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The Oldest Profession

Hunt for Jack the Stripper - the 60s serial killer who dumped murdered prostitutes naked and was never caught

Published in The Daily Mirror
17th July 2017


London
Swinging London woke up on April 24, 1964, to the fact that a depraved serial killer was stalking its streets. The body of Helen Barthelemy, 22, had been found naked in an alley. She was the second victim discovered that month and the third since February.

Newspapers had speculated one man was behind the prostitutes’ murders , but no one was in any doubt now. The Daily Mirror’s front page headline was: “Giant hunt for maniac sex killer.”

Like the two other victims so far, Helen worked the streets of West London. Along with Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood, she was petite and vulnerable. The killer’s grim trademark was the removal of his victims’ clothing and belongings – even false teeth – earning him the nickname Jack the Stripper.

Det Chief Supt John du Rose, who headed the inquiry, said at the time: “The story of the man who became known as Jack the Stripper is certain to have as prominent a place in the annals of crime as that of Jack the Ripper.”

Known as Four-Day Johnny for his speed in solving cases, Mr du Rose added: “There are hundreds of police involved in this inquiry, more than any inquiry ever before. We’ll get him. You can be sure of that.” Yet they never did.

How did the murderer evade the massive investigation? By reviewing rarely seen case files, old coroners’ reports and the Mirror’s photo library, we can expose a shocking insight into the underbelly of 1960s London.

The Nude Murders reveal a brutal sex trade flourishing on many West London streets, where a man was able to stalk and murder young, desperate women. The victims were prostitutes, around 5ft 1in, whose clients were kerb crawlers. The first two women were found in the Thames; the next four all had dust and paint particles on their bodies, revealing they had been undressed and stored before being dumped in public places.

Four had also been asphyxiated. None showed signs of sexual violence, but detectives speculated they had been killed during a sex act.

Hannah, 30, was found on February 2, 1964, on the Thames foreshore by the Corinthian Sailing Club, Hammersmith. She had left her young daughter with her partner at their flat in West Norw­ood, South London, on the night she was last seen, January 24.

Pregnant Irene, 25, was found on April 8 by Corney Reach steps in Chiswick. She was last seen in The Windmill pub, Chiswick High Road, the night before her death.

Helen was dumped in Brentford on April 24. The last positive sighting was at her bedsit in Willesden three days earlier. Her body gave up the first major clue: dust and paint particles.

Victim Mary Fleming, 30, had been soliciting on Queensway on July 11. Three days later, her body was found in a street in Chiswick.

Next was Frances Brown, 21. She and fellow prostitute Beryl Mahood had been picked up by two motorists near Portobello Road. Brown was found a month later on November 25, in a Kensington car park. Beryl gave police descriptions of the motorists.

Bridget O’Hara, 27, meanwhile, had been drinking in Shepherd’s Bush Hotel before strolling off with an unidentified man. She was found five weeks later on February 16, 1965, on a trading estate in Acton.

Two other prostitutes who may have been victims of Jack were Elizabeth Figg, 21, found on June 17, 1959, and Gwyneth Rees, 22, found on November 8, 1963.

Mr Du Rose, one of Scotland Yard’s top five investigators, took charge of the Nude Murders case in February 1965. “I wanted West London flooded with policemen, and it was,” he said. He had a 200-strong CID force, plus another 100 officers. The Special Patrol Group of 300 officers was also called in.

Observation points were set up around a 24 square mile area of West London to monitor cars seen repeatedly at night. Officers did intelligence-gathering in pubs and clubs. Policewomen disguised as prostitutes noted car registration plates and suspicious behaviour.

A breakthrough came when dust and paint particles on the last four women revealed they’d been stored at an abandoned factory on Heron Trading Estate, where Bridget was found. Police began interviewing 7,000 estate employees.

One suspect emerged. Mungo Ireland, 46, was a security man who worked there for several weeks. But there was no evidence to link him to the crimes, and he had been working in Dundee at the time Bridget disappeared. A rather sad character, he committed suicide a few weeks after Bridget was found and was never interviewed by police.

Detectives probed suspects including a dental surgeon, a mortuary assistant and the victims’ partners.

No evidence was found and the men who picked up Frances were never traced. But one suspect did raise major suspicions, a disgraced ex-detective.

He had carried out burglaries to embarrass colleagues, who he felt victimised him. The crimes were discovered, he lost his job and in 1962 he was jailed for a year. A colleague described him as “creepy”. This man, who is still alive, became the prime suspect. He had lived in police quarters near the Heron Trading Estate, had a grudge against police and knew the areas where the bodies were found. Yet despite extensive investigations, officers drew a blank – no evidence tied him to the crimes.

The killer stopped his spree after Bridget’s murder. The probe was rapidly wound down. It had failed because Scotland Yard’s top officers had little expertise in catching serial killers.

Modern investigations would use new profiling techniques. Expert geographic analysis in my book reveals the killer probably lived in a small area stretching west from central Hammersmith or Holland Park. Today’s detectives use such tools to narrow their search.

It is sobering to think the killer could be alive today, perhaps in his late 70s. His crimes are largely forgotten, no doubt due to a lack of sympathy for the victims, seen as being outside of decent society.

Who was he? Probably a policeman, though not the disgraced detective, who could not even carry out a burglary without being spotted. Yet the possibility remains that the killer was a more devious officer, involved in the probe. If so, he had a fantastic advantage in keeping ahead of Mr Du Rose’s team.

He would know the night observation points, the alleys and abandoned factories. He could even have stalked victims while on duty. He would know when to stop if the manhunt was closing in.

He evaded Scotland Yard’s searchlight, yet he was probably in plain sight all along. He was most likely one of them.