Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #158: The Blackout Ripper - First Blood - Part Two (Edith Eleonora Humphries)
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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-EIGHT:
In the second week of February 1942, six women were attacked on consequecutive days across London's West End; two were violently assaulted and four were brutally tortured and murdered. All were attributed to Gordon Frederick Cummins, who would later be dubbed 'The Blackout Ripper'. But was he a one-off spree-killer, or did this sadistic maniac have two more victims in his past?
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 Edith's murder is marked with a purple cross near the word Camden Town. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
SOURCES: As this case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
The defining features of the Blackout Ripper’s murders were his sadism. This wasn’t the work of a mindless buffoon who bashed heads in with bricks, or a crazed loon who haphazardly hacked at limbs to feed his fantasy – this was different. As with calculated glee, he calmly and cruelly fileted the flesh as these ladies lay dead or dying, grinning as - through barely conscious slits - they watched with terrified eyes as he relished every slash and insertion, making their last seconds alive of pure terror.
The pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury would state that the wounds he inflicted were not committed in a state of homicidal frenzy, as each cut was cold, deliberate and calculated. He wasn’t skilled with a knife or had a specific biological agenda, but he had clearly taken his time and savoured the moment.
But was he a sadist? As if Mabel Church and Edith Humphries were his two earliest victims, of those he murdered, he only mutilated those in the latter half of his spree. So, were the first three interrupted before being defiled, was he yet to explore his sadism, or were these omissions a conscious choice?
Psychologically, Gordon Frederick Cummins was a complicated man, who could be both kind and cruel, sociable and sociopathic. And although the police decried these attacks as the work of a “mad man” in whom the pathologist expected to find evidence of “sexual sadism” and/or “sexual abnormalities” - in Cummins, they found none. In fact, in court, Sir Bernard Spilsbury stated his opinion that “some of the wounds to the victims were deliberately made to look like the work of a sexual sadist”.
If Cummins was truly fuelled by pathological sadism, we would expect to find clues in his past which hint at a disturbed mind where the seeds domination and mutilation were beginning to bloom; whether rapes, assaults or murders; peeping, peeing or perversions; knives, fetishes or strange habits.
My name is Michael. I am your tour-guide. This is Murder Mile. And I present to you, the conclusion to Murder Mile’s original eight-part series. This is the final part of The Blackout Ripper: First Blood.
The trial of Gordon Frederick Cummins was unusual, as although the evidence would point towards a sadist streak, his personality was more akin to a narcissist. Arrogance was often cited as his defining characteristic, as Cummins believed that he was smarter than the police, which made him complacent; he left fingerprints, clues and the souvenirs he stole from his victims were often found in plain sight. If he hadn’t been so careless, having left behind his gas mask and belt, he may never have been caught.
Which begs the question; did he want to be caught? Some experts have suggested that he was seeking fame and notoriety; hence his sadism, his lack of disguise and being so easily arrested. But if this was true, why did he plead ‘not guilty’? Was it arrogance, or a desire to turn the trial into a media circus?
Either way, it was not to be. Having been re-started owing to the prosecutions error, this half-day trial which was wrapped up by 4pm was at best perfunctory, even though he had professed his innocence.
Which was not to say that an innocent man was executed – he wasn’t – but what was so fascinating about the trial was how vehemently his friends and family professed his innocence – which you would expect – but they couldn’t believe that Gordon and this spree-killer could possibly be the same man.
In their eyes, the man they knew was not a sadist; he had no criminal record, no history of violence and no known mental illness; he worked hard, he was good fun and – although unfaithful – he loved his wife and was looking forward to becoming a father. Throughout his life, he had many girlfriends, affairs and frequented sex-workers, none of whom told tales of sadism, strangulation or cruelty.
Lodged by his family, an appeal was submitted to the Home Secretary, with Gordon’s father John stating “my son has shown no tendencies (of sadism) and the fact that he has been happily married for years... he is known to be most patient, gentle and even-tempered, and has refuted any such idea”.
John Robert Cummins and Gordon’s pregnant wife Marjorie both held to the belief that the police had planted evidence to frame him; including fingerprints on cups, bottles, razors, souvenirs and weapons. Accusations of which were investigated by the police and no evidence of corruption were found. They even accused the murders on a fellow cadet based in the same Regent’s Park billet, who was found with a bloodstained towel – but this was later attributed to a miscarriage or abortion by his girlfriend.
