From 1959 to 1965, a killer named by the press as Jack The Stripper, murdered between six and eight women. To this day, over fifty years later, the crimes that became known as the Hammersmith Nude Murders remain unsolved.
In this Unsolved Casebook file, I will try to give you as much information as I can on the crimes of the person known only as Jack The Stripper.
Jack The Stripper Victims
There is some argument as to how many victims fell at the hands of the killer known as Jack The Stripper. The most common belief is six but the case can be made for eight women falling prey to the murderer.
On the morning of June 17, 1959, during a patrol of Duke Meadows, an area with the rather crude nickname of “Gobblers’ Gulch”, police discovered the dead body of 21-year-old Elizabeth Figg.
Elizabeth Figg, also known as Ann Phillips, was found with her body slumped against a small willow tree. She had been strangled to death. The victim also had scratches on her throat and her clothing had been ripped open.
It was also stated that her underwear and shoes were missing, as well as her purse. Despite an extensive search of the area, these items were not found.
The proprietor of a nearby public house called The Ship stated he and his wife had seen a car parked up in the area around 5 minutes past midnight. Not long after the driver turned off the headlights of the car the couple claimed to have heard a woman’s scream, sadly they didn’t investigate further.
Figgs boyfriend, Fenton Ward, was an early suspect in the murder. He was known to beat Figg on occasion and was also known to act as her pimp. However, Ward was soon ruled out of the murder after police inquiries.
Due to the location in which the body was found, a known site where prostitutes would take their clients, and the missing items the police came up with another theory. They believed Figg had been murdered in a clients car after removing the missing items to have sex and the items had been left in the car.
To many that look into the Hammersmith Nude Murders, Elizabeth Figg wasn’t a victim of Jack The Stripper. As you will see there are several differences between the other victims and Figg. However, she is worthy of consideration.
Some four years after the murder of Elizabeth Figg, on 8 November 1963, the body of Gwynneth Rees was discovered at a council dumpsite in Mortlake.
Barely a mile from where Figg was discovered, Rees’ was left naked, with the exception of a stocking rolled down on her right leg, in a shallow grave. She was believed to have been strangled using a ligature and several of her teeth were missing. It is also said she was decapitated by a workman’s shovel by a worker at the dumpsite, but I have been unable to find out if that is true or not.
Originally from Wales, Rees had gone to London after falling out with her family and with an unwanted pregnancy. Sadly, despite wanting a better life Rees, like so many young women at the time, fell into prostitution.
Interestingly, her pimp was a known associate of infamous criminals of the time Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Cornelius “Connie” Whitehead was well known for giving his girls “a good thumping” and was reported to be looking for Rees just before her disappearance, thus making him a solid suspect in Rees’ murder.
Another theory for Gwynneth’s murder was that it was an illegal abortion gone wrong. Rees had found herself pregnant and was said to have been asking fellow prostitutes for anyone they knew who could perform an abortion (abortion was still illegal at that time in the U.K.). Rees had gone through such procedures twice previously but questions remained about the theory. Mainly, if it was an abortion gone wrong then why strangle her? The abortion angle just doesn’t seem to hold up.
With little real evidence, a lack of communication and trust between the police and the prostitutes, and a feeling amongst the public that prostitutes lives weren’t overly important. Gwynneth Rees death went unsolved and was quickly forgotten about.
Again, as was the case with Elizabeth Figg, it is disputed as to whether or not Rees was a victim of Jack The Stripper. There are a few differences compared to the other murders, such as the dumpsite, but there are far more similarities between Rees’ murder and those confirmed as part of the Hammersmith Nude series of murders.
On February 2nd, 1964 Hannah’s body was found by rowers on the banks of the River Thames. She was naked with the exception of some rolled up stockings. Her underwear, reportedly covered in semen, had been shoved in her mouth. Some accounts suggest Tailford was also missing her front teeth. However, this is questionable as it doesn’t appear to be mentioned in the coroner’s report.
The post-mortem concluded that the cause of death was drowning and she also had bruising on both sides of her jaw. The coroner also concluded that she had been in the water anywhere from two to seven days. Hannah was reported missing ten days before her body was discovered.
