Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jack The Stripper

"Unless you get the breaks you will get nowhere."

As a reflection of how seriously police were now taking this case, overall control of the investigation had been taken by Commander George Hatherill, head of Scotland Yard's CID. On April 28, 1964, four days after Helene Barthelemy's body was found, he took the unusual step of making a public appeal to prostitutes to come forward with any information which they may regard as relevant to the investigation. He promised the women absolute secrecy, and stressed that they were the very ones most at risk. "Police fear that if information is not forthcoming, yet another prostitute may be found dead. In particular police wish to interview anyone who has been made to strip and has been assaulted."

Commander Hatherill
Commander Hatherill

Within 48 hours, 45 female prostitutes and 25 men had come forward, and Hatherill announced that "the appeal's impact has been staggering." Meanwhile, the registration numbers of cars seen in the area after the hours of darkness were logged by teams of police, and female officers walked the streets disguised as prostitutes, with tape recorders in their handbags, hoping they might come face to face with a suspect.

Prostitutes, for their part, were arming themselves with knives in the hope of defending themselves against attack. Helene Barthelemy had carried one, and 30-year-old Scot Mary Fleming did the same. She was nothing if not streetwise, and after 10 years "on the game" she wasn't scared by much. She used to boast that she had once fought off a client who had tried to strangle her with the very knife she still carried.

Indeed, when her naked body was found in a quiet residential street early one morning, it showed signs that she had put up quite a struggle. She had been punched forcefully in the heart, unlike the other girls who had apparently been dispatched with the minimum of violence.

Fleming's body is discovered.
Fleming's body is discovered.

There was also another notable aspect to this depressing new development. As with Helen Barthelemy, miniscule particles of industrial paint were present on the body.

It was barely two months after Hatherill's appeal, and this body, like Helen Barthelemy's, could hardly have been left in a more public place. It was also in Chiswick, West London, right in the middle of the area where police presence was heaviest. The prevailing view among investigators was that this was deliberate, a calculated attempt to make police look stupid. Never mind STDs, pregnancies or sexual perversions could a grudge against the police be the motive?

If so, he was certainly making life difficult for them. The press were now referring to the killer as "Jack The Stripper," an obvious but apposite pun on the name of Britain's most notorious prostitute killer. Pressure was mounting on detectives to make progress in the case before another body was found. 8000 people were interviewed, and 4000 statements taken, but it got them no nearer even to drawing up a shortlist of possible suspects.

Frustratingly, neighbors reported hearing a vehicle reversing down the street just minutes before the body of Mary Fleming was discovered by an early-rising chauffeur at 5 a.m. But no one had actually seen the vehicle concerned. Surely, figured police, if he was taking these kind of risks, it was only a matter of time before the killer was caught. Yet it was to be several months before they got any closer to knowing anything at all about this elusive individual and his macabre homicidal habits.

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