Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John George Haigh

Missing Person

Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror

On Thursday, March 3, 1949, London's Daily Mirror began a series of macabre stories about murder that began with the headline, "Hunt for the Vampire." They did not name names, but it became common knowledge that a certain prisoner was the man to whom they referred—one John George Haigh.

What precipitated these stories was a missing person's report two weeks earlier. On February 20, a man and woman came to the police station in Chelsea to report that Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon, aged 69, seemed to have disappeared.

John George Haigh
John George Haigh

This woman was a resident of the Onslow Court Hotel in South Kensington, where she had lived for the past two years. She had made an appointment with the man who was now reporting her missing—Mr. John Haigh—to visit his place of business in Sussex. According to him, she had failed to show up. He had gone to her friend, Constance Lane, to ask what had become of her. He claimed that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had asked him to pick her up at the Army and Navy surplus store, which he had gone to do. After an hour, she had not come. Mrs. Lane had noticed that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had not been at her usual seat at dinner or breakfast the following morning, and this had worried her. She approached the chambermaid, who told her that the missing woman had been out all night and had not returned. After Haigh's account, Lane decided that she must report this incident to the police. It was not like her friend to just be out without telling anyone. Olive was a woman of strict routine. Something was amiss. Constance had to report it. Haigh said that he himself would drive her over.

Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon
Mrs. Olive Durand-

A photo and description of the missing woman was issued to all police departments, the press and to the hotel personnel. Sergeant Lambourne, the policewoman assigned to take interviews at the hotel, queried the manager, who offered an uncomplimentary description of Haigh and a record of his debts to the hotel. Lambourne thought Haigh had been rather slick in his responses and looked suspicious there as a middle-aged man among all these wealthy older women, so she decided to do a background check. Within an hour, Scotland Yard reported that according to the Criminal Records Office, Haigh had been arrested several times for swindling and had spent three separate terms in prison for conspiracy to defraud, forgery, obtaining money by false pretences, and theft. He was immediately placed under suspicion.

Haigh tried to be helpful. Blue-eyed and handsome, his polished manner, obvious cleanliness, and stylish dress made a good impression on reporters. He answered all questions with apparent concern over the missing woman. Some people noticed that he wore gloves and it was not long before it became known that Haigh was a compulsive hand-washer who always wore gloves, summer or winter. He detested dirt.

Even as Haigh gave interviews to reporters at the hotel, stressing his hope that Mrs. Durand-Deacon would be found safe and sound, the West Sussex constables were checking out his place of business, Hurstlea Products in Crawley.

Haigh had claimed to be the director, which was soon proven to be a fabrication. In fact, from this company he had rented a two-story brick storefront, surrounded by a six-foot fence, for what he called "experimental work." He had told the managing director of Hurstlea Products, from whom he recently had borrowed money, that he was doing "a conversion job." Conversion work was a normal industrial practice, primarily used to break down materials in strong acid. People willing to do it could make good money.

The police, led by Horsham detective Pat Heslin, forced their way into the building to examine the contents of the room. They found tools, trays, wires, a sheet of red cellophane paper and a wad of cotton near a bench. Three carboys—narrow-necked, ten-gallon glass bottles used for acid—stood in a row, packed in straw. One was empty, another half empty. Nearby lay a new stirrup-pump with a part removed, and from a hook on the door hung a rubber apron stained by chemicals. There was also a pair of rubber boots and rubber gloves. Inside an army bag was a gas mask.

The police team also found a man's hatbox and an attaché case that bore the initials, J. G. H. Leaving a guard at the storehouse, Heslin reported these items to Inspector Shelley Symes, who authorized their seizure for a search.

They found papers relating to someone named Archibald Henderson, Rose Henderson, and three people named McSwan. There was a marriage certificate, several passports, identity cards, and driver's licenses. Deep inside the hatbox lay a .38 Enfield revolver and eight rounds of ammunition. The revolver had been fired recently.

It was not long before they discovered a cleaner's receipt for a Persian lamb coat. They traced the coat back to one that had belonged to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Back at the hotel, they found a workbasket in her room with scraps of material that matched patches on the Persian lamb coat. This was sent to the police laboratory.

Then a press report brought Mr. Bull of Horsham forward to report that jewelry had been brought into his jewelry shop to be pawned the day after the woman had been reported missing. Symes collected the jewelry and had it identified by a relative as that belonging to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. The person who had sold it had signed his name, "J. McLean" at "32 St. George's Drove, S.W." The jeweler's assistant recognized Haigh as "McLean." In previous visits, when he had also pawned jewelry, he had called himself John George Haigh.

Not surprisingly, he was arrested. When Detective-Inspector Webb approached Haigh and asked him to come along to the police station, he reportedly said, "Certainly. I will do anything to help you, as you know."

It was not long before they not only had found out where Mrs. Durand-Deacon had gone, but other missing persons as well.

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