Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast #122: The Disposal of Harry Hartley (Charles Mills & Emma Hartley)
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EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-TWO:
Today’s episode is about Charles Mills & Emma Hartley; a young fresh-faced couple at the end of the Victorian era, who - like so many innocents - were forced into an early adulthood. And being inexperienced in the complexities of life, when a baby boy was born, a rash decision was made to save their love, which destroyed an entire family.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location of 23 Denmark Street, WC2 where Emma Hartley lived and Harry Hartley was last seen alive is marked with a rum & raison cross. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
I've also posted some photos to aid your knowledge of the case. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
This episode is primarily based on the court records from the Old Bailey trial of Charles Mills, as well as various news sources and parish records.
Man in a Bag by Cult With No Name (credits / interstitisals)
Winsome Lose Some by Cult With No Name (end credits)
Creepy Instrumental (unreleased) by Cult With No Name
The Day I Met Her by Esther Ambrami
Collapsing All Around by Amulets
Through and Through by Amulets
To Have To In Least Water by Patches
Wistful Harp by Andrew Huang
Times Up by LooPop
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Ep122 – The Disposal of Harry Hartley
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 and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about Charles Mills & Emma Hartley, a young fresh-faced couple forced into an early adulthood. Inexperienced in life and dogged by its stresses, when their baby was born, both were ecstatic... only for Charles, his love abruptly stopped when his future was haunted by his past.
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details. And as a dramatization 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 122: The Disposal of Harry Hartley.
Today I’m standing on the familiar footings of Denmark Street, WC2; one street north of the brutal stabbing by satanic child-killer Edward Crowley, one street east of the suicide of boxer Freddie Mills, six doors west of Dennis Nilsen’s job centre, we’re at the back of the Denmark Place Fire, and a short-hop from the tube stop where a blood-soaked spree-killer was caught - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Denmark Street is an adult’s playground. At three hundred feet long, stretching from St Giles church to Charing Cross Road, these thirty assorted three-storey buildings are home to every big-kid’s dream; with coffee bars, vinyl stores and guitar shops. If you’re a real child, this place is boring, as – once mummy’s away doing all the important stuff – daddy drags you to “his street”, where this bloated baldie relives his youth; by gelling-up to his last remaining hair, letting his beer-gut bulge-out of a faded leather jacket and flipping an arthritic V-sign to ‘the pigs’ (when they’re not looking), as his fingers fumble a painful rendition of the Sex Pistol’s God Save The Queen. One such guitar shop stands at 23 Denmark Street, but more than a century ago, it was a family home.
Kids today are as equally privileged, with many unable to unglue their eye-sockets from a screen, grunt a simple ‘thank you’ as food is shovelled-in, or lift a single finger until their late teens or early twenties.
In 1900, at the last year of Queen Victoria’s reign, life for children was hard. Seen as lucky if you were given a basic education, the impoverished majority worked six-day-weeks by the age of 14, with many earning a pittance for piece-work from the second they could stand. Married-off early, many children had children when they were still only children themselves, and - with no savings or pension - infirmity and old-age would leave many singletons and spinsters with one retirement option - the workhouse.
As just a young lad himself, Charles Mills had grown-up fast. With very little family, all he wanted was to live a good life and to be loved, and in Emma Hartley he found hope. But with so much stress placed upon such narrow shoulders, it’s impossible to know whether he got scared, snapped, or was haunted by something in his past and possibly his blood.
As it was here, on Sunday 18th February 1900, outside of 23 Denmark Street, that something inside of Charles Mills would force him to make a very rash decision, that he would regret forever. (Interstitial)
The young short life of Charles Henry Miles began in poverty and ended in tragedy.
Born in 1881 in the parish of St Giles, Charles was the eldest of three sons to Charles Henry Mills Snr, a labourer, and Alice Harriet Cotter, a washer woman. Raised within the squalid stench of The Rookery, his home was this dank feted slum skulking in the shadow of the Horseshoe Brewery, where seventy years earlier a deadly tidal wave of Porter had drowned eight desperate souls - some still in their beds.
As a small pale couple, Charles’ parents worked hard to earn little, but (with no sick-pay, holidays and their only respite reserved for Sunday mass) struggling under the relentless back-breaking grind of manual labour – like so many of the poorest in this festering metropolis – they drank to dull their pain. Soon enough, a habit became a crutch, a crutch became an addiction, and swigging-back great glugs of ‘street gin’ (a backyard brew of food scraps, turpentine and urine), slowly their insides began to rot.
