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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 SIXTY-THREE:
On the 14th March 1922, in a small ground-floor lodging at the back of 168 Hampstead Road, a baby girl was born. Conceived in secret by a young couple - 21-year-old Harry Gimber and 23-year-old Alice Crabbe - they hadn;t been able to abort it, the couldn't afford to keep, so having ran out of options, they decided to "abandon it".
One week later, the body of a new born baby was found in Enfield, but with no way to identify Harry & Alice as the parents, its disposal should have remained a secret. So, what went wrong?
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The location of 168 Hampstead Road where the unnamed baby of Alice Crabb and Harry Gimber was murdered is marked with a mustard coloured raindrop near the words Mornington Crescent. 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:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing at 168 Hampstead Road, NW1; a few streets east and several doors south of Edith Humphries and Mabel Church, the first possible murders by the Blackout Ripper, as well as a deadly feud at Regent’s Park Zoo which saw a keeper bludgeoned to death - coming soon to Murder Mile.
The Hampstead Road is a busy thoroughfare heading from Mornington Crescent to Warren Street. As you pass a set of flats and a brown bridge over the trainline into nearby London Euston, on this site once stood a row of three-storey Georgian terraced houses, which have long since been demolished.
Crammed-full of dozers as Cross Rail decimates the city, it’s no surprise they’ve gone over budget as you never see a construction worker actually work. You might spy one wetting a bit of road with a limp hose or ten men ‘supervising’ as one man digs, but most of the time, all they do is eat. Go to any café and you’ll be blinded by lines of hi-viz vests all chuntering ‘oi oi’, ‘fakin ewl’ and ‘lavely cappa tea’.
Sadly, as a vital part of any city, although progress erases the past, sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
Back in 1922, on this site stood a three-storey terrace at 168 Hampstead Road. As a lodging house for those with barely a few pennies to rub together, in a small back-room on the first floor lived a young couple – Harry Gimber and Alice Crabb. Being too poor to marry and too selfish to think of anyone but themselves, owing to the consequences of their carnal lust, it was here that a baby was born in secret.
Having gone to full-term, it should have been a joyous day as a new life was born by two lovers. Only being seen as little more than a side-effect of their sex, even before its birth, the child was unwanted. And although this little baby would only live a very brief life, it wasn’t loved for a single second.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 163: ‘The Unloved’.
The tragic tale of this little baby is truly heart-breaking; as it was unloved, unnamed and unwanted. Many may ask ‘how could anyone do something so horrific to someone so young and innocent?’ But it happens more often that you’d think, as even today, the most likely victims of murder are babies.
Henry William Gimber, known to his pals as Harry was born in Islington in 1902. Given the cruelty he would inflict, you may expect me to impart you a story of hardship, violence and insanity? But I can’t.
Like many young men, Harry was born into a working-class family who fought to keep a modest wage coming-in and the looming hunger at bay. They were good people who weren’t criminals nor wastrels.
Mentally, he was just a very average lad, who wasn’t aggressive, moody or depressive. In fact, except for a grandmother who had died in the Hanwell Asylum owing to senile dementia, his family had no history of mental illness, and neither did he suffer any diseases or accidents - which could excuse this.
At worst, he was immature and selfish. But find a young lad on the cusp of freedom who isn’t?
Aged 14, Harry left school. Alongside his dad, he joined London Transport Company as an apprentice, but found the grit and grime of the railway wasn’t for him. In his teens, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so – although often working several low-paid jobs at a time – he flitted between many menial roles; whether as a waiter, a kitchen porter, a butcher’s assistant and a nightclub attendant.
By his late teens - like many young men - Harry was desperate to move out of his parent’s house; to live his own life, to do his own thing and to finally become a man. Only, as we’ve all done, he still hadn’t got a grip on his responsibilities; like paying bills and rent, before buying treats and having fun.
It was a big part of growing up which he was yet to learn.
