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Episode Thirty-Three: At the Lyon's Corner House Tearoom on Oxford Street, on the 20th April 1945, Jacques Adrian Tratsart decided to shoot to death his father, sister, brother and himself, but what drove this hardworking, well educated man to believe he was doing the right thing?
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Ep33 - Jacques Adrian Tratsart: The Corner House Killer
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode thirty-three of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast.
And we’re back, with season two of Murder Mile, which was nominated the Best True-Crime Podcast at the British Podcast Awards 2018. Ooh exciting. So, if you love listening to new murder cases for the first time, old cases through a fresh pair of eyes, or classic cases with a twist, all researched using the original declassified police investigation files, then the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast is just for you.
As always, Murder Mile is layered like a bad 1980’s mullet, with the excitement upfront, the business at the back and occasional bangs, laughs and rude-words, so stay tuned to the end for Extra Mile.
Thank you for listening and 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 about Jacques Tratsart; a strange and deluded man who was so hell-bent on saving the world from tyranny and injustice, that he started by slaughtering his family over a delightful dinner.
Murder Mile contains grisly details which may unnerve the easily perturbed, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen 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 33: Jacques Adrian Tratsart: The Corner House Killer.
Today I’m standing outside of Tottenham Court Road tube station (exit 1), on the north-east corner of Soho. Once it was a moneyed mecca for famished families, theatre tossers and ferocious females who would reduce whole stores to rubble simply to snatch one of seventy-six pointlessly pretty yet fashionably painful pairs of almost identical black shoes, and yet now, it’s a shithole.
Surrounded by a non-stop slew of construction crews, all digging holes, smoking ciggies and flashing a stack of sweaty bum-cracks, this side of Soho has truly lost its identity. As being burdened by budget eateries, a billion buskers all playing Hey Jude, paths lined with zonked-out hobos having been booted out of Centre Point homeless refuge so the tower-block can be converted into new posh flats, and the Dominion Theatre, which - without any irony at all - hosts Hillsong Church in the mornings, all under a 100 foot banner for the evening’s entertainment, a musical of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell, featuring a giant demonic image of a leather-clad Satan riding his hell-bound Harley straight into the fiery abyss. But once, the pinnacle of Oxford Street was the Lyon’s Corner House.
Built in 1926 by J Lyons & Co, purveyors of female-friendly and family-orientated tearooms, the Corner House at 14-16 Oxford Street was the epitome of traditional values, speedy-service and affordability, set in an ornate four-storey neo-classical façade, consisting of white marble columns, stylish stone friezes and elegant steelwork, with stunning art-deco interiors. Sadly, having gone out of fashion in the 1960’s, the Lyon’s Corner House on Oxford Street later became the Virgin Megastore. Today it hosts Primark; a budget clothing store, where you too can purchase a ten t-shirts for two-quid, a pack of pants for a pound and six socks for a sixpence, as well as novelty items like a Tigger onesie, some Eeyore plus-fours and Winnie the Pooh mu-mu, and (for the men) a small selection of ripped jeans, hoodies, and cheap suits for funerals and court appearances, as well as a wide selection of grey terry-towelling tracksuits so that - you too - can look like a Bulgarian rapist.
But it was here, on the ground-floor of 14-16 Oxford Street, in the Corner House Tearoom of J Lyons & Co, that 27 year old Jacques Tratsart brutally slaughtered his family. (INTERTSTITIAL).
Born on 18th October 1917 in Epping (Essex), Jacques Adrian Tratast affectionately known as “Jack” was the second oldest of six children born to Belgian parents; Adrienne, a doting mother who raised her family in a devoutly Roman Catholic way full of love, hope and morals; and Jean-Baptiste, a hard-working shoe-stylist who - being small, slim and sickly - battled through frequent bouts of emphysema and bronchitis to provide for his beloved family.
Being the oldest boy, burdened a great sense of responsibility, Jack cared deeply for his siblings; Anne, the youngest and who dreamt of becoming a pianist; and Monica and Mary, two strong and studious girls keen to pursue careers in medicine. But mostly, he cared for Claire and Hugh.
