“In war, one of our great protections against the dangers of air attack after nightfall will be the “blackout”. On the outbreak of hostilities all external lights and street lighting would be totally extinguished so as to give hostile aircraft no indication as to their whereabouts. But this will not be fully effective unless you do your part, and see to it that no lighting in the house where you live is visible from the outside. The motto for safety will be ‘Keep it dark!’”
So read the opening paragraph from Public Information Leaflet No.2, published in England on the eve of war, 1939. What may have kept people safe from German bombs, however, had its own disadvantages. Criminality thrived in the gloomy, empty streets. In 1942, as the German bombs began to fall less frequently, a new threat opened up on the streets of London, altogether more silent, emerging from the shadows with a rye smile and unrelenting charm.
The Daily Herald (1942) Waiting Woman is Murdered. Feb 10, 1942. p.3. London, UK
The Daily Mirror (1942) Three Women Murdered In Two Days. Feb 11, 1942. P.8. London, UK.
The Daily Mirror (1942) Razorblade Killed Ex-Soho Actress. Feb 12, 1942. P.8. London, UK.
The Daily Mirror (1942) Fifth Woman Murder In Week. Feb 14, 1942. P.8. London, UK.
Civil Defense (1939) Public Information Leaflet No.2. Lord Privy Seal’s Office, UK
Read, Simon (2006) In The Dark. Berkeley Publishing Group, USA.
Thomas, Donald (2003) An Underworld at War: Spivs, Deserters, Racketeers and Civilians in the Second World War. John Murray, UK.
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George Cummins: The Blackout Ripper
“In war, one of our great protections against the dangers of air attack after nightfall will be the “blackout”. On the outbreak of hostilities all external lights and street lighting would be totally extinguished so as to give hostile aircraft no indication as to their whereabouts. But this will not be fully effective unless you do your part, and see to it that no lighting in the house where you live is visible from the outside. The motto for safety will be ‘Keep it dark!’”
So read the opening paragraph from Public Information Leaflet No.2, published in England on the eve of war, 1939. What may have kept people safe from German bombs, however, had its own disadvantages. Criminality thrived in the gloomy, empty streets. In 1942, as the German bombs began to fall less frequently, a new threat opened up on the streets of London, altogether more silent, emerging from the shadows with a rye smile and unrelenting charm. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
In the run up to the outbreak of war in 1939, the British government became increasingly concerned over the prospect of air raids upon the country. The First World War had shown the world what was possible when zeppelins launched attacks from the air, catching the country by surprise. By 1917, the Imperial German Air Service had upgraded from the cumbersome blimps to the Gotha Bomber, a biplane with a huge wingspan, capable of carrying 60lbs of bombs across the Channel, to be dropped on english cities under the cover of the night sky. With war on the horizon, the threat of bombs, raining down from enemy bombers was a very real concern. A week before war was even declared, a civil defense leaflet was printed and published advising the nation on measures to be taken that might limit the destruction, introducing the earliest steps to what would eventually be known as the blackout, a blanket cover of darkness that saw street lights extinguished and all windows and doors covered to prevent light leaking out into the gloom of the darkened streets. Citizens were encouraged to create makeshift blinds from sheets of thick, dark material in the best case scenario, or packing paper and paint in the worst. On the streets on a cloudy or moonless night, it was a darkness that was almost complete. White lines were painted on the streets, allowing people to follow a steady route and the dim flickering of torches, briefly lit by citizens trying to find their bearings, momentarily lit the arches of doorways throughout the city. It was a strategy that the government hoped would obscure large cities and landmarks enough to hamper the navigational abilities of the pilots above, but hand in hand with a nation that became progressively more desperate and a police force increasingly more stretched, it had the side effect of creating a perfect environment for those who were looking to profit for themselves.
The blitz struck London in the winter of 1940, a sustained, heavy bombing operation that saw 60% of London houses either damaged or destroyed as almost 20,000 tons of bombs were dropped across the city. The destruction was widespread, rationing was tightening, manpower was lacking and many basic needs were left wanting. Under the cover of the darkness, a black market supplied via all manner of petty criminality thrived. ARP wardens, volunteers who were tasked with helping out citizens during air raids by advising them to local shelters and patrolling the streets during raids, became seeded with elements of corruption as a lack of bodies led to standards quickly dropping in selection and uniforms being acquired through shady streams. Whilst people sheltered from bombs below ground, the bent wardens were free to loot bombed out houses, or if there was no such luck, simply breaking and entering, confident that they had all the time they needed to collect their stock whilst they waited for the all clear to sound. In some cases, the public would help the wardens to load up goods into their car, convinced they were doing a good deed by ensuring the safe transport of a scarce item, when in fact all they were doing was assisting in an audacious robbery. In the ugliest scenes, victims of the bombings were stripped of rings and wallets, whilst a bombed out household might just be the perfect place to dump a body that would lead to little investigation.
As rationing tightened and people found even their basic daily needs left wanting, thousands of normally lawful citizens turned to the black market to make up the shortfall. The coupons used to purchase goods themselves were particularly valuable, but if you didn’t have the coupons, cash could be used to purchase cigarettes, clothing, cuts of poached meat, vegetables supplied by farmers who got more out of the black market than they did the government, you name it, it was available. The government allotted hundreds of officers to police the markets and put forward heavy fines to those that were caught, but the term “everyone pulling together”, paramount within English domestic propaganda was never more apparent than in the black market trade, which thrived until the end of the war.
Alongside the theft that fuelled the black markets, the normally specific term of looting became one with far more elasticity and whilst the majority looked down upon those who would pick through the rubble of a bombed out house, simply stumbling across an item of worth, blown out onto the street was often seen as a fortuitous happenstance that one mustn’t pass up or leave to others to profit from.
With times being hard and many women left alone, either as their husbands fought on fronts across Europe and the wider world, or newly widowed and struggling to make ends meet, prostitution became an obvious answer to many of the most desperate. Prostitution flourished abd the streets around soho were littered with women offering companionship as a way to pay for their black market purchases or for the less fortunate, newly fatherless families. In the time of war, it was a booming trade, as London saw an influx of uniformed soldiers who were gearing up to war or on leave and looking to unwind with alcohol, entertainment and sex. By 1942 it was a hungry market that only grew as the first Americans began filtering into the city towards the end of January.
