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The Penguin Famous Trials series was started by Harry Hodge, who was Managing, Director of William Hodge & Co., Ltd, Publishers and Shorthand Writers. The son and grandson of a printer, he followed his father as one of the most expert of shorthand writers in Scotland, and for some fifty years was a well-known figure in the Scottish Courts both in that capacity and as a publisher of legal works.
In 1905 he founded The Notable British Trials Series which now extends to 70 volumes, commencing with that cause celebre, the Trial of Madeleine Smith. He was steeped in criminology all his life and held the view that a trial should be at least twenty years old before it can proveitself to have been notable, although this view had to be modified under modern conditions.
As general editor of that series he carefully selected his editors and insisted on the greatest possible accuracy in the presentation of each volume. Outside of his business life Mr Hodge's main interest was devoted to music, and he has a number of compositions to his name. He died in November 1947.
Since his death both The Notable Trial Series and the Penguin Famous Trials have been edited by his son, James Hozier Hodge. Moreover, in 1948, after long negotiations, James Hodge produced the first volumes in the War Crimes Trials Series, of which he is the assistant general editor to Sir David Maxwell Fyfe,P.C., Q.C., M.PThis is a 1994 reprint of the original 1955 edition.
The five murders described here are all very different and were committed years apart, but they are linked by the difficult question of the degree of mental responsibility of the accused.
Dr Thomas Cream, whose criminal career began with arson and continued with illegal abortion, had already served one sentence for murder before he was accused of poisoning prostitutes. His own lunatic behaviour betrayed him.
Neville Heath seemed a charming man but he mutilated and murdered two women. Circumstantial evidence pointed to John Laurie as the killer of a casual acquaintance but he was reprieved because of being of unsound mind.
Dr Lamson poisoned his disabled brother-in-law; he did not escape hanging on the grounds of insanity. And Mrs Rattenbury's unlikely passion for her young chauffeur led to tragedy and death even beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.