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Episode Thirty-Six: Love, Loss and the Lingering Death of Helen Mary Pickwoad: 27 year old Helen Mary Pickwoad thought she’d fallen in love with the man of her dreams, an Army Captain called Edward Tickell, but on Wednesday 20th May 1942, in Room 365 of the Mount Royal Hotel (now called Amba Hotel) at 508/540 Oxford Street, she died a very slow, painful and lingering death, and her boyfriend wasn't even in the room.
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Ep36 – Love, Loss and the Lingering Death of Helen Mary Pickwoad
Thank you for downloading episode thirty-six of the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast.
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SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is about Helen Mary Pickwoad; a lovely lady looking for love, who fell for the man of her dreams - a dashing Army Captain - but owing to arrogance, incompetence and a grossly unfair law, this love affair led to her slow and agonising death.
Murder Mile contains harrowing details which may make the uneasy quite queasy, 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 36: Love, Loss and the Lingering Death of Helen Mary Pickwoad.
Today I’m standing outside of the Amba Hotel on the east-side of the West End’s infamous shopping district; two streets south of 35 Bryanston Square where former Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Naif wasn’t shot dead by two incompetent assassins, one street east of the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane where he was, and two streets south of 112 Bryanston Court where Derek Thayer Lees-Smith murdered his own mother over a matter of just a few pounds - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Situated at 508/540 Oxford Street, the four-star Amba Hotel is a colossal, eight storey, art-deco hotel from the mid-1930’s, covering half a square block, with brown brick walls, white metal windows and a stylish curved corner which looks down the length of Oxford Street. Originally called Mount Royal Hotel, its exterior has barely changed since its glory days, situated as it was, at the back of the infamous corner house tearoom (Maison Lyonese) where (it is said) The Blackout Ripper met his first victim.
The Mount Royal Hotel was (and still is) a hugely popular and highly respectable West End hotel, and (as with most hotels) what happens behind the doors of its 684 rooms is none of our business; whether they’re full of randy couples rutting away, dodgy drug-dealers divvying up dope, a horny teen bobbing his one-eyed warrior over three minutes of semi-sexy stroke teasers, a seedy Saudi businessmen who (each night) has a new “girlfriend” who only stays for 58 minutes, or two pooped-out parents sodding the shopping-trip and savouring a whole weekend of child-free silence. Ah bliss.
But one room has a very sordid history; as it was here, on Wednesday 20th May 1942, in Room 365 of the Royal Mount Hotel, that Helen Mary Pickwoad died a slow and agonising death. (Interstitial)
Being born on 25th June 1914, barely five weeks before the outbreak of the First World War - a brutal and bloody conflict which left millions destitute, disabled and dead – by contrast, the early life of Helen Pickwoad had no hunger, horror or hardship, as being raised in an affluent middle-class family with two servants, the very worst that her upbringing could be described as was delightful, but dull.
As the youngest of five children, all born to Alice (a devoutly Christian housewife) and Walter (a stern Scottish doctor), Helen was strong-willed and belligerent; but with her father’s respectable profession being at stake, as much as their three-storey townhouse at 103 Manchester Road in Southport was an extension of his prestige, so too were his children, and (as a necessary appendage to his status) at all times he demanded that they were well-dressed, well-educated and well-mannered.
And so, although they had food, clothes and warmth; life was full of rules and routines, but being busy posing as the perfect family, what they lacked was love, and so, Helen descended into day-dreaming.
As a pretty petite brunette with a big heart, brown almond-like eyes and a sweet smile; being a true romantic – as much as her parents ushered her towards the dreary life of a housewife and mother married to a dull loveless man - although she dreaded the stigma of bringing shame on her family, Helen dreamed not of wedding bells and babies, but of love, romance and passion.
By March 1940, aged 25, and still being seen as a sinfully single woman with no husband, ring or offspring, as with the word “spinster” being unflatteringly bandied about in a cruel ruse to shame her into being trapped by tradition, Helen clung to the dream that one day her prince would come. And one day, he did, and his name… was Captain Tickell. (Interstitial)
Following the outbreak of the Second World War on 1st September 1939, as a well-educated young lady from a respectable middle-class family, Helen was conscripted into the war effort, as a censor.
