He struck seemingly from out of nowhere. A small area of London lived in fear that he would kill again. Women lived in fear that they had the potential to be this monster’s next victim. Several prostitutes were slain in secret and left on display in gruesome displays of power and control. This is the story of the most notorious unknown serial killer that you’ve never heard of: Jack the Stripper.
Like his more ridiculously infamous namesake, this Jack struck at least six times in all. Some believe he killed up to eight women. His death toll is an ambiguous one as two of his supposed victims do not match the Modus Operandi as the other six. All victims were discovered in the Hammersmith district of London, in or around the River Thames without any clothes on over the course of a 12 month period from 1964-5.
Hannah Tailford was born into a Lancashire mining family. She was found close to the Hammersmith Bridge on 2 February 1964. Several teeth were missing and her underwear had been forced down her throat. She was strangled.
Irene Lockwood was discovered just over two months later on 8 April. She was found not too far from the spot Hannah was found. Police established that both deaths were linked, along with a third, Elizabeth Figg. A local caretaker, Kenneth Archibald confessed to Irene’s murder at the end of April but owing to inconsistencies in his account, it was dismissed as credible.
Helen Barthelemy was only 22 years old when she was found on 24 April. This time though, her body was discovered in an alleyway in Brentford. It was this crime scene that gave Detectives their first real clue. Specks of paint were discovered close to the body which were determined to be used in the production of motor vehicles. Detectives believed their suspect was a paint-sprayer.
When Mary Flemming was discovered on 14 July in an open street in Chiswick, many locals reported hearing a vehicle – probably a car – reversing down the street shortly before her body was discovered. More specks of paint were discovered at the scene.
Frances Brown was last seen alive by her friend, Kim Taylor, on 23 October. Just over a month later, on 25 November, she was discovered in an alleyway in Kensington. Taylor was able to provide a composite of the man that picked her up, as well as a description of the car he was driving. Kim thought it was either a Ford Zephyr or a Zodiac.
Jack’s last known victim was Bridget O’Hara. Known as Birdie, she was found behind the Heron Trading Estate inside a shed. More paint traces were found at the scene, only this time they were linked to a transformer mere yards from her body. There were signs that she had been stored in a warm environment, perhaps as a result of the transformer’s presence.
Elizabeth Figg’s murder predated the Stripper’s official victims by five years, being discovered on 17 June 1959. Her murder is linked to the others as she was found near the River Thames in Chiswick. She was strangled. The other victim that may be attributed to Jack was Gwynneth Rees. She also had several teeth missing and was strangled with a ligature. Her body was found on a rubbish tip not far from the Thames in 1963.
The Hammersmith Nudes case, as it came to be known, was never officially solved, but did throw up some intriguing lines of inquiry. Hannah Tailford and Frances Brown were said to be peripherally involved in the Profumo Affiar of 1963. Other victims were alleged to have been involved with the pornographic movie scene and were known to one another. Perhaps their killer was as well.
Chief Superintendent John Du Rose was leading the investigation into the deaths. It was said that during his investigation, 7000 suspects were brought in for questioning. At a series of news conferences he stated that the suspects had been narrowed to just 20, then halved and finally just a trio of suspects remained. After the initial conference, the Stripper’s reign of terror was over. He did not kill again.
Du Rose did favour one suspect over all others though. During a BBC interview in 1970, Du Rose formally identified Scottish security guard Mungo Ireland as the man he believed was Jack the Stripper. He never identified Ireland by name, instead referring to him as ‘Big John’. Du Rose did state that Ireland was first suspected shortly after the murder of Bridget O’Hara. Like the specks of paint, Ireland was linked to the Heron Trading Estate. Ireland took his own life not long afterwards, insisting that “I cannot stick it any longer. To save you and the police looking for me, I’ll be in the garage.” Du Rose did perhaps influence keen amateur detectives and the public alike with his honest opinions, but more recent evidence does suggest Ireland was in Scotland at the time of Bridget’s death.
More recent suspects have come to light. The more interesting of these are British Light Heavyweight boxing champion Freddie Mills. His suicide in 1965 did coincide with the end of the Stripper killings. This claim has not been substantiated by criminologists however. Another book titled Jack of Jumps points the finger at a former Metropolitan Police DC. This idea is more based upon speculation rather than solid evidence though.
A more interesting hypothesis was proposed by the Crime and Investigation channel show Fred Dinenage’s Murder Casebook which devoted an episode to Harold Jones, a welsh teenager convicted of the double murder of two young girls in 1921. As a juvenile, he escaped the death penalty due to his age. 20 years into his life sentence, he was released on good behaviour. Jones surfaced in Fulham, south west London in 1947. There were similarities between the 1921 double murders and the Stripper murders: no signs of a sexual assault took place, but all victims suffered terrible violence.
Who was Jack the Stripper? A Police Officer? Former boxing champion? Welsh child killer? Or an obsessed Jack the Ripper fanatic? Chances are that his identity will now never be known.