Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #170: The Girl with a Smile for Everyone - Part One
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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 SEVENTY: On the eastern edge of Regent’s Park is Cumberland Green on the corner of Chester Road and the Outer Circle. It’s a non-descript expanse of grass with several intersecting paths and few trees.
On Wednesday 1st October 1947, at roughly 10:30pm, the body of a woman was discovered here. Her name was Gladys Hanrahan, also known as ‘Renée’, a 35-year-old book-keeper who worked in a local dairy.
She was well-liked, popular and loved. She hadn’t been robbed, she hadn’t been sexually molested, there were no threats on her life, she didn’t owe money, she didn’t keep secrets, and – stranger still –her body had been posed. So, why was Gladys Hanrahan murdered and who by?
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The location is marked with a purple raindrop near the words Regent's Park (far left). To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
MEPO 3/2856 - Unsolved murder of Gladys Margaret Irene Hanrahan at Regents Park, 1947 Oct 1 - https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1258314
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile
Today I’m standing in Regent’s Park, NW1; two roads south and west of the first two possible murders by the Blackout Ripper, one road east of the college where Martine Vik Magnussen met a deadly friend and a short walk south of the brutal slaughter over the sacred elephant - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Just north of Baker Street, Regent’s Park is one of several royal parks in London. Covering 395 acres, it has boating lakes, an open-air theatre, a zoo, and limitless space for everyone; whether a yappy little rat who soils itself every six feet like its writing its demands in a stinky Morse code, a Lycra-clad jogger whose sweaty whiff makes the flowers wilt, and an attention-seeking turd who ruins every picnic by bringing a guitar so their fragile ego can be massaged by the words “oooh, aren’t you talented”. Yawn.
Cumberland Green is a wide expanse of grass on the far eastern edge of Regent’s Park, just shy of the perimeter road called the Outer Circle. Cross-crossed with a series of interconnecting paths, unlike the rest of Regent’s Park which is manicured and cultivated, Cumberland Green has no plants, no shrubs, no bushes, no pond and only a smattering of trees. It’s as if the planners simply ran out of ideas.
Being flat and unincumbered by obstructions, it’s perfect for a game of cricket. But if you wanted to hide something - let’s say a dead body - this part of the park would be possibly the worst place to pick.
On Wednesday 1st October 1947, at roughly 10:15pm, it was here that the body of a 35-year-old book-keeper called Gladys Hanrahan was found. Having been gagged, strangled and beaten, it was clear she had been dead for barely an hour. But what wasn’t clear was where she had died, as with the grass all wet and freshly-cut and her shoes all clean and dry, someone had carried her here. But why?
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 170: The Girl with a Smile for Everyone – Part One.
It’s fair to say that everybody loved Gladys.
Being a harmless little dot – barely four foot and eleven inches high and just seven and a half stone in weight – she was unmistakable and easy to spot. Known by her loved ones as Renee, she was the size of a child and as fragile as a deer. With pale skin punctuated big grey eyes, lips as red as a toffee apple and her sweet face topped with brown frizzy hair like candy floss, she was impossible not to love.
Everybody said she was “a girl with a smile for everyone”. And although, when people die, the grieving often expel cherry-picked clips of a rose-tinted version of their life, in this case it was true.
Renee was a truly beautiful person, inside and out. Being no bother to anyone, she was shy but without appearing rude, she was friendly without being too-familiar, and she was quiet but that was her way. She was truly lovely, as inside that tiny body would beat a big heart with enough love for everyone.
Which is why it’s so hard to believe that anyone would hate Renee so much they would murder her…
…but they would.
Gladys Margaret Irene Hanrahan was born on the 3rd August 1912 in Marylebone, barely a few streets from where she would die. As the youngest of two, where-as her older brother was given the name Daniel after her father, with Gladys named after her mother, it’s no surprise that she preferred to be called Renee, as her birth name only reminded her of the mother she would have chosen to forget.
