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Murderer Monday: “The Acid Bath Killer”

Now, this week is an interesting one. How can someone be convicted, and labelled as a serial killer, when there are no bodies?

Early Life:

John George Haigh was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1909 and his parents were members of a protestant sect. As a child he suffered with horrendous nightmares, and became highly skilled in the piano. His love of music meant he often attended classical concerts. He won two scholarships, one to a grammar school in Wakefield and the other to Wakefield Cathedral where he became a choir boy. After school, he became an apprentice engineer, then got a job in advertising where he was eventually fired for suspected theft. In 1934 he married a woman called Betty, and soon after was jailed for fraud. Their first child was born while he was in prison, and Betty put her up for adoption out of shame. This led him to be ostracised by his entire family.

After this, John moved to London, became a chauffeur, and was a scam artist on the side, pretending to be a solicitor. He sold fraudulent stock-shares and a spelling mistake led him to be arrested for 4 years for this. Having several stints in prison, he realised that he wasn’t getting away with fraud because he was leaving people alive who reported him. He became interested in the methods of French murderer Georges-Alexandre Sarret who disposed of his victims bodies in sulphuric acid. Whilst in prison, he worked on this idea and practised on mice. He found that it took half an hour for them to dissolve in acid, and began to plan how to murder wealthy people for their fortunes.

Murders:

John was freed from prison in 1943, aged 24. He bumped into his former employer William McSwan, and began to work for him and his parents again. In 1944, William disappeared. John later admitted to luring him to his workshop claiming he was making pinball machines, hitting him over the head, putting his body into a large metal drum and poured sulphuric acid over him all because he envied his lifestyle. Returning 2 days later, he found that the body had turned into sludge which he poured down a manhole.

He told his parents that he had gone into hiding in Scotland to avoid being called up for military service. Obviously, as the years went on, his parents’ suspicions continued and the war was coming to an end. He told them that their son was coming back for a visit, then murdered them with blows to the head and again dissolved their bodies.Once they were dead, he stole their cheques, pensions, sold their properties, but eventually began to run out of money again. This led him to murder another couple, Archibald and Rose Henderson, after feigning interest in buying their house and stealing their gun. He forged a letter from them and sold all of their possessions, yet he kept their dog and their car. (Thank God the dog was okay).

His last known victim was Olive Durand-Deacon, age 69, who he met at a hotel when he was pretending to be an engineer. She told him her idea of making artificial fingernails, and he invited her to his workshop to work on it. Of course, this was only a ploy and he shot her in the back and dissolved her. Tragic, since artificial nails are all the rage now – she was on to something! He didn’t kill a large number of people (not an excuse), but he is probably more famous for his methods than victims.

“Mrs. Durand-Deacon no longer exists. She has disappeared completely and no trace of her will ever be found again.”

Arrest and Trial.

After Olive was reported missing, police became interested in John Haigh’s fraud records, not connecting the two. When they searched his workshop, they found a dry cleaners receipt for a Persian lamb coat – the same one Olive went missing in. Previously, his workshop in London had a drainage system, where he disposed the bodies, but his new one in Sussex didn’t. He had been disposing of the bodies by pouring the container onto a pile of rubble at the back of the property. A pathologist from Scotland Yard had the sludge removed and sieved. From this they were able to determine that there was 28 pounds of human body fat, part of a foot, gallstones, bone fragments and part of a denture on the rubble, as well as fine blood splatters on the walls. The dentures had been custom-made to fit Olive.

When he was confronted, he confessed to all of these murders and added that he had also killed a young man called Max, and two women, however these claims could not be proven. In trial, he pleaded insanity, claiming he was tortured by reoccuring childhood dreams of blood and being made to drink it. However, this plea was rejected because his actions were malicious and pre-planned. Despite this, the ease and indifference of which he spoke of his crimes led the defence to claim he was paranoid. It took just 17 minutes for a jury to find him guilty and he was sentenced to death. As he was such a meticulous perfectionist, he asked for a trial run of his execution so he could check that everything ran smoothly. He was hanged in April 1949, only 30 years old.

John thought he had figured out a way to commit the perfect murder, but he was wrong. To people he knew, he was a cultured man who lived a life of luxury and expense, however this charm was what lured people to him. Even in prison he his hair cut, stopped allowing visitors when he was made to wear prison clothing, and even had Madame Tussauds make a wax face mask for after his death. Items involving this case are on display at the Museum of London. This method of disposal still inspires (for want of a better word) other killers, in 2016 a man was convicted of murdering his Tinder date in Mexico and disposing of her body in the same way.

“Every trace has gone. How can you prove murder if there is no body?”

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_George_Haigh
  2. https://www.forensicmag.com/article/2017/03/cold-case-chronicles-acid-bath-murders
  3. http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/Haigh.html
  4. https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/the-acid-bath-murders/
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