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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-ONE:
At 7 St Ervans Road in Westbourne Grove once lived William Reason, his brother-in-law Daniel Hanrahan and his 35-year-old niece called Gladys, who everyone knew as Renee. Everyone loved Renee; she was sweet, petite and polite.
On Wednesday 1st October 1947, at 10:30pm, the body of Renee was found in Regent’s Park, three miles east. She had been gagged, strangled and beaten. What happened to Renee? What was she doing in Regent’s Park after dark? Who did she meet and why? And what does this street and the location of her uncles’ off-licence on St Ervan’s Road have to do with her death?
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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 on St Ervans Road in Westbourne Park, W10; two streets north of the Landor House murders, two streets east of the cinema where Reg Christie was once a projectionist, and a short walk from the last tragic moments in the sad life of Lena Cunningham - coming soon to Murder Mile.
The original buildings on the eastern edge of St Ervan’s Road were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the A40 flyover, a delightful concrete monstrosity which blots the horizon with a grey sunset of hazy smog, a bird song of roaring trucks and a hooty jam of window lickers heading to a job they hate.
In the pursuit of progress, the off-license at 7 St Ervans Road was erased; taking with it the home of William Reason, Daniel Hanrahan, his daughter Renee and the tragedy which befell this loving family.
Her home was three miles west of where her body was found; no-one knew how she got there, where she had been and – more importantly – why anyone would murder someone so shy, kind and beloved?
Believing this lone girl must have been attacked in a dark park by a random stranger, the residents of St Ervans Road were left in shock. And yet, a greater shock was yet to come. As this was a murder as ordinary as any other, and the street wasn’t just where she lived, but also where her killer called home.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 171: The Girl with a Smile for Everyone – Part Two.
A smile can do many things; it can light up a room, soothe a mood and endear us to a person. But a smile isn’t an honest expression, it can exude happiness, whilst hiding truth, pain and fear.
Wednesday 1st October 1947 at 10:30pm, at Cumberland Green on the eastern edge of Regent’s Park, Detective Inspector Jamieson and Superintendent Beveridge assessed this unusual crime-scene.
The park was dark and empty, as it had been barely an hour earlier when Renee had been murdered. With the only witnesses being to her discovery, the detectives could only speculate that she had been beaten, strangled and gagged elsewhere, possibly transported by car, and her body dumped.
But why here? Why not a canal, a drain, a bush or a bin? Why pick an open expanse of grass in a public park with no obstructions to disguise this despicable deed? Why commit such a heinous crime, only to lay her down with such reverence; her clothes neat, her limbs straight and her handbag like a pillow.
With no robbery, no rape and no signs of a struggle, it was clear that her killer was someone who loved her intensely and hated her as fiercely. This was someone that she knew, loved and trusted. As a shy girl with good morals and a limited social circle, the prime suspects would be limited to just a few
Suspect 1: William Reason, a widower known as Uncle Willy who for the last twenty years had given a home, love and safety to the niece he treated like his own child. Broken by the news of her death, he cancelled his 65th birthday, closed his shop and lost in his tears, he would never recover from the loss.
Suspect 2: Daniel Hanrahan, Renee’s widowed father who had fought in court to get custody of her, who had threatened to tear her killer to pieces and like Willy became a shell of himself after her death. In Renee’s throat, an old torn hanky had been used to gag her. It was stitched with the laundry mark of ‘XX/A’ and the initial ‘D’. And although the hanky was his, his alibi was solid and his grief genuine.
Suspect 3: James Locke, the yard hand at United Dairies who dated Renee, took her to Margate on his motorbike and made-up a foursome with Dorothy and Gedge. Police discounted him as a suspect as he was seen at the social club in Wembley from the time she went missing until after she was found.
Police would examine the lives of everyone who knew Renee, whether family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. With no motive, everyone would be ruled out, which left the police with one suspect; her friend, her neighbour and the man she once saw as a close family friend – Albert Edward Butler.
