John George HAIGH
A.K.A.: "The Acid Bath Murderer"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Robberies - Claims that he drank a cup of the victims' blood
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: 1944 - 1949
Date of arrest: February 26, 1949
Date of birth: July 24, 1909
Victims profile: William Donald McSwan / Donald and Amy McSwan / Dr. Archibald Henderson, 52, and his wife Rosalie, 41 / Olive Henrietta Robarts Durand-Deacon, 69
Method of murder: Beating with a blunt instrument / Shooting
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Wandsworth prison on August 10, 1949
John George Haigh
Nickname: The Acid Bath Murderer
Reign of terror: 09/09/44 - 18/02/49
Basement flat in Gloucester Road, Chelsea
Donald and Amy McSwan
Basement flat in Gloucester Road
Dr Archibald Henderson, and his wife Rosalie
Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon
A month after his arrest he also admitted to three more murders - a woman and a youth in West London and a girl in Eastbourne. These have not been substantiated.
Method: His first 3 victims were beaten to death. The last 3 victims were shot with a .38 Enfield revolver belonging to Dr Henderson. Once the victims were dead, Haigh claims that he drank a cup of the victims' blood. He then pushed the body into a 45 gallon drum. Then he put on a rubber apron, gloves, wellies, and a gas mask and poured concentrated sulphuric acid into the drum to cover the body. The intense heat generated by the action of the sulphuric acid on the body melted the human bones completely. At least a couple of days later, Haigh returned and emptied the remaining sludge onto adjoining waste ground.
Sentence: Haigh was given the death sentence, and on 10/8/49 he was hanged.
Interesting facts: Haigh's original reason for killing his victims was for profit: from the McSwan family, it is estimated that he made about £4000, a lot of money in post-war Britain. He forged papers which gave him power of attorney and so he was able to sell off their property. By forging papers, he was able to sell property belonging to the Hendersons worth £8000. He also kept their dog. From Mrs Durand-Deacon, he only had the chance to sell her jewellery and fur coat worth a total of £110.
Although Haigh confessed, he did not think that he would be charged with murder for two reasons. He claimed in court that he was insane. This would let him off the murder charge, and he would spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital prison like Broadmoor. This plea failed however. His other reason was that he thought he couldn't be charged with murder if the body was never found. He was wrong in this. Added to that, remains of Mrs Durand-Deacon were found among the sludge. Home Office pathologist Keith Simpson quickly found a gallstone. He also found her dentures, which hadn't melted in the acid; fragments of her left foot, which when reconstucted fully fitted one of her shoes perfectly; pieces of pelvic bone, two discs from her lower spine; a handbag, a lipstick container, a hairpin and a notebook. This mass of physical evidence was enough - a body was not needed.
Haigh, John George
Haigh was born on 24th July 1909 at Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was brought up in Outwood, Yorkshire, where his ultra-religious, Plymouth Brethren father was a colliery foreman. He left school at seventeen and was apprenticed for a time to a motor engineer. He left home and on the 6th July 1934 he got married.
Not wanting to work for someone else he started in business for himself by forging vehicle documents. He was soon brought to justice for this and he received fifteen months at Leeds Assizes in November 1934. His wife divorced him and, on his release he started a dry-cleaning business with a partner. This was quite a successful venture, until his partner was killed in a car crash and the business collapsed.
He moved to London in 1936 where he was able to get a job as chauffeur to the McSwann family but discovered another swindle that, at Surrey Assizes in November 1937, cost him four years' penal servitude. Released in August 1940 he was back inside within a year, doing twenty-one months for stealing. It was plain to see even at this early time that he was never going to earn an honest living. This time on his release he became a salesman for a firm in Crawley, an occupation he followed until 1944.
In the summer of 1944 he happened to bump into William Donald McSwann who he had first met in 1936. On 9th September 1944 the two men went for a drink at The Goat in Kensington High Street. They then went to 79 Gloucester Road, where Haigh had a workshop. Here Haigh smashed McSwann's skull and put his body in a water-butt that he had filled with acid. He then went around to see McSwann's parents, with whom he got quite well with, and told them that their son had gone into hiding to avoid the call-up. He was able to maintain this deception, by sending the couple letters purporting to be from their son, until July 1945 when he murdered the McSwanns and disposed of their bodies in the same way.
Acting as William McSwann he managed to obtain legal control of all their possessions and sold everything, making over £4,000 in the process, which in 1945 was a great deal of money.
In 1947 he met a couple named Henderson during a property deal. In February 1948 he took them, one at a time, from the Metropole Hotel, Brighton, where they lived, to his new workshop in Crawley. Here he shot them and popped them in the now familiar drum full of acid. He paid their hotel bill and removed all their valuables.
By February 1949 Haigh had been living in the Onslow Court Hotel, South Kensington, for four years. One of the other residents was Mrs Olive Henrietta Olivia Robarts Durand-Deacon. She was a 69-year-old widow who had lived at the hotel for over six years. The two often exchanged pleasantries at mealtimes and Haigh had told her that he was an engineer and inventor. At lunch on the 14th February, Mrs Durand-Deacon showed Haigh some false fingernails that she had designed and asked Haigh if could improve the idea to a product that would be marketable. He told her that he would think about it.
On the 18th the two of them drove to Haigh's ramshackle workshop in Crawley in his Alvis. Here he shot her in the back of the head and, after removing her jewellery and fur coat, put her body in a 45-gallon corrosion resistive drum and filled up the tank with sulphuric acid. He returned to Onslow Court Hotel and ate a three-course dinner.
The next day, Saturday, guests at the hotel, who were getting anxious about the absence of Mrs Durand-Deacon from breakfast, asked Haigh if he knew of her whereabouts. He told them that he had arranged to meet her but that she had failed to turn up for their appointment. By the Sunday, it was obvious that something was wrong. Haigh approached Mrs Lane, who had shown concern the day before, and asked if anything had been heard from the missing woman. Mrs Lane told him that she had had no news and that she intended going to the police that afternoon. Haigh offered to accompany her and drove her to Chelsea police station. The policewoman, Sergeant Lambourne, was suspicious of Haigh from the start.
On Monday, Scotland Yard's Record Office was contacted and Haigh's criminal record came to light. Haigh had driven to Crawley that morning and emptied the sludge from the tank onto the ground outside the workshop. He had then gone to Horsham and had Mrs Durand-Deacon's jewellery valued. When he returned to the hotel the police were waiting for him. He gave them a statement re-iterating his story about the missed appointment.
Thursday saw the police back at Onslow Court Hotel for another statement from Haigh, which was largely the same as his first statement but with a few extra details. Saturday 26th February and the police visited the workshop at Crawley. The door to the workshop was forced and the detectives noted the rubber apron, gas mask and empty carboys. They also found a recently fired .38 Enfield revolver and a dry-cleaning receipt for a black Persian lamb coat.
At 4.15pm on Monday 28th February, Detective Inspector Albert Webb was waiting at Onslow Court when Haigh returned. Webb took Haigh back to Chelsea police station to 'assist them with their enquiries.' Later that night he confessed to Webb saying, 'I've destroyed her with acid. You'll find the sludge that remains at Leopold Road. Every trace has gone. How can you prove murder if there's no body?' He went on to add the McSwanns and the Hendersons to his confession, claiming that he had killed them all so that he could drink their blood.
On Tuesday 1st March, Home Office pathologist, Dr Keith Simpson examined the Crawley workshop. He found bloodstains on the walls and a hat-pin at the bottom of the 45-gallon drum. After Dr Simpson had noticed a gall stone in the sludge in the yard all the residue was collected and taken to the police laboratory. Here it was processed and it produced a list that included 28lb of animal fat, part of a foot, two more gall stones and a full set of dentures. These, once identified by Mrs Durand-Deacon's dentist, sealed Haigh's fate.
Haigh was charged with the murder of Mrs Durand-Deacon on 2nd March and removed to Lewes Prison. His trial began at Lewes Assizes on 18th July 1949 and finished the following afternoon. It took the jury seventeen minutes to find him guilty. He was hanged by Pierrepoint at Wandsworth on 10th August 1949.
John George Haigh (24 July 1909 – 10 August 1949), commonly known as the "Acid Bath Murderer", was an English serial killer during the 1940s (although the term had not come into use until much later).
He was convicted of the murders of six people, although he claimed to have killed a total of nine. He did not use acid to actually kill his victims, but rather as a (he believed) foolproof method of body disposal - dissolving their bodies in concentrated sulphuric acid before forging papers in order to sell their possessions and collect substantial sums of money.
During the investigation, it became apparent that Haigh was using the acid to destroy victims' bodies because he misunderstood the term corpus delicti, thinking that if victims' bodies could not be found, then a murder conviction would not be possible. The substantial forensic evidence notwithstanding the absence of his victims' bodies was sufficient for him to be convicted for the murders and subsequently executed.
John George Haigh was born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and grew up in the village of Outwood, West Yorkshire. His parents, Alfred and Emily, were members of the Plymouth Brethren, an extremely conservative and anti-modern protestant sect who advocated very austere lifestyles. He was confined to living within a 10 ft (3 m) fence that his father put up around their garden to lock out the outside world. Haigh would later claim he suffered from recurring religious nightmares in his childhood. Despite these limitations, Haigh developed great proficiency in the piano, which he learned at home.
Haigh won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield. Claims were made that a desk carved with his name remained at the school (and caretakers would run trips to the cellars to show it to first year pupils), but they were put aside when a teacher of 30 years at the school said the desk was removed over 20 years before. He then won another scholarship to Wakefield Cathedral, where he became a choirboy.
After school he was apprenticed to a firm of motor engineers. After a year he left that job, and took jobs in insurance and advertising. At age 21, he was fired after being suspected of stealing from a cash box. The following year he was named as a co-respondent in the divorce of Evelyn and racing driver Eddie Hall.
Marriage and imprisonment
On 6 July 1934 Haigh married Betty Hammer, 21, a lively woman described in some accounts as a good-time girl. The marriage soon floundered. The same year Haigh was jailed for fraud. Betty gave birth while he was in prison but she gave the baby up for adoption and left Haigh.
On his release he was jailed again — this time for 15 months — for a fraud involving cars bought on hire purchase. This time, when freed, he tried to go straight with a dry cleaning business, but it failed when his business partner was killed in a motorcycle accident.
He then moved to London and became chauffeur to William McSwann, wealthy owner of an amusement park. Haigh and McSwann became friends but Haigh still wanted to set himself up in business. He did — but as a bogus solicitor, earning himself four years in jail for fraud. Haigh was released just after the start of the Second World War, then jailed again for theft.