As an average urchin, Charles didn’t have a childhood; he had no toys, love nor joy. With tatty clothes and barely a square meal to sustain him each day, he resembled the saddest of ghosts; with pale skin, sallow cheeks and a bony torso. And being only an impish five-feet three-inches tall, as an even more pitiful sight, the cracked marble-like eyes of this nervous and delicate boy peeped out through the bent-wire frames of his bottle-bottom spectacles, under the jagged cutting of his pudding bowl fringe.
As barely functioning drunks, with two more boys to feed and unable to pay for their lodgings, father was often an inmate at the debtor’s prison, as mother raised her three sons in the local workhouse.
Cruelly described as a ‘simple lad’, although painfully quiet and often found sat my himself, he worked hard and had learned to read and write; a wise move having seen how the stresses of life had broken his father, and knowing his future didn’t lay on a building site, he didn’t want to end up the same way.
Raised fast, as a boy, he ran errands to support his sozzled parents (for whom drink was now their sole dependant) and to feed and clothe his younger brothers. His childhood was a long-forgotten memory, as this faint slip-of-a-lad was forced to be a man and – barely into his teens - the family’s breadwinner.
In 1895, aged 14, Charles worked full-time as an errand boy at Woodfall & Kinder, a printers at 76 Long Acre in Covent Garden. Keen to work long days – as much to earn as to escape his homelife – he rose to the less-junior position of ‘tinker's labourer’, a printer’s aide who ran copy to the clients for approval before it hit the press. He worked hard, he was no bother and he was never late, rude or abusive.
After three years of employment and making a modest 8 shillings-a-week, he was learning, earning and had a bright future ahead. With his parents insensible, incapable of work and full-time residents of the St George’s workhouse, 17-year-old Charles funded a bed for him and his brothers at a lodging on Great Queen Street. And although he was prone to bouts of giddiness and headaches – perhaps owing to the printer’s toxic inks or the deafening clank of the press - he powered through the tiredness and the pain in the hope of leading a better life, and - having seen its affect – he never turned to drink.
With his life being tough, dirty and relentless, this lack of joy may have got the better of him...
...but then, he met Emma.
Just like Charles, Emma Hartley was a local girl, who was born and raised in the fringes of The Rookery. Prior to the turn of the 1900’s, Denmark Street was not a place of music - as being full of back-to-back rows of stables, workshops and slum-houses – it echoed to the squeal of the slit throats of pigs, reeked of flayed flesh at the tannery, and any hope of sunlight was choked by the belching chimney stacks.
As a lodging for 26 tenants with two families and three lodgers on one floor, the front first-floor room at 23 Denmark Street was home to the Hartley family. Similar in many ways to the Mills family, aged 16, as the youngest of three sisters; Emma was sparsely educated, had worked since infancy, and as a seamstress she was a solid earner for the family... but their faith (not drink) had kept them strong.
As a working-class girl at the dusk of the Victorian era, her life offered few options, and knowing she would never escape her class, her status or her poverty, she was always looking for love. One day - maybe as he sat quietly reading, his oversized eyes magnified by thick lenses under a clumsily snipped fringe still crusted with the crumbs of an old suet pudding - she found and fell in love with Charles.
How and where they met was never recorded, but together they seemed like a perfect match.
Being a little dot of a girl, Emma was as undersized and scrawny as her tiny lover. With a tangled mess of bright red hair, pale skin and a set of apple-blossom cheeks which sat on top of a skinny white body, she resembled the last match in a smoker’s matchbox – like a tatty white stick with a fiery red top.
Looking younger than their tender years but with their edges burred by a lifetime of long hours, they made a cute couple; sweet and adorable. As each other’s first-love, from the February of 1898, this inexperienced twosome was often seen in-and-around Soho, kissing and holding hands. Young love had blossomed, the relentless grind of life seemed bearable, and their future together looked certain.
By the winter of 1898 – with Charles earning an okay wage, finally sleeping in his own bed and being hopelessly in love with Emma – his turbulent little life seemed to have turned a corner. Only fate had other plans and - just as his future was looking good - his past came back to haunt him. (Interstitial)
November 1898 was bitterly cold. In his box-like lodging on Great Queen Street, breath had frozen the insides of his windows, but Charles was toasty-warm. As snuggled in his beloved’s arms, with their pale skin stuck together like pancakes, being young and amorous... well, the rest you can imagine.