Married for 24 years and having ran a grocery for 17, Bert epitomised the perfect neighbour to Daniel, Willy & Renee. Being a friend during the blitz and when Willy’s wife died, he supported them, he aided them in the shop, he drove them in his black Ford saloon on trips to Ascot and Brighton. Every night he drank tea, chatted and played dominoes in their back room, and then he helped Renee wash up.
On the surface, he seemed like a second uncle to Renee…
…but underneath, Bert was bubbling with danger.
Thursday 2nd October 1947, at 8:30am, as a ravenous press swarmed St Ervans Road looking to get the scoop, a reporter who was unaware of which house was Uncle Willy’s blurted out the horror. To his wife Gladys, Bert said “something terrible has happened, Renee has been murdered” and having gone next door to support Daniel & Willy who stood in pale shock – without a prompt – he told them both “I had a drink with her, yesterday lunchtime at the Golden Cross” – a detail they hadn’t asked for and (as Daniel would state) “he related the whole of his movements from lunch-time till Renee was found”.
Bert was an unusual man, friendly but a little direct. Being 49 years old, 5 foot 10 and thinly-built with square shoulders, he resembled any other hard-working man of the day. Only burdened by sharp eyes and a bald head – most strikingly – he had a stern angular face which didn’t flinch when he was furious.
Depending on who you were, there were two sides to Bert; the sweet uncle and the imposing bully.
His wife Gladys never spoke ill of him; they worked and lived together, and yet, sleeping in separate beds, she rarely joined him next-door for dominoes, and would state “some evenings, he goes out for long walks by himself. I do not as a rule know where he goes, unless he happens to mention it”.
Every night, in the back-room of number 7, the routine was the same; Bert would arrive at 9pm, they’d have a snack, a chat, a game of dominoes, he would help Renee wash-up, and would leave by midnight,
Daniel would state “he often helped her in the scullery, and in doing so, they were alone together”. Nothing sinister was thought of this as Bert was a family friend. Uncle Willy would state “he was so regular with his visits I thought it strange when he didn’t come” - as he wouldn’t on the night she died.
Nine months earlier, while washing up next to the woman - a foot shorter, half his weight and fifteen years his younger - Bert accidentally nicked his finger on a knife. It was just a small cut, so to stem the flow, Daniel gave him an old torn hanky, stitched with the laundry mark of ‘XX/A’ and the initial ‘D’.
Thinking nothing of it, Bert kept the hanky and Daniel forgot all about it…
…only months later, Bert would use it to choke her screams and to end her life.
The relationship between Renee & Bert seemed to be that of a kindly uncle and his smiling niece, some had queried if it was morally right, but nobody saw it as other than the kindness of a family friend. They got on well, they chatted, he helped her with the stock-check in the cellars of both shops, and – being so shy – as he did with Willy & Daniel, he drove Renee to Ascot Races… but this time, by herself.
To Bert “she was a girl with a smile for everyone”. Only her smile would hide the pain of a girl who was leched over by a creepy uncle; a pest who was had admitted he was attracted to her, who had expressed his love for her and – in whispers from the scullery – that he wanted to have sex with her.
Renee never wanted to burden her father or uncle with her pain…
…so, she never said a word to them about Bert.
Desperate to be near Renee, Bert drove her to work every Monday, and although he lived three miles west, he rented a garage for his car in Manchester Mews - right behind the dairy where she worked.
As a frequent visitor to her home, Bert would later admit to the police “I was attracted to Renee, but for nothing more than being a good friend. I have been in her bedroom often, but only to do odd jobs”.
Six months earlier, Daniel came back from a night-shift and found himself locked out of the house. As a pal, hearing his plea, Bert helped him out, and - wearing just his pyjamas - Bert climbed through the back window as Renee slept and entered their home. During his police interview, Bert would tell the detectives: “I have never been in the house during the night unknown to the members of the family”.
Working at the dairy, Renee felt safe. But at home, she didn’t.
One month before her death, she had confided to two friends that she was fed-up with him chasing her, and that she was scared, saying “he might do things if I refuse to have anything to do with him”. With no way to escape and not wishing to upset anyone, she told no-one else about this family friend.
Only, the less Renee saw him, the more Bert’s love would grow from attraction to obsession.
