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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-THREE:
On the night of Thursday 7th December 1950, 42-year old William Donoghue stabbed 74-year-old Thomas Meaney to death. The two men had met that night (as friends of a friend), they got on well, they had been drinking and then they fell asleep. The attack was unprovoked and frenzied. And yet, this would be an incident so bizarre, even William would struggle to believe that he had murdered Thomas Meaney… but he had.
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The location is marked with a sea blue raindrop at the bottom right by 'Waterloo East' just over the Thames. 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.
Manslaughter of Thomas Meaney by William Donoghue at Duchy Street, Waterloo, SE1 on 8 Dec 1950 - https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C10887894https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4202234
Man in a Bag by Cult With No Name (Intro)
Hard Times To Come Again No More by The Westerlies
Horror House by Aaron Kenney
Delirium by Kai Engel
Sunset by Kai Engel
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today i’m standing on Roupell Street in Waterloo; a few streets south of the ‘happy slapping’ attack on David Morely, the dumped body of Peggy Roberts, the frozen remains of baby Harry Hartley and one street west of the woman who never spoke her killer’s name - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Created by social visionary George Peabody in late 1800s, the Peabody buildings were (and still are) a series of inner-city estates to provide clean and affordable housing for the most disadvantaged. To qualify, every tenant must be neat, decent, law-abiding and obey the rules on noise and cleanliness.
As beyond these precision pieces of brownstone history, you won’t find a dumped fridge, a stinky bin bag, a slumped drunk, a corridor blocked by ten pairs of pants wiggling on a line like a budget Magic Mike, a sad singleton belting out Whitney on a loop, or the courtyard crammed full of car parts like a hoarder got bored building a museum to a Nissan Micra scrap-yard - simple rules we could all live by.
Back in 1950, Flat 21 on the fourth floor of Block F was home to a 42-year-old bachelor called William Donoghue. Described as quiet and pleasant, he was typical of the residents. By day, he worked hard as a bus conductor, and by night (if he wasn’t on an early shift) he would go to his local pub for a pint.
William was an ordinary man with no real problems who was never angry, violent or disturbed.
But all that would change on the night of Thursday 7th December 1950, when in an unprovoked and frenzied attack, he would brutally stab a friend-of-a-friend to death. This was an incident so bizarre, even William would struggle to believe that he had murdered Thomas Meaney… but he had.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 173: A Buddy, A Dummy, A Dead Man.
To say that William Donoghue was an ordinary man would be an understatement.
Born on the 7th April 1908, William known as ‘Bill’ was raised in an Irish Catholic family, as the second youngest of three brothers and three sisters to George & Nellie Donaghue. Being working-class with a basic education, they earned an honest living, kept out of trouble and their lives were uneventful.
As a person, he stood-out only as much as the next man being of average height and build, he had neat dark hair, a fresh face and prominent eyebrows - but not to the point where people would stare.
Having left school aged 14, William began a series of low-paid but well-respected jobs at which he stayed for two-to-three years, left of his own accord and his work record ranged from satisfactory to exemplary. Beginning in 1922 as a page-boy and lift-attendant at the Strand Palace Hotel, from 1925 to 1930 he was a barman (in Southwark, Dagenham and Covent Garden), he spent seven years as a porter at Waterloo station, three years lugging frozen meats at a storage firm, and - when war was declared - he enlisted to fight as a Private in the Army serving in France, Egypt and the Middle East.
As many men did, he was awarded several Campaign medals having fought, he suffered no obvious trauma, he openly spoke of his service (but never bragged) and he retained his bayonet as a souvenir.
Discharged on the 27th September 1945 - always keen to earn an honest crust - within three weeks he had begun a new career as a conductor on the No10 bus from Brixton to Waterloo. Being diligent; he was polite, cheerful and punctual, he earned £6 and 5 shillings a week (which wasn’t much, but it was enough to pay his bills and keep him comfortable) and his uniform was neat and freshly ironed.
Like most people, his life was pockmarked with little tragedies - his mum died when he ws 17, his dad and older brother died when he was 26, and his sister Nellie had suffered a breakdown in 1935 and had remained as an inpatient at Cane Hill Mental Hospital for the last 15 years - but he dealt with it.
Of his three surviving siblings, they all lived locally - with his younger brother Albert in Peckham and his two older sisters, Kathleen in Kennington and Eileen in Brixton - who he saw on a regular basis.
In the summer of 1948 - having fulfilled the tenancy criteria - William moved into 21F of the Peabody Buildings. Comprising of a room measuring just 14 feet by 12, it wasn’t much but it was enough for him. With space for a single bed, a solitary arm-chair, a small table and a chest of drawers, it was practical and lacked a homely touch, but as he lived alone and rarely had guests, it suited his needs.