William Hartley had wanted so much more for his daughter (as any father would), as with her chosen beau being the son of two drunks banged-up in the poor-house, he feared for Emma. Charles was a bad choice, he didn’t like him and he let it be known, only Emma refused to see it. Being so blinded by their love for one-another, they put their physical needs before their faith, and shamefully they sinned.
Being only a slight girl, her skills as a seamstress did well to hide her bump for the first six months, but by May 1899, being twice her width about the midriff, there was no hiding the impending baby. For Charles & Emma, the start of a family should have been a joyous moment... only it wasn’t.
Angry at this horny sprat whose carnal lusts (he felt) had sullied his innocent little girl, William Hartley screamed at Charles, struck him squarely on the chin and banished him from ever seeing his daughter or entering their home again, until he “did the decent thing and married her”. For Charles, although earning a pittance and struggling to save, that had been the whole plan; a wedding, a wife and a child, all living the kind of life he had always wanted, but never had; stable, happy and (most of all) sober.
Only one thing would forever haunt the happiness of his future... and that was the sadness of his past.
In July 1899, one month before the baby’s birth, when the stresses of an impending baby had fractured these two babes barely out of childhood themselves, both of Charles’ parents died in the workhouse. After a hard life dulled by hard drinking, his father had died as a broken bloated alcoholic. Bequeathed nothing but his father’s debts, struggling to cope and still supporting his younger brothers who were barely earning enough to survive, this additional burden wasn’t what plagued him the most.
His mother had been sick for a very long time, some said ‘since birth’. Exacerbated by drink, Alice’s epilepsy was untreatable. Committed twice to an asylum, she was always discharged looking weary, beaten and lice-ridden, but she never got any better. Seeing visions and hearing voices, in later life, she would rant and rave like a demented loon, until whatever her illness she truly had, crippled her.
One year earlier, still only a boy himself, he’d had to commit his aunt Eliza to the ‘Bedlam’ Asylum, where she later died. She too suffered those same symptoms, which doctors believed were hereditary.
Whether it was the stress of life or the fear of his future, around that time, Charles began to change.
Seeing a drastic shift in this young lad’s circumstances and wanting to do best by both of them - with his work record always exemplary - his employer at the printworks promoted Charles to a less-junior role and increased his wages from a modest eight-shillings-a-week to a less miserly fourteen.
Only, Charles wasn’t Charles any more. Rarely taking a day off sick, he was now prone to giddiness and often said that his head “felt like it was burning”. Gone was the thoughtful lad whose owl-like eyes silently read books, now he was replaced by a skipping loon who bunked-off work. As a timid boy, he got cheeky, coarse and (for no reasons) started to fight. And with his moods becoming blacker, in the presence of his shocked colleagues, this sweet little lad threatened to “drown himself in the Thames”.
No-one could figure out what had happened to Charles Mills...
...but clearly, something had happened.
That same month – as he grieved by an unmarked grave within the walls of the workhouse, where his parents lived, died and their bones had been buried – with William Hartley having disowned his own daughter, Charles rented his heavily pregnant girlfriend a one-roomed lodging at 13 Arthur Street. Being unwed and too broke to marry (as her father still insisted), he did his best, but it wasn’t enough.
On 19th August 1899 - unable to afford medical help at the hospital - little Harry Hartley was born in the squalid filth of the St Giles workhouse; an unholy hell-hole where the desperate were punished for being poor, and where (just thirty-years earlier) a baby called Charlie Chirgwin had frozen to death.
Being the spit of both parents, baby Harry was a pale undersized dot; with a round doughy belly, stick-thin limbs and a shocking wisp of red hair, like a large question mark perched on his head. And just like Charles, Harry was a quiet boy, who often sat in silence, thinking and quizzically blinking.
As a proud father, Charles purchased his baby boy the best clothes he could buy; a blue frock, black socks, a white petticoat and a little white shawl. To support them, he gave Emma a weekly allowance of three-shillings a week. It wasn’t much but it was as much as he could afford given his tiny wage and dad’s debts. And with this little lamb having adopted a cough, a sniffle and (sometimes) a shiver - with a simple cold in that era being as a deadly killer – he paid his pennies for a doctor. As was common for the poor - with their symptoms rarely taken seriously and with this ‘medical professional’ being little more than a quack - a mild liniment was prescribed, but the baby’s ailments lingered on.
Plagued by worry; overthinking every flinch, twitch or drool as any new parent would, and maybe seeing or hearing things which probably weren’t even there, Charles was worried that his son – who was born of his blood - having been blessed with life, but burdened by a family curse.
