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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-FIVE:
On Sunday 30th October 1932, Mabel & Herbert checked into Room 201, at the far-left end of the second floor. They had enjoyed a romantic week together, they been out to the theatre, they had savoured a last meal, they sent their personal belongings to their families, and having written their suicide notes, they laid on the bed, and kissed each other goodbye… having taken cyanide. It was ultimate love story of Bradford’s very own Romeo & Juliet. Or so it seemed.
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The location of The Regent Palace Hotel is marked with a black coloured raindrop near the words Piccadilly. 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.
Tuesday 25th January - Murder of Mabel Hill by Herbert Turner at Regent Palace Hotel, London, on 30 October, 1932 - https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1257718
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing in Glasshouse Street, W1; two streets west of the senseless stabbing of the unfortunate Mr Johnson, three hundred feet north-west of the tube stop where the cowardly killer of Camile Gordon fled, one street east of where The Blackout Ripper picked up several sex workers, and one road south of the (possible) suicide by the sportsman’s mistress - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Just off Piccadilly Circus, at 32 Glasshouse Street, once stood the Regent Palace Hotel. Opened in 1915 and ran by J Lyons & Co - owners of the Cornerhouse Tearooms – being nine-stories high, across half a square block and with over a thousand bedrooms, the Regent Palace was the largest hotel in Europe.
Since its post-war decline, it became little more than a brothel so bawdy that Canadian servicemen referred to it as ‘the riding school’, a youth hostel for overseas students slash shoplifters, and now its grand entrance is a showroom for Ugg - those hideous fleece-lined boots which supposedly make the wearer look as devastatingly sexy as cavewoman Raquel Welsh in the film One Million Years BC, but actually make them look like they’ve mistimed a kick up a sheep’s jacksie, and - being so toasty warm - they make the wearer’s tootsies stink like a Neanderthal’s butt-crack… but that’s just my opinion.
On Saturday 29th October 1932, at a little after 9:30pm, a Mr & Mrs Turner of Bradford booked into Room 201 on the second floor of the Regent Palace Hotel. Not being locals, they looked as if they were here to see the vibrant sights of the big city. Kissing and holding hands, it was clear that this young couple were very much in love. And although their small suitcase re-iterated to the receptionist that they would only be staying a few nights, their plan was to never leave their room… at least not alive.
The suicide pact of Mabel Hill and Herbert Turner was a tragedy reported by talentless hacks, whose bile has been regurgitated verbatim, as if every detail was fact. But having only scratched the surface of this sorry story, what every writer missed was the truth about these lovers and their last fateful act.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 165: To Love, To Die, Together.
Love is a powerful emotion. Being stronger than anger and more vindictive than hate, it can turn the rational irrational in the blind pursuit of good, of bad, of joy and of pain. Fuelled by little more than a lethal burst of chemicals - even though our primary instinct is own preservation - mistakenly believing – as if by fate - that we have found our ‘one true love’, that love can lead to our own destruction.
Mabel & Herbert were two such lovers…
…but denied their togetherness in life, they would seek it in death.
Mabel Hill was born Mabel Bentley on 9th December 1899 in Shipley, West Yorkshire. Raised in a two-storey sandstone terrace at 2 Alexandra Road, it was the kind of place where the kids played tig in the street, the wives scrubbed the stoops till the black slate shined and the men folk slunk back from the pit - all soot-sodden, calloused and hacking-up coal-dust – in a life without any dreams nor joy. Just the endless drudgery of everyday existence, with the majority married as that was what was expected.
As the eldest of six to her widowed mother Clara, fate would be intensely cruel to the Bentley’s, as with the family being bereft of a father, before too long death would come for two of the children.
With life being a struggle, to provide an income, the last of the family lived upstairs, as the downstairs was converted into a small confectionery shop selling boiled sweets, wine gums and liquorice.
A few doors down at number 24 lived Herbert, the second eldest son of four boys to Charles and Augusta. And although our ‘lovers-to-be’ were raised just fifty yards apart – with Mabel being eleven years his senior, a huge age gap in a child’s perspective – she only knew him as the ‘Turner’s kid’ and their only interactions early-on was (possibly) as she ruffled his hair to gift him a half-penny sweet.