It is widely recognized that Hannah Tailford was the first official victim of Jack The Stripper. Interesting to note though is that the coroner considered a judgment of suicide, this sounds very unlikely given the underwear in her mouth but it is interesting is was considered.
Hannah, like several other victims, wasn’t originally from London but had found her way there as a teenage runaway. Like others she too quickly found herself working as a prostitute as a way to get by. There are many stories that have been told about Hannah and it is hard to work out which are true and which aren’t.
Hannah was believed to be involved in the making of sex tapes and working at sex parties. One story is that whilst working at a sex party for the rich and powerful she was supposedly taken to a house and paid to have sex with a man in a gorilla suit whilst bystanders watched on and applauded. Another story was that Tailford put an ad in her local paper trying to sell her unborn baby to the highest bidder.
Despite the stories, there can be little question that Hannah at least worked sex parties. Due to Hannah Tailfords history of working at these said parties for the members of high society, it has been theorized that her murder, and others in the series, may well be connected to high society and their sex parties.
Police interviewed 100’s of people in regards to the murder, particularly those that were known to have used prostitutes, one even was reported to be an international footballer. Despite the high number of people interviewed about the murder, no one was arrested for the murder of Hannah Tailford.
Just nine weeks later another woman fell prey to the killer.
On April 8th, 1964, just a few hundred yards upstream from where the body of Hannah Tailford was discovered, the body of 26-year-old Irene Lockwood was found.
Unfortunately, it is hard to decipher what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to the death of Irene Lockwood as no coroner’s report seems to exist. It does appear that she had been strangled with a ligature of some kind but that her actual cause of death was drowning. She was also found naked. It is also believed she was four months pregnant at the time of her murder.
Irene, again like others, wasn’t a Londoner but had found her way there and into the dark world of prostitution. Much like Tailford it is also strongly believed that Irene Lockwood was involved in other areas of the sex industry, such as making videos and attending parties.
Irene Lockwood was also understood to blackmail her clients with the use of photographs and also to steal from them. Just a year before her death a good friend of Irene’s, named Vicki Pender, was battered to death for the same scheme.
Less than three weeks after Irene Lockwood’s death, on April 27, Kenneth Archibald walked into Notting Hill police station and confessed to the murder of Irene Lockwood.
57-year-old Archibald worked as a caretaker at the Holland Park tennis club. He had already been questioned about Irene, who he claimed he didn’t know after they found a business card at her flat with his name on. This time Archibald told police he did know Lockwood and on the night of her murder, he had a drunken argument with her which ended with him putting his hands around her throat and throwing her in the river.
Despite the confession, the police weren’t totally convinced. They were positive that Irene Lockwood’s murder was connected to at least one of the previous murders and Kenneth Archibald had alibi’s for those crimes. More importantly, another victim was discovered just days before his confession. However, Archibald was sent to court for the murder in June of that year.
Upon his trial, Archibald took back his confession to the murder of Irene Lockwood. He claimed he made the claim due to being drunk and depressed. With his confession being the only piece of evidence against Archibald he was found not guilty and acquitted on 23 June.
On April 24, 1964, just over two weeks after the murder of Irene Lockwood, police discovered the body of 22-year-old Helen Barthelemy. She had been strangled with a ligature and was naked, her nose and cheekbone were also swollen to suggest she had been hit. Helen was also missing three front teeth.
Unlike Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood, Helen Barthelemy was found in an alleyway. Despite not been found in the water like Tailford or Lockwood police soon made a link to those murders due to the similarities. Police had also seen a pattern emerging. All the victims were prostitutes, obviously, but they were also all short in stature and all had or had recently had an STD.
Helen, who described herself as a “striptease artiste” had come to London from Blackpool. This came after her release from prison for a crime committed in Blackpool. Helen was accused of luring a man to the beach where he was set upon and attacked by three men. Barthelemy was originally convicted of aggravated burglary and given a 4-year jail sentence, however, she was released on appeal after three months. There is a great article on the case here.
Already a known prostitute in Blackpool it was hardly surprising she took up the profession once in London. Known to frequent Jazz clubs it was also the polices belief that she was addicted to “Indian Hemp”.
