Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John George Haigh

Missing Person

Police searching through the sludge.
Police searching through the sludge.

In the yard outside the storehouse, the police found the acid sludge that Haigh had described. They also noted a lot of zigzagging marks from where someone had rolled and dragged something heavy over toward that area. The ground was covered in debris and the sludge was mixed up with dirt and trash. Its depth was some three to four inches covering an area of four to six feet. The doctor's practiced eye detected something unusual, about the size of a cherry, which to anyone else might look like one of the stones lying around. However, it was a significant find: a gall bladder stone. The acid had not dissolved it. Also embedded in the greasy, undissolved fat were some good specimens of human bone. One of these appeared to be from a left foot. (Haigh was to say that he believed this was from Henderson, whom he had not fully dissolved, not Durand-Deacon.)

The forensic team gathered 475 pounds of grease and earth to cart back to a lab for closer examination. They also brought in a 40-gallon green drum that had the same greasy substance inside. At the bottom of this drum, a hairpin was stuck in the grease.

Inside the building, a fine spatter of bloodstains was noted on the wall and carefully photographed. The wall was then scraped for analysis. The inspector thought the spray was consistent with someone getting shot while bent over the bench, possibly looking at paper, as Haigh had described Mrs. Durand-Deacon doing. Tests indicated that the blood was human, but it could not be specifically grouped.

For three days, the sludge was carefully sifted, and technicians had to wear rubber gloves and cover their arms in Vaseline to protect themselves from the acid. The painstaking search paid off. What they found was:

  1. 28 pounds of human body fat
  2. three faceted gallstones
  3. part of a left foot, not quite eroded
  4. eighteen fragments of human bone
  5. intact upper and lower dentures
  6. the handle of a red plastic bag
  7. a lipstick container

A further test on one of the gallstones proved that it was human. The bone fragments were identified as a left ankle pivot bone, center of the right foot, right heel, right angle pivot bone, femur, pelvic bone, spinal column, and others too eroded for precise identification. They had been dissolved in sulfuric acid, just as Haigh had described.

The investigators' great luck lay in the fact that sulfuric acid did not work on plastic as it did on human tissue. It would take at least three weeks for the acid to finally eliminate it. Thus, if Haigh had been arrested later or had chosen to wait with his confession, the forensic team would have had much less success in finding identifiable evidence.

The dentures were an important find. The team could now go to Mrs. Durand-Deacon's dentist to see if they had a match. Mrs. Durand-Deacon's gum shrinkage problems had sent her to her dentist, Helen Mayo, on many occasions. Mayo kept a cast of her patient's upper and lower jaw. She knew that she had supplied Mrs. Durand-Deacon with the dentures found at Crawley.

Simpson took the bones to his laboratory and discovered evidence of osteo-arthritis in the joints. He soon determined that Mrs. Durand-Deacon had suffered from this bone ailment. The police made a plaster cast of the left foot and it proved to fit perfectly into one of her shoes.

Bloodstains were also found on the Persian coat, which was traced back to Durand-Deacon from repairs made to it, and blood was found on the cuff of one of Haigh's shirtsleeves.

The handbag strap was identified as having belonged to a bag owned my Durand-Deacon—the one she had carried when she drove to Crawley with Haigh. Later the rest of the bag was found in the yard—apparently thrown there casually by Haigh—and matched to the strap.

The police also collected witnesses who had seen Mrs. Durand-Deacon with Haigh at various times on the last day she was alive. They both left the hotel after lunch, although not together, and at 4:15, they went into the George Tavern for about five minutes. Around 4:45, Haigh told Mr. Jones that the woman he was expecting to meet there in Crawley had not arrived. He was seen after 5 getting things out of his car and taking them into the storehouse. He then went out for a snack at 6:30. At 9:30, he went to The George for dinner and returned to London at 10.

In Haigh's room was a "shopping list" of the things he had needed to buy prior to killing Mrs. Durand-Deacon.

Taking it one step further, Dr. Turfitt, the police scientist on the forensic team decided to experiment with sulfuric acid to test Haigh's theories. He used an amputated human foot, a sheep's leg, and other organic materials, finding that the acid worked at varying speeds, depending on how much water was present. Fat proved highly resistant, and it had been Mrs. Durand-Deacon's weight that had preserved those items found in the sludge.

Within a month of Haigh's arrest, the prosecution was ready for trial.

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