Shortly after her birth, Daniel & Gladys separated. With mum having taken the girl and dad taking the boy, although this split fragmented the family, her brother got the better end of the deal. He only earned a modest wage as a night-porter and could never afford a place of his own, but Daniel was a good man, he was solid, honest and loving. Where-as Gladys was a drinker who drank till she was sick.
Witnessing the neglect that Renee was subjected to, Daniel fought to get full custody of his children and won. In 1919, when she was only seven, Renee’s mother died. It was a tragedy but also a blessing, as for the rest of her life Renee would never be much of a drinker - a bottle of Guinness a night at best.
For Daniel, providing stability for his family was vital. Having moved into his parent’s house at 27 Park Crescent Mews, just south of Regent’s Park, three generations lived side-by-side in supportive bliss.
Living alongside his sister and her husband, William Reason, although they were not blood relations, Daniel & William were as close as any brothers. With no children of his own, Uncle Willy treated Renee like she was his own daughter. Since her birth, Renee had been cursed by the worst kind of mother-figure, but as she grew, she would be blessed with two fathers who would love her without question.
In May 1929, Daniel and his kids moved in with Uncle Willy and his wife at 30 Northumberland Place in Westbourne Park, and having begun to bloom, Renee’s turbulent past made way for a bright future.
Educated at Marylebone Grade School, Renee had an aptitude for maths. Leaving school aged 14, over the next 22 years – being loyal to her employer and hard-working – she would have only two jobs; as a book-keeper keeping tabs on the finances at Arthur’s Stores in Westbourne Grove for a decade, and – broken only by her death – 12 years at the Marylebone branch of United Dairies on Blandford Street.
As her father had strived to achieve, her life was the epitome of stability…
…and nothing in her life forewarned of her cruel demise.
As a creature of habit, she worked six days-a-week except Sundays, taking every second Wednesday afternoon off. She hung out with a small but trusted crowd, she always told her dad or uncle where she was going, she rarely stayed out after 10:30pm, and she steered clear of any dangers or strangers.
Her hobbies consisted of reading poetry and going to dances. Her one vice was that she liked to smoke. She was immaculately dressed with manicured nails and stylish clothes. And when she wasn’t working, she helped out in her Uncle Willy’s off-licence, by keeping the books and stocking the shelves.
Whether it was owing to her shyness, by the age of 35, Renee had had a few boyfriends, but she hadn’t found ‘the one’. She wanted to be loved, but this lack of love in her life left a huge hole in her heart. Plagued with loneliness, even those closest to her would never know this, as batting it away with a beaming smile, she kept her feelings locked-up tight and never wanted to burden others with her pain.
Outside, Renee was always smiling…
…but on the inside, she was crying.
On the 14th December 1938, with her brother having married, Renee and Daniel moved in with Uncle Willy and his wife into a three-storey terraced house at 7 St Ervans Road in Westbourne Grove, W10.
Situated north-west of Paddington, St Ervans Road was a quiet residential street in a working-class neighbourhood comprising of two lines of identical houses, with the ground floors of a few converted into small shops. Theirs at number 7 was an off-licence and next-door at number 5 was a grocer.
It was a nice place where everyone was friendly and felt safe. If you left your house, you could expect to be greeted with a “good morning”, if you hadn’t got enough cash to buy your food it would go on the slate, and if you left your door unlocked, you knew your neighbours would watch your house.
Nine months after they had moved in, war was declared and the world was plunged into chaos. It was a time of fear and anxiety, but – like so many streets – the residents of St Ervans Road stuck together.
Next-door at number 5 lived Mr & Mrs Butler. Married for 24 years, for the last 17 they had run a small grocery shop on their ground-floor, selling tinned stuffs, powdered goods, bread, milk and eggs.
Gladys Butler was a private woman who kept-to-herself, but being a local businessman and a good pal of Uncle Willy, Albert Butler (who everyone called ‘Bert’) was a regular visitor to their shop and home.