On the 20th March 1920, in Tottenham Court Road, 18-year-old Harry met 21-year-old Alice Crabb and the two fell in love. As a local girl born and raised in nearby Clement St Danes, although both parents were rarely home, she was raised under the supportive bubble of her grandmother and her niece.
Living in a small lodging full of strong independent women who earned their own wage and ran their own household, it’s not surprising that – although society dictated that Alice could only follow one path in life, as a wife and mother – what she wanted was a little fun first and to enjoy being young.
For Alice, marriage was not the be-all and end-all, and - with at least two decades of fertility ahead of her - she knew she had time to get a job, to live her life and to make her own mistakes, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the endless everyday exhaustion of cooking and cleaning.
In April 1921, they began working at the National Orchestral Association at 14 Archer Street in Soho, with him as a doorman and her as a waitress – along-side her close friend, Dolly Oust. And having moved out of her parent’s home at 44 New Compton Street, Alice got her own lodging on Tottenham Street, where she could live as she saw fit. On 12th June 1921, Harry Gimber moved in…
…and their relationship began.
Harry Gimber & Alice Crabb were not bad people. They were two ordinary kids who were cursed with immaturity and a selfishness, and – some may argue –struggled in an era fuelled by the societal pressures of the morally upright and a series of cruel rules based on the law-maker’s religious beliefs.
There is no denying that what they did was abhorrent…
…but being little more than children in an adult’s world facing grown-up issues - even when a wealth of evidence stood against them - what we still don’t know is who was telling the truth?
According to both Alice & Harry, it wasn’t until the first night together that they engaged in sex. Maybe they were careless? Maybe they didn’t know about contraception? Or maybe they cared little about the consequences? But that night, a baby was conceived - not out of love, but by mistake.
In court, Harry would state “at first, I had no idea what to do. We were more or less astounded. We decided to make the best thing out of a bad job and get rid of it”. A feat which is easier said than done in an era where unwed sex was a scandal and abortions were illegal. But that’s when nature took over.
In November 1921, being a little over five months pregnant, Alice suffered a miscarriage. Within their small lodging, she stifled her squeals to prevent her pain permeating the wafer-thin walls, as this slight girl gave birth to a cold lifeless child in the cramped confines of a communal bathroom. Not one of the tenants heard a sound nor saw a drop of blood, as their clean-up of the squalid toilet was thorough.
Sadly, this was an all-too-common sight in an era when women were forced to give birth regardless of whether they were fit, well or could cope. Torn by the risk losing their job, home or family, most newspapers were full of stories of young unwed girls who had abandoned their babies in secret; whether in churches, doorways or bushes, in the hope they’d be found before succumbing to the cold.
For many women, this was a desperate time.
But for Alice & Harry, this wasn’t a life they held in their hands, it was a liability. And with the 10 inch long, half-formed foetus lying dead in the base of the bowl, they spoke of its disposal with the cold callousness of someone who didn’t care: (Harry): “I threw the miscarriage down the lavatory. Neither of us told anybody about it”, as this half-pound lump of life was flushed away like human waste.
Of course, this may seem sad, but Alice’s miscarriage was a lie…
…and it was one of many lies they would tell to hide the awful truth.
By January 1922, Alice was seven months pregnant. It was winter, so hiding her bump wasn’t difficult, but reduced to a wage of just £1 and 10 shillings a week, they were lucky to have fivepence to spare.
Unable to ask their parents for help, Alice & Harry moved into a small one-roomed lodging at the rear of 168 Hampstead Road. Being roughly 10 feet square – a space smaller than a prison cell - it had a horsehair bed, a tiny wash basin, a little fire and a small table for meals, but no kitchen or bathroom.
It wasn’t much; but it was cheap, the landlady (Mrs Birch) bothered them just once a fortnight to wash the bedsheets, and – having been built on top of a busy trainline - the rumble of trains hid many sins.
