How a forensics breakthrough nailed George Green, the chimney sweep killer

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An aerial view of Phyllis Wiseman's home and crime scene of what was known at the time as the "Glenroy horror". Picture: Perth Mirror

THE brutal murders of an elderly church-going woman and her young niece shocked Melbourne in mid-November 1938.

Burglar George Green had also raped the 17-year-old Glenroy typist before killing her by ramming her head against the angle iron of her bed.

Her 63-year-old aunt was then throttled to death.

The proceeds from the burglary netted Green, a chimney sweep, just one pound.

As shocking as the crimes were, the investigation was remarkable for setting new standards in police procedures. It heralded the successful use of forensic science as legally admissible evidence.

George Green, 38, would be nailed for the murders of Annie and Phyllis Wiseman thanks to dogged detective work and the wonders of science.

How forensic science caught up with a 1930s killer

GEORGE Green always maintained his innocence in the brutal killings of Annie Constance Wiseman and her niece Phyllis Vivian Wiseman at their Glenroy home.

Detective at scene of George Green case
Senior detective J Martin of the fingerprints branch examines the sill outside Phyllis Wiseman’s bedroom. Picture: Perth Mirror

Right up to the moment the hangman placed the noose around his neck, Green kept to his story.

But the police evidence was overwhelming. The forensic samples pointed squarely at the 38-year-old West Heidelberg chimney sweep as the burglar who had throttled Annie and sexually assaulted Phyllis, before killing her.

But a torn milk bill with a scrawled address found under the elbow of one of the victims would lead police to Green.

Detectives would maintain Green inadvertently dropped the bill.

Annie and Constance were murdered late on the Saturday night or early the following morning of November 13, 1938. The grim discovery was made later by a visiting relative.

The government pathologist told newspapers at the time that they’d both been strangled.

“A set of undergarments wrapped tightly around the girl’s neck did not cause her death,” one newspaper speculated.

“It is thought they were either wrapped loosely around her neck before her attacker strangled her with his hands, or else tied around her neck after death.”

George Green case, Glenroy murder, 1938
Crime scene analyst Charles Taylor (R) and a fellow detective examine the scene at the Glenroy home of Phyllis Wiseman. The forensic work by police was to prove the breakthrough in the case. Picture: Sunday Times, Perth

It was believed Green had been interrupted while rifling through drawers, or had attacked the sleeping 17-year-old Phyllis, and her shouts had alerted her aunt.

Phyllis was found on the floor of the back bedroom, wearing a white calico nightdress which had been twisted up around the upper part of her body.

Around the girl’s neck a set of undergarments had been tightly knotted.

Annie was located in the front bedroom, with her head lying in a pool of blood on the floor. Her body was clothed in pyjamas and a dressing gown, lying on its side near the bed.

The bed had been turned down.

Annie had lived alone in the house for 20 years until she was joined by her niece, a typist. According to relatives the two had a very cordial relationship.

Annie was well known for her work in the area, particularly at the local Anglican church, where she was known to put one pound on the collection plate every Sunday.

Interestingly, it was the pound note Annie Wiseman had put aside for the morning service that was later found on Green.

Charles Taylor at scene of George Green case
Crime analyst Charles Taylor outside Phyllis Wiseman’s bedroom where footprints were found. Picture: Perth Mirror

The breakthrough in the investigation came in the form of a torn docket.

Detectives were led to Green after a portion of a milk docket with the name and address of a house where a chimney needed cleaning, was found under the elbow of one of the dead women. The note also had traces of chimney dust.

Police went to the listed address on the docket. The house owner told police how she’d written on the ticket the name and address of another woman who needed her chimney. She told police she’d given the docket to George Green.

Police immediately tracked down Green, who immediately denied any knowledge of the murders, or of ever being on the property. He claimed to have given the docket to two other sweeps. Green also told detectives that on the night of the murder he’d been drunk and had slept in a paddock. But the evidence against the one-time sewer worker was quickly mounting.

Green was also widely known to ride a bicycle carrying his brushes. A witness came forward with a description of a man, closely resembling Green, stopping on a bike outside the Wiseman house at about 10.20pm on the day of the murder. The witness told police the man then dismounted from the bike and entered the property.

Based on this information, police used Aboriginal trackers to locate bootprints and tyre tracks at the house gate. Those impressions were then matched with that of Green’s, along with bicycle tyre impressions.

Detailing the strong forensic evidence, detectives also told the coroner’s inquest that a sample of hair was taken from the carpet close to the body of Annie Wiseman. Another sample was taken from a stain of human blood near the door. They also examined a blanket dressing gown for hair. In the three cases, the hair belonged to Annie Wiseman.

Detectives then went to Green’s Heidelberg house, where they took a hair sample from a chestnut horse that witnesses had seen earlier at the property. They also took some clothing, which was examined for hair samples. Three white hairs were found in the lining. They were similar in colour, texture and length to that of hairs taken from Annie Wiseman.

Dirt samples were also taken near the bodies which were found to contain elements of chimney soot. It was enough evidence for the coroner to commit Green to trial.

“In my opinion, the evidence discloses a prima facie case of murder against this man, Green,” the coroner told the court.

“I propose to commit him to trial. I find that Annie Wiseman and Phyllis Wiseman died on November 12 or 13 from asphyxiation by their being throttled by one, George Green.”

Green went to trial and it took a Supreme Court jury less than six hours to return with a guilty verdict. He was promptly sentenced to death, which was briefly delayed because it fell on the Easter Week.

George Green eventually went to his death on April 17, 1939 still maintaining his innocence.

Source: Herald Sun