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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Decemystery (2020) 1: Jack the Stripper

 


This story is dedicated to my friend Maya. Thanks for helping me pick this story out.


Hello, dear reader! It’s that glorious time of the year again; December. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this month ever since New Year’s Day. Why exactly? Well, I’ve had numerous great ideas for what I suspect will be the most exciting, interesting, and unique Decemystery to date.


For starters, I didn’t want any conspiracy theories like last year. Sure, some of this year’s mysteries will have conspiratorial elements, but we won’t be having anything silly like Lord of the Rings being true or Project Blue Beam. Rather, we’ll have a lot more down-to-earth stories that will make for something a lot more enticing and even spooky.


Now, when deciding on what to do for the first story, I wanted something nobody would see coming; a story that could kick start something truly memorable. After consulting the friend I dedicated this story to, the victor was the humorously named Jack the Stripper—though the official name for the case is the Hammersmith Nude Murders. So come, let us begin to round out the year with some good old fashioned mysteries. Decemystery 2020 begins now!


The Story


Jack—as I will refer to him to keep things simplistic—began his reign of terror on June 17, 1959. At least, that’s what some say. You see, officially speaking, Jack’s reign of terror was between the years of 1964 and 1965 and consisted of six women. Two additional women were murdered in 1959 (as stated before) and 1963. For the sake of at least making mention of these two victims, I will include them.


Continuing on from the date mentioned previously, a 21-year-old woman by the name of Elizabeth Figg was found deceased around  5:10 in the morning by law enforcement officers in Duke’s Meadows, Chiswick, which rests on the northern bank of the River Thames. This area served as something of a “lovers lane” for some and as a location for prostitutes to go to for some good ole’ fashioned lovin’.


Figg was one of these working women and she may be the first victim of the man who’d become known as Jack the Stripper. She had been strangled to death by her killer, a trait that’d become synonymous with the later murders. However, unlike the canonical six, Figg wasn’t completely nude. She was still sporting her dress (though it had been ripped open and her breasts were exposed). Some of her personal items were missing too, including her underwear, shoes, and handbag. Because of this, some speculate that her murder was a one-off by either a psychotic client or perhaps something went wrong and, in a fit of rage, the killer ended up, well, killing her.


Alas, even after searching the area, nothing was ever found. This led one police officer to posit that the murder happened within the killer’s car, where Figg had removed her underwear, shoes, and placed her handbag somewhere in there, only to fall victim to the act of murder. This is backed up by the owner of a local pub stating that they’d seen a vehicle’s headlights on the opposite end of the river bed, only to hear a woman scream after they’d switched their lights off.


Over fifty years later and no one can determine if Figg’s murder was a part of what would become known as the Hammersmith Nude Murders, but I think it’s safe to say that it may have been the progenitor to a serial killer. Of course, I’m no psychological analyst, so take my mealy mouthed hot take with a grain of salt—maybe fifty grains actually.


The second unofficial murder took place on November 8, 1963. Unlike every other murder that you’ll see (well, sort of), this one took place at a refuse disposal site. Located a mere mile (or 1.6 kilometers) from Duke’s Meadows, the Barnes Borough Council household would be where authorities would discover 22-year-old Gwnneth Rees. With the exception of one stocking on her right leg, Rees was completely naked. She was also missing several teeth and had nearly been decapitated on account of an employee having accidentally struck her. Her cause of death was from strangulation, generally believed to have been by a rope. Bizarrely though, Wikipedia lists her cause of death as “unknown”. Why this is, I don’t know. Step your game up, Wikipedia and be reputable! I have things to copy from!


Bad in-jokes aside, let’s now move on to the “canonical” murders. The first of these was 30-year-old Hannah Tailford. She was discovered dead by two men near Hammersmith bridge on February 2, 1964. She had either been strangled or drowned prior to being placed there and was naked, save for stockings. Her underwear had also been shoved down her throat. Also, as was the case with Rees, Tailford had several teeth knocked out, though I don’t believe this was due to her being beaten. As far as I’m aware, she had suffered no sort of physical beating prior to the murder. If this is wrong, then do correct me.


A little over two months later, on April 8, 1964, 25-year-old Irene Lockwood would be found dead. Unlike the other women, Lockwood was pregnant at the time of her death. Just like the others however, she had been strangled—or drowned. Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: it was with Lockwood’s murder that police realized they were dealing with the work of a serial killer and it was only a matter of time before he’d strike again.


