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EPISODE TWENTY SIX
Episode Twenty Six: The Blackout Ripper Part 2: On 10th February 1942, 34 year old Evelyn Oatley was found strangled, posed and mutilated in her flat at 153 Wardour Street in a murder strangely similar to Evelyn Hamilton, just one night before. Was this coincidence, or was there a sadistic spree-killer on the loose in Soho?
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BLACKOUT RIPPER – Part 2 (Evelyn Oatley)
INTRO: One year into the Second World War, German chancellor Adolf Hitler and the Nazi high-command sought to deplete, destroy and demoralise Britain with a series of devastating bombing raids, beginning with what the Luftwaffe called ‘Unternahmen Seeschlange’ (or Operation Sea-snake); a terrifying attack from the clouds, so fast and so deadly, that the British people referred to it by the German word for “lightening”, they called it ‘The Blitz’.
Between 7th September 1940 and 11th May 1941, over 57 days and nights, German bombers rained down over 41000 tonnes of high explosives, incendiary devices and parachute mines, as well as deadly V1 (and later V2) rockets onto Britain’s industrial cities, their terrifying tactics designed to frighten the people into submission and bring Britain to its knees.
By 1942, Britain had suffered its worst defeat, as the allied troops retreated to Dunkirk as Nazi troops had taken France, all that stood between Britain and surrender was the English Channel. The people were hungry, the people were tired, and the people were scared.
But amidst the smoky bombed-out inferno of London’s West End, with a blackout in-force which plunged the soot-covered city into a perpetual darkness, as the petrified populous scoured the skies for German mass-murderers who loomed above… a person of pure evil stalked the city streets.
In the early hours of Monday 9th February 1942, Evelyn Hamilton; a shy and timid pharmacist who had celebrated her 41st birthday alone, was found strangled in an air-raid shelter in Montagu Place. With her handbag and £20 missing, was this a robbery which had gone wrong? With slashes on her breasts and genitals but no semen in her vagina, was this a failed attempted rape? With her corpse looking as if it had been posed, was this the grisly calling-card of a sexual sadist? The Police were perplexed.
And with no fingerprints, no witnesses and no suspects of any kind, and a confusing mix of mismatched evidence including a pack of Master’s safety matches, fragments of brick mortar and a broken metal torch, all the Police knew of her killer was that he was left-handed.
Initially the Police thought this was just a one-off attack, a crime of passion, but little did they know that they had a serial sexual sadist and spree-killer in their midst… and his killings had only just begun.
Over five days, six unrelated women across different parts of London’s West End would be brutally attacked with escalating levels of sadism, torture and violence. It started with Evelyn Hamilton, but with his bloodlust unquenched, just one day later, he would go in search of his next victim.
My name is Michael. I am your tour-guide. This is Murder Mile. And I present to you; part two of the full, true and untold story of The Blackout Ripper.
SCRIPT: Today, I’m standing on Wardour Street, back in the heart of Soho; one road east of Broadwick Street, one road west of Old Compton Street, and barely a one minute walk from the murder sites of deadly dentist Isador Zeifert, shadowy sex-worker Margaret Cook, sweet-faced fanny-seller Ginger Rae, crazy cock-chopper William Stoltzer and chronic Canadian willy-fiddler Richard Rhodes Henley.
Sadly, this unsightly side of Wardour Street has been stripped of its soul and replaced by nosh-shops for numpties, takeaways for twits and wanky eateries for the anally retentive; which somehow survive by selling one type of food (whether ham, fish or humus), by avoiding one type of food (whether meat, wheat or milk), by rebranding buffets as street food, salads as main meals, sandwiches as a some kind of luxury, and where cigar-shops flog-off thirty quids worth of old rolled leaves to non-smokers who light-up, lean back and aim to act cool, slick and aloof, but instead look green, sick and queasy.
