Solving Fraud by the Fingers
In 1885 New Zealand’s first serious fraud case hit the news; it was unsuccessful due to a little luck and a little forensic science. In essence, it was solved by a minute difference between the sexes.
Children riding donkeys on the beach at Sumner, circa 1910 ( http://library.chris...heritage/photos )
Beautiful Sumner beach, near Christchurch in the South Island is as popular a place to chill out now as it was in the late 1800’s. So it was not unthinkable that the beach would need to be searched following the disappearance of Arthur Howard in the water from nearby Taylor’s Mistake. Although the beach and water was thoroughly searched, no sign of the man’s body was found, and he was assumed drowned, swept out to sea.
Taylors Mistake today ( http://taylorsmistake.co.nz )
Little did the police know that, when a few weeks later a hand turned up on Sumner Beach, the case would take an unexpected turn. What was discovered and handed into the police that day was an untidily severed human hand bearing a large ring. Inside the ring were the initials AH - Arthur Howard.
While the search for the missing mans body had been taking place, the newly widowed Mrs Howard was approaching the insurance company that held the deed on her husbands contract. She wanted the 2,400.00 pounds he was then insured for, a lot of money then and the equivalent of about $250,000.00 nowadays. Her eagerness to claim her dues however instilled no faith in the insurance company and they declined to pay out, instead issuing a reward for anyone would could provide them with any news of the apparently deceased Mr Howard. Despite the protestation of Mrs Howard that the hand indeed belonged to her late husband, both the police and insurance company quickly learned otherwise.
Within a very short space of time, both Mr and Mrs Howard we placed under arrest. The very alive and well Arthur Howard had been discovered living under the name Watt in Wellington in the North Island, and was positively identified. No only did Mr Watt physically resemble Mr Howard, but both men were missing the exact amount of the exact same toe. There was no come back from such evident detective work and Arthur Howard gave himself away completely.
The case of fraud against the Howard’s went to trial in Christchurch in April, 1886. Despite people coming forward to say they had seen Mr Howard alive and well in the area at the same time he was presumed drowned, the trial was a relatively quick and un-scandalous one. While the jury did have to re-examine its verdict three times before a final decision was reached, Mr Howard was indeed convicted of attempting fraudulent gain. Mrs Howard however was let off. For his crime, Arthur Howard worked two years of hard labour.
Almost from the day the hand was recovered on the beach at Sumner, there was suspicion that it couldn’t be Mr Howard’s, despite the fact it definitely wore his ring. That much was never in question. What was in question by the medical fraternity was how Mr Howard’s death could possibly be confirmed by the discovery of a severed female hand - even when it wore his ring. For the hand that was found was that of a woman.
The hand in question ( http://www.teara.gov...s/Standard/3/en )
Twenty years after the case the lawyer for Arthur Howard admitted that he had been told where the hand had come from. But he never divulged that information, it went with him to his grave as it did with the plaintiff himself. There were suspicions, and two graves were in fact exhumed - but neither corpse proved to be missing a hand and the matter could never be settled. So while the case of fraud was solved by the hand - the case of the hand itself has never been answered.
Sources and further info:
New Zealand Mysteries: secrets, spooks, conspiracies and con artists
By Nicola McCloy
Article put togeather by
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The Severed Hand Fraud New Zealands first serious fraud mystery
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