As just a child himself and with no-one to turn to, Charles was a mess, physically and mentally. But as the stresses mounted - having already become someone different - he grew colder and more distant.
One month after the baby’s birth, with Charles unable to afford a second lodging, for the sake of the baby, Emma made peace with her parents and returned home to 23 Denmark Street. Blamed for bringing a bastard into the world, Charles saw them less, until he became little more than a stranger.
By the Christmas of 1899, his support of the child had dropped from three shillings-a-week, to two, to one, and then none. Struggling to pay his own rent, he had moved between lodgings, being booted out when he got behind or was thrown-out for bad behaviour. Working intermittently, this quiet lad had begun mumbling to himself, was spotted running panicked across the printworks like he was being chased by a wild beast, and feeling ‘giddy’ and ‘hot’, the less he worked, the less he earned.
By this point, busy with motherhood, Emma too had gone cold on Charles. For the sake of the baby, they kept it cordial and often he would furnish his family with whatever pennies he could afford. But for both, deep down, there was still a faint hope of rekindling the love they once had.
January 1900 saw a new year, a new century and a renewed promise of change and prosperity..
...but for this struggling little family, it would bring only misery and death.
As was a habit, every Sunday afternoon, Charles, Emma and baby Harry visited her sister Harriet and husband Charles at their home on the Prince’s Road in Lambeth, South London. Given a hearty meal by a warm fire, although hardly prosperous themselves, the Meredith’s weren’t a picture of wedded bliss, but of contentment, as together – through thick and thin - they always pulled through.
On Sunday 4th January, as they all sat down to tea and cake, Charles was far from his usual self. Looking tired and short-fused, from the second he had arrived he was desperate to leave with an insistence that Emma, the baby and himself go “for a walk by the Thames”. Rightly, Emma said no, so he sat in silence, his only sound being the muted mumbling of his thin lips as vigorously he rubbed his eyes. To all concerned, he was still grieving his parents - only he felt that a part of them was still with him.
On Sunday 4th February - in the same room, at the same time, to the same people – Charles made the same request “let’s go for walk”, which again Emma declined. Hearing a cough and seeing a single spot of mottled phlegm dot his child’s cheek, he insisted he take the baby with him, but Emma said no, so he left alone. The winter wind was bitingly cold, the stone streets were icy-sheets and (so viscous was the darkest season) even the turbulent river Thames had succumbed to the cold and frozen in patches. And as his perturbed mind raced as he paced, all he could think of was his boy, his blood and his legacy.
On Sunday 11th February, exactly one week before the unthinkable – as had happened many Sundays prior – a walk was mooted and rebuked, so an unusually restless Charles sulked as the family sat. His language had grown more foul of late, having recently mocked Emma’s auburn hair by calling her a “bleeding carroty cow”, but he was never abusive or violent toward her. It was then that he began to light up a pipe; a habit he knew she disliked, especially as twice he had burned his mouth and once – while leaning over the crib - a red-hot ball of tobacco had singed her baby’s head. As any good mother would, she knocked the unlit pipe from his lips. But picking it back up, he did something he had never done before - he threatened her, hissing "mind you and the baby don’t go over the Embankment tonight". And although a brief moment of tension, he apologised and they both left on good terms.
Across the following week, he waited outside of her home on Denmark Street - always outside, never in, as her father had forbidden it – and being unusually tearful and trembling, Emma couldn’t tell what was wrong with Charles, as he refused to discuss it. All he wanted was to see her and the baby.
On Saturday 17th February. one night before - after a calm, rational and almost loving conversation - Charles did something he had never done before – and with the baby in her arms - he punched Emma in the face. He never said why he did it, and he never would... but something had made him snap.
Sunday 18th February 1900 was a day written in the past which was destined to change their futures.
With the bitter icy winds having not ceased since Christmas, as the cobble-stoned streets were deathly and any trickle of water was frozen solid, as was habit, taking a horse-drawn omnibus, Emma and the baby headed to her sisters. Only this time without Charles. Emma: “Our usual time to meet on Sundays was about 3:20, but he didn’t go with me that day as my brother-in-law had said no on account of my black eye. I didn’t tell him that, I thought it would upset him, so I said the baby wasn’t very well”.
For once, the baby was fine and his cough was gone... but Charles knew none of this.
At 7:30pm, Charles stood against a lamppost outside of 23 Denmark Street, as the fizzing electric arc-lamp bathed his sallow face in a dull yellowy glow. Too afraid to knock, he waited, and as Eliza Grinham - a schoolgirl who lived on the same floor – did her chores, he repeatedly asked her the same question, “where’s Emma?” like he was stuck in a loop, and always he got the same reply - “I don’t know”.