That time would come a mere sixteen days later on April 24, 1964 when 22-year-old Helen Barthelemy was found dead in an alleyway near Brentford. Yet again, she had been stripped naked and had been strangled to death. However, it was with this discovery that investigators got their first piece of evidence: fragments of paint were on her body, possibly produced by a high pressure paint sprayer, possibly near an automobile production factory. Because of this, police began to investigate nearby factories, but given that this case remains unsolved, I think it’s safe to say that nothing really came of it.


What did come of this though was the media attention. It was around this time that the name “Jack the Stripper” came to be. A play on the infamous “Jack the Ripper”, the frenzy that came with these murders was more or less on the level of the Ripper and must’ve been a delight for the killer. Despite all of this attention and publicity though, police found themselves at a deadend with finding their killer—and a clock was looming over them at all times.


“Tick tock,” went the clock and “bing-bong,” it went on July 14, 1964 when 30-year-old Mary Fleming was found dead outside of 48 Berrymede Road, Chiswick. She had been strangled to death and once more, authorities found spots of paint on her body. Locals also reported hearing a vehicle reverse down the street shortly before Fleming’s corpse was found. Police were also reported kicking themselves because Chiswick had recently been heavily patrolled, yet Jack managed to outmaneuver them. Keep this in mind for later because it relates very heavily to one theory.


A little over three months later, on October 23, 1964, 21-year-old Frances Brown was seen by a fellow prostitute as she entered the vehicle of a client. It would seem she was never reported missing, but she was discovered—deceased. On November 25th, her body was discovered in an alleyway. She had been strangled to death.


Unlike the previous cases where a vehicle had been reported to have been at or near the scene of the crime, Brown’s colleague was able to give police some information—in this case, of the vehicle that Brown had entered before disappearing; a grey Ford Zephyr or a Ford Zodiac.


The final victim to be tied to Jack the Stripper’s reign of terror was discovered on February 18, 1965. 27-year-old Bridget “Bridie” O’Hara after having last been seen on January 11th of that year. Like many of the other victims, O’Hara had been strangled to death, and was discovered near a storage shed. Unlike the other victims, her body had shown signs of having been placed within a warm environment, which was believed to have been somewhere with a transformer. For those unfamiliar with how preservation with a body works: a warm environment will advance decomposition while a cold one will preserve it significantly better.


After the murder of O’Hara, the killings seemingly stopped, though that didn’t prevent authorities from relentlessly pursuing the case. Over 7,000 suspects were interviewed, but only six—seven if you count a theory from amateur investigators—ever truly stuck. So rather than sit around and ramble about miscellaneous details, let’s jump into those theories because they’re quite interesting.


Theories


1. Freddie Mills


The first theory is that professional lightweight boxer and actor Freddie Mills was Jack the Stripper. You see, in 2001, JImmy Tippett Jr. (a “reformed gangster”) was writing a book about the gangs of London. During it, he claims to have discovered information that tied Mills to the murders. Allegedly there were gang members around London, such as Charlie Richardson and Frankie Fraser, who were adamant that Mills was the murderer. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s a quote from Tippett Jr. himself.


I have spoken to famous figures in the underworld and senior police officers in Scotland Yard, and I am convinced Freddie Mills was the killer. Contrary to his public image, Mills was a sexually warped sadist who enjoyed inflicting pain.


The belief that Mills was the killer predates Tippett though. Back in July of 1972, freelance journalist Peter Neale informed law enforcement officials that he’d obtained information which supposedly tied Mills to the killings. The person who gave this information? Well, it was apparently a chief inspector who, along with others, stated:


Oh, Freddie did them in…


For so much hear-say and so many claims emerging from the rumor mill, nothing ever came of this. Not that anything could ever come from it. Mills was discovered dead in his vehicle in July of 1965, five months after the last murder, from what’s said to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Coincidence or not, Mills remains a popular suspect in the realm of amateur detectives. However, he’s but one of several, so let’s keep going.


2. A Metropolitan Police Officer


This theory is very, very… broad. Simply saying that the killer was a cop is like me saying that a nurse was behind giving an old person the Coronavirus. Okay, so which one? There are a plethora of individuals that I could pin it on, so exactly did it? Well, I guess specifics don’t matter too much because not even the person who puts the idea forth gives us a name.