In short, criminality blossomed. During the war, it is estimated that petty crimes rose by up to 60% in the capital. Gangs were formed, fortunes were made and even amongst the most well-to-do citizens, goods were illicitly traded. A far darker element often went unseen however. Violent crimes, murder and assualt, far less pervasive to the average Londoner, fell off the pages of newspapers in favour of war news, or a story to boost the morale of the home front. In the shadows, there were some who plied a trade far more grizzly and far more damaging than the black markets and petty crimes that overstretched an already diminished police force, utilising the darkness for means that could still shock a war-hardened population and terrify those that felt little as sirens wailed overhead.
Gordon Cummins was born on the 18th February, 1914, in New Earswick, a small village just North of York in the North-East of England. He was the first of three children born to John and Amelia Cummins. His father, John, was a schoolmaster in a local school for delinquent children, whilst his mother stayed at home as a housewife. He had a quiet, unremarkable and comfortable upbringing until his teenage years, when he was uprooted and sent to a boarding school in the South of Wales where his performance maintained the unremarkable trend. Known around the school as an underperformer, he coasted through education, criticised for being far more interested in the social aspects of school life rather than the academic. Despite this, he quietly obtained a diploma in chemistry from the Llandovery County Secondary School for Boys in 1932, aged 16 years old and was accepted to study at Northampton College of Technology, though the strain of academics finally proved too much and he abandoned his studies two years later without graduating.
The years following saw Cummins pick up and quickly drop a spate of different jobs, first working as an industrial chemist in Newcastle, before he was sacked 5 months after starting and relocating to Northampton to work as a Tanner. Just over a year into this job, he was once again sacked for poor time keeping and he headed South, to live with his Brother in London. In 1934 he took the position of a leather dresser in a clothes making factory and trained as a foreman, a job that paid £3 per week, a decent wage in a period when purse strings were traditionally tightening. London was an expensive place to live, however, especially when one spends the majority of their time carousing in the bars and restaurants of the West-End, which is how Gordon Cummins chose to spend his free time. Given a taste of the finer side, he took to the lifestyle a little too well, putting on an air of pretension way above his natural demeanour. In his forced high-class accent, he told those he met that he was the son of a peer, insisted on being called “The Honourable Gordon Cummins” and casually splashed his money around on drinks, often leaving his wages depleted within hours of being paid. Naturally it was a short step to petty theft to help fund his expensive gallivanting. In 1935 he was once again sacked and perhaps influenced by the respect and status given to the well-bred officers of the Royal Air Force he no doubt found himself rubbing shoulders with in the West-End, he enlisted in Regents Park to train as a rigger, conducting flight checks on the forces airplanes.
Perhaps Cummins found his true calling in life, but his time in the RAF saw him knuckle down to an extent and whilst he would use every opportunity to take leave and party the night away that he could, he was seen generally as a god sort, with enough discipline to earn himself a degree of success. He found himself stationed first at the Marine and Armament Experimental Establishment in Felixstowe for a year, until 1936, when the whole unit was relocated to Scotland, winding up in Dumbartonshire in 1939, just as the outbreak of war fell across the country. In 1941 he was posted to Cornwall, where he spent his free time in the evenings working behind a bar, until he was sacked for plying the local airmen with free drinks. In his regiment he was well liked, though people found his lording about a little grating. His bunkmates nicknamed him “The Duke”, but they made no complaints when Cummins threw about money, which he claimed was an allowance he received from his titled family. He was, he told all that would listen, well and truly a black sheep and had chosen to sign up to the RAF rather than live it up back home on the country estate. His family meant little to him, he ensured, but he was happy to take their money. Of course this was all a complete fabrication, an extension of the phony accent and haughty airs that he so diligently upheld to maintain his high-class aura. In reality, Cummins’ family life was very different. He had met Marjorie, the assistant of a West-End theatre producer, at an airshow in spring of 1936 and married her at Paddington Registry office soon after. The pair lived far away from any country estates, in a flat on Westmoreland Road, in Barnes, West London. Though certainly not uncomfortable as far as some might have felt, they were living in another, far more grounded reality than the peers of the realm that Cummins insisted.
In January of 1942, Cummins had put in his shift of 1,000 hours of flight experience and took the aviation exam, passing with flying colours, allowing him to be trained at the RAF Air Crew Receiving Centre in Regents Park, London, where he reported at 10am on the 2nd February, 1942. After finally having found a solid position in life, one which would even afford him a certain degree of respect amongst the party goers of the West-End which he so hungrily sought after, Cummins donned his uniform, complete with iconic Wedgewood Blue dress coat and light brown, canvas shoulder bag, in which he kept his standard issue gas mask. Cummins, however, would never make it through to the end of his training, in fact, he would barely last a fortnight. The temptations of the West-End would prove to be a strong draw and the resistance to control his violent urges had well and truly waned.
The Start of a Grim Week: Evelyn Margaret Hamilton
Once in Regents Park, Gordon Cummins quickly settled into his usual routine of strolling around pompously, throwing money around for drinks and telling everyone that would listen that he was a peer of the realm. The men training at the RAF base were allowed to leave after the end of the days activities between 5:30pm and when curfew struck at 10:30pm. Though Cummins was married, he didn’t let that stop him from drinking heavily, partying like a bachelor and womanising at every opportunity. The combination of his RAF uniform, his well-bred demeanour and his natural charm was enough to at least ensure he could be given the time of day at the bars, but if all else failed, he was more than happy to pay for sex and happier still to brag about it with his bunkmates. Most of the men in his room found his posh affections to be annoying but generally he was a nice guy, if not a little cocky. “A decent sort of fellow,” said one. Always keen to show off his imagined wealth, he continued to ply his RAF friends with drinks when they went out drinking. Curfew was a constant pain, but if they arrived back on base a little late, they could always slip in the back way unnoticed and the log book where each man had to sign in and out was far from a meticulous record. As the week drew to a close, the men looked forward to their Saturday nights, when they were allowed off base until midnight, which freed up even the more staunch rule abiders.
Saturday the 7th of February had been a bitterly cold day. As the sun set in the evening, grey clouds swelled in the sky, dropping a light snow across London in the early hours of the morning of Sunday the 8th. Cummins had gone home the night before, but after leaving had decided to hit the town for a few drinks before returning to base, sneaking in through the rear fire escape, climbing through the kitchen window and stumbling to bed.
