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EPISODE TWENTY FIVE
Episode Twenty Five: The Blackout Ripper Part 1: In the early hours of Monday 9th February 1942, 41 year old Evelyn Margaret Hamilton was found strangled and posed in an air-raid shelter in Montagu Place (Marylebone). Police had no idea who had murdered her, or that this was the start of a vicious killing spree of The Blackout Ripper.
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THE BLACKOUT RIPPER Part 1 - Evelyn Hamilton
INTRO: Ripper; noun, the origins of the word “Ripper” are uncertain, as although its first recorded use was in the year 1615 to describe a primitive cutting tool used by tanners, curriers and leather workers to rip and tear apart cow-hide, as well as later termed by slate-workers, corn threshers and to define the hook-like drill which breaks-up rock and ore as used to extract oil and gas, by the early 1800’s, when having gas-lighting in your home was a sign of affluence, “Ripper” had entered the public vocabulary as a slang term to describe anything which is “good, excellent or splendid”.
But by the late 1880’s, in London’s East End, the word “Ripper” had re-entered the modern parlance with a much darker and deadlier meaning, denoting a murderer who takes great pleasure in the slashing and tearing of his victim’s flesh, whether pre-or-post mortem to satisfy their sexual sadism, as around the impoverished streets of Whitechapel, a maniac stalked the city’s sex-workers.
And as gripping as the story of Jack the Ripper is; even today, no-one knows his name, his face, his age, his address, his description, his motivation, his method, the exact span of his killings, which victims he killed, which of the current 106 suspects he really is, or even, if he actually existed at all.
Since then, the term “Ripper” has only been adopted by the press to describe three British serial killers and spree-killers during their reign of terror; they were Jack the Ripper, the Yorkshire Ripper and a maniac so terrifying, so fascinating and yet so unassuming, that during the dark of the blitz of World War Two, across London’s West End, and over just five days, he would brutally attack six women, with escalating levels of sadism and violence… and yet his killing spree had only just begun.
With much of the evidence supressed by the government and the press for fear of unsettling a weak morale in London during the fear of the early 1940’s, the true story of the West End’s very own ripper has long been lost, rehashed, fudged and retold in a rambling mix of confusingly short fragments.
But after eight months of intensive research, experimentation and investigation, using all the original declassified police investigation files, military records and court transcripts of the case, the puzzle is complete and what follows over the next few weeks is a definitive history of one of Britain’s deadliest, strangest and long-forgotten spree-killers. And as always, these episodes will contain graphic details which may offend, realistic sounds which may startle, and is not suitable for the easily flustered.
My name is Michael. I am your tour-guide. This is Murder Mile. And I present to you; part one of the full, true and untold story of The Blackout Ripper.
SCRIPT: Today, I’m standing on Montagu Place in Marylebone, W1; a picturesque upper-class enclave hidden from the hustle and bustle of city-life; just three streets north of Oxford Street, four streets south of Baker Street, one street east of Edgware Road, and with Soho two tube-stops to the west.
Surrounded by a rich mix of four to six storey townhouses from the Regency period to the Georgian, Edwardian and Victorian era; being calm, quiet and clean, Montagu Place (which borders the ultra-affluent Montagu Square, whose perfectly manicured private garden is alarmed, patrolled and protected by ornate wrought iron gates, with a key you can only acquire if were schooled at Eton, holidayed at Monty, bunked with a boy called Jolyon, or your uncle’s a QC don’t you know) this area aims to keep the hoity-toity in and the hoi polloi out.
And with no beggars, no buskers and no boozers pebble-dashing its pristine paths with steamy great clumps of working-class puke; what you’re left with are rows of half-empty houses full of cocks with cooks, burkes with butlers, drips with drivers, fannies with nannies and posh-pricks protected by private security who are less likely to be robbed and more likely to be slapped, as they’re manhandled back to man-child mansions; being too posh to scream, too British to cry, and incapable of cacking their pants having been born with a fine selection of silver cutlery poking out of their poo-pipes.
And even though, during the sixties, they actually let some scousers (called John Lennon and Ringo Starr) move in; being brightly-lit, super-clean and regularly patrolled by the Police, here in Montagu Place, under the shade of the Swiss and the Swedish Embassies, you will always feel safe and secure.
But appearances can be deceptive. As it was here, in calm of Montagu Place, on the cold winter night of Sunday 8th February 1942 that a lone woman called Evelyn Hamilton was murdered. No-one heard her scream, no-one saw her struggle and no-one came to help. London’s West End was about to be gripped by five nights of absolute terror, where no woman was safe, as a serial sexual sadist stalked the city streets with murderous intent… and he was known as The Blackout Ripper. (Interstitial)
Born on 8th February 1901, Evelyn Margaret Hamilton was one of four sisters born to Lucy, a recent widow whose deceased husband’s insurance had ensured his family’s finances after his untimely death, giving them stability and security as the economic depression of World War One loomed large.