In later life, many would describe Mabel as ‘matronly’, as although a little dour yet sturdily-built, being a formidable brunette, she had a steely strong will to do what she felt was right. To some, they may have seemed an odd couple – one short, one tall; one little, one big – but they made sense; as with Herbert being an eternal boy – almost as if they were mother and son – she became the voice to his silence and his decision-maker as he dithered over what was best for others, stammering a passive “yes dear” or a “no dear” as she wiped a tiny speck of dirt off his cheek with a hankie and a lick of spit.
They were an odd mix, but as an unlikely couple they were two opposites who perfectly complimented each other’s strength and weaknesses. Always being happy, upbeat and never without a whistled ditty on his lips, Herbert brought the hope and joy to her life, where Mabel only saw darkness and woe.
It’s unclear how much Herbert knew of her past, as having struggled with anxiety and depression – so severely, that the arrhythmic palpitations of her stuttering heart often caused her to collapse –she had once tried to take her life by slitting her own throat. And although her make-up often hid the bags under her eyes, it would take a thick scarf to shield (from prying eyes) her most deadly of scars.
Mabel & Herbert’s curse was that they both wanted to be loved. For him, he treasured its simple pleasures; hugging, kissing, holding hands, and making the other as happy - if not happier - than him.
But for Mabel, being ever the romantic fuelled by a daily-diet of fairy-tale romances, she had always dreamed of the perfect marriage to the perfect man, but as we know, dreams are rarely unattainable. And as the shame of spinsterhood loomed ever larger, as this 25-year-old singleton was left on the shelf, fearing a life of loveless solitude, she did as many women do – and she settled for second best.
On the 24th May 1924 in Bradford Registry office, Mabel Bentley married 30-year-old Herbert Victor Hill, a textile-engineer from Bradford and the two moved in together at nearby 7 Daleside Road.
As romances go, it was fine, perfunctory and pleasant. But lacking any spark, whether love or friction, although they would remain good friends, they drifted apart. And following a mutual agreement, in 1931, after seven years of marriage, they separated and Mabel moved back to 2 Alexandra Road.
For Mabel, the breakdown of her marriage felt like a failure. And although when she had married, Herbert Turner was nothing but a scrawny little schoolboy - having returned to her childhood home – the boy had become a man, and as the two locked eyes in church, a new love had begun to blossom.
It was a love which would lead to exquisite happiness…
…but also, their deaths.
With Mabel still legally married, although an amicable divorce looked likely, living barely a few doors apart, they had to keep their love-affair a secret from the local sticky beaks and wagging tongues.
In their own words, they became “sweet-hearts”; two lovers who nipped off for sneaky walks, slipped each other love letters and snuck down alleys for a quick peck-on-the-cheek when no-one was looking. It may seem tame by today’s standards, but in a small town, a little scandal has big repercussions.
No-one knew about Mabel & Herbert; not their friends, their families nor her ex-husband-to-be.
By the start of October 1932, having barely been together for six months, they both believed they had found their one true-love. This was it. Their search was over. And being so besotted with each other that they could see nothing but a life of eternal bliss, their talk turned to their future together, forever.
…but it was not to be.
On Tuesday 18th October 1932, less than two weeks before their fateful decision, Mabel met her husband Herbert, as they often did, still being friends. Over a cup of tea, he mooted the thought that maybe they should get back together? As in his eyes, the marriage wasn’t dead. But in her eyes, it was.
Without blinking, Mabel made it clear, they were over, finished, done, and although she kept her new beau out of the conversation, her future now rested in her husband’s hands. According to the law, the sanctity of marriage was paramount above everything, including her happiness and wishes, and as the separation was mutual with no accounts of infidelity, cruelty nor violence, she could not divorce him.
Falling out of love was not an excuse to defy God, so blinded by love, Mabel and Herbert saw only one way out of their troubles… as being denied their love in life, they would find it together in death.
