On Christmas Eve 1958 the body of 31-year-old prostitute Veronica Murray was found in her room in Charteris Road, Kilburn. She was naked apart from a pullover pulled over her head and she had been dead for five or six days. She had been battered to death with a six-pound dumbbell that lay on the floor by her bed. There were strange circular marks on her abdomen and thighs and fingerprints were found that might have come from her killer.
During the next year there were several cases of assaults on women where their bodies showed the strange circular marks, and luckily none of the attacks had resulted in a fatality. There was also an outbreak of burglaries in West London where the fingerprints matched those previously found. On 10th October 1959, Mrs Hill was out celebrating her birthday and invited back to her Fulham flat a young man that she had met in the West End. When she refused his advances he hit her, tore off her clothes and strangled her into unconsciousness, but she survived. Fingerprints he had left again matched those on police files and Mrs Hill was able to give a clear description of young ‘Mick’, a heavy drinking chain-smoker.
On further checking of the assaults on the women revealed that ‘Mick’ owned a cigarette lighter with the name ‘Texas Gulf Sulphur Co.’ A picture of a similar lighter was published in the press and a guardsman at the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, stationed at Pirbright in Surrey, told his CO that another guardsman, ‘Mick’, owned a lighter like it.
‘Mick’ – Michael Douglas Dowdall – had enlisted in the Guards as a drummer boy. He had been born on 12th December 1940 and his father had been killed three years later. Dowdall had always been a problem and was described, by his CO, as “a bit odd.” He had a history of heavy drinking and going AWOL and had been posted as AWOL on the night of Veronica Murray’s murder. On 24th November 1959 he was interviewed by police who took his fingerprints. They matched those in the Murray file. Dowdall was taken back to Chelsea police station where he confessed to the killing, assaults and a string of burglaries.
On 3rd December, nine days before his nineteenth birthday, he was charged with the murder of Veronica Murray. Dowdall’s trial began at the Old Bailey on 20th January 1960 and lasted two days. The defence pleaded diminished responsibility, producing psychiatrists who variously described Dowdall as “a psychopath”, “a social misfit” and “a sexual pervert.” The jury, after requesting direction from the judge on ‘impaired responsibility’ found Dowdall guilty of manslaughter.
Dowdall was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released on licence in July 1975 suffering from a serious illness from which he died in November of the following year. He was thirty-six years old. The instrument that caused the strange, circular marks was never identified.