Police got there first break in the case with the murder of Helen Barthelemy. They discovered specks of paint, the type used to spray paint cars and other metals, on the woman’s body. They also believed that as the body was filthy that it must have been stored somewhere before been dumped in the alleyway. Police, therefore, came to the conclusion that if they could find a storage place where the paint was used they could find their killer.
It is strongly suspected that Jack The Stripper left the body of Helen Barthelemy in the alleyway due to increased police presence near the river banks. Police decided more was needed and decided to start logging any car registration numbers seen in the areas during hours of darkness. They also started to put female officers out on the streets disguised as prostitutes in the hope of luring the killer. Sadly this failed to help prevent Jack from striking again.
On July 14, seated upright against a garage entrance, the naked body of 30-year-old Mary Flemming was found. Unlike other victims, who appeared to have been disposed of with the minimum of fuss, Mary’s body showed signs that she had put up quite a fight. The same specks of paint found on the body of Helen Barthelemy were also present on the body of Mary Flemming.
Mary had worked as a prostitute for over a decade and was known as a tough cookie. She would openly tell the story of the time she fought of an attacker who tried to strangle her. She was also wise enough to know the dangers of life working the streets and was known to carry a knife with her. Regretfully this wasn’t enough to stop her falling victim to the killer.
On the morning of the murder, just before 5 am and moments before Mary’s body was discovered, neighbours heard a vehicle reversing down the street. Sadly, as fate would have it, no one actually saw the vehicle and thus the killer made his escape without repercussion.
The police were now starting to feel that the killer would soon make a fatal mistake. They believed taking such high risks and his levels of confidence would be the undoing of the man whom the press had now started calling Jack The Stripper. They were mistaken.
Frances Brown a.k.a Margaret McGowan
On November 24, 1964, the naked body of 21-year-old Frances Brown was discovered up a side street in Kensington. She had died from asphyxiation due to strangulation. Paint spots again were found on the body. One of her teeth had also been ripped from its socket. A gold ring and a chain with a silver cross were missing from the victim’s body.
Frances Brown possibly shared a link to the earlier victim Hannah Tailford as it was believed they both had a minor connection to the major political scandal known as the Profumo affair. Brown had given evidence against Stephen Ward, who many believe was a scapegoat, and said that she was hired by him to sleep with men from the upper classes. You can read more about the Profumo affair here.
Thanks to this connection and the belief that some of the other victims were involved in taking part in underground sex parties for the rich and powerful, several authors and people interested in the case have suggested people involved in the Profumo affair were also responsible for the Hammersmith Nude murders.
Frances Brown had been missing a month before her body was discovered. She was last seen getting into the car of a client by her friend, and fellow prostitute, Kim Taylor when the pair went off with two men separately. This again gave the police reinvigorated hope of catching Jack The Stripper as Taylor was able to give a description of the men resulting in an identikit picture being released. Unfortunately despite the identikit picture and interviewing over a thousand individuals Jack The Stripper was still uncaptured and free to strike again.
On February 16, 1965, behind a storage shed on the Heron Trading industrial estate in Acton, the body of Bridie O’Hara was found. The 28-year-olds body was naked and again the specks of paint which were present on the bodies of the previous three victims were again found on Bridie O’Hara. The cause of death was asphyxiation. It is also believed that Bridget’s front teeth were missing. O’Hara’s body was also partially mummified, police believed this to be from been stored in a cool dry place for a prolonged period of time ( Bridget was last seen on January 11, over a month before she was discovered).
At this point, Detective Chief Superintendent John Du Rose was called in to take charge of the Hammersmith Nude Murders investigation. Almost in an instant, Du Rose increased the number of officers working on the case to almost double what they were before his arrival.
Du Rose put a massive effort into finding the origins of the paint that had been found on the bodies of the last four victims. After a search that covered over 24 square miles, they finally found a matching sample. Just feet from where Bridie O’Hara’s body was discovered a match to the paint was found under a nearby transformer. Opposite the transformer was a building that was used as a paint spray shop. Police now believed the transformer was where the body of Bridget O’Hara had been stored and that they had found the killers hideout.