Being desperate, they had hoped for a miscarriage, but it was not to be. Being broke, they couldn’t procure a black-market doctor who could bring about a swift solution with a bottle of bleach, a coat-hanger and a high risk of infection and maybe death. So instead, they had to rely on quacks and tales.
They had tried it all; everything from hot baths to neat gin, heavy lifting to icy swims, vigorous walks to (the new wonder cure) castor oil. An accident was a cheap option, but a punch to the gut or a fall down some stairs risked her own life. And even the tried-and-trusted purgatives like Penny Royal and Ergot only made her sick. So, with the baby just eight weeks away, they were running out of options.
At the end of January 1921, with just six weeks till the birth, while working one of his jobs as a kitchen porter, a waitress called Grace heard his tale of woe and said “you ought to see my sister”. That night, Alice, Harry and Ada Cook met in a pub in Chalk Farm. They sat quietly and chatted in hushed tones about the best way to “flush it out”, and although Ada could help, she said “it won’t be cheap”.
And it wasn’t. For a few capsules in a plain box, a bottle of an unknown liquid, a syringe, a funnel and a hand-written list of instructions, it would cost £4 - more than Harry earned in a single month.
This was their last chance… but it failed.
With Alice now eight months pregnant, their only option was to give birth. But then what?
No-one knew about the pregnancy, not their families, friends nor landlady. In court, Harry would state “we agreed that should the child be born alive we were going to get rid of it by abandoning it”. When asked “what do you mean ‘abandon’?”, he admitted they hadn’t made plans to put it up for adoption, but that “we thought we’d knock and leave it on a doorstep”, denying his plan was to “leave it to die”.
Quizzed by the prosecution, when Alice was asked “had you not arranged to get rid of it somehow?”, she would state “no sir, I would have kept the child but Harry did not want to”. Only this was a lie, as when asked “what preparations had you made?”, she had to admit “none sir, none whatsoever”.
For the baby’s arrival, there was no food, no clothes, no toys and no crib. Conceived by accident and to be born in secret, the little baby was doomed to die in silence and to be disposed of by stealth…
…as the only preparations her parents had made for her brief life was a few sheets of brown paper, a set of sharp scissors and a ball of string – these were the tools they needed to dispose of its body.
On Saturday 10th March, with Alice’s bump too big to hide, her disappearance was excused with a lie. (Harry) “she twisted her leg, catching her heel in the tram lines on Hampstead Road, and was confined to bed for a week”. It was a tall but believable tale they would tell the landlady and (later) the police.
Three days later, on the morning of Tuesday 14th March, Alice’s labour pains began.
Sat silently in their small dingy room, although she wanted to scream as the afterthought inside her pulled apart her tiny pelvis - to disguise their dirty deed - they spoke only in hushed whispers. “It’s coming, Harry”, “right, what do I do?”, “I don’t know”. Without a midwife or mother present, these novices had no knowledge nor skills to cope with what would happen - whether they liked it or not.
As her pains grew more powerful, Alice bit into her pillow to muffle her screams, only daring to expel an audible squeal as the trains roared by, without the fear of being caught by those in the next room.
The baby was coming. Only they weren’t ready for a birth, they were ready for a death. As across the small bed where Alice lay, digging into her stretched and sweaty skin was the uncomfortably sharp crinkle of sheets of thick brown paper, a quick fix to soak up the blood which they landlady might see.
At roughly noon, she knew it was time (Alice) “Harry, it’s coming out, I know it is, I can feel it’s head”. Shuffling to the foot of the bed, dressed only in her nightdress, Alice stood upright; sweaty incessantly as her pale knuckles tautly gripped the metal bed-frame. Breathing hard but keeping silent, as the top half of its head stretched her vagina wide, with tear-sodden eyes and gritted teeth she hissed at Harry “don’t fail me, don’t fail me”. Although, quite what she meant by that, we shall never know.
With no witnesses, there were two possible ways that the baby was born.
