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Episode 8 – The Brutal Death of Ginger Rae
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode eight of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast, with a special thank you going out to those who took part in the Murder Mile “listen live” event last Sunday. If you fancy listening to the latest episode, chatting with fellow listeners and asking me any questions, simply press play on this episode at 9pm GMT on Sunday, and follow the hashtag #MMPodLive via Twitter. Of course, if you can’t wait till Sunday? Then enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is a guided walk of the brutal murder of ‘Ginger Rae’; a veteran sex-worker with a sweet smile and a kind heart, whose bloody death remains shrouded in so much myth and mystery, that almost 70 years on, her murder may remain unsolved forever.
Murder Mile contains vivid descriptions which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as photos, videos and maps which accompany this series, so that no matter where you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there. My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile. Episode 8: The Brutal Death of Ginger Rae.
Today, once again, I’m standing on Broadwick Street, W1; a monstrously modern and yet curiously cobble-stoned side-street, just two hundred feet from the surgery of Isidore Zeifert, the deadliest dentist in Soho, as witnessed in episode six. But the Broadwick Street of today has been renamed, renumbered and rebuilt so many times, that it now has no idea what it is, being dotted with an odd mix of stubbornly antiquated pubs with strangely sticky floors, non-descript buildings full of faceless office drones and quirky cosmopolitan coffee shops which require you to take out a loan to buy a latte.
Three years after the end of World War Two, Broadwick Street (like most of Soho) was a hotbed of prostitution, as with the city’s severely depleted police force already stretched-to-capacity as they struggled to regain control and quell the escalating crime-wave. And although the second world war for most people was a distant memory, the financially crippled and emotionally broken people of Britain were still living in the grip of rationing, which meant as many enlisted service personnel returned home to find they had no job, no money and no food; being distraught at having won the war and yet – struggling and starving – they started to question whether they’d won at all, even many an honest man and woman turned to crime simply to stay alive.
So by 1948, eight years after rationing began, with everyday essentials like butter, sugar, eggs, milk, meat, flour, fuel and even clothes in a strictly limited supply, a black market was flourishing, theft was endemic and prostitution was rife. And owing to Broadwick Street’s proximity in London’s West End, given the many pubs which peppered the streets and the ridiculously cheap rent of its dilapidated and bomb-damaged houses, after four Nazi bombs (which had landed within 150 feet of each other) had reduced the street to a mangled mess of structurally unsafe slum-houses, by 1948 the street was still strewn with rubble and littered with precariously cheap lodgings, many of which had become brothels.
One of those lodgings was at 46 Broadwick Street, a shabby two-roomed flat where a seasoned Soho prostitute would miraculously survive the war, only to die during “peacetime” at the hands of a maniac. (INTERSTITIAL)
Today, 46 Broadwick Street looks similar to how it did seventy years ago; a tall thin four-storey brown-bricked townhouse subdivided into small flats, with two white windows on each level, and accessed by a black door on the ground floor, all of which overlook the junction of Lexington Street, a murky side-street that heads to the infamous Brewer Street (a place still famed for prostitution), but back in 1948, the lodger in the second-floor flat was a lady-of-the-night known locally as “Ginger Rae”.
Born Rachel Annie Hatton in Hoxton (East London) on the 19th August 1907, Rae was one of three siblings, with a brother Richard and a sister Maria who she remained close to and would meet on a weekly basis for meals. Nicknamed “Red Rae” or “Ginger Rae” on account of her bright red hair, she was often described as a bright, breezy and easy-going girl who was very sociable and friendly.
Although she had an extensive criminal record, having been a prostitute for twenty three years, during which time she’d amassed a whopping eighty-four convictions for soliciting, including two charges of larceny (having pickpocketed two drunken punters) and two charges for brothel-keeping, Rae didn’t have any drink or drug issues, she didn’t have any debts, and oddly she actually seemed to enjoy and even embrace the lifestyle that prostitution had given her, including money in her pocket, food in her belly, an active social life and a nice warm flat.
And yet, having been in the sex trade for more than two-thirds of her life; Rae knew how to handle herself; she was feisty, sharp and street-smart, as well as a lady who (everyone who knew her widely agreed) was not one to be trifled with, especially after she’d had a few drinks. But at the tender age of just twenty-six, having been cruelly widowed one year into her marriage to an African American stage actor named Herbert Fennick who’d tragically died in a Parisian car crash, Rae kept his name, and never re-married. Instead choosing to lavish the malnourished street kids with sweet treats, sharing her flat with friends in need and being a loyal, loving and caring companion to her many gentleman callers.
Rae lived in Soho for over twenty years, and during the summer of 1945 she moved into the bomb-damaged but equally serviceable second-floor flat at 46 Broadwick Street. Three years later, she would be dead. (INTERSTITIAL).
