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John George Haigh - The Acid Bath Murderer

John George Haigh, later known as the Acid Bath Murderer, was born in 1909 at Stamford, Lincolnshire.  He came from a very religious protestant family who lived an austere life.  He won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield.  He later became a choirboy at Wakefield Cathedral.

When he left school he became an apprentice with a motor engineering company, but left after a year for jobs in insurance and advertising.  In about 1930 he was fired for suspected theft from a cash box.

John George Haigh - the Acid Bath Murderer

In 1934 he married Betty Hammer, but that same year Haigh was jailed for fraud.  Betty gave birth while he was in prison, gave up the child for adoption and left Haigh.

Shortly after being released from jail Haigh was again jailed for fraud.  On his release he worked in a dry cleaning business, which subsequently failed when his business partner died in an accident.

Haigh moved to London and was employed for a time as a chauffeur by William McSwann, who owned an amusement park.  He then set himself up as a bogus solicitor, but was caught and jailed for fraud again.  It was during his time in prison that he came up with the idea of committing the perfect murder by dissolving the body in acid, taking the view that you could not be charged with murder if there was no body.

In 1943 he was again out of prison and became an accountant for a firm of engineers.  During this time he again met William McSwann, who introduced him to his parents Donald and Amy.  Donald and Amy were property investors.

In September 1944 Haigh murdered William McSwann in a basement flat in Gloucester Road Chelsea, where Haigh had a workshop, by beating him to death.  He then dissolved his body using acid.  He told McSwans parents that William had gone into hiding to avoid being called up for the war and continued this deception for some months by writing letters to them pretending they were from their son.  Haigh took over William McSwann's house.

By 1945 Donald and Amy Swann were becoming suspicious about their son not having returned home so in July 1945 Haigh murdered Donald and Amy Swann in the Gloucester Road flat by beating them to death and dissolving their bodies in acid.  He subsequently pretended to be William McSwann and took legal control of their possessions, selling everything that he could.

Having made a considerable sum of money from these possessions, including their properties, he moved into the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington.  During the next two years he got through this money, partly as a result of a gambling habit.

Haigh met Archibald and Rosalie Henderson when he heard that they were selling a house.  He rented a small workshop at 2 Leopold Road, Crawley, Sussex and moved his acid and drums there from Gloucester Road.  He also took the opportunity of stealing a gun from Archibald Henderson.  Early in 1948 he took Archibald Henderson to his Leopold Road workshop to show him an invention and shot him.  He then lured Rosalie Henderson to the workshop on the pretext that her husband was there and had fallen ill.  He shot her in the workshop and got rid of both of the bodies by dissolving them in acid.

Haigh used a forged letter from them and sold all of their possessions.

In 1949, while still living at the Onslow Court Hotel, Haigh invited another hotel guest, Olive Durand-Deacon, to his workshop to discuss her idea about artificial fingernails.  He shot her, collected her valuables, including a Persian lamb coat, and put her in the acid.

A couple of days later her friend Constance Lane went with Haigh to report her missing to the police.  Detectives realised Haigh had a record of theft and fraud and searched the workshop where they discovered a receipt for dry cleaning for a Persian lamb coat belonging to Olive Durand-Deacon and various papers referring to the Hendersons and McSwanns.  They then investigated the sludge at the workshop and discovered three human gallstones.  Various fragments of human bone, dentures and other relics were also found.

When he was questioned Haigh confessed that he had killed Olive Durand Deacon, and also the McSwanns and Hendersons.  He also confessed to killing three other people and tried to convince the police that he was insane.  Haigh was convinced that as there were no bodies there was no proof of a crime and he could not be punished.

Haigh was arrested, charged with murder, and remanded in custody.

Haigh pleaded not guilty.  The Attorney-General led the prosecution at Lewes Assizes and urged the jury to reject the defence plea of insanity because he had acted with malice aforethought.

The defence called many witnesses to attest to his mental state, but after a few minutes deliberations the jury found Haigh guilty and the judge sentenced him to death.

Haigh was transferred to the condemned cell at Wandsworth Prison.  He was hanged in August 1949.

Before his hanging Haigh finished his life story for the newspaper that had paid for his defence.

A wax figure of Haigh was erected in Madam Tussauds Chamber of Horrors.

In 2002 an ITV film of his life was made called ‘A is for Acid’ with Martin Clunes playing Haigh.  This was re-broadcast on ITV3 in August 2015.  The film was very realistic in many of the sets, showing much of the equipment seen in photographs of his workshop taken at the time. (Note that the car in this film that was driven by Martin Clunes is an Alvis, but a completely different model to the Speed 20 Saloon owned by Haigh. Presumably they were unable to get a suitable Speed 20 car for the filming.)

Photographs taken at the time show Haigh in his Alvis car.  This photograph was taken from a TV screening of him in his car shown by Channel 5 in 2001.

Alvis Speed 20 owned by John George Haigh


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