For this theory, I’m going to go off of what’s on the Wikipedia page for Jack. Why? I’m lazy and don’t want to do much research. Well, that and it’s a rather sparse theory. Anyways, you see: within the 2006 book “Jack of Jumps”, author David Seabrook puts forth the idea that a former police detective for the Metropolitan Police Department was Jack the Stripper. Allegedly, several other senior detectives who were assigned to the case were also of this opinion.


Seabrook isn’t the only person to have posited this. A journalist for the oh-so coveted newspaper “The Sun”, which in no way has become worthy of being used as toilet paper for the local bird population, had sounded a few alarm bells in 1972 about the possibility that Britain’s finest was the infamous Stripper. Similarly, Brian McConnell of the Daily Mirror voiced his opinion in 1974 within the pages of his book “Found Naked and Dead”.


Finally, Dick Kirby, who served as a Metropolitan detective, stated that he believed a detective was behind the murders in his 2016 book “Laid Bare: The Nude Murders and the Hunt for Jack the Stripper”. In the book, Kirby referred to the killer simply as “the Cop”.


So who was this “cop”? Well, I can’t find anything in relation to a name. As far as I can see, he is simply a nameless, faceless cop who some believe was the killer. However, given the fact that Jack was capable of outmaneuvering police patrol routes and knew when to dispose of the bodies—seemingly without any sort of forensic evidence beyond the paint chips—I would hazard a guess and say that the suspicion isn’t too far-fetched. Though there are other suspects, so let’s not linger here for too long.



3. Kenneth Archibald


The third theory puts forth that Kenneth Archibald was Jack—or at least was behind one murder. A 57-year-old caretaker at a tennis club, Archibald confessed to murdering Irene Lockwood on his own volition. As such, he was charged with it and went to trial in June of 1964. However, upon being asked to plead, he withdrew his confession and instead pleaded not guilty. Due to a lack of evidence, he was ultimately found not guilty and acquitted on June 23, 1964.


Well, that isn't much of a theory, but Archibald’s name still appears in sections dedicated to suspects whenever I looked up Jack the Stripper. As such, it felt wrong to leave him out. Perhaps Archibald was screwing around with police when he withdrew his confession. Perhaps he truly was innocent. Whatever the case, he’s far from the last suspect, so let us continue onward.


4. Harold Jones


A Welshman who murdered two women at the ripe old age of 15-year-olds, Harold Jones’ killings back in 1921 bear some similarities to the killings committed by Jack the Stripper.


In the 2011 book “Who Was Jack the Stripper”  by Neil Mikins, the idea that Jones is put forth with some rather circumstantial evidence. Here’s something that’s quoted on Wikipedia that I found really interesting:


He turned up in Fulham in the late 1940s calling himself Harry Stevens, and stayed at that address in Hestercombe Avenue until 1962, at which point he disappeared again. I came across the Jack the Stripper case on the internet and realised that in the same three years Jones' whereabouts remained unknown–1962 to 1965–a number of prostitutes had been murdered in the same west London area.


In simpler terms: Jones appeared in the area using a false identity. The coincidental timing, mixed with his already documented violent tendencies towards women (what with him having murdered two), makes for an interesting case. However, is there any evidence to pin him to the murders? Well, unfortunately, no. There’s only the fact he was in the area at the time. However, just as murders of young men took place when Jeffrey Dahmer was in the area, that doesn’t immediately mean that it was him. It’s within the realm of reason to suspect that Jones was innocent. Still, I’d say that Jones is one of the more likely suspects that’s been put forward.


Also, as a final little tidbit: Jones did die in Hammersmith in 1971. I can’t find out why though. If anyone knows, please leave a comment letting me know.


5. Mungo Ireland


The most popular suspect in the eyes of the lead investigator on the case, Mungo Ireland was a Scottish security guard—having even worked at the location where Bridget O’Hara’s body was dumped. Perhaps coincidentally, it was after this connection was made that Ireland ended up committing suicide via carbon monoxide poison. However, he did leave a note that stated:


“I cannot stick it any longer. To save you and the police looking for me, I’ll be in the garage.”