Born on the 8th of February, 1901, Eveleyn Margaret Hamilton was one of four daughters. She grew up in a small, rural village, South of the Tyne River on the far Western outskirts of Newcastle, England. Her father died at a young age, leaving her mother to raise the four children alone, though his untimely death had at least left Lucy, his widowed wife, with enough money to ensure the daughters a good education. Unlike many young girls of the age, Lucy was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to embrace education, leaving as a qualified pharmacist aged 16. After she graduated, she continued her education at Skerry’s College in Newcastle, where she studied chemistry and then went on to study for a Chemist and Druggist diploma at The University of Edinburgh. After graduating, she hopped about in various jobs throughout the country, managing pharmacies and even trying her hand at sales for a large Pharmacy Company based in Leicestershire. By 1941, however, the continuous trudge of career life ground her down and left her suffering from depression and Insomnia, so she returned home to live with her mother in newcastle to rest for a couple of months before heading back out, this time to Surrey, where she took a job in a hospital, though the position only lasted two days before she resigned, taking a job instead as a pharmacy manager in Hornchurch, Essex. That position seemed to work out well enough for Evelyn, who worked there until the war brought financial difficulties down upon the owner, who chose to close in 1942. Ever prepared, Evelyn arranged a position in Grimsby at another pharmacy and left Essex on 7th February, with packed bags to spend the night in London before heading out by train the next day.
Eveleyn had lived a fairly quiet, studious life. Never one to be drawn to social frivolities, she instead chose to read in solitude, mostly on subjects related to socialism and politics. Though once described as “agitated and eccentric”, her lack of friends was equally as likely to do with her constant moving around as she jumped from job to job, as it was to do with her personality. As the darkness fell over London on Sunday evening, she stepped off a train in Baker Street Station, found a porter and asked where she might call a cab. It had already gone 10pm but the porter took her bags and found her a suitable taxi outside the station asking the driver if he would take the lady to a boarding house in Gloucester Place, where she had arranged a room for the night. When they arrived, things didn’t pan out quite as planned and it was lucky that Evelyn had asked the cab driver to hold on a moment as she rang the bell to the front door. She exchanged heated words with the housemaid before returning to the cab downbeat and asked the driver to instead take her to the Three Arts Club a little further down the road, a place she had stayed in before. This time she had a little more luck and she secured a room, returning to thank the driver and collect her bag from the back seat. Once inside, Evelyn asked the maid where she might go to find some food at the late hour, who suggested she might try Lyons, a trendy bar and sprawling restaurant near Marble Arch that was open 24 hours a day, every day. Famous as a food hall full of exotic food to those that could afford to dine there, its themed restaurants by an army of “Nippies” as the staff were colloquially known, for their speedy, efficient service. Sitting alone, Evelyn ordered a glass of white wine and a meal of bread and beetroot. In a room so large and so full of bustle, no witness ever saw her leave the dining hall, nor if she was accompanied by anyone, or alone. A fact made far more ominous because Evelyn never made it back to the Three Arts Club that night, nor to her new job in Grimsby. She made it only as far as a grey, cement bomb shelter on Montagu Place, where her body was found the following morning.
Montagu place is and always was a well-to-do neighbourhood in the prestigious streets of Marylebone, West London. Perched between Hyde and Regents Park and lined with tall, four story brick buildings owned by the more fanciful Londoners, the three, public, above ground bomb shelters that cropped up on the street during the war were far less seedy than they might at first sound. On the morning of the 9th February, however, the central shelter was the host of a crime scene one would much more expect to find in a back street of East London rather than the West. As electricians Harold Bachelor and his assistant William made their way to work at 8:40am, they passed by the entrance of the shelters but were stopped in their tracks when they saw the feet of a woman jutting out of the doorway. They quickly ran to find a policeman and bumped into Police Constable John Miles, just minutes later who had been walking a beat nearby. By 8:55am, the area was secured by senior officers, who were alerted to the scene, including Divisional Detective Inspector Leonard Clare, closely followed by police photographer Sergeant Percy Law and Dr Alexander Baldie, the divisional police surgeon. The womens body lay on the ground of the shelter, her fawn, camel hair coat lying open and her scarf pulled up to cover her face. Her skirt had been pulled up to her thighs, exposing her brown stockings, with her legs lying at awkward angles. Alexander baldie perched beside her, inspecting her neck, where he found abrasions along with bruising on her chin and discoloration around her throat. All the signs, he told Clare, were that she had been murdered by strangulation. He guessed she had been dead for at least several hours and probably killed in the early morning. The scene was scant with clues, lying on the ground nearby were a box of matches and a small tin of ovaltine pills, but no handbag, wallet or other means of carrying any ID were to be found, which left the police with a nameless victim. Detective Chief Superintendent Frederick Cherrill, Scotland Yard’s resident fingerprint expert arrived shortly after and suggested the murderer had been left handed, judging by the bruises around the victims neck. Photos were taken and the body was removed to Paddington mortuary where it would await a proper autopsy, where the police hoped they might find some other clue to go on. Whilst they waited for the results, officers went door to door in the local area, asking if anyone had seen or heard anything the night before, or knew of the dead woman, but no information was forthcoming and nobody seemed to have heard any disturbance during the night. A black handbag was found discarded in nearby Wyndham Street, but no ID had been left behind. The results of the autopsy, carried out that afternoon by Dr Bernard Spilsbury, were less enlightening than the police hoped, the woman had not been raped, nor had she necessarily been robbed, given that an expensive gold watch was left on her wrist, so the police were left scratching their heads as to who had murdered the mystery woman and why. An official description was put out, published in the papers the next day in a story buried in the back pages and rife with small errors, of a woman aged 35 years old, 5’3” tall with medium build and dark brown hair, an oval face, straight, thin nose, heavy eyebrows and “good teeth”. Cherrill attempted to take fingerprints from the bag, but lifted only those of the victim, leaving the investigation firmly stalled. The next morning, the door to door knocking turned up a satisfying lead, however, when Detective Inspector John Freshney hit upon the Three Arts Club. Upon describing the victim to manager Catherine Jones, she immediately recognised it as a match for Evelyn Hamilton. She supplied the police with her name and explained that she had last seen the woman heading out to dinner at Lyons on Sunday night. The story was confirmed by a waitress at Lyons named Betty, who had seen Evelyn enter the restaurant. The police contacted a former employer and Evelyn’s sister Kathleen, who officially identified the body and the police at last had a name for their mystery woman. “None of us knew her well,” said one of her Essex neighbours, “She spent most of her leisure alone in her room reading books on medicine and chemistry.”