Now the police were convinced they were closing in on the killer known as Jack The Stripper. Detective Chief Superintendent John Du Rose even gave a statement in which he stated they had whittled down their suspect list to just three names and soon it would be one.
After this statement was made there were no more victims discovered. The Hammersmith Nude Murders were seemingly over. However, despite interviewing over 7000 individuals and investigating 100’s of leads the man the media had labelled Jack The Stripper disappeared into thin air.
Jack The Stripper Suspects
So what happened to Jack? Did he himself die? Was he incarcerated for an unrelated crime? Did he move to a new area and continue killing there? Or did he simply just stop killing? Nobody knows for certain but several suspects have been suggested as answers to this question.
It was widely accepted that the person responsible for the Hammersmith Nude Murders was unknown to anyone after the murders stopped. That is until Detective Chief Superintendent John Du Rose was interviewed by the BBC and he made the shocking revelation that he knew exactly who the killer was.
Du Rose claimed the killer had taken his own life as he knew his time was up. He also took credit for the suicide claiming it was the result of the statement Du Rose gave saying they had narrowed their list to just three suspects. Du Rose again reiterated his claim in his book Murder Was My Business.
Despite this Du Rose didn’t actually name the suspect, claiming it was for the sake of the murderer’s relatives. However, during research into the book Jack Of Jumps by David Seabrook, the man suspected of being Jack The Stripper was named as Mungo Ireland.
Ireland had worked briefly as a police officer before quitting after been passed up for a detective post. He worked on the Heron Trading industrial estate as a security guard where the final victim was discovered and where police believed previous victims had been stored. He also drove a van very similar to one seen in the area where Mary Flemming was dumped. Finally, he worked the hours of 10 pm to 6 am, which fitted the time’s police believed victims where dumped.
In March 1965, Mungo Ireland killed himself. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his car. Ireland left a note for his wife which read –
“I can’t stick it any longer. It may be my fault but not all of it. I’m so sorry Harry is a burden to you. Give my love to the kid.
PS. To save you and the police looking for me I’ll be in the garage.”
On that evidence, Mungo Ireland certainly seems a good candidate to have been Jack The Stripper. However, when picked at there are also plenty of reasons to doubt his guilt.
The biggest of all was uncovered by a journalist writing for the Sun in 1972. Owen Summers discovered that the man Du Rose had claimed was the killer was in Scotland at the time of the Bridie O’Hara’s murder. Of course that only rules Mungo Ireland out of being her killer but it is pretty much a certainty that she was killed at the same hands of several of the other victims.
Another doubt is cast on Ireland as a suspect by author David Seabrook. After investigating he discovered Ireland had only actually worked at the Heron Trading estate for three weeks and other than the fact he worked there it seemed he had no other links at all to the case.
Seabrook also claimed to have found evidence to show that John Du Rose was corrupt. Seabrooks belief was that to gain a final bit of glory Du Rose pinned the murders on a dead man.
Finally, there also seems to be an explanation as to why he would write “to save the police looking for me” in his suicide note. Ireland was due in court the morning of his suicide due to a motoring offence. His wife also admitted that the pair were going through a difficult time in their marriage which could well have been the reason for his suicide.
It is therefore easy to discount some of what Du Rose claimed but one thing does make me wonder. If Mungo Ireland was innocent why did his wife and other family members stand by whilst his name was dragged through the mud? And why would Du Rose go on TV and so confidently declare there would be no more murders and risk his reputation if he wasn’t certain.
Freddie Mills was an extremely popular English boxer during the 1940s. At one point he was even considered Britain’s biggest boxing star and in 1948 he became the light-heavyweight champion of the world. He retired in 1950 at the age of 30 and took up performing as an actor.
On July 24, 1965, Mills was discovered in his car. He had suffered a gunshot wound to the head and died from his injuries in hospital. The coroner concluded that the angle of the bullet was consistent with that of a self-inflicted gun wound, so it was ruled that Freddie Mills had committed suicide.
Mills death is one that has many theories in itself. One reason given for his suicide is that he was struggling to cope with debts he owed to a crime syndicate, which involved the Kray twins, and so he decided to take his own life. Related to this theory is one which suggests Mills was actually murdered because of his debts.