Raised in the idyllic tranquillity of the semi-rural village of Ryton in Tyne & Wear in the North East of England, far from the industrial sprawl and smog of the Newcastle mills and the Sunderland shipyards, Evelyn’s upbringing was the epitome of picture perfect; surrounded by fresh fruit, clean air, long walks and no crime. And being a progressive woman in an era where the best a young girl could aspire to be was as a machinist, a maid or married-off, Lucy enrolled her four daughters in the best schools.
Having studied at Skerry’s College in Newcastle and the prestigious medical school at the University of Edinburgh, by 1923, 22 year old Evelyn graduated with a diploma in chemistry and pharmacology. Having qualified as a chemist and a druggist, over the next 18 years, she focussed on sharpening her skills, climbing the career ladder and seeing more of the country, as she moved from job-to-job in Loughborough, Leicestershire, Surrey, London and later in Essex.
By November 1941, with the economic ravages of World War Two having started to bite and rationing in full-swing, Evelyn had secured herself a position as manager and pharmacist in the respected high-street store of Yardley’s Chemists at 9 Market Parade in the market town on Romford (Essex). And as qualified as she was for the job, three months later, she would be gone.
On the surface, Evelyn Hamilton seemed unremarkable and easily forgettable; as being just five foot 3 ½ inches in height and a slender seven stone in weight, who wore very little make-up nor perfume, never smiled nor spoke-up, and always dressed-down and looked dour, as exceptionally bright as she was, she never wanted to be noticed and blended into the background.
Being fastidiously neat, unfashionably dressed and wrapped in a thick excess of shapeless woollen layers (being thin-skinned, shivery and prone to goose-bumps) even on the warmest of days; with short brown hair, a furrowed brow and droopy brown eyes which hung with the air of sadness of a lonely woman who never felt loved, was never told she was beautiful, and never once had a best-friend nor boyfriend in her 41 years, she had become a shadow of her former self.
Evelyn was a very private person, who was quiet, uptight and troubled. Described by her employer – Mr Bernard Gray - as agitated, eccentric and that she often looked as if she was frightened, being prone to bouts of insomnia and depression, she never found peace within herself and regularly returned to her mother’s home in Ryton for long periods of rest and recuperation. But Romford was not for Evelyn, and as a book-worm surrounded by sheep-farmers, here she felt mentally, physically and emotionally starved, and what she needed was some fun, love and excitement.
Friday 6th February 1942 started like any other day. Being a creature of habit, Evelyn rose at 7:30 sharp; washed in the hand-basin, nibbled at a breakfast apple and dressed in her practical clothes she’d laid-out the night before (a thick woollen jumper, a thick woollen skirt, stockings, a bra, a white vest and two pairs of under-garments to keep out the cold). With the February snow being thick under foot and the icy winter wind howling, she wrapped-up warm in her full-length camel hair coat, an orange and pea-green woollen scarf, a green woollen “turban style” hat and black leather gloves.
And having applied a thin coat of pink lipstick (hardly a shade darker than her own lips), draped over her shoulder a beige canvas gas-mask (standard issue during World War Two) and clutching her dark brown leather handbag (which looked less like a fashion accessory and more like a wrapped parcel), she gave a polite smile to Mrs Eva Lever, her landlady of her middle-class lodging called The Haven on Link Way in Hornchurch, and headed towards the bus stop.
As always, she walked to the bus stop alone, stood at the bus stop alone and opened the shop alone, not realising that (as much as she hated her new routine) that she would never do it, ever again.
Being a tall four-storey brick and sandstone building right in the heart of Romford’s busiest market, Yardley’s Chemist shop at 9 Market Place should have been a profitable business, but with times hard, tensions high and the economy in disarray as Britain entered its third year in a six year war, 16 months after the Dunkirk evacuation and 16 months before the D-Day Landings, as the invading forces took France and loomed nearer the English coast, it began to look like Germany would win.
So sadly, both Evelyn Hamilton and her 14 year old assistant Miss Bettina Grace Gray were given their notice, and being paid a wage of £5 per week (roughly £250 today), Evelyn was given one month’s pay and the doors of Yardley’s Chemist’s closed forever. Two days later, she would be dead. (Interstitial)
On the morning of Sunday 8th February 1942, Evelyn rose at 7:30 sharp, lying alone in a single bed in a drab little rented room, another heavy cloud of depression hung over her. And although she hated where she lived, where she worked and being unemployed, being so qualified, she quickly found work as a pharmacist in the port-town of Grimsby in Lincolnshire; a place where she had no family, no friends and would (once again) be a single woman, in a lonely bed, in an empty room.