On Saturday 15th October 1932, Herbert was fixing a car at Sherburn Garages on Town Lane in the village of Idle, where he worked as a motor mechanic for W & W Heggs. Walter Heggs, the proprietor liked Herbert; he was quiet, a little frail and easily-led, but a good lad who always worked hard.
Mid-afternoon, Herbert piped up (Herbert) “Mr Heggs?”, (Walter) “Yes lad”, (Herbert) “If I… if I needed to destroy some puppies, would strychnine do?”. Which may seem an odd thing to say, but back then, it was perfectly fine. “No lad, best thing you can do is drown them”. And with that, Herbert thanked his boss and carried on with his job, but the ‘demise of these doggies’ weighed heavy on his mind.
At a little before 5pm, George Leslie Todd, a local chemist parked his car at the Sherburn Garage as per usual. Asked the same question, Mr Todd replied “no son, you’ll want prussic acid’…” also known as hydrogen cyanide. And with its purchase being legal for everyday means, Mr Todd reassured him “pop by the shop, I’ll sort you out”. It was a casual transaction, made by a chemist and a customer many times prior for enough poison to kill a litter of puppies, or two persons intent on saying goodbye.
On Tuesday 18th October at 11am, Herbert entered Mr Todd’s chemist shop at 17 Bradford Road. As legally obliged to, the chemist filled in the poisons book (writing) “Oct 18/32, Mr H Turner, HCW formula, destroy pups”, it was signed “H Turner” in a scrawl which would later match the register at the Regent Palace Hotel and the suicide note he would send to his mother, and having paid two shillings – one for each life - he was handed a small green bottle with a double fatal dose of cyanide.
That night, back on Alexandra Road, away from the prying eyes, Herbert met Mabel in secret. (Herbert) “I told her I’d got it and she said “all right”. We didn’t take it then because she suggested we should come to London and do it. I agreed and gave her the bottle which she kept for safety in her handbag”.
With the poison ready for this ‘Romeo & Juliet of the north’, all they had to do was slip away silently.
As agreed, Herbert told his mum and dad that he was going away with a friend to Blackpool, a local seaside town frequented by millions every year. And although it would be too bitterly cold for a swim, as his trip would coincide with the famous illuminations, his parents weren’t worried for their boy. In fact, having asked their permission to go, his father gave him a few shillings to make sure he had fun.
“On Saturday 22nd October, we went to Blackpool together and stayed at The Granville, a boarding house”, Herbert would state, “we stayed there as Mr & Mrs Turner and occupied the same bed”. Many hotels would refuse an unmarried couple a bed, so the ruse was a sensible precaution to lay low.
With only one week of life before their demise, they made their final days as special as possible. With walks on the beach, eating candy-floss and riding rollercoasters by day; as by night, they lay cradled in each other’s arms, as Mabel’s matronly chest enveloped Herbert’s head with a smothering love.
It should have been the perfect start to a tragic end, and although Mabel had told her mother she was going to Blackpool with a girl-pal, she also felt obliged to send a letter to her soon-to-be ex-husband.
On the day they had arrived, Mr Hill had received a handwritten note telling him where she had gone and that she was planning to return by next Tuesday. Only her sign-off caused him great concern given the decline in her mental state, as it read; “please forgive me if you can. Goodbye. Love Mabel”.
On Sunday 23rd October, having scoured the streets of Blackpool in search of the woman who was still legally ‘his wife’, on the seaside esplanade underneath the illuminations, Mr Hill spotted the sturdy shape of Mabel walking hand-in-hand with a small young man, who he later knew as Herbert Turner.
Amidst the roar of trams and the screech of seagulls, Mr Hill harangued Mabel in public, as there was no way he would grant her a divorce, not now, not ever. It was a bitter fight in which Mabel gave as good as she got, but - as was his way - Herbert stayed silent, not wanting to be a bother. And needing to have this out with her husband once and for all, Mabel sent Herbert back to the boarding house.
Only this was just a ruse, as making the excuse that she needed the loo, Mabel slipped out of the cafe’s back door and unable to find her again, Mr Hill returned to Bradford, as the two lovers went to London.
