Who performed the post-mortem on executed German spy Josef Jakobs?
Josef Jakobs was executed by firing squad at 7:12 am on Friday 15 August 1941, at the Tower of London. After the execution, a post-mortem was conducted and on Monday 18 August 1941, Jakobs was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Kensal Green.
There is some uncertainty as to who conducted the post-mortem on Jakobs. Several sources mentioned that the famous pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, conducted the post-mortem, while other sources indicated that East London Coroner W.R.H. Heddy did the honours.
Update 2017 03 05 - I've since learned that the pathologist would have conducted the post-mortem while the coroner oversaw the legalities of an inquest (was it a legal execution, etc.). So the answer to the questions is: Spilsbury did the post-mortem, Heddy oversaw the inquest into the death.
The Case for Sir Bernard Spilsbury
In 1976, After the Battle Magazine published one of the first substantial articles on Jakobs. The editor, while not having access to the classified MI5 documents, pieced together quite a bit of Jakobs' story. According to the magazine:
Jakobs' body was taken to the old mortuary which lies directly beneath the northern approach to the Tower Bridge, where Sir Bernard Spilsbury carried out a post-mortem.
|Sir Bernard Spilsbury ca 1920|
(from The Scalpel of Scotland
by Browne & Tullett)
A few decades later, Stephen Stratford included some information on Jakobs on his website which is focused on British Criminal & Military History. According to Stratford:
This site added a new twist to the information on Jakobs, stating that one of the shots had hit Jakobs in the head. Stratford gave no specific reference for this information.
In 2006, Colin Evans published a book on Bernard Spilsbury, entitled Father of Forensics. Evans noted that:
|Dead Man's Hole, Tower Bridge - Site of Tower Mortuary|
(From Bowl of Chalk blog)
Research into Spilsbury's life yielded the following snippet from a 1952 book entitled The Scalpel of Scotland Yard - The Life of Sir Bernard Spilsbury:
This source provided the most concrete lead in confirming that Bernard Spilsbury performed Jakobs' post-mortem.
The Case for East London Coroner W.R.H. Heddy
Interestingly, several contemporary references from 1941 and 1942 told a different story. A British and a Canadian newspaper, reporting on the death of Jakobs, noted:
The verdict at the inquest [of Jakobs], held yesterday by the East London coroner, Mr. W.R.H. Heddy, was execution of judicial sentence of death. British Newspaper on display in Ramsey Rural Museum - no note as to its provenance
Injuries to the heart due to the passage of bullets. Execution of judicial sentence in accordance with military law. P.M.
Signature, Description and Residence of Informant
Certificate received from W.R.H. Heddy, Coroner for London Easter District. Inquest held 15th August 1941.
|GRO Death Registration for Josef Jakobs.|
The medical cards of Sir Bernard Spilsbury were held at the Wellcome Library in London, but did not include any mention of Josef Jakobs.
The coroner's records for the Eastern District of London were held at the London Metropolitan Archives, but did not hold those for W.R.H. Heddy.
[Corrected 2017 03 05] In all likelihood, both men were present at the post-mortem. As Traugott Vitz kindly pointed out to me recently:
There is evidence that after several executions, both Spilsbury and the local district coroner were present (e.g. hanging of Herbert "Pat" Mahon at Wandsworth Prison on 3 September 1924). Given that Spilsbury had once been the honorary pathologist of the Home Office, Heddy likely invited Spilsbury to conduct the post-mortem examination of Josef Jakobs. While an execution by hanging would have had an inquest afterwards (complete with a jury of civilians), Josef's execution was a military affair and no formal inquest was required. The less witnesses to his execution and post-mortem, the better - at least in the eyes of MI5. In all likelihood, Spilsbury and Heddy were both present at the post mortem.
After the Battle Magazine, Volume 11.
MI5: British Security Service Operations, 1909-1945, Nigel West.
Stephen Stratford's website.
Father of Forensics, Colin Evans.
The Scalpel of Scotland Yard, D.G. Browne & E.V. Tullett.
Ramsey Rural Museum, British newspaper clipping (no header information with clipping).
Ottawa Journal, 24 January 1942.
General Record Office, Josef Jakobs death registration.