Filming day with BBC documentary team

Filming BBC documentary Dark Son about the 1960s Nude Murders

Underneath the arches of Hammersmith Bridge

Saturday was a fascinating glimpse into the world of documentary making – and the progress of the BBC team’s investigation into the 1960s Nude Murders.

I spent three chilly hours on the Thames between Chiswick and Hammersmith, talking to forensic psychologist Dr Mike Berry. This was the stretch of river where Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood were found in 1964.

Filming BBC documentary Dark Son about 1960s London serial killer

Blast from the past – Masonians Bowls Club

We were then filmed under Hammersmith Bridge before setting off to Masonians Bowls Club on Dukes Meadows. This was an old pavilion clubhouse (bowls lovers, they are in urgent need of new members), suitably stuck in the past.

It was full of old pennants from the 1960s and portraits of former club officials. A perfect setting for an episode of Endeavour – or a documentary about a 1960s serial killer.

Child killer Harold Jones

In the afternoon Dr Cheryl Allsop interviewed a detective who was on the 2006 review of the case. Finally, I spent an hour being interviewed by Prof David Wilson, who is the film’s main presenter.

He asked about the urban legends surrounding the Nude Murders, how I became interested in this strangely forgotten case, and the police investigation.

We talked about the geographic profile produced by Kim Rossmo for The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper. This placed child killer Harold Jones in one of the hotspots where the killer was most likely based. Scotland Yard would certainly loved to have known this back in 64-65.

It was a long day, but full of interesting insights into the documentary’s progress with the case. It was also hard not to be impressed by the calibre of the team assembled by the producers, Monster Films.

Excellent investigators and experts

In addition to David Wilson, Cheryl Allsop and Mike Berry, there are a couple of ex-policemen in the investigative team. The experts include Jackie Malton, former senior detective who was the inspiration for Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison.

It should not be forgotten that Monster Films is an award-winning team. Director David Howard and producer Rik Hall received a 2017 Royal Television Society award. This was for Interview with a Murderer.

There are intriguing interviews still to be done. This cold case could yet be blown open.

BBC documentary talks to geo-profiler Kim Rossmo about Nude Murders

Hammersmith Nude Murders Jack the Stripper Helene Barthelemy

Crime Scene in Brentford where the body of Helene Barthelemy was found on 24 April 1964 © MirrorPix

The BBC producers of the new documentary about the 1960s Nude Killer have asked me to put them in touch with an investigative expert I know.

Dr Kim Rossmo is a former detective inspector with Vancouver police. It was his most recent work as a geographic profiler that fascinated me. He provided me valuable analysis for The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper.

The personal geography of criminals can be what condemns them.

We all have our own network of routes and paths – to work, the tube, pub, school. The areas we cover are a giveaway about our habits and routines.

Rigel software helps to expose criminals

Similarly, the movements of serial criminals – burglars, rapists, murderers – can reveal patterns about them and where they may be based. Rossmo uses a sophisticated piece of software he has developed called Rigel to analyse a sequence of crime scenes to guide detectives.

Geographic profiler Kim Rossmo

Kim Rossmo

Geographic profiling does not identify a serial criminal or solve a case, but it can be vital in pointing police in the right direction.

The analogy Rossmo uses to explain how geographic profiling works is that of a rotating lawn sprinkler. You can’t predict where the next drop will land, but when enough have fallen the pattern will reveal where the sprinkler is.

Comfort zones

We all have comfort zones where we spend most of our time – home to work to home to pub to home. Criminals operate within their comfort zones.

This is a very simplified outline and the success of a geographic analysis lies in the expertise of the profiler. They will spend a lot of time at crime scenes noting factors such as the weather, nearby bus stops, types of housing and businesses.

They will know that robbers tend to travel a greater distance from their home than burglars, that adult criminals travel further than juvenile criminals. Meanwhile, murderers often dispose of their victims further away from home than where they meet them. Continue reading

I spy Mick Herron

To end 2017 on a light note, I thought it was worth drawing attention to this interview, posted by Ian Fleming Publications this week.

Spook Street by Mick HerronIt’s an interview with Mick Herron, one of the UK’s top crime fiction authors right now. He’s just won the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the year’s best thriller, Spook Street.

I was a judge for this award for two years, which was how I first encountered Herron’s books. In the running in 2015 was his terrific thriller Nobody Walks. All the judges liked this story about an agent who suffered a breakdown but returns to London when his son is killed.