While in prison he dreamt up what he considered the perfect murder: removing the body by dissolving it with acid. He experimented with mice and found it took only 30 minutes for the body to disappear.
The "Acid Bath" murders
He was freed from one term in 1943 and became an accountant with an engineering firm. Soon after, by chance, he bumped into McSwan in the Goat pub in Kensington. McSwan introduced Haigh to his parents, William and Amy, who mentioned that they had invested in property. On 6 September 1944, McSwan disappeared. Haigh later admitted hitting him over the head after luring him into a basement at 79 Gloucester Road, London SW7. He then put McSwan's body into a 40-gallon drum and tipped concentrated sulphuric acid on to it. Two days later he returned to find the body had become sludge, which he poured down a manhole.
He told McSwan's parents, Donald and Amy, that their son had fled to Scotland to avoid being called up for military service. Haigh then took over McSwan's house and when William and Amy became curious as to why their son had not returned as the war was coming to an end, he murdered them too - on 2 July 1945, he lured them to Gloucester Road and disposed of them.
Haigh stole William McSwan's pension cheques, sold their properties — stealing about £8,000 (£256 thousand when adjusted for inflation) — and moved into the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington. By the summer of 1947 Haigh, a gambler, was running short of money. He found another couple to kill and rob: Dr Archibald Henderson and his wife Rose, whom he met after purporting to show interest in a house they were selling.
He rented a small workshop at 2 Leopold Road, Crawley, West Sussex, and moved acid and drums there from Gloucester Road. He was also known to have stayed at the The George Hotel, Crawley on several occasions.
On 12 February 1948, he drove Henderson to Crawley, on the pretext of showing him an invention. When they arrived Haigh shot Henderson in the head with a revolver he had earlier stolen from the doctor’s house. He then lured Mrs Henderson to the workshop, claiming her husband had fallen ill, and shot her also.
After disposing of the Hendersons' bodies in oil drums filled with acid, he forged a letter from them and sold all of their possessions for £8,000 (except their dog, which he kept). This 1948 amount is the equivalent of £216 thousand today.
Last victim and capture
Haigh’s next and final victim was Olive Durand-Deacon, 69, a widow and fellow resident at the Onslow Court. She mentioned to Haigh, by then calling himself an engineer, an idea she had for artificial fingernails. He invited her down to the Crawley workshop on 18 February, 1949, and once inside he shot her in the back of the head, stripped her of her valuables, including a Persian lamb coat, and put her into the acid bath. Two days later Durand-Deacon’s friend, Constance Lane, reported her missing.
Detectives soon discovered Haigh’s record of theft and fraud and searched the workshop. Police not only found Haigh’s attaché case containing a dry cleaner’s receipt for Mrs Durand-Deacon’s coat, but also papers referring to the Hendersons and McSwanns. Further investigation of the sludge at the workshop by the pathologist Keith Simpson revealed three human gallstones.
Questioned by Detective Inspector Albert Webb, Haigh asked him: “Tell me, frankly, what are the chances of anybody being released from Broadmoor?” The inspector said he could not discuss that sort of thing, so Haigh replied: “Well, if I told you the truth, you would not believe me. It sounds too fantastic to believe.”
Haigh then confessed that he had not only killed Durand-Deacon, the McSwanns and Hendersons, but also three other people — a young man called Max, a girl from Eastbourne and woman from Hammersmith. The three others might have been part of Haigh’s attempt to convince the police of insanity.
Trial and execution
After arrest, Haigh was remanded in custody in Cell 2 of Horsham Police Station when it was in Barttelot Road. He was charged with murder at the nearby courthouse in what is now known as the Old Town Hall.
The Attorney-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, KC, (later Lord Shawcross) led for the prosecution at Lewes Assizes, and urged the jury to reject the prisoner’s defence of insanity because he had acted with malice aforethought.
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, KC, defending, called many witnesses to attest to Haigh’s mental state, including Dr. Henry Yellowlees who claimed Haigh had a paranoid constitution, adding: “The absolute callous, cheerful, bland and almost friendly indifference of the accused to the crimes which he freely admits having committed is unique in my experience.”
It took only minutes for the jury to find Haigh guilty. Mr Justice Humphries sentenced him to death.
It was reported that Haigh, in the condemned cell at Wandsworth Prison, asked one of his jailers, Jack Morwood, whether it would be possible to have a trial run of his hanging so everything would run smoothly. It’s likely his request went no further, or, if it did, the request was denied. Whatever the case, Haigh was led to the gallows by Chief Executioner Albert Pierrepoint on August 10, 1949.
The case of John George Haigh was one of the post-1945 cases which gained much media coverage at the time. Along with the case of Neville Heath, it attracted a great deal of coverage in the newspapers even though Haigh's guilt (as with Heath) was not questioned. In the case of Haigh, it was also the method of disposal which has given him his place in criminal history.
In popular culture
* Haigh had agreed to model for a death mask being made by Madame Tussauds waxworks. He left his clothes to Tussaud’s with the stipulation that his waxwork was always kept spotless, with trousers neatly creased, shirt cuffs showing and hair parted.
* Haigh has been compared to the French serial killer Marcel Petiot. It is possible that Haigh had read about the exploits of another Frenchman, Georges “Sarret” Sarrejani, the Marseilles lawyer who used similar methods in 1925 to destroy his victims’ bodies.
* On 25 March, 1949, Silvester Bolam, editor of the Daily Mirror, was jailed for three months and the newspaper’s publishers fined £10,000 for contempt of court in its reports of early proceedings in the case against Haigh. It was said that the reports and photographs — described by the Lord Chief Justice as a disgrace to English journalism — could have prejudiced Haigh’s defense.
* In 2002, Martin Clunes played Haigh in an ITV drama, A is for Acid.
* One of the Subordinates (antagonists) in the video game Clock Tower 3, Corroder, is based on and named after the killer.
Haigh's confirmed victims
William Donald McSwan, 9 September 1944
Donald McSwan, 2 July 1945
Amy McSwan, 2 July 1945
Archibald Henderson, 12 February 1948
Rosalie Henderson, 12 February 1948
Olive Henrietta Robarts Durand-Deacon, 18 February 1949
John Haigh: The Acid Bath Murderer
One of the most bizarre and disturbing cases of mass murder is that committed by John Haigh, a respectable, well dressed, middle-class man with a surfeit of charm but who, in the late 1940s, disposed of at least six victims in a manner that prompted his labelling as a vampire.
Haigh’s motivations for his crimes, which involved luring his prey to a fate where their blood was consumed before being dissolved in acid, have never been clearly corroborated. His claim to have been disturbed in his childhood by his strict religious parents, leading to a psychotic state of mind obsessed with religious iconography and sacrificial fantasies, has been disputed. Critics believe that instead of insanity fuelling Haigh’s vampire-like activities, he was in fact a cold-hearted killer who arrogantly believed that where there was no body, there was no crime to pin on him.
John George Haigh was born on 24 July 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. The family moved to Outwood, West Yorkshire, where Haigh spent the next 24 years of his life. He was brought up in a fanatically religious household where references to ‘the Lord’ were used frequently to remind the young Haigh that he was always observed by a higher and disapproving deity. Haigh himself claimed that his childhood was bleak and lonely. His only friends were his few pets and caring for the neighbour’s dog. A tall fence around the house, put up by his father, kept out prying eyes or any social contact with the outside world.
Haigh’s parents belonged to a religious sect known as the Plymouth Brethren, who were purist and anticlerical. Bible stories were the only form of entertainment. Even participating in sports of any kind was forbidden.
According to Haigh Snr the world was ‘evil’ and the family needed to keep themselves separate. As his father had also told him that the blue blemish on his own head had been the result of him ‘sinning’ in his youth, it is perhaps not surprising that the young Haigh became obsessed and terrified by developing a similar ‘sign of the devil’ due to the slightest misdemeanour. He was told that his mother had no ‘mark’ as she was an angel.
It is said that a turning point in the boy’s developing psyche came when Haigh realised that no such blemish would appear, despite having lied or committed some other questionable behaviour. He then started to believe that he was invincible and could get away with anything.
Claims of being afflicted by dreams of Gothic, nightmarish proportions, where trees would turn into crucifixes weeping blood, have to be viewed with caution. Haigh was later known to be manipulative and a compulsive liar, prone to saying anything to extricate himself from a compromising position. At the time of his arrest for murder, his personal enquiries into what may befall him if he was found to be insane, is an indication that Haigh was aware that appearing ‘bonkers’ and damaged by his childhood would possibly work in his favour when it came to court.
In 1934 Haigh stopped attending his parents' church and married Beatrice Hammer, a 21-year-old woman he barely knew. Despite having been impressed by Haigh’s manners and charm, she was uncertain about his character but still went ahead with the marriage on 6 July 1934.
Haigh's parents allowed the couple to live with them although the marriage lasted only about four months, ending when Haigh was arrested in October 1934 and sent to prison for fraud. While he was incarcerated, Beatrice gave birth to a baby daughter, whom she gave up for adoption. Haigh saw her only once more; briefly, to lie by telling her that they were never officially wed because he already had a wife at the time.
Despite his abilities Haigh spent a considerable amount of time in prison for mainly fraudulent practices that involved various illegal enterprises. During a brief period he worked at an amusement park run by a Mr William ‘Mac’ Donald McSwan and his parents Donald McSwan and wife Amy. The family liked Haigh, promoted him in the business and were sorry to see him leave when he decided he wanted glittering prizes elsewhere.
His next project, involving setting up a false solicitor’s office, earned him four years in prison. It was while he was incarcerated that he thought up a new scheme to become rich quickly, instead of toiling for a living. His plan was simply to go after rich, older women. Haigh had also convinced himself that if there was no corpse, then there could be no conviction.
Such a belief no doubt prompted him into working with sulphuric acid in the prison's tin shop where he experimented on mice and made studies of the effects of acid on animal tissue.
After Haigh was released from prison, he set out to carry his heinous plan. In the interim he stayed with the Stephen family, where he began a close friendship with one of the daughters, Barbara, who despite the 20-year age gap believed that she could become the next Mrs Haigh.
In 1944 Haigh was involved in a car accident where he suffered a wound to the head, which bled into his mouth. He later referred to this event as having been the catalyst that reawakened his blood-filled nightmares. Shortly afterwards he rented a basement space at 79 Gloucester Road, where he set up his ‘workshop’, a grim death trap to lure unsuspecting victims
At a public house in Kensington, Haigh chanced upon former employer 'Mac' McSwan again. Mac was happy to see him and took Haigh to see his parents. During the friendly reunion they told Haigh of their recent investments in property. This information was to seal their fates. After socialising with Mac for several weeks, Haigh carried out his plan on the 9 September 1944.
