JACK THE STRIPPER NEVER EXISTED
Here's to Elizabeth Figg, Gwynneth Rees, Hannah Tailford, Irene Lockwood and her unborn child, Helen Barthelemy, Mary Fleming, Francis Brown, Bridget O'Hara, and the others we don't know about. Of course there were others. Their deaths are classified as "The Hammersmith Nude Murders" and attributed to a perennially elusive serial killer named Jack the Stripper. Sounds like Jack the Ripper. We love a horror story. As long as it's at a distance, as long as it's not us getting ripped or stripped.
More often than not, whenever the "nude murders" are discussed, the victims are referred to as prostitutes. I won't be using that word. To me they were vulnerable young adults doing what they had to, in whatever bleak circumstances they found themselves. We're talking about the late 1950s and early 60s, London was still in the first throws of post-war economic resurrection, the poverty was real. If you didn't fit in as butcher, baker or candlestick maker, it might not be too long before you were seriously considering thief, pimp or worse.
Who came up with the name Jack the Stripper?
I learned from Dick Kirby's 2016 book: Laid Bare that "Jack the Stripper" was coined by an American newspaper, The Tennessee Dispatch, and then immediately parroted by The Bridgeport Telegraph, a Connecticut newspaper. After Mary Fleming's naked body was found in Berrymeade Road Chiswick, The Daily Mirror's crime report ran with the headline: “River Killer Hunted”. "Brentford Strangler" was also put out there. Eventually the British press latched onto "Jack the Stripper".
So the name originated in America. I'm not surprised. They certainly know how to package and label crime over there. "Jack the Stripper" conjures up the nightmare of a shadowy, lone fiend who is always one step ahead of the cops. The boogie-man. He's borderline supernatural, we make him so. We love a horror story, as long as it's at a distance.
I'm as guilty as the next man. When I first heard about the murders, I was told the victims were choked to death during fellatio by a hugely endowed fiend. Fascinated, I didn't question the narrative, and so relayed it. This theory can be traced back to William Baldock, the officer in charge of the Bridget O'Hara murder investigation.
"Jack the Stripper" is nothing more than a catchy name thought up by an American newspaper editor. "Jack the Stripper" ensures that we picture a shadowy lone killer - and not a covert group of people.
Some researchers have put forward child killer Harold Jones as the culprit. During the early 1920s, 15 year-old Harold Jones murdered two young girls in Abertillery Wales. His second victim was battered with a piece of wood and slashed across the throat. He was by all accounts a seriously deranged individual. By the late 1940s he was living in Fulham, West London. That fact alone, for some, is enough to convict him of the murders.
I doubt that, by the early 1960s, Jones knew West London as intricately as the person responsible for dumping Helen Barthelemy’s body. It is possible, but I doubt it. How would he have known about the Swynscombe Avenue alleyway in Brentford? I lived in that neighbourhood for a decade and walked past Swyncombe Avenue hundreds of times without noticing it. You'd never know it was there. The murders sparked Britain's biggest ever criminal manhunt. Detailed statements were taken from many thousands of people. London motorists endured systematic roadblocks and questioning. Countless pimps, pushers and bullied women were hauled in for questioning. Female cops patrolled the streets undercover, secretly recording conversations. Brothel keepers were offered immunity for information, and their frequenters faced interrogation. Nobody mentioned Harold Jones. Nobody mentioned a Welsh guy. Not one mention of a Welsh accent. We know that forensic experts found microscopic specks of metallic spray paint on some of the dead women, and the paint type was traced to a business premises on the Heron Trading Estate in Acton. Where is the proof that Harold Jones worked there, or had connections there? Enough red herring.
In 1972, The Sunday Times exposed Metropolitan Police Flying Squad Chief Ken Drury, and his wholly corrupt alliance with Britain's number one pornographer James Humphreys. Humphreys was an utterly ruthless, top level criminal. He and Drury initially met at a party. The Sunday Times article merely picked at the oozing tip of a fat poisonous boil. In the grainy black-and-white 1960's, high-level police corruption was par for the course, and it wasn't just The Flying Squad. The Obscene Publications Squad were bang at it as well. Some Soho pornographers received protection, while others were run out of town. Blind eyes turned for large sums of cash.
