The Acid Bath Murders: The Trials and Liquidations of John George Haigh

The Acid Bath Murders: The Trials and Liquidations of John George Haigh

by Gordon Lowe


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The Acid Bath Murders: The Trials and Liquidations of John George Haigh by Gordon Lowe

John George Haigh found the way to commit the perfect murder—five of them in fact—by dissolving his wealthy victims in sulfuric acid to avoid detection on a "no body, no murder" principle, before taking their property to fund his luxury lifestyle. But victim number six presented a problem. When a guest in Haigh’s own hotel disappeared, the police found half dissolved body parts carelessly thrown into the yard outside his secluded workshop. But was the urbane Mr. Haigh, the man brought up by strict Plymouth Brethren parents in Yorkshire and dressed like a city stockbroker, really the monster he said he was—the killer of six innocent people with the sole motive of drinking their blood? Benefiting from unpublished archive papers, including recently released letters Haigh wrote from prison while awaiting execution, author Gordon Lowe sheds light on whether this was a cynical ploy for a ticket into Broadmoor Hospital, or if he was in fact a psychopathic vampire with a penchant for disposing of his victims in acid

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750961813
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Gordon Lowe taught law in London for 10 years, including a year in America. Returning to the West Country, he set up his own law practice near Bath before retiring in September 2010. He is the author of Escape From Broadmoor and is a volunteer at Broadmoor Hospital.

Read an Excerpt

The Acid Bath Murders

The Trials and Liquidations of John George Haigh

By Gordon Lowe

The History Press

Copyright © 2015 Gordon Lowe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-6670-2


On what was to be her last day on earth, Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon sat down for breakfast as usual at eight o'clock at the Onslow Court Hotel, South Kensington. It was Friday, 18 February 1949 and the widowed Olive, who would have been 70 the following year, had been living at the Onslow Court, a residential hotel for the wealthy retired, for the last six years. The loneliness and shock of finding herself a widow at the age of 54 was partly tempered by her holding stocks and shares worth £36,000 (nearly £900,000 today). The companionship of her new friends and fellow residents at the hotel, particularly Mrs Constance Lane, who sat at the table in the dining room to her left, and Mr John Haigh, who sat at the table to her right – a comparative newcomer as he'd only lived at the hotel for the last four years – was also a comfort.

The only thing unusual today was John Haigh's empty table. Admittedly, he had to come down from his room on the fourth floor but as a rule he was there before Olive, ready to do 'his rounds', as he called his business trips. She was concerned about this and hoped he hadn't been taken ill in the night. Although he was a young man of 40 she thought he overdid it, careering around the country in his lovely Alvis motor car, and he sometimes looked quite worn out in the evenings when they sat down to dinner.

But, however tired John might be, there was always a smile on his face and time to exchange pleasantries about the day. Olive was surprised that a catch like him hadn't been snatched up years ago by some lucky girl and spirited off to a leafy suburb in the home counties. He did occasionally bring in a girl, whom he called Barbara, for afternoon tea, but as nice as she was she seemed young enough to be his daughter. He hinted to Olive over coffee one evening at the hotel that there had been a wife at some stage but never said more than that.

Sometimes there'd even be a little 'prize' for Olive or one of the other good ladies in the form of a piece of jewellery or bottle of perfume, something they couldn't get with rationing still in force after the war. They came at a price, of course, like the lovely crocodile handbag he'd brought her a year ago, charging only a modest £10 when in the shops it would be a lot more, if you could get something of such quality at all. And there was the exquisite blue sapphire and diamond ring she wore without ever telling a soul how much she paid John for it.

Then, to her relief, she spotted him on the other side of the dining room, stopping at a table and pulling out a long box with a watch or necklace wrapped in tissue. The expression of sheer delight on the face of the lady on the receiving end said it all, and she was gazing up at him and mouthing a question at which John was shrugging his shoulders and smiling his usual wonderful smile.

