John George Haigh - the infamous "Acid bath" serial killer.


John George Haigh (photo) possessed a great deal of natural charm and passed himself off as an engineer.  He served three prison sentences for theft and fraud and whilst in prison hit upon a new scheme to “get rich quick”.  He would kill his victims and then dissolve their bodies in acid, in the mistaken belief that he could not be charged with murder if there was no body.


He battered or shot three men and three women to death between 1944 and 1949, all for financial gain, disposing of the bodies by dissolving them in sulphuric acid which quite quickly reduced them to a liquid sludge that he could pour down the drain. His victims were William Donald McSwan and later his parents, William and Amy McSwan. They were followed by Dr. Archibald Henderson and his wife, Rosalie, and finally by Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon for whose murder he would hang. (photos)


William Donald McSwan (photo) had employed Haigh as a repairman at his amusement arcades and after release from his third prison sentence, Haigh met William and invited him to meet up in a basement at 79 Gloucester Road in London on Saturday the 9th of September 1944, where Haigh said he was making pin-ball machines.  Here William was beaten to death, his body dissolved and the remains simply poured away.  Unfortunately for William’s parents, their son had told Haigh that they were quite wealthy.  Haigh forged letters purportedly from William to his parents saying that he had gone into hiding to avoid being called up for military service.  They too, were separately lured to the basement in Gloucester Road where they shared their son’s fate.  Haigh lived off their £4,000 estate for the next two years.


Haigh’s next victims were Dr. Archibald Henderson, age 52 and his wife, Rosalie, age 41. They were a wealthy couple who had advertised flats for sale in a large house that they had converted into apartments in Dawes Road in Fulham.  Haigh even made an offer on the flats.  They had told him that they were going to Brighton for a few days holiday and Haigh followed them there and stayed in the same hotel.  He persuaded the Hendersons to view his factory in Leopold Road, Crawley in Sussex. (photo) Here on the 16th of February 1948 they were shot and their bodies placed in acid.  Haigh now turned to forgery to get control of the Henderson’s estate and managed to obtain some £8,000 from it.


The final victim was 69 year old Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon, who like Haigh, lived at the Onslow Court Hotel in South Kensington, London. He got her interested in the factory in Leopold Road, which he told her was going to start making cosmetics. He persuaded her to go with him on the 18th of February 1949 to look at the factory, which was little more than a store room and when he got her there, shot her in the neck. He had previously equipped the building with a carboy of acid, a 40-gallon drum and rubber gloves and apron. He took Mrs. Durand-Deacon's jewellery and other valuables, including her fur coat which he had cleaned to remove the bloodstains prior to sale and put her body into the acid to dissolve. One of the other residents at the Onslow Court, who was a friend of Mrs. Durand-Deacon, was greatly concerned by her disappearance and asked Haigh to go with her to Chelsea police station to report her missing. The police became suspicious of Haigh and obtained a search warrant for his factory, where they were to discover a 38 calibre Webley revolver that had belonged to Dr. Henderson, the acid drum and some human remains. These included some bone fragments, Mrs. Durand-Deacon's false teeth and her gallstone.  These were examined by the Home Office Pathologist, Dr. Keith Simpson, who was able to make a positive identification of the victim.
When the police arrested Haigh on the 26th of February 1949, and put this evidence to him, he told them, "Mrs. Durand-Deacon no longer exists. I have destroyed her with acid. You can't prove a murder without a body." He went on to admit to eight other killings of which only five could be substantiated.


Haigh was tried at Lewes Assizes before Mr. Justice Humphreys on the 18th and 19th of July 1949 and put forward a defence of insanity and claimed that he was also a vampire and had drank a glass of the blood of each of his victims. This made sensational headlines in the newspapers. However, the jury were less impressed and took just 17 minutes to find him guilty.


There was no appeal and 39 year old Haigh was hanged at Wandsworth prison by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Harry Kirk, on Wednesday, the 10th of August 1949. Pierrepoint obviously considered Haigh as a special case and used his calf leather wrist strap to pinion his wrists before giving him a drop of 7’ 4” for his 150 lb. body weight.  This resulted in fracture/dislocation of the 2nd and 3rd Cervical vertebrae and “complete laceration of (spinal) cord” to quote from the LPC4 form.

A very large number of people were outside the main gate of Wandsworth on that morning to see the execution notices posted. (photo)


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