken out some eight months before his death, to which he had added a no suicide clause. His business was not in any trouble, and his finances healthy. He had not been robbed, although reports do not confirm one way or another the absence of the £1200 he had been paid the previous day, and therefore it must be presumed that he had paid this money into an account prior to his journey, or that the money was still about his person when he was found.
The verdict recorded that at some time following the departure of the train from London, Mr Lowe had been fatally shot by the revolver, by whose hand it was impossible to tell. The only clue was the broken umbrella, indicating a possible struggle. So…. Who has a theory?