Bizarrely, it was later proven that Ireland had been Scotland at the time of O’Hara’s death. Why exactly he committed suicide if that were the case is unknown, though he could have gotten paranoid and simply killed himself to save his family the shame of being dragged through the mud.


Now, whether or not Ireland killed the other women is up for debate. It’s not unheard of for other sick, twisted people to become copycat killers. It’s within the realm of reason to suspect that Ireland may have murdered some of the other women and that O’Hara’s death was the work of someone else. However, I cannot prove that, so I’ll leave it up to you.


6. Tommy Butler


Listed on Wikipedia and seemingly nowhere else as far as my pitiful detective skills can see, the former Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad, a man by the name of Tommy Butler, was accused within the pages of the 2002 book “The Survivor” by two men: Jimmy Evans and Martin Short. What’s their evidence? I haven’t the faintest idea. However, it’s possible that they posit the same sorts of hypothetical information as listed in the second theory.


Such an accusation, however, must’ve been devastating to Butler and his family. I mean, being the Superintendent of an entire squad in the police department is nothing to scoff at. So what was Butler’s rebuttal to all of this? There wasn’t one: he died in 1970. His family doesn’t appear to have issued any statement either. In fact, it seems like the entire thing has no weight to it beyond Butler residing in the same area—nothing in the way of his behavior, actions, or mannerisms is readily available for me to present. Strange, but whatever. Let us move on.


7. Jack the Ripper


The seventh and final theory—and one that I’ve seen thrown around here and there in my lifetime—is really bizarre. It puts forth the idea that the infamous Jack the Ripper was behind the Hammersmith murders. Why exactly? Well, the location is close to Whitechapel and the victims were prostitutes. The timeframe also technically allows the Ripper to be alive and well—at least if we assume that he was around the age of, say, 18 when those murders were committed. Should that be the case, the Hammersmith killer would have been in his 80s or 90s.


Now, let’s ignore the idea of a geriatric, senile old coot being the one who carried out the murders of close to ten women. That in and of itself is pretty laughable, though not impossible if he were to catch them off guard and incapacitate them (which there doesn’t seem to be evidence to support that, but let’s just ignore that inconvenient detail). One of the biggest flaws of the theory is that it would go against what we know of how serial killers operate. Generally, when a killer has longevity to their “career”, they tend to escalate.


In the Ripper’s case, this would be a radical deescalation; he would have gone from being arguably one of the most violent and savage serial killers in human history to strangling his victims. While certainly brutal in its own right—what with it being a crime of passion and indicating a certain hatred for the victim[s] (in this case, we can presume it’s either the gender or prostitutes)—I can’t see how a killer would go from mutilating his victims to strangling them.


Though even if we’re to accept that, the Ripper would have had to survive two World Wars and the Spanish Flu pandemic, which I find it hard to imagine he got away without a scratch. Though hey, I guess some folks are naturally lucky. Even the ones who deserve to be thrown into the darkest pits of Hell.


In short, this theory isn’t very likely. However, it isn’t necessarily impossible. It does raise a few questions as to how Grandpa Jack was still alive and kicking, not to mention capable of strangling several women without breaking one of his hips.


My Take


If you ask me, I genuinely believe that Jack the Stripper was a Metropolitan Police Officer. The fact he was never spotted when disposing of the bodies, even when police were patrolling drop-off points considerably more often, and the lack of forensic evidence left at the crime scenes, all points to someone who at least had some sort of training in the field of law enforcement. No more, no less. Seriously, that’s it. I’m adamant about this. Stop looking at me like that.


Okay, fine. For the record, I believe the idea that it was Jack the Ripper is the dumbest thing since the Psycho remake. There, now let’s move on.


In all seriousness: I genuinely think that it was someone who was in law enforcement. If it wasn’t, my second guess would be Harold Jones. I think his established history of violence makes him the second most likely suspect. Though that’s just me.


Conclusion


To end off the inaugural entry into this year’s Decemystery, I want to ask you a simple question: which case do you find more interesting, that of Jack the Ripper or that of Jack the Stripper? I’d genuinely love to know because it seems like more often than not, the Ripper gets significantly more attention in spite of how I believe the Stripper’s story is far more fascinating. Though that’s just me. Perhaps you disagree. If you do, that’s perfectly fine. Anyways, until tomorrow, stay safe, take care, and don’t trust British serial killers.

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