Historical Crime in Ealing
This page contains a very brief account of some less well known and more infamous crimes and criminals that have had Ealing connections. It is in no way a complete study, but sources for further research are listed.
Most crime that has happened and which does happen is termed ‘petty’, though it is anything but to the victim and the perpetrator, if caught and sentenced. Until the early twentieth century, Ealing criminals would either go before the magistrates at Brentford, and, if the case was more serious, go before the Old Bailey or the Middlesex Quarter Sessions in London.
In fact in 1904 it was suggested that another reason for Ealing’s alleged respectable status was that wrongdoers were tried elsewhere! However, this was more to do with population size and a few years later both Acton and Ealing had magistrates’ courts in Winchester Street and Green Man Lane, respectively. The latter is still in business.
We’ll look at a few instances of crime in the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries and then look at more serious offenders who have a link with the borough.
Above: Ealing Magistrates’ Court, 1975
Many offences reflect the society of the times. One Mary of Ealing had, in 1580, a horse and other goods stolen from her by Edward Smythe, a gentleman, and his accomplice. Smythe was also accused of stealing other horses in Fulham and Kensington. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to death.
Even more seriously, eight years later, John Pryor struck Agnes East on the head with an axe in the house of Thomas Millet at Hanwell. She died instantly. Pryor managed to escape the law, however, by instant flight.
A few years later, in Southall, Thomas Kidwell was attacked on the highway and robbed of over £46, an immense sum. Thomas Simpson and Richard Weekes alias Hartrowe were tried for the crime. Simpson pleaded guilty and was hung but Weekes, a gentleman, was silent and so was committed to peine dure. This meant that by refusing to plead he was crushed to death but that his goods and chattels would not be forfeit to the Crown but would go to his family.
On a lesser note, in 1599, the wife of William Gifforde of Northolt was fined for not attending the parish church on Sundays; possibly she was a Catholic or a Puritan.
However, in the sixteenth century, it was in Acton that more offences and offenders are recorded, or rather, were brought to justice. This could be because of its proximity to London. James Lydgold, an Acton labourer, went with another man to steal fish from the fish pond of John Warren in Harrow in 1554. A man was robbed by a gang on the road from Acton to London in 1558 and one of his assailants was apprehended and hanged. An Acton man bought wheat from the rector and then tried to overcharge others for it. There were several instances of highway robbery, where gangs would attack and steal from travellers, even those in groups.
Characteristic of the social problems of the age, a large group of men and women were apprehended in Acton in 1590 for
‘being vagabonds…over fourteen years of age, strong in body and fit for
labour, but masterless and having no lawful means of livelihood, in
contempt of the Queen and against the form of statute’
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They were sentenced and punished by being ‘severely flogged and burnt on the right ear’. Large groups of wandering beggars were seen as a threat to the social order and so were dealt with most severely by the law.
You can find out more about crimes in the years 1549-1709 by consulting the Calendars of Middlesex Sessions, which can be seen in Ealing Library. They come with useful indexes to place, person and offence.
Another useful source is Oldbailey online, which is a free website for trials there from 16741913 and can be searched by keyword. Many local reprobates can be found there, along with a summary of what was said and the sentence.
Some crime ‘highlights’ of the eighteenth century are as follows. John Rann, alias Sixteen String Jack, was a well known and colourfully dressed young highwayman and he made his last robbery near Gunnersbury House, as he held up Dr Bell, the chaplain to Princess Amelia. The goods he stole and later tried to sell were identified and he was arrested, tried and hanged in 1774. Both cases attracted the interest of the great writer, Dr Samuel Johnson.
Above: John Rann, alias Sixteen String Jack
Another was Dr William Dodd, who once ran a boys’ school in Ealing and was a royal chaplain, forged a bond (similar to a cheque) in the name of one of his former pupils, later the Earl of Chesterfield, as the doctor was facing heavy debts from high living. The bank spotted the forgery and Dodd was put on trial for forgery. Found guilty he was executed at Tyburn before a crowd of many thousands in 1777.
Above: Memorial to Dr Dodd at St. Lawrence’s church, Cowley
Two murderous thieves did escape justice in that century, however. Thomas Verey was a wealthy farmer resident in Perivale, as well as being a churchwarden there. One night in January 1747 he and his son were returning from business in London and stopped off at The Feathers pub in Ealing for refreshment. Continuing on their way along Castle Bear Road, then a rather deserted stretch of track with only a very few houses there, they were confronted by two men. These characters demanded the money belonging to father and son. On being refused, they drew their guns and shot the older man. He was able to stagger back to the pub where he later died, but not before advising his listeners not to argue with armed men. A large reward was advertised for the apprehension of the two criminals, but they were never identified nor found.