Also theorized was another murder, this time at the hands of gangsters that wanted Mills nightclub. Mills was adamant he wouldn’t sell, despite him being broke when he died, and so was murdered instead.
Another rumour was that he was having a homosexual relationship. His rumoured gay lover, Michael Holliday, committed suicide and it is claimed he took it badly and couldn’t deal with the loss.
Author and reformed gangster Jimmy Tippet claims that the real cause was Mills fear he was to be arrested for the murders and revealed as Jack The Stripper. Tippet claims to have been reliably told this by several sources while researching a book he was writing.
A variant on that story passed down from a son of a gangland boss, is one in which Mills and his lover Michael Holiday, who were both bisexual, had picked up a girl for a sadomasochistic party. Things went too far and the girl ended up dead and Mills disposed of the body. This must have been Elizabeth Figg as the story then suggests things cooled off between the pair until a few years later. When the pair rekindled the relationship the same thing happened again and this leads to Holiday killing himself out of guilt.
The officer in charge of investigating Freddie Mill’s death has no doubts at all that he wasn’t Jack The Stripper.
“These rumours were outrageous for there is no justification for any suggestion that Freddie was, in any way, a suspect”
That is what Nipper Read, the investigator, had to say about the theory that Mills was Jack The Stripper. He also claimed Mills name may have been confused with another suspect who allegedly committed suicide in 1965 who was a married man and a former boxer in his forties. Sadly this suspect was never named.
One final factor that may discount Mills is that at no point did his car number plates come up in the investigation. Police started to check every number plate seen going in and out of the west end area of London where the victims went missing. With someone of Freddie Mills high profile, it is highly unlikely that he would have been missed.
Metropolitan Police Officers
A number of the suspects put forward by various individuals are former police officers. They range from a Chief Superintendent to a disgraced former officer who was jailed for burglary.
The Convicted Police Officer
David Seabrook, the author who did so much to discredit John Du Rose’s favoured suspect Mungo Ireland, claimed to have his own suspect. Sadly he didn’t name the suspect, presumably for fear of the libel laws. Writer Stewart Home however figured out the suspect from details Seabrook had given in his book fairly easily.
The main source for the suspect seems to be Detective Superintendent William Baldock. He attempted to build a case on the former police officer but was unable to do so.
The Officer, who Baldock and Seabrook accused, was convicted of various petty crimes and was jailed. It was later revealed by the officer that he committed these crimes merely to make various police departments and fellow officers look foolish for the way they had treated him.
Seabrook, therefore, made the case that if he was willing to commit robberies to make fellow officers look stupid then why not murder. He also pointed out that each of the last 6 victims were left in a different police sub-division and believed only an officer would know this.
Seabrook also argues that this is enough of a reason for the killer to stop the murders, as he had succeeded in his aim to make the police look stupid. Baldock, Seabrooks fellow accuser, on the other hand, was of the opinion he would kill again after the death of the final victim Bridie O’Hara, which of course didn’t happen.
Questions remain about the officer as a suspect though. The officer in question seems to have been a somewhat incompetent burglar (one reason he was caught was he rode to the crimes on his own moped) so I question whether he would be able to get away with the murders. It also seems a far leap from committing a few petty crimes to murder just to embarrass a few people who irked the officer.
Finally, and I guess most importantly, there seems to be no connection to the actual murders themselves, with even Seabrook or Baldock failing to make a connection to the Hammersmith Nude Murders. For these reasons, I would consider the officer a weak suspect.
Tommy Butler is another police officer that has been named as a Jack The Stripper suspect. Detective Chief Superintendent Butler was named as the man behind the murders by former criminal turned whistleblower Jimmy Evans in his book Survivors.
In truth, there seems no evidence or link to the murders and it does seem that Evans merely holds a grudge against Butler. Butler died 5 years after the final murder in the series and was dead long before the allegations made by Evans.
Corrupt Officers and The Profumo Affair
The Profumo Affair led to the trial, conviction and ultimately the suicide of Stephen Ward. Many however believe that Ward was set up by corrupt officers paid by Labour MP’s to help bring down the government at the time, run by the Conservatives. Two of these officers are believed to have threatened prostitutes into giving false evidence against Ward.