Although the oldest, being cursed by epilepsy, Claire was often struck down by violent seizures as her body shook fiercely and electrical storms battered her brain, leaving her shaking and exhausted. And although a happy boy, with Hugh being born with Cerebral Palsy, his body refused to listen to his brain which left him immobile and helpless. Thankfully they both coped well, being cared for by a loving family, but in an era of medical ignorance, they would otherwise be institutionalised.
And yet, through it all, none of the family were drinkers or druggies; they didn’t steal, swear or keep secrets; and there was no physical, sexual or mental abuse. They were just a very normal, very happy, very loving middle-class family struggling to make-ends-meet whilst living through two World Wars.
They were neat, polite and happy; their life revolved around family meals, the church, the children, their home and their education, and at the centre of it all was their beloved mother – Adrienne.
Being a bookish young man, who by his mid-teens was the mirror image of his father (Jean-Baptiste), albeit nine inches taller; often dressed in a practical grey suit which hung awkwardly off his weedy frame, Jack was slim, slight and bespectacled, with a pencil-thin moustache, a receding crop of fair hair which hung around his ears like a slipped halo, and always in his hand was a book.
Although insular, quiet and reflective, Jack (just like his siblings) was keen to make his mother proud. But being a solitary figure, who was more at ease dealing with paper than people, Jack channelled his energy into engineering, where he dreamed of making the world a better place for all of mankind, and especially for those whose lives would be hard, like his older sister Claire and his little brother Hugh.
By 1936, with the British economy in recovery having survived World War One and Jean-Baptiste’s shoe business on the up, all eight members of the Tratsart family moved into 27 The Chase in Norbury (South London); a lovely two-storey semi-detached house in a leafy middle-class neighbourhood. The children were well, their parents were happily married and life couldn’t get any better. And from this point onwards, it wouldn’t. In fact it would only get worse. (INTERSTITIAL).
Shortly after the New Year celebrations in the bitter winter of 1936, 45 year old Adrienne; the beloved wife, caring mother and emotional core of the Tratsart family died, after a short and sudden battle with cancer, leaving behind six children, the youngest of whom was just five.
Being distraught, with their lives upturned and their whole world shattered, the family were wracked with grief as Adrienne’s casket was closed and buried in Norbury Cemetery. But being besotted by his mother, Jack took her death worst and as he retreated further into isolation, he questioned his Roman Catholic faith and cursed this spiteful God who had ripped a good woman from her loving family,
Desperate to provide at least some semblance of maternal support, Jean-Baptiste hired a house-keeper called Francis Eugenie Chamberlain to cook and clean for his family as they grieved, and as much as they liked her, she filled a small piece of a big hole in their lives, but for Jack it wasn’t enough.
Aged 18, being fuelled by bitterness, confusion and hatred, Jack went to live with relatives in Belgium where – having enrolled in the Institute Technique de Charleroi to train as a draftsman and toolmaker – it was hoped that an intense period of technical study and intellectual reflection would distract Jack from his pain. But with his anger unresolved, his feelings bottled-up and his faith smashed, by the time Jack returned to England, one year later, he was little more than an unemotional husk of a man.
The second Jack’s suitcase thumped onto the hall floor of his family home in Norbury, something just didn’t seem right. His mother was gone, his father was there and also were his siblings, and yet in his home was someone else. A stranger, a woman, who looked exactly like the Francis, the house-keeper his father had hired, but for some inexplicable reason she was cooking in his dead mother’s kitchen, she was sitting in his dead mother’s chair, she was cuddling his dead mother’s children and she was sleeping in his dead mother’s bed, lying next to his traitorous father who kissed and cavorted with “the help” and soon enough, whether he liked it or not, his father and this woman would be married.
By every account, all of Jack’s siblings – whether Claire, Hugh, Monica, Mary or Anne – loved Francis to bits, having realised that; to their widowed father she brought love, to their shattered family she brought hope, to their religious beliefs she restored faith, and that as a single-woman, with no children of her own, who was suddenly thrust into a bright spotlight as the step-mother to six siblings, one of whom was epileptic and another who was physically handicapped, they all loved her… except Jack.
Jack felt betrayed; by his father, by his mother, by his faith, and most of all by God.
Francis and Jean-Baptiste were married on 10th March 1938, just one year before the start of World War Two but the biggest battle was being fought in their family home.
