While Behind Closed Doors by Brian L. Porter is being offered for 99 cents, I managed to get an interview with its main character!
About the Inspector:
Aged in his late thirties, Albert Norris has been an inspector with the Metropolitan Police for over fifteen years, having worked his way up to his current rank from humble beginnings as a constable. Formerly assigned to Scotland Yard he now works from the New Street police station, featured in the book, Behind Closed Doors.
He has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Betty for many years and they live with their two terriers in a small house in a quiet street not far from the Whitechapel area of London. He is ably assisted in his cases by his sergeant and friend, Dylan Hillman who has worked with Norris for a number of years, the two of them forming a formidable investigative team.
The photos included with this article come courtesy of Inspector Norris and show the inspector himself, his wife Betty as a teenage girl on holiday in a small Cotswold village and finally, the Norris family showing his parents together with Norris and his sister Beatrice.
Inspector Albert Norris is the leading character in the novel Behind Closed Doors by Brian L Porter. Thanks to the amazing miracle of time travel, the following interview was conducted by author Carole Gill, with the man himself.
Yes, I do. Not that it’s used often and very few of my friends or colleagues are aware of it, but my parents were extremely patriotic, you see and my father, having served in the Royal Navy for some years, decided, against my mother’s best advice, I’ve since been told, to give me the middle name of Horatio, the great Admiral having been one of his own personal heroes. So my full name is in fact Albert Horatio Norris. I think the last time my middle name was spoken aloud was by the minister who conducted my marriage to Betty.
I know your wife is called Betty, tell me a bit about her. I’d like to know where you met!
Ah, my dear Betty. Well, her full name, before we were wed, was Elizabeth Doris Rollins. Her father, Giles Rollins was, well, still is, a proponent of the modern art of taking photographic images. Rather good at it he is, too. Her mother is Daisy, and her parents have been wed for more years than I can tell, and happily too for all I can see.
These photographic images have become something of a boon to us in the police force, I’ll add, as they have enabled us to record many details of the scenes of crimes and indeed, of the victims too, something we could not have done some years ago. As you can imagine, this has helped us in many aspects of investigations into murders, robberies and so on. We are also able to record the faces of those who are arrested and charged for such crimes, providing us with a permanent record of such villains and enabling us to aid in witness identification, especially where criminals commit repeat offences.
But, I’m sorry; you were asking me of Betty. We first met some years ago, when we were no more than in our teen years. My father having been invalided out of the navy at quite a young age, would take the whole family, once a year, to a small village in the Cotswolds where for a whole week he would take the waters at a nearby spa, and my sister Beatrice and I, together with our mother, would enjoy walks in the countryside and exploring the peaceful little village, with its quaint and unusual array of shops and tea rooms, which were something of a magnet for others who would stay in the area, mostly, I presumed to make use of the spa, like my father.
One day, while Beatrice, (known to us as Bea), and my mother were visiting the small museum in the middle of the village, I took a walk to the banks of the small river that runs through the village, bisecting it so that the northern side is kept separate from the southern with a series of small bridges in place to facilitate passage from one side to another, with two larger ones at either end of the village suitable for vehicular traffic.
As I sat upon the riverbank, trying to see if any fish were swimming by, a young woman, no more than my own age, walked boldly up to my side and asked what I might be doing. She was, simply, the most beautiful creature I had set eyes on up to that stage in my life. We talked and talked until Mother and Bea eventually came seeking me out, and I introduced them to my new friend, Elizabeth. Chance would have it that Elizabeth and her family lived quite close to my own family in London, and in due course, following a week of idyllic walks and talks together, Elizabeth and I developed a lasting friendship which slowly turned to love and two years later, though I was only a lowly uniformed police constable, we were married one sunny afternoon in July and to this day, my Betty remains my staunchest friend and support, and I am not ashamed to say, the one and only love of my life.
You took in a stray dog which I think is marvelous. You already had Billy and now you have Lillie. Do they get along?
Like Betty and I, the two dogs are the best of friends and quite inseparable, running and playing together and curling up together at night, at the bottom of the stairs, always alert and on guard. Billy has been with us for about seven years now and Lillie, (who we named after the wonderful Lillie Langtry), for a somewhat shorter time, but they are both fiercely loyal to me and to Betty and would not hesitate to leap to the defence of either of us if they felt we were at any time under threat from some malcontent or thief or whatever.
What is your superior, Chief Inspector Joshua Madden like to work for?
Haha, Carole, this is where, needs must, a little diplomacy is perhaps called for. Chief Inspector Madden is for the most part, a very good man to work for. He is a highly competent police officer who worked his way up to his current rank from the lowly rank of constable, so he is well aware of the life of those who serve beneath him.