The problem was, they were still no closer to finding her killer and the foray to the restaurant had not turned up any other possible motives, nor suspects. It would not be long, however, before the police were out again, supplied with a scene of fresh carnage to sift through.
Hunting for Links: Evelyn Oatley
As police were knocking on doors around Montagu Place trying to find the identity of Evelyn Margaret Hamilton, less than two miles away, 10 minutes walk to the East, two meter readers working for Central London Electric Company, Charles Fleming and George Carter, were making their rounds in the heart of Soho. The buildings on Wardour street can hardly have been more different to those residing on Montagu Place. Gone was the glamour and excess, replaced instead by grimey terraces, crammed with tenants renting single room apartments. The two electricians reached 153 Wardour Street at 8am, knocking on the front door, which was answered by a small woman named Ivy, who stepped aside to let the men into the hallway, where they would knock, one by one on each apartment to collect the coins placed into each rooms individual electricity meters from the previous week. When they reached the door of Eveleyn Oatley, they gave the door a knock only to find it swing listlessly on its hinges. Ivy did not expect Evelyn to be awake this early, last night she had been kept awake by the sound of Evelyn’s wireless booming at full volume. The sound of the wireless through the walls was not particularly unusual, Evelyn often bought men home after her work in the local bars and had used the music to drown out the sounds that might otherwise emmenate through the paper thin walls that divided the separate apartments. Having it at such a high volume was a little strange, but Ivy paid it little mind and rolled over in bed, waiting for the volume to reduce on its own, which it eventually did, 10 minutes later. Now, as the door creaked open slightly, Ivy had an ominous feeling wash over her. The electricians called out before stepping into the dim room, and all three slowly stepped in to see if Evelyn was alright. The scene on the bed was so shocking, however, that it had them all reeling backwards and out onto the street gasping for breath.
Evelyn Judd was born on the 5th April, 1907 in a rural hamlet of Lancashire. She had an austere upbringing, raised by her mother and father along with her brother. She finished school aged 14 and soon after fell pregnant. Unmarried, the child would have been something of a scandal in the small village and so, with no means of support, Evelyn was left with little choice but to put it up for adoption. In 1932 she met Harry Oatley, a poultry farmer with considerable years on Evelyn’s 25. The pair courted for several years before marrying in June of 1936, shortly after Evelyn returned to the North after a brief stint working in the topless bars of Soho, funded by Harry himself. It didn’t take long for Evelyn to get itchy feet, however and wanting another crack at the stage life, she left again for London, hoping this time to catch her big break. The possibilities of the big city life were a strong draw for Evelyn, but that was unfortunately all they ever were. Quickly Evelyn found herself working back as a hostess, stripping for a meagre wage and selling herself on the streets afterwards to make up the shortfall. Petit, with tightly wrapped blonde hair and blue eyes, had been a hit before the outbreak of war, but once the soldiers began streaming through Soho, Evelyn found she could support herself with relative ease. She rented a small apartment in Wardour Street and her husband, Harry, visited her every three weeks, choosing to turn a blind eye to his wifes methods of survival. On Tuesday the 3rd february, she waved off her husband at Euston Station, as he travelled back to the family home. It was the last time he would ever see Evelyn alive, for less than a week later, Evelyn made a fatal mistake in picking up the wrong guy.
The inside of Evelyn’s apartment on 153 Wardour Street was dimly lit as Alexander Baldie inspected the body, sprawled out, diagonally on the bed. After Ivy and the two electricians had fallen out onto the street, they quickly met and alerted Police Inspector John Henessey who had been walking his rounds and passing by the panicked trio. Hennesey had returned to guard the apartment whilst he sent Fleming to report the murder to Trenchard House station and alert the senior authorities to the scene. Baldie took the temperature of the victim, assuming her to be dead for around 3-4 hours, and took note of the horrific gash in her throat that had spread blood out across the bed. Lying next to the body was a bloodstained safety razor and a pair of bloodstained curling tongs. A tin opener, covered in blood lay between her legs whilst a small handheld flashlight protruded from her vagina. It was a horrific sight, made all the more ghastly by the puddle of blood that had pooled on the floor of the room in a five foot arc.
Cherrill arrived at 12:30pm to inspect the scene and with a bit of luck, lift any fingerprints that might help the police to find the killer. Though they were unsure at the time that there was a link between the murder of Eveleyn Hamilton and Evelyn Oatley, they had began sketching out a preliminary theory that drew on the possibility. Evelyn’s clothing, a scarlet red jumper, black hat and tweed skirt, which had been left hanging on a chair by the bed, was collected as evidence, as was the contents of her wardrobe, which had been locked shut but had been left dangling open with the lock hanging on the handle. Inside police found a small set of cutlery and dinnerware and knee length, black coat, whilst her bag was found on the small sofa, its contents turned out and pored through by the killer. Once again, it seemed as though no motive was particularly forthcoming for the crime, though no money was found in Evelyn’s bag or wallet which once again suggested the possibility of robbery, the murderer had left behind Evelyn’s bank books and ration coupons. Spilsbury arrived shortly after Cherrill, and took note of the bruising around Evelyn’s neck, which led him to believe she had been strangled before her throat had been cut, likely by the razor, and also of the many cuts and gashes that were streaked across her pubic region, seemingly done with the tin opener after death.
The room gave little clue to the untrained eye, but this time, Cherrill had been fortunate enough to lift a set of prints from a small hand mirror, as well as a set of bloody handprints that the killer had left all over the handle of the tin opener. The next step now for the perceptive detective, was to pore through the records of Scotland Yard, one by one, in the small hope of finding a matching set of prints.
Sloppy Assaults & Further Misery: Catherine Mulcahy
So far the press had been quiet on the killings of Evelyn Hamilton and Evelyn Oatley, running only small stories of one column in length, but the papers on the 12th did hold some clues as to the somewhat hopeless line of thinking the police were currently pursuing, when they summarised,
“The woman’s wounds prove that the murderer is a sexual maniac.”