Being businesses next-door to one-another, there was never any rivalry between Willy & Bert. Instead, they helped each other out. If they needed odd-jobs done, they knew who to call. As a book-keeper, Renee did stock-taking in the cellar and kept tabs on the finances for both shops. As Bert had a car – a 14 horse-power black Ford saloon - not only did they use it to pick-up stock (saving money) but also, Bert took Daniel, Willy and Renee on trips to the races at Ascot and day-trips to the sea at Brighton.
From 9pm till bed-time, every night - without fail - Bert came around for a cup of tea, a snack, a natter and a game of dominoes. Just like Uncle Willy, Bert and his wife never had any children, but he would regard Renee as one of his own. Her life was blessed, she never really had a mother, but now she had three fathers, and although she was 35 years old, to them all, Renee would always be their “little girl”.
Being so shy and fragile, their love was a vital part of her life… especially when tragedy struck.
As her only female role model, on the 10th October 1944, Uncle Willy’s wife died leaving Daniel without a sister and Renee without an aunt. Rallying to support each-other, Renee took on her aunt’s duties of cooking and cleaning, and Bert came over more to ensure that this quiet girl wasn’t overworked.
Conscious not to burden her family, she never spoke of her worries…
…but by helping her with simple things like the washing-up, it a little pressure off.
By 1947, with the war firmly over, Renee had been a book-keeper at United Dairies at 75 Blandford Street in Marylebone for over 12 years. She was quiet and polite, but well-liked and punctual. She had never been promoted, but not being an ambitious person, she liked the security of a familiar routine.
Every day, she caught the Circle Line tube from Westbourne Park to Baker Street, taking just half an hour door-to-door, even with her little legs. She didn’t eat out, choosing to carry sandwiches. She rarely went out in the evenings, instead she stayed in with her dad and two uncles. But once a week, she and her small group of friends headed to the dairy’s social club, at Preston Road in Wembley.
Having made up a foursome with three friends from the dairy - Dorothy Brown (a 34-year-old book-keeper), Frederick Gedge (a 40-year-old milk inspector) and James Lock (a 27-year-old yard hand) – Renee had recently become a little bit smitten by James, who everyone called Jimmy. Their first date was to see a film, each time he would pick her up and drop her off on his motorbike, and as a guest in her home, the three men in her life would give this young man the once-over with a cautious eye.
On the bank holiday of Sunday 31st August 1947, four weeks before her murder, the foursome headed out to the seaside town of Margate. With Dot riding pillion on Gedge’s bike and Renee on the back of Jimmy’s, with the engine roaring and the wind in her hair, it was quite a thrill for her quiet little life.
For Renee, she really hoped that Jimmy would be ‘the one’…
…and although she wanted to be loved, it was not to be. Giving evidence at her inquest, James told the court, “Rene and I were only working friends, and no intimacy had never taken place between us”.
The evening of Tuesday 30th September 1947 was as ordinary as any other, except for one reason. The Thursday would be Uncle Willy’s 65th birthday. He didn’t want to make a big deal of it, just an invite for a few friends and neighbours for drinks and a game of cards in the back-room at 7 St Ervans Road.
From the scullery, as they washed-up the dirty crockery, Willy could hear Bert whispering to Renee. He didn’t like birthday surprises, but he needn’t have worried as the party would never take place…
…as by the next night, his beloved Renee would be dead.
Wednesday 1st October 1947 began like any other day for Renee. Typically, being her day-off, with the summer sun gone, the sky was dull blanket of grey which lay a fine wet drizzle on the ground. At 8am, she made breakfast for Uncle Willy and herself, and a meal for her dad as he came off his night-shift.
She did the cleaning, a little washing, and helped out in the shop, speaking to a handful of customers.
