If one was asked to list English serial killers in order of notoriety, John George Haigh would rank highly. Given the sobriquet the "Acid Bath Murderer" by a typically goulish media, his crimes are the subject of TV documentaries, books and novelisation nearly 60 years later. Despite claiming during his trial that he killed due to a lust for blood (a hasty attempt at trying to be declared criminally insane), his motivation was money. He used personal charm and phoney business deals to lure his victims into his confidence and to their eventual demise.
After either bludgeoning them to death or shooting them in the head, he stuffed their bodies into oil drums containing sulphuric acid which turned their flesh and bones into a putrid, dark, sludge in the mistaken belief that if he was ever caught, the absence of a dead body would render the police powerless. It was his mistunderstanding of the legal principle corpus delicti (Lat: "body of cime") that was to prove his downfall - the police most certainly don't need a dead body to convict you of murder.
His first three (confirmed) murders were committed in London - at a rented workshop in the basement of 79 Gloucester Road, SW7. In September 1944 he invited William McSwan, a former employer, whom he had met purely by chance, back to his workshop and beat him around the head with a leather clad cosh, and disposed of his corpse in a drum of acid. He cashed in McSwan's pension cheques and told his parents that he, McSwan, had fled to Scotland to avoid being called up for war service. Less than a year later, they naturally become suspicious as to why their son had not yet returned - the war was almost over - so he invited them to Gloucester Road and gave them the same treatment.
He was caught after moving to a workshop in Crawley, West Sussex, when the friend of a victim reported a missing person to the police and enquiries were made. After the media sensation of his trial, he was eventually hanged at Wandsworth prison.
The gas mask, leather butcher's apron and other items of clothing worn by Haigh whilst disposing of his victims are housed in the Crime Museum of Scotland Yard and are only accessible to police officers (and even then not without some difficulty). The closest that a London tourist can get to Haigh is by visiting Gloucester Road itself. Despite the basement of No. 79 seemingly having been filled in (good), much of the architecture of 1944 is still in place today. It is incorrectly reported online that the KFC directly opposite the underground station (with its basement seating) is the site where the murders took place. This is inaccurate. No. 79 was next door (now re-numbered to 77 - the KFC is 81) and is now a Patisserie (at least it was the last time I went there). The seating area is directly above where the steps to the basement entrance would once have been.
The scene in 2012.
The police investigating No. 79 in 1949, after Haigh was charged with murder.
The buildings, pillars and even railings, over which curious onlookers peered, are still the same. So if you're ever tempted to go on an expensive "Jack the Ripper" or "Murderous London" tour, remember that many of the buildings which house the memories of London's grisly past are available for you to find for free. Who knows - perhaps you even live in one?