Spencer Perceval lived in Elm Grove, a large house on the edge of Ealing Common from 1808-1812. In 1809 he became Prime Minister. One of his claims to being well known, perhaps the claim, is that he is the only British Prime Minister to ever have been assassinated. This happened in the House of Commons when he was approached by one John Bellingham, a bankrupt businessman who had been imprisoned in Russia for debt and blamed the British government, who refused to compensate him. Angered by being dealt with in such a fashion, he bought a pistol and shot Perceval dead on 11 May 1812. He was later found guilty of murder and executed. Some relics associated with Perceval can be seen at All Saints’ church in Ealing; the church paid for by his youngest daughter in his memory.
Above: Spencer Perceval
There is no record of the stocks in Ealing (just north of St. Mary’s church) being used, but there was a cage where miscreants could be incarcerated by the parish constable before being sent elsewhere. This was on a piece of ground at the bend of St. Mary’s Road, near to Westfield House. Parish records note that one Thomas Waltham was there in 1691 prior to being sent to Bridewell, a prison in London. In 1747 one Mary Hancock, from outside the parish was placed there and where she gave birth. The parish paid for her food, a nurse and a midwife.
Newspapers always report crimes and list summaries of local cases which went before the magistrates. In September 1875 the Brentford Petty Sessions dealt with some Ealing cases. John Felloes of East Acton was charged under the Factory Act of employing a lad aged under sixteen. Felloes was given the option of a fine of 20 shillings or fourteen days in prison. Meanwhile four lads, Henry Waters, William Renton, Joseph Palmer and Henry Millet were fined two shillings and sixpence each for stealing fruit from a garden in Hanwell belonging to a Notting Hill brewer.
Two men were in trouble for being drunk and disorderly. John Hurly was found inebriated in a Hanwell street and was fined 10 shillings, but was allowed time to find the money. The police constable who brought him in added that he came quietly to the police station. John Holt was drunk and disorderly in Ealing and apparently annoyed people by pushing them off the pavement and into the road. It was a first offence and he was given either a ten shillings fine or seven days in prison.
In 2006 the author of a book titled ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Ealing’ wrote that Ealing cannot ‘boast’ of being a site of nationally known murders such as those carried out by Jack the Ripper or John Christie, it does have links to some infamous villains including the two just mentioned.
Jack the Ripper
As with most newspapers, the Whitechapel killings of 1888 were reported in the local press, Ealing’s Middlesex County Times and The Acton Gazette. Apparently there was a letter, allegedly from the killer, addressed to the police in Poplar that was postmarked Ealing. The Acton Gazette covered the case more than the Ealing newspaper, noting that ‘no murder was ever more ferociously and brutally done’. They suggested that the killer was ‘a maniac haunting Whitechapel’ and asked ‘Was the assassin an anatomist?’
Above: Contemporary image of policeman discovering Ripper victim in Whitechapel
It is also noteworthy that one of early suspects for the killer had his death reported in The Acton Gazette. This was Montague John Druitt, a young barrister and schoolmaster. His body was found in the Thames near Chiswick. There was an inquest report, telling how his body was found to have heavy stones to weight it down, and how he had written a suicide note to the effect that he believed he was going insane, and as his mother was confined to an asylum, he wished to end his life. There’s nothing in this short report to suggest he was the infamous murderer, whose crimes had ceased a few weeks prior to Druitt’s death in December 1888.
However, in the 1960s a document known as the MacNaghten Memorandum, written by a senior police officer in the decade after the Ripper murders, suggested three possible suspects. Druitt was one of them, though the information in the document about him, and the others, is mostly incorrect. Druitt became the top suspect for the Ripper in the 1960s and early 1970s and occasionally resurfaces as an agent in a conspiracy, but most feel that he was not the Ripper, but an unfortunate young man with tragic mental health problems. There is no real evidence against him.
Forever associated with the murders at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, Christie did have a connection with outer west London as well. This was because he was employed in Uxbridge in 19231924, in both the RAF and at a cinema. He was unemployed in the summer of 1924 and took to thieving, as he had done in Halifax in 1921. In September 1924 he was arrested in Southall Park by a DC Thrussell and taken before Uxbridge Magistrates’ court.