Being insolent, argumentative and deeply anti-social, Jack could easily turn a trivial matter into a full-scale fight simply to prove himself right and his father and Francis wrong; whether that concerned Claire’s epilepsy (which – Jack was certain – limited her chance of leading a happy life whether as a worker, a married woman or a mother), whether that concerned Hugh’s Cerebral Palsy (which – Jack was positive – meant that his helpless, hopeless and drooling baby-brother had zero chance of ever living a full life) and yet, a bigger concern for the Tratsart family was Jack’s own mental decline.
In August 1938, shortly after his mother’s death, with Jack being struck down with a fit of depression and gripped by lengthy bouts of insomnia, Claire had suggested that Jack see a psychologist. To please her, he did, but after just one session with Dr Kenney of Harley Street, Jack stopped, believing it wouldn’t accomplish anything and having felt a sense of superiority over the so-called specialist.
Being angry right down to his very bones at the spiteful God who had murdered his beloved mother, Jack’s main point of contention with his devout Roman Catholic father and Francis was religion.
At first, Jack refused to attend Mass, which as a petty immature man in his early twenties, his father put down as a belated teenage tantrum. Next, having denied the existence of God, Jack tried to turn Claire and Hugh (his physically impaired siblings who God had denied a good life) against Catholicism much to his father’s chagrin. And having purposely purchased any book that the church had deemed too blasphemous, solely to antagonise his father, with their relationship already strained, although they lived in the same house, they soon descended only to communicating by written letter.
A typical diatribe in a letter from Jack to his father would include: “Hitler teaches Germans that they and they alone are the super race. Catholics teach that they and they alone have the right religion, and they are the chosen people. There is no difference between them. They are both dictatorships. They are both intolerant, selfish, abusive and ignorant”.
But it was the inclusion of derogatory remarks made against Francis which finally tipped his father over the edge, and – although he was a truly patient and caring man – he asked Jack to leave.
By the outbreak of World War Two, as London was engulfed in flames as Nazi bombers rained down fire from the skies, and the rest of the Tratsart family were evacuated to the safety of Northampton, Jack moved into a solitary bedsit at 1265b London Road, not far from the family home in Norbury.
By day, he worked in silent contemplation as a draftsman at Tickle & Veniard Precision Toolmakers; sketching and muttering, as his concerned colleagues shunned this strange young man. But by night, he retreated further into solitude, sleeping very little, eating even less, as his body was consumed by a lethal mix of insomnia, depression and insanity. And here he stayed for five long years.
Although cramped and sparse, over those years, when Jack wasn’t dragging his bed across the floor and slamming doors at ungodly hours, either he could be found cowering inside his homemade air-raid shelter which covered half of his tiny room, as he scrawled on scraps of paper the secrets of how to rebuilt the world, or he’d be ensconced in the cupboard he’d converted into his own personal workshop, as he concocted hair-brained schemes to help him survive the impending Armageddon.
In 1939, when Jack moved into the bedsit, he was polite, quiet and neat. But by the end of 1944, after years of isolation and no medication, Jack had become a ragged rambling mess whose mental decline was so acute, even the sound of his own violin caused him to hurl himself out of a third storey window in what would be the first of many ill-fated suicide attempts. Two months later, Jack bought a gun.
In November 1944, fearing for her safety, with Jack having been arrested and briefly institutionalised in a local mental hospital for smashing up his workplace at Tickle & Veniard, his landlady (Ms Winifred May Shrubsall) politely asked her wild-eyed lodger to move out, and with that, Jack returned to the broken and boarded-up shell of his childhood home at number 27 The Chase in Norbury.
1945 was a year of hope; the German forces were in retreat, the Nazi high-command was in total disarray and slowly British families were returning to the bombed-out remnants of their cities, to salvage what was left of their homes, their lives and their loved-ones. One of whom was Jean-Baptiste.
For the first time in six years, 27 year old Jack and his father 58 year old Jean-Baptiste were in the same room together, but 1945 truly was a time of peace, and with his step-mother Francis wanting nothing to do with Jack what-so-ever, this gave the two men a chance to talk. And as they painted the walls, unclogged the pipes and sanded the floors - so that once again the house would become a family home - although they said very little, they never fought.