And although, by the 1940’s, this side of Soho was full of drafty bombed-out hardly habitable terraces, only suitable as homes for the less fortunate, many of which have since been demolished, it was here at 153 Wardour Street, that an ambitious woman called Evelyn Oatley came to London to seek her fame and fortune, but instead found infamy… as the second victim of The Blackout Ripper. (Interstitial)
Born Evelyn Judd on 5th April 1907 in Earby in Lancashire; a small rural town hidden in the barren wilds of the former West Yorkshire dales, its chief occupations being lead-mining and farming, with a population of roughly 70 families and six times as many cows, sheep and pigs. Raised by her beloved mother (Rosina), busy father and one brother, although her childhood was poor but pleasant, for young Evelyn, Earby was an industrial eyesore in dull rural setting where the air hung with soot and the strong stench of manure, a far cry the bright lights of London’s West End.
Desperate to escape, to act, to sing, to dance and blossom into Shaftesbury Avenue’s latest sensation, selling out theatres every night and surrounded by adoring fans, lackeys and lovers, Evelyn’s hopes were dashed early, as with Earby not blessed with a single playhouse, drama school and no theatre producers driving-by eager for a new blonde ingénue to headline his latest West End show, and maybe later Broadway and even Hollywood too, Evelyn left school aged 14, with no skills nor qualifications and drifted into a series of dead-end jobs, trapped by isolation and circumstance.
Still dreaming of being famous and adored, aged 15, unmarried Evelyn gained local notoriety by becoming pregnant by an unknown man, a big scandal in early 1920’s, so unable to support the child alone, Evelyn’s daughter was put up for adoption, later living her life somewhere in Canada.
In 1932, 25 year old Evelyn Judd met Harold Mollinson Oatley; a kind, loving and sweet-natured poultry farmer who could provide her with a good life, full of love, money and a sweet little bungalow on Rover Road in the larger (but equally isolated) town of Thornton, Lancashire. But Evelyn didn’t want to be a chicken-farmer’s wife, she wanted to be an actress, so being too timid to dissuade her of the dangers of big-city life and hoping that she’d eventually see sense, get the acting bug out of her system and come back to marry him, Harold financed Evelyn’s trip to London to fulfil her dreams.
In late 1934, 27 year old Evelyn Judd, moved into a cheap and tiny lodging on Great Portland Street (at the back of Oxford Circus) and having adopted the stage-name of Lita Ward, she eked-out a meagre living as a nightclub hostess, a dancer in disreputable theatres and even at Soho’s infamous Windmill Theatre, where every night topless girls jiggled their tits and swung their tassels to crowds of drunk drooling deadbeats. To most people, Evelyn’s new lifestyle may have seemed cheap, tacky and low-rent, but as a country-girl from a remote northern town whose ambitions had been crushed for 27 long years, now she was embracing every ounce of big city life, and finally, her dream had come true.
But by March 1936, after 16 months in the bright lights of the West End; fame hadn’t come calling (for this almost 30 year old topless dancer), work had dried up (as younger legs and prettier faces scored all the best roles) and with her money having ran-out, Evelyn returned to the poultry-farm, where just a few months later on 25th June 1936, she married Harold, and became Mrs Evelyn Oatley.
As predicted, married-life wasn’t for Evelyn; she found no joy staying-in every night playing Scrabble with her homebody husband, no peace being tucked-up in bed with a book by 9pm and no reward cleaning crap out of the chicken coops, as having tasted the excitement of the big city, she knew she wanted more. Trapped in a dull life of squawking birds, in local hotels under an assumed name, Evelyn started clandestine affairs with married men and continued to live and work in London, all under the nose of Harold who was too ineffectual to stop her and too dull to offer her an alternative.
One year later; with money tight, tensions fraught and his poultry-farm having gone out of business, even though he’d been forced to move into his Aunt’s house in nearby Cleveleys (in Lancashire), as desperate as Harold was to please his wayward wife, although they remained married and stayed in-touch, Evelyn returned to London, knowing she would never be a big star, but loving the nightlife.
