John George Haigh was born in 1909 in the United Kingdom. His surname is pronounced ”Hay”. John Haigh was brought up in a very religious family that was against having fun. Haigh wanted excitement and luxury. When he grew up he worked as a chauffeur. Haigh got married and had a daughter. However, he was a bad husband and his wife left him. Haigh started stealing and went to prison.
When Haigh got out he had other ideas about making money. He pretended to be a solicitor (lawyer). In fact he had never studied law. He dressed like a lawyer and rented an office like one. He learnt a few legal phrases. People almost never tell such a big lie. He looked and acted the part. People were very trusting in those days. Haigh was able to trick people into handing over their bank information to him. He was able to steal from them. This worked for a while. John Haigh lacked the academic ability to qualify as a solicitor. In one deed he made the same spelling mistake several times with the name of a certain town. His clients thought – there is something not right about this. Everyone knows that jurists are very precise with words.
Eventually he was caught. He went to prison for 4 years for theft and fraud. People had paid for his legal services when they were illegal services since he as not entitled to call himself a solicitor. He had little idea what he was talking about in affairs of law. In prison Haigh read on criminal law. He read a phrase ”body of evidence” which was needed to convict someone of murder. With no body of evidence no one could be found guilt of murder. This gave him an idea. He also found out about how acid could dissolve a body. One of his fellow prisoners was allowed out to work on a farm. J G Haigh got a hold of some sulphuric acid. He persuaded the other convict to bring him back a dead mouse from the farm. Haigh then tested the claim that sulphuric acid could destroy a body and leave no trace. He was astonished to see that the mouse’s body disappeared in half an hour.
Near the end of Second World War Haigh got out of gaol again. He met his old friend Mr McSwan. He found out that McSwan had made a lot of money. Haigh got himself invited to McSwan’s house. Haigh hit McSwan over the head – killing him. Haigh then bought enough sulphuric acid to dissolve McSwan’s body. It took two days for the body to melt away. All that was left was teeth and some sludge. The sludge was fat. Haigh put the teeth and sludge down the drain. He then took McSwan’s cheques and wrote them to himself. This way he made hundreds of pounds.
McSwan’s parents wondered where there son was. Haigh told them that McSwan had been called up by the army and had gone into hiding to avoid serving in the army. Haigh went to the house of William and Amy McSwan – the parents of his first victim. He shot them both. He then put their dead bodies into baths full of sulphuric acid. In two days the bodies were just mush. He stole their cheques and made thousands of pounds.
He was so rich he lived in a hotel for three years. Then he was running out of money. Dr Archibald and his wife were selling their house. Haigh said he wanted to buy it. He went to their house and shot them both dead. Then he disposed of their bodies in the usual manner. He was confident he could never he convicted since there were no bodies left. He was then able to steal all their possessions.
Again he pretended to be a solicitor (lawyer). He gave a false name. Haigh began going to tea shops where wealthy old widows would socialise. Haigh pretended to be a rich lawyer and was very friendly to these lonely old women. He would befriend them and act like a son to them. He gained sympathy by claiming his wife and daughter had been killed in the war by a bombing raid. He became friends with Olive Durand-Deacon. John Haigh targeted widows because they were likely to want company and there would not be so many people who knew them. Therefore people would be less likely to raise the alarm when these widows did not reappear. He used their chattiness to garner information about who had the most money.
He used his usual modus operandi on her. He lured her to his house. He shot her and got rid of her body with acid. He then stole all her chattels. Her friend noticed Mrs Durand Deacon was missing. Mrs Durand Deacon was reported to the police as a missing person. The police asked the standard question. Who was the last person you say here with? She was last seen walking along the street eagerly chatting to Haigh. The police brought Haigh in for questioning. John Haigh admitted she had come around for tea but insisted she had only stayed a couple of hours and then departed. He had no idea where she had gone. The police found out Haigh’s real identity and checked his criminal record. They checked with the Law Society and discovered that he had never been a solicitor. He was evidently affluent but had no visible means of support. He has not had a job for several years. Suspicion fell on him. Police raided his house. They found letters there addressed to Mrs Durand-Deacon and documents belonging to his other victims. They found human teeth. As there was no corpse how could it be proven that Mrs Durand – Deacon was not still alive?
Haigh confessed the killings because he believed he could not be found guilty. There was no body of evidence. What he did not know what that body of evidence does not mean a physical body. It means an amount of evidence. There were other murders he had done too. He believed that even if convicted he would be judged insane and sent to a mental hospital. He asked of one police officer, ”What are the chances of getting out of Broadmore?” Broadmore is a hospital for the criminally insane.
Haigh also cheerfully admitted that he had killed two young women whom the police did not even think were murder victims. They had been reported missing a few years before. In the war a large number of people went missing. It had been assumed that they had been killed in bombing raids. Bomb blasts atomised many corpses and it was thought that these two had either been blown apart of perhaps their bodies had been charred beyond recognition in a bomb attack.. They had ended up as just another two anonymous corpses.
The star witness against Haigh was Haigh. His confession was extremely long and detailed. These were pervaded by particulars that there is no suspicion that the police manufactured a bogus confession as was sometimes the case in those times. Haigh had also been stupid enough to keep evidence linking him to his victims. He had not disposed of documents and teeth. These were of no value to him. Perhaps he kept them as trophies so maybe he was a serial killer.
At the trial his defence lawyer said that Haigh was mentally ill. He should be judged guilty but insane. One psychiatrist testified in Haigh’s defence. He said Haigh had genuinely like these people but killed them anyway. This was proof positive of insanity. He did not enjoy killing but did not dislike it either. It was simply a means to an end. He felt neither guilt nor shame about slaying people. In fact he was faintly proud of his cunning which was why he was eager to boast of his cleverness. Nevertheless he was found guilty and not insane. He had planned these crimes in a very sane way. He was nerveless and devoid of ordinary human emotions of compassion and decency. He had even killed defenceless elderly women who had been kind to him. He murdered out of a desire to steal and not because he derived a thrill from murder.
The judge order Haigh to arise. The judge donned the black cap and intoned, ”John George Haigh – the sentence of this court is that you be taken from here unto a lawful prison and therein detained until the passage of two Sundays clear and then hanged by the neck until you are dead. May the Lord have mercy on your soul.” Haigh heard the sentence with equanimity. The idea of two Sundays needing to pass between sentence and execution was to permit the condemned time to write a will, to put his affairs in order, to arrange a final visit from his family and perhaps to launch an appeal.
Haigh had long since lost contact with his family. His indifference to death extended even to his own death. He did not bother appealing.
Notice that he is known as the acid bath murderer because of his means of disposing of the evidence and not that he slew with acid.
In 1949 Haigh was hanged by the neck until death and buried within the prison walls.
1. What were Haigh’s forenames?
2. In which year was he born?
3. How did he dispose of bodies?
4. What was his motive for these crimes?
5. What is a body of evidence?
6. Why did he think he would get away with murder?
7. How many people did he kill?
8. Who was the first victim?
9. How did he steal from the dead?
10. How can we catch such people?