On 29th April 1942, just days after his conviction, Cummins sent a letter from Brixton Prison to Dot & Laurie Williams, a Corporal and his close-friend who was stationed with Cummins at RAF Predannack.
In this letter, one of a series, Cummins would state “…the past few days have been a dreadful ordeal and I am glad it is all over. Now that I am here, my father and legal counsel are, I hope, redoubling their efforts to find the guilty man and prove my innocence before it is too late...”. Giving us a hint at his sordid past in known brothels, he would go on to say “Jerry does seem to have made a mess of Bath, doesn’t he? I wonder if the Christopher has been touched? Or the Hole in the Wall? Perhaps not – dens of iniquity always escape unscathed”. And being a man who often rubbed people up the wrong way or relished that thin line in humour between being amusing and inappropriate, he ended this letter with a really creepy line: “My love to you, Dot and niece Sally. If there’s any justice in the world, I’ll be seeing you all again. If not, tell Gwen I’ll come and haunt her. Yours optimistically. Gordon”.
And that is what makes this case so fascinating. How did this seemingly ordinary chap with no criminal record nor obvious trauma which could have triggered these attacks, go on to commit one of the most heinous spree-killing in British history, all whilst living his life and working a regular nine-to-five job?
The Police would later state, he was a “viable suspect” in two earlier murders – those of Mabel Church and Edith Humphries; two strangers murdered in similar circumstances which occurred just five days and half a mile apart, almost as if these two were a rehearsal for the Blackout Ripper’s killing-spree.
It’s possible that Mabel was... but was Edith one of his earlier murders?
Very little was reported about Edith’s murder; as it was war-time, deaths were ten-a-penny and hers occurred at the end of a spate of unconnected murders which the Met Police were struggling to solve.
Born in 1891, Edith Eleanora Humphries was on the cusp of her fifties by autumn 1941, making her the oldest (but not by much) of the Blackout Ripper’s potential victims. With no photo, it’s impossible to describe her, but - as we know - Cummins did not have a type.
Edith’s life was as unremarkable as any other, full of high and lows, but mostly of steady respectability. For more than two decades, she was married to her loving but hard-working husband who – it is said – rose from the rank of a humble cab-driver to owing his own taxi-firm, but this cannot be clarified.
She was educated, either through schooling or years of self-betterment, as she earned a decent living as a qualified accountant and – to do-her-bit for King and Country – she volunteered as a canteen cook and book-keeper at the Auxiliary Fire Service at the Islington station on the nearby Caledonian Road.
Being widowed and left to raise her step-son Roy, it is unclear whether Edith inherited the family home - a three-storey semi-detached house at 1 Gloucester Crescent, just off Regent’s Park - and was either the landlady to several lodgers, or lived in a two-roomed ground-floor flat at the back of the property. Either way, she was comfortably off and with Roy having moved out, she lived there alone.
Sadly, in the same way that Mabel’s virtue was besmirched before her body was even cold, it became open-season for any loon to cast aspersions against Edith’s life, all of which whiffed of victim shaming. With many drawing red rings around her “twenty possible men-friends” and a supposed torrid affair with a fireman –implying that it was her sexual appetite and therefore her fault which led to her death.
But this was untrue. In her bedside drawer, two letters were found, both accusing and retracting the fireman’s wife statement as a “misunderstanding”. Of her “twenty men friends”; most were cabbies and pals of her late husband who were both ‘men’ and ‘friends’. And across that last year of her life, at different times, she had dated several men, but being a lonely widower, she was looking for love.
She was pleasant, she didn’t cause problems and she was well-liked. She wasn’t much of a drinker; she didn’t live a salacious life and her only real issue was a boyfriend who was described as ‘persistent’.
And that’s it.
Her connections to Mabel Church were coincidental, being canteen staff who lived near Regent’s Park. She didn’t seem to frequent the same places as Gordon Cummins. And she was only as connected to those murdered during the Blackout Ripper’s four-day killing-spree, as anyone else in the West End.
All that seemed to connect Mabel and Edith were the methods of their murders...
...as if they were a rehearsal by a fledgling serial-killer.
Sir Bernard Spilsbury would state in court “some of the wounds to the victims were deliberately made to look like the work of a sexual sadist”. But were they? To answer that, set aside the shocking sight of each wound and ask the question “why did he inflict that wound at that point and for what reason?”
