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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
On Monday 15th August 1949, Daisy Edith Wallis; a lovely but lonely lady with big dreams and a warm heart struggled against the odds to build her own business from scratch, and having succeeded, should have been happy… but (unbeknownst to her) someone wanted her dead.
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Ep59 - Daisy Edith Wallis: the Slaughtered Spinster
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 London’s West End.
Today’s episode is about Daisy Edith Wallis; a lovely but lonely lady with big dreams and a warm heart, who struggled against the odds to build her own business from scratch, and having succeeded, should have been happy… but (unbeknownst to her) someone wanted her dead.
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatisation of the real events, it may also feature loud and 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 59: Daisy Edith Wallis: the Slaughtered Spinster.
Today I’m standing in High Holborn, WC2; a three minute walk east of the Denmark Place fire, a five minute dawdle south-west of the lonely death of Nora Upchurch and a ten minute stroll from the truly strange and unsolved death of Vera Crawford – coming soon to Murder Mile.
High Holborn is one of Central London’s busiest roads, stretching from Farringdon to St Paul’s, Holborn to Shaftesbury Avenue; as long lines cars, trucks and buses burp great plumes of choking fumes, across a grey soulless landscape with no grass, trees or birds, just concrete, cranes and commuters.
Being somewhere between Oxford Street and Covent Garden, High Holborn is awash with lost tourists bemused by the lack of street-signs and sunlight, and unaware that the longer they stay, the faster they’ll develop the three stages of being a local – the London tan; as your sickly pale skin is coated in ten layers of dust, dirt and dog-shit; the London crick; as your neck fuses downwards for fear of making eye-contact, and the London gape; an aghast expression anytime someone says hello or thank you.
Demolished in the 50’s, 157 High Holborn was a four-storey building with a vacant shop and six offices above, rented to strangers who sat alone, their silence punctuated by a dull thrum of sewing machines, the constant cacophony of telephones and a distant squeak as an unseen person enters or exits by the single street door. Now replaced by a new high-rise called Commonwealth House, as rented office space, oddly its purpose is the same, but thankfully (as of yet) that’s where the similarity ends.
As it was here, on Monday 15th August 1949, in the solitude of the top floor office of a lovely (but lonely) lady, that her big dream began… and her life was ended. (INTERSTITIAL)
Daisy Edith Wallis was born on 25th May 1913 as the second of three daughters to Thomas & Ada; two loving parents with a strong sense of family pride. As upbringings go, she couldn’t have asked for better, and although she survived two world wars, this isn’t a story about poverty, tragedy or hardship; as Daisy was a lovely lady with a very ordinary life, who was good, honest and decent.
As a timid child, with a tiny voice, fidgeting fingers and downcast eyes, Daisy never spoke up, she was a shy girl who hid in the shadows, and although she had big dreams, a noisy city was no place for a small quiet girl. So raised with her two sisters (Nella and Dora) at 4 Cornwall Gardens in Willsden Green (north-west London); a neat, red-bricked terraced house in a quiet cul-de-sac with a small back garden, so safe and warm was this safety net, that well into her mid-thirties, Daisy remained at home.
Although bookish, being intelligent Daisy graduated from Dudden Hill School with a school certificate and having qualified from Cricklewood’s Clarke College as a short-hand typist (one of the few trades open to a woman), with the West End just a few tube stops away, she entered the workforce.
But the 1930’s were tough; as living in the wake of the Great Depression, jobs were scarce; lacking any confidence or sparkle, she didn’t stand out, and as a woman, her career options were strictly limited.
Trapped in an era where (except as a teacher, a nurse or a mother) women weren’t allowed to flourish, Daisy knuckled-down with a series of administrative roles; as a typist for a furniture removals firm, as an assistant at the Abbey Road Building Society in Baker Street and as a secretary for British Airways; all the while being praised as a loyal and professional asset.
But for Daisy, this was never a job, a wage or even a career, this was a learning curve, with her plan to make something of herself, and as her experience grew, her confidence bloomed.