As swarms of Nazi bombers obliterated Britain’s cities as they rained down fire from the skies, being based at the Postal Censorship Office in Liverpool, Helen was one of 120 censors whose job it was to intercept any letters, parcels or postcards; steam them open, assess the contents, and black-out any political, illegal or morally dubious sections which may prove detrimental to the war effort.
For Helen, life was great; she had a good job, a solid wage and a lived in a three storey, four bedroomed Georgian terraced house at 20 Canning Street in Liverpool. One room of which was rented out to a tall, dashing and elegant Army captain named Edward Tickell… who would change her life forever.
Born on St Valentine’s Day on 14th February 1905, in the Irish capital of Dublin, Edward Jerrard Tickell was a natural born charmer, whose chiselled good looks could lure in any lovely lady and whose cheeky chatter could talk his way out of any trouble. Being loved and loathed in equal measure, Edward was an enigma; a man who some saw as either confident or cocky, appealing or arrogant, sweet or selfish. And no matter which, being born into wealth and privilege, Edward Tickell was raised with a high sense of self-worth, a desire to take what he felt was his, and all without any conscience or consequence.
Having being privately educated at the prestigious Highgate School; after graduation, Edward began an apprenticeship at Lever Brothers and stayed for three whole years. But being a trust-fund baby, and having no real reason to work, Edward jacked in the job, and piddled off to Hungary to become a sheep-farmer. Only to return to England two years later to set-up his own advertising agency. By the outbreak of World War Two, having enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps, he was swiftly promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to Staff Captain in just six months and was seconded into the rather cushy position of an examiner at the Postal Censorship Office in Liverpool, where he met Helen Pickwoad.
Based miles away from the prying eyes of her prudish parents, the longer Helen shared the same house with Edward, the more their love blossomed. But with Edward being an enigma, who was loved and loathed in equal measure; as much as Helen was besotted by him, and her best-friends (Neil & Mary Barkla) were still undecided, Helen’s parents disapproved, as beyond his confidence and his crisp Captain’s uniform, there was an arrogance they just didn’t like, and the same was said by his employer.
One year into their relationship; on 31st January 1941, Edward’s superior submitted a report – marked file 2646E - to MI5 (the British Secret Service) stating that Captain Edward Tickell had staunch political opinions (possibly fostered during those two-years living in a Hungarian Communist kibbutz), that his right-wing rhetoric had proved unpopular by colleagues and that he required close observation.
By March 1941, with Helen in floods of tears, Edward packed-up his personal items, moved-out of 20 Canning Street and was transferred to the Postal Censorship Office, 225 miles away in London.
Although distraught, Helen knew that true-love knew no distance, that they were meant to be together and that – one day – she would be Mrs Edward Tickell. But what she didn’t know about her beloved boyfriend was the truth; as although he was a German-speaking Communist and a possible threat to national security, one detail had passed her by - Captain Edward Tickell was married.
In 1929, thirteen years before Helen and Edward had met, Edward Tickell had married Renee Oriana Haynes in St Martin’s in the Field church in London; they had two lovely children and lived happily at Mill Cottage, in the quaint Oxfordshire village of Burford. But Helen knew none of this.
To Edward, she was just a “bit of fun”, but being so besotted, Helen travelled from Liverpool to London, every two weeks, and yet - every time – Edward ignored her; choosing instead to boast to his army buddies about the many affairs he was having behind his wife’s back, as drenched in tears, Helen sobbed her way home, so that once again, Neil & Mary Barkla could picked up the pieces.
Throughout their relationship, Helen kept a diary; sometimes she loved him, sometimes she loathed him, sometimes they’d break-up and other times she’d woo him back. But on Wednesday 25th June 1941, there was just one entry in her diary, it simply read: “my birthday – nothing from Edward”.
On Saturday 17th January 1942, eager to re-ignite the dying embers of their on/off dalliance, Helen caught a train from Liverpool to Leeds to London – a deliberately confusing route designed to hide her clandestine affair from her disapproving parents – and with freshly coiffured hair, a poof of perfume and wearing a pretty dress, she headed into the West End for a romantic weekend away with Edward.
