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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-FOUR:
On the night of Tuesday 23rd October 1928, just shy of Halloween, a constable’s torch-light spotted two bodies splayed on the grass in Hyde Park. They were 21-year-old Julia Mangan, a housemaid and 27-year-old Robert Williams, a carpenter. Drenched in blood with their throats slit, he believed their deaths were a suicide. And although proven to be untrue, the killer’s motive would come not from love or hate… but from the twisted imagination of the master of horror.
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The location is marked with a mustard raindrop at the right of the Hyde Park by the word 'Serpentine'. 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.
Wednesday 9th February - MEPO 3/1642 - Murder of Julia Mangan by Robert Williams at Hyde Park on 23 October, 1928, man claims he killed her during an epileptic fit - – https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1257684
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
This is Grosvenor Gate in Hyde Park, W2; a short walk south of the strangulation of homeless man Mark Morrison, a few streets west of the terrorist attack on the flight-crew of El-Al 016, the last night of fun by the Bloody Butler, and a very public beheading in Park