It was far from a concrete motive with an even less solid trail of clues. The only other insight gained from the meagre articles was that the police were seeking a “French Canadian” for questioning. The low level of coverage wasn’t due to the lack of interest in the story however, rather that war news always took precedent and war news was never in shortage. On the streets of Soho, among the working women, rumors were circulating and dark stories were telling of a man out at night on the hunt for his next victim. The rumours weren’t the only new presence either. Police had boosted the number of uniformed and plainclothes officers at night, hoping to either deter or entrap the would be killer, much to the frustration of the old hands, who found their presence little more than a detriment to their business. The French Canadian was of interest to the police due to a witness report that mentioned Eveleyn picking up a Canadian soldier earlier on the night of her murder, the description, however, didn’t tally with the man seen by Ivy, when Evelyn brought him home a little later that night, who she had said was a tall, worry civilian in horn rimmed glasses. Frustratingly for the police, neither men were picked up by Evelyn late enough to have been the murderer, as she had gone back out onto the street at least once more before her return at midnight, which went unnoticed by the neighbours, at east until the booming wireless had erupted into the still, night air of the apartment block.
Wednesday 11th February was a short, lull in the hectic start to the week for the detectives of Scotland Yard. Evelyn’s husband, Harry had come down to the mortuary to officially identify his wife’s body, but otherwise there had been no more leads and, thankfully, no more killings. The time allowed Chirrill to focus on the fingerprint evidence, though he was not having much luck in that department. After scouring the records, he had yet to find a match for the killer’s prints, though he had determined at least that in both murders, the killer had been a left handed individual, leading police to safely theorise that they were dealing with a single killer. Meanwhile, officers pored over the two womens backgrounds in the hopes they could find links, but found none. On one hand they had a quiet, studious loner and on the other, a young, pretty would-be-actress, turned prostitute and an old hand on the streets of Soho. Detective Police Inspector Edward Greeno was called in from Scotland Yard to establish a headquarters for the investigation in Tottenham Court Road station and the rest of the day was spent co-ordinating the ballooning patrols around Soho.
That night, Gordon Cummins stalked through the dark and cold streets of Soho with one thing on his mind. Glancing around and seeing the strey working girls on street corners and loitering in the arched doorways, he began to scout out the night’s offerings. Deciding on his target, he picked up a young woman named Catherine Mulcahy, a 25 year old married woman with dark blonde hair who took to the streets whenever she needed money in order to give her a degree of independence. At times she would take the men home, at others, when the clients were new or sketchy looking, she would take them to a second room she rented in Marble Arch in order to not give her address away. Having already heard of the recent killings, she was on high alert and after this RAF man had propositioned her, she quickly decided it was call for the Marble Arch apartment, he had been much too quick to offer up payment and hadn’t even tried to barter her down, paying her with two one pound notes pulled from a much larger wad of cash. The two took a taxi to the room. When they arrived, Catherine let them both into the sparsely furnished interior and lit the gas fire, casting a dim light across the proceedings. Wanting it over quick, she began stripping off her clothes and directed Cummins to do the same. She lay back on the bed and Cummins crawled on top of her. It was too much temptation for him and immediately he took her by the throat and began to squeeze his hand as tightly as he could. Catherine kicked and writhed on the bed, scoring a blow to the heavy man’s stomach, knocking him back enough for her to wriggle free out into the room, where she stumbled to her feet, grabbed the door handle and flew out in the hallway screaming for help and benign on the door to the apartment opposite. For the second time that night fortune shone brightly enough, as the tenant, Kitty McQuillen, cracked open the door enough for Catherine to slam herself inside and scream for her help. Once inside, the pair looked back out across the hallway to the dim light beyond the still open doorway of Catherine’s room. “Give me a light”, said the man’s voice, sounding out from behind the door, loud enough for kitty to clearly hear the rather posh tone, but nevertheless calm. “Miss, give me a match” It came again. Kitty snatched up a box of matches from the table beside the door and tossed them out into the hall. Scuffling came from the room as the man grasped around in the low light, pulling on his clothes. “Have you seen my boots?” he called again. When he finally stumbled out into the hallway, he pulled out the wedge of money from his wallet, counted out eight, one pound notes and tossed them onto the floor in front of Kittys room. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I think I had too much to drink this evening.” he then turned and stumbled down the hallway to the exit, pressing open the door and half falling out onto the street beyond, allowing the door to swing closed behind him.
It had been a tough night and he had still not found satisfaction and to top it off, he was going to be late back to base again. Still if he was late already, why bother to rush back now? The night was still young, after all.
The Discovery of Margaret Lowe & Doris Jouannet
The midweek had been quiet in the investigation into the killings that had taken place earlier in the week, but with the coming of Friday the 13th, that was all about to change at a rapid pace. On Wednesday 11th, the postman came calling at the door of Margaret Lowe in Gosfield Street, just South of Regents Park in West London. It was a working class street, with large brick buildings, hastily converted into cramped apartment houses.
Margaret Lowe had been born in New Zealand to emigrant parents, one of four siblings and the twin sister to Sidney. Shortly after her birth, her parents moved back to London, settling in Hoxton, in the East of London where the family eked out an average living until Margaret’s father left to fight in the First World War. Like so many other men of the day, he never returned to London and left the family prematurely widowed, with little financial stability. Margaret left school at the age of 14 and by the age of 20, she was working as a prostitute after trying her hand at several, dead end, unskilled jobs, none of which seemed to spark much of an interest. Two years later, however, things took a turn for the better for Margaret when she met widower Fred Lowe, 18 years Margaret’s senior, falling head over heels in love and marrying him by the end of the year. Moving out of the smog of East London to the coastal town of Southend-On-Sea, the pair set up a small fancy goods store named the Beach Bazaar and Margaret gave birth to a daughter, which they named Barbara. Things were good for a time, but four years after the birth of Barbara, Fred Lowe died unexpectedly, leaving Margaret a widower with a young child to raise. Shortly after her husband’s death, the finances of the store they had opened together went South and was forced to close down, leaving Margaret to sell off the home furnishings and take a job as a housekeeper in order to make ends meet. Realising that opportunity in Southend-On-Sea was limited, Margaret took the difficult decision to send her daughter to boarding school and move back to central London, in hopes of having better prospects at making a living. Quickly she found alcoholism a constant problem, as she bounced from job to job, working in strip bars and when the occasion called, out on the streets. By 1942, Margaret had hardened by years working the concrete around Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street where she was known to the other working girls as “The Lady”, due to her refined graces, quiet demeanour and an outfit that would be sure to include a fur hat or coat. She hated the work, but life wasn’t always fair and the alcohol wasn’t paying for itself. Throughout the entire time she had spent away from her daughter, who was now 15 years old, she had maintained contact, arranging visits every third weekend at her London home.