Above: John Reginald Halliday Christie (1899-1953)
Christie was described as being ‘of Southall’, but his address is unknown and he presumably rented a room in a house somewhere. He was accused of stealing a boy’s bicycle he found unattended outside a school in Hillingdon, near to the RAF base where he had been an aircraftsman. He had also stolen money from the Empire cinema in Uxbridge where he had been briefly employed. Found guilty on both charges, he was sentenced to two consecutive sentences, totalling nine months, with hard labour, to be served at Wandsworth Prison. The West Middlesex Gazette for Southall made much of this relatively minor crime and devoted a lengthy column to it.
His other local connection is that Muriel Amelia Eady (1912-1944), who was to become his second victim, once lived with her aunt in 48 Creswick Road Acton in the 1930s. Furthermore, it was when she was working at the Ultra Radio factory in Park Royal in 1944 that she met, over a cup of tea, the apparently medically knowledgeable and friendly Christie, who worked there as a despatch rider. He introduced her to his wife and later said he could cure her health problems and she visited him in his rooms, where her health ceased to worry her. In 1953 he was hanged for the murder of his wife, but he had also killed another five victims and buried them in his house.
John George Haigh
Although known as the ‘acid bath murderer’ and ‘The Vampire’, Haigh did have many innocent and legal aspects to his life as well. One of them was that he was an inventor of numerous gadgets which if they had been developed and patented could well have been useful, though this required a great deal of hard work and Haigh was never fond of that.
In the course of his dabbling, he worked with a number of firms who he hoped would want to develop his inventions. One of these was the Flextol Engineering Company based on Ealing Green in the 1940s and 1950s, so presumably Kensington resident Haigh took the district line to Ealing Broadway to discuss this with the company. When he was arrested in 1949 and charged with murder, the firm did not want to advertise their dealings with the man who was then Britain’s most prolific twentieth century murderer. He was hanged that year for the murder of Mrs Durand-Deacon but as with Christie had killed another five people.
The other Ealing connection with Haigh is that the judge who presided over his trial and sentenced him to death was Sir Travers Humphreys, who lived in Ealing from 1910-1925, at 6 Montpelier Road and then at 47 Castlebar Road until 1954. Ironically he died in 1956 at the same hotel in South Kensington that Haigh had lived in from 1944-1949.
Above: John George Haigh on his way to a court
In 1988 an elderly inmate of the Broadmoor Institution arrived at St. Bernard’s Hospital. He appeared to be a pleasant, respectful and willing patient, keen to help out with gardening work and other tasks. His name was Donald Hume and he had once been notorious as an alleged double murderer who had cut up the body of one of his victims at his north London flat in 1949 and disposed of him out of an aeroplane and into the sea. Found not guilty, he later confessed to a Sunday newspaper. After a series of bank robberies, two of which were in Brentford, he shot dead a Swiss taxi driver in Zurich in 1959. He spent years in prison, being returned to Britain and to Broadmoor in 1976. As his mental health improved he left Broadmoor and spent about a year at St. Bernard’s prior to release. He died in Basingstoke in 1998.
Above: Donald Hume, with replica of alleged
murder weapon, 1958
Jack the Stripper
In the 1960s there were a number of women killed in west London, found naked and strangled, possibly as many as seven, presumably by the same man, and his identity was never revealed. He was known as Jack the Stripper and as the Hammersmith Nudes murderer. Several men have been accused by historians as being the killer; a former boxer, a security guard who committed suicide, a disgruntled former police officer and a Welsh child killer. However, there is little evidence against any of these men and there seems little likelihood of the culprit being revealed.
Three of his victims were found within the boundaries of Acton and Ealing, (the others being found in Mortlake, Chiswick and Kensington) though none were killed there. The killer’s method seems to have been to meet his victim and take her by car to some location where he could kill her in secret and then store the body for days or weeks. Eventually he would drive to a location to place the corpse there in order that he could not be associated with it. Traces of paint were found on some of the victims, leading the police to suppose that the bodies may have been stored in a place where spray painting occurred, perhaps in a garage or on industrial premises.
The corpse of the third victim, Helen Barthelemy, was found on 24 April 1964 on an alleyway to a playing field off Swyncombe Avenue, on the border of Brentford and Ealing. Christopher Parnell, an 18 year old groundsman resident in Northfields Avenue, was one of the first to see the body and he told the local newspaper, ‘When I arrived around 8am I was told there was a stiff in the alley way. I saw the body. It was face downwards with head on arms. She had black hair. My guvnor and I looked round the sports ground for clues, but didn’t find any’.
The body was naked and had been strangled. The victim had lived in a house in Talbot Road, Willesden and had not been seen for some weeks. Dr Robert Donald Teare was the pathologist on the case. The inquest as opened at the town hall but adjourned for a month.