Having booked into the modestly-priced Westway Hotel on Endsleigh Street, conveniently located just opposite Euston Station, Edward & Helen signed in as Mr & Mrs Tickell, stayed in Room 70, and both departed the very next morning. That moment marked the start of one life and the end of another.
Over the next three months, Helen wrote the following entries in her diary: Friday 6th February 1942: “no curse”, Friday 6th March 1942: “no curse” and Monday 6th April 1942: “no curse”. With her body swelling, a small bump in her belly and having missed three periods, when Dr Holmes confirmed that Helen was pregnant, she should have been jumping for joy, but she wasn’t.
As she looked down at her stomach, all she saw was sin, as inside her belly a baby grew who was conceived in secret, fathered by a married man and would be born illegitimate. And as much as child-birth would hurt, the greater pain she felt was the shame she’d bring on her family, and – right then - Helen swore, if ever her parents found out, she’d stick her head in the gas oven.
Confiding in her closest friends, Neil & Mary Barkla were a rock during this turbulent time, providing Helen with a safe place to stay, and in the warmth of their home, she could have her baby in secret.
In 1942, a pregnant woman had just two options; have the baby and keep it, or have the baby and don’t. Of course, there was always the third option, but that was both illegal and dangerous.
Helen tried several times to notify Captain Tickell of the swelling in her belly, but choosing to ignore her calls, letters and telegrams, of the two replies she received, both were jokey and dismissive. When told of her missed periods, Tickell brushed it off by writing back “oi, oi, oi, what a to-do, that’s the Censorship office getting you down”, but when told of her confirmed pregnancy, he cut their affair short by replying “Anyhow, we had a good run for our money, we can’t complain”.
Edward Tickell had had his fun, and now this whole pregnancy hullaballoo was becoming a drag, so wanting nothing more with to do with the baby, or Helen (for that matter), as a privileged man with no conscience or consequence, Edward did what he always did, and threw money at the problem.
Wracked with guilt at the shame that her sinful shenanigans would bring upon her beloved family, on Tuesday 12th May 1942, Helen boarded a train from Liverpool to London. And against Neil & Mary’s advice, Edward introduced her to a doctor, whose name was George de Fossard. (INTERSTITIAL).
On the evening of Wednesday 13th May 1942, in the Denmark Public House in Kensington, Helen Pickwoad met the impressively titled George Frederic Montagu de Fossard over a few light ales with Edward. To any outsider, nothing seemed untoward, they were just three friends chatting over a drink.
Although initially suspicious of George de Fossard; an unusual little fellow with a low whispering voice, a nervous shake and blinking eyes which never met hers; as a 44 year old German who’d studied medicine at King’s College and served in the British Army, although such a “sordid business” wasn’t his usual profession, Edward assured her that de Fossard was highly recommended as an abortionist.
Having pocketed £15, George de Fossard and Helen Pickwoad popped off for a few minutes as Captain Tickell watched their drinks. To anyone else, it looked as if they’d scooted off to buy some ciggies, but as Helen casually stood and inhaled the smoke, a different deadly poison swirled about the four-month foetus in her belly, having just ingested eight grams of Ergotin. And now, the termination had begun.
That night, although a little bit anxious, Helen felt fine.
Having performed an abortion many times before, de Fossard warned her of the risks and side-effects, and assured her that the termination would take four days. Having swallowed the pills, by Thursday, she would feel nauseous; by Friday, the deceased foetus would be removed, and with two days of bed-rest as a precautionary measure, by Sunday she would be home, with her family none the wiser.
To aide her recovery, Captain Tickell booked Helen into Room 365 of the Mount Royal Hotel on Oxford Street. Obviously, he didn’t book the room himself, he said he was far too busy, so he got a friend to do it. And although he paid for the room, in cash, he didn’t want his good name sullied by such a sordid thing, so he had it booked in Helen’s name. And, of course, wanting nothing more to do with the baby or Helen, he didn’t bother to visit. He just threw money at the problem, and hoped it would go away.