In Haigh's diary, he claimed that he had a sudden need for blood so he hit McSwan over the head with a blunt instrument. Then he slit his throat. He says, "I got a mug and took some blood, from his neck, in the mug, and drank it."
Haigh later found a 40-gallon barrel in which to put McSwan’s body and then filled it with sulphuric acid. He described in his confession how, when the body was finally submerged in liquid acid, the fumes overwhelmed him and he had to go outside. Later he covered the drum and went home to sleep, leaving his former employer and friend to dissolve into a liquid sludge. It was during the night that he supposedly suffered from more surreal and blood-filled nightmares.
The next day the remains of McSwan were little more than cold liquid and lumps which Haigh disposed of down a drain. Knowing that he had killed someone and removed all traces of them gave Haigh a feeling of euphoria.
Haigh managed to convince McSwan’s parents that their son had gone away to avoid conscription. He even sent fake postcards to them from Scotland pretending to be their son. However, Haigh’s main concern was to acquire the rest of the McSwan assets.
The next murder would be committed with the addition of new equipment to deal with dissolving bodies. A stirrup-pump, DIY tin face masks and even a bath tub made of steel, painted to make it more resistant to corrosion, were all employed by Haigh in his obscene workshop of death.
The McSwan Murders
According to a police statement, before Haigh ventured on his plan to cruelly dispose of the remainder of the McSwan family, he also murdered a middle-aged woman from Hammersmith.
The McSwans disappeared on 2 July 1945. They were killed in a similarly tragic way to their son. Haigh hit them first, killing them and then claimed to have drunk their blood, before dissolving them in acid baths.
After informing the McSwans' landlady that the couple had gone to America, Haigh had all of their mail forwarded to him, including Mr McSwan's pension. He then set about forging their son’s signature on a Power of Attorney form. By forging a deed on a property owned by Mrs McSwan and appropriating it into a false name, Haigh managed to make nearly £2000 from selling the property. That, along with securities and sales of possessions, totalled £6000.
For a while Haigh managed to swindle people through a variety of scams, including posing as a liaison officer dealing with patents and setting up fake branches in several towns. It was also around this time that he later claimed in a police confession that he had killed and disposed of a young man called Max from Kensington.
Haigh’s spoils from the McSwans were running out fast and the evil sociopath needed money from new victims. This time he chose a more worldly couple, Dr Archibald Henderson, 52, and his wife, Rose, 41, who were selling their home
Cultivating a relationship with the couple, based on a shared passion for music, Haigh encouraged them to reveal information about their properties.
Renting a storehouse on Leopold Road in Crawley, London, Haigh moved his possessions from Gloucester Street and began setting up his obscene workshop once again. This time he ordered three carboys of sulphuric acid and two 40-gallon drums without tops.
On 12 February 1946, he drove Dr Henderson to Crawley and shot him in the head with Crawley’s own revolver. He then left the body in a storeroom and set off to get Mrs Henderson. After some reluctance she was driven to the storehouse. Haigh shot her from behind and after trussing up both her and her husband’s bodies, left them overnight. Haigh later claimed to the police that he drank blood from both of them.
Haigh dissolved both bodies in acid but this time the grisly act did not erase all traces, as Mr Henderson’s foot was left intact. This did not seem to bother Haigh too much, as he dumped all the remains including the foot in the corner of a yard. The psychopath by now felt immune to being captured.
Efforts to maintain the impression that the Henderson’s were still alive were methodical and time consuming. Haigh even forged letters by Rose Henderson, writing a lengthy letter to her brother. After selling their properties and possessions he acquired around £8000 in total. Showing a sickening contempt for his victims he even gave his girlfriend Barbara some of Mrs Henderson’s clothes to wear.
Unexpectedly, Rose Henderson’s brother Burlin was prepared to go to the police. Haigh managed to convince him that the couple had emigrated to South Africa on the grounds that Dr Henderson had carried out an illegal abortion.
As an indication of Haigh’s depravity and sociopathic tendencies, he even planned on visiting the mother of a recently deceased school friend whom he had spotted in the obituaries section of a local newspaper.
No doubt Haigh had intentions to dispose of the grieving mother and misappropriate any possessions he could. His plan was foiled when the frail woman unexpectedly died herself.
Haigh’s money once again started to run out, mainly due to gambling and expensive tastes which included staying at an upmarket hotel. While there he had socialised with a wealthy elderly woman, Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon, and thought up murderous plans to dispose of her.
In June 1948 Haigh claimed that his car was stolen but the Lagonda was found smashed at the foot of a cliff. Less than a month later, an unidentified body was found nearby. However, the police decided that the two incidents were unrelated. Haigh denied having anything to do with the body, even after his arrest.
Haigh had told girlfriend Barbara that he wanted to collect the car insurance and even took her to the spot where the Lagonda had been written off. It was then that she began to become suspicious of her soon-to-be husband.
In the meantime, despite having killed Mrs Durand-Deacon, his money was running out again and he needed to pay off loans. Even although he tried to invite other people out to his Crawley den of death, no-one took him up on his offer.
Also, Rose Henderson’s brother was once again causing problems for Haigh by insisting that the police locate his sister due to a death in the family. Haigh realised that he would have to silence him too.
Before Haigh could carry out his callous intentions on both Mrs Durand-Deacon and Burlin Henderson, he was arrested. His first comment to the reception officer when he first arrived at Lewes prison was, "This is the result of doing six people, but not for personal gain". Haigh then confessed to everything
Beside his parents, the one person who was profoundly affected by news of Haigh being a callous mass murderer was Barbara Stephens, the woman he was supposed to love and marry. She visited him regularly in prison trying to understand what kind of man she had been involved with. Did he intend to kill her, she asked? He never entertained the idea, was the seemingly genuine reply. However, Barbara knew that at some point she may have succumbed to a similar fate when Haigh saw her as an inconvenience.
There appeared to be no remorse on Haigh’s part and he revelled in revealing his grisly escapades which were recounted in the newspapers.
Even although the acid had destroyed a great deal of evidence, not everything had been eliminated. Ghoulish relics such small bones, dentures, Mr Henderson’s foot and a gall bladder were all discovered, as the forensic team sifted through tons of mud and sludge. Technicians had to wear rubber gloves and cover their arms in Vaseline to protect themselves from the acid. They found the following items.
1. 28 pounds of human body fat
2. 3 faceted gallstones
3. Part of a left foot, not quite eroded
4. 18 fragments of human bone
5. Upper and lower dentures, intact
6. The handle of a red plastic bag
7. A lipstick container
Despite the forensic evidence, it was Haigh’s very own sense of invincibility and arrogance that was to be his greatest undoing in finding him guilty.
Haigh was of the opinion that nothing could be found from his human slaughterhouse and confidently recounted in great detail his escapades of death. As far as he was concerned, it was a case of corpus delicti. No bodies, no crime, no punishment.
On 1 April 1949, EG Robey opened the case for the prosecution before ten Sussex magistrates. Haigh was in a confident mood and even made light banter throughout the proceedings, as if he was unaware of the magnitude of his crimes. If ever there was an illustration of sociopathic tendencies, that is the inability to empathise and recognise human feelings and emotions, Haigh was the perfect embodiment of such dysfunction.
Haigh had during an early confession not only admitted to many of the deaths but had also enquired as to what the outcome would be with anyone who was declared insane. It seemed at this stage Haigh had been mulling over the possibility of appearing mad in order to escape the noose and had most likely invented the stories of nightmarish dreams and claims to be a vampire in order to literally save his neck.
During court proceedings EG Robey called thirty-three witnesses to prove premeditation of murder for gain. He laid out his case in the form of a basic chronology that showed how rational Haigh's movements were and had not been the actions of someone with diminished responsibility.
Haigh was also examined by several doctors and psychologists who were interested in the defendant’s claim’s to have a need to drink blood. Such a compulsion, if genuine, is part of a sexual deviation and related to the act of violence itself. However, Haigh, who it appeared had little interest in sex, gave no indication that he suffered from such a disorder.
Most of the psychologists agreed that although Haigh suffered from mental health issues he was not ‘insane’ and had been perfectly aware of his murderous actions that had involved meticulous planning. One eminent psychiatrist believed without any doubt that Haigh had a 'paranoid constitution', the same mental disease as Hitler.
Haigh, they believed, had most likely developed a paranoid personality to escape his parents’ suffocating universe, in order to relieve himself from emotional pain. His upbringing had contributed to a mental state where the dividing lines between reality and fantasy had become blurred.
The result was that Haigh had an acute sense of omnipotence and believed he was above the law. He was in effect an ‘egocentric paranoiac’ who, although aware that killing people was against the law, still thought that it was part of fulfilling his destiny.
Haigh tried to impress on the psychiatrists more details of his abnormal dreams and obsession with blood drinking but none of them bought his efforts to portray himself as a lunatic. However, something of which they were not aware was that Haigh had years before developed a friendship with an employee of Sussex psychiatric hospital and had shown a great deal interest in mental illness. He possessed a talent for deception, having over the years also posed as a lawyer, engineer and a doctor.
On 18 July 1949 four thousand people crowded into the small town of Lewes hoping to get a seat in the court. Mr Justice Humphries presided.
Haigh had no money to pay for his defence so 'The News of the World' newspaper did a deal with him and offered to pay for his counsel if he would provide them with an exclusive. The 'Daily Mirror' newspaper was also found in contempt of court for emphasising Haigh being a vampire. The editor, Silvester Bolam, was sentenced to three months in prison. The paper also had to pay £10,000 in court costs.
Haigh pleaded not guilty. The prosecution rested its case of deliberate premeditated murder for gain. Haigh’s defence counsel tried to rely on the issue of the defendant’s insanity, describing for the court how his ‘mental illness’ would have affected his ability to appreciate the morality of his acts.
It was clear that Haigh was aware that what he was doing was wrong in the eyes of the law, as evidenced by his attempt to cover up his crimes. With that admission the defence collapsed.
There was only one issue to be decided, the question of the prisoner's sanity. The defence's psychiatrist failed to prove that Haigh’s judgment was impaired. Also, because Haigh had initially enquired about getting released from Broadmoor, it appeared as if he was thinking of using ‘insanity’ to get him off the hook.
The prosecution declared it was he was simply a man who believed he had discovered the perfect crime, committed murder for gain and then pretended he was insane when he was caught.
The jury were left to decide whether paranoia could be considered a mental disease or defect. It took them only fifteen minutes to come to a conclusion. Haigh was found guilty.
