It started as a suggestion for a new true crime magazine. Working as a freelance journalist at Mirror special projects, I wondered if there was a case we could cover that had not been written about a thousand times already.
I came across the Nude Murders of the early 1960s, a horrific series of killings in London that, despite the biggest ever police manhunt, was never solved. I had never heard of this shocking case. Most people I mentioned it to, apart from a couple of crime-fiction authors, had not come across it either.
Why had the killing of six, possibly eight, sex workers in Swinging London been largely forgotten? The killer could still be alive, walking the capital’s streets, despite having murdered more women than Jack the Ripper.
Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush
Between February 1964 and February 1965 one man cruised west London’s streets in his vehicle, particularly around Notting Hill and Shepherd’s Bush, picked up and asphyxiated six women, before leaving their unclothed bodies in various public places.
Two other similar murders, in 1959 and 1963, were possibly linked to this killing campaign.
I researched the case, spoke to former detectives to get their take on the investigation carried out 50-odd years ago. It turned out there were a lot of photos in the Daily Mirror‘s immense archive in Watford. It looked as though there would be plenty of material for a magazine piece.
Stephen Ward trial, Profumo, the Krays
The investigation gave an unusual and fascinating insight into Britain during that vibrant decade. It touches on major scandals and notorious figures – Stephen Ward’s trial, Profumo, the Krays – while exposing just how widespread and degrading the street sex trade was.
The crime magazine never materialised, but it was felt the case had potential to make a book. I spoke to Texas-based Kim Rossmo, one of the world’s leading geographic profilers, and he agreed to take time from his busy schedule to do an analysis, based on the pattern of body depositions around London’s public spaces, to reveal where the killer may have been based.
I also listened to people who were around at the time – a reporter, a police constable – looked through coroners’ reports and other documents.
So, why had this extraordinary crime faded into the shadows of London’s past? My feeling is that there was little sympathy for the rejected, abused women who were the victims.
While the newspapers devoted a lot of space to London’s ‘vice-ridden jungle’, rumours of orgies and the killer’s ‘terrible urge’, next to nothing was said about how the dead women were mothers, sisters, partners, who would be missed.
Instead, they were called ‘scrubbers’, ‘whores’ and ‘cheap little tarts’.
The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper developed two themes – why the massive police effort to catch the killer failed, and the tragic lives of the victims. ‘Good-time girls’ is another description that crops up frequently. If one thing is blindingly clear, a good time is what they definitely were not having.
Readers may think they know the Swinging Sixties, like I thought I knew that era, but this case casts that time in a shocking new light.