By February 1939, with Britain on the brink of World War Two, Evelyn Oatley had moved into a tiny one-roomed flat on the first-floor of 153 Wardour Street; a simple four-storey terrace house with the ground-floor of five houses converted into a motorcar showroom called Shaw & Kilburn.
And although she shared a kitchen and a bathroom with five other flats and her small room was simply furnished with a double-divan bed, a sofa, an armchair, a table, a wash-stand, a wireless radio and a gas fire (with a coin-slot metre), even though she kept some plates and cutlery in her wardrobe, mostly she’d eat out, spending her nights drinking, dancing and attracting the attention of men.
With her dancing roles having dried-up, and the adulation and applause of audiences over, Evelyn wanted a gentleman admirer to sweep her off her feet; a moneyed man who would lavish her with gifts, flowers, love and trinkets. And having a lust for “real men”, who were tall and toned, with easy smiles, kind blue eyes and neatly dressed in a military uniforms - whilst still married - Evelyn had several boyfriends, all of whom Harold knew about, and none of whom looked like him.
As World War Two broke, a blackout was enforced and British and Canadian servicemen flooded the West End with money to spend, drinks to be drunk and girls to be chased, Evelyn should have had the pick of the crop, but too often, having got her heart broken by these heartless heroes, every time this would happen Harold would always be there as a shoulder to cry on and to pick up the pieces.
And as much as they remained close, with Harold travelling the 12 hour round-trip from Lancashire to London, every few weeks, he naively believed that his beloved wife worked as a nightclub hostess and a dancer in the West End theatres, but for the last six years, ever since they had been married, Evelyn Oatley (known locally as Lita Ward) had earned herself a living as a Soho prostitute.
Being 5 foot 1 inches tall, 7 stone in weight, with dark blonde curly hair, blue eyes and a cheeky smile; Evelyn was well regarded amongst Soho’s sex-workers as fun, honest and generous. And as a confident woman, Evelyn had no qualms about picking-up punters and bringing them back to her flat for drinks and sex, but being flirtatious and charming, she was also adept at luring any potential sugar-daddies to not just spend the night, but also the day after, with free meals, expensive gifts and shopping trips.
And as much as Evelyn was a woman of morals; who never stole from a customer, never worked on Sundays and only picked-up punters on her patch; she was also a heavy drinker of Scotch, not picky about which men she picked up, and (according to a close-friend) she was a desperately lonely lady who craved attention, feared solitude and longed to be loved.
The last time Harold saw Evelyn was on Tuesday 3rd February 1942 at Euston Station, as from the train which took him back to Lancashire he waved his beloved wife “goodbye”; hoping one day that she would come back to him and never realising that the next time he would see her… she would be dead.
Six days later, on the morning of Monday 9th February 1942, in an air-raid shelter on Montagu Place (barely one mile from Wardour Street), the strangled and mutilated body of Evelyn Hamilton would be found. Police thought it was a one-off, but with his sadism still unsated, that evening, The Blackout Ripper would stalk the West End looking for his next victim… her name was Evelyn Oatley. (Interstitial)
The evening of Monday 9th February 1942 was bitterly cold as an icy wind blew from the east, swirling the freshly settled snow down the half empty streets of the West End. On her regular patch - a stretch of pavement from Lawley’s fine-bone china shop on Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus – Evelyn paced back-and-forth to keep herself warm, the piping hot bowl of vegetable stew and a quick shot of Scotch that she’d just polished off in The Leicester Arms pub, straining to keep out the cold.
Dressed fashionably in a bright red jumper, a tweet two-piece jacket and skirt, black boots, a black leather handbag and a black woollen hat, her top decorated with three brooches; one yellow, one red and one in white metal, her style was impossible to see as with the night being so infernally cold, Evelyn had her knee-length black coat buttoned-up to her neck.