On the night of Sunday 8th to Monday 9th February 1942, Evelyn Hamilton was attacked in an air-raid shelter on Montague Place. She had a two-inch bruise to her right cheek (this was his initial attack), a small cut to her left eye (possibly sustained during her fall) and around her neck, bruises in the shape of four fingers and a thumb - consistent with strangulation by a left-hander like the Blackout Ripper.
With a few blood specks in her vagina, but no sperm nor contraceptives found, it was unlikely that she had been raped (as none of the others were), but she may have been violated with an unknown object.
Partially stripped, with her legs spread and her exposed genitals facing the shelter’s entrance, she was posed to illicit shock. But it was not suggested that she was mutilated, as the only unexplained wounds to her body was a two-inch cut to her leg and several small abrasions to her right breast; none of which were confirmed as inflicted by a weapon, and could have been part of her struggle or his clawing.
Evelyn Hamilton, as with Mabel and Edith lacked any of the typically sadistic wounds found on his later victims, but he may have been disturbed mid-attack, or was yet to explore this level of sadism?
On the night of Monday 9th to Tuesday 10th February 1942, Evelyn Oatley was attacked in her Wardour Street flat. Again, with bruises to her sides (trapping her arms), a bruise to right cheek and left-handed bruises to her throat - with none of her long fingernails broken – this indicated there was no struggle.
His initial attack was there to render her unconscious, but each wound after this point was a calculated ploy designed to maximise the horror of those who would find her and report their shock to the press.
Again, stripped semi-naked, with breasts and genitals exposed, her body was positioned diagonally across the bed, facing the only entrance to this room. When found, she had twelve jagged rips to her flesh in and around her thighs and vagina, and spilling in thick pools from the bed to the door, her last drops of blood had pumped from a 5 ½ inch long gash to her neck – a truly shocking sight for anyone?
But what is most fascinating are not the wounds, but the weapons he used and what he did with them.
Having violated her with a six-inch metal torch, he left it poking out of her vagina, as if he was bragging: “look, this is what I did, and this is what I used”. Likewise; between her thighs lay a metal can-opener and a set of heated curling tongs, and beside her neck, a single bloodstained Ever Ready razor blade.
This wasn’t a frenzied assault, it took time, it took thought and it took patience. In his eyes, he wasn’t a crazed maniac mutilating woman, he was a skilled artist perfecting his bloody masterpiece.
The same sadistic performance art was inflicted on the bodies of his next two victims - Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouanett. Again, his initial attack was swift; they were trapped, punched and strangled. But once they were unconscious or dying, it was only then that his shocking new art-work could begin.
With a six-inch candle poking out of her genitals, around Margaret’s body he proudly placed the tools of his talent; a bread knife, two table knifes and a potato knife. To many, these were nothing but humble household implements, but to him, they were like his brushes; inflicting a ten-inch-long three-inch-deep slice up her right thigh, and a clean and perfectly-straight five-inch gash along her abdomen, severing her uterus and exposing her intestines - all of which he finished off with stabs to her vagina.
With Doris, he sliced-up her left breast, almost severing the nipple. He inflicted a series of deep slashes, between 2 ½ and 6 ½ inches long across her abdomen, and the only possible reason he didn’t insert anything inside of her vagina was that – in her last terrifying moments alive - she had wet herself.
This time, he had removed the weapon (possibly a razor blade) that he’d used to inflict these wounds, but he had posed Doris; with her right hand by her genitals, as if she was drawing attention to her violation, and her left hand outstretched towards the door, as if she had died crying out for help.
As a sexual sadist, there was no denying that he always took great relish in torturing these women; he assaulted them, he inflicted pain, he posed them and he watched them slowly die by his hand.
To Cummins, this was his work. But being a narcissist, he seemed less concerned about how petrified these women felt as they died, and more focussed on his image, his art and his reputation as a ‘ripper’.
So, was the murder of Edith Eleonora Humphries a rehearsal for his four-day masterpiece?
On Friday 17th October 1941 at 6:45am, Jill Steele who lived on the first-floor of 1 Gloucester Crescent was awoken by the frantic yapping of a little black terrier. Edith had been dog-sitting this usually quiet pooch for a tenant in the top floor flat, but with its barks growing more perturbed, Jill went to check.
Descending the stairs, Jill cooed “Edith?”, but got no reply. Approaching slowly, she saw the door was wide open, but inside it was dark owing to the blackout-blinds. “Edith?”, again she got no reply. She flicked the light switch, but nothing happened as the meter had run out. So, always carrying her trusty torch as the area was prone to power-cuts, she shone its beam inside and was shocked by the sight.