With her skills seen as vital to the war-effort, Daisy was exempt from national service and seconded to the Air Ministry in Aldwych, just off High Holborn. After four more years as a secretary, Daisy decided it was time to fulfil her dreams and - armed with glowing references, a bulging contacts book and an impeccable work record stemming back twenty years - on 25th January 1949, she took a big bold step and set-up her own secretarial agency, based in a top floor office at 157 High Holborn…
…seven months later, in that office, Daisy would be stabbed to death (INTERSTITIAL).
With the war over and the infrastructure shattered, as the country strived to get back on its feet, new industries boomed and fresh opportunities arose for enterprising young men and women.
For the first time in her life - away from the safety of a weekly wage, work colleagues and a set routine – Daisy was finally her own boss; with goals, targets and responsibilities. And although she was scared, with this as her dream, she was determined for it to succeed.
Never relying on debts, loans or hand-outs, The Adelphi Secretarial Agency was Daisy’s first business venture, and as an employment agency for senior secretaries set in the heart of London’s West End, she built it all from scratch, working six days-a-week and she funded it herself using her own savings.
Being well-spoken, well-dressed and well-mannered, Daisy always made a good impression for new clients; her smile was warm, her voice was soft and her face was kind, but keen to be taken seriously in a very competitive industry, she stopped being known as Daisy and started calling herself ‘Dorothy’.
Although slow-to-start, business was good, as being based in a small affordable building on a busy city street between two tube stations, every day saw a steady throng of passing trade visit Daisy… but working every day, by herself, in a tiny office, Daisy’s greatest fear wasn’t failure, but loneliness.
After twenty years as part of a large team, 157 High Holborn must have seemed like a lonely place for Daisy; as with the ground-floor vacant, there was no shop to chat in before the day began; with a single street door leading to the three floors above, there was no receptionist; and with six small offices rented out to five strangers with very dissimilar professions – a tailor, a dress-maker, a theatre agent, a fruit importer and a secretarial recruiter - with no place to mingle, no reason to mix and conversations limited to polite pleasantries, like most rented offices everyone kept to themselves.
On the top floor was The Adelphi Secretarial Agency; staffed solely by Daisy; a five foot eight inch lady sat behind a small desk in a claustrophobically tiny office, just eleven feet long by eight feet wide; with a chair, a filing cabinet, a rug, a phone, a typewriter, and to the left, a depressingly small window with grimy views of Dunn’s Passage, a dirty little alley, cutting from High Holborn to New Oxford Street.
With no sounds except the dull ring of the telephone, no noise except the incessant clunk of the duplicating machine and no chat except a steady stream of secretaries recounting their resumes, with many hours and days pockmarked by silence, Daisy often sat alone, with no-one to talk to, but herself.
On the outside, Daisy seemed like a modern independent business woman; bold, strong and confident, but having risked everything for one giant leap into the darkness and with its success or failure resting squarely on her head, Daisy was often wracked with anxiety, self-doubt and bouts of depression.
So who killed Daisy and why? Well, there are several things we know about her for certain:
She wasn’t a criminal; Daisy had no dodgy dealings, she didn’t consort with dead-beats and she had no criminal record, she was moral, decent and didn’t even return a library book late.
She wasn’t an addict; Daisy disliked gambling, she didn’t do drugs and although a moderate drinker (who preferred gin or shandy), one year prior she gave up alcohol and stuck to tonic water.
She wasn’t in debt; she had no loans, she paid her rent and every item in her office she owned. In fact, of the £500 she invested into her company, as a very frugal business woman, she still had £352 left.
She had no secrets; as a timid woman, Daisy never stayed out late, rarely met new people and always confided in her mother, and although she kept a diary, it contained nothing but her hopes and fears.
In short; she worked hard, she lived well, she was no bother to anyone, and being surrounded by good decent people, there was nothing in Daisy’s life to suggest that she was in any danger.
As a young, single and attractive woman, in her final year, Daisy dated several men; as always she kept it professional, most lasted a few weeks, rarely going beyond kissing and they all ended amicably. Each of her boyfriends were traced, interviewed and (with solid alibis) were discounted as suspects.