Sensing a need for family unity, and with Francis unwilling to join them, Jean-Baptiste suggested that he and his children all meet for a delightful meal at Lyon’s Corner-House on Oxford Street. Jack agreed, but for him, this wasn’t just a dinner, this was his destiny. (INTERSTITIAL)
Two days prior, Jack sold off his personal possessions to Cecil Reginald Smith, a co-worker at Tickell & Veniard, including all of his clothes, his books, his furniture and the tools from workshop, everything except a drab grey suit, a notebook and a gun. Jack never gave a reason why, and Cecil never asked.
Friday 20th April 1945 should have been a time for celebration, the Soviet Army had surrounded Berlin, Göring and Himmler had fled, Mussolini’s neck was being fitted for a noose and Adolf Hitler was just ten days away from suicide. And soon, the war would be over, the blackout would be cancelled, peace would return and the jubilant bell known as Big Ben would ring across the smouldering city of London for the first time in almost 2000 days. But before that, there would be death.
By 5pm, six members of the Tratsart family were all seated around a white linen table amidst the art-deco splendour of the ground-floor tearoom of the Lyon’s Corner House. With their step-mother Francis back in Northampton, and sisters - Monica and Mary - still serving overseas, the family chatted excitedly as an endless procession of cakes, biscuits and buns flashed before their wide eyes as the super-speedy waitresses (known as Nippies) zipped by in a rush of sweet air, a blur of black and white pinnies and the long forgotten smell of fruit, ham and marzipan.
Sat on one side of the table; to the left was 29 year old eldest sister Claire (who’d gone three months without a seizure and her life was looking up having found work as an orderly at University College Hospital); in the middle was 13 year old Anne (youngest of six and an eager scholar at the local convent) and to the right; “Auntie Claire”, sister to their dear-departed mother. On the other side sat their father Jean-Baptiste (excited to have his babies back together), in the middle was 17 year old Hugh (confined to a wheelchair but eternally happy in his own little world) and to the right was Jack.
With his drab grey suit all ruffled, his halo of hair unkempt and a deep dark set of bags underscoring his bloodshot eyes, Jack sat with his back deliberately to the wall, saying nothing and eating nothing, just fiddling with the small black Smith & Wesson revolver in his lap, trying to decide who to kill first.
The gun’s chamber held eight bullets. Without reloading, he could shoot them all. But then again, he had no beef with “Auntie Claire” who he loved like he loved his own mother, and with Anne being so young, his one regret was that she would live to see them all die, but if he was going to bring an eternal peace to his family, it was now or never. Two for Claire, two for dad, two for Hugh and two for Jack.
So, his sweet sister Claire (who God had cursed) was first.
Amidst the noisy chatter as his excited family caught up on lost time, gripping the flat black revolver in his right hand, at eye-height, Jack aimed the barrel across the white linen table, his sights lined-up to hit Claire squarely in her epileptic head, and as he slowly squeezed the trigger…
…nothing. No bang, no scream, no death.
Confused, he tried again. Nothing. And again. Still nothing. Luckily nobody had noticed, except Hugh, who sat there, aimlessly grinning, as if the gun was a toy and this was playtime. Hiding it in his lap, his family oblivious, Jack sat there, cursing the Canadian sailor who’d sold him this piece of shit.
Ten minutes later, he tried again. Nothing. No smoke, no blood, no brains. Only this time, everybody saw Jack with a gun in his hand, feverishly clicking the trigger, the sights aimed at his sister’s head, but believing it was just one of Hugh’s water-pistols, Jack was lightly warned against squirting his family with tea during the meal, and with that, he popped the lethal weapon back under table.
Again, Jack fumed, his meticulous plan having gone to pot having been sold a shitty shooter by some salty seadog who’d slinked off with his fiver. Under the linen cloth, he discretely fiddled with the faulty firearm, yanking this and tugging that, unsure what he was doing having never held or even fired it before. But it was then that he heard the hammer click.
With this being his third and last chance, Jack lined the revolver’s sights at his sister’s eyes, squeezed the trigger tight and (BANG) with a muzzle flash, a puff of smoke and a deafening bang, Claire spun 90 degrees in her seat, as a .38 calibre bullet burst a penny-sized hole in her forehead, burrowing a deep channel through her soft grey brain and blasting out the base of her skull with a bloody thump. Being slumped in her seat, Jack fired again (BANG); a single shot ripped open the back of her head, coating the cake and tea covered table in brain matter and blood, as the bullet embedded into her left ear.
