A testament to the macabre sense of humour of the British press, Jack the Stripper is the name attributed to the otherwise unidentified serial killer believed responsible for the deaths of at least six prostitutes in London in the period 1964 to 1965.
The Nude Murders
His career began on the 2nd February 1964, when a Thames boatman discovered the body of a woman floating in the river. She was naked apart from the stockings around her ankles and her knickers which were stuffed into her mouth. Identified as a thirty-year old prostitute by the name of Hannah Tailford, it was later established that she had died by drowning. Given that the victim was a prostitute, the police naturally weren't that concerned with investigating the matter and in any case the inquest into her death rather bizarrely returned an open verdict, apparently believing that it was possible that she had committed suicide.
A few months later on the 9th April 1964 another naked body was found floating in the Thames only three hundred yards away from where Hannah Tailford had earlier been found. This victim was identified as twenty-year old Irene Lockwood, another prostitute who had died by drowning, the only difference being that she was four months pregnant when she died. Then on the 24th April the naked body of another twenty-year old prostitute named Helen Barthelmy was found dumped near a sports field in Brentwood. Four of her front teeth were missing, one of which was lodged in her throat, whilst traces of spray paint were found on her body.
Now that the naked bodies of three prostitutes had been found dumped in close succession the press became interested; they began to refer to the killings as 'the Nude Murders' and christened the killer 'Jack The Stripper'. The story ran for another nine months as three more body dumps came to light at regular intervals;
- 14th July 1964, the body of twenty-one year old Mary Fleming was found dumped on a London street after earlier going missing on the 11th of the month. She had been suffocated or choked to death and her dentures were missing.
- 25th November 1964, the body of twenty-one year old Margaret McGowan was found in Kensington. She had been missing for the past month, one of her front teeth had been forcibly removed and there were traces of paint on her skin
- 16th February 1965, the body of twenty-seven year old Bridget O'Hara was found dumped in some shrubbery on the Heron Trading Estate in Acton. Last seen alive on the 11th January 1965, her body had curiously been partially mummified having been stored in a cool and dry place for some time.
As with the previous victims, all three were prostitutes, all three were naked when found, and all three had been suffocated to death.
There was speculation that the same individual might have been responsible for the earlier murder of Elizabeth Figg, a twenty-one year old prostitute, whose body was found in floating in the Thames on the 17th June 1959 wearing only a slip, believed to have been strangled; or indeed the death of Gwyneth Rees, another prostitute whose skeletal remains were discovered on the 8th November 1963 buried at a rubbish dump, exact cause of death undetermined. As is often the case with serial murder, no definite conclusion can be reached either way regarding these
Much was made at the time of supposed connections some of the victims had with the Profumo affair, the Kray twins, or the underground pornography industry, but given the state of play in London in the early 1960s, any random selection of six prostitutes would have likely exhibited such connections. It was also suggested that the killer was the former boxer light-heavyweight champion of the world, Freddie Mills, based entirely on the fact that he was found dead in the back seat of his car in July 1965 having presumed to have committed suicide. As it happens Mills was a manic depressive with financial problems, who had run foul of the Kray twins, and so had sufficient reasons of his own to top himself without dragging the Nude Murders into the mix.
Along the way the police actually arrested a suspect by the name of Kenneth Archibald who confessed to the murder of Irene Lockwood towards the end of April 1964. He later retracted his confession, claiming that he had only done so because he was depressed. Although charged and brought to trial, he was very naturally acquitted, since by that time other bodies had appeared for which he was clearly not responsible.
The police made a number of appeals for information throughout the course of the year, and particularly requested that London's prostitutes came forward with details of their kinkier clients. Nevertheless by the beginning of 1965 the police appeared to be no closer to catching the killer than they had a year earlier. It was thus presumably a great relief to them when, like his infamous namesake, the Stripper suddenly stopped killing, or at the very least, stopped scattering the bodies of naked prostitutes around London.