She was social, but only mingled with her closest chums - Phyllis, Peggy, Mary and Gladys – going to the cinema, cafes or one of six reputable West End clubs solely so she could get cheap theatre tickets.
Of those who visited her office, although she provided printing services as an added income, the bulk of her clients were secretaries seeking work. So, as far as we know, she had no issues, no enemies and (according to those who knew her) not a single reason why anyone would want to kill Daisy Wallis.
In fact, the only criminal incident in Daisy’s life was on 10th June 1949, as seeing the street door open, opportunist thief David Hill broke into her office and stole (the only item of value) her typewriter. He was questioned, but at the time of her death, he was serving a twelve month prison sentence.
And that is the only moment of crime in her entire life… and then she was murdered.
One week before her death, The Adelphi Secretarial Agency had been running for seven months, word-of-mouth had spread and business was good. This should have been a time for celebration, but Daisy was depressed, as although her work life was a success, in her eyes, her love-life was a failure.
With both sisters married, as a mid-thirties singleton who still lived with her parents, Daisy was cruelly regarded by society as a spinster and the shame of it ate at her soul. Often she’d confide to her mother, her fears that she would never find love, not that the men she dated were bad (they weren’t) but being gripped with low self-esteem, she rejected them, as she didn’t feel that she was good enough.
By day, she sat alone in her tiny office; riddled with anxiety, gripped with depression and unable to see how truly amazing she was, as lost in solitude, she had no-one to talk to but her own dark thoughts. And at night, unable to cope, she would cry herself to sleep. Daisy was a success, but so alone…
…and yet, all that would change.
On the morning of Wednesday 10th August 1949, a bright young woman called Sheila Bennett walked into The Adelphi Secretarial Agency. Just like Daisy he was polite, shy and bookish. And although work wasn’t exactly chaotic, for the sake of her own mental wellbeing, Daisy hired Sheila as her assistant.
Meeting her mum for lunch, it seemed to Ada as if a little weight had been lifted off Daisy’s shoulders, her brown eyes were brighter and her thin lips had lifted into a little smile. It was simple answer to an easy question; as a full-time assistant Sheila would be invaluable company, costing just £4 a week her new staff wouldn’t break the bank, and starting the following week, Daisy’s loneliness would be over.
Monday 15th August 1949 was Sheila Bennett’s first day at work… but Daisy Wallis’s last day alive.
The day started as every weekday did; she rose at 7am, washed her face, dressed in stylish but sensible clothes (a pink rayon dress and a black overcoat with matching hat, stockings and shoes), she unfurled the curlers from her shoulder-length hair and applied her make-up (which was neat and discrete).
After a light breakfast of tea, toast and an apple, she kissed her mother goodbye, left Cornwall Gardens at a little after 8am, took a short walk to Wilsden Green Library, a bus to Notting Hill Gate and a Central Line tube to Holborn station, so she arrived at 157 High Holborn at 9am sharp. With the other occupants already inside, as was common practice, the street door was unlocked and left open.
Nothing out of the ordinary had happened, she had met no-one and her mood was good.
Sheila Bennett started work at 09:30am. The morning’s schedule was kept light so Daisy could explain the systems, at 1pm they had lunch at Rucco’s café (Daisy’s meal a mix of meat, tomatoes and bread) and in the afternoon, she had three appointments; all female, all secretaries, all who were accounted for, interviewed, all provided credible witness statements and who were disregarded as suspects.
With no unusual visitors, no threatening calls and no ominous letters, it was just a very normal day.
As for the other occupants of 157 High Holborn; Paul Feuer (the tailor) left at 11am, Annie Henderson (the dress-maker) left at 2:30pm and Doris Newton (the agent’s secretary) left at noon, none of whom returned to until the next day. Thomas Cox (the fruit importer whose office was next door to Daisy’s on the third floor) popped in at 4:40pm to ask Daisy a question about workman’s compensation, they chatted for two minutes, said goodbye and Thomas left. This was corroborated by Sheila.
