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Miles Herbert Radcliffe
(1896 - February 6, 1946) New Zealand

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Chocolate Factory manager


Radcliffe was the Wellington branch manager at Adams Bruce. His staff found him distant and solitary, though he gave parties for servicepeople during the war, being too old to go himself, and made them all sign his visitors' book. He ate alone in cafes, often returning to work in the evenings. At times he entertained men on a couch in his office.

In 1946, Radcliffe was found battered and strangled. He was shockingly battered: almost every possible injury had been inflicted on his head, but he had died of throttling. The pathologist determined that he had been sexually aroused at the time of his death, some time before midnight. He had not been robbed. He did not smoke, so a number of dead matches of a foreign type ("redheads") near the body established that the killer was probably a pipe-smoker.

When police questioned the staff at the factory it turned out they all knew he was homosexual. The caretaker knew that he took men back for long sessions in his office in the evenings, where he had a settee, and one clerk had accused Radcliffe of trying to seduce him, but nothing had come of the accusation.

A 13 year old schoolgirl on her way home from basketball practice had seen two men near the factory that evening, one very tall, well built and smoking a pipe, and wearing a heavy leather coat.

Because of the foreign matches, enquiries focussed on ships that had been in port at the time, and one in particular, the "Themistocles". Ten of its crew said they were homosexual, and another eight probably were. Virtually the whole crew had leather jackets. Police enquiries, international and thorough, ran aground, and the murderer was never found.

Today there is a name for what probably happened, though it is a bad one. It is called "homosexual panic" but it would be better called "homophobic panic": a man finds himself sexually involved with another man, or even just the object of a man's sexual attraction, and when he can not cope with the conflict between his own lust and the violence it does to his self-image as heterosexual, he translates what would otherwise be self-loathing into blind rage.

Miles Radcliffe is only one of many gay men to be killed by men they would have made love to. Astonishingly, courts have often sympathised with the killers, and "homosexual panic" has been a successful defence to a charge of murder.


Source: Queer History New Zealand

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