The judge asked Haigh if he had anything to say for himself. Haigh cocked his head and said, "Nothing at all". Donning a black cap, the judge sentenced him to be hung until dead
Haigh finished his life story for the newspaper that had paid for his trial. He also wrote letters to Barbara Stephens and to his parents who did not see him before he died. His mother sent greetings through a reporter. Haigh also told Barbara that he believed in reincarnation and that he would be back to complete his mission. Madame Tussaud’s requested a fitting for a death mask and Haigh was happy to oblige.
On 6 August 1949, Haigh was hanged at Wandsworth Prison.
Madam Tussaud’s erected a wax figure of Haigh, complete with his very own clothes that he bequeathed to the institution.
John George Haigh: The Acid Bath Vampire
by Katherine Ramsland
On Thursday, March 3, 1949, London's Daily Mirror began a series of macabre stories about murder that began with the headline, "Hunt for the Vampire." They did not name names, but it became common knowledge that a certain prisoner was the man to whom they referred-one John George Haigh.
What precipitated these stories was a missing person's report two weeks earlier. On February 20, a man and woman came to the police station in Chelsea to report that Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon, aged 69, seemed to have disappeared.
This woman was a resident of the Onslow Court Hotel in South Kensington, where she had lived for the past two years. She had made an appointment with the man who was now reporting her missing--Mr. John Haigh--to visit his place of business in Sussex. According to him, she had failed to show up. He had gone to her friend, Constance Lane, to ask what had become of her.
He claimed that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had asked him to pick her up at the Army and Navy surplus store, which he had gone to do. After an hour, she had not come. Mrs. Lane had noticed that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had not been at her usual seat at dinner or breakfast the following morning, and this had worried her. She approached the chambermaid, who told her that the missing woman had been out all night and had not returned.
After Haigh's account, Lane decided that she must report this incident to the police. It was not like her friend to just be out without telling anyone. Olive was a woman of strict routine. Something was amiss. Constance had to report it. Haigh said that he himself would drive her over.
A photo and description of the missing woman was issued to all police departments, the press and to the hotel personnel. Sergeant Lambourne, the policewoman assigned to take interviews at the hotel, queried the manager, who offered an uncomplimentary description of Haigh and a record of his debts to the hotel.
Lambourne thought Haigh had been rather slick in his responses and looked suspicious there as a middle-aged man among all these wealthy older women, so she decided to do a background check.
Within an hour, Scotland Yard reported that according to the Criminal Records Office, Haigh had been arrested several times for swindling and had spent three separate terms in prison for conspiracy to defraud, forgery, obtaining money by false pretences, and theft. He was immediately placed under suspicion.
Haigh tried to be helpful. Blue-eyed and handsome, his polished manner, obvious cleanliness, and stylish dress made a good impression on reporters. He answered all questions with apparent concern over the missing woman. Some people noticed that he wore gloves and it was not long before it became known that Haigh was a compulsive hand-washer who always wore gloves, summer or winter. He detested dirt.
Even as Haigh gave interviews to reporters at the hotel, stressing his hope that Mrs. Durand-Deacon would be found safe and sound, the West Sussex constables were checking out his place of business, Hurstlea Products in Crawley.
Haigh had claimed to be the director, which was soon proven to be a fabrication. In fact, from this company he had rented a two-story brick storefront, surrounded by a six-foot fence, for what he called "experimental work." He had told the managing director of Hurstlea Products, from whom he recently had borrowed money, that he was doing "a conversion job." Conversion work was a normal industrial practice, primarily used to break down materials in strong acid. People willing to do it could make good money.
The police, led by Horsham detective Pat Heslin, forced their way into the building to examine the contents of the room. They found tools, trays, wires, a sheet of red cellophane paper and a wad of cotton near a bench. Three carboys--narrow-necked, ten-gallon glass bottles used for acid--stood in a row, packed in straw. One was empty, another half empty. Nearby lay a new stirrup-pump with a part removed, and from a hook on the door hung a rubber apron stained by chemicals. There was also a pair of rubber boots and rubber gloves. Inside an army bag was a gas mask.
The police team also found a man's hatbox and an attaché case that bore the initials, J. G. H. Leaving a guard at the storehouse, Heslin reported these items to Inspector Shelley Symes, who authorized their seizure for a search.
They found papers relating to someone named Archibald Henderson, Rose Henderson, and three people named McSwan. There was a marriage certificate, several passports, identity cards, and driver's licenses. Deep inside the hatbox lay a .38 Enfield revolver and eight rounds of ammunition. The revolver had been fired recently.
It was not long before they discovered a cleaner's receipt for a Persian lamb coat. They traced the coat back to one that had belonged to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Back at the hotel, they found a workbasket in her room with scraps of material that matched patches on the Persian lamb coat. This was sent to the police laboratory.
Then a press report brought Mr. Bull of Horsham forward to report that jewelry had been brought into his jewelry shop to be pawned the day after the woman had been reported missing. Symes collected the jewelry and had it identified by a relative as that belonging to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. The person who had sold it had signed his name, "J. McLean" at "32 St. George's Drove, S.W." The jeweler's assistant recognized Haigh as "McLean." In previous visits, when he had also pawned jewelry, he had called himself John George Haigh.
Not surprisingly, he was arrested. When Detective-Inspector Webb approached Haigh and asked him to come along to the police station, he reportedly said, "Certainly. I will do anything to help you, as you know."
It was not long before they not only had found out where Mrs. Durand-Deacon had gone, but other missing persons as well.
Haigh had a detached air as he was brought into the Chelsea police station. He smoked, read, a newspaper, and fell asleep. For some time police revealed nothing about what they wanted from him. It took almost three hours for them to prepare to question him-sufficient time for him to prepare himself with a strategy.
In the meantime, they had received a report from the brother of a Rose Henderson that Haigh had been the last person to have seen her as well, before she had vanished without letting anyone know that she was leaving. This confirmed the suspicions of the detectives on the case.
Haigh immediately began to lie about his visits to Horsham. He arrogantly assumed that the police could not touch him, so he talked freely. From the nature of the questions, Haigh realized that the police had evidence against him. After first pretending the coat had belonged to a Mrs. Henderson, he admitted that he had indeed sold Mrs. Durand-Deacon's jewelry and that he knew the coat was hers.
The detectives asked how he had acquired her property and what he knew of her whereabouts. He began to invent a story about blackmail, which quickly fell through. However, when left alone with one detective, Inspector Webb, he asked what the chances were of anyone being released from the institution for the criminally insane at Broadmoor. It betrayed his involvement as well as his strategy-to pass himself off as insane. Inspector Webb declined to answer the question.
At that point, Haigh laid his cards on the table, still believing himself to be immune to prosecution. "If I told you the truth," he said, "you would not believe me; it sounds too fantastic for belief." Apparently thinking that he would be shipped right off to Broadmoor, he waived away Webb's cautioning words and said, "I will tell you about it. Mrs. Durand-Deacon no longer exists. She has disappeared completely and no trace of her can ever be found again. I have destroyed her with acid. You will find the sludge, which remains at Leopold Road. Every trace has gone." He then showed his naïve arrogance with, "How can you prove murder without a body?"
This admission seemed rather inexplicable at first, but as Haigh's history was uncovered, it became clear what his intentions had been.
While in prison years before, Haigh had discussed this point of law with fellow prisoners. He had convinced himself that if there is no corpse (which is what he understood the term corpus delicti to mean), there can be no conviction. In fact, he had talked about this legal issue so often, he had acquired the nickname, "Ol' Corpus Delicti."
He was convinced that the police had to have a physical body to actually prosecute someone for murder, and there were ways to make sure that did not happen. It was in prison where he had experimented with acid on mice to see how well their corpses dissolved. He had also mentioned that to get real money, one had to prey on older wealthy women.
However, Haigh had not taken into account the weight of circumstantial evidence, even without a body, that can be used to prove the overwhelming probability of guilt. He had already offered a confession, which in itself went a long way toward helping the police prove their case. They only needed some corroborating evidence. They had Mrs. Durand-Deacon's coat and jewelry. It was time to find out if they could recover any evidence from the "sludge."
Haigh was once again cautioned not to speak, but he went on to offer a full description of what he had done to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. He dictated a statement that took two and a half hours to write down. He claimed that as she was examining some paper to use for artificial fingernails, he had shot her in the back of the head. He then went to his car, fetched a penknife and a glass, and used these items to drain blood from the victim so that he could drink it. He put the body into a 45-gallon oil drum with some acid and left it to go into effect.
The crime had brought him about 111 pounds, 10 shillings. He went further to state that he had killed five more people, dissolved them in acid to dispose of them, and actually drank their blood. He had filled a glass full of blood after each one and had consumed it. He had an overwhelming need for it, he claimed, and that was why he had killed them.
He described a dream cycle that always preceded his compulsion that involved images of blood. Since childhood, he'd been fascinated by the substance, and in 1944 his car had overturned in an accident with a lorry; after that he'd had recurring dreams of crucifixes that dripped blood. What he did, he implied, had had no control over.
Haigh was kept in custody, charged with the murder of Mrs. Durand-Deacon, and remanded to Lewes prison. From there, he admitted to the killing of three more people-a woman from Hammersmith, a youth from Kensington, and a girl from Eastbourne. Again, he said, it was to have their blood.
That made nine victims in all, according to his count. He showed no hint of remorse or of fear about what was to happen to him. This new statement was also written down and signed. However, there were no other charges leveled against him.
Because of his strange announcements, his mental state became a significant issue to the courts and to the press. That he claimed to murder in order to drink the blood of his victims, unassociated with any sexual perversion, became a point of great debate. There were no other cases quite like it, and most of the examining physicians did not believe him.
In addition, Haigh had hurt his own case. Before launching into his bizarre account, he had asked what the chances were of someone getting out of Broadmoor. This indicated what he had in mind.
After his initial confession, the West Sussex chief constable requested help from Scotland Yard in the form of a chief inspector and a pathologist. Chief-Inspector Mahon assumed charge of the case. He went with Dr. Keith Simpson and Inspector Symes to the storehouse in Crawley where Haigh had done his "experiments."
It was their job to see if anything could be salvaged as evidence. It would be an arduous task, but hopefully they had arrived before the acid had fully done its work. Haigh's hasty confession proved to be his ultimate undoing.
Evolution of a Serial Killer
John George Haigh came from Yorkshire, England. There was no suggestion in his family of any type of mental disorder, although his mother, Emily, claimed that she had experienced acute anxiety during the last three months before he was born. She was forty and he was her first and only child. She had been married eleven years to John Robert Haigh and suddenly he had been fired from his job as a foreman in electricity works. That put the family into dire financial straits. They were forced to borrow money, which they considered shameful.
Haigh was born on July 24th, 1909. Several months later, his father found work again. They moved to Outwood, where Haigh spent the next twenty-four years of his life. He claimed that his life had been quiet and monastic, without the typical joys of childhood.