Alice’s way: (Alice) “I was standing by the bed. The child was born. It fell onto the floor”. With no-one to catch it, having fallen head-first onto the hard wooden floor, her defence was that a two-foot drop had shattered its skull – which is plausible. Only a pathologist would note; “the bones of a new-born are not fused and the skull is soft, so it may have rendered the child unconscious, but it did not kill it”.
In court, Alice described the moment for the jury: “it was lying on the floor, I could see it, it was a girl, she was small”. But as much as she would play the grieving mother, the evidence told a different story, as never once did she pick it up, comfort it or cuddle it, she just let it lie there on the cold hard floor.
And then there was Harry’s way: (Harry) “…when I saw the kiddie coming out, I made a grab at it and caught it by the neck. I held it hard because it was greasy and when I was hanging on it, I pulled it very hard and it went limp. As soon as it went limp, I started to tremble and dropped it on the floor…”. His defence being that he was frightened and inexperienced, not that he was cruel and wanted it dead.
It’s possible that both births could be true, just as both could be lies. But then again, an autopsy would find no evidence of a fractured skull, a brain haemorrhage or a broken neck.
And again, neither of its parents showed any compassion for the little baby girl which lay at their feet. All they could think of was their own lives, own jobs and own future now this little problem was gone.
With it out, Alice got back into the bed covered in brown-paper, to rest and deliver the afterbirth, as Harry: “no sooner had it dropped, I thought to myself the best thing was to get it out of the way”.
Only, if the baby was really dead? Then why they do what they did next?
Alice would state “I was standing by the bed. I was conscious. I saw Gimber put his hand round it’s throat and try to strangle it. I asked him not to” - a statement which Harry would vehemently deny. But with this new-born baby still covered in the vernix caseosa – a greasy second skin which protects it in the womb - being too slippery to grip its throat, it’s likely that Harry chose to strangle it by ligature.
Harry: “she gave me the bootlaces to tie around its neck” – a statement Alice would deny. But then again, although an autopsy would find both manual and ligature marks as well as a boot lace around its tiny neck, with no witnesses we only have their vague recollections as to what happened that day.
And although an attempt to strangle it was made… that was not what killed this unnamed baby.
(Alice) “He took a knife off the table”, at which Harry decried “that’s not true”. A large kitchen knife roughly six inches long. (Alice) “I saw him pick it up and put it to it’s throat”, which Harry protested “I never touched it, I didn’t”. And although he would shout “that’s not true” to all of her statements, in court, Alice would deal the fatal blow to his defence by stating “I saw him cut the child’s throat”.
And as if to tug at the jury’s heartstrings, she would state “as he did it, I heard the child whimper”.
Which begs the question; how could the child whimper if it was unconscious, and why were its tiny little lungs still half-full of amniotic fluid, as if she had barely had a chance to take her first breath?
The timings made no sense.
After its death, as Alice rested on the crinkled paper, Harry set about cleaning up, although “I can hardly remember what else I did”. But thankfully – unlike Alice & Harry - the evidence would not lie.
Having folded the pale lifeless baby into a foetal position, this tiny ball-like bundle was wrapped in brown paper, tied up with string and stuck in a cupboard - out of sight, out of mind, out of conscience.
Once the afterbirth was out, he washed the floor with a bucket of water, he disposed of the brown-paper bedsheets, and at the little dinner table beside the cupboard, the two ate eggs, then she slept.
At 7pm, she was awoken by burning, as their small fire consumed all of the evidence, and the almost familiar smell of cooked liver emanated their tiny room as the child’s afterbirth burned in the grate.
At no point, in any statement, do they admit to feeling guilt, upset or remorse for the baby…
At 6pm, Harry took the parcel out of the cupboard, “I got on a tram to Lordship Lane in Wood Green. I know the district well. I got half way down, I went along the side street to Five Oaks. I dropped it in a ditch, then I got on a tram and returned home” - in a disposal which he said “was mutually agreed”.