He had a wireless for his nightly entertainment, a small hob for cooking basic meals (although he preferred to eat lunch and dinner in the bus garage canteen) and - typically for an ex-Army bachelor - instead of buying a bread-knife, he cut thick doorstop slices of white bread with his 10-inch bayonet.
And that’s pretty much it. William Donoghue was an unremarkable as anyone. Across his 42-years of life, he had never married or had kids and had no plans to do so. He lived a solitary life with a small group of friends, but could happily chat to anyone in a pub without being a bother. He drank but wasn’t a drunk, he had never been arrested, and his health was good with no known afflictions.
So, why he would stab his guest to death is anyone’s guess. But he did…
…only he wouldn’t know it.
Just as William was as ordinary as anybody else, Thursday 7th December 1950 was a day which began like any other. Being mid-week, he still had a few days to work till the weekend, but having received his Christmas bonus, he was looking forward to spending the festive holiday with his loved ones.
In court, William would state “I finished work at 1:22pm”. As he was due on the early shift the next day, he would usually head home, pop on the radio and be in bed by nine, but with a stack of notes burning a hole in his pocket, he felt like he deserved a bit of a blow-out. “Before going to my sister’s in Brixton, I had two Guinnesses in the Black Horse and two in the Windmill”. His consumption was not excessive for him, the pubs were familiar and he sat reading the paper and chatting to the locals.
“I stopped at my sister’s from a little after three to twenty past four”. He collected a suit, he seemed his usual self and he didn’t complain of any issues or incidents. Up until the moment of his arrest for murder, he had never committed a violent act. He had no debts, no secrets and he didn’t suffer from any emotional outbursts. Everyone who knew him would praise his meekness and his even-temper.
“I got home at twenty past five”. A sighting confirmed by Marguerite Veitch, his next-door neighbour at 22F who confirmed he stayed for about ten minutes. He courtesouly greeted her, and left just after half-five still wearing his dark grey uniform and overcoat as a bus conductor for London Transport.
“I went to a pub called the Dark Horse on Blackfriars Road”, where - being a regular - “I played a few games of darts with the guvnor and two customers, and had several Guinnesses to drink”. Which was the only thing different about that night as “I don’t usually drink Guinness, only mild or bitter”.
At 6pm, William entered The Prince Albert further up Blackfriars Road, a few streets from his home. Again, as a regular, he had a few Guinnesses and played darts with the landlord (Edward Wilson) and several employees of the Amalgamated Press, who didn’t know him but said he was “very friendly”.
So far, William was yet to meet Thomas Meaney, the man he would murder…
…and stranger still, as a friend-of-a-friend, William barely knew him.
Oddly, although the two were little more than strangers, they were as similar as long-lost brothers.
Born in 1890, 60-year-old Thomas Meaney known as Tom was a quiet good-natured man of medium build and height, who liked darts, beer and sport. Being a generation older than William, he was unable to see active service in the FIrst World War owing to a deformed right forearm and a false elbow joint, but he did his duty as a messenger and had been a police driver for the last 30 years.
Unlike William, Thomas was married, having been a loyal husband to Margaret for 39 years raising a family of eight children (two of whom still lived at home) and they lived on nearby Stamford Street.
As a creature of habit, Thomas kept to a routine as regular as it was predictable. Working out of the Lambeth Police Garage five-days-a-week, he would finish by 6pm, be home by 7:15pm, and that day would be no different. He had a wash, ate some tea, did his pools coupons and at 9:25pm he headed out to the pub - something he did three times-a-week, occasionally with his wife but not often.
As per usual, Margaret waved him goodbye, knowing that he would be back by 10:30pm, or 10:40pm at the latest, where she would stay up listening to the radio, and together they go to bed at 11:30pm.
At 9:30pm, as regular as clockwork, Thomas Meaney met 72-year-old Richard Copley known as ‘Dick’ in the Brunswick Arms at 25 Stamford Street, his local pub situated just 300 yards from his home. As pals for 40 years, the two always sat quietly in the public saloon playing cards, chatting and drinking no more than three pints of mild. Neither man was a big drinker and Thomas disliked spirits.
According to his friends, Thomas was pleasant, easy-going, an affable chap who was no trouble, and was not “given to playing practical jokes”. This might seem an odd thing to say, but it will make sense.
So far, nothing had happened to forewarn Thomas of the danger ahead…
…and this is how the night would remain, right up to the moment he was murdered.
Back at The Prince Albert pub on Blackfriars Road, having sunk six bottles of Guinness (which was about average) William purchased a bottle of Booth’s gin and a bottle of orange squash as off-sales, as he was planning to visit his other sister the next day, and placed them in his overcoat pockets.