Having said that, like all senior officers he can often come across as a little overbearing at times and does not take kindly to being contradicted, even though at times, as he will eventually admit, he is not infallible and can, like the best of us, make mistakes from time to time, (sorry boss!). Having said that he is fiercely loyal to those who work for him and when I first came under his leadership after leaving Scotland Yard, I soon found him to be a fair minded and solid superior officer. He values my experience, and my investigative qualities, as he has told me on various occasions, (usually after a dressing-down for some slight insubordination or obstinacy on my part), and though I was perhaps not easy to work with when I first left the Yard, he slowly gained my respect and confidence and stood by me on many occasions where other bosses might have lost patience with me. So, all in all, I have to say that my boss is a good one and certainly better than most within the force.
Your sergeant and assistant, Dylan Hillman is also your friend. That must be so helpful in your working environment. Have you been friends for long?
Ah, good old Dylan, my old chum, as I constantly refer to him. When I was first assigned to New Street Police Station after leaving Scotland Yard, Dylan was a young constable, and I knew little of him. Two years later, on his promotion to sergeant he was assigned to work with me when my previous sergeant, Willis Hall, retired. Hillman was young, fresh and idealistic and had an outlook on the world that looked for the good in everyone, not a bad philosophy, but somewhat unhelpful for a police officer when dealing with some of the scum of the earth (sorry about the language), that inhabit London’s underworld. Together, we slowly gained confidence in each other, and Dylan soon learned to see the darker side of life through some of the cases we were assigned to, in particular some of the vicious murders we were called upon to investigate. Over time, he came to temper his optimism, not with quite the degree of pessimism that I might apply to the job, but he began to mix his faith in people with a degree of realism that in fact allowed him to become a better investigator than he ever imagined he could be, because Dylan Hillman has that special ‘human’ touch that encourages people to be frank and open with him, and has led to the downfall of many a criminal who has been caught out by Dylan’s persuasive interrogation techniques.
As our working relationship brought us closer together, Betty insisted on my young sergeant joining us to share our evening meal from time to time, and our ability to often second-guess each other helped cement a friendship that transcends our differing ranks, although he never loses sight of the fact that I’m his superior officer and always remains at arm’s length from our friendship while we’re working together.
Dylan, my old chum is a pearl among men, Carole and no inspector could ask for a more loyal and true sergeant by his side when the going gets tough.
I hope you don’t mind me asking such a personal question, Inspector Norris, but do you have any children? Any plans to have any?
Though it was our dearest wish, in those early days of our marriage to have a child of our own, it transpired that Betty was medically unable to bear children so we have instead concentrated our love on one another, and of course, on the four legged friends who have become an important part of our lives.
You left Scotland Yard ten years ago—may I ask you to please explain the circumstances? Also, I know your dog, Lillie remarkably helped lead you to arresting a murderer. The young officer mentioned in the Behind Closed Doors case—also referred to as the railway murders. Can you tell me about that?
Well, not a lot of people are aware of the reasons for my leaving the Yard. You see, for many years, I carried around a sense of guilt that I’d been responsible for the death of a young constable under my command, when we had cornered a suspect in the theft of a wallet from a prominent member of parliament. I’d instructed Constable Vane to handcuff the man who had intimated that he’d surrendered, and as Vane approached him, the man pulled a gun from under his coat and shot the constable. Another shot followed, hitting me in the shoulder and the man escaped, and was never caught. Poor Vane bled to death where he lay and I knew I should have made the man lie down, hands behind his back, before telling Vane to cuff him. Although I was cleared of any blame in the subsequent inquiry into Vane’s death, I personally felt a weight on my mind that stayed with me for years.
My work suffered to such an extent that I was transferred from the Yard to New Street, where I’ve stayed since that day. At first I must have been hard to deal with, perhaps with a chip on my shoulder, but Chief Inspector Madden accepted me as a member of his team and showed great patience in dealing with my moods and at times truculent behaviour. Things only began to improve for me, in my mind, when Sergeant Hillman joined the team, though even then, I told him nothing of the past, and the rest of the station knew only that I’d left Scotland Yard ‘under a cloud’ without being privy to the details.
When we were investigating the underground railway murders, chronicled very accurately in the book, Behind Closed Doors, Betty and I had found a stray dog and taken her in to our home. Though we’d have loved to keep the little nipper, we did the right things and placed an advertisement in the local newspaper, seeking the dog’s true owner, who we thought might be missing her, though by the state of little Lillie, as called her, her previous owner hadn’t been too kind to her, if you catch my meaning. Well, imagine my surprise, when, one evening there was a knock on our front door. The man who stood there, claiming the dog to be his looked familiar and when he opened his mouth to speak, I realized that standing before me was the man who had killed Constable Vane and shot me in the shoulder ten years previously. As realization dawned on the little jackal’s face, he ran for it and I gave chase, eventually bringing him down and arresting the man who was later tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of young Vane. Betty was pleased for me and everyone at the station congratulated me on solving a ten year old murder case, but all I felt was a strange sense of relief, as though I could let the guilt over Vane’s death go at last, now that his killer had been brought to justice. So you see, if we hadn’t taken in little Lillie, a killer would still be on the loose and I’d still be carrying around a burden of guilt that Betty always says was misplaced but that needed the case to be solved before I could let it go in my own mind.What memorable cases have you worked on? What was the most important case you worked on; the one that stands out?