And with business being bad and boredom creeping in, amidst the miserable darkness of the blackout (as switched-off for the full duration of the war were the famous lights of Piccadilly Circus), Evelyn stood in the doorway of Lawley’s, illuminated by the red-hot tip of her cigarette, which was taken from her stylish white metal cigarette case, etched with her initials ‘LW’ (short for Lita Ward, a sole reminder of her lost acting ambition) and inside, a photo of her beloved mother “Rosina”.
Feeling cold and lonely, Evelyn wouldn’t be choosey about who she picked-up, as all money was good and she just wanted to head home, pop on the fire and hop into bed. But soon she would be cold for a very different reason, and what follows would be the last known sightings of Evelyn Oatley.
At 10:15pm, on the corner of Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus; two Soho prostitutes and close pals of Evelyn - one a blonde called Laura Denmark and a brunette called Molly Desantos Alves - waved to their friend as she stood outside of Lawley’s smoking. With both Laura and Molly having been chatted-up by two tall, slim and handsome (if slightly sozzled) RAF servicemen from the Royal Air Force Reception Centre in Regent’s Park, they took the men back to their flats; Molly headed to Denham Street with the red-headed Corporal and Laura headed to Frith Street with the fair-haired Aircraftman.
At 11:00pm, outside by Monico’s (a reputable late-night restaurant once used as a pick-up place for sex-workers and servicemen) on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly Circus; a part-time waitress and prostitute called Ann Carew saw Evelyn, who she knew as Lita Ward, chatting to a Canadian soldier dressed in a khaki battledress. Although cold, she seemed chatty and only a little bit tipsy, and seeing Ann, she waved, wished her a “goodnight” and guided the military man towards her flat through the dark-lit streets of Soho, guided solely by the dim light of her six inch metal torch.
At a little after 11:20pm, Icy Cecilia Poole, a fun-fair attendant and Evelyn’s neighbour who lived in the adjoining flat on the first floor of 153 Wardour Street saw Evelyn escorting a man up the wooden staircase. But he wasn’t Canadian or in khaki battledress, but a young tall and pasty civilian in a brown suit with horn-rimmed glasses. And although he wasn’t Evelyn’s type; as the night was cold, money was money, and – with most men’s sexual prowess being less like a stud-muffin and more like a “two pumps and squirt merchant” – she knew he’d only need a few minutes until he was done, before she would head-out again and pick-up another punter.
As Evelyn closed the wooden door marked with a metal plate which read “Lita Ward”, Ivy heard Evelyn and the young man chat, as with their penny-pinching landlord having split one large room in half with two folding doors to create two small flats, the walls were wafer-thin and Ivy could hear everything.
Sharing such a small space, Evelyn was always so considerate of noise, but that night she wasn’t. Instead, switching her bedside radio from news to music, she turned up the volume until the recognisable sounds of the couple’s mumbling, fumbling and groaning was drowned-out, and eager to sleep, Ivy popped in her earplugs, placed her pillow over her head and nodded off around midnight/
That was the last time that 34 year old Evelyn Oatley was heard, or seen alive, ever again.
The next morning, on Tuesday 10th February 1942 at 8:20am, with her room all dark and silent, Ivy had slept so soundly over the last eight hours that she barely heard a loud banging on her door. Alerted to the noise by her startled cat, Ivy groggily unlocked the door to see the familiar face of Charles Victor Fleming of the Central London Electricity Company, who – along with his assistant George Kenny Carter - were here to read each flat’s electricity metres and collect this month’s shillings from the coin-slot. It was just an ordinary day, for three ordinary people, going about their ordinary lives.
As with Ivy (who was still sporting her bathrobe and slippers), George knocked loudly on Evelyn’s door, but with it barely being an hour after dusk, he got no reply. Knocking louder, George noticed the door was ajar, but as a timid young man who was too polite to simply barge into a strange lady’s boudoir uninvited and risk seeing things a young man should never see like frilly things and her ladies monthly unmentionables, George continued to knock.