His parents belonged to a religious sect known as the Peculiar People, or The Plymouth Brethren, who were purist and anticlerical. He was told Bible stories and forbidden from participating in sports or any kind of entertainment. That was all right with him, because he developed an abhorrence for dirt.
In all of his actions, his father warned him, he should take care not to "grieve the Lord." The world was evil and the family needed to keep themselves separate. Haigh's father even built a tall fence around their house and garden to distance themselves from neighbors.
John Haigh, Sr. had a bluish mark on his forehead, which he said was the Devil's brand. He had been marked because he had sinned and he warned his son never to do the same. His mother was not marked because she was an angel, and Haigh thereafter regarded mother figures in that light. He found it remarkable that he was the child of a sinner and an angel. He built up a state of anxiety over doing anything that might leave that mark on him and thereby show him to be a sinner.
He vigilantly examined others for this indicator, and often stayed awake at night wondering if the mark had arisen on his face. It was not long, however, before he discovered that he would not necessarily be punished for going astray. Small pranks and lies produced no mark on his skin. He realized he had been conned.
As a boy, he showed a strong sensitivity to others, especially animals. He kept a dog and several pet rabbits as substitutes for the friends he was not allowed to have. He sometimes gave his own food to the neighbors' dogs. He made many statements to the effect that he could not bear the sufferings of others. Even those he killed he claimed had not suffered. Nevertheless, it was clear that he valued animals over humans.
He rarely misbehaved, but when he did, his mother struck the back of his hand with the bristles of a hairbrush. He later said that this treatment drew blood, which he would lick, and that's how he developed his blood craving. (Many believe he said this to build the image of insanity, but those people who later do become vampiric often report such incidents from their childhood.)
Although he attended school, Haigh generally went right home afterward rather than mingling with other children. He was a solitary individual. He also became a liar. To avoid distressing his parents, he developed the habit of inventing what he knew they wanted to hear. He became quick with his tongue and clever in his remarks.
Haigh's greatest joy was music, and he learned to play the piano and the organ. He also joined the choir, which required that he attend Cathedral services in Wakefield, three miles away. He entered a religious world that was more highly structured and reliant on designated authorities than his anti-clerical upbringing had allowed. He began to live in two different worlds with fundamentally opposing beliefs.
In fact, from age ten to age sixteen, he basically participated in those things that he had been raised to believe were sinful, and his parents allowed it. He felt like he was getting away with something, and a psychiatrist would later determine that this had been the sociopathic turning point for him. Haigh had also described how he would meditate on the image of the bleeding Christ from portraits in the Cathedral, claiming that this had adversely affected him and had partly inspired his bloodlust.
Haigh also loved cars and after finishing school, he took a job as an apprentice in a firm of motor engineers. Since the work was dirty, he spent only a year at it and then left. He then became a clerk with the Wakefield Education Community, but disliked that as well. He became an underwriter for advertising and insurance, at which he succeeded for a brief period. He learned about the world of high finance and even managed to buy an expensive car, a bright red Alfa Romeo.
However, at the age of twenty-one, he had a brush with the law for fraudulent practices. It seems that the petty cash box was stolen and he was suspected, but he was let go without punishment. He lost a job that seemed to have promise.
The author David Briffett makes the case that Haigh must have been aware at this time of a notorious trial that was going on in France. It filled the English papers. Maitre Sarret, a French lawyer, had devised a get-rich-quick scheme that involved insurance, murder, and the disposal of the bodies in sulfuric acid.
Sarret insured a man who was dying and persuaded a female friend to marry him. She then used a decoy husband to assure insurance companies that he was no health risk. Then when the first man died, they all collected. However, the fake husband blackmailed the lawyer, who then murdered him and his mistress. He then placed the bodies in a metal tub and dissolved them with acid. He might have gotten away with it, but went on to repeat the insurance fraud for an even larger amount of money and got caught. He was sentenced to death. If Haigh did indeed read this story-and it seems likely that he did-he no doubt believed he was cleverer than Sarret and could get away with it.
In 1934, Haigh stopped attending his parents' church and got married to a young woman he barely knew named Beatrice Hammer. She was twenty-one, independent, and high-spirited. Haigh impressed her with his manners and charm, and when he asked for her hand, she immediately said yes. They kept their approaching nuptials secret, although Betty had second thoughts. To a guest at the hotel where she was staying she said, "Oh God, I wish it could be anyone else!" She was not sure about his character or the source of his money. However, on July 6th she went through with it.
Both sets of parents disapproved, although Haigh's parents allowed the couple to live with them. The marriage lasted only four months, ending when Haigh was arrested in October and sent to prison. While he was there, his wife gave birth to a baby daughter, which she gave up for adoption. Haigh saw her only once more; briefly, to tell her they were never officially wed because he already had a wife at the time. It was a lie and it's not clear why he told her that.
He viewed prison itself as a temporary setback. It seems that he had read in the newspaper an account of someone who had sold cars that had been leased. It struck him as easy money, which greatly appealed to him, although he seemed to overlook the fact that the person who had done it was now in jail. Haigh believed he could pull it off. He became the hire-purchase inspector of one of the companies, and finding the system lax, took advantage.
"When I discovered there were easier ways of making a living than to work long hours in an office," he later wrote, "I did not ask myself whether I was doing right or wrong. That seemed to me to be irrelevant. I merely said, 'That is what I wish to do.' And as the means lay within my power, that was what I decided.
Haigh's approach to this crime was to advertise for a garage, stating that the necessary capital was available. He would then select a garage whose owner was having financial trouble. He would take an option to purchase. During the option, the commission on any cars that Haigh sold would be divided. He would then use the name of the garage to obtain blank hire-purchase forms for a car.
He would then forge someone's handwriting who lived in the vicinity of the garage and use that to create a fictitious purchase of a nonexistent car. The company advanced the money, which Haigh would endorse and cash. He got away with this for only a few months before he was arrested and imprisoned for fifteen months.
This was his first real penalty, yet it had no effect on redirecting him toward an honest occupation. It was not long before his belief in his own superiority got him into more serious trouble.
The Deal Maker
While in prison, Haigh was ostracized from the Brethren for his sin. He was shocked, and his mother afterward said to anyone who would listen that this expulsion had affected his future outlook. After prison, he returned to his parents' home and then went into the dry-cleaning business. He succeeded well until his partner was killed in a motorcycle accident. The subsequent liquidation of the business soured him. He left his hometown and went to London.
Reading about a job listing for a secretary/chauffeur for an amusement park, Haigh applied. That began a whole new chapter in his life, although it was only by chance that the person who had hired him would one day become his first victim. The amusement park owner was Mr. William Donald McSwan, nicknamed "Mac," a young man with good prospects. He liked Haigh and thought he was an excellent employee.
Haigh never mentioned his past transgressions. Mac introduced him to his parents, who approved of him at once. The two young men became friends. Both enjoyed fast cars, flashy clothes, and going to London pubs. As Haigh learned the business, he was promoted to manager. However, after a year, he left to go into business on his own. The McSwans were sorry to see him go, but he did not like to work for other people.
He set up a fake solicitor's office by using the name of a reputable firm. He then pretended to have an estate to liquidate and some public company shares to dispose of. Checks came in and Haigh cashed them without providing the goods. He would then move on to duplicate the scheme in another area.
However, the law caught up with him and once again he went to prison, this time for four years. Within a year of getting out, he was back in again for twenty-one months for theft of goods. He claimed the owner asked him to sell those things he had taken, but his lies failed to save him.
While in prison this time, Haigh vowed he would not be back. He formed a plan to go after rich older women. To his mind, that's where the big money was to be found. He also learned how to work with sulfuric acid in the prison's tin shop.
He experimented on mice, supplied to him by other prisoners, and made an extended study of the effects of acid on animal tissue. He discovered how easy it was to dispose of a body if one had a sufficient amount of acid and a private place to do it. With a mouse, it required only half an hour.
When he got out, he found work as an accountant with a Mr. Stephens in an engineering firm. He lived for a short time with the Stephens family. They had two daughters and the older one, Barbara, shared Haigh's passion for music, so they developed a close friendship.
Eventually, they talked about marriage, although Haigh was not divorced from his first wife and was in no position to make any such arrangements. He was also nearly twenty years Barbara's senior. Nevertheless, she proved to be his closest friend and genuinely believed she would become his wife.
In 1944 Haigh was involved in a car accident. He suffered a wound to the head, which bled into his mouth. He claims it revived in him dreams of blood from his childhood.
"I saw before me a forest of crucifixes," he wrote, "which gradually turned into trees. At first there appeared to be dew, or rain, dripping from the branches, but as I approached, I realized it was blood. Suddenly the whole forest began to writhe and the trees, stark and erect, to ooze blood... A man went to each tree, catching the blood." That man approached Haigh to "drink."
It was the same year he began to kill. He rented a basement space at 79 Gloucester Street, which apparently proved too convenient to resist. He kept carboys of acid there and it was not long before he transferred what he had learned in prison to the world at large.
At a public house in Kensington, he chanced upon "Mac" McSwan again, for whom he had worked before his second prison term. McSwan was happy to see him and took Haigh to see his parents. Having no idea what lay in the future, they were all pleased with this reunion. They told Haigh of their recent investments in property, which provided a tidy income. He listened intently, forming a plan.
McSwan and Haigh began to spend more time together. One day, McSwan wrote a postcard for Haigh to young Barbara Stephens in Crawley. It was the 6th of September 1944, and he was never seen again.
In Haigh's diary, found later by police, there is a cross etched in red crayon under the entry for September 9th. This may have been the day he either killed or disposed of McSwan. Haigh claimed that he had a sudden need for blood so he had hit McSwan over the head with a blunt instrument, possibly a table leg or a pipe. Then he slit his throat. "I got a mug and took some blood, from his neck, in the mug, and drank it." He left the corpse there overnight to die and had to decide what he was now to do with it. That was the night when Haigh dreamed of the forest of blood.
In his workroom, he had some acid-much more than he needed for the things he claimed to be doing. Searching old bombsites from the war, he found an old 40-gallon drum and put McSwan into it. Getting the body stuffed inside was an ordeal, as McSwan was larger than the five-foot-eight Haigh.
First Haigh removed McSwan's valuables and clothing. Then he laid the drum on its side and dragged the body over to it. It took him half an hour to do this, because he had to fold the body in half to fit it inside the drum. He pushed the legs as close to the torso as possible before he was able to shove McSwan inside. Finally he had to set the drum upright. He packed McSwan's overcoat around him and prepared for the final step.