And although it can’t be proved whether Captain Tickell arranged the abortion, even though the man he’d booked, had performed abortions many times before, and had been arrested and imprisoned twice prior, George Frederic Montagu de Fossard wasn’t a real doctor. In fact, he wasn’t doctor at all.
Born on 16th March 1898 in Bueckenberg (Germany) to a British mother and a Russian father, it’s true that George de Fossard trained in medicine at King’s College, but being broke, having quit after just nine months, he set himself up as plastic surgeon and an abortionist, having gained no qualifications.
On Friday 15th May 1942, in Room 365 of the Mount Royal Hotel, with her life in his hands and dressed in nothing but a light pink nightie, Helen lay back on the dark green double bed; its colour coordinated to match the carpet, the curtains, the sink and the walls, in a shade about as subtle as surgical scrubs.
Aided by little more than a handful of basic medical items; towels, hot water, a glass funnel, forceps and a length of rubber tubing; although the operation was done without anaesthetic, Helen felt only an odd twinge, as between her trembling legs - with no tears, no cries and no squeals - she caught a brief glimpse of a little baby boy; barely the size of the doctor’s hand but fully formed in every way. And although her baby was perfect, already he was dead.
With two days food in the cupboard of the kitchenette, a bottle of painkillers on the bedside table and a stash of sanitary towels to stem the blood-flow, de Fossard left Helen to rest. And there she lay, feeling alone and empty in the echoing silence of Room 365 of the Royal Mount Hotel. Her parents unaware, her boyfriend absent and – somewhere, in London – the perfect little body of her supposedly shameful sin was being disposed of in a bin. And for the next two days, she cried…
…but not in grief.
On Saturday 16th May 1942 at 8:40pm, a full thirty-two hours after the abortion, Neil Barkla received a phone-call. Neil: “Hello?”, after a short silence the caller’s voice cracked with tears at the reassuring sound of her friend; Helen: “Neil?”, Neil: “Helen? Is everything okay?”, Helen: “No, the baby’s out, but… something went wrong”. And that’s all the words he needed to hear. As a loyal friend, as his wife Mary watched the kids, Neil caught the midnight train to London, and at 9:15am on Sunday 17th May 1942, Neil arrived at the Royal Mount Hotel. As all the while, Captain Tickell slept soundly in his bed.
Inside Room 365, the first thing Neil saw on Helen’s sweat-soaked face was her sweet-smile which somehow beamed through all of her pain, and as he clutched her hand and gave her a hug, she knew everything was going to be okay. But as he looked around her, the room told a different story.
Everywhere, on every surface, lay a chaotic mix of syringes, swabs and small glass bottles, as if in a feverish panic, an incompetent medic had wheeled his whole surgery in, and injected her with drug after drug in the hope that one would work. And even though the overpowering aroma of methylated spirit stung his eyes, it wasn’t this medical smell which would forever be burned into his brain.
A foul stench of rotten meat hung in the air; a feted and putrid smell so repulsive, it made Neil recoil and retch, as amongst the sea of bloodied sanitary towels and clumps of matted cotton rolls which littered the floor, a swarm of flies swirled, making it look as if the carpet was crawling to escape.
On the previously green bedspread lay Helen; her flushed face a ghostly white and her brown eyes all blood-shot and red, as with a gas mask covering her mouth she gulped great gasps of oxygen from a large metal cylinder. And although her baby was gone, still she writhed in pain, groaning and panting, her stomach all distended and swollen, as her exhausted body sat slumped amongst a sea of sweat, vomit and brown vaginal discharge; some new and fresh, some old and congealed. Neil tried his best to hide his horror behind a mask of hopefulness, but Helen knew the truth.
To her side, stood George de Fossard; whatever he’d done, he’d done wrong; and whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working, as he scrawled down her fluctuating temperature on the back of a fag packet. And although he was unqualified, one thing he knew for certain, although the baby was out, parts of the placenta were not, and of those bloody ruptured pieces which remained within her, all had gone rotten, rancid and septic.