When he left at 9:45pm, the landlord said he looked relatively sober as he said “goodnight”. William could have gone home to bed as he had work the next morning, but with 45 minutes until closing, he decided to go to the Brunswick Arms - a nice pub he had been to before, but he was not a regular at.
At 10:15pm, two hours before the murder, William entered the pub. Seeing Richard, who he knew as they lived on adjacent streets, Richard introduced William to Thomas. The two men knew of each other (William: “Oh, I’ve seen you a few times drinking at The Stamford”, Thomas: “Yeah, that’s right. Good pub that”, William: “Yeah, good pub, decent pint too”), but they had never met until that day.
As the three sat chatting in a tone described as “friendly” and “calm”, William bought them both a half pint (as they were over their usual three pint limit), and they sat drinking until “last orders”.
What happened next was a little odd, but not out-of-character.
With the bar shut - even though the gin was for his sister - William opened the bottle. He poured himself a shot, but having missed Richard’s glass as he moved it and Thomas’ having covered his glass with his hand. Being reprimanded by the manager - (“hey, what do you think you are doing? Do you want to get me into trouble?”) - William apologised, re-corked the bottle and the three men left.
William was good-natured about his little indiscretion and witnesses said he was tipsy but not drunk.
At 10:30pm, the three men exited the pub, as friendly as they had been all night.
Ten minutes later, they entered Duchy Street, a third of a mile south-west of the Brunswick Arms.
As this was the road where Richard lived, he bid them a “goodnight” and left. Thomas was due home and with both men working the next day, they should have called it a night, only with William stating “I said to this chap ‘come up and have a drink. I’ll open this bottle of gin’”, Thomas decided to do so.
At 10:45pm, Thomas Meaney and WIlliam Donoghue entered flat 21F of the Peabody Buildings. They sat, drank and laughed. “We had a nice little chat, opened up the bottle and we drank the lot. After we had emptied the bottle he lay on my bed with his overcoat on. I sat on the chair leaning on the table, and more or less dozed off”. And that was that, as the two men drifted off to sleep (snoring).
Within the hour, William would stab Thomas to death in a blind frenzy…
…and yet, his motive would be so bizarre, it would defy belief, even to him.
The morning of Friday 8th December 1950 was cold and bitter with a bright glaring sun. It had been a long night for Margaret Meaney, as she lay in a half empty bed wondering why her husband hadn’t come home. Unable to concentrate on anything else, she cut short her graveyard-shift as a cleaner, and followed Thomas’ usual route from his house to the Brunswick Arms. But it would all be in vain, as across the morning, word bled through the streets of Waterloo that a man’s body had been found.
At 7:20am, (alarm clock) the splitting wail of his alarm clock pierced his thick head, as William awoke in a fug. He never normally drank on the night before an early-shift, and having sunk 10 bottles of Guinness and drained a bottle of gin, with his skull pounding, now he was regretting the whole night.
“Before I got into bed, I put an alarm clock on the stool by the side of the bed. It was set for half past four. It had been like that all week. I don’t know whether it went off, but when I woke up, the alarm said twenty past seven”. And seeing he had overslept, his first thought was “Shit! I’m late for work”.
Standing up as best as his wobbly legs would allow, he spotted his crumpled uniform at the foot of his solitary arm-chair in this small empty room. With the curtains closed, this little space suitable for a bachelor was bathed in black, but as he switched on the light, it was then that he saw the blood.
It was everywhere; across the floor, up the walls and on the bed. With a thick sticky pool of crimson at his feet, dark arcs of red spattered up his chest of drawers, and a long heavy trail as if something had been dragged from the floor to the door, William saw blood on his hands, only he was not hurt.
“It can’t have been” he thought, “no, I saw it myself, it can’t have been real”. But it was.
On the table lay the detritus of last night’s fun; two glasses, a newspaper, an empty bottle of gin and lying dead centre (as always) was his 10-inch bayonet. Still sharp from his military service, the blade which was usually dotted with tiny crumbs of white bread was instead thick with blood up to the hilt.
With booze still coursing through his veins, it could have been a trick of the light, an echo of a dream or a sick prank by a pal with a warped sense of fun? Only he knew that it wasn’t. As following the red smudged trail to his door - two foot wide by twenty feet long - as he reached the communal landing on the fourth floor of Block F, there he found the truth and the horror - “Oh god, what have I done?”
At 7:30am, having exited her flat, 74-year-old widow Emma Duthie saw William. His pale face etched in shock as he stared at the motionless body of the man he knew he had murdered. With a trembling voice, he asked “Mrs Duthie, will you call the police?” and he went back inside to await his arrest.