Saturday 25th of September 1948 was the last day of Ginger Rae’s life, and like most of the days leading up to that, it was unremarkable. As was her regular Saturday routine, she’d hopped on a bus and had taken the 40 minute trip to Dalston Junction to go shopping in the East End of London and have a spot of lunch in a café near the Metropolitan Hospital with her gentleman friend, “Ted”.
“Ted” or “Eddie” as he was also known, was born Edwin George Peggs. He was a 41 year old, bulky but sweet-natured man who lived in a small lodging in the Samuel Lewis buildings in Dalston Lane, and although he was trained as a tailor’s outfitter, the post-war years had been cruel and therefore he hadn’t worked in twelve months. But with Rae having such a strong maternal instinct towards her many gentleman callers, she’d always treat him to lunch on a Saturday, a roast chicken dinner on a Sunday and a few little gifts during the week to keep his strength up, as well as providing him with money, food and a warm bed when he needed it. And although they were never a couple, Ted and Rae neither argued nor fought, as their friendship was built on companionship, love and trust.
After a delightful lunch, they both parted ways with a kiss and a hug, with Rae taking a short walk to Hoxton to visit her beloved sister Maria, and Ted heading back to his Dalston flat. And having agreed that Ted would call-in on Rae the following day for Sunday lunch, on her way home, Rae picked up a chicken, a few potatoes and some salad.
But as Rae returned home to her second floor flat - being such a social person - she couldn’t help but feel how quiet and empty her flat (and even her life) felt when there was no-one there to share it. Up until a few weeks prior, Rae had opened her doors to a friend in need, a lady called “Kay” (who was born Kathleen Mary Tiley), but with Rae having helped get Kay get back on her feet and moved her into her own rented lodging just one street away on Wardour Street, even though they still met for drinks at the Sun and Thirteen Cantons public house most nights, it wasn’t the same.
Maybe it was fuelled by the fear of loss and loneliness having been widowed at such a young age, that made Rae so keen for companionship but so reluctant to commit, which drove her to have so many men-friends in her life, as by the time of her tragic death, Rae had three; Ted, the unemployed outfitter from Dalston; Antonios Ioannou, a 28 year old Greek Cypriot chef, who lived with Rae for five weeks just one year prior, but being unable to pay his share of the bills and with pride getting the better of him, he moved out, and yet they remained on good terms. And the third of her gentlemen callers was 23 year old Arthur William Steed. (PAUSE / SILENCE)
Hmm. Now, it’s normally around this point in the story where – having mentioned a name – that I’d usually play this (INTERSTITIAL), signifying that the person in question is a villain, a wrong’un and a no-good worthless piece of poo who is most likely to be our chief suspect in the murder of Ginger Rae… but he isn’t. In fact, all of the gentleman-friends who Rae shared those last few days with, all were sweet, polite and pleasant; delicate little flowers who needed a mother-figure to protect and pamper them and who were all attracted to her big heart, her gentle smile and her kind streak which was a mile-wide. And as mentioned before, she had no debts, no drug issues and no dark past or dodgy dealings. She was loved not loathed. She was caring not cruel. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And yet, just a few hours later, Ginger Rae would be brutally stabbed to death.
That evening at around 8:00pm, as Rae was getting herself ready for her usual Saturday night, to sell her body for sex whilst also finding time to socialise with friends, Rae would eat a light meal which (according to her autopsy) mostly consisted of peas. And although she was drinking, in the few hours up until her death she would only consume one pint of beer, meaning she drank but she wasn’t drunk.
At 8:15pm, having donned a dark dress, a white blouse, white heeled shoes and a white raincoat, with her bright auburn hair brushed up and over her head, Rae headed out of the black front door of 46 Broadwick Street and walked south along Lexington Street towards the infamous red-light district of Brewer Street, which was her usual patch for picking up punters. This sighting was made by Mrs Francis Slater, a resident in the top floor flat at 15 Lexington Street, who knew Rae, her occupation, her routine and many of her regular customers, and confirmed that between 8:15pm and 10:00pm, (as per usual) she saw Rae repeatedly walking a procession of men back to her flat for the purposes of sex.
According to Arthur William Steed, the 23 year old storesman, who was the third of Rae’s current slew of gentleman callers, she had previously agreed to meet him at 10pm in the Sun and Thirteen Cantons public house on Great Pultney Street, a side-street which runs parallel to Lexington Street and is half way between her Brewer Street and her flat, just a three minute walk away. Having arrived early, Steed sat at the bar supping a cold pint with his friend Reginald Dutton, who Rae knew, as Dutton used to date Rae’s former flat-mate Kay and would often make-up a foursome, but tonight with Kay being away in Leytonstone to meet a male friend, it would just be the three of them.