On Monday 24th October, Mabel & Herbert arrived in London. It was the perfect place to hide out, as being a gargantuan metropolis which fizzed with a dizzying blur of passing people too busy to stop and talk, even if her husband went looking here, he could stand right next to them and never see them.
To keep their profile low, for several nights, they stayed at an unnamed hotel at 28 Bloomsbury Street, signing in as Mr & Mrs Sinclair. They saw the sights; Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, and savoured many pleasant meals at the Lyon’s Cornerhouse Tearooms, always splitting the bill.
On Saturday 29th October, feeling a greater sense of security and freedom, they moved to the slightly less-affordable but certainly more resplendent Regent Palace Hotel, just off Piccadilly Circus.
Opened in 1915 as Europe’s largest hotel, J Lyons & Co knew how to run a high quality establishment at a more affordable price. Featuring a cocktail bar, a small theatre and an opulent reception, although many rooms overlooked the backs of buildings and were bathed by the dizzying neon of the infamous lights of Piccadilly Circus; the beds were cosy, the rooms were clean, the fires were soothing, and with a phone and a bathroom on every floor, a maid was on hand to connect your call or run you a bath.
At 9:40pm, Irene Ewart, the reception clerk of the Regent Palace Hotel welcomed two new guests; a larger lady in her early thirties and a shorter man just out of his teens. Giving their names as Mr & Mrs Herbert Turner of Shipley, he signed in, said they planned to stay at least one night maybe even two, and as the only luggage they had was a small battered suitcase and a handbag – which she clutched to her heart as tightly as any stranger in the big smoke – they were handed the keys to Room 201.
The receptionist had no reason to be suspicious, as they made a sweet (if slightly odd) couple, and although she was a little bossy, he was pleasant and polite as he wished the receptionist a good night.
No-one could have foreseen the horror which would be unleashed. Having entering the lift, as the lovers ascended to the second floor, they held hands and smiled, as he whistled a cheerful little ditty.
Strangely, this wouldn’t be the first suicide pact at the Regent Palace Hotel. As just five months earlier, Captain John Blockley had bigamously married his new wife Helen Diamond. And seeing no way out; he shot her, shot himself, and their bodies were not discovered until at least twelve hours later.
Suicides are not uncommon in hotels; some see a person’s sad demise once a month, a year or a decade, and although it’s frequency shouldn’t make the deaths of Mabel & Herbert any less tragic...
…the real tragedy was hidden underneath.
Sunday 30th October 1932 was their last day alive, so - as money no longer had meaning - they splashed out. They ate as best food their finances could afford, they went to a West End show – maybe The Cat and the Fiddle at the Palace, or Tell Her the Truth at the Savill – and by all accounts, they looked happy and devoted; holding hands and kissing, as they shared the last treats from a box of Swiss chocolates.
At 6:15pm, a large parcel and two letters written on Regent Palace notepaper were received at a local postal sorting office. Addressed to their mothers, Mabel’s read: “My darling mother. I hope you will forgive me for what I am about to do. I cannot think of any other way out for a bad girl. I have caused enough trouble for you in this world and I hope the Good Lord will forgive me. I am broken hearted at what I have done and the world is well rid of me. Goodbye mother and try not to worry about me. Give my love to Clarice, Alan, Ralph and Grandma, and yourself, and my dear husband who was too good for me. Your broken-hearted daughter. Mabel”. Inside lay a card leaving everything to her mum.
Her handwriting was neat, her spelling was good, and there were no corrections or mistakes.
Herbert’s read: “Dear Mother. Can you ever forgive me for the trouble I have cause you, for by the time you receive this I shall not be on this earth. Please do not blame anyone for what I am doing, as it is all my own fault. I am sending you my things on by parcel post and please give them to Roland as it is my last wish that he should have them, and please tell him to cheer up, also please ask father to forgive me, as I have been a rotter to him. No doubt you will know who I am with, but please do not blame her as we cannot live without each other. Your loving son. Herbert xxx”. His letter was hesitant, messy, and having struggled to write his suicide note, this wasn’t a first draft, it was his third.
At 9pm, they returned to the hotel… but only one of them had no plans ever to leave.