Having missed her at 3:20pm, being worried for the next four hours and having waited for three hours more, as Emma and his baby boy hopped off the omnibus at 10:45pm, his haggard lips lifted a little as he saw them both approaching. He was tired, she was tired and the baby had drifted off to dreamland.
Outside her door, in a hushed silence, Charles asked “Can I hold him?” It was late, too late, so Emma said “no, he’s sleeping”. Her black-eye was still swollen and its pain was still fresh, but hearing his pleas “please... just for a minute, that’s all” – seeing his eyes all cracked and red with a teetering rim of tears hovering on his lower lids and sensing the sadness within him - being just a boy himself who had lost his own parents (not months but maybe) years ago, she nodded, sighing “okay, just for a bit”.
The last seven months had been tough on both of them, and (maybe) having realised his mistakes, the boy she still loved might actually do right, with a husband for her and a father for their son.
Slowly, as she handed the baby over, tightly holding this tiny tot in his fatherly arms, Charles leaned forward, his lips perched close as he softly kissed the little wisp of red hair on his son’s sleeping head...
...only this was not a “good night” kiss to his baby boy, but a “goodbye”.
With no warning, gripping the snoozing bundle to his chest, Charles fled. Dashing past St Giles church - with the skinny waif-like Emma wailing behind him – chasing him as best she could, somewhere near the dizzying confusion of Seven Dials, she lost them. Howling all the way home, everyone she called searched the streets, his lodging and his workplace, but Charles had vanished and her baby was gone.
For more than mile, Charles ran until his bones shook. With his head red-hot, a giddiness guiding his legs and a voice reassuring him that what he was doing was right - as the squealing baby’s head bobbed in his arms – he dashed down Endell Street, Compton Street, St Martin’s Lane and Villiers Street, until his feet hit the icy expanse of the Embankment, and the shallow snowy walls of the River Thames.
No-one saw him do it, but undeniably he had. Without a second thought, having hurled the tiny bundle towards a sleeting horizon, as it fell, and its little body smacked hard on the frozen river, for a moment it lay there - helpless and alone – until slowly, the ice broke. Weighed down by a little blue frock, white petticoat and woollen shawl, as the tiny pale baby sank deeper, abruptly its screams ceased. (End)
At 11:20pm, just minutes later, 19-year-old Charles handed himself in at the Bow Street Police Station to a stunned constable and inspector. Admitting his guilt, he assisted the Police but was unable to give any reason why he had disposed of his son, so based on his confession, he was charged with murder.
Briefly examined by a Police doctor, no evidence of epilepsy or mental illness was found, and a second equally-disdainful doctor dismissed his grief as a motive, stating to the court “I have heard that he had trouble after losing his father and mother - a weak mind would very likely be upset by that sort of thing”. So, based on the analysis of two ‘medical experts’, he was declared sane and fit to stand trial.
On Wednesday 21st February, three days later, Harry Hartley was found by a river boatman, four miles downstream. Having died by drowning, laid naked on a cold marble slab at the Rotherhithe mortuary, Emma had to identify her baby boy. And although the last thing she could recall was the warmth of his breath as he slept, devoid of life, the only colour on his frozen body was a little wisp of red hair.
Charles Henry Mills was tried at the Old Bailey on 2nd April 1900. Giving no evidence, he pleaded his innocence, and although he was found guilty, the jury overruled the doctors and declared him insane at the time of the murder. He was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and having been committed to the infamous Bedlam Asylum - where his aunt had previously died - his fate is known.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
If you would like to learn more about the details about this case, as well as a few details which didn’t make it into the final show, please join me for a tea, cake and waffle after the break. But before that, here’s a brief promo for a true-crime podcast which may fly the flag up your flagpole.
A big thank you to my new Patreon supporters, who are: Caroline Fearne, Lucie Graham-Cumming, Allan Airth, Derek Morrison, Heather Smith, Jason Abercrombie and Victoria Redhead. I thank you all. A special thank you to Ray Mitchell for the very kind donation and Christina Marta for the birthday gift-card, I am feeling very spoiled. And thank you to all those lucky people who have upgraded their Patreon account to the new Handsome Hamlet tier, and are listening to my new weekly podcast – Walk With Me. Ooh. Special.
Murder Mile was researched, written and 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, which are freely available in the public domain, 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, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast 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 to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
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", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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