Nobody Walks and Spook Street

In the end Nobody Walks was pipped by Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town, which was my favourite that year. But both books were far superior to the bulk of formulaic stuff coming out each year. I know, because each year as judges we had to read around 80 books.

Having just read Spook Street, it reminded me how good Herron is at plotting and creating characters – goodies and baddies – who draw you in. Self-loathing and cynicism permeate the stories. And the wit is razor sharp.

His Jackson Lamb series, which includes Spook Street, is set in the Secret Service backwater of Slough House in London. It’s a backwater because it’s where they send the agents who are rather mediocre.

Which gives us great scenes in which the endlessly quotable Lamb can put his underlings in their place. Here he is in Spook Street: ‘If I were to tell you everything I know, you’d grow old and die before I was halfway done.’

The Ian Fleming Publications interview gives a fascinating insight into Mick Herron‘s writing. If you’re in need for a last-minute Christmas present, or want to treat for yourself, pick up one of these engrossing tales…

Mindhunter 2

Mindhunter on Netflix

Mindhunter with Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff

It’s that time of the year when we look back and think about the best of…

The best crime series I’ve seen is Mindhunter on Netflix. I mentioned this unusual, clever drama back in an August post. But having now seen the whole thing, I thought it was more original and interesting than any other 2017 series.

It’s set in 1977 during the early days of criminal profiling at the FBI. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany star as agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. It’s different from mainstream fare in that it is about psychology – what makes psychopaths behave the way they do – rather than the usual fixations with procedure and whodunit.

Interviewing serial killers

Ford and Tench are dealing with serial killers who are already incarcerated. Ford is convinced the FBI should research the mindsets of these killers, because such insight could help to apprehend them. This flies in the face of received wisdom, which is, What’s to understand? They’re all sickos and monsters.

Their boss doesn’t want them talking to convicted killers at all. Meanwhile, Tench believes Ford is too gullible at times to deal with such manipulative figures.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit

It’s based on a 1997 book by John Douglas – on whom Thomas Harris modelled Jack Crawford, Hannibal Lecter’s adversary – and Mark Olshaker. Douglas is the man credited with bringing criminal profiling to the FBI. While he is not featured in the series, he is roughly fictionalised as Ford.

Counterbalancing the testosterone on display, Anna Torv plays Wendy Carr, a psychologist. She coolly takes a leading role in attempting to unpick the machinations of killers who hunt humans.

Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader

The series depicts terrifying real killers such as Edmund Kemper (actor Cameron Britton), the so-called Co-ed killer who murdered his grandparents and several young women before surrendering himself. A recurring figure is seen stalking a family and is obviously the awful Bind Torture Kill murderer, Dennis Rader.

The drama comes not through horrific crimes, but in scenes where the FBI men stumble through tense interviews with these calculating, soulless men. Dialogue is king here.

The gradual understanding of the mindscapes of these killers is more intriguing than any Agatha Christie plot. The nascent profiling insights can also reveal something about modern society and alienation.

Later episodes graft on some irritating storylines about Ford’s friction with his girlfriend (Hannah Gross) and his professional waywardness. But overall, it’s an intriguing, intelligent show. And Netflix has already commissioned series two.

Producer David Fincher, whose directing credits include Seven and Zodiac, said season two will move onto 1979-81. Storylines will includes events surrounding the Atlanta child murders.

Nude Murders update

Jack the Stripper murder case in London 1964 -1965. Between six and eight nude bodies were discovered around London and in the River Thames in the unsolved case, also known as the "Hammersmith murders" or "Hammersmith nudes" case. His six confirmed victims, prostitutes Hannah Tailford, Irene Lockwood, Helene Barthelemy, Mary Flemming, Margaret McGowan, and Bridget "Bridie" O'Hara, were all killed by asphyxiation, strangulation or drowning and were all found naked, except with stockings. The two other women prostitutes Elizabeth Figg and Gwyneth Rees had uncertain cases as there were differences with the other women. Both were manually strangled, but both were found naked except for their stockings with their underwear lodged in their throats. Picture shows: CID Chiefs heading the investigation, left to right: Det. Supt. John Du Rose and Det. Supt. Bill Baldock at Shepherds Bush Police Station 25th November 1965.

John du Rose and Bill Baldock, Scotland Yard’s leading detectives in the Nude Murders case © Mirrorpix

The BBC Wales documentary on the 1960 Nude Murders that is currently in production sounds as though it has excellent, thought-provoking experts taking part.