Daisy’s last client was Joyce Jones who replied to an advert for typists; she arrived at 5:30pm, filled out an application (during which Sheila left for the day) and after a ten minute interview, Daisy typed Joyce three introductory letters for secretarial jobs, they shook hands and Joyce left. Joyce passed no-one on the stairs, the street door was open, she saw nobody loitering, and (with the exception for her killer) Joyce Jones was the last person to see Daisy alive.
Being hidden away, in the top floor office of an empty building, far from the rush-hour traffic and distracted commuters, nobody witnessed her murder. So the only clues we have to go on are these:
At 6:20pm, Iris Wilkins telephoned the agency at Daisy’s request, although usually prompt to pick-up, the phone rang for a minute, Iris almost hung-up, when it was answered by a man with a gruff voice and no obvious accent; he barked “hello?”, Iris asked “is that the agency?”, “yeah what do you want?”, “is Miss Wallis there?”, “no, it’s a bit late to be phoning, besides she’s gone”, “well, this is Miss Wilkins, I’ll phone again tomorrow”, to which the man growled “yeah, phone earlier next time” and hung-up. Who he was? We may never know.
At 6:30pm, 19 year old Florence Crowley and her 16 year old sister Ethel were in their bedroom at the rear of 158 High Holborn, when they heard a woman scream. But living on a busy city street, next to two pubs and a dark alley, they thought nothing of it. Whether that was Daisy? We may never know.
At 6:40pm, Harold & Doris Littler were walking down Dunn’s Passage (an alley to the side of 157 High Holborn) when they heard a lady gasping and sobbing. Barely twenty paces from the street, Doris was nearly knocked off her feet by a man described as mid-twenties, 5 foot 4 inches tall, stocky build, with dark hair and a “swarthy” complexion, he wore a white open-necked shirt, brown trousers and was carrying a camel hair jacket as if he was trying to hide something. Who he was? We may never know.
But being unaware of what they had saw or heard, if at all, not one of them called the Police.
Without fail, Daisy would return home every day by 7:30pm; if she was meeting a friend, she would call her parents to let them know and would be home by 11pm at the latest. By the next morning, with Daisy still missing and fearing the worst, Ada called the phone in Daisy’s office… but it was engaged.
On Tuesday 16th August 1949 at 9:25am, Sheila Bennett returned for work, but with the street door locked and getting no reply from the office phone, she went to the café next door and waited.
At 9:45am, the first occupant to arrive was Annie Henderson the dress-maker, who unlocked the street door and entered only as far as her office on the second floor, she saw and heard nothing suspicious. At 9:55am, Thomas Cox the fruit importer arrived and entered his office on the third floor, next door to Daisy’s, but he saw and heard nothing suspicious. Noticing the street door was open, Sheila finished her coffee, collected the post, ascended the stairs and she too saw and heard nothing suspicious.
Except, as she pushed the white office door, with it only open a crack, the sight inside made her gasp.
The Police were called at 10:02am, PC Harris secured the scene at 10:06, and nothing was touched or moved until the arrival of Chief Superintendents Rowlerson and Hawkyard of the CID.
There were no signs of forced entry; as the rim-lock and hasp on the outside of the office door was in place and the padlock and key were on top of the cupboard where Daisy had left it the day before.
On the third floor stairwell wall were faint traces of blood; too smeared to recover a clear fingerprint, and with the blood group being type O (the same as Daisy’s) it was too common to be of any use.
Entering Daisy’s tiny office, there were no signs of disorder; her tea-cup was half-drank, her files were neatly stacked and fresh flowers were still in the vase. So neat had Daisy kept her office that all that was unsettled was a wooden armchair, moved back a little which caused the red rug to ruck-up an inch and the phone was off the hook, an engaged tone ringing as the receiver dangled over the desk.
And likewise, nothing had been stolen; her handbag was unopened, her jewellery was untouched, the typewriter and duplicating machine were still in situ, and with no cupboards ransacked, no cash taken and no valuables kept on the premises, a robbery had not taken place.
In fact, the only way the Police knew there had been a crime… was Daisy’s body.