As a quiet girl with a small but trusted circle of friends, every Wednesday she went with her colleagues to the dairy’s social club at the sports ground in Wembley; to drink, to chat, to watch the footie and to dance. But across the August of 1947, Bert had followed her from her home at St Ervans Road, to Westbourne Park station, onto the train at Baker Street station and all the way to the sports ground.
On Wednesday 27th August, six weeks before her death, at the social club, Dorothy & Gedge saw Renee in an unheard heated exchange with a bald stern-faced man in a fawn raincoat and a brown trilby hat. The next day, at work, Renee confided to a friend: “Butler had a terrible temper because I would not go out with him. He said ‘it was a good job I did not stay last night, or I should have done you in”.
With obsession turning to stalking and threats, she looked distressed, but masked it with a smile.
On Sunday 31st August, the foursome – Dorothy, Renee, Gedge and Jimmy - headed to Margate. It was an escape from her stresses and she had a wonderful time, but having been driven back home on the back of Jimmy’s motorbike, from behind the twitching curtains next door, Bert was jealously watching.
On Wednesday 24th September, one week before her death, having followed her again to the sports ground, Renee asked him to leave, but he wouldn’t. She told him “It’s no use you waiting here, I shall be going home on the bike” – Jimmy’s bike – only Bert sternly replied “if I see you on it, I shall cut you off’”. Which was why so many people found it strange to see Bert at Renee’s funeral. In their eyes, the two were no longer friends, but at her service, Bert stood beside Daniel & Willy, crying like a relative.
To keep up the pretence that everything was fine, Renee plastered on a smile. On the night of Tuesday 30th September, all four sat together chatting about the plans for Uncle Willy’s 65th birthday…
…only the party would never happen, as by Bert’s hand, Renee would be dead.
Wednesday 1st October 1947 began like any other day for Renee. At 8am, she made breakfast, she did the cleaning and helped out in the shop. At 12pm, she left, having a few errands to run for Uncle Willy.
Witnessed by his wife, Bert made the spontaneous decision “I think I will have a walk… the air will do me good”. He popped on a fawn raincoat, a brown trilby, he headed into Ladbroke Grove, and what followed was an alibi that he would rigidly stick to throughout the duration of the coroner’s inquest.
“The last time I saw Renee… I met her by chance in Portabello Road”. Seen waiting for her outside of Barclays Bank, “I asked her to have a drink with me… we went to the Golden Cross pub; Renee had two gin and limes and I had two pints of beer”. Being a thin man with a stern face and a tiny lady with frizzy hair, three people saw this easily recognisable twosome sitting in the saloon bar talking quietly.
At 1pm, “Renee left me, she was going to Woolworths to buy a birthday card”, and he re-iterated to the police, “I have never been to the sports ground in Wembley… I was not near Regent’s Park that night and I am empathic that I left Miss Hanrahan at round 1pm and that I never saw her afterwards”.
At 2pm, Renee and Uncle Willy had sausages, mash and peas, with peaches and custard for pudding. Bert’s wife had expected him back for lunch as usual: “however he did not return, but I did not worry”.
It was then - as would happen to Renee - that for some reason, his routine would change.
“I had gone on the impulse of the moment as I was at a bit of a loose end”. After the pub “I took the train to Brighton. The return fare was 15s 3d. I arrived at about 3:45pm” – the details of which he would have known having visited this seaside town with Renee, Daniel & Willy just two weeks before.
“I walked to the sea front, sat down on the beach near the Palace Pier. I fell asleep and I did not wake up until 6pm. I then went to a snack bar with white tiled walls, I can’t remember the name, I had a cup of tea and a sandwich, and then I went to the station”. When asked if anyone could corroborate his movements, he would state “I spoke to no-one who can verify my story that I was in Brighton…”.
Arriving back at Brighton station, “I got the 7:14pm train and arrived in Victoria at exactly 8:30pm”. He could provide no tickets to prove this journey, and there were no pebbles in his shoes or clothes.