But by 10:40pm, Ginger Rae hadn’t shown up.
For those who knew her, Ginger Rae was a creature of habit, who saw prostitution as merely a means to an end and would work a maximum of two-to-three hours a day, six days a week and never on a Sunday. And yet, even though she wasn’t the most punctual of people, she would never let her sex-work interfere with her social life, she was not known to let her friends down, and (according to Steed’s own witness testimony) it was her habit to have “packed up business by 10pm” so she could go “for a drink”. A statement which was clarified by Patrick Joseph Lyster, the licensee of the Sun and Thirteen Cantons public house, who confirmed that Rae was a regular there, who usually drank a light ale in the public bar between 9pm and 11pm on most weekdays, with either Steed, Kay or Ted.
With her flat at 46 Broadwick Street being just one street away, Steed and Dutton swung by and noticed that the lights in her flat were on, something she would always do whenever she was out soliciting, so assuming she was either inside with a client, or still out on the streets, they parted ways.
The next morning, on Sunday 26th of September 1948 at 11am, sensing that Rae’s failure to turn-up was so out of character, and living in Silver Street (just one road away), Steed and Dutton stopped by her flat to check that she was okay. As per usual, the front door was locked and as hard as they knocked there was no reply, but through her partially open curtains, they saw that the flickering gas-lamp which illuminated her flat was still on, suggesting that either she was in, or that she hadn’t come home.
Ten minutes later, Steed and Dutton decided to try again, but this time as they approached the flat, they noticed that the black front door on the ground-floor was now open, and with this being the only entrance or exit to the flats above, they walked up two flights of stairs and knocked on Rae’s door.
But once again, there was no reply.
At 12:45pm, a full fifteen minutes early for their pre-arranged lunch-date, Rae’s regular gentleman caller, “Ted” arrived at her flat, only to be greeted in the hallway by William Yates, a stableman who lived with his wife (Margaret) in the top floor flat and shared his grave concerns with “Ted”.
Not having a key, Ted used his sixteen stone bulk to break a panel in a side door and entered the flat via the kitchen, calling her name. “Rae?”, he hollered, getting no reply but noticing the uncooked chicken she’d bought for their Sunday lunch and the salad ready to be washed in the basin. “Rae?”, he bellowed into the bathroom, his frantic voice echoing into its inky blackness. And yet, as he pushed open the last door which lead to her front-room, he saw no sign of Rae, only a set of folded clothes on her dresser, an unmade bed and a crumbled eiderdown on the floor, and as he went to shout out her name (one last time) in the empty flat, his voice was cut short by the shocking sight before him.
Detective Sergeant Bilyard of West End Central police station was the first officer on the scene at 1:15pm, followed by Detective Inspector Watts and Dr Kennedy, the divisional surgeon at 1:55pm, who confirmed that Rachel Annie Fennick (alias Ginger Rae) was dead.
Underneath the softness of the crumpled eiderdown, the lower half of Rae’s pale and bloodied torso was sticking out; and although she was partially clothed, wearing stockings, a slip and a brassiere, her legs were splayed akimbo, her abdomen exposed and her bare genitals on show, with no-one knowing whether she had been hastily hidden, or deliberately posed for effect.
Across the fingers and palm of her left hand, Rae had sustained severe lacerations, suggesting either defensive wounds as she fought to protect herself or as she grabbed the blade to fight off her attacker. Over her throat, a deep dark bruise in the shape of a thumb had made an indentation across her wind-pipe, suggesting she’d been strangled. And in total, Rae had been stabbed six times, with such violence and force, that the full length of the seven inch blade had penetrated her torso, rupturing her stomach, liver, kidneys, bowel and causing both lungs to collapse, with the blood-spatter which had sprayed and pooled around her mouth signifying that during the painful and terrifying last two to three minutes of Rae’s life, that whilst struggling to breathe, she choked on her own blood.
Police surmised that she had been stabbed with a seven inch “stiletto” style blade, which is like a flick-knife, only with a sharp edge on both sides of the blade, but sadly the knife was never found. Robbery was considered as four £1 notes were stolen from her purse as well as two pairs of camiknickers from her drawer. And rape was ruled out as there was no signs of sexual violence, no sex had taken place and no semen was found on her vaginal pad. Whoever had killed her, had done so with a lot of violence, a lot of anger and a lot of hatred.
So, who killed Ginger Rae?
