Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John George Haigh

Missing Person

John George Haigh (POLICE)
John George Haigh
(POLICE)

Haigh had a detached air as he was brought into the Chelsea police station. He smoked, read, a newspaper, and fell asleep. For some time police revealed nothing about what they wanted from him. It took almost three hours for them to prepare to question him—sufficient time for him to prepare himself with a strategy. In the meantime, they had received a report from the brother of a Rose Henderson that Haigh had been the last person to have seen her as well, before she had vanished without letting anyone know that she was leaving. This confirmed the suspicions of the detectives on the case.

Haigh immediately began to lie about his visits to Horsham. He arrogantly assumed that the police could not touch him, so he talked freely. From the nature of the questions, Haigh realized that the police had evidence against him. After first pretending the coat had belonged to a Mrs. Henderson, he admitted that he had indeed sold Mrs. Durand-Deacon's jewelry and that he knew the coat was hers. The detectives asked how he had acquired her property and what he knew of her whereabouts. He began to invent a story about blackmail, which quickly fell through. However, when left alone with one detective, Inspector Webb, he asked what the chances were of anyone being released from the institution for the criminally insane at Broadmoor. It betrayed his involvement as well as his strategy—to pass himself off as insane. Inspector Webb declined to answer the question.

At that point, Haigh laid his cards on the table, still believing himself to be immune to prosecution. "If I told you the truth," he said, "you would not believe me; it sounds too fantastic for belief." Apparently thinking that he would be shipped right off to Broadmoor, he waived away Webb's cautioning words and said, "I will tell you about it. Mrs. Durand-Deacon no longer exists. She has disappeared completely and no trace of her can ever be found again. I have destroyed her with acid. You will find the sludge, which remains at Leopold Road. Every trace has gone." He then showed his naïve arrogance with, "How can you prove murder without a body?"

This admission seemed rather inexplicable at first, but as Haigh's history was uncovered, it became clear what his intentions had been.

While in prison years before, Haigh had discussed this point of law with fellow prisoners. He had convinced himself that if there is no corpse (which is what he understood the term corpus delicti to mean), there can be no conviction. In fact, he had talked about this legal issue so often, he had acquired the nickname, "Ol' Corpus Delicti." He was convinced that the police had to have a physical body to actually prosecute someone for murder, and there were ways to make sure that did not happen. It was in prison where he had experimented with acid on mice to see how well their corpses dissolved. He had also mentioned that to get real money, one had to prey on older wealthy women.

However, Haigh had not taken into account the weight of circumstantial evidence, even without a body, that can be used to prove the overwhelming probability of guilt. He had already offered a confession, which in itself went a long way toward helping the police prove their case. They only needed some corroborating evidence. They had Mrs. Durand-Deacon's coat and jewelry. It was time to find out if they could recover any evidence from the "sludge."

Haigh was once again cautioned not to speak, but he went on to offer a full description of what he had done to Mrs. Durand-Deacon. He dictated a statement that took two and a half hours to write down. He claimed that as she was examining some paper to use for artificial fingernails, he had shot her in the back of the head. He then went to his car, fetched a penknife and a glass, and used these items to drain blood from the victim so that he could drink it. He put the body into a 45-gallon oil drum with some acid and left it to go into effect.

The crime had brought him about 111 pounds, 10 shillings. He went further to state that he had killed five more people, dissolved them in acid to dispose of them, and actually drank their blood. He had filled a glass full of blood after each one and had consumed it. He had an overwhelming need for it, he claimed, and that was why he had killed them. He described a dream cycle that always preceded his compulsion that involved images of blood. Since childhood, he'd been fascinated by the substance, and in 1944 his car had overturned in an accident with a lorry; after that he'd had recurring dreams of crucifixes that dripped blood. What he did, he implied, had had no control over.

Haigh was kept in custody, charged with the murder of Mrs. Durand-Deacon, and remanded to Lewes prison. From there, he admitted to the killing of three more people—a woman from Hammersmith, a youth from Kensington, and a girl from Eastbourne. Again, he said, it was to have their blood.

That made nine victims in all, according to his count. He showed no hint of remorse or of fear about what was to happen to him. This new statement was also written down and signed. However, there were no other charges leveled against him.

Because of his strange announcements, his mental state became a significant issue to the courts and to the press. That he claimed to murder in order to drink the blood of his victims, unassociated with any sexual perversion, became a point of great debate. There were no other cases quite like it, and most of the examining physicians did not believe him.

In addition, Haigh had hurt his own case. Before launching into his bizarre account, he had asked what the chances were of someone getting out of Broadmoor. This indicated what he had in mind.

Inside Haigh's Crawley workshop.
Inside Haigh's Crawley workshop.

After his initial confession, the West Sussex chief constable requested help from Scotland Yard in the form of a chief inspector and a pathologist. Chief-Inspector Mahon assumed charge of the case. He went with Dr. Keith Simpson and Inspector Symes to the storehouse in Crawley where Haigh had done his "experiments."

It was their job to see if anything could be salvaged as evidence. It would be an arduous task, but hopefully they had arrived before the acid had fully done its work. Haigh's hasty confession proved to be his ultimate undoing.

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