At 12pm, with a few errands to run for Uncle Willy, Renee took the 12-minute-walk to Barclays Bank at 137 Ladbroke Grove, she picked up a few odds and ends, and – as promised – she was back by 2pm. For lunch, they had sausages, mash and peas, with peaches and custard for pudding. And at 5pm, she went to Smith’s at 63a Tavistock Crescent, buying her uncle’s cigarettes as served by Mrs Underwood.
So far, her day was unremarkable… but for some reason, her routine would change.
That night, she appeared tired, although typical of Renee, she never complained. Being a Wednesday, she usually went to the dairy’s social club in Wembley, and although Jimmy, Dorothy and Gedge had expected to see her there, she never turned up. That evening, before his shift, she asked her dad what films were on at the cinema, he suggested ‘Master of Bankdam’ on Edgware Road, but she never went.
Ready for a night out, she dressed in a light blue frock, a navy-blue coat, black shoes and – as always – her nails were brightly painted, her make-up was neat and her hair was as frizzy as ever. In her brown leather handbag was a make-up compact, £5 in notes and a cotton hanky (stylish, colourful and clean). Around her neck she wore a sapphire and diamond pendant, which had belonged to her belated aunt.
At 5:30pm, she had a cup of tea and a piece of cake with Uncle Willy, and she was her usual pleasant self. As they sat there in the back-room, having had a coughing fit, Renee asked him ‘would you like me to stop with you’, but seeing that she needed a night off, he replied ‘no, you go and enjoy yourself’.
They would be one of the last words which Uncle Willy would say to Renee. She had told no-one of her worries, as she didn’t want to burden those she loved… but a dark secret was plaguing her mind.
At 5:55pm, she left her home at 7 St Ervans Road for the very last time, she walked to Westbourne Park tube station and purchased a return ticket to Baker Street… only she never boarded the train.
Four and a half hours of her life would vanish…
…as he next time she was seen, she was dead.
The night fell at 7:12pm, although with the sky a murky grey, it was hard to tell. Being dark and a few hundred feet from a dotted line of street-lights on the Outer Circle, Regent’s Park was almost empty.
Occasionally, the cross-crossing paths would feature a hint of life like a dog-walker, a cyclist heading home or an amorous couple kissing, but with the gardeners having packed up for the day, it was silent.
Of the witnesses who found her body, nobody saw or heard what had happened to Renee. Nothing drew their attention nor aroused their suspicion. There were no screams and no sounds to mask them.
At 10:15pm, Leonard Daniels, a cable worker from Greenwich was sitting on a bench in Cumberland Green with his girlfriend Menna August, a domestic servant who worked at nearby 6 Chester Place. Having finished work, they had been to the cinema, and were sitting quietly having a chat and a smoke.
They had barely been there for five minutes when a short thick-set man in his early twenties came up saying “there’s a woman laying over there, I think she’s ill?”, Leonard asked “where?”, and he pointed to just fifty feet from where they were sat. Pulling out her torch, Menna shone it upon a wide expanse of grass with no bushes or trees in any direction, and there lay a woman, seemingly fast asleep.
Alerted by the commotion, Thomas Hustwayte, a toolmaker from Hackney asked “has she fainted?”, but having briefly examined her, Leonard’s words were clear “no, she is dead”. Of those four, Menna, Leonard & Thomas walked to Albany Street police station, but the thick-set man was never identified.
The investigation was headed-up by Detective Inspector Jamieson and Superintendent Beveridge.
It was clear upon arrival that this was not an ordinary attack on a lone woman walking through a park at night. It had some of the hallmarks, but too many elements of the scene didn’t make any sense.
There was no robbery; her sapphire and diamond pendant remained round her neck, the rings were on her fingers and her brown leather handbag hadn’t been opened or disturbed. Inside was the £5.
There was no sexual assault; not a single item of her clothing or underwear had been ripped, scuffed or even disarranged. Everything looked as neat and pressed as when she had left her home that night.
There had been an attack; as with broken nails and blackened eyes, it was clear that this tiny lady had valiantly tried and failed to put up a brave fight in her last seconds alive, but it hadn’t happened here.