Being back in the city, with his shop shut and time to kill, he could have gone anywhere - a cinema, a theatre or a restaurant – instead “I got a No 11 bus to World’s End in Chelsea and had a walk around” as he had seen a property he liked and dusk seemed like the perfect time to go house-hunting. At the end of which time, “I went by No 31 bus to Great Western Road”, a road running just shy of his home.
At around the time that it was believed Renee had been murdered, three miles west of Regent’s Park “I entered the Metropolitan pub at 9:45pm. I spoke to a young lady”, later identified as Rose Deveraux, “I stayed with Rose and her friend till closing. I then stood outside talking to them and I left to go home at 10:40pm”. Police tracked down Rose and her friend, but their accounts proved unreliable.
According to his statement, Bert headed down Tavistock Crescent to St Ervans Road, “I intended to go into Willy’s” for a cup of tea and a game of dominoes in the backroom “but did not get back in time”, meaning half-an-hour after the detectives had arrived at the crime-scene, he had returned home.
His wife Gladys would state “I was sat in the backroom listening to the wireless, it was 10:45pm, my husband came in. He said ‘hello dear’…” and – without a prompt – volunteered his movements for the day; the train, the beach, the sleep. “He poured himself a Guinness. He seemed his usual self. I did not talk with him much as I was tired. I left him and went to bed. He came up about 20 minutes later”.
The alibi provided by Albert Butler would put him fifty-four miles south of London at the time when Renee was last seen alive, and three miles west of Regent’s Park during the hour when she was murdered. During the inquest, the coroner would ask “If anyone were to say they had seen you in London that afternoon, would they be wrong?”. Bert would reply “yes sir, they are mistaken”. And when asked “did you have anything to do with the death of Miss Hanrahan, Bert would reply “no sir, I did not”.
That was Bert’s alibi, and as vague as his story was, he stuck to it throughout the inquest…
…only, when the police dug deeper, other witnesses told a different story.
At 5pm, Renee went to Smith’s at 63 Tavistock Crescent to buy cigarettes for her uncle as served by Mrs Underwood. Stating that Renee looked flustered, she was seen in a heated exchange across the road with a man in a fawn raincoat and a brown trilby. Although, she could not positively identify if this was Bert Butler – a neighbour and grocer who had lived one street away for the last two decades.
At 5:30pm, Isabella Greenwood, an assistant who often worked for Bert & Willy said she had seen him standing behind the counter of his grocers alongside his wife, a sighting confirmed by regular customer Lillian Fudge. So, either his wife was badly mistaken, or she had changed her story to protect him?
Both of these sightings were debated in court, but they could not be verified as conclusive proof.
At 5:55pm, being the last time Renee was seen alive by a loved-one, she left 7 St Ervans Road with her plans for the night still undecided. She was dressed to go out, she had asked about films at the cinema and she had money in her purse. But for some reason she didn’t go to the sports ground in Wembley.
As confirmed by a ticket found in her purse, the serial numbers confirmed that she had purchased a return ticket to Baker Street at Westbourne Park tube station between 6 and 7pm, as issued by ticket inspector Arthur Deadman, who knew Renee and remembered that she was alone. When discovered, it was found that her ticket had not been clipped, meaning that she had never boarded the train.
Between the time she entered the station to the moment her body was found, Renee seemed to have vanished without a trace. No-one who knew her had seen her… but what about those who didn’t?
Two days after her murder, Police issued her photo in the local newspapers alongside a description of this woman who was truly unique – 35 years old, four foot eleven, seven and a half stone, with pale skin, grey eyes, lips like a toffee apple and a sweet face topped with brown frizzy hair like candy floss. She was dressed in a light blue frock, a navy-blue coat, black shoes and brown leather handbag.
Five hours were missing from her life, but slowly, even strangers began to recognise her.
Three people came forward with three possible sightings of Renee.
Between 7:50 and 8:20pm, Frances McLoughlin, barmaid of the Prince of Wales pub on Harrow Road, a short walk from Westbourne Park tube station saw Renee (who she knew) and Bert (who she didn’t) enter the pub. Her statement was back-up by Theresa Grimes, a customer who knew neither but said “they were easy to recognise”. They looked odd together; one tall, one short, one bald, one frizzy.