The identity of the Stripper
It wasn't until sometime later that Inspector John Du Rose, who was in charge of the police investigation into the Nude Murders, claimed in his memoirs, Murder Was My Business (Mayflower Books, 1973) that he knew the identity of the killer. Du Rose revealed that his prime suspect was a private security guard who worked at the Heron Trading Estate, where the final body had been dumped, and where there was also a paint shop to which the security guard had access, and where it was presumed the bodies had been kept prior to disposal. (Hence the paint residue present on some of the victims' bodies.) Soon after the discovery of the last victim this unnamed individual committed suicide by gassing himself in his kitchen, leaving behind a suicide note with the singularly uninformative message, "I cannot go on", thereby frustrating his intended arrest and questioning.
Du Rose also revealed that he had formed the rather incredible theory that at least four of the victims had choked to death as a result of prolonged oral rape, based on the fact the some of the victims had missing teeth, or in the case of Mary Fleming, missing dentures. Not everyone is convinced that this rather novel method of execution was indeed employed by the killer, but such bizarre speculations aside, du Rose's conclusions were largely endorsed by Brian McConnell in his account of the murders in Found Naked And Dead (New English Library, 1974), all of which appeared to bring the story of Jack the Stripper to a close.
Interest in the Nude Murders was revived some twenty-five years later with the publication of The Survivor (Mainstream, 2001), being the ghost written memoirs of former safe-blower Jimmy Evans and ex-associate of both the Richardson and Kray gangs. Evans, who was apparently a suspect himself at one time, claimed that the killer was in fact a Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler. Evans put forward a persuasive, if not entirely convincing argument that DCI Butler was the killer, aided by the fact that Butler was safely dead at the time the allegation as made, and thus unable to answer the charges made against him.
Most recently David Seabrook in Jack of Jumps (Granta, 2006) has claimed to have identified the murderer as yet another former Metropolitan Police officer. Although Seabrook was careful not to name the officer concerned, (apparently still alive) he revealed sufficient wealth of detail to enable writer Stewart Home to rapidly identify the individual concerned as the former Metropolitan Police Detective Andrew John Cushway.
Cushway, who was indeed a bent copper, was convicted in 1962 of a string of minor break-ins. Apparently Cushway felt his colleagues had unfairly ostracised him, and committed these burglaries in an attempt to make them look stupid. So on his release from prison, it is argued, that he graduated to the status of serial killer for exactly the same reason. Or at least this was the theory of a certain Detective Superintendent William Baldock who was investigating Cushway at the time, although he quite failed to establish any kind of case against his target, and in any case believed that if he was correct in his suspicion, that Cushway would kill again after the murder of Bridie O’Hara in February 1965, which, of course, he didn't. It also should be noted that Cushway was a singularly unsuccesful burglar who was very rapidly identified as the perpetrator, and there is no reason to suppose that he would have been any more accomplished at the art of murder.
At present it seems most likely that Jack the Stripper was indeed the unnamed security guard identified by Inspector Du Rose, although this determination is by no means conclusive, particularly since the police files are closed to the public and will remain so for many years to come. Time will tell, as to whether the story of Jack the Stripper and the Nude Murders proves to exercise the same enduring fascination as that of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders; it may well be that we can look forward to a steady stream of speculative works on the subject, with new 'revelations' and new 'suspects' to come.
Jack the Stripper is also the name of an instrumental track from the Black Sabbath album Paranoid (which accounts for the majority pf the Google hits on the name) as well as being the title of a 1992 film. The film however bears no relation to the Nude Murders whatsover and appears to be one of those productions which is short on dialogue and long on bedroom action. It is also said that the Nude Murders provided the inspiration for the plot of Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate film 'Frenzy', which similarly features a serial killer loose in 1960s London.
- Jack the Stripper
- England, London; Jack The Stripper
- Put Up Or Shut Up: David Seabrook At The Last Chance Saloon.
- Tony Thompson, How boxing champion was driven to suicide by threat from Krays, The Observer July 11, 2004
- Jack the Stripper (1992) and Frenzy (1972)