Twenty minutes later, as if to cleanse himself of his sins, Herbert asked the chambermaid to run him a bath. She did so, he said “thank you”, he washed his woollen vest, his socks and his pants, and having returned to Room 201, he placed his wet undergarments on an armchair beside the roaring fire.
Dressed in his blue patterned pyjamas, being sat on the bed, he saw that Mabel was dressed in her best clothes; a black dress with yellow trimming and light-coloured stockings, with her hair neat, her make-up on and a set of pearls which hid a faded scar from an earlier time when life got too much. Only she wasn’t dressed for a night on the town, but to check out of this life… once and for good.
(Herbert) “While I was in the bathroom, she had placed the poison on the table near the bed. There was some already poured out in two glasses. There was more in her glass than in mine. I picked up the bottle (it was empty) and put it in a drawer. I then went to the bed and we both lay down”.
The moment had come - a farewell to the sadness and a hello to their happiness in the ever-after.
(Herbert) “I was nearest the wall. We got ourselves comfortable and bid each other goodbye”, sharing a last kiss in this life and sealing their love in the next. “She took hers first”. Raising the glass tumbler to her lips, Mabel swigged back the colourless liquid with the faint pale blue hue, and flinched at its taste of bitter almonds. “She handed me her empty glass which I put upon the table”. Cursed with a weak heart, she died within the minute, and with his lover gone, “I took my poison and drank it”.
(Phone) On Monday 31st October at 8:45am, having received a parcel and a deeply troubling letter, Herbert’s father called the hotel demanding to speak to his son. Upon their door, the chambermaid knocked three time but got no reply, so she entered the dark cold room, softly cooing “sir, a trunk call for you”. Only neither stirred, as the two motionless figures lay on the bed, holding hands in silence.
As the chambermaid reached over, she touched her face and saw that Mabel was icy cold…
…but seeing a flicker in his eyes, she realised that Herbert was still alive.
At her autopsy, detecting a purplish hue to her lips, neck and upper arms, rigor mortis determined that death had occurred twelve hours prior, and with no signs of a struggle, no smell of cyanide on her breath (as it evaporates quickly) and an empty green bottle beside her - suicide was suspected.
At Charing Cross Hospital, as a precaution, Herbert had his stomach pumped and was injected with adrenaline, as a medic stated he was “apparently unconscious”. With his colour good, his breathing was fine and his heart soft but regular, the woozy lad complained of “a burning at the back of my throat”, but when the doctor looked, there were no burning, nor signs that he had taken any cyanide.
But was this a mistake, fate, or deliberate? (End)
On the 13th December 1932, at the Old Bailey, Herbert Turner was tried on the charge of “feloniously and wilfully murdering Mabel Hill by administering poison”, at which his terrified lips quivered ‘not guilty’. But as a death sentence loomed, so terrified was this frail boy, that he collapsed in the dock.
Seeing through to the very heart of the evidence, John Maude (his solicitor) pleaded to the jury “he loved Mrs Hill passionately. It is clear that this woman had worked on the boy’s mind by her suggestion of suicide until he became obsessed with the idea that there was nothing worthwhile in life but death”.
As a happy little lad who was easily-led, but never once had a dark thought or spoke of suicide, Herbert always put others and their needs before himself, and – even when stressed – he would never speak-up or answer back, as his way of coping with life’s worries was to whistle a cheerful little ditty.
As a voice when his silence said little; she decided to buy the poison, to come to London, she poured it out, and although she was dressed for death - wearing his pyjamas – he was clearly dressed for bed.
Her letter to mother was neat and direct; his took three attempts, the last of which was a muddle, as if he wasn’t fully committed to the terrifying prospect of death, but didn’t want to disappoint her. And besides, if he was really suicidal, why did he wash his pants, socks and vest, and hang them out to dry?
Was his survival just luck having not taken enough, or did he take none having only pretended to die?
Found guilty, Herbert Turner was sentenced to death for Mabel’s murder, but with the jury making a strong recommendation for clemency, Mr Justice Charles commuted his sentence to life in prison.
** 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".
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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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