(Siren) Just as dawn was breaking, through the dim winter light, PC’s Woodcock and Ross arrived to secure the scene. Seeing William seated and nervously smoking a cigarette which shook in his hand like a persistant blur, he confessed “If that is a real man? Then I done it. I thought he was joking with me. I must have struck him with my bayonet and dragged him onto the landing”. William Donoghue was arrested on the charge of murder, and he was calmly escorted to Southwark police station.
The investigation was headed-up by Chief Inspector Leslie Knight of CID.
It was a case as clear-cut as any he had investigated before.
As the only suspect; William Donoghue was seen with Thomas Meaney in the Brunswick Arms by the landlord, on Duchy Street by Richard Copley who heard William invite Thomas back to his room for a drink, and by several neighbours who heard them return to the Peabody Buildings and Flat 21F.
Both William and Thomas’ fingerprints were found on both bottles and glasses, their alcohol levels were as heavy as two men who had drained a large bottle of gin, William’s bayonet and hands were stained with Thomas’ blood group, and - even clearer - William had confessed to the man’s murder.
Lying face-down along concrete corridor connecting the fourth-floor flats; with his legs straight and his arms above his head, it was clear that William had dragged Thomas by his hands. With a bloody pool having formed under his face and his clothing soaked, the body had been dumped while he was still alive but not conscious, as he hadn’t moved a muscle. And comparing his body temperature to the night itself, being dead for roughly seven hours, that put his time of death at roughly midnight.
When questioned, three witnesses - Marguerite Veitch in the flat to his right, Emma Duthy to his left and John Howard one floor below - heard three distinct ‘thuds’ at 11:55pm, confirmed as Marguerite looked at her clock. But no-one could tell where they had come from, and they heard nothing else.
For the detective, William had definitely murdered Thomas, but the question wasn’t how, but why?
These were two semi-strangers with no previous grudge, who had joined each other by invite, in the home of the culprit. They hadn’t argued, and no screams were heard, only laughter. When his body was examined, Thomas’ wallet, watch and wedding ring were all in place. There was no evidence of poisoning or assault, and both men were medically examined, ruling out any hint of homosexuality.
But stranger still were the results of the autopsy.
At 4:30pm, Dr Keith Simpson examined the body of Thomas Meaney at Southwark Mortuary.
With an alcohol level of 300 milligrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, Thomas was heavily intoxicated, which was why there were no defensive wounds to his hands, arms or fingers. Suffering an blunt trauma to his face, nose and chin, the unconscious man had either fallen or had been pulled out of bed and had hit the floor hard, too drunk to wake. Based on his injuries, Thomas was lying on his side, facing right when he was attacked. And with his wounds consistent with a bayonet, William had stabbed Thomas in his head and neck seventeen times in an assault described as frenzied.
With 11 wounds penetrating 1 ½ inches deep and grouped about his cheek, 6 others had sunk 4 ½ inches into his neck, splitting his jugular vein, carotid artery, and resulting in blood-loss and shock.
The evidence against William was irrefutable, and yet one question remained unanswered. Why did he murder Thomas Meaney? At 2:15pm in Southwark Police Station, still a little worse-the-wear for drink, William gave an answer, only it would be one which even he would struggle to believe. (End)
Cautioned, William would state “I woke up cold and I wanted to get to my bed as I was early duty. I shook the chap in my bed and said ‘come on, get up’. When he did not move I thought he was playing a practical joke on me. I pulled him again and said ‘come on’. He fell on the floor, he didn’t move, and I thought it was a dummy or mannequin. He fell like a sack of coal. I got hold of it again, thinking the man was hiding somewhere in the room or the corridor, and I said ’this is what I’ll do with your dummy’. I picked up the bayonet up off my table - I used it as a bread knife - and I stabbed down”.
“After I stabbed down, I saw red, and thought it was a theatrical thing he was using, where you pinch a tube and blood spurts out. I dragged it across the floor through the door to the landing, and as I let go of it, I said ‘that’s what I think of your dummy’. I still thought he was hiding nearby or had left the building leaving the dummy behind. I went back in my room, set my alarm clock and went to bed”.
To William, this was the only logical explanation as he had no reason to murder Thomas.
Examined at Wandsworth Prison, William appeared exhausted and shocked but was co-operative, and was declared fit to stand trial. For the police, as strange as his motive seemed, William was not a crazed maniac who had snapped, as to everyone he was “a quiet, inoffensive and respectable man”.
Believing his story that he truly thought the man was a dummy, fuelled by excessive drinking which had resulted in loss of judgement and potentially caused hallucinations, he was charged with murder. But on the 9th January 1951 at the Old Bailey, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
William Donoghue served three years in prison for the death of Thomas Meaney. And although the jury agreed that the attack had been a drink-induced accident, upon his release from prison, he lost his job as a bus conductor and - having breached its rules - he lost his flat at the Peabody Buildings.
** 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 & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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