'In hauling himself up the greasy pole, Drury had no compunction in framing three men for a high-profile murder it later turned out they hadn't committed. He was prone to doing favours for his friends and mixed in very dodgy company too. Shortly after he took over at the Flying Squad in 1971, he ran into Humphreys, by then firmly established as Soho's 'Porn King', at a party. Humphreys quickly sealed their association with a 'drink' of £50 (more than £1,000 today)'. - The Daily Mail.
The key words here for me are: 'dodgy company', and 'at a party'. I'm not accusing Ken Drury of the nude murders. I'm highlighting the lack of moral fibre, as well as the blatant disregard for law, and ordinary people.
When researching this case we shouldn't rule out the possibility of fraternal complicity. Of course, fraternal brotherhood doesn't make people bad. But what if the killer, and key members of the investigation team, including the pathologist, were high ranking members of the same fraternity? I'm not suggesting that was the case. I'm not saying it wasn’t. I'm saying it's definitely something to ponder.
Let's, at least, be clear about one thing - secrecy is not justice.
Cheshire girl Elizabeth Figg was found by patrolling policemen in Dukes Meadows, Chiswick. She'd been left on rough land, a stone's throw from the Thames. Gwynneth Rees's submerged body was unearthed in a council refuse site in Mortlake. Geordie lass Hannah Tailford, having survived a desperately dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, was found on the Thames foreshore near Hammersmith Bridge. Pregnant Irene Lockwood was also found beside the Thames, this time near Chiswick. Scots girl Helen Barthelemy was found in an alleyway off Swyncombe Avenue, Brentford. Mary Fleming was left on the garage forecourt of number 48 Berrymeade Road, Chiswick. Frances Brown's partially buried body was unearthed in Hornton Street, Kensington. Bridget O'Hara, a Dublin girl who wholeheartedly threw herself into London's nightlife, was discovered behind a storage shed on the Heron Trading Estate in Acton.
And, after the biggest manhunt in British criminal history, every single piece of forensic evidence from every crime scene has been misplaced or destroyed.
'Dixon was the embodiment of a typical "Bobby" who would be familiar with the area and it's residents in which he patrolled and often lived there himself.' - Wikipedia's definition of Constable George Dixon, the main character in 1960s TV cop series, Dixon of Dock Green.
Imagine being tasked with dumping a dead body in public at the height of Britain's biggest ever manhunt. You'd need a colossal pair of bollocks, and nerves of cold steel. I picture a man, possibly with a military background, who is familiar with the area and its residents. He was strategic by nature, calculated and hardened - all business. I sense an institutionalised superiority complex, and a twisted disdain for vulnerable people. He knew that, as long as he didn't fuck up really badly, he'd never be found out.
Whoever he was, he almost did fuck up really badly, twice.
At 6am on the morning of 24th April 1964, Alfred Harrow, a farmer from Hemel Hempstead, was driving his Bedford van down Boston Manor Road on his way to Brentford Market. As he approached the junction with Swyncombe Avenue, he was forced to brake hard when a grey car, possibly a Hillman Husky, pulled straight out in front of him. He shuddered to a near halt while the grey car turned left and chugged away in the direction of Brentford. The incident happened so quickly that Mr Harrow was unable to identify the driver or recall any details of the number plate.
Just over an hour later, Clark May of 199 Boston Manor Road called the police after discovering the body of Helen Barthelemy lying in the alleyway behind his back garden. The alleyway leads into Swynscombe Avenue. Clark May's neighbour, William Reynolds, later told detectives that he'd briefly parked in that exact spot, at around 10.55 the previous night, and was certain Helen's body had not been there.