Found sprawled across her bed, Edith’s face had been beaten with such force that her jaw was broken in several places. Pummelling her head into a purple swollen pulp, he had strangled her until she was rendered unconscious. Then, as if her torture wasn’t cruel enough, he had slit open her throat so when she breathed, blood bubbled from its frothing gash. And then, with sadistic relish and in a swift single blow, he had stabbed her in the head, the cold blade splitting apart her skull and penetrating her brain.
When the Police arrived, they found no witnesses to her attack. But with the terrier having been locked in her cupboard, it’s likely her assailant was disturbed by its barking and he had cut-short his assault.
The investigation concluded; Edith had willingly let her attacker in, they had shared a cup of tea, she was wearing her nightdress (so either she or they had headed to bed), several items were stolen such as a gold ring and some costume jewellery, and – whoever he was – he had left behind his fingerprints.
None of the neighbours heard a single sound or saw the man who Edith had invited home. All of her “men friends” were questioned and they all had alibis, including her very “persistent” boyfriend.
But what shocked the Police most was this? Six hours after she was attacked... Edith was still alive.
Rushed to the National Temperance Hospital at 126 Hampstead Road, Edith was taken straight into surgery to be operated upon by eminent brain surgeon Dr Guy Rugby Jones. She was barely alive, and her chance of surviving he thought was “one in a million”, but he felt she deserved that chance.
Sadly, she died in surgery and - having never named her attacker - the case remains unsolved.
So, were the murders of Mabel Church and Edith Humphries the work of the Blackout Ripper? They had similarities and differences, so maybe their deaths show a logical escalation in violence? Maybe in these murders he was exploring the sadistic techniques which would later become part of his tried and tested method, and those which would not? And maybe, if Edith and Mabel were a rehearsal, then there must be clues in his past which hint at him either being a spree-killer in the making...
...or a wannabe serial killer?
Gordon Frederick Cummins joined the Royal Air Force on 11th November 1935, as a flight Rigger at Henlow in Bedfordshire. From 1936 to the outbreak of war in September 1939, he was billeted at RAF Felixstowe. And until January 1941 he was based at RAF Helensburgh in Dunbartonshire, Scotland.
Based on-site, his job was as a mechanic repairing military aircraft, but as Britain entered the war and he worked on classified experimental planes, his timings and movements prove hard to pin down.
From the 3rd February 1942 to his arrest at the end of his four-day killing-spree ten days later, Cummins was based at No3 Air-Crew Receiving Centre and was billeted in Flat 27 St James Close, all on the edge of Regent’s Park. But investigators were unable to verify his precise timings during these murders, as the RAF logbook held at Abbey Lodge had entries missing and soldiers often signed in for each other.
During the murders of Mabel and Edith between 12th and 17th October 1941, his timings are impossible to verify. As having spent six months at RAF Fighter Command at Colerne in Wiltshire, although from the 6th October 1941 he was posted to 600 Squadron at RAF Predannack in Cornwall, he wasn’t billeted on-site. Instead, he would remain as a private lodger at the family home of Elisabeth Mary Field at Hall Farm, Thickwood Lane in Colherne until early November - where he could come and go as he pleased.
Unfortunately, there is no record of Cummins being in London during the murders of Mabel or Edith. That said, with his wife living in London and regularly visiting the West End, he often travelled the 80 miles from Colerne and the 200 miles from Predannack, either by train or having hitch-hiked a ride.
But what about his character? A man can disguise his movements, but he can never hide his true self.
His landlady at Hall Farm would later state “he was an intellectual man, but prone to exaggeration, he was even-tempered and a very likeable person, but he had no extreme views”. A description backed-up by Sidney Butler, landlord of one of Gordon’s local pubs at the White Hart in Ford, Wiltshire, who said “he had childish mannerisms, I considered him to be mentally abnormal, he would drink to excess and would often run out of money, but was never objectionable and would never quarrel or fight”.
Fuelled by a belief that he was not achieving greatness, Gordon was prone to lying and was nicknamed ‘The Count’ and ‘The Honourable Gordon Cummins’ having professed to being the black sheep of an aristocratic family. This mirrors what his family would state, that he was a dreamer but not a maniac.