Quickly, the Police ruled out her gentlemen friends, as not only did they have no hatred for Rae (only love), but also all three of them had alibis. Edwin George Peggs, also known as “Ted”, the 41 year old tailor’s outfitter who had discovered her body was in Dalston on the night of her death, as confirmed by multiple witnesses. Antonios Ioannou, the 28 year old chef who lived with Rae for five weeks, had his clothes and a similar knife examined by the police, but being a commis-chef who owned loads of knives (and even though his whereabouts that night were a little vague) he was not deemed a suspect. And William Steed and Reginald Dalton, the two drinking pals who’d agreed to meet Rae at the Sun and Thirteen Cantons pub, were both witnessed in the pub until 10:40pm and having been unable to find Rae, they returned home at 11:15pm, a sighting of which was confirmed by their mothers.
So, what about witness statements?
Well, as we know, according to Mrs Francis Slater who lived in the top floor flat of 15 Lexington Street, Rae left her flat at 8:15pm, walked south to Brewer Street and ushered numerous men back to her flat for sex, many times over the next two hours.
Then, at 9:30pm, Mrs Margaret Yates, who resided with her husband William in the top floor flat at 46 Broadwick Street, one floor above, heard Rae walking up the dark-lit staircase with a softly spoken man, to whom she said “This way darling”, to which he quietly replied “This way?”, before entering her flat. At 9:45pm, fifteen minutes later, Mrs Yates heard a woman scream… although, with a raucous party taking place in the Newcastle public house (now the John Snow) immediately opposite, it’s impossible to tell whose scream that was, but the likelihood is, it wasn’t Rae.
At just after 10pm, Mrs Francis Slater saw Rae walking with a tall gentleman towards her flat, but owing to the streets being dark and him wearing a trilby hat, she couldn’t see his face. And yet, at 10pm, this was the time when she was supposed to be meeting Steed & Dutton in the Sun and Thirteen Cantons pub, but didn’t, and neither would she attempt to, as between 10:30 and 10:40pm, she would be seen by Irene Hughes, another local prostitute on Brewer Street.
At 10:45pm, Rebecca Howland, a prostitute on Brewer Street saw Rae meeting a regular customer; a Petty Officer in the Navy, who was in his late 20’s, with light hair, he was clean shaven, who was well-built and wearing a white topped hat.
And yet, even though none of these men could ever be traced, it’s unlikely that any of them were the culprit, as with Dr Kennedy conducting his initial examination of Rae’s body at 3pm, and concluding that with rigour mortis having set in that she must have been dead for 12 to 16 hours? This puts her time of death at between 11pm and 3am.
After 11pm, there is only one confirmed sighting of Ginger Rae alive. Between 11:10pm and 11:25pm, three prostitutes on Brewer Street (Thomasina Ingram, Alice Nolan and Rebecca Howland) all witnessed Rae engaged in a conversation with a customer, and their descriptions of him are excellent; he was in his mid-30’s, six foot tall, well built, with a dark complexion, he had dark brushed back hair, he was clean shaven, with a roman nose, thick lips and had uneven and unclean teeth. He was wearing a well-cut dark brown suit (which looked expensive), a white shirt, tan shoes and he was carrying a light tan raincoat over his shoulder. Having spoken to that very same man just moments earlier, Rebecca Howland later stated that “he kept looking at my mouth as if he was deaf and lip-reading”, and even though all three women confirmed the man was “foreign”, Rebecca was able to narrow down his accent to either being “Spanish, Greek… or Maltese”.
So who was this man? Still to this day, nobody knows and the case remains unsolved.
Rachel Annie Hatton alias Ginger Rae was a 41 year old Soho prostitute with no enemies, no debts and drug habit. She was loved by many and (supposedly) loathed by no-one. And yet someone had so much hatred for her that they subjected her to a brutal and bloody death, their right hand squeezing her throat, their eyes staring at hers as the life drained from her body. But why?
Maybe she was murdered by a stranger who was stalking Soho’s prostitutes? Maybe the Police had already questioned her attacker, only to disregard him as a suspect and let him go? Maybe the veteran Soho sex-worker Ginger Rae was caught-up in something secret, deadly and dangerous? Or maybe, there’s more to learn about this mysterious Maltese man?
The brutal murder of Ginger Rae continues next week.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile. If you have any fingernails left and feel that this episode has asked more questions than it’s answered, please join us for Murder Mile live this Sunday @ 9pm GMT, where you can ask me any questions and suggest your own theories, all by using the hashtag #MMPodLive. And, if you’re in London, pop along to Murder Mile Walk, my guided walk of Soho’s most infamous murder cases, featuring 12 murderers, 15 locations and 75 mysterious deaths over one mile, in just two hours.
Tickets are available via www.murdermiletours.com
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next week’s episode is the concluding part of The Brutal Death of Ginger Rae
Thank you and sleep well.
DOWNLOAD this episode of Murder Mile Episode #8 - The Brutal Death of Ginger Rae.
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The next episode: Who Killed Ginger Rae? (due 7th December 2017).
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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