Obituary: Johnny Ball

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The Independent Online
John Walker Ball, police officer: born London 5 July 1903; married 1931 Anne McKenzie (one son, one daughter); died London 25 October 1993.

JOHNNY BALL was in every way a detective from another age. A tall, immaculately dressed man with a penchant for homburg hats, he practised his craft in an era that was unaffected by the vagaries of political interference or organisational fashion. Some indication of the relative innocence of the world that Ball policed is that, when he was appointed as co-ordinator of intelligence for the Queen's Coronation in 1953, his principal problems lay with pickpockets and con men rather than international terrorists.

Born in west London in 1903, he started his working life as a legal clerk before joining the Metropolitan Police at the age of 22. He rapidly caught the eye of his superiors as a potential thief taker, and joined the CID in 1928.

His career was marked by two infamous murders. First, in 1946, the exiled King of the Hellenes reported the murder of his housekeeper, Elizabeth McLindon. Ball eventually arrested McLindon's lover, Arthur Boyce. Forensic science was in its relative infancy at this time, but Ball established a link between an automatic weapon that had been owned by an ex-roommate of Boyce and the bullet that had killed McLindon.

The second case occurred not long after Johnny Ball had joined the Murder Squad in 1953. A ix- year-old girl from Halifax had been missing for two weeks when the exasperated local police called in the squad. The girl, Mary Hacket, had gone out to play one afternoon and not been seen since. Ball became convinced that the girl had been murdered. Eventually the Detective Superintendent turned his attention to a church opposite the Hacket family home. The church's crypt was enormous and had once been used as an air-raid shelter housing over a thousand people. Although it had already been searched several times, Johnny Ball initiated yet another search during which he met the caretaker, George Hall, who had reported hearing whisperings from the crypt that had coincided with the child's disappearance.

The next day, Hall gave Ball a highly detailed description of a man that he had observed in the grounds of the church at the time that Mary Hacket had vanished. Hall was placed under surveillance but a subsequent search of the crypt was fruitless. Eventually Ball decided to dig up the crypt, and the girl's body was found under flagstones in a section that had been obscured by furniture and opened tins of paint. Hall eventually made 30 voluntary statements to the police that referred to the screams of the child and the presence of the mystery stranger. Unfortunately for Hall he had revealed to a doctor that the girl had been battered to death before the details of the killing had been made public knowledge.

The caretaker was hanged at Leeds Prison in April 1954. Later Ball admitted that he had no idea of Hall's motive, but 'I always suspected he did something which frightened her sufficiently that if she had told her parents he would have been vulnerable. It's always been a good motive to silence your only witness.'

Johnny Ball retired from the police in 1957 and was for a time the head of security for the National Greyhound Racing Association.