Having written a letter to her mother (Lucy), which she did every week without fail, using the green and black pencil she’d loaned of her assistant Bettina and forgot to give back, Evelyn added a few pounds of her £20 severance pay to help her doting mother in her old age, and proceeded to pack.
Into a large brown trunk, wrapped in protective newspaper, she placed her treasured possessions; family photos of her mother and her three sisters, a stack of books (mostly chemistry textbooks, a history of women’s suffrage and political literature as she was an ardent socialist), and her practical clothes, all of which were neatly washed, ironed and etched with the laundry mark - E2474.
Into a medium-sized overnight case, she placed a toothbrush, hairbrush, book and a change of clothes. Perched next to that sat her dark brown leather handbag, containing a white metal lighter, a veneer cigarette case, a metal compact, a pink lipstick, a set of handkerchiefs etched with an E2474 laundry mark, her purse containing what remained of her £20 severance pay (roughly £1000 today), next to which she’d laid out her coat, hat, scarf, gloves and gas-mask. And having settled her account in full with Mrs Eva Lever, landlady of ‘The Haven’, politely declined a spot of tea and left instructions for a railway man to arrive on Monday morning, collect her trunk and send it to Grimsby, Evelyn sat alone on her single bed, smoked a cigarette and opened four brightly coloured cards from her family.
As not only was this her 41st birthday, it was also her last day alive.
What follows are the last known movements of 41 year old Evelyn Margaret Hamilton: On Sunday 8th February 1942 at 7:20pm, dressed in her camel-hair coat, brown velvet under jacket, white vest, green jumper, brown skirt, brown stockings, black shoes and her usual two pairs of under-garments, with a pea green and orange scarf and a green woollen hat, Evelyn arrived at Hornchurch station clutching her medium sized suitcase, a brown leather handbag and purchased a one-way ticket to London.
Arriving at Aldgate East at 9:40pm, four hours after dusk, the city was in pitch-black as the wartime blackout was inforce; and with all street-lamps dimmed, doors closed, curtains shut and vehicle headlights reduced to mere slits to obscure the urban sprawl from the German bombers above, using her trusty 8 inch metal torch, Evelyn joined a sea of people with dull bobbing lights as she took a Hammersmith & City line train nine stops west to Baker Street station.
With heavy winter snow crunching under foot and an icy wind blowing in from Siberia, although she had barely a 1/5 mile further to go, Evelyn hailed a black-cab and was driven by Abraham Israel Ash to The Three Arts Club at 76 Gloucester Place; a hotel she had stayed many times before, and always felt safe, warm and comfortable, before catching the early train to Grimsby and her new life up north.
The time was 10:15pm, and so far, nothing out of the ordinary had happened; her trains were on time, her cab-driver was pleasant; she hadn’t been short-changed, swindled, followed, accosted or abused, and like any other ordinary people living in a sprawling metropolis like London, with no debts, drink or drug issues, and no enemies what-so-ever, she was an entirely unlikely person to ever be murdered. Evelyn was just a shy nervous lady going about her business and not being a bother to anyone,
With half a crown covering the taxi-fare and Abraham’s tip for carrying her suitcase up The Three Arts Club’s stairs, Evelyn checked into a single room for one night and didn’t unpack, instead – feeling a little peckish having politely declined her former landlady’s kind offer of a spot of tea – Evelyn asked Ms Kathleen Rosser Jones (manageress of The Three Arts Club) if food was still being served, but with the kitchens now closed, Evelyn set out into the dark streets of Marylebone in search of sustenance.
The time was 10:50pm. And with the street being cold, her stomach having rumbled too many times and the batteries of her torch slowly dying as the dim bulb began to fade; Evelyn hopped in a black-cab and headed half a mile south to the one place that was always open and never stopped serving. This was her last taxi-ride, to her final meal, which passed a little side-street behind her hotel called Montagu Place, where just a few hours later, Evelyn Hamilton would be found dead.
The cab ride should have taken little more than five minutes, but Evelyn’s whereabouts over the next hour are unknown. Where she went? Nobody knows. Who she saw? Nobody knows. What she did? Nobody knows. But it’s unlikely that anything suspicious or untoward happened, it’s just an odd gap in the last known movements of a shy quiet lady with very few friends, a fondness for solitude, and a deep desire to be anonymous, blend into the crowd and never be noticed.