Haigh donned an apron and gloves to go fill a bucket with the acid. This method proved awkward, but he finally got the first bucketful into the drum. As he worked, the fumes that accumulated as the acid worked its way into the body overwhelmed him. He had not expected this. His office had poor ventilation and Haigh had to step outside to get air. It took hours before the corpse was fully submerged in a bubbling liquid. The once-cold acid had become intensely hot as it reacted with the body's moisture. Haigh covered the drum, locked his office, and went home to collapse. As he slept, his former drinking pal became a liquid sludge.
Haigh returned to the basement two days later to check on the progress of his "experiment." He looked into the drum to see a blackish porridge-like substance, smeared with red streaks. It smelled awful. Using a wooden rod, he stirred through the human/acid stew to see if McSwan was fully dissolved.
It was more congealed than he had expected, but sufficiently liquid to pour down a large manhole drain-which is exactly what he did, using the bucket to scoop the cold liquid from inside the drum until it was nearly empty. To Haigh's chagrin, there were still lumps of something at the bottom of the drum. He had to dig them out with the stick and force them down the drain. Then he cleaned up the drum.
Once this task was completed, Haigh experienced a sense of euphoria. He had murdered someone and no one would ever be able to pin it on him. In fact, no one would ever find a body. No corpus delicti. It was time now to claim Mac's possessions.
First Haigh went to McSwan's parents and told them that their son had gone away to avoid the draft. Since McSwan had already voiced plans to go underground rather than serve in the military, it seemed credible to them that he had gone. Haigh even sent fake postcards to McSwans from Scotland. He then made plans to acquire the rest of the McSwan holdings.
Haigh had learned how the acid had made it difficult to breathe, so he fashioned a tin mask to protect his face for future work. He also bought a stirrup-pump to get the acid from the carboy container into the tub, since that, too, had proved a rather arduous task. He had an acid-bath tub specially made of steel and he painted it with several more layers to make it resistant to corrosion. (Briffett says that he had two oil drums for this purpose, rather than a tub.)
Two months later, according to a statement made to the police, he murdered a middle-aged woman from Hammersmith who was never identified. He then went on to murder both of the elder McSwans-those people who had welcomed him back without reservation into their company. He hit them with the same pipe, claimed to have drunk their blood, and dissolved them in acid baths.
After July 2nd, 1945, they simply disappeared. Haigh told the landlady that they had gone away to America. He also rifled through the family files so that he was prepared to answer any questions, and he had all of their mailed forwarded to him-including McSwan's pension. Then he disposed of their properties.
Later, he claimed that he had killed them both because the father's corpse did not produce enough blood to satisfy him. However, the fact that he took over their property and investments indicates a different motive. Pretending to be William Donald McSwan, he forged the young man's signature on a Power of Attorney. Then he forged a deed on a property owned by McSwan's mother and proceeded to appropriate it into his own name-his false one.
He sold the properties and netted 1720 pounds. He also obtained securities and from the sale of the possessions and homes gained more than 6,000 pounds. Their disappearance was never reported to the police and was not even discovered until Haigh made his confession in 1949.
At the time, Haigh had moved into Room 404 at the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington, a resident hotel that housed mostly well-heeled older widows. He posed as a liaison officer between people with patents, inventors, and engineering firms. His firm, he told people, was the Union Engineering Group, with branches in four towns.
That autumn, Haigh later claimed in his tacked-on confession, he killed a young man named Max from Kensington, but there was no way to test the truth of his statement.
However, he was certainly ready to kill again. Within two years of the McSwan family deaths, Haigh had spent all of the money he had gotten from their estates, so he looked around for another way to enrich himself quickly. An ad for selling a house brought him in contact with Dr. Archibald Henderson, 52, and his wife, Rose Henderson, 41.
Haigh offered more for the house than they were asking but could not come up with the money, so the deal fell through. However, he had never intended to buy it. What he wanted was a way into their lives. He continued to see the Hendersons and to develop a friendship based on common interests in music, although they were not the type of people of which he would normally approve.
They lived expensively, drank, and were fairly worldly. Rose had been married before and was divorced. Yet the fact that they obviously had money appealed to Haigh, so he cultivated an association and formed a plan. He encouraged them to talk about themselves and through those conversations learned all that he could about their properties and their habits.
He claims that he often played the piano for them and performed many acts of kindness. Their association lasted five months, showing just how patient Haigh could be with his intended prey.
During this time, Haigh rented the storehouse on Leopold Road in Crawley from Hustlea Products for his experimental work, and moved his possessions there from Gloucester Street. On December 22nd, 1947, he ordered three carboys of sulfuric acid and two forty-gallon drums without tops.
In February of 1948, Haigh visited the Hendersons and spent several days with them. He claims that a "dream cycle" began, indicating the blood dreams that drove him to murder. At the same time, his debts were mounting.
On February 12th, he drove Dr. Henderson to Crawley and shot him in the head with his own revolver, which Haigh had stolen. He left Henderson in the storeroom while he went to get a gas mask, which he also had taken from Henderson's place. He then returned to Mrs. Henderson, told her that her husband was ill, and drove her to her doom.
She was irritated with this interruption in her life and did not want to go into the storehouse, but Haigh asked her to help him carry some of her husband's things on their way to seeing him at the home of a friend. She begrudgingly went into the building. Haigh shot her as well. He trussed up both bodies and left them there overnight.
"From each of them," he said, "I took my draught of blood."
His diary for the February 12th entry indicates the Henderson's initials next to two red crosses. He dissolved them in the acid baths, as he had done with the McSwans. Henderson's foot was still intact, but Haigh dumped the sludge along with the foot in one corner of the trashy yard without bothering to take care of such obvious evidence. Apparently he felt immune to capture.
The following morning, the night porter at the hotel where the Henderson's were staying was asked to take their dog, an Irish setter, out for a walk. Haigh then went to the hotel, paid the bill, showed a letter of authority from Dr. Henderson, and took the Henderson's possessions and dog away with him. The items he sold, along with their car, but he kept the dog with him in his hotel.
He also acquired and sold the Henderson's house. Rather shockingly, he sold Barbara Stephens some of Mrs. Henderson's clothing. To Mrs. Durand-Deacon, whom Haigh had met at the hotel, he sold a handbag. From these transactions, he gained almost 8,000 pounds.
He wrote to people whom the Henderson's knew, copying Rose's handwriting and forging her signature-even writing out a full fifteen pages to satisfy her brother, Arnold Burlin, who wanted to go to the police. Haigh explained to this man that the Hendersons had decided to emigrate to South Africa. Burlin was worried, but did not know how to find them.
When he pressed again about the police, Haigh told him that Archie would get into trouble because he had performed an illegal abortion. Burlin did not quite believe this, but he had no proof otherwise. Although Burlin was a shrewd businessman, Haigh managed finally to convince him. He accepted Rose's letter, mailed from Glasgow, as authentic.
Haigh later claimed that he had killed the Hendersons to get their blood, but his actions subsequent to the double murder, and the state of his finances, indicate otherwise.
Next, according to him, he killed a girl named Mary from Eastbourne. This, too, was never proven, and it is not certain that she ever existed.
In June of 1948 Haigh claimed that his car was stolen. The Lagonda was found smashed at the foot of a cliff. Less than a month later, an unidentified female body (Briffett says male) was found nearby, but the police decided that one incident was unrelated to the other. Haigh insisted that he had nothing to do with either incident, even after his arrest and lengthy confession of other murders.
However, he did show the wreck to Barbara Stephens and aroused her suspicions when he told her not to mention it to anyone. People had heard him say that he was tired of the car and wished someone would steal it. Whether he simply rid himself of it or rid himself of a body is anyone's guess. He was well insured and used the money to purchase a new Avis saloon.
Going through the funds he had accumulated by the end of the year, Haigh was once again in debt. He squandered a lot of money by gambling. He noticed an obituary in the paper of the father of a schoolmate so he wrote a kind note to the widow, saying he would like to come and visit her. She thought it was sweet of him after all these years, but she died before he could get there. No doubt he had a deal in mind for her.
He went about inviting several other people out to his "factory" in Crawley, but got no takers. Now he really was getting desperate. He owed money to the hotel and had borrowed enough to pay it, but the loan had to be repaid within five days.
When Mrs. Durand-Deacon approached him with the idea of inventing false fingernails, he invited her to his place of business. Even the murder of Mrs. Durand-Deacon, however, failed to cover his debts and had he not been caught, he would have had little choice but to murder again, and quickly.
Just as the pressure of this murder was about to come upon him, Rose Henderson's brother, who needed to find out more information about her whereabouts, contacted him again. Burlin was determined to go to Scotland Yard and wanted Haigh to go with him. Their mother was ill and Rose must be contacted. Haigh apparently contemplated doing away with this nosy man as well, because he offered to provide accommodations for him when he came into London. Things did not get quite that far because Haigh was arrested. His killing spree was over.
As a boy, Haigh had written a prophetic paper in which he described his own irredeemable nature: "We may well learn the lesson that one fall, even though it be met by perfect grace and full restoration, does not cure a natural disposition..." He seemed to know himself well, even at that young age.
Perhaps the person most strongly affected by all of this, besides Haigh's distraught parents, was young Barbara Stephens. She visited him in prison, expecting to find a broken man, falsely accused. Instead she saw a man who seemed to be reveling in the attention and who admitted to everything. As she read the accounts in the papers, she realized that he had killed all of these people while he and she were together and all of them had been his friends. She asked him why he had not killed her, and he was astonished by the question.
He assured her that he'd never even entertained such an idea. It did not reassure her, however, to realize that he had admitted his love for her the same week he had killed Mac; they had spent a wonderful day together only two days after he had disposed of Mac's parents; they had talked about marriage while he killed the Hendersons-even selling her a dress from the deceased; and the day after Olive Durand-Deacon died, they had a very pleasant tea together.
Barbara could not comprehend how she could have known so little about the person she had planned to marry. Even so, she wrote him letters throughout his prison term and visited him once a week. For his fortieth birthday, she sent him a good luck charm. Yet she grew increasingly aware that he would have killed her as well, had it been necessary.
Haigh claimed to have killed nine people, but nothing was ever discovered about three of them, except for the unidentified body near Haigh's crashed car. It may be that he told about the three extra victims because there was no evidence that he had profited from killing them and he could better support the story of killing for blood.
However, his comment to the reception officer when he first arrived at Lewes Prison was, "This is the result of doing six people, but not for personal gain." There was no real evidence of insanity, let alone of vampirism.
The Forensic Investigation
In the yard outside the storehouse, the police found the acid sludge that Haigh had described. They also noted a lot of zigzagging marks from where someone had rolled and dragged something heavy over toward that area.