Asked in court, Bert would state “I have not been to the Prince of Wales in over twelve months”. When asked by the coroner, if she recognised the man, although Bert was sat in the witness box, the barmaid said she could not. It later transpired that she had received an anonymous letter on the 15th October which read “To Mrs McLoughlin. We strongly advise you to keep your nose out of the Gladys Hanrahan case or perhaps you will find yourself in the same place as her” - the sender was never identified.
At 8:55pm, just south of Regent’s Park, Lydia Malcolm saw a woman believed to be Renee and a man in a fawn raincoat and a brown trilby hat walking towards the Laurie Arms at 32 Crawford Place, W1.
Bert would state “I was never there on that day or any other”, even though it was a few streets from the dairy where Renee worked and the rented garage in Manchester Mews where his car was parked.
In Bert’s defence, the witnesses may have been mistaken; it might have been another couple, date or place, or maybe – having read about it in the paper – they made the whole thing up? As although the timeline put Renee & Bert near Regent’s Park at the time she was murdered, it may have been untrue.
It was possible… but then there was this.
At 9:10pm, one hour before her body was found, a postman called Francis Carter was walking along Chiltern Street, just south of Baker Street and the border of Regent’s Park. Heading home, he passed Portman Mansions; two long lines of seven-storey red-bricked buildings on either side of a quiet road.
“A couple were walking in front of me. They stopped. I saw the man grab hold of the girl by the lapel and shake her, he then pushed her in the face”. Not knowing if this was a harmless bit of fun or a fight, “I followed them because I thought there was going to be trouble”, but he lost them at the lights.
He described the woman as “about five feet tall, fragile build, frizzy hair and a blue coat”. Shown her body hours before her funeral, the postman positively identified Renee as the girl he saw. In court, he would point to the man he saw being “5 foot 10, late 40s, in fawn mac and a Trilby hat” as Bert.
This sighting may seem a little spurious and maybe unconnected, as at no point did anyone see Bert kill Renee… but it does reveal two pieces of possible evidence that the police never released; where they thought that Renee had been murdered, or how her body had been dumped in Regent’s Park.
Chiltern Street is a six-minute walk from Manchester Mews where Bert’s car was parked. If he offered Renee a lift home, maybe it was in that dark secluded garage where he beat, strangled and choked her, having rejected his love? Maybe, that’s where he placed her body in the boot? Maybe from here he drove to the Outer Circle on Regent’s Park and dumped her in Cumberland Green? And although this is only hypothetical, maybe it was him who the Police saw chain-smoking in a black Ford saloon, as he sat watching the detectives examine a strange body in an unusual crime-scene? (End)
Albert Butler gave three statements to the Police in which he stuck to his story about being in Brighton. He denied being in Regent’s Park, Baker Street or Wembley, owing or using the handkerchief or driving his car that day. When asked why anyone would want her murdered, he blamed it on a fictional affair he said she had with a cousin and a yard hand at the dairy she was “sweet on” who rode a motorbike.
An inquest was held at St Pancras Coroner’s Court before Mr Bentley Purchase. Given the gravity of the offence, Albert Butler was bound-over and told not to say anything which would implicate him.
During the inquest, Bert was grilled hard by the prosecution on details in his alibi he should have known, only he repeatedly said “I don’t know”. For the detectives, Bert was their number one suspect; he had motive, purpose and means, and being unable to provide a single witness or piece of evidence to back up his story, everything was against him. If escalated to a criminal court, he risked a death sentence.
Only the prosecution’s case had holes. Summing up, the coroner would state “there is no evidence that Butler, putting the worst case against him, is the person who murdered her. Even if the jury were to accept the evidence that he had not gone to Brighton, that is a very different thing from having any evidence that he was with the girl in Regents Park. That is the unsatisfactory feature of this case”.
On 3rd December 1947, having deliberated for ten minutes, the jury returned with an open verdict that Renee had been “murdered by person or persons unknown”. And with that, Albert Butler walked free, he returned to St Ervans Road and continued his life living next-door to Renee’s grieving family.
** 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".
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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