The café was in chaos, as a bottle-neck of terrified patrons scrambled to dash out of double-doors into Oxford Street; but Jack heard none of this and he saw none of this. Instead, as Claire’s lifeless body lay sprawled across the table and her open skull oozed down the white linen table cloth, as Jack pointed the smoking gun at his father’s face, Jean-Baptiste raised his hand in defence.
(BANG) A blistering hot bullet split the middle fingers of his right hand, and with the lightening quick lead still having enough velocity to rip apart his left cheek, it smashed his left jawbone, burst out his neck, slashed his jugular vein and embedded itself deep into his shoulder bone. Slumping backwards in his seat, Jack fired again (BANG) splitting open a gaping wound behind his father’s right ear, which blasted out of the top of his head and showered everyone within ten feet in a fine mist of hot sticky mess, and in his last few moments alive, his father said nothing, he simply rattled and rasped as he breathed.
And then there was Hugh; dear sweet innocent Hugh, his smiling face, his cheeky grin and his oblivious eyes, as – eager to send his beloved but broken brother to a happier place – Jack swung the gun at Hugh’s befuddled face, and at point blank range, he fired twice. (BANG/BANG)
With Auntie Claire safely huddling under the blood-soaked table with his terrified sister Anne, and his mission accomplished, being eager to finally find his own peace, Jack placed the hot steel barrel of the gun to his temple, shut his eyes, and with a quick tug of the trigger… nothing.
He tried again. Nothing.
He slammed the revovler on the table. Still nothing.
And – realising the chamber was empty – Jack hurled the hapless handgun up into a glass chandelier, only to spy, about the crimson pool of blood at his feet, two tiny silver objects glinting. As having previously feverishly fumbled with the faulty firearm under the table, in his anger, he’d accidentally ejected two of the eight .38 calibre bullets. But by then, it was too late.
Being unarmed and barely nine stone, Jack was rushed by a stout but sturdy soldier as well as several waiters. And as they bundled the surprisingly silent and serene spree-killer into a side-parlour to await the Police, as Jack turned to witness the bloody aftermath of his violent massacre, amongst a bloody mess of skin, hair and teeth, in the briefest of moments, he swore he saw his brother’s eyes blink.
58 year old widower and father of six, Jean-Baptiste, was admitted to Middlesex Hospital but died five minutes later. 29 year old Claire died at the scene as a Catholic priest prayed for her life. And Hugh? Dear sweet innocent Hugh, the ever smiling, ever happy 17 year old boy cursed with Cerebral Palsy, who’d been blasted twice in the face, at point blank range, with .38 calibre bullets? He survived.
Maybe it was fate? Maybe it was luck? Or maybe, having shattered his jaw-bone and his right cheek, that same God - who had plagued Jack’s baby-brother with wobbly limbs and an incomplete brain – had guided both bullets to miraculously miss every vital nerve, vein and artery, so that, after a short stay in hospital, Hugh went home. He lived a good life and died in July 1988, he was 61 years old.
Anne escaped unscathed, and to the best of my knowledge, she’s still alive, aged 82 years old. Francis remained a devoted step-mother to Anne, Hugh, Mary and Monica, she died in 1966, aged 71.
And Jack? On 28th May 1945, Jacques Adrian Tratsart was tried at The Old Bailey on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of attempted suicide. And although he’d pleaded not guilty, Jack was deemed unfit to stand trial, found guilty by reason of insanity, and was detained at Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital at His Majesty’s Pleasure. On the 30th May 1947, just two years later, the ever-restless, ever-angry and ever-anxious Jack finally found peace… with a vein and shard of glass.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Stay tuned to Extra Mile after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week, which are Extraordinary Stories Podcast and Southern Gone. (PLAY PROMOS)
A big thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who get exclusive access to secret Murder Mile content and a personal thank you from me; they are Christian Deas, Jessica Gore, Anita Finlayson, Jennifer Swieter, Nichola Battalana, Shane Bradwell, and Catrina Hennessey. With a special thank you this week to Lizzie and Sophie at Acast. Thank you
guys, you are ace. God I sound so 80’s.
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.
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”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile wal
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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