To my mind, Carole, every case is important as they usually involve either the loss of someone’s life or the theft of something precious from its owner, but if you were to ask which is the most unusual case I’ve investigated, the one that really stands out, well, just listen to this.
Some years ago, while I was a young inspector at Scotland Yard, I was assigned the case of a young woman who had died in mysterious circumstances in her own home. Her husband, a young clerk working for a bank in the city allegedly arrived home from work one day to find his wife, Mary Deacon, slumped in a chair, breathing expired. I arrived at the house soon after the alarm had been raised, and together with my sergeant at that time, Nathan Vigo, began the investigation into Mary’s demise. The husband, Joseph Deacon, assured us that the house was locked upon his return from work, and that there had been no sign of a break in through any of the windows. Their two year old baby girl, Emily, was sound asleep in her cot in their first floor bedroom, none the worse for the tragedy that had taken place downstairs. Vigo and I conducted a vigorous and complete investigation and yet, after a period of three days, we could find no suspect who may have wished to harm Mary, no one who she had even had a minor disagreement with, and, more strangely, the doctor who conducted the postmortem on her body deduced that Mary Deacon had died from Arsenical poisoning. At this point, the husband was arrested, as Arsenical poisoning would have taken place over a period of time, and yet, we found no trace of arsenic in the house or small garden shed, and a tour of local pharmacies and apothecaries resulted in not one of them being able to state that Joseph Deacon had at any time purchased arsenic from them.
The case was further compounded three weeks later, as Joseph languished in prison, still protesting his innocence. Prior to his arrest he had hired a nurse to take care of Emily while he was at work and his wife’s younger sister, Charlotte had taken to spending the nights in the spare room to help care for the child. So, when both Emily and the nurse were discovered dead by Charlotte three weeks after Mary’s death, we had a real conundrum on our hands. They both died from Arsenical poisoning! It may have been possible for Joseph Deacon to slowly poison his wife and perhaps his own baby daughter too, but he had certainly not had time to commit any such act against the nurse, Caroline Bailey.
His own father, and indeed his father-in-law had always protested that Joseph would never harm his wife and certainly not his child, and now we were forced to believe that he may in fact be innocent of the crimes. Deacon was released for lack of evidence and returned to his home, where he tried to return his life to some sort of order. Imagine our thoughts when he came running into the police station some days later to say his sister-in-law, Charlotte had been taken into the Royal Hospital, suffering from severe gastric pains and delirium. These were symptoms of arsenical poisoning! Vigo and I returned to the house with Deacon, where the man wracked his brains as he fought to think of any way in which arsenic could have been introduced into the home without his knowledge. A further search by Vigo and myself found nothing, and sadly, Charlotte passed away two days later in the hospital. The case looked fated to remain unsolved and Joseph Deacon was almost forgotten, when months later, we heard his body had been found in the living room of his home, a neighbour attracted by the smell emanating through the walls. When the neighbour was interviewed, he happened to mention that it was sad that such a tragedy had befallen the young family next door, especially as they had worked so hard to make a good life together and in fact had spent a good deal of their money in redecorating their small home to make it as comfortable as possible. The neighbour then told us that it was also strange that his own wife was upstairs, quite poorly too, as though the houses in the street were carrying some kind of curse. I asked if his wife had seen a doctor, and no she had not. I arranged for her to be seen by a police surgeon as I had a suspicious mind and things just did not seem right in these homes.
Our local police surgeon, Doctor Holmes, arrived soon afterwards and had no difficulty in diagnosing Mrs Miller as being a sufferer from arsenical poisoning! It was indeed Doctor Holmes who now gave me the clue that would lead to the solution of this strangely mysterious case. He asked me to inquire of the householder when he last had his home decorated. When Mr. Miller replied that his living room had been wallpapered some three months earlier, at the same time as the living room of the Deacons. Dr Holmes took me to one side and told me to have Miller remove himself from his home as soon as possible.