Sensing the shy youth’s frustration and sporting some awful bed-hair, Ivy tapped loudly enquiring “are you there, dear?” as she pushed open the door. With the windows blacked-out, the lights off, the fire out and the last shilling in the electricity metre having been spent, as much as Ivy flicked the light switches, the flat remained in pitch black. But as they entered the flat and their eyes adjusted to the dark, it was clear that they weren’t alone; someone was there, lying on the bed, all silent and still. And as George Carter flicked on his torch to see who it was, as the dull light illuminated the shape on the bed, he stopped, blinked and gasped, having seen a sight which no-one should ever see.
First on the scene at 8:35am was Inspector John Hennessey of West End Central Police Station, having spent the night at the Police section house on Broadwick Street (one street behind), who secured the scene to ensure nothing was touched, followed by Detective Inspector Clarence Jeffrey and Divisional Surgeon Dr Alexander Baldie at 8:50am, and Divisional Detective Inspector Charles Gray at 9:15am.
With no windows open, no fire on and the female victim – a five foot one inch mid-thirties blonde – in the early stages of rigour-mortis, Dr Baldie recorded that she’d been dead for at least 4 hours. And although the name on the door read ‘Lita Ward’, she was quickly identified as Evelyn Oatley,
What startled the Police (beyond the sickening extent of her horrific injuries) was how tidy the room was; nothing was tipped over, very little was broken and there didn’t seem to have been a struggle. In fact, almost everything seemed to be just as Evelyn had left it just a few hours before. It was almost as if she had welcomed her attacker in; had known him, liked him, or simply felt comfortable with him, and yet this shocking attack had come out of the blue.
On the mantelpiece, where she always kept them, Evelyn had placed the keys to her flat. On the sofa were her clothes, neatly placed and ready to be re-worn; a bright red jumper, a black hat and a tweet two-piece jacket and skirt. On an armchair she’d placed her black boots, a slip, a brassiere and a pair of black stockings by the fire, drying after a long cold night. And in the right-hand side of her wardrobe (where she always put it) was her black knee-length coat, along with her black leather handbag.
Oddly, the only damage in the whole room was the wardrobe’s lock, which (although the key was still in it) had been violently broken off; Evelyn’s handbag had been removed, the zip fastener opened and the contents strewn over the sofa. And whoever her attacker was, he’d ignored her bank books and ration coupons, and only stole two items; roughly £20 (£600 today) from her brown leather purse and her white metal cigarette case, etched with her initials ‘LW’ and a photo of her mother inside.
Was this a robbery? Was this a burglary? Was this a rape? The Police were perplexed. But whoever it was who had attacked her, had a deep-rooted hatred for either prostitutes, women or Evelyn Oatley, as not only was her attack brutal and sickening, but her torture was prolonged and humiliating.
In the centre of the room, with the headboard against the wall, between two blacked-out windows, was her double divan bed. Lying face-up and sprawled diagonally across her freshly made sheets was the cold corpse of Evelyn Oatley, her body splayed and posed, with her thin cotton vest and a silk nightdress rolled up, exposing her legs, genitals, lower torso and breasts.
With no-one having heard her scream and the bruised outlines of a thumb and four fingers across her throat and neck, Evelyn was initially strangled by hand in an unprovoked attack, which trapped her windpipe, crushed her vocal chords and made her more pliable, as although she drifted in and out of consciousness for the next few minutes, what happened next, was done whilst she was still alive.
With her head slumped backward, hanging over the side of the bed, using the 2 inch blade of an Ever-Ready razor, a five and a half inch wound was cut, from her right ear to her voice-box, so deep it exposed her throat, split open her jugular vein and left a six foot trail of blood to the door.
As Evelyn clutched onto her last few moments alive, being immobile as her body was drained of blood, her bare legs were splayed wide. And (as with Evelyn Hamilton) although there was no semen found in her vagina, in and around her genitals were a series of twelve unusual wounds; some less than half an inch long, one more than three and a half inches long, but all were rough jagged tears, made using an old-style kitchen can-opener with a sharp hooked claw.
