Between 1964 and 1965 six women were found dead in and around the River Thames. All of them had worked as prostitutes, all had been strangled and all were naked, leading to their description as the ‘Nude Murders.
Two months later on April 8 Irene Lockwood, 26, was found a few hundred yards upstream on the Thames foreshore.
Then on April 24, 22 year-old Helen Barthelemy was found dead in an alleyway off Swyncombe Avenue in Brentford, west London. This time there was a clue – small flecks of paint on the body.
The same pattern of paint colours was also detected on the body of Mary Fleming, who was found in a sitting position at the entrance to a garage in Berrymede Road, Acton, on July 14.
Detectives were still trying to track down motorcar spray-painting premises when Margaret McGowan, alias Frances Brown, was found dead on November 25. Her body was hidden under rubble and a dustbin lid in a Civil Defence car park in Hornton Street in Kensington.
‘Frances Brown’ had been in the newspapers the previous year when she gave evidence at the trial of osteopath Stephen Ward, one of the central figures in the Profumo affair. She had last been seen getting into a car – believed to be a Ford Zephyr or Zodiac – by fellow prostitute Kim Taylor and identikit pictures of the suspect were issued, without result.
Finally on February 16, 1965, Bridget ‘Bridie’ O’Hara was found behind a shed on the Heron Trading Estate in Acton.
Margaret McGowan, alias Frances Brown, was found dead on November 25. Her body was hidden under rubble and a dustbin lid in a Civil Defence car park in Hornton Street in Kensington. Frances Brown: 21. Edinburgh-native Frances Brown was last seen alive on 23 October 1964 by her friend, fellow prostitute Kim Taylor, before her body was found in an alleyway in Kensington a month later on 25 November. Taylor, who had been with Brown when she was picked up by the man believed to be her killer, was able to provide police with an identikit picture and a description of the man’s car, thought either to be a Ford Zephyr or a Zodiac.
Irene Lockwood: 26. Irene Lockwood was found dead on 8 April 1964 on the shore of the Thames, not far from where Hannah Tailford had been discovered; their two deaths, along with that of Elizabeth Figg, were linked and police realized that a killer was on the loose. Kenneth Archibald, a 57-year-old caretaker, confessed to this murder almost three weeks later, but his confession was dismissed due to inconsistencies in his version of events, and because of the discovery of a third victim.
Helen Barthelemy: 22. Helen Barthelemy, originally from Blackpool, was found dead on 24 April 1964 in an alleyway in Brentford. Barthelemy’s death gave investigators their first solid piece of evidence in the case: flecks of paint used in motor-car manufactures. Police felt that the paint had probably come from the killer’s workplace; they therefore focused on tracing it to a business nearby.
Hannah Tailford: 30. Originally from Northumberland, Hannah Tailford was found dead on 2 February 1964 near the Hammersmith Bridge. She had been strangled and several of her teeth were missing; her underwear had also been forced down her throat.
Bridget O’Hara: 28. Irish-born Bridget O’Hara, also known as “Bridie”, was found dead behind the Heron Trading Estate in a storage shed. Once again, O’Hara’s body turned up flecks of industrial paint which, incredibly, were traced to a covered transformer just yards from where she had been discovered. She also showed signs of having been stored in a warm environment; the transformer was a good fit for both the paint and the heating.
Mary Flemming: 30. Originally from Scotland, Flemming’s body was found on 14 July 1964 in an open street in the district of Chiswick, where police presence was heaviest. Once again, paint spots were found on the body; many neighbours had also heard a car reversing down the street just before the body was discovered.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Du Rose was recalled from holiday to lead the manhunt. He had policewomen dress up as prostitutes to walk the streets of Notting Hill and sent officers across west London to look for paint-spraying sites.
They didn’t have far to look – the paint pattern was found opposite a paint spray shop on the Heron estate, not far from where Bridie O’Hara’s body was found. This was where the bodies were stored before being dumped – but by who? Detectives believed he must have had some association with the estate and questioned 7,000 people from the area.
In an attempt to force the killer into exposing himself, Du Rose announced he was gradually whittling down the suspects. But the arrest never came, and the gamble appeared to have failed.
Du Rose later revealed in his book ‘Murder was my Business’ that the prime suspect had committed suicide before they could arrest him. He wrote: ‘We had done all we possibly could but faced with his death no positive evidence was available to prove or disprove our belief that he was in fact the man we had been seeking. Because he was never arrested or stood trial, he must be considered innocent and will therefore never be named.’
This suspect was identified by writer David Seabrook as Mungo Ireland, who gassed himself with exhaust fumes in his garage on March 3, 1965. Ireland left a note reading: ‘I can’t stick it any longer… PS. To save you and the police looking for me I’ll be in the garage.’
There are now conflicting opinions on whether this man was the killer or simply framed by the police after his death. It has also suggested that the same man may have been responsible for the murders of two other women found dead near the Thames in 1959 and 1963, Elizabeth Figg and Gwynneth Rees.
For this reason, the crimes of the serial killer dubbed ‘Jack the Stripper’ are said to remain unsolved.