On the afternoon of Friday 13th, Barbara stepped off the train at 4:30pm and made her way to her mothers room on Gosfield Street. When she arrived, a neighbour cracked open his door to greet her and told her that her mother had not been seen for several days. Two days prior, a postman had dropped a parcel outside the door, but with every day it sat in the hallway, not being collected, it drew more and more suspicion for the neighbours, who by Friday had informed the police. With the arrival of Barbara on the scene, the authorities secured a set of spare keys to the apartment and Detective Sergeant Leonard Blacktop, from the Tottenham Court Road Station slowly opened the door, entering the room with some trepidation. Inside, they found a dim interior and no one home. As they entered the apartment proper, they began searching round the room and found the bedroom door locked. Forcing the door open with a rising panic, they were greeted with the sorry sight of Margaret Lowe, lying in the centre of the bed, her covers pulled up under her chin, clearly dead.
Cherrill and Greeno arrived that evening at 6:30pm to inspect the body and confirm their worst fears, that the murder was once more linked with the earlier killings. It didn’t take long for Cherrill to confirm that, although they were only cursory findings, the killer had indeed been left handed once more. The telling fingerprints were lifted from a candlestick holder and a tumbler of beer that sat half full on the mantelpiece of the sparsely decorated room. The objects didn’t even begin to tell half the story, however. Margaret lay on the bed, a stocking tied off in a tight knot. Her abdomen had been entirely torn open, exposing her internal organs. A large, 10” long gash had torn through her groin and the candle from the holder had been removed and inserted inside her vagina. Lying around the body and covered in bloodstains was a macabre set of household knives, which the murderer had used to work his vicious deed. On the bed, to the left of the body lay a table knife, resting on her thighs, a bread knife and second table knife lay alongside a small vegetable knife and a metal poker, its handle snapped off in the violence. It was a macabre scene for anyone to witness, not least for a young, fifteen year old, who was quickly shielded from witnessing the exact nature by the officers that comforted her. Spilsbury arrived at 8:30pm and confirmed with little hesitation that the cause of death had been strangulation, with the mutilations following shortly after and the body was removed to Paddington Mortuary to await a full post-mortem examination.
Scouring the flat for further evidence, Greeno discovered a bag pushed under the dining table chair with two one pound notes lying on top and inside, he found a further two notes, alongside a white handkerchief, a few stamps and a tin of pills. It had been a tiring evening for the detectives, but as they were readying themselves to leave at 11pm, they were disheartened when they were contacted by a fellow officer requesting their presence at another address in nearby Sussex Gardens following the discovery of a second murder.
Doris Jouannet, born Doris Robson, was a striking woman, remarkably tall, she stood proud at just shy of 6 foot. Born in 1906 in an industrial town of Northumberland. Her mother had been a schoolteacher, but died young, aged only 41, leaving Doris to be raised by her extended family. How or why she ended up in London is something of a mystery, but by 1935, she had worked her way South and had wound up pacing Oxford Street daily, where she worked picking up men for a meagre wage. It was in Oxford Street where she first met Henry Jouannet, a 67 year old retired hotel manager who had seen her at work several times before and had taken a shine to the pretty, mysterious woman. Knowing her to work as a prostitute, Henry finally built up the courage to approach her. Hoping that their initial meeting may be later seen as an investment, Henry worked on suggesting a courtship and within two months, the pair were married at the Paddington Registry office. With the security of a rich husband behind her, Doris was happy to cast aside the life of a working girl when requested by her new husband and the pair moved to a small apartment off Sussex Gardens, but life soon grew dull to Doris, who had grown accustomed to the grit of the streets. Shortly after his mother died and sensing restlessness in his wife, henry bought a cafe at appointed Doris the co-manager in the hopes that it might satiate her boredom, but the venture was doomed to fail from the start, given that the seller had grossly overplayed the amount of customers the cafe played regular host to. The pair promptly moved on from the sinking ship, suing the previous owner in the process and used the money to relocate away from the city to the coastal town of Eastbourne, in Sussex. They lived peacefully for a good period, surviving off the funds brought in by Henry’s old hotels, until the outbreak of war saw the cash quickly dry up, forcing Henry to re-enter work as a hotel manager. For several years they hopped from one hotel to the next. Though the marriage was perfectly happy according to Henry, the truth of the matter was rather more complicated. From as early as their days in Eastbourne, Doris had been returning to London under the guise of shopping trips to get back to working the streets and though the couple had finally found there way back to London, renting an apartment in Sussex Gardens, their marriage was struggling and Doris had her own, second apartment just over the road which she used as a place of work and somewhere to take the men she picked up at every opportunity. It was a situation that only grew easier as Henry took a job working in a hotel in Sloane Square that saw him staying overnight throughout the week. On the night of Thursday 12th February, Henry had barely stepped foot on the train back to work after eating dinner with his wife before she was back out on the streets, looking for her next wealthy client.
At 7pm the next night, Henry returned home for the weekend to find the bedroom door in their apartment locked. With no sign of Doris, he went next door to the housekeeper to enquire after a spare key and after the two had tried several, all to no avail, he took it upon himself to call in the police. Within half an hour, Police Constable William Payne arrived to see a distraught Henry, panicking after the whereabouts of his wife and so, once he confirmed the lack of key to the bedroom door and after checking the rear window and finding it also locked tight, he made his way back into the flat and forced the lock. Inside was a scene not wholly dissimilar to the one discovered just hours earlier by Detective Sergeant Blacktop in Gosfield Street. Doris lay on her back with a stocking tied tightly around her neck, her clothing scattered across the floor. Her stomach and genitals were a mess of gore from large gashes in the skin seemingly caused by a single razor that lay discarded in the basin in the corner of the room.
