Chelsea & Crawley, Sussex
Bludgeoned or shot, then Acid Bath
Haigh's parents belonged to a religious
sect known as the Plymouth Brethren, they were purist
and anticlerical. Almost all forms of casual
entertainment, music, carnivals, magazines and
newspapers were regarded as sinful. Only stories from
the bible were acceptable. Haigh was a bright student
who won scholarships to Wakefield Grammar School.
Unfortunately accounts of his younger days
would suggest that he would never actually amount
to much more than the disturbed individual he became in
later life. Haigh suggested that the seeds of his future
career as one of the most notorious serial killers in
English history were sown during his early religious
Haigh became an apprentice to a firm of
motor engineers, however this only lasted a year, he
then scraped a living in sales, insurance and
advertising and any job that demanded snappy dressing
and the gift of the gab. By the age of 21 he had been
sacked for suspected theft.
July1934, Haigh married 23-year-old
Beatrice Hamer. The marriage soon fell apart. That same
year he was jailed for fraud and Beatrice gave birth
while he was in prison but she gave the baby girl up for
adoption and left Haigh. His family ostracised him from
that point onwards.
1936 Haigh moved to London and
became chauffeur to wealthy William McSwan, the
owner of amusement parlours.
Haigh used his mechanical skills to
maintain McSwan's amusement machines.
Following that he became a bogus
unqualified solicitor and received a four-year jail
sentence for fraud. He was released just after the start
of World War II and somehow missed being called up to
He served several jail sentences for fraud
and theft, on one time whilst inside Lincoln Prison he
began planning the series of perfect murders. He learned
much from other inmates and avidly read books on acids
which he found available in the prison library.
Using glass jars from the kitchens, dead
field mice brought in from the fields and small
quantities of acid taken from the tinsmith shop, Haigh
carried out experiments to see how long it would take a
small body to dissolve in acid. It was not long before
he had devised a formula to apply to humans.
John Haigh meticulously planned each of his
murders, with all three stages carefully thought out to
prevent untidy, or messy finishes to his gruesome
The first stage was to isolate the victim
from any familiarity around them (escorting them to his
"workshop", which was nothing more than an adjacent room
next to a factory). In all of the cases, his victims
were always led under a pretence of discovery, which was
based upon his initial friendship established with each
of them. Put simply, they had absolutely no reason to
suspect Haigh of performing anything unusual, until it
was too late.
Stage two was to render his target
incapable of responding to his attack, via the use of a
.38 Webley revolver.
He concealed the gun upon his person,
once he had coaxed his intended target inside his
workshop. Then Haigh would seize any opportunity to kill
the victim with as little effort as possible.
Thirdly, was the disposal of the body using
vats of industrial acid.
It was Haigh's mistaken belief that a
corpse could be completely disposed of via the acid.
Unfortunately for Haigh, certain parts of the human body
are more resilient than most people think, either by
their very nature (such as teeth and bone) and
artificial items (such as false teeth) and are usually
picked up as trace evidence by forensic experts. Haigh's
false assumption that murder could not be proved without
the body eventually led to his downfall.
Though the murders were very important to
Haigh, he also needed to sustain himself
financially, and would strip the body of any valuables
that he could use himself, like jewellery, and ration
cards which he later used for himself. These would later
be found at his home, which provided further evidence
1944 Haigh renewed his previous
friendship with the McSwan family and rented a small
basement workshop at number 79 Gloucester Road in
Kensington where he allegedly worked on his 'inventions',
whilst also working for the family collecting rents from
their numerous properties.
9 September 1944, he took William
McSwan to his workshop and bludgeoned him to death. He
then placed the body in a 40 gallon barrel filled with
sulphuric acid. Later he covered the drum and went home
to sleep. The next day the remains of McSwan were little
more than cold liquid and lumps which he disposed of
down a drain.