Just before of midnight, at the junction of Oxford Street and Great Cumberland Place (now the site of the Cumberland Hotel which overlooks the prestigious addresses of Marble Arch, Park Lane and Hyde Park), Evelyn entered Maison Lyonese; a well-respected five-storey corner-house tearoom, one of five in London, which was famed for its speedy service, 24 hour restaurants, live entertainment and food-hall packed full of delicatessens, chocolatiers, florists and hair-salons.
Witnessed by waitress Betty Witcover walking into the brasserie, although she was neither seated nor served by Betty, she felt a sympathetic pang for Evelyn, a lonely women sitting by herself amongst a sea of raucous friends, kissing couples and boozy servicemen, as she raised a single solitary toast to herself, on this her 41st birthday.
According to her autopsy, her final meal was one small glass of white wine, two slices of wholemeal bread and a main-course mostly consisting of beetroot. After that, Evelyn Hamilton disappeared; no-one saw her talk to anyone, no-one saw her leave, and she was never seen alive again.
On the following morning of Monday 9th February 1942, at 8:40am, local Paddington plumber Harold Batchelor and his mate William Baldwin were walking to their first job of the day; the cold air caused their cheeks to flush, the biting wind made their noses sniffle and under their boots they crunched a fresh layer of pristine white snow, as they crossed over Gloucester Place and into Montagu Place.
On the left hand side of Montagu Place; positioned half on the pavement, half on the road and built in a neat little line, were three surface air-raid shelters, one of thousands which dotted the city. Being 7 ½ foot high, 7 ½ foot wide, with a 23 foot middle shelter and two half its size either side; although these three oblong blocks made of 14 inch brick, 1 foot thick reinforced concrete roofs and covered with 20 kilo sandbags wouldn’t protect its terrified occupants from a direct-hit; one year earlier, it had saved 100 residents from certain death, having shielded them from the blast-wave, shrapnel and falling debris of a Nazi bomb, so in Montagu Place, these air-raid shelters were a place of safety.
Last night though, there wasn’t an air-raid, no German bombers had flown by and no bombs were dropped, so apart from an occasional homeless man or kissing couple, the shelters would be empty.
But as Harold and William walked by the larger middle shelter, on the snow speckled pavement they spotted the broken top of an 8 inch metal torch, a lady’s green woollen “turban style” hat, and poking out of the brick entrance was a woman’s left leg lying prostrate on the floor, wearing brown stockings and practical black shoes. Reeling from the shock, Harold barked “Will? Fetch the Police”.
The crime-scene was promptly secured by PC John Mills, ready for the arrival of Divisional Detective Inspector Leonard Clare at 8:55am and the Divisional Surgeon Alexander Baldie at 9:10am.
With her handbag missing, Police were uncertain who this woman was; all they knew was that she was in her early forties, 5 foot 3 ½ inches tall, 7 stone in weight, wearing a full-length camel coat, a pea green and orange woollen scarf, a pale shade of pink lipstick and that she had been murdered.
Being a fastidiously neat women whose unfashionable clothes were professionally cleaned, pressed and etched with the laundry mark – E2474 – now she lay dumped in the wet gutter of the road which ran through the centre of damp dark shelter; her clothes all dirty, torn and in disarray.
With her left leg poking out of the entrance, her right leg remained within, raised and resting on the shelter’s brickwork, her practical black shoes badly scraped and scuffed. Under her brown stockings lay fragments of brick mortar which had broken away from the wall, as in a desperate fight for her life, she had fought back, as a violent struggle took place. Denying her any hint of modesty, her calf-length brown skirt had been pulled up to her hips, her torn bloomers and ripped knickers pulled down to her knees, her legs spread wide, and the genitals of a deeply private woman exposed for all to see.
What hatred he’d had for this small timid woman, to humiliate her in such a way, nobody would know. But with her camel-hair coat splayed open under her cold corpse, her white vest torn, deliberately exposing her right breast, Police felt that not only had she been posed, but that her punishment wasn’t just a violent and sickening death, but also her humiliation. And although her pea green and orange woollen scarf slightly masked her bruised cheeks and bloodied lips, peeping out from above, her eyes were etched with terror.
Three days later, 41 year old Evelyn Margaret Hamilton was identified at Paddington Mortuary by Ms Kathleen Rosser Jones (manageress of The Three Arts Club), her former employer Mr Bernard Grey of Yardley’s Chemists in Romford, and her sister Kathleen Hamilton.
At 3pm that afternoon, an autopsy was held at Paddington Mortuary by the Home Office pathologist (and father of forensic science) Sir Bernard Spilsbury in the presence of Divisional Detective Inspector Leonard Clare, but the evidence presented before them was perplexing. .