I mentioned in an earlier post that they were filming in Abertillery last month. This little Welsh town was, in the 1920s, the setting of a couple of heartbreaking child murders.

Harold Jones, then aged 15, was convicted of these ghastly crimes and has since become the focus of author Neil Milkins, who suspects he was responsible for the 1960s killings in west London. This is partly down to the fact, unearthed by Neil, that Jones was living in Hammersmith when they occurred. My book, The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper, highlights that Aldensley Road, Jones’s property, was in a hot spot where the killer of at least six women may have lived.

Experts on the Hammersmith Murders

One or two cheapo documentaries have been made about the case in the past. However, the one currently being filmed looks like it will be of a far higher quality.

Among those taking part are Professor David Wilson, who wrote a fascinating book called A History of British Serial Killing. Jackie Malton, former Flying Squad detective  and inspiration for Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, was also on hand.

Forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Henry Knight and Cheryl Allsop, an academic  researching the science of cold case reviews, added further intellectual wattage.

BBC documentary

Neil told me the Abertillery venue was “full of lawyers, doctors, ex and serving police officers, archivists, Mary Fleming’s daughter and granddaughter, and a niece of Abertillery murder victim Florence Little”. 

I’ve also been contacted by the documentary’s producers. They told me they are using Jones as the starting point for the film but have not reached any conclusions about what their final angle on the case will be.

It is interesting that this grim series of murders, forgotten for so long, is now attracting serious attention. Will the Beeb’s experts solve it?

Jack the Ripper, Zodiac Killer

I doubt it. As with Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac killer and many others, too much time has elapsed. Sadly, the investigation was dropped with relief in 1965 when the murders ceased.

As the largest ever Scotland Yard manhunt was speedily wound down, the six, possibly eight, murdered prostitutes were forgotten and disappeared from the newspaper headlines.

Would this have been the case if they’d been housewives or nurses instead of prostitutes? It seems unlikely.

And then John du Rose, who had headed the investigation in its final stages, did the victims and their loved ones a disservice by pretending he had known all along who the killer was. Most writers, including me, think this was a dishonest attempt to cover his failure to crack the case despite having hundreds of officers at his disposal.

Why victims were forgotten

The unwanted effect of du Rose’s claim was that it implied the case was closed, when it certainly was not.

It’s no wonder that relatives of Mary Fleming should turn up in Abertillery to see what they could learn from the experts in the BBC documentary. The victims were largely forgotten and du Rose’s claim, and the general antipathy towards prostitutes, meant there was little public or media pressure to ensure the case was actively reviewed in the period immediately after 1965.

Those were the years when leads and suspects could still have been seriously tested.  

Exploring True Crime in Salford

Just wanted to say thank you our hosts at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences at Salford University on Saturday. I was invited along by Ian Cummins to take part in the all-day event on the subject of True Crime: Fiction Is Far More True than Any Journalism. 

The process of writing, why people read crime and various ways writers have explored real crimes were all covered. Ian and his colleagues Marian Foley and Martin King were terrific hosts.

We went for a delightful drink in Manchester the night before – my first time in the city – before meeting at the university in Media City on Saturday, which is a rather strange jumble of modern architecture.

Ripper tours and female psychopaths

Mark Blacklock, author of I’m Jack, about Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer John Humble, was great company.

Caroline Jones gave us a tour of, well, Ripper Tours and what a strange entertainment they are. And Caroline Logan, a consultant forensic clinical psychologist, was really interesting in discussing the subject of female psychopaths in fiction.

Beastly subjects, convivial company. I hope their plans to expand the event in future work out…

Secrets of ghostwriting

Andrew Crofts and Mark McCrum spoke entertainingly about their specialism, ghostwriting, at a Society of Authors talk in Piccadilly last week.

Writing Handbooks: Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

They have written a huge variety of autobiographies and memoirs on behalf of people with stories to tell, from pop stars to soldiers to adventurers to victims of abuse. Though it sounds like a job that can be fascinating and occasionally well rewarded, it seems the gold-rush days are over.

Not so long ago, for penning Robbie Williams’ life story you could have got £200,000 up front and royalties that started at £100,000. However, in today’s shrivelled publishing landscape, huge advances and generous royalties are rare.

The two writers also outlined the frustrations of the work. Subjects who decided they don’t like your writing, celebrity egos and the ‘beauty contests’. This is where several writers are paraded before a celeb, who then picks whoever he/she finds least offensive.