By forging documents he obtained all of William McSwan's
assets Haigh also managed to obtain the McSwan's
property in Raynes Park, Wimbledon Park and Beckenham
Park, and around £4,000 in cash. He faked documents to
show the parents that there son had run away to Scotland
to avoid the draft. But, he was getting greedy and
wanted more of the family money.
2 July 1945 Haigh took Donald
and Amy McSwan to his basement on Gloucester Road,
on the pretence that their son had returned. There he
beat them to death, disposing of the bodies in the acid.
1947 Haigh had stolen McSwan's
pension cheques and also sold their properties, stealing
about 8,000 pounds in total.
He then moved into the Onslow Court Hotel
in Kensington. Living the high life, he was also a heavy
gambler, and it was not long before the money was
To fix his financial situation, he decided
to find another couple to kill and rob:
He befriended Dr. Archibald Henderson and
his wife Rose, after pretending to be interested in a
house they were selling, he built up a friendship, and
was then invited to the Hendersons flat by Rose to play
the piano for their housewarming party. While Haigh was
at the flat he found and stole Archibald Henderson's
revolver, Haigh was planning to use it in his next
He rented a small workshop at 2 Leopold Road, Crawley,
Sussex, and moved acid and drums there from the basement
in Gloucester Road.
12 February 1948, he drove Dr.
Henderson to Crawley to show him a new invention he had
allegedly been working on. . When they arrived, Haigh
shot Henderson in the head with the stolen revolver. He
then lured Mrs. Henderson to the workshop, claiming that
her husband had fallen ill, and shot her as well. As
with his previous victims he dissolved their bodies in
the drums of acid. He then forged letters
supposedly from them, and sold all of their possessions
Now back at the Onslow Court Hotel. Haigh
was calling himself an engineer, he met and befriended
Olive Durand-Deacon, 69, the wealthy widow of solicitor
Olive mentioned an idea to him that she had
for artificial fingernails. He invited her down to the
Leopold Road workshop in Crawley,
18 February 1949 once inside,
he shot Olive in the back of the neck with the .38
caliber Webley revolver that he had previously
stolen from Archibald Henderson.
Haigh stripped her of her of any valuables,
and put her into the acid bath.
28 February 1949, A friend of Olive
had become suspicious at her disappearance and
continually question Haigh, to keep her quiet he agreed
to go to Chelsea police station with her, to report the
disappearance. Unfortunately for Haigh, once there the
desk sergeant recognised Haigh and did a background
check, Haigh was arrested while a search of his hotel
room took place.
The police soon discovered Haigh’s record
of theft and fraud and commenced a search of the
workshop in Sussex.
Police found Haigh’s briefcase
containing a dry cleaner’s receipt for Mrs.
Durand-Deacon’s coat, and also papers referring to the
Hendersons and McSwans.
The workshop in Sussex did not have a floor
drain, unlike the workshop he had rented at Gloucester
Road in London.
He had therefore, disposed of the remains
by pouring them out on a rubble pile at the back of the
property. Investigation of the area by pathologist
Simpson revealed 28 pounds of human body fat, part
of a human foot, human gallstones and part of a denture
which was later identified by Mrs. Durand-Deacon's
2nd March, 1949 Haigh was
charged with the murder of Mrs Durand-Deacon and was
moved to Lewes Prison.
Suspected of killing up to 15 people, he
was eventually charged with just six murders.
Monday 18th July 1949, His trial
began at Lewes Assizes.
Haigh pleaded guilty due to insanity. The
Judge ordered the jury not to accept the plea as Haigh
had acted with 'Malice Aforethought'.
Trial finished the following afternoon. It
took the jury seventeen minutes to find him guilty.
The judge sentenced Haigh to death.
Wednesday 10th August 1949, 9am.
Haigh was hanged by
at Wandsworth prison., assisted by Harry Kirk. Outside
the prison a crowed of about 500 people gathered.
Mr Justice Travers
Sir David Maxwell