With her handbag, purse, money and all forms of ID missing, Police considered a possible motive of robbery, but were confused as to why her attacker had left an expensive gold watch on her left wrist. With no sperm found in her vagina, Police ruled out rape as sexual intercourse had not taken place, but they couldn’t account for the a small amount of blood found in and around her vagina. And with abrasions to her legs, scalp and back, with a 1 inch cut on her left eyebrow, a 2 inch bruise on her right cheek, a 3 inch abrasion on the back of her neck, and an odd series of small cuts on her right breast, was this a physical assault, or the work of a sexual sadist?
What they knew for certain was that (owing to her body’s temperature and state of decomposition) Evelyn Hamilton’s time of death was roughly 1am, barely one hour after waitress Betty Witcover had seen her in Maison Lyonese, a time which was corroborate by her broken gold watch. And that, with her bloodshot eyes, her dilated pupils, her flushed swollen face, her fractured larynx, her engorged lips, fingers and swollen tongue which jutted from the white froth of her open mouth, with a clear bruised outline of a thumb over her throat and four fingers pressed into the mottled flesh at the back of her neck, Police were certain that she had been throttled to death by a left-handed strangler.
But sadly, that’s where the investigation into the murder of Evelyn Hamilton stalled; as with no motive, no witnesses and no fingerprints what-so-ever; very little physical evidence beyond her torn clothes, her broken torch, some scuffed shoes, a few fragments of brick mortar, and a tin of Ovaltine tablets and a pack of Masters safety matches (which no-one knew who they belonged to); as well as the fresh snow having masked any footprints and the last hour of Evelyn’s life being a complete mystery.
Her shocking murder on Montagu Place asked more questions than it answered, such as; if she took a cab from the hotel to the restaurant, why didn’t she take one back? If she walked back, why would she do so, alone, in the cold, with a broken torch? And with Montagu Place barely a 10 second walk from her hotel, why would she go inside of an air-raid shelter on a night when there were no air-raids?
Was Evelyn followed? Did Evelyn have a dark-side? Had Evelyn a secret enemy? Or was 41 year old Evelyn Hamilton; a bookish women who was too shy to talk, too timid to dress-up and too reticent for red lipstick, who hide in the background of life and had no experience of love, was this painfully lonely women approached by a man, flattered by his attention, brought a birthday drink and then lured to her death by the first man ever to tell her she was beautiful? That, we shall never know.
Her murder would have remained unsolved… but during that terrifying week in February 1942, across the dark-lit bombed-out streets of London’s West End, as the petrified people scurried in the darkness for fear of being murdered by the German bombers which loomed above, a sexual sadist stalked the streets. Evelyn Hamilton was the first, but she wouldn’t be the last victim of The Blackout Ripper.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
This week’s recommended podcast of the week is Murder Was The Case; presented criminologist Lee Mellor and host Vanessa Vanelli, Murder Was The Case is a fascinating in-depth analysis of murder, by an expert, explain the difference between homicide and murder; serial-killer and mass-murderers, genocide, patricide, matricide, infanticide and every detail about murder that you’ve ever wanted to know. So if you’ve got a curious mind eager for facts, check out Murder Was The Case. (Play Promo)
Don’t forget to check out the Murder Mile website at murdermiletours.com, find us on Twitter or Instagram, join the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast discussion group on Facebook, or even better, for extra exclusive content, subscribe to the Murder Mile Patreon group. .
A quick thank you this week to the fabulous people who have left five-star reviews of Murder Mile and have been truly fabulous on social media, they include; Dennaz Broacha-Jones, Rhomany, Summer Sabateur, Poor Little Nell, Janine Madden and English Expat.
And a big thank you to my very first Patreon supporter, so eager was this man to get access to exclusive Murder Mile content, that he signed up to our Patreon account before I’d even launched it, so a huge thank you goes out to Terrence Scannel, Patreon #1. And just before I started recorded Cam Roberts pledged $3 too, a big thank you to Cam Roberts.
And a quick shout-out goes to two truly excellent true-crime podcasts that I heartily recommend; first is Canadian True-Crime; hosted by Kristi, Canadian True-Crime is a well-researched and well-presented deep-dive into the twisted lives of some truly warped Canadians, such as Robert Pickton, Tori Stafford, the Ken & Barbie Killers. And second is Killafornia Dreaming, hosted by Rosanna, Killafornia Dreaming brings you terrifying true-crime stories from the Golden State of California, which statistically has the highest proportion of serial killers in America. Both are excellent podcasts and will truly put you off going to Canada or California.
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 part two of our series into The Blackout Ripper.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by various artists, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here
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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