JOHN GEORGE HAIGH, THE ACID BATH MURDERER

By Tim Lambert

The Early Life of John George Haigh

John George Haigh was a British murderer in the 1940s. He dissolved the victims bodies in acid. At first Haigh got away with murderers but as so often happens he became careless and he was caught and hanged.

John George Haigh was born on 24 July 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire. Haigh was an only child. His parents were members of the Plymouth Brethren a strict religious sect. When he was a child Haigh won a scholarship to a school in Wakefield, Yorkshire. When he left school Haigh became an apprentice engineer but he soon switched to doing office jobs. On 6 July 1934 he married a 21 year old woman named Beatrice Hammer. However the marriage was very short lived. Haigh began making money by fraud but he was quickly caught and in October 1934 he was sentenced to 15 months in prison. After his release Haigh worked for a short time for a man named William McSwan. However Haigh soon returned to fraud. Haigh pretended to be a solicitor and offered to sell shares from deceased clients at below market prices. However he was caught because of an elementary mistake. On his notepaper he spelled Guildford as Guilford, missing out the letter d. In 1937 Haigh was sent back to prison for 4 years. Haigh was released in 1940 but he was returned to prison in 1941 for stealing. He was released again in 1943.

While in prison Haigh learned about a French murderer called Georges Sarret who dissolved his victims bodies in acid. (Sarret was caught and executed, a lesson lost on Haigh). In prison Haigh stole sulphuric acid and he experimented by dissolving dead mice in it. Haigh seems to have believed (foolishly) that you cannot prove murder without a body. He thought that if he destroyed a victim's body in acid he could never be convicted of murder. In fact under English law for a person to be convicted of murder the prosecution must show evidence that a murder has been committed. They are not required to produce the victim's body. Haigh seems to have misunderstood the phrase 'corpus delicti'. For a conviction there must be a corpus delicti but it means a body of evidence not a physical body. In any case Haigh did not completely destroy the body of his last victim with acid, as we shall see.

The First Victims

In 1944,by chance Haigh met his old employer William McSwan in The Goat pub in Kensington, London. Haigh renewed his friendship with William McSwan. On 6 September 1944 Haigh lured the unfortunate man to a basement and then hit him over the head several times with a metal bar. He then placed the body in a barrel and dissolved it in an oil drum filled with sulphuric acid. Once the body dissolved Haigh poured the remains down a drain. But Haigh was now faced with the problem that William's parents would notice he was missing. Haigh told them William had gone into hiding in Scotland to avoid conscription. Haigh befriended William's parents and they employed him as a rent collector. However once World War II ended they wanted to know where their son was. So on 2 July Haigh lured Donald McSwan, William's father to his basement. He killed Donald by hitting him on the head with a metal bar. The same day Haigh invited the dead man's wife, Amy McSwan to the basement. She was killed in the same way. The unfortunate couple were then placed in oil drums and dissolved in acid. The remains were poured down a drain.

Haigh persuaded the McSwan's landlady they had gone to the USA and he had their letters forwarded to him, including rationing books and pension books. He also forged a signature giving him power of attorney. He was then able to sell their property. For 3 years Haigh lived a wealthy lifestyle but he then began to run out of money and he looked for more victims.

In 1947 John George Haigh rented a workshop in Leopold Road Crawley, West Sussex where he would commit his next murders. He replied to an advert for the sale of a house in London. Haigh offered the owners, Dr Archibald Henderson and his wife Rose more than the asking price. Haigh soon befriended the Henderson's. On 12 February 1948 Haigh persuaded Archie Henderson he was a successful businessman with a workshop in Crawley. Haigh stole Archie's gun then lured him to the workshop by pretending to show him an invention then shot him with the stolen gun. Haigh told Rose Henderson that her husband had been taken ill in Crawley and asked her to come and see him. He shot her too. Haigh destroyed the bodies of Archie and Rose Henderson in oil drums with acid. However when they dissolved Haigh was faced with a problem. His basement in London had a drain down which he could pour dissolved remains but there was no such drain in his Crawley workshop. But outside was yard full of rubble. Haigh simply emptied the drums onto the ground. Haigh managed to persuade people the couple had gone to South Africa. Once again Haigh managed to sell their property. Yet once again he soon squandered it.

The Last Murder by John George Haigh

By 1949 Haigh needed another victim. At that time he was staying as a permanent guest in the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington, London. A fellow guest was a 69 year old widow named Olive Durand-Deacon. Haigh told the unfortunate woman he was an engineer and she told him she had an idea to make and sell false fingernails. On 18 February Haigh persuaded Mrs Durand-Deacon to visit his workshop in Crawley. Once there he shot her. He then stripped her of a valuable Persian lamb coat and her jewels. Haigh then placed her body in a barrel of acid. But the disappearance of Mrs Durand-Deacon was soon noticed. Two days after she vanished her friend reported her missing. The police were suspicious of Haigh. (Mrs Durand-Deacon had told her friend she was going with him to his workshop) and a background search quickly revealed his criminal record. They also searched his workshop and found Haigh's gun. They also found a receipt for a dry cleaning shop for a Persian lamb coat. (the one that had belonged to Mrs Durand-Deacon). Later the police also found traces of the victim's body in yard outside the workshop including animal fat, gall stones and a piece of plastic denture that had survived the acid.

The Trial and Execution of John George Haigh

Faced with the evidence Haigh decided to confess but he feigned insanity. He told the police about the other victims, William McSwan and his parents and the Hendersons but he feigned insanity. Haigh claimed he drank the blood of his victims. But the ruse did not work. On 18 July 1949 John George Haigh went on trial at Lewes Crown Court. A psychiatrist named Dr Yellowlees testified that Haigh was insane. However the murders were obviously planned and premeditated for financial gain. Furthermore the fact that Haigh took such pains to avoid them being discovered clearly showed he knew was doing wrong in the eyes of the law. It took the jury just 17 minutes to find him guilty of murder. John George Haigh was duly sentenced to death. He was hanged on 10 August 1949.

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