Case: The Acid Bath Murderer: John George Haigh
Victim
Name:
Donald McSwan
Gender:
Male
Date:
1944-09-06
Nationality:
British
Weapon:
Blunt Object
Victim
Name:
William McSwan
Gender:
Male
Date:
1945-07-02
Nationality:
British
Weapon:
Blunt Object
Victim
Name:
Amy McSwan
Gender:
Female
Date:
1945-07-02
Nationality:
British
Weapon:
Blunt Object
Killer
Name:
John George Haigh
Gender:
Male
Nationality:
British
Status: Solved
Categories: Robbery
Case synopsis:

Between 1944 and 1949, John George Haigh killed at least six people after becoming convinced he could carry out the perfect murder.

Believing that without a body it would be impossible to be convicted, he dissolved his victims in sulphuric acid. The resulting sludge could then be poured down the drain. He later claimed to have drunk their blood and was dubbed a 'Vampire' by the Daily Mirror.

He embarked on his murderous plan after being released from a four year prison sentence for fraud in 1943.

On 6 September 1944, he lured 37 year-old William Donald McSwan, who had employed him as a chauffeur at an amusement park, into his basement workshop at 79 Gloucester Road in Kensington, southwest London.

According to Haigh's account, he battered McSwan over the head with a hammer, slit his throat and collected some of his blood in a mug to drink. The body was placed into a 40-gallon drum full of acid and two days later the remains were poured down a manhole.

To put McSwan's parents off the scent, he claimed Donald had disappeared to avoid conscription. On 2 July 1945, Haigh killed Donald's concerned parents William, 70, and Amy, 65, at the workshop in Gloucester Road.

Haigh spent the next two years living - and gambling - on the estimated £8,000 he stole from the McSwans.

But by 1947 he was looking for more victims and rented a workshop at 2 Leopold Road in Crawley, West Sussex. There he shot Dr Archibald Henderson, 52, and his wife Rosalie, 51, on February 12, 1948, and forged letters allowing him to take control of their assets.

On February 18, 1949, he decided to target Olive Durand-Deacon, 69, a wealthy solicitor's widow he had met while staying at the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington. Like the Hendersons he lured her to Leopold before shooting her in the back of the head and dissolving her body in acid.

Haigh was questioned ten days later and a police search of his workshop in Crawley revealed the gruesome evidence of his murders, including 28 pounds of human fat, three gallstones, a partially dissolved left foot, 18 bone fragments, Ms Durand-Deacon's dentures and a piece of the widow's red plastic handbag.

He was charged with Mrs Durand-Deacon's murder on March 2 and two days later wrote to his girlfriend Barbara Smith from Lewes Prison to explain his motives:

How foolish of you to ask why I hadn't murdered you. Of course I had millions of opportunities I know that. But the idea, never even crossed my mind I wouldn't have hurt a hair of your head. The other business is something entirely separate and different. There was no affection involved there I know the papers talked of 6 widows but they haven't got the whole story yet. There were men as well as women how many I don't know probably a dozen or more, and it was not their money but their blood that I wanted.

He went on trial at Lewes Assizes on July 18, 1949. His claims of insanity - backed up by his supposed confession to drinking his victim's blood - were rejected and he was convicted by the jury after only 15 minutes. He was hanged, aged 40 [24/7/09], at Wandsworth Prison on August 10.

___________

More detailed accounts of this case can be found at the Trutv Crime Library website, the Crime and Investigation Network site, and Wikipedia. You can also watch the TV series A is for Acid and an episode of Tales from the Black Museum about the case.

Read the letter from John Haigh to his girlfriend on the National Archives website.

Note: You can no longer see 79 Gloucester Road as the buildings appear to have been renumbered 77 and 77A.

 

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