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John George Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer

John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer, killed 3 people in Leopold Road, West Green in 1948-9.

Haigh, the son of fervently religious Plymouth Brethren, was born in 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and brought up in Outwood, Yorkshire. He became a choirboy at Wakefield Cathedral.

The adult Haigh was, sadly, no choirboy. While in prison for fraud, he came up with a plan for the perfect murder: by dissolving a body in acid, he would leave no trace of the crime.

The Kensington Murders

His first victim was William Swann, the wealthy owner of an amusement park, for whom Haigh had worked before his spell in prison. Swann, and later Swann’s parents, were lured into Haigh’s basement at 79 Gloucester Road in London, where Haigh killed them and dissolved their bodies in a 40-gallon drum. The motive was financial: Haigh sold the Swanns’ properties and made the equivalent of about a quarter of a million pounds.

The Crawley Murders

While living in the Onslow Court hotel in Kensington, Haigh rented a workshop in Leopold Road, West Green, Crawley, to which he transferred his grisly apparatus. He lured a wealthy doctor, Archibald Henderson, there and shot him in the head, then dissolved the body. Dr Henderson’s wife followed shortly afterwards. Haigh sold their possessions and pocketed the money.

A fellow resident of the Onslow Court hotel, Olive Durand-Deacon, was also lured to Crawley and disposed of. Once Mrs Durand-Deacon was reported missing, detectives soon became aware of Haigh’s criminal record.

A dry cleaner’s receipt for his final victim’s fur coat, as well as papers relating to his earlier victims, led to a thorough examination of Haigh’s workshop in Crawley. The eminent pathologist, Prof. Keith Simpson, discovered 3 human gallstones and part of Mrs Durand-Deacon’s dentures, all of which the acid had failed to dissolve.

Conviction and Execution

In custody in Horsham, Haigh was charged with 6 murders. He confessed to these and three others. At Lewes Assizes, Haigh was prosecuted by Sir Hartley Shawcross, who was later to become a politician of temporary allegiances known as Sir Shortly Floorcross.

The jury found Haigh guilty after only 5 minutes’ deliberation. He was sentenced to death, and hanged in Wandsworth prison on 10 August 1949.

The Scene of the Crime

Leopold Road runs off Ifield Road, although the workshop in which Haigh disposed of his victims no longer exists.

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