Above: Front page headline of discovery of crime
It was on an Acton street that the body of the next victim, Mary Fleming was found on 14 July 1964. George Heard, a 34 year old chauffeur who lived in 53 Berrymede Road, left home at ten to five that morning. He happened to look towards the driveway of no. 48 and saw what he thought was a tailor’s dummy. On close examination he realised it was not and so called the police. Number 48 is at the end of the street at a dead end.
The killer was undoubtedly unaware that there had been murders earlier in the century in nearby roads – at 32 Clovelly Road in 1917 and at 53 Newton Avenue in 1941.
Above: 48 Berrymede Road
It was assumed a car had dumped the body in the road, which was a dead end. Heard had heard a car outside at between 2 and 3am and later heard a car door slam. Mrs Dove at no. 47 thought there had been a car outside at 2.30. But it was not uncommon to hear cars in the road in the night time. The headline ran ‘Stripper strikes in W4’ but in reality the killing had taken place elsewhere. The fact that the street has a W4 postcode has led most commentators on this crime to incorrectly assume that the corpse was found in Chiswick (Elizabeth Stride, possibly the first victim, was killed in Chiswick in 1959), not Acton. The body was not identified for a few days.
Bridget O’Hara of Hammersmith was last seen alive in January 1965. On 16 February 1965 her body was found on the Heron Trading estate in north Acton. To be exact, it was in a two feet space between a store shed on Westfield Road and part of the central line railway between North and West Acton stations. Leonard Beecham, a factory employee, found the corpse at about 11am.
Initially the cause of death was unknown, as was her identity. Mrs O’Hara was the last known victim of this unknown murderer. Who he was is not known. Why he committed these crimes is open to surmise. Why he stopped is unknown – perhaps he left London, died, was gaoled for another offence or became too unwell to continue. It is probable, 51 years later, that he is now dead.
Montpelier Road Murders
Less known than these cases, perhaps, is a double murder which took place in Ealing in 1954. Readers of the local press were shocked to see a front page report on 13 February of that year which stated that two women had been murdered in their house at number 22 (demolished decades later). They had run an old peoples’ home and their names were Mrs Veronica Chesney and her mother, Lady Mary Menzies. It was soon noted that the latter’s title was merely assumed.
It was soon found that the estranged husband of Mrs Chesney, Lieutenant Commander Ronald Chesney, had committed suicide in wood near Cologne. He had written a suicide note to his German girlfriend to the effect that he believed he would be arrested for his wife’s murder on the basis that he had numerous convictions for previous offences, mainly concerned with smuggling, fraud and theft. He stated his innocence and the newspaper was happy to give this former world war two naval hero the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that his wife’s death would mean that the money he had put in trust for her would be now his.
When the inquest in the Queen’s Hall at Ealing Town Hall was eventually held, the verdict was rather different. It was ascertained that Chesney had the means, motive and opportunity to commit this double murder. The relatively primitive state of forensics meant that some of the evidence was inconclusive. Yet his trail from Germany to Holland to England and back was traceable, despite his using another’s passport. It was known he had asked others to kill his wife or provide him with an alibi. He was pronounced guilty of both murders.
Above: Ronald and Veronica Chesney, 1930s
Just across the road from this murder house was Ellerslie Towers, number 16, an allegedly haunted house. In 1973 Andrew Green, a psychic researcher, revealed that a nursemaid threw the little girl she was looking after out of the tower in 1934 before committing suicide herself. Green recalled that as a young man visiting the house in 1944 he felt the spirits urging him to do likewise and that his mother told him about this tragedy. Despite this story being much repeated there is no evidence whatsoever for this murderous myth.
Above: Ellerslie Towers, c.1970
On a lesser note, there is a pub in Ealing which was associated with Sandra Rivett, killed in 1974 in Mayfair by, probably, Lord Lucan, who then disappeared.
Further information about these cases, and many more, can be found in the local newspapers at Ealing Library, the Old Bailey online and the calendars of the Middlesex Sessions, and for murders, the Metropolitan Police files at the National Archives. Brentford, Ealing and Acton Magistrate court registers are held at the London Metropolitan Archives, subject to closure periods. The book ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Ealing’ (2006) deals with some of the major crimes mentioned here. A new book, ‘The Middle Class Murders’ by Jonathan Oates focusses on the Chesney killings. The other cases have all had several books written about them in recent times and another book about the Lucan mystery (by Lindsay Siviter) is underway.