The ground was covered in debris and the sludge was mixed up with dirt and trash. Its depth was some three to four inches covering an area of four to six feet. The doctor's practiced eye detected something unusual, about the size of a cherry, which to anyone else might look like one of the stones lying around. However, it was a significant find: a gall bladder stone.
The acid had not dissolved it. Also embedded in the greasy, undissolved fat were some good specimens of human bone. One of these appeared to be from a left foot. (Haigh was to say that he believed this was from Henderson, whom he had not fully dissolved, not Durand-Deacon.)
The forensic team gathered 475 pounds of grease and earth to cart back to a lab for closer examination. They also brought in a 40-gallon green drum that had the same greasy substance inside. At the bottom of this drum, a hairpin was stuck in the grease.
Inside the building, a fine spatter of bloodstains was noted on the wall and carefully photographed. The wall was then scraped for analysis. The inspector thought the spray was consistent with someone getting shot while bent over the bench, possibly looking at paper, as Haigh had described Mrs. Durand-Deacon doing. Tests indicated that the blood was human, but it could not be specifically grouped.
For three days, the sludge was carefully sifted, and technicians had to wear rubber gloves and cover their arms in Vaseline to protect themselves from the acid. The painstaking search paid off. What they found was:
1) 28 pounds of human body fat
2) three faceted gallstones
3) part of a left foot, not quite eroded
4) eighteen fragments of human bone
5) intact upper and lower dentures
6) the handle of a red plastic bag
7) a lipstick container
A further test on one of the gallstones proved that it was human. The bone fragments were identified as a left ankle pivot bone, center of the right foot, right heel, right angle pivot bone, femur, pelvic bone, spinal column, and others too eroded for precise identification. They had been dissolved in sulfuric acid, just as Haigh had described.
The investigators' great luck lay in the fact that sulfuric acid did not work on plastic as it did on human tissue. It would take at least three weeks for the acid to finally eliminate it. Thus, if Haigh had been arrested later or had chosen to wait with his confession, the forensic team would have had much less success in finding identifiable evidence.
The dentures were an important find. The team could now go to Mrs. Durand-Deacon's dentist to see if they had a match. Mrs. Durand-Deacon's gum shrinkage problems had sent her to her dentist, Helen Mayo, on many occasions. Mayo kept a cast of her patient's upper and lower jaw. She knew that she had supplied Mrs. Durand-Deacon with the dentures found at Crawley.
Simpson took the bones to his laboratory and discovered evidence of osteo-arthritis in the joints. He soon determined that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had suffered from this bone ailment. The police made a plaster cast of the left foot and it proved to fit perfectly into one of her shoes.
Bloodstains were also found on the Persian coat, which was traced back to Durand-Deacon from repairs made to it, and blood was found on the cuff of one of Haigh's shirtsleeves.
The handbag strap was identified as having belonged to a bag owned my Durand-Deacon-the one she had carried when she drove to Crawley with Haigh. Later the rest of the bag was found in the yard-apparently thrown there casually by Haigh--and matched to the strap.
The police also collected witnesses who had seen Mrs. Durand-Deacon with Haigh at various times on the last day she was alive. They both left the hotel after lunch, although not together, and at 4:15, they went into the George Tavern for about five minutes.
Around 4:45, Haigh told Mr. Jones that the woman he was expecting to meet there in Crawley had not arrived. He was seen after 5 getting things out of his car and taking them into the storehouse. He then went out for a snack at 6:30. At 9:30, he went to The George for dinner and returned to London at 10.
In Haigh's room was a "shopping list" of the things he had needed to buy prior to killing Mrs. Durand-Deacon.
Taking it one step further, Dr. Turfitt, the police scientist on the forensic team decided to experiment with sulfuric acid to test Haigh's theories. He used an amputated human foot, a sheep's leg, and other organic materials, finding that the acid worked at varying speeds, depending on how much water was present. Fat proved highly resistant, and it had been Mrs. Durand-Deacon's weight that had preserved those items found in the sludge.
Within a month of Haigh's arrest, the prosecution was ready for trial.
Proving Murder Without a Corpse
On April 1, 1949, E. G. Robey opened the case for the prosecution before ten Sussex magistrates. Haigh was present and he appeared to bask in the attention. He took notes and made light banter throughout the proceedings, with no apparent awareness that his situation was quite serious.
G. R. F. Morris, Haigh's defense counsel, called no evidence during the two-day process. He and the prosecution agreed to stick only to the Durand-Deacon case and to refrain from mentioning Haigh's statements about drinking his victims' blood.
For his part, Haigh envisioned a decade-long stint in a mental institution and then freedom to continue to prey on people. He had seen the exaggerated newspaper accounts describing him as a blood-mad vampire and he was only too happy to go along. As an added flourish, he once had drunk his own urine while in his cell.
Robey called thirty-three witnesses to prove premeditation of murder for gain. He laid out his case in the form of a basic chronology that showed how rational Haigh's movements were:
Monday, Feb 14th, Haigh is in debt, with an unpaid hotel bill of fifty pounds. He meets with Mrs. Durand-Deacon for lunch to offer a business proposition by showing her a box of plastic fingernails.
Tuesday: Haigh asks a local engineer at Crawley to fetch some acid from London. He borrows fifty pounds from Mr. Jones, the managing director of Hurstlea Products, and tells him about the artificial fingernails.
Wednesday: Haigh pays his hotel bill with Mr. Jones' money. He confirms his order for ten gallons of acid.
Thursday: The acid is delivered to Crawley. Haigh gets a 40-gallon black drum from one company, and then exchanges it for a green one, prepared to resist corrosive acids.
Friday: Mrs. Durand-Deacon is seen carrying the handbag that is found later outside the storehouse in Crawley. She is also seen by someone who recalls that she was wearing her Persian coat, and later that day, Haigh and Durand-Deacon drive away in his car. She is not seen again. At 4:45, Haigh tells Jones that the person he expected to meet regarding the fingernails has not shown up.
Saturday: Haigh tells Mrs. Lane that Durand-Deacon did not show up for their appointment. That day he goes to Bull's to have some jewelry evaluated, but the licensed appraiser is out. Another jeweler buys a wristwatch from Haigh, later identified by her sister as belonging to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Reigate cleaners also receives a Persian lamb coat, which is valued at about fifty pounds-the sum Haigh needs to repay his debt to Mr. Jones, now overdue.
Sunday, Feb 20, Haigh takes Mrs. Lane to the police station.
Monday: Haigh promises Jones a quick repayment of his debt. He again takes jewelry to Messrs. Bull for valuation. It is assessed at 131 pounds.
Tuesday: Haigh partly repays Mr. Jones what he owes.
Over the next few days, he adds money to his bank account, reducing an overdraft, and goes to pay Mr. Jones. By then, Jones has been interviewed by the police and he urges Haigh to stay away. Haigh continues to make statements professing his ignorance of Mrs. Durand-Deacon's whereabouts.
Saturday, February 26th: Sergeant Heslin breaks into the storehouse. He finds a mackintosh, rubber gloves, a gas-mask case, a rubber apron, carboys that had contained sulfuric acid, and an acid-eroded stirrup-pump. Sulfuric acid and animal fat are found on the gloves, mackintosh, and apron. Human bloodstains are later found on the gas-mask case and apron.
Heslin also finds papers referring to other people who are missing, and a square case containing a revolver with eight rounds of ammunition; it has recently been fired. In an attaché case is a receipt for a Persian lamb coat from a cleaner at Reigate.
Sunday: The coat is retrieved.
Monday: A bag found at the hotel where Mrs. Durand-Deacon lived contains portions of fabric that match patches on the bottom of the coat and left sleeve.
Inspector Symes collects the jewelry from Bulls'. He brings Haigh to the police station, where he makes his lengthy and calculated confession.
Tuesday: Chief-Inspector Mahon goes to Crawley to take charge. He also finds in Haigh's hotel room a shopping list that itemizes several things found in the Crawley storehouse. He discovers a shirt with a bloodstained cuff.
Wednesday: Mahon finds a bloodstained penknife in the cubbyhole of Haigh's car. Haigh is formally charged with murder.
Friday, March 2: Haigh makes a written statement that adds three more people to his list of six.
Tuesday, March 8: A chain and attaché case key that had belonged to Mrs. Durand-Deacon are found where Haigh said they would be.
Saturday, March 19: A handbag is found outside the Crawley storehouse that matches the handle pulled intact from the acid sludge. It is the bag that others saw Mrs. Durand-Deacon carrying on Feb. 18th. Inside are items identified as belonging to the victim.
This listing of witnesses and events was essentially the backbone of the trial that was to come. Its location-London or Sussex-was uncertain at first, but when Haigh's counsel was unprepared for the London date, it ended up in the Lewes Assizes.
Twelve medical doctors in all examined Haigh in prison, some before and some after his trial. They were particularly interested in his claims to have a compulsion to kill for blood. Most often, such a compulsion is part of a sexual deviation and is incidental to the sexual frenzy itself. Haigh gave no indication of such a perversion. In fact, he seemed to have little interest in sex.
Haigh went through several examinations, including an electroencephalogram. The results were normal. Most of the doctors were of the opinion that he was sane and was merely malingering, or faking, his insanity.
Four psychiatrists examined him for the defense. Not one was able to give the opinion that Haigh was not responsible for his actions. Dr. Henry Yellowlees, when told of the opinion of his colleagues, came up with a different result. He believed that Haigh was mentally ill, consistent with the description of paranoia, but even that diagnosis was not conclusively deemed a mental disease. Nevertheless, this professional opinion was all that the defense had.
Yellowlees, 61, was a physician with a degree in psychological medicine. During the war, he had been a consulting psychiatrist to the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was also examiner in mental diseases for the University of London. He visited the prison on five different occasions between July 1st and July 6th. During three of those visits, he interviewed Haigh.
He also had examined Haigh's two confessions thoroughly, as well as looking over all other documents in the case. To Yellowlees, it was obvious that Haigh had a "paranoid constitution"-the same mental disease as Hitler.
According to descriptions in the 'forties, such a condition results partly from heredity and partly from environment, in particular the early upbringing. It is a preliminary stage to the "paranoid insanities."
Based in part on what Haigh had told to Dr. Matheson about his childhood and upbringing, Yellowlees explained how Haigh had been sheltered in a fanatical and paranoid religion and raised by a mother who gave a lot of credibility to dreams as tools of divination.
He was made to fear the wrath of God for every false step, and he was not allowed to have friends. "The solitary schoolboy," he said, quoting Dr. Perry Smith, "is the potential paranoiac." To the psychiatrist, this was not the picture of a stable home. A youth raised in such a place is bound to escape into fantasy.