Perhaps if Olive were thirty years younger she might have designs on John herself, but at the age of 69 all that was over now and so what was the point; John Haigh, with his slightly high voice and petit bourgeois manners, would not be suitable for Olive Durand-Deacon, the widow of an army officer, in any case. But whatever you said about John, he did bring a lot of happiness to everyone at the hotel, and she for one wouldn't hear a word against him.

'Ah, Olive, good morning,' he greeted her as he passed her table, almost as if he were surprised to see her despite going through this ceremony every morning.

'Good morning, John, looking after us all as usual I see,' she replied with a regal nod of the head. People said she looked like Queen Elizabeth, who with her husband King George had looked after them so well during the war. Although not a vain woman, Olive liked to think she at least dressed like the queen and, while twenty years older, agreed that, well, there was something a little royal about her.

John hesitated before sitting down at his table. 'We must talk about your nails today, Olive,' he said.

'It would be a pleasure,' she replied, beaming.

She looked back at him as he poured his coffee and spread a piece of toast. Her examination of him was no intrusion because the single tables in the dining room at the Onslow Court were arranged and angled each on four tiles of floor space, like pieces on a chessboard, to maintain at least the pretence of privacy. The hotel was perfect for them, near the Science Museums and the Victoria and Albert, Harrods and the shops, and of course the Royal Albert Hall at the top of Queen's Gate for concerts.

Olive still worried about John even though he was now safely eating his breakfast. Despite wearing his usual immaculate suit, white shirt and silk tie, he looked weary and a little beaten. The hair was oiled and carefully brushed back and he was clean-shaven apart from his small moustache – the waft of Brylcreem and aftershave hit you as he passed. But there were bags under the piercing blue eyes and his effusive manner had gone over the last week – it was Friday and she hoped he would be more himself over the weekend.

Whatever was on his mind that morning, John was deep in thought until he'd finished his second piece of toast and drunk his second cup of coffee. Then he came over to Olive's table and pulled up a chair to sit beside her. He put his hand over hers on the pristine white tablecloth and patted her ringed fingers, something he'd never done in all the time they'd known each other. 'Now Olive,' he crooned, 'we have business to do and I have everything planned for you.'

But if she'd had an inkling of what John was planning for her that Friday afternoon, Olive would have run for her life.


John really had arranged everything, down to the last nail. The business they were discussing was the manufacture of artificial fingernails. Olive Durand-Deacon had a box full of them in her room, and when she heard that John was an inventor and the director of a light engineering company, she asked if he might be interested in a little business venture: he could manufacture the nails and she could design and market them.

He'd told her about the machine he wanted to market that threaded cotton through needles and a wonderful toy fort where all the soldiers moved around on a pulley system. She'd bought a couple of his handheld electric fans, but these had gone wrong rather soon, which embarrassed her because she'd bought two more and given them to friends going to Australia on a new ship, and she hoped these hadn't suffered the same fate.

But the fingernails were all her idea after she'd cut out pieces of newspaper and laid them to be painted on her own nails. While her marriage to a war hero with the Military Cross had been varied and fulfilling, she always harboured the idea that at heart she was a businesswoman. With the Second World War now four years behind them, women were starting to think how they looked again, about luxuries like decent hair and nails.

And John Haigh, despite the expensive cars, the suits and the silk ties, and despite, as he told her, being a solicitor specialising in probate matters in a past life, could himself do with a new business venture right now. Because, not for the first time in his life, he was financially embarrassed or, to put it less kindly, flat broke, down on his uppers, skint – however you wanted to describe it.

No one in the hotel knew about this, except the manageress, Mrs Alicia Robbie. She'd had to remind him no less than twice in the last week that he owed the hotel nearly £50 in bills and that if he didn't find the money within another week then he would have to leave. She was sorry to tell him this but it was hotel policy and this was not the first time she had had to speak to him and, after all, his room, a single on the fourth floor, was cheaper than the doubles on the lower floors like Mrs Durand-Deacon's. Mrs Robbie even had to send her head cashier up to his room to ask for the money, but John said he was unwell and would have to let them have it in a few days. To make matters worse, he'd earlier written the hotel a cheque that had been returned marked 'refer to drawer' by the bank.