Helen was in serious danger, but unwilling to call an ambulance (for fear of arrest) and believing he knew best, the unqualified doctor gave her more insulin, and for the next four hours, he did nothing.
By 6pm, being drenched in sweat, Helen’s heart-rate erratically peaked at 200 beats per minute, twice its normal pulse, and with her body temperature being too high to record, suspecting that her death was literally hours away, de Fossard finally bit the bullet and called a professional.
By 8pm, with Neil holding Helen up, her scalding skin too hot to touch, she was taken to 15 King’s Court in Chelsea, the surgery of Doctor Ernst Blumberg, a widely respected and highly qualified doctor.
Seeing her obvious distress, weakened state and a stinking brown liquid oozing from between her legs, Dr Blumberg examined Helen in his sterilised operating room; noted a jagged tear on the anterior wall of her cervix – the tell-tale sign of a botched abortion – and with her body being poisoned to death by acute peritonitis, the doctor administered a strong antibiotic, a safe anaesthetic, he carefully removed every piece of putrefying placenta and flushed out her cervix with two pints of strong detergent.
By 10pm, with her pulse calmer, her temperature down and her swelling subsiding, being pain-free, Helen’s sweet smile had returned, and although Dr Blumberg couldn’t prove that it was the de Fossard who had incompetently performed this illegal abortion, he recommended that (as a precaution) Helen be taken to the nearest hospital. By 10:15pm, Helen walked out of the surgery unaided…
…by 11pm, being too afraid of arrest, de Fossard had driven her back to Room 365 at the Mount Royal Hotel. And with the airless room being stiflingly hot and the windows shut, the congealed vomit and caked blood had turned into a feeding frenzy of bacteria, flies and maggots.
On Monday 18th May, after a restful night’s sleep, Helen was feeling weak but well. On Tuesday 19th May, being restless and sore, Helen’s swelling had returned, along with a feted stench of rotting flesh, and as she thrashed about, sweating and screaming, the brown liquid oozed from her nostrils. By 6:30, the next morning, having lapsed into a coma, 27 year old Helen Mary Pickwoad was dead.
When informed of Helen’s death, although Captain Tickell claimed to be upset, he shed no tears, said no prayers, and even though he was only a few doors away at Maison Lyonese in the Cumberland Hotel, he never entered the Mount Royal Hotel, or Room 365, where his girlfriend was dead.
Unlike so many deaths in London’s West End, for the Police, there was no real mystery here. With his fingerprints found on the bloody forceps, George de Fossard was arrested for the murder of Helen Mary Pickwoad. Six days later, on Tuesday 26th May 1942, they arrested Captain Edward Tickell.
In a lengthy trial, lasting almost a month, beginning on 4th June 1942, at The Old Bailey, with both men charged with manslaughter and conspiring to perform an illegal abortion, they pleaded not guilty.
On Friday 2nd July 1942, 44 year old German national, George Frederic Montagu de Fossard; with his low whispering voice, his nervous shake, his suspiciously blinking eyes and two prior convictions as an abortionist, was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.
And 37 year old Captain Edward Jerrard Tickell; the natural born charmer with chiselled good looks which could lure in any lovely lady and a cheeky chatter that could talk his way out of any trouble?
Although his guilt was obvious to the Police, with Tickell having not booked the hotel himself, paid for the abortion in cash, written nothing on paper and with no witnesses to confirm whether he was anywhere near Room 365 of the Mount Royal Hotel, at any time, during Helen’s life or death, And with no evidence against him, Captain Edward Tickell was found not guilty and released. And once again, being born into wealth and privilege, he walked away, without any conscience or consequence.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to Extra Mile after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week, which are Cult of Domesticity and Colour Me Dead. (PLAY PROMOS)
A big thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who get exclusive access to lots of secret and often sexy Murder Mile stuff as well as a personal thank you from me; they are Susan Atkins and Gary Lante. Thank you guys, you are super dooper.
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.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, therefore mistakes will be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken. It is not a full representation of the case, the people or the investigation in its entirety, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity and drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, therefore it will contain a certain level of bias to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
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 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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