And that was it - their baby was dead, dumped and forgotten.
On Saturday 18th March, four days later, 9-year-old Stanley Mathers was playing with a piece of wood on the water. Popping his pretend sailboat into a drainage pipe, “when I put it in, it usually came out, but it did not. I looked inside and saw a small wet parcel… a piece was torn and I saw a very small ear”.
Examined by Dr Robinson Dixon, she had been dead for several days. With a bootlace around her neck and no other obvious injuries, death was caused by “a cut across the throat from one side to another… a very deep gash right down to its spine, and although the knife was very sharp and the child’s tissue was very soft, the cut was v-shaped, as the two cuts joined causing three gashes to the spine”.
With no way to identify this abandoned child, a hushed inquest was held at Wood Green Coroner’s Court, which determined that the unnamed baby was “murdered by person or persons unknown”.
The case was closed, the evidence was destroyed and the child was forgotten – loved by no-one.
This was the dark little secret which Harry & Alice would take to their graves…
…only a secret can only remain silent if both parties stay quiet.
Three weeks after the murder, they moved out of 168 Hampstead Road and a new couple moved in.
For the next six months, they shared several lodgings in Blackfriars, Westminster and Warren Street. Only the pressure of hiding such a dark secret inside them had taken a serious toll on their relationship.
They argued at home, they fought at work, the screamed in the street, and - with their love affair now in tatters – behind Alice’s back, Harry had started seeing someone else – their close friend, Dolly Oust.
On 17th October 1923, seeing Harry in Old Compton Street, Alice began throwing accusations at Harry and Dolly, as much to hurt him as to ruin their relationship. Out loud and in public, she accused Dolly of being pregnant, of being a whore, and of Harry murdering and disposing of their unwanted baby.
With nothing else to lose, Alice dragged Dolly, followed by Harry, to their former lodging house at 168 Hampstead Road and expelled the whole sorry story to the landlady – Mrs Birch. They did the same at the abortionist Ada Cook’s – none of whom wanted anything to do with them – but with Harry in denial and Dolly all defensive, with no evidence to prove it, Alice’s words just sounded empty and sad.
But then again, to quote William Congreve’s ‘The Mourning Bride’ – “Heaven has no rage like a love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned”. Two days later, upon hearing the news that Harry & Dolly had been married at Brixton Registry Office, Alice Crabbe went to the police. (End)
At Albany Police Station, Alice confessed, in a way which made her as much of a victim as the baby. Although in court, she would admit that her motive wasn’t justice for the baby, but jealousy and spite.
She blamed Harry for the death, the disposal, and said he had blackmailed her into keeping it a secret.
Harry Gimber was arrested on 20th October, the day of his honeymoon, and gave a statement which – like Alice’s – was as vague as it was convenient. In it, he denied strangling or slitting the baby’s throat, but confessed to everything else – making him guilty of conducting an unlawful burial, but not murder.
The trial began at The Old Bailey on the 4th December 1923 before Mr Justice Avery. On the charge of murder, Harry pleaded ‘not guilty’ and although ‘an accessory’, Alice only appeared as a witness.
For the jury, the trial was indeed a trial, a trial of their patience; as Alice came across not as a grieving mother as “her arrogance and lack of compassion shone through”, Harry’s memory remained vague and he repeatedly littered his abusive curses with slang which (not only confused but) annoyed the court, and the judge was so old and deaf, that every statement was suffixed with “what did he say?”.
And yet, through all of Alice & Harry’s bickering from the dock, it was thanks to the expert witnesses that a conclusion was reached. Having retired for half an hour, on 14th December 1923, Henry William Gimber was found guilty and sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to a life sentence.
Alice Crabb was neither convicted nor tried for any offence, and she was released. And as for their unnamed, unplanned and unloved little baby? She remains buried in an unmarked communal grave.
** 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” and nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards".
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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