But his sadism hadn’t stopped there, as having placed the metal can-opener next to her left knee, and posed the blood-soaked razorblade next to Evelyn’s ghostly white face, as well as an ominous set of blood-stained curling tongs, her sadistic killer – not content with her torture and humiliation – had inserted, four inches deep, her six inch metal torch into her open and exposed vagina.
The autopsy of Evelyn Oatley was conducted that day by Sir Bernard Spilsbury, home office pathologist (and father of forensic science), who just 24 hours earlier had examined the body of Evelyn Hamilton and although there were differences between both attacks; their ages, hair colour, occupations and the location of their deaths (with one in public and the other at home), the similarities were striking.
Both women were lonely and alone. Both women were in the West End. Both women had been robbed of roughly £20. Neither woman had been raped. Both had been posed, both had been exposed, both had unusual cuts to their genitals, and non-specific internal injuries to their vaginas, one made using a six inch metal torch, and the other within sight of an eight inch metal torch. And although both women were called Evelyn, the Police put this down as possibly just a coincidence. But in each case, although the Police wouldn’t know this yet, their murderer had taken a souvenir.
Was this the same man, or merely chance? Was this a spree-killer, or a strikingly similar attack? With Evelyn Oatley’s long fingernails being unbroken, they knew her attacker was swift. With bruise marks on their necks, Police knew they’d both been strangled by a left-hander. And although, Superintendant Frederick Cherrill of Scotland Yard’s Print Bureau had found a left thumb print on Evelyn Oatley’s compact mirror (touched as her killer rifled her handbag for money) and a left little finger print on the metal can-opener he had used to mutilate his latest victim, none of his prints were on file.
If the same man had murdered both women, the Police wouldn’t have time to even contemplate the horror of a spree-killer in their midst; as with his violence escalating, his bloodlust pumping and his sadism unsated, he was only two days into his five day killing spree, and as darkness fell over London, once again, he headed into Soho, as The Blackout Ripper went in search of his next victim.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget to join us next week for the third part of the true story of The Blackout Ripper.
This week’s recommended podcast of the week is True-Crime Enthusiast, hosted by Paul, True-Crime Enthusiast is a fantastic dive into the UK’s most twisted, deranged and disturbing murderers, presented with a disarmingly charming style, Paul lures you in with his jovial friendly banter, only to bludgeon you over the head with truly disturbing and utterly baffling true-crime tales from the lesser known annals of UK murder, all of which will make you gasp, grin, guffaw and maybe even gag. Check out True-Crime Enthusiast. (Play Promo)
A big thank you goes to my brand new Patreon supporters who get exclusive access to original Murder Mile content, including crime-scene photos, murder location videos and Patron-only Extra Mile episodes for the first 20 cases. What lucky people! They are the fabulous Hannah Mirza (who has been a dream on social media, so thank you Hannah), the wonderful Elizabeth Nazaralli (who loves murder so much, she’s willing to pay $3 a month to see more) and someone called Helene Buchanan-Dunne (who loves Murder Mile so much, she’s stolen my surname and some of my DNA – I think – either that or she’s my sister). To join the Murder Mile Patreon group, click the link in the show-notes.
And a quick shout-out to two truly excellent true-crime podcasts that I heartily recommend; first is Asian Madness Podcast, hosted by Melissa, the Asian Madness Podcast unearths some truly unsettling mysteries, madness, weirdness and worrying weirdos from right across Asia. And second is Southern Fried True-Crime, hosted by Erika, Southern Fried True-Crime explores some truly fascinating true-crime tales from America’s Deep South; the states where banjos play, whiskey flows and the homespun charm is alluring, but underneath it all, murderers lurk. Check them both out on iTunes and all podcast platforms.
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 three 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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