There's every chance that the driver of the grey car had just offloaded her. He would have climbed back into his car, battling adrenaline, intent on a clean getaway. On reaching the junction with Boston Manor Road, and seeing the Bedford van bearing down, his strategic nature will have kicked in. Had he stopped to give way, Mr Harrow might have got a good look at him. That was not in the script. He also couldn't risk tailing the van, because Mr Harrow would've had a rear-view of him, and his number plate, all the way to the Bath Road (now the A4). So, he floored the accelerator, raced out of the junction and sped away. Had the two vehicles collided, and the grey car been immobilised, it could well have been game over.
At around 2.20am on July 14th 1964, a workman named William Kirwan was painting a window frame in a back room of the ABC restaurant on Chiswick High Road. The room overlooked a darkened car park. He watched as a grey van reversed in with its lights off. The driver got out, looked about suspiciously and walked around to the van's back doors. Kirwan, who described the man as a 'suit wearing office type', said: '"Whilst the man was walking round the vehicle he was looking all around him as if to see that the coast was clear before doing something, that's what made me shout at him. I shouted to him, 'Who dat out dere?'" Startled, the man dived straight back into his van and tore out of the car park, turning right into Acton Lane. Berrymeade Road, a cul-de-sac off Acton Lane, is no more than a five minute drive away in that direction. At daybreak, Mary Fleming’s body was found on the small garage forecourt of number 48.
Three months later, tiny Glaswegian Frances Brown was stopped by the driver of what she described as a grey van, she climbed in. The driver flashed a Metropolitan Police badge, and during a brief conversation, revealed how the women had been murdered. He said the killer pulled the girl's overcoats down to trap their arms, and then twisted the neckline of their clothing. Frances became fearful and jumped out at the first opportunity, but not before noticing jumbled articles of clothing in the back of the van. Later the same month, she disappeared.
Frances Brown was last seen alive on Friday 23rd October 1964, by her friend Beryl Mahood, in Haydens Place, Ladbroke Grove. She was climbing into a grey car. Beryl described it as a Ford Zephyr. The girls had been accosted, after a night out drinking, by two men in separate vehicles. Both drivers got out of their cars, and confirmed they knew each other. The man who took Frances away, insisted she travelled alone with him. So Beryl jumped into the second car and followed, until they lost sight of the Zephyr near Shepherds Bush. Frances' partially buried body was found a month later in a Kensington car park. Despite a nationwide media appeal, the two men never came forward.
On hearing that Frances had been killed, Beryl contacted the police and gave them a detailed description of the man who drove her away. She also telephoned the Evening Standard crime desk: "I got a good look at the man, and have given police his description. Now I'm terrified he will try to kill me." On the night before she spoke to the Evening Standard, a van carrying two men had attempted to run her over. Beryl also spoke to The News of The World, her story made front page. Later the same week, she was assaulted while leaving a nightclub, and warned to keep her mouth shut. She'd never seen the assailant before.
The Hammersmith Nude Murders case files are held at The National Archives in Kew. They have been closed to public inspection by Metropolitan Police Records Management, for 100 years from the time of the last active minute. Two recent Freedom of Information requests regarding the death of Helen Barthelemy have hit the same brick wall.
'The document contains the sensitive personal information of a number of identified individuals assumed still to be living, including the criminal histories and personal family information of named individuals. These individuals would have no expectation that this information would be made available in the public domain during their lifetimes.' - Quality Manager Public Services Development Unit, The National Archives Kew Richmond
One baking hot summer's afternoon, while I was sitting in my back yard, Irene Lockwood appeared to me in a daydream. She wore a fawn three quarter length PVC jacket tied with matching belt, and shiny red shoes. Leaning on the windowsill beside me, she dragged on a cigarette and exhaled streamlined blasts of smoke down to the concrete. She was obviously processing difficult thoughts.
Without looking up, she told me that she, and her unborn child, are trapped in the middle atmosphere. And, they cannot ascend until their murderer, and his accomplices are bought to justice. I didn't have to tell her, there's little or no chance of that happening now.
And then, with a gust of wind through the leafy trees above me, she was gone.