One of the officers died in 1966 from a heart attack. At the time of his death, the first officer had £30,000 in his bank account which seemed to be hard to account for. The theory is that it was money earned through helping with the cover-up. His partner went to Australia the same year then seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Interestingly various stories have also circulated over the years that police at Hendon suspected a police officer who fled to Australia. Could that officer be the same one that was involved in The Profumo Affair?
One theory is that the two officers, as part of the cover-up, killed the prostitutes that didn’t comply or that were felt could unravel the cover-up.
On one hand, the pair makes for interesting suspects. However, that is only if you believe all the victims were involved in the trial of Stephen Ward, but this isn’t the case at least as far as we know. Francis Brown was involved as a witness and there are also several that believe Hannah Tailford may have been too but there is no evidence any of the other victims were linked.
In 1921, at just 15 years of age, Harold Jones was convicted of the murder of two young girls in Abertillery, Wales. His first victim was 8-year-old Freda Burnell. Harold lured her into a shed where he sexually assaulted her and brutally attacked her then, later that night, dumped her body in a nearby lane. The following morning her body was found. Jones was eventually charged with her murder.
The jury struggled to believe a 15-year-old boy could be responsible for such a horrible crime and he was found not guilty. Upon his release, Harold Jones was given a hero’s welcome by the town of Abertillery as they too couldn’t believe that a 15-year-old boy from the village had been responsible, in their eyes it had to be an outsider.
Sadly their belief in the innocence of a 15-year-old boy would come back to haunt them.
Just weeks after his release Harold Jones would murder 11-year-old Florence Little. Jones lured young Florence into his house before cutting her throat in the kitchen then dragging her into his attic. This time Harold did not get away with his crime.
Due to his age, Harold Jones avoided the death penalty and was released, after serving 20 years, in 1941. In 1947 he surfaced in London and from all known accounts he went on to marry and have a daughter and generally lead a normal happy family life.
However, author Neil Milkins believes Jones may be responsible for the Hammersmith Nude Murders. After researching for a book on the Abertillery Murders Jones committed Milkins kept researching what Jones did after his release from prison.
Milkins discovered that Harold Jones lived just a few streets away from three of the victims at various times. Milkins also found that Jones had been working as a sheet metal worker, meaning he would have used industrial paint similar to the type found on several victims. This and other findings all seemed too much of a coincidence to Milkins and so he claimed Harold Jones could well have been the murderer known as Jack The Stripper.
Unfortunately, record-keeping isn’t what it is nowadays and so police never knew they had a convicted murderer living so close to the crimes. Thus Harold Jones was never a suspect in the Hammersmith Nude Murders.
Harold Jones is an interesting suspect. On the one hand, Neil Milkins makes an extremely strong case for Jones as the killer and surely if police had known a convicted murderer lived near to where the crimes where committed he would have been a suspect in their eyes too.
It has to be added though that there is no actual evidence Jones had any connection to any of the victims or the case at all. The method is also different as Jones didn’t kill either of his victims by asphyxiation. Also, why did he stop at Birdie O’Hara’s murder as Jones didn’t die until 1971? Finally was Jones too old to be the Jack The Stripper anyway, he was 58 at the time of the final murder.
What I found interesting when looking into these murders is how unaware of the crimes most people are, even amongst those interested in true crime. Jack The Stripper is among the most prolific killers in the UK yet mention his name and most will think you have mistaken him for Jack The Ripper or you are talking about a Black Sabbath song.
With it now being over fifty years since the Hammersmith Nude murders took place and with so little in the way of evidence the sad truth is that it is unlikely the man known as Jack The Stripper will ever be revealed. It is just as likely to be an unknown suspect as it is any of the various ones that have been named, though I’m sure over time other names and suspects will be put forward. If I had to go with a current suspect I suppose I would edge towards Harold Jones purely because he was a known murderer that was in the area at the time.
If you have any thoughts on who Jack The Stripper may have been or the Hammersmith Nude Murders in general please feel free to leave a comment below.
Sources And Further Reading
Fred Dineage: Murder Casebook (Documentary On Harold Jones)