Whoever had attacked her had strangled her with a hand and inserted a handkerchief so far down her throat that she choked, only that hadn’t happened here. The detectives would comment “It looked like she had been laid down and her bag used as a pillow… it was like she was positioned with reverence…”. With straight arms, legs and body, she hadn’t collapsed here, but she had been placed.
Renee had been dead for nearly an hour by the time she was found, but she hadn’t set foot in Regent’s Park that night. For the police, they knew this for certain, as with air moist with drizzle and the grass freshly cut, everyone’s shoes were wet and dotted with green sticky clippings… all except Renee’s.
But who had attacked her, where had they strangled her and why did they dump her body here?
It made no sense. Cumberland Park was one of the few parts of Regent’s Park without obstructions. With the nearest entrance being from the Outer Circle - a ring road which loops from Baker Street to Great Portland Street – she was far enough away from the street-lights and traffic, but to get to the place where her body was laid, somebody had carried her through a gate shrouded by dark thick trees.
Clearly, she had been posed and placed in the open, but why did her murderer want her to be found?
Whoever it was, they had both loved and hated Renee for whatever reason, and although this attack seemed like a crime-of-passion, in the heat of the moment, her assailant had made a single mistake.
Down her throat a cotton handkerchief had been forced. It wasn’t hers, as being so stylish, Renee’s were always neat, clean and colourful, matching her clothes or nails. This was old, it was torn and it was used. It was a man’s handkerchief stitched with the blue laundry mark of ‘XX/A’ and the initial ‘D’.
Police searched the surrounding areas – the streets, the park and made house-to-house enquiries – but there had been no sightings of Renee since she left her home at 6pm, and no sounds of the attack.
With no suspect, the police had three possible theories as to what had happened.
#1 – Renee had gone for a walk in a park (three miles from her home) and was attacked by a stranger. This was less likely, as she was not the sort of woman to go walking in a dark park, at night, by herself.
#2 – Chosen at random, her murder was committed by a copy-cat killer, inspired by the film ‘Wanted for Murder’ where a killer strangles a woman in a London park - which was still playing at the cinema.
Or #3 – Renee had met a man, he had killed her elsewhere, and he had dumped her body in the park.
This seemed the most likely theory. Within two days, the police were convinced that her killer was someone she liked, someone she possibly loved, and – more importantly – someone she trusted. (End)
The next morning, unsure which was the home of Uncle Willy, a reporter entered Bert’s grocery shop. Having been a little too eager to get the scoop, they blurted out the tragic truth before the police had a chance to inform her loved one’s. And within the hour, the whole street knew that Renee was dead.
Informed by a ravenous press too insensitive of her grieving family’s feelings to tread carefully with a deadline looming, when Bert went next-door, he saw the ashen faces of his pals Daniel and Willy; their eyes red with tears and their anger evident, as through choked words, the dead girl’s father barked “If I get hold of the man who did it, I would tear him to pieces”. Knowing they needed his support, Bert stayed with them until 1:50pm, as the three men who loved her stood in silence and shock.
With the door locked and his 65th birthday party cancelled, Uncle Willy put a sign on the door of his off-licence, which read “owing to the sudden death of my dear niece, this shop will be closed”.
On Thursday 8th October 1947, just eight days after her murder, the funeral of Gladys Hanrahan known as Renee was held. Organised by Herbert Marshall, the depot manager at United Dairies, as a mark of respect, among the cortege was a long line of milk floats which passed her home at a solum pace, and on each van lay a brightly coloured wreath which typified this good woman’s warmth and love.
The church was full of mourners; family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, everyone who loved her. With not a dry eye to be seen, no-one could fathom why anyone would hate Renee, let alone how any one would want her dead? And yet, somewhere in this church, someone she knew had murdered her.
Renee was known as the girl with a smile for everyone… but maybe it was one smile too many?
** 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.
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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