10 August 1949 – John George Haigh
Vats the way to do it
Haigh is one of the 20th century’s most infamous serial killers and he interpreted the law to the letter when he chose to eradicate all traces of his murders…or so he thought. He chose to dissolve his victims in vats of sulphuric acid as a means of deleting all trace of their bodies, because he was convinced that if no bodies could be produced, no crimes could be proven. But he was so, so wrong.
Up to that point the northerner had had brushes with the law. Haigh had started off as a simple fraudster and a bad one at that – in and out of jail for various crimes involving money. In fact, money was to be one of his main motivators.
To boot, he had a failed marriage and a business that went under after his partner unexpectedly became road-kill. Haigh headed down south to London, where he started his stint as a chauffeur.
It was here that he met his first set of victims. William McSwann was rich having made his money from an amusement park and the two men had become mates.
Despite a steady job, Haigh couldn’t help himself – he was drawn to fraud and was soon banged up for four years after he was found guilty of setting up a dummy solicitors’ office.
Bored with fraud
It was while doing time that he was to concoct his method of disposing of his cadavers. According to Wikipedia, he discovered ‘it took only 30 minutes for the body to disappear’ when he dropped a mouse’s corpse into sulphuric acid.
So now he had a method, all he needed was a set of victims, and boy was he jammy.
On the outside, Haigh landed himself a respectable job as an accountant in an engineering firm. He even managed to hook up with former mate McSwann.
However his mate was worth more to him dead than alive, so Haigh had no qualms about bumping him off and dumping him in a large vat of acid.
Two days later McSwann was Mcsludge and Haigh was able to tip the dregs down a manhole. Even when the parents began to get suspicious, he just invited them down to visit, where they met the same end.
With the McSwanns dissolved, he was able to get his hands on their goods, money and property, which he set about selling.
Around £8,000 later and the killer had landed himself a swish hotel room in Kensington. But his lavish lifestyle meant that, two years later, he was on the hunt for more lucrative sources of income.
Lock, stock and two sulphuric barrels
Mrs Henderson presented herself along with her husband, a doctor. But where was Haigh to eradicate the evidence? Haigh set up shop in Crawley, renting a space as a self-styled inventor, which allowed him to move in the necessary industrial drums and the sulphuric acid.
He then set about luring the Hendersons down to his West Sussex lair under the pretext of showing them his latest invention. But all they got were bullets in their brains for their pains, before they were unceremoniously dumped in the barrels ready for acid onslaught.
Before anyone knew it, the couple were sludged and even their money was liquidated – another £8,000 to be precise.
They were followed soon after by a wealthy widow by the name of Mrs Olive Henrietta Olivia Robarts Durand-Deacon who had visions of creating her own cosmetics and false nails – so Haigh’s engineering skills appealed to her. With that cover story, he was able to lure her down to Crawley where the same fate befell her.
But this time the widow was missed. Her disappearance was reported and it was not long after that suspicion fell on her felonious neighbour once the police found out he had previous.
The galling truth
Detectives traced back to the lock-up down south and, while Mrs Durand-Deacon was just a sludgy mess, they found her gall stones all present and correct.
Add to that her coat and some paperwork relating to hers and other victims’ affairs and the future was not bright for Haigh. It also transpired that he may also have targeted three other unfortunates, but these have never been confirmed.
However, on the basis of Durand-Deacon’s bodily functions etc, they were able to dole out some justice. The serial killer was done for the six murders. While he tried to plead insanity, the accusation levelled against him was premeditation – malice aforethought.
The jury needed no convincing. They took next to no time in returning a verdict of guilty and so Haigh was sent to the gallows at Wandsworth Prison, aged 40, where he was dispatched by top executioner Albert Pierrepoint.