Sean Connery and Robbie Williams

However, the upside is that the work can be fascinating. Travelling the world meeting extraordinary people with remarkable experiences to relate clearly beats most office jobs.

Not all the subjects are laudable. Crofts, whose manual on ghostwriting is quoted in Robert Harris’s thriller The Ghost, talked about various dictators and criminals he has ghosted for.

His advice on this is straightforward. You don’t have to like or admire the person. If they interest you, take the work. If not, walk away. Continue reading

Documentary puts Harold Jones on trial for Jack the Stripper crimes

Criime Scene in Acton where the body of Bridget O'Hara was found earlier today 16th February 1965. Pictured: Policeman standing at spot where body was found, in between fence (on left) and brick hut near embankment. Bridget O'Hara was a confirmed victim of serial killer known as 'Jack the Stripper' who was operating in London 1964-1965 and killed 6-8 women prostitutes & dumped their bodies around london or in the River Thames. The serial killer has never been caught.

Crime scene: a policeman on the Acton trading estate where victim Bridie O’Hara was found in 1965 © Mirrorpix

Despite the huge difficulties in unmasking the man who got away with the murder of at least six women in 1960s London so long after the event, efforts are still ongoing in 2017 to unravel this chilling mystery.

Since the publication of The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper in July, I’ve been in touch with author Neil Milkins. In his 2011 book Who Was Jack the Stripper? he makes an interesting case for Harold jones, a child sex killer, having been the guilty man.

My own feeling is that the case against Jones is circumstantial. However, in researching my book I did come across one tantalising new connection between Jones and the 1960s investigation.

This has helped to spur Neil into pushing on with more research on the case and assistance in a new documentary,

Harold Jones teenage killer

As a 15 year old, Jones had callously murdered two girls in his home town of Abertillery in the 1920s. He eventually pleaded guilty because he would have turned 16 by the time of his trial and been eligible for hanging.

Owing to a ludicrously indulgent prison governor, Jones was released from prison in 1941, despite his lack of remorse for his crimes. There was a presumption that he would join the armed forces and contribute to the war effort, which he never did.

Geographic profiler Kim Rossmo

Kim Rossmo

Thanks to Neil’s research, it seems Jones turned up in west London, where he married and had a daughter. During the height of the manhunt for the Nude Killer, who murdered six prostitutes in 1964-65 and left their unclothed bodies in locations around west London, it seems Jones was living under the noses of detectives.

For my own book, I was lucky enough to interview Dr Kim Rossmo, a leading geographic profiler. He had created a computer program that can analyse data based on a series of crimes, travel routes and other local information to produce geographic hotspots revealing where a perpetrator lives, works or has some connection.

Geo-profile hotspots in west London

He conducted such an analysis for me in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper (Mirror Books). This suggests two hotspots in west London where he thinks the killer may have had a base.

One is around Hammersmith and the other covers Holland Park/Notting Hill.

The Hotspot where murderer Harold Jones was living during the Nude Murders. ©Mirror Books

The significance of this is that Harold Jones – as Neil Milkins has shown – was living in Aldensley Road. This is right in the middle of the Hammersmith hotspot. But Jones never appears to have come under suspicion during what was the biggest manhunt in police history up to that time.

What would detectives have discovered about Jones?

Again, this doesn’t prove Jones was the killer. But it does raise the question… What if detectives had been able to narrow their focus to these hotspots?

Instead of being spread so thinly across 24 square miles of west London, they might have realised they had a cold-blooded psycho right in the murder zone.

They could have interviewed and checked out his movements and lifestyle very closely. So, he may or may not be Jack the Stripper… but on the other hand we know nothing at all about him at this time.

Appeal for contributors to documentary

Anyway, here is Neil’s alert about a new programme that sets out to examine Jones’s potential guilt for the Nude Murders.

Top British criminologist Professor David Wilson will be filming for a television documentary at The Metropole Theatre, Abertillery, on Sunday, 19 November, 3pm. The plan is to fill the theatre with members of the public. He is seeking ex-Abertillery detectives, ex-Abertillery police officers, and ex-Abertillery magistrates to work along with top British criminologists, pathologists, geographic analysts, ground-penetrating radar experts etc. As I understand it there will be a mock jury listening to the links between Harold Jones and the nude murders and will be asked if they believe that on the balance of probabilities Jones was the killer. I believe that Professor Wilson has some surprises up his sleeve…