Then there was the matter of his bank overdraft that came to £83 5s 10d, which was why they were refusing his cheques and, as the debt was unsecured, becoming more strident in their demands for repayment. His gambling had left him with a total of £352 (£8,700 today) owed to five different commission agencies.

And so at the beginning of the week, on Monday, 14 February 1949, Valentine's Day, John Haigh started to put his plan into place. Olive had Mrs Birin, Assistant Secretary of the Francis Bacon Society of which Olive was a member and who accompanied Olive to meetings at the Society and Foyle's literary luncheons, as her regular Monday lunch guest at the hotel. Among other things, the society supported the idea that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare's works for him, as Olive would remind John when they had a literary chat.

But the conversation today was more prosaic as Olive produced her box of plastic fingernails and, excusing herself to her guest, turned to John at the next table to show him.

John was sifting through the box like a pirate with a chest full of silver. 'Now, Olive,' he said to her. 'I've told them down at the factory about the plans and they can't wait to meet you. I shall whisk you down to Sussex later in the week for a look at some prototypes.'

Olive peered into the box. 'I've more upstairs. But I thought if I helped with the designs, then you could make them. I've even a few thoughts as to where we sell them. Oh, John, do you think this could really work?'

John sat back in his chair and raised his eyes to the ceiling. 'Work? I'll say this could work. We're tapping a market, Olive, and this is what it's all about,' he replied, tapping the side of his nose in what Olive thought rather a vulgar gesture.

She looked over her shoulder to see if her guest was listening, but she was busy tackling her chop.

'In fact,' added John, putting his head nearer hers, 'we are so impressed with the project we have decided that we should go halves with you on the funding. Only, my dear Olive, this is all between us and to go no further.'

'Of course, mum's the word,' said Olive, before he could tap his nose again.

The factory that John referred to was that of Hurstlea Products Ltd in West Street, Crawley. This light engineering business had been built up by his friend, Edward Jones, from humbler beginnings not far away in a one-up, one-down building in Leopold Road, which had been kept on as a storehouse since the move in 1947. In the same year, John was doing some experimental work with Edward on the gadget for threading needles, and John had even put up £200 towards the expenses of the project. He saw the invention as a real help to the blind but didn't say how this would help with the rest of their sewing. But John was exaggerating when he called himself a co-director of the firm; in fact, Edward had only offered him a directorship as a security against the money John had put down. Nothing had come of it and the matter had been forgotten, as presumably had the gadget for threading needles.

Nevertheless, John kept on a loose business relationship with Edward in acting as the firm's representative outside Crawley and in London generally. This was unpaid, but in return John had use of the storeroom in Leopold Road as a workshop more or less when he wanted to use it.

It was also an exaggeration that Edward Jones was relishing the prospect of manufacturing fingernails. John, who'd only seriously considered pressing ahead with the idea that morning – as he got out of bed, to be precise – had not even mentioned it to Edward yet.

On the following morning, Tuesday 15 February, Haigh motored down from Kensington to Crawley in the Alvis to the West Street factory before lunch. He parked the car, donned his long winter coat and marched into the factory looking more like a city stockbroker than an engineer.

By contrast Jones was sitting in his small office at his desk, dressed in a beige lab coat, with his head in his hands.

John put his head round the office door. 'Just popped in for the Leopold Road keys, Edward. Time for a quick chat?' he asked.

'Not really, John. I'm having a bloody awful day,' Jones replied.

John took no notice and sat himself down at the desk facing his colleague. 'Anything I can do?' he asked breezily.

'Got to lay off a few of the lads. I should have done it before Christmas.'

John unbuttoned his coat and put his hands on his hips. 'Well, times are tough for us all. In fact I was going to touch you for a little subbie, Edward.'

'How little?' Jones asked suspiciously. 'Not a good time of the year, John.'

'No, I know all that. But the fact is I've got caught short with hotel bills and the bank and that sort of thing,' replied John.

'I can't understand why you have to live in a posh London hotel and drive that car when most us mortals live down here and ride a bike.'

