Nude killer – more filming

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 at the scene where the naked body of prostitute Helene Barthelemy, one of the victims of Jack The Stripper, was discovered near a sports field on Swimcombe Avenue in Brentford. 24th April 1964.

CID at the scene where the naked body of prostitute Helene Barthelemy, one of the victims of Jack The Stripper, was discovered near a sports field on Swyncombe Avenue in Brentford, 24 April 1964  © Mirrorpix

In February I spent a fascinating day with the production team for Dark Son, the BBC documentary about the 1960s’ Nude Murderer.

This, of course, is the west London serial killer case that remains unsolved today. I wrote about it in The Hunt for 60s’ Ripper (Mirror Books), detailing the huge manhunt for the killer of six women.

I’ve now been invited back to do more filming, this time in Wales rather than London. There have been very interesting developments in the case, thanks to brilliant research by the production team.

West London base of the killer

I won’t reveal what these are because that would be a disservice to what looks like being a landmark documentary in this case. A chain-reaction of new information has been sparked, however, by one bit of research leading to new connections being made.

The geographic profile featured in my book has been an important piece of the jigsaw. This was the work of leading expert Kim Rossmo. It pinpoints two areas of west London where the calculating killer was probably based.

Kim has been interviewed for the film. He should offer compelling insights into his work and the problems detectives have in attempting to catch serial predators.

Rumours and legends have grown around this appalling series of crimes. From what I hear, Dark Son – being made by Monster Films – should shed valuable light on the mystery.

Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills?

Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills? on BBC4 and iPlayer

‘To this day, the case has puzzled me.’

These are the words of Professor Brian J Ford during BBC4’s Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills? (catch it on iPlayer). And the death of Britain’s former boxing hero has certainly attracted rumour, legend and some wacky theories since his apparent suicide in 1965.

I was pleased that this documentary took a fairly sober approach to the case. It is far better than the recent irritating and overlong Ruth Ellis Files on BBC4.

It did not focus much on the outlandish claim that Freddie Mills was the serial killer known as Jack the Stripper or the Hammersmith Nude Killer. However, it does make space for author Michael Litchfield, whose book on the case made such assertions. These are unfounded, as far as I am concerned. Author and former police officer Dick Kirby says succinctly the idea is ‘ludicrous’ during the programme.

Mills: suicide or murder?

The film does make a convincing case that Mills probably did not shoot himself in the eye – a very rare method for a person to use when committing suicide.

Various theories are explored to support the idea that Mills was the victim of criminals. The boxing world and West End nightclub land where Mills was a part-owner of a night spot were heavily linked to the underworld.

Does the programme clear up the puzzle once and for all? I don’t think it makes a conclusive case. But it is a fascinating portrait of a much-loved personality – perhaps Britain’s first celebrity and the David Beckham of his time – who seems to have crossed paths with the wrong people.

Playland – a shattering memoir

Playland by Anthony DalyI do some work as a book editor. This month has seen the publication of a memoir I helped to prepare that was one of the most shocking and disturbing I have ever read.

Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal is by Anthony Daly. It recounts how as a young man in Ulster of the 1970s he fled the Troubles and came to London.

A book lover, he got a job in Foyles. Then his story took a dark turn.

He was swindled out of his money and found himself in Playland, a notorious games arcade on Piccadilly Circus. Here he was befriended by two men, one posh, one not.

Playland exposes the seedy side of the 1970s

They were charming and concerned about him. Accepting their offer of a meal and a loan, he joins them. However, he is drugged and raped, and then blackmailed into becoming a male prostitute.

He is beaten, abused and forced to gratify high-ranking politicians at sordid parties. It is a brutal and terrifying existence. Daly drowns out the trauma of it by taking all the drugs and drink he can get.

Despite the squalor and cruelty he depicts, the author writes tenderly and evocatively about the period and the lads he befriended on the Dilly. In particular, his friendship with the reckless Damie is painfully moving.

Continue reading

Keeler and Thorpe – the great British scandals return

Hugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe in BBC1’s A Very English Scandal Jeremy Thorpe

Interesting news – the Beeb has announced a new six-part drama called The Trial of Christine Keeler. It is going to focus on the young woman ‘whom the powerful, male-dominated establishment sought to silence and exploit, but who refused to play by their rules’.

Amanda Coe, the award-winning novelist, is writing the script. She said, ‘I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring a fresh lens to a story that has become a powerful fable of our national identity. The astonishing story of Christine Keeler and the so-called Profumo Affair is the Salem Witch Trial meets OJ Simpson. It’s a perfect storm of gender, class, race and power that resonates into the world we’re living in today.’

The other victim of the affair was Stephen Ward. He was the society osteopath who took his own life in 1963 after being hounded by the legal and political establishment.

Profumo Affair and the Nude Murders

The Profumo Affair is tangentially connected to the Nude Murders of the mid-1960s. While researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper I read about the scandal. Police and legal figures manipulated Ward. Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were portrayed as prostitutes to trap him as someone living off immoral earnings and other crimes.

If anyone wants an insight into how bent the establishment was back then, and the extent of the cover-up, read Geoffrey Robertson’s short but shocking book Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK.

But Christine Keeler’s story is not the only scandal being explored again. BBC1 is making a three-part dramatisation of events surrounding the fall of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, called A Very English Affair.

Hugh Grant as Thorpe

This will star Hugh Grant and is written by Russell T Davies, here a long way from his Doctor Who success. Thorpe in the 1960s was the young Liberal leader who had a secret he was desperate to hide – his lover Norman Scott, who could destroy his brilliant career. Continue reading

The Ripper’s London and how it’s changed

The Nude Murders: Jack the Stripper victim Elizabeth Figg Copyright R Jarossi
Crime scene: view across the Thames from Dukes Meadows, where Elizabeth Figg was found in 1959

London is special. Beautiful, ugly, intimate, sprawling.

The capital fed my interest in writing about the 60s’ Nude Murders, to explore how the place has evolved. I was a child at the time and my memories are vivid of a Highbury still shattered by the war, paraffin heaters and markets thick with shoppers.

To say nothing of the pop songs on transistors all around, the TV – Corrie hairnets in black and white – even the way old relatives used to talk. Oh, do give over!

From squalor to £4m houses

The contrast between then and now is jarring. Living conditions, for example. One of the victims of the Nude Killer, Helen Barthelemy, lived in a bedsit in Willesden.

The house was crammed. Helen was in one room on the ground floor. A Jamaican nurse, who became her friend, lived in the back room. On the first floor were two young couples with a single child each, both families living in one room. One room! Toilet and kitchen facilities were shared.

Mary Fleming, another of the women killed during the murderer’s campaign of death, which lasted through 1964, lived in similar conditions in Lancaster Road, Notting Hill. What was once a squalid, overcrowded house in a slum area is today worth £4 million.

London crime scenes

Researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper led me to visit all the crime sites in the company of two recently retired detectives, Brian Hook and Andy Rose, who were generous in their efforts to explain to me the contrast policing methods from the Sixties with those of today.

Swyncombe Avenue then and now: police inspect where Helen Barthelemy has been found in 1964, left ©Mirrorpix

One of the areas we toured was Chiswick, by the Thames. It was on the foreshore that two victims were found, Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood.

At the time the area was a bustling commercial neighbourhood of factories and warehouses, dealing with trade coming up the river and transported through wharves. Today it is a collection of dull private flats and gated estates. No doubt expensive, but gentrified and ‘improved’ to within an inch of its life. Continue reading