The Noose Quickly Tightens
That night had been another cold one. The snow from earlier in the week had ceased, but a bitter wind still streaked through the streets after sundown, forcing the nighttime revellers to pull their coats tightly around their shoulders as they walked home, or to catch the last train home. At 9:45pm, just as the Scotland yard detectives were uncovering the story of Gosfield Street and shortly before their call to Sussex Gardens, John Shine, a night porter was pacing through Picadilly on a stock run for a nearby pub when he spotted a flicker of an electric light in a doorway on the opposite side of the street. Mulling over the sight as he approached, he stepped out to cross the road and slowly approached the archway, calling out as he drew near. HIs calls received no reply, so he stepped forward again, drawing closer when all of a sudden, a burst of commotion flew out of the doorway as a man pushed past him, tearing down the road and disappearing once more around a corner. Confused, Shine stepped into the doorway to see a woman, sprawled out on backside, coughing weakly. He leant over her to ask if she was okay and then, realising the situation, hurried her up to her feet and in the direction of Piccadilly Station to look for a police officer. Before they left the scene, Shine hurriedly picked up the brown gas mask bag that had been left on the floor next to the woman, presumably belonging to the attacker. As they walked, the woman introduced herself to John Shine as Mary Haywood, they rounded the corner onto the main street, they walked straight into Police Constable James Skinner. The pair looked in a right state with the limping woman, supported by Shine, who blurted out his version of events, explaining to the policeman that he had just witnessed an attack. He had not got a good look at the man, but he could tell he was wearing an RAF uniform and what’s more, he had left his gasmask behind. He handed over the small brown canvas shoulder bag to the policeman, who took it in hand and directed both Shine and mary to the nearest Police Station on Savile Row, where the trio met with Detective Sergeant Thomas Shepherd and gave their full testimonies. The man had approached Mary, she said, had been out to meet another man for drinks that evening, but had been approached by a man dressed in an RAF uniform from the Regents Park base, whilst she had waited for his arrival. The man asked her to dinner. Put out by his confidence, Mary was, it’s safe to say, fairly impressed by his charm and with some trepidation, accepted the offer. The two made their way to the Trocadero to find a restaurant, but when they had arrived, it dawned on her that the man had little else on his mind aside from drinking a whiskey or two and then getting back to her place, a proposition she was less than fond of. The man flashed his cash around, quite openly in the bar, at one point taking out a wedge of notes and laying it down on the table, informing Mary that he had about thirty pounds in cash. Evidently this was enough to quell her fears, for Mary then chose to scribble her number onto the back of a card and hand it over to the man, who was still insisting that he found her very special. The pair had then left and began to walk towards the first bar they had come from, in order that she meet up with her original date. If alarm bells hadn’t been ringing for Mary yet, the man’s words as they walked would surely do the trick. “Do you know that I knocked a girl out once?” he told her. Before she knew what to say, she found herself blurting out “why would you do that?” To which the man told her that “her old man” had interfered with the relationship, so he had kicked him in the groin and then knocked her out. If it wasn’t the most unusual conversation one might ever have on a first date, then I don’t know what might be. It was as they walked along Jermyn Street that she finally worked out that the RAF man was directing her further away from the bar rather than back towards it. When she questioned him on the fact, he turned her into St. Albans Street and pushed her up into the doorway and forced himself upon her. At first he had kissed her, but then as she pushed him away, he moved his hands up to her throat and attempted to strangle her. He would more than likely have succeeded too if it wasn’t for the fortunate presence of John Shine, who called out at the exact moment, forcing the RAF man to flee the scene. It seemed ridiculous now, but Mary admitted to the police that the whole time he had not offered up his name to her. Shepherd heard the story out and then sent Mary off to hospital, then called up the Regents Park RAF base. The gas mask in the bag had a serial number, 525987, and would’ve been traceable to the owner at least, so it should be fairly easy for them to track down the culprit. So it proved and quickly the men on duty at the base traced the mask to Gordon Cummins. Cummins was currently off base, however, they told police, who asked the night officer to detain the man as soon as he returned, as he was wanted for questioning in connection with an assault.
Cummins cursed himself as he walked down the street away from Picadilly. He had realised he was missing his gas mask and gone back to collect it, only to find it had been taken. It was a problem, but no bother, he would just steal another before heading back. He took the first opportunity he could when he came across a busy pub and sidled up to another RAF man, sitting at the bar. Ordering a whiskey, he quickly slammed the drink down and then slipped the gasmask from beside the distracted man’s stool and slung it casually over his shoulder as he hastily left. At 4:30am, he quietly made his way round to the rear entrance of his bunk room in Regents Park, but was surprised to find that unlike usual, when people tended to turn ablind eye to one’s late arrival on base, tonight was quite different. He was accosted by the night staff and taken to Corporal Charles Johnson who asked him where he had been that night. Cummins replied that he’d been out drinking and when asked about his gasmask, told the questioning officer that he had it with him, feigning a switch up and suggesting that he must have picked up another mans gas mask by mistake, whilst his own must have been taken by the nameless airman. It was a weak story, but it didn’t matter. Johnson was under instruction to detain Cummins regardless and so he sent him back to his room to await the authorities, who he ensured he would be arriving soon to pick him up in relation to an assault. Cummins, who must’ve by now realised the jig was pretty near up, calmly sat in his room awaiting the policeman’s arrival and polished his boots, but not before he stashed a few key items out of the way.
Arrest & Trial
At 5:45am, Detective Constable Charles Bennet arrived at Regents Park to arrest Cummins and take him into the West End Central Police Station in connection with the assault. The papers were a little behind on the story, which was still only accosting scant coverage from the war. After his arrest had been made, papers were publishing descriptions of a man sought by police taken from the description supplied to them by Catherine Mulcahy.
“Aged 25-26, height 5ft. 8in. Fresh complexion, hair chestnut or medium brown, wavy in front, frizzy on the crown, brown eyes, small mouth and thin lips, clean shaven, protruding chin. Dressed in electric blue overcoat with fine grey line and square check.”
As Gordon Cummins sat in the interview room awaiting questioning, Detective Sergeant Thomas Shepherd pored through his belongings, removed from his person during the routine search after his arrival at the station. Among the items he found a cigarette case, a comb with a few missing teeth, a wallet and rather damningly, inside, a small strip of paper with Catherine Mulcays phone number penciled on it. Meanwhile, police searched his bunk, uncovering a pen, embossed with the initials “D.J.” in a jacket pocket by his bed and a cigarette case bearing the initials “L.W”, stashed in the rear of a kitchen cupboard. Shepherd sat down at 9:30am to question Cummins after leaving him to stew for several hours. Cummins’ statement was a vague, hazy recollection of events, carefully chosen to omit any concrete times or names, which he chalked up to the many drinks he had partaken in throughout the evening, though he did admit to having met Catherine and sat down to drink with her. As he spoke, he gestured with his hands and the policeman noticed he had several cuts to his left hand. When he asked Cummins how he had received them, he waved it away, stating he had picked them up whilst fixing the engine of an airplane weeks before. It was a fact simple enough to confirm, and so Shepherd confidently arrested Cummins on the charge of assault, who had sat and explained his version of events with an alarmingly calm and composed manner throughout. Cummins’ composure was shockingly misplaced, however, as the police were tightening the noose around his neck with every passing hour.
