Crime historian Richard C Cobb takes a look at London’s Hammersmith nude murders in the 1960’s.
“Jack the Stripper? You mean Jack the Ripper. No? You’ve got to be kidding me? “
This is the usual conversational response I get when discussing London crime mysteries on my Jack the Ripper tour.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Hammersmith nude murders.
Just last night I brought up the subject of these murders to a couple of crime enthusiasts over a pint of light ale. These gruesome events took place in London from 1964 – 1965.
Some 80 years after Jack the Ripper terrorised the East End of London, the killer known as Jack the Stripper wreaked havoc in West London. Like Jack the Ripper, his victims were prostitutes, though instead of using a knife, the stripper developed a bizarre form of killing by asphyxiation during deep throat fellatio. And like Jack the Ripper, the Stripper left little if any clues. His identity remains to this day a mystery.
In 1964, London was making a name for itself as a leader of pop music, fashion and sexual permissiveness. But the discovery of a murdered prostitute in the River Thames revealed London’s seedier side.
The body of Hannah Tailford was found floating by a pontoon on the River Thames in West London on 2nd February 1964. Her body was naked apart from stockings which had been rolled down to her ankles. Her lower underwear was later found in her throat as a gag. Some of her front teeth were missing. She had been in the water for 2 days but had been reported missing for 10 days. Where had she been?
April 8th 1964, the body of Irene Lockwood was found on the banks of the Thames, not too far away from where the body of Tailford had been discovered. The police immediately linked the crimes and concerns raised about a possible Serial killer being on the loose.
Their fears were confirmed 2 weeks later when a third body, that of Helene Barthelemy was discovered, not in the Thames, but in an alleyway further north. Her tattooed body lay face down naked and strangled. Three of her front teeth were missing. With the body not submerged in water police retrieved forensic evidence, paint flecks, commonly associated with car manufacturing, were found on her body, suggesting the victim had been stored in a workshop of some kind. Investigations switched to include trading estates.
The newspapers dubbed the Killer “Jack the Stripper” and once again London was gripped in fear.
Over the next 10 months, 3 more women would be found strangled, naked and paint flecks upon their body. By this stage the police were closing the net. They realised all the victims were being picked up between 11pm and 1am with the bodies being dumped around 5am in morning, this convinced them the killer had to be a night shift worker or perhaps a night watchman. Three large detective squads headed up by Chief inspector John Du Rose were making mammoth sweeps in search of a paint spraying facility running parallel with the Thames and covering 24 miles assessing every house and all the premises.
The investigation bore fruit when detectives discovered a paint sample which perfectly matched the paint flecks on the victims’ bodies, beneath a covered transformer at the rear of a building on the Heron Trading estate, North Acton. Better still for the investigators, it was found to face a paint spray shop.
It seemed an arrest was imminent. Statements were issued telling the public the suspect list was being dwindled down to 20. One of the suspects was a security guard who drove a van and had access to North Acton trading estate. His duty rota fitted perfectly with the 10pm to 6am routine of the killer. Was he the Stripper?
Unfortunately we will never know. As the investigation intensified and the net closed in, the quiet, unmarried man from south London committed suicide. He left a suicide note saying little more than that he was “unable to stand the strain any longer”.
An intense search of his house and garage could not find one shred of evidence to link him to the Stripper murders. Yet while there was no incriminating physical evidence, the circumstantial evidence was strong enough to convince many detectives that they had finally caught up with Jack the Stripper.
His name has never been released by the police and is unlikely to be in the near future. Officially the file on Jack the Stripper remains open to this day.
It is worth pointing out the story of Jack the Ripper his Victorian counterpart. Although officially the file remains unsolved, one of the main suspects also committed suicide just after the last murder. No evidence could be found against him and his suicide note read “…the best thing for me to do is die “. I’ve often found echoes of this when I look at the strange case of Jack the Stripper.
Maybe you’d like to join one of my Jack the Ripper tours and I will reveal the suspects name, I may even reveal the name of the so called Stripper too.