'Ah, but remember I'm the one who gets around town flying the flag, Edward. Customers expect it, you know. The car, the suit and tie, I'm worth a few orders to Hurstlea.'

'I know, I know. Anyway, how much do you want?'

'Fifty quid would do nicely. I can pay the hotel and give the bank something to keep them happy.'

Jones went over to an ancient safe in the corner and proceeded to open it with a key on the end of a chain. 'Alright, but I need it back by the end of the week. That's all the time I can give you, John, it's money I've put aside for a policy. I need it back Friday at the latest.'

'You're a scholar and a gentleman, Edward,' said John, taking the wad of notes and shoving it in his pocket. 'Now, there's another thing.'

'Quickly, John, please. I'm hungry and still putting off seeing these people.'

'No, this is a good one. This could make us a decent bit of money.'

'Like the needle threader?'

'That could still work to my mind, but after a war nobody wants to shell out money for a gadget on a job they can do themselves. No, what they want, what the ladies want, is a bit of luxury, especially when they've been breaking their nails in factories and farms, bless them. So we make them for them,' said John, pulling his chair up nearer the desk.

'Make what exactly?' asked Jones doubtfully.

'Fingernails. We make plastic fingernails to fit over the broken ones.'

Jones shook his head. 'Too costly, I'd say.'

'But we sell them for whatever we want to ask. I've a client lined up to come in on the scheme, loaded with money and raring to go,' said John, his blue eyes lighting up like Father Christmas producing a toy from his sack.

Jones sat back in his chair, opened a drawer and produced a sandwich in greaseproof paper. 'Sorry, John, not interested,' he said, unwrapping the sandwich.

'Well, I said I'd bring them down to the factory later in the week. They might put up some money.'

Jones bit off the end of his sandwich and threw it back down on the wrapper. 'Not here, I'm afraid, I've got enough troubles to have to worry about fingernails.'

The breath ran out of John in a long sigh. He shook his head but accepted the offer of sharing his colleague's lunch, and so over spam sandwiches with mustard, and a thermos flask of weak tea, both made earlier that morning by Mrs Jones for her husband while John Haigh slept in silk pyjamas in the Onslow Court Hotel, Olive Durand-Deacon's fate was sealed.


Next morning a smiling and more assured John Haigh phoned down from his room in the hotel to the manageress to say he was now in a position to deal with his bill if she would care to come up to discuss the matter. In fact, she said didn't care to go up to his room to discuss this or anything else as she felt she'd chased around after him enough as it was. She sent her cashier, Mrs Kirkwood, up instead, expecting more excuses and delays about payment.

Mrs Kirkwood found him sitting in his armchair, doing the crossword.

'My word, Mrs Kirkwood, you look terrific this morning,' he greeted her.

'Does that mean you can't pay?' she asked.

'Not a bit of it, not a bit,' he said, standing up and throwing the newspaper down on the unmade bed. 'It was a complete error by my bank to return my cheque the other day. I can tell you I've given them a piece of my mind and been assured heads will roll. Now, I can give you the choice, cash or a cheque?'

'Cash, please, Mr Haigh,' said Mrs Kirkwood, still waiting for the catch.

'Very well,' he said and walked over to his desk. He opened the drawer and produced the borrowed wad of notes, which he placed disdainfully on the bed like dirty linen for the laundry. 'Take what you need from that,' he added and went back to his crossword.

As Mrs Kirkwood carefully counted out the first £32 10s to cover the returned cheque, John looked up from his crossword. 'Rubbish in the Far East,' he announced.

'I'm sorry?'

'Rubbish in the Far East. Four letters.'

Mrs Kirkwood ignored the question and finished her counting. 'Then there's another seventeen pounds and ten shillings to bring us up to date, if you please.'

'That'll have to be a cheque in another week.'

'No, the arrangement is that you pay up the full amount, Mr Haigh, and I will not take a cheque,' said Mrs Kirkwood firmly.


Excerpted from The Acid Bath Murders by Gordon Lowe. Copyright © 2015 Gordon Lowe. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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