The following days saw a flurry of police activity on the case. Greeno visited Regents Park and examined the logbook for the base, finding it woefully kept. Entire days were torn from the book, whilst entries that were made to tell the comings and goings of the men on the base were often made in pencil and oftentimes clearly in two different hands. Whilst on the base, he interviewed Cummins’ bunk mates, who all insisted that whilst they thought Cummins a bit of a fool for speaking with his haughty affectation all the time, he was a decent chap really, though they admitted that all the men had at one time or another made use of the rear fire entrance to sneak quietly back on to base without being spotted, allowing them to more or less come and go as they pleased. Far from a decent sort of chap, Greeno left the base with the distinct impression that Cummins was nothing but a “sexual pervert”. Meanwhile, Stephens visited Cummins’ wife, who was shocked to hear of her husband’s arrest. In a state of denial, she insisted that her husband would never hurt a fly, he was, she pressed, “without cruelty in his nature.” Insisting that their marriage had been nothing but happiness. When Stephens asked her if her husband had been nursing cuts on his hand for several weeks, she stared blankly, she had not noticed them at their last meeting, she replied.
It was all well and good, but the detectives were all too aware that they needed something far more solid than a small handful of anecdotes if they were to tie Cummins to the murders and gain a successful conviction. Fortunately, the evidence was slowly mounting. A watch found in the front pocket of the canvas back that housed Cummins’ gas mask, the police found a watch belonging to Doris Jouannet, whilst Evelyn Oatleys husband confirmed that the cigarette case embossed with the initials “L.W.” had belonged to his wife, who had often gone by the name Lita Ward. A photo they found inside the case was that of Evelyn’s mother. The second cigarette case was identified to belong to Margaret Lowe, confirmed by her daughter Barbara and the initialed pen and comb were also both confirmed to have belonged to Doris Jouannet along with the watch by her husband Henry. If none of this was damning enough, Greeno then used the pound notes found in Margaret Lowes flat, along with those taken from Catherine Mulcahy to cross reference the serial numbers and trace them cummins via the pay system at Regents park, which used newly pressed notes to pay the men, in sequential order. The men were paid in alphabetical order and the serial numbers of the notes taken from the various crime scenes followed on perfectly from those paid out to the men paid immediately before Cummins. On the 16th February, Detectives Clare and Greeno visited Cummins in Brixton Prison, where they coolly questioned him, once more hearing his jumbled, vague statement given a weak outing. Greeno tossed out photographs of the mutilated victims before Cummins, who sat unflinching and stared back at the detective with a blank face. Cummins main line of defence at this point was to simply deny everything. He had never seen any of the items that the detectives now trotted out in front of him, including the pen they had taken from his own jacket pocket. He must’ve known the game was up, but his face never once betrayed him, not even as Greeno stood to leave the cell, confirming to Cummins that he was now under arrest for three of the four murders.
The following day, Cummins was escorted to Bow Street Police Court where his trial date was set for the 23rd April, before being taken back to prison to await the outcome. In the month leading up to the trial, Cherrill now sought to pin the abundant fingerprint evidence upon Cummins. Once he had been taken into custody a full set of prints had been taken from the suspect and so finally, he had something solid to compare the prints taken from the various crime scenes too. An expert in his field, perhaps the only one alive at the time, he quickly found that in almost every case, he found upwards of 16 matching patterns between the prints. Until now, the police had had no evidence tying to Cummins to the murder of Evelyn Margaret Hamilton, but after they had found several shards of concrete and mortar in the gas mask bag, they had removed some of the same from the above ground bomb shelter where the victims body had been found and sent both off for analysis. The results finally came back confirming that it was very likely that the bag had struck the same wall at some point, causing the shards to fall into the bag and onto the ground of the shelter. Consequently, Cummins was further charged with the fourth and final murder, settling the case for the police, who now could do little more than wait for the trial, much like Cummins himself.
The trial of Gordon Cummins commenced on 23rd April at 9:30am in the Old Bailey. As Cummins stood cheerfully in front of the court, waving and smiling to his onlooking wife in the crowd, he was charged with four counts of murder and two counts of attemtpted murder, to which he responded the plea of not guilty. Outside of a bazaar technicality, when the jury was shown the incorrect evidence and had to be dismissed and the trial postponed for several days whilst a new jury was selected, the trial was an unremarkable affair. The defense positioned their own case behind the reliance upon circumstantial evidence and questionable fingerprint evidence, which they claimed held such a shallow field of experts, that it was impossible for anyone to refute Cherrills findings. It was a fairly weak line, and the prosecution snapped back by challenging Cummins on just about every aspect of his alibis, which crumbled spectacularly, built as it was upon such a fragile base of poorly thought through lies, disguised with the excuse of alcohol clouding one’s memory. On the 28th April, the judge summarised the case, calling the murderer a “sadistic sexual murderer” who had commited crimes “of a ghoulish and horrible type.” The jury stepped out at 4pm, returning 35 minutes later to deliver the guilty verdict. It was a verdict with only one possible outcome and Cummins was sentenced to hang until dead on June 25th in Wandsworth Prison.
At 8am on the morning of his execution, Cummins calmly stepped out onto the scaffold. During his time behind bars, Senior Medical Officer of the prison Hugh Grierson wrote a report on him describing him as a model prisoner,
“Throughout the period he has been under my care here, the accused has been normal in conduct and rational in conversation. At no time has he exhibited any evidence of mental disease. Though apparently the unemotional type, he has not exhibited a lack of interest at interviews. He denies any loss of memory or blackouts at any time in his life. He states he was a moderate drinker until he joined the Royal Air Force in 1935, but since this has drunk more heavily.”
During interviews with the doctor, he had denied “all perversion or deviation from the normal.”
As the rope snapped around his neck and his body swung lightly in the spring morning breeze, an air raid siren sounded in the distance, warning the city of London of approaching German bombers.