Three feet from the door, slumped beside her desk, Daisy lay; face-up and flat on her back, her long legs bent-back and to the side, her thin arms flexed (her palms flat) as if raised to her head; as under her torso, pools of blood had spread across the linoleum like red angel wings. A stark contrast to her ghostly pale skin, the whites of her staring eyes and the mottled purple of her lips, gaping open, as if in mid-scream. By her state of rigour mortis, she had been dead for at least sixteen hours.
Just like the office, Daisy was untouched; her clothes were crumpled but not ripped, distressed but not undressed and being fully clothed, no sexual assault had taken place. In fact, with no signs of pregnancy, abortion, sexual disease or surgical scars, in keeping with her high standards, good morals and lacklustre love-life, the pathologist confirmed she had not had sex for at least several years.
And yet, someone had brutally murdered her with force and anger and hatred.
With bruises to her back, legs and buttocks, it’s clear that at some point Daisy fell. With stab wounds to her arms, hands and cheek, Daisy tried to defend herself. And with the fingers and palm of her right hand slashed, during the attack, Daisy had grasped her killer’s knife.
Daisy was stabbed five times, three times in the back; one below the left shoulder, the six-inch stiletto blade exited her armpit; one fractured her 4th dorsal vertebrae and 4th rib, and one below the right shoulder which cracked the 9th rib and ripped through her right lung. But neither of these killed her?
He stabbed her twice more; once below her left nipple, with a force so fierce his fist broke her 7th rib and buried the blade so deep it impaled her liver, stomach and left kidney. And once through her left breast, breaking her 5th rib, and tearing through her left lung and her heart.
And even though this last wound would prove fatal, to ensure she was dead, having placed his blood-stained hand across her gasping throat, as she lay there, eyes wide, mouth open, with the weight of his body bearing down on her, he strangled her, until every ounce of her life was taken.
Daisy Wallis died of shock, blood-loss and multiple organ-failure. She was 36 years old. (END)
300 sets of fingerprints were taken, 600 witness statements were checked and after a large media campaign and a lengthy investigation; with no motive, no suspect and no weapon found, the Coroner concluded that Daisy had been murdered by persons unknown, and the case remains unsolved.
So who killed Daisy Wallis and - more importantly – why?
If this was a burglary, why hadn’t they broken in? If this was a robbery, why wasn’t anything stolen? If this was a rape, why hadn’t she been molested? If this was blackmail, who would extort the owner of a small secretarial agency? And if this was revenge, what had she done, who to, and why?
She wasn’t a criminal, she had no debts and she didn’t drink or do drugs. Everybody loved her; from her close family to her loyal friends, and as a shy timid woman, the only people she consorted with was her new assistant, occasionally a co-worker and hundreds of hopeful secretaries looking for work.
And yet, someone – for whatever reason – had murdered Daisy with a lot of hatred.
As always, the trashy tabloids tried to pass this off as the sadistic work of a random maniac, to boost their circulation, having invented some tawdry lies about Daisy’s life, but she deserved so much more.
Daisy Edith Wallis was a good woman; she was moral, decent and kind; she was shy, timid and slight; a nervous lady who set aside any thoughts of love or marriage, in the hope of bettering herself, in an age when the best a woman could be was second to a man. And as she battled through anxiety, self-doubt and depression, she strived to become something big, bold and important. She was a modern independent business woman, ahead of her time, she was self-made, she was a trail-blazer, and yet, she was so alone. She never wanted money, fame, or even success… all she wanted was to be happy.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget, if you’re a murky miler, to stay tuned for extra goodies after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week; Pretend Radio and Hillbilly Horror Stories. (PROMO)
A huge thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who are Amanda Richards and Amy McKnight, who instantly get sent a hand-written thank-you card from me, as well as a little envelope full of Murder Mile stickers, badges, a fridge magnet and a very rare “official Murky Miler” badge, and loads of exclusive Murder Mile videos, ebooks and crime scene photos. Not bad for just $3 a month.
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 as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
The music featured in this episode include:
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tor 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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