In his letter to Corporal Laurie Williams, his pal at RAF Predannack, it read “Jerry does seem to have made a mess of Bath, doesn’t he? I wonder if the Christopher has been touched? Or the Hole in the Wall? Perhaps not – dens of iniquity always escape unscathed”. Way beyond his killing spree, he had a history of visiting sex-workers, which was not something he was ashamed of; these included Quiet Street (a known pick-up place for prostitutes), The Hole in the Wall, the Christopher Hotel, the Francis Hotel and the Royal Hotel in Bath, all of which were deemed out-of-bounds to all military personnel.
His sexual appetite was notorious, and yet he didn’t have a criminal record. So, either he was never caught, never charged, or the courts were unlikely to convict a war-time soldier for a minor offence?
That said, none of the sex-workers he frequented complained of his behaviour. His sexual preferences were normal, he treated them well and he made no sadistic requests. His girlfriends said the same; there were no known incidents of assault, rape or strangulation, he was charming if a little immature.
His main vice was theft. Being unable to maintain a lavish lifestyle on a mechanic’s wage, in November 1941, at the Blue Peter Club in Mullion, it was alleged that he stole £35 worth of jewellery from a flat above the club. The matter was dealt with privately and no formal complaint was made to the Police.
That same month, Bath Police investigated reports of “an airman stealing handbags at the Hole in the Wall”, which – like tights and lipsticks – were low-cost but high-value items he was known to steal and would gift to his secret girlfriends. Police later tracked some of these ladies down, but no items were found relating to the victims of his four-day killing-spree, or Mabel Church and Edith Humphries.
In fact, the only hint of violence prior these murders were two reports of women being assaulted by “an airman” on Quiet Street in Bath and in the village of Ford near Colerne. Sadly, they were unable to identify their attacker and therefore he was neither named or charged. But was this him? (End)
So, did the Blackout Ripper murder Mabel Church and Edith Humphries? It’s possible, as they fit the profile of a fledgling spree-killer finding his feet, but they could easily match any of other murderer (whether deliberate or accidental) who was stalking the unlit streets of London during war-time.
If they were him, this confirms he was not a spree-killer, but a serial killer; a man who was calm, callous and controlled, who could come across like an ordinary chap, and a sadistic killer in the very next beat.
As of today, the police investigation files remain closed and will certainly be pushed back further. But whether the name Gordon Frederick Cummins appears in either of those case-files is debatable, as I can find no conclusive proof that the police ever publicly stated that he was a “viable suspect” in either of those first two murders. It was only stated by the press several decades after the murders.
It also impossible to tell whether Cummins was a sadist, or whether – having never achieved greatness - he merely wanted the notoriety that a case such as this should get... but didn’t, as being war-time, the world had bigger issues. And as he died claiming his innocence, we shall never know his motives.
The speed of his trial, his lack of confession and the gaps in his history leaves us with a lot of holes, as with his life riddled with lies and his crimes full of theories, we have very little in terms of a conclusion.
So, maybe he did snap and go on a killing-spree? Maybe Edith and Mabel were a test-run? Maybe he did commit a string of rapes and assaults prior to this date, all of which went unreported? Or maybe, he didn’t only murder four women in the West End, and potentially two more over four months?
Maybe - as a soldier who lived in untraceable accommodations, who frequented different locations and worked in a several classified military bases across the UK; from Cornwall to Wiltshire, London to Northumberland, Hampshire to Yorkshire, and several bases in Scotland from 1935 to 1942, as well as being posted to Regent’s Park five days prior to his killing-spree – it is likely there are other attacks and murders possibly committed by Gordon Frederick Cummins, which are yet to be unearthed?
So, for now, this is not the end. The Blackout Ripper: First Blood will return.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
That was concluding part of this section of the Blackout Ripper: First Blood. The next part will take months if not years to research, as this has never been done before, so don’t expect it any time soon.
This is the last official episode of Murder Mile for this year. The new season will begin on Thursday 24th February 2022. But if you would like to keep up to date with all of the research for the new season, as well as the book and enjoy a whole back catalogue of photos, videos and the exclusive podcast series – Walk With Me – which will be available for all subscribers over January and February. You can treat yourself to that by subscribing to Patreon for as little as £2, and help support this podcast.
After the break is Extra Mile, which includes the usual non-compulsory nonsense by a fat bald man who is yet to demolish his Christmas treats, as well as extra details on this case and a little quiz.
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, totalling 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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