Apparently, the medical profession has held suspicions for some time that the new-fangled wallpapers we’ve been using to decorate our homes might be responsible for a number of cases of people falling ill, and certain of these wallpapers contained arsenic, used in the colouration of the paper. When we took scrapings of the wallpaper in the two houses, and had them looked at by our police surgeon he did indeed discover large quantities of arsenic in the wallpapers and it appeared that in hot weather especially, the wallpaper gave off a vapour containing arsenic, thus poisoning those who spent time in its close proximity. The manufacturers of these wallpapers had denied that their goods might be harming people, but, the case I’ve just laid out before you proved to be the one that made the authorities sit up and take notice and pressure has since been brought to bear on the wallpaper makers to eliminate arsenic from their products completely. Most have voluntarily agreed though some are proving hard to convince and I feel sure the government will soon bring pressure to bear on those companies to ensure no-one else is effectively poisoned by their own home. So, Carole, there you have it, mysterious deaths, a locked house, no motive to be found and in the end, the case that I still think of as, ‘The murders that never were.’What is your very favorite food?
Without a doubt, nothing can beat my Betty’s home-made meat and potato pie. When the weather is hot I like nothing better than a nice lump of cheese with some of Betty’s home-made bread, very tasty!
Do you like a pint now and then after a hard day?
Sometimes, yes, especially after we close a case, or sometimes, in the case of a difficult one to solve, like the underground railway murders of the house that killed its owners, you can find me and Dylan Hillman sitting together, mulling over the case or just life in general, at The Spotted Hound, or sometimes at the Ferret Arms.
Do you smoke?
Yes I do. I love nothing more than relaxing in the evening with a pipe of the best shag tobacco.
What are your theories about Jack the Ripper? Was there ever anyone that you thought most likely of being guilty? And why do you think the murders stopped?
My own theories on the identity of Jack the Ripper were fairly well chronicled in the narrative chronicled in the story of the underground murders, written as Behind Closed Doors. I still believe that the perpetrator of those heinous crimes may have been the Ripper and of course, the killings did indeed stop after his death which lends some weight to my theory, I believe. There are other theories of course, and my friend and colleague, Frederick Abberline holds a totally different theory as to the Ripper’s true identity. So many officers of all ranks in the Metropolitan Police Force hold to their own ideas about the case and perhaps, in time, we will get a break in the case and Jack the Ripper will be brought to justice. Whoever he is, or was, there has to be reason why the killings ended with Mary Kelly, but until we apprehend the villain, we have to accept that the case throws up more questions than we have answers for. I’m sorry I can’t be more informative than that on the case, which of course is still an open investigation as far as the Metropolitan Police Force is concerned.
What is your favourite pub?
The Spotted Hound, Carole. The landlord, Sykes, an ex-policeman himself, has known me for years and there’s always a cheery welcome when I walk in the place. And, they keep my favourite beer on tap there.
I imagine your wife has been so supportive of you. Does she have hobbies that help her not to miss you when you are busy on a case? Does she have family close by?
She loves to bake and to cook of course, and her family only live about a mile and a half from us, so she will often walk our two dogs over to their house to visit with them. She is very supportive of me in my work and I know I can tell her things about some of my less sensitive cases that she will keep to her own counsel and often she has provided me with alternative ways of looking at things, with successful results, I might add.
Can you remember the first meal Betty cooked for you? In confidence, what was it like?
It was her meat and potato pie of course, and, I say, it was as good back then as it is today.
Where do you two like to get away to? Perhaps the same place you went to on your honeymoon?
Ah well, you see, a policeman’s wages, even those of an inspector, don’t really run much to holidays and such-like. If I do have time off work we usually enjoy walks in the park together with the dogs, or sometimes, we’ll get dressed up and catch an omnibus into the city and visit one or two of the great London museums, full of interest they are. I especially love the British Museum, with its vast galleries and rooms full of objects from around the world.
Tell me Inspector, what sorts of books do you read? I should imagine you like a good mystery!
Books? Let me see. My wife and I both read The Bible regularly, having both been brought up as church-going folk. Betty also bought me a book for Christmas, 1887, called Beeton’s Christmas Annual that contained a really good story by a man called Arthur Conan Doyle, about a fictional detective called Mr. Sherlock Holmes. It was called ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and made for a fine read, though of course, being fictional, it tended not to be as accurate as real-life policing. With my time being taken up mostly by my cases, reading is not something I can spend a lot of time indulging in, certainly not long books so I tend to read magazines and the latest newspapers when I have time.
Thank you so much for talking to me Inspector. It’s been a pleasure talking to you and learning more about your fascinating life and career. Can you tell me, finally, what your immediate plans for the future are?
Certainly, Carole. As soon as we’ve departed for home, Betty and I will take Billie and Lillie for a stroll in the park and then I shall leave Betty to prepare a tasty meat and potato pie while I take myself off to The Spotted Hound, where my sergeant and friend, Dylan Hillman will be waiting to hear all about my meeting with a famous lady writer. After that, who knows what life will throw at us tomorrow?
So true, Inspector!
You can indeed purchase Author Brian L. Porter's Behind Closed Door which is now on sale for $.99 cents!