Yellowlees also noted how important it was that Haigh had been raised in one extreme form of religion and then had plunged into another extreme, which essentially was considered a sin within his primary religion. "I think the change would appear to him an ideal way to escape."
He also mentioned the recurring dream Haigh had as a teenager of the bloody Christ. "All along it was the question of blood that was troubling him." He then went on to say that a person forming a paranoid personality develops a certain amount of secrecy, which Haigh assuredly did. They develop a private mystic life, "which they treasure because it is apart from the cruel world."
Such a person then believes he is cleverer than others are and can get away with things. That is the first stage of the paranoid personality. He begins to live two lives. He has to be part of society and also to avoid having his clever bluff called, so he becomes vain and takes delight in taking advantage of others for his own gain.
Yellowlees used as his point of reference a book written by Professor Tanzi on mental disorders. There are various types of paranoia and the one that he felt fit Haigh was "the most rare and terrible" of the lot. It was one of the "egocentric paranoias," sometimes referred to as "ambitious" or "mystical" paranoia. The patient's fantasy world becomes his psychological home. He views himself as omnipotent. He is in touch with some outside force that guides him.
Yellowlees mentioned that Haigh had told him that he had been divinely guided by an interpretation of a verse in the Old Testament to drink his own urine. He claimed to have followed that instruction quite regularly. Paranoiacs are also uninterested in sex, because the sexual instinct is "sublimated" into self-worship, and Haigh apparently was consistent in that respect. He believed that by killing these people he was fulfilling some destiny. He knew that what he was doing was punishable by law, but he believed he was above the law.
"I think," said the physician, "that the absolute callous, cheerful, bland and the almost friendly indifference of the accused to the crimes which he freely admits having committed is unique in my experience."
While he did not think the blood dreams were invented, he thought that Haigh had exaggerated their effect on him. He thought, too, that while Haigh had tasted blood, it was doubtful that he drank it as he claimed to do. Yellowlees thought he was too lucid and intelligent not to know what he was doing.
Haigh wrote a note to him identifying the various unusual personalities throughout history, including Christ and Hitler, in an effort to get the doctor to understand the full scope of his abnormality. He didn't bite.
What Yellowlees failed to find out is that Haigh had befriended an employee of Sussex psychiatric hospital and over the years had gathered a lot of information about mental illness. He knew about the behavioral patterns, traits, and habits of various disorders. The subject fascinated him and he never ceased to ask questions.
In the past, he had posed as many other things-a lawyer, an engineer, a doctor-so it would not be difficult for him to pose as a person suffering from a mental condition. Most people were of the mind that he was doing precisely that-although not in a way that convinced most of those who examined him.
Yellowlees' diagnosis was put to the test in court.
Mr. Justice Humphries was to preside at the trial, which opened on July 18th, 1949. An estimated four thousand people crowded into the small town of Lewes in the hope of getting a seat. The lines were long and most were disappointed. A few attempted to sell their seats, but the police officers guarding the courtroom put a stop to that practice.
For the prosecution were Eric Neve, Gerald Howard, and the Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross. In Haigh's defense were Maxwell Fyfe, G. R. F. Morris, and David Neve (Eric Neve's son). Although Haigh had no money to pay for his defense, journalist Stafford Somerfield had made a deal with him: The News of the World would pay for his counsel if he would provide to them exclusively his life story. It could come out only after the trial, but they had made a huge journalistic coup. For his part, Haigh avoided the ignominy of legal aid and had a task to do that he relished-writing about himself. It was a controversial manoeuvre, but legal.
One other paper, however, went over the line. Newspapers were always pushing the limits, but it was illegal to publish sensitive material about a crime prior to the trial. The police commissioner had warned the press about their spate of sensational stories, which all but named the killer before he had been proven guilty of anything. Haigh's legal advisors issued a complaint against the Daily Mirror, one of the papers that emphasized the vampire aspect of the crimes.
The editor, Silvester Bolam, was brought in on charges of contempt of court, but the judge decided to punish the publishers of the newspaper as well. He also warned the directors of the newspaper that they, too, could be held liable.
The editor was sentenced to three months in prison (in the same place where Haigh was incarcerated) and the company was fined 10,000 pounds, plus court costs. It was an unprecedented move, but served its purpose.
On the day of the trial, Haigh pleaded Not Guilty, and no question was raised regarding his mental competency to plead or to understand the proceedings.
The prosecutor presented the case and supported it with thirty-three witnesses, none of whom were challenged by the defense. Only four were even cross-examined. By the afternoon of the first day, the prosecution rested its case of deliberate premeditated murder for gain.
It became clear that Fyfe was going to rely on a defense of insanity. He wanted to show Haigh's aberrant behavior. He tried to show that Haigh was in a good mood at a restaurant following the murder; he entered Haigh's confessions into evidence; and he questioned Inspector Mahon about the penknife in Haigh's car (with the implication that it had been used to take blood from Mrs. Durand-Deacon).
Then Fyfe described for the court the type of mental illness from which Haigh suffered and how it would affect his ability to appreciate the morality of his acts: He could not know that what he was doing was wrong. For this, he called Dr. Yellowlees.
The psychiatrist talked about his interviews with Haigh and described how Haigh's mental condition was consistent with the description of paranoia in the Text Book of Mental Diseases. Since he could not satisfy himself that Haigh's condition prevented him from appreciating right from wrong, his testimony was limited to describing the illness.
He did not commit himself on the position of the prisoner's actual thinking processes at the time of the murder. Because of this, on cross-examination he offered as much to the prosecution as to the defense.
Under pressure, Yellowlees admitted that he had not seen Haigh each time he visited the prison. All in all, he had spent a total of about two hours with the man, forming his conclusions. He admitted that he had no objective evidence to corroborate anything that Haigh had told him.
The prosecutor also pointed out that Haigh had been seen to drink his urine on only one occasion and a motive of wanting to produce an effect could not be ruled out. Yellowlees acknowledged this.
He also said that he was not prepared to express an opinion on whether Haigh knew that what he was doing was morally wrong. He was forced to admit that Haigh seemed to know that what he was doing was wrong by law, as evident from his attempt to cover his crimes.
With that admission, the defense collapsed. Fyfe called no further witnesses and the prosecution decided that no rebuttal witnesses to this medical testimony were necessary. Yellowlees had not proven Haigh to be insane.
Throughout the trial, Haigh toyed with a crossword puzzle, making no move to speak on his own behalf. He paid little attention to the proceedings until the two sides made their closing speeches.
Fyfe spoke mostly of Haigh's mental illness, which Yellowlees had insisted was the most difficult of all illnesses to feign, and the fact that Haigh's world was filled with fantasy. He mentioned the drinking of urine, which Haigh had claimed to do as a habit since he was a teenager, which indicated the possibility of a primitive throwback.
He also pointed out that the dreams, combined with the blood drinking, were an important example of Haigh's disturbed fantasy life. When his delusions pressured him, his rational side slipped away, Fyfe insisted, and ceased to have any importance. Delusion, he said, is the true character of insanity. In that case, Haigh could not appreciate the nature of what he was doing or that it was wrong.
The Attorney General rose and pointed out that there was only one issue to be decided: the question of the prisoner's sanity. The defense's psychiatrist failed to prove his speculations in fact or with evidence. His entire case was dependent on the prisoner's statements, which were suspect.
In fact, Haigh had asked about getting released from Broadmoor, as if he already had an insanity plan up his sleeve. To Shawcross, it seemed a simple case: a man thought he had discovered the perfect method of concealing a crime, committed murder for gain, and then raised sanity as an issue when he got caught.
Then for another hour, the judge summed it up. He instructed the jury to disregard the accused's admission that he had killed Mrs. Durand-Deacon, due to the fact that he was unreliable. The jury was to look at the case that the prosecution presented and see if it was conclusive. If there was any doubt, they must acquit. He then reminded them that for an act to be punished in England, it had to be done consciously.
Despite the fact that there was some dispute whether paranoia could be considered a mental disease or defect, the judge told the jury to go ahead and make the assumption that it was.
The defense had used only one witness, although they presented statements that could have been substantiated by witnesses such as Haigh's father or Haigh himself. No one was called but Dr. Yellowlees, who himself could not say that Haigh failed to realize that what he was doing was wrong.
There was also no evidence that Haigh had drunk his own urine, aside from the one instance in which he was proving to a doctor that he could. Hence, the insanity defense could not fully satisfy the McNaghten Rules on this matter.
The judge also reminded the jury that previous serial murderers, such as the man who had murdered his various wives by drowning them in a bathtub, had not been judged insane, so the jury was not to count prior murders as evidence of a mental defect that interfered with reasoning.
Haigh listened to the entire speech and said afterward that it was a masterpiece.
It took only fifteen minutes for the jury to come to a consensus: Haigh was guilty.
The judge asked if he had anything to say for himself. He cocked his head and said, "Nothing at all."
The judge donned a black cap and sentenced Haigh to die. The sheriff's chaplain said, "Amen."
After Haigh's trial, two more medical officials observed him in Wandsworth prison and they found no sign of insanity. To their mind, he was shamming.
The Home Secretary, under the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1884, ordered a special medical inquiry, just to be sure. Three eminent psychiatrists examined Haigh's case thoroughly. All believed that Haigh was malingering. He was not insane and did not suffer from a mental disease or defect that would free him of moral responsibility for his actions. There was no reason to interfere with the course of the law.
Haigh finished his life story for the newspaper that had paid for his trial. He also wrote letters to Barbara Stephens and to his parents. He hoped to be reunited with them in heaven. His elderly parents did not make the journey to see him before he died, but his mother sent greetings through a reporter. Haigh mentioned that he believed in reincarnation and told Barbara that since his mission was not yet finished, he would be back. He insisted that he was not afraid to be hanged. Madame Tussaud requested a fitting for a death mask, which Haigh was more than happy to provide.
On August 6th, 1949, at Wandsworth Prison, John George Haigh, the murderer who dissolved his victims in acid, was executed. He bequeathed his clothing to Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, where a wax figure of him was erected. He sent instructions that it must always be kept in perfect condition, the trousers creased, the hair parted, his shirt cuffs showing. Among other murderers cast in wax, Haigh received his place in history.
David Briffett. The Acid Bath Murders, West Sussex, England: Field Place Press, 1988.
Lord Dunboyne, editor. The Trial of John George Haigh. London: William Hodge & Company, 1953.
Gekoski, Anna, Murder by Numbers: British Serial Sex Killers Since 1950. London: Andre Deutsch, 1998.
Molly Lefebure. Murder with a Difference: The Cases of Haigh and Christie. London: Heinemann, 1958.
Colin Wilson, Murder in the 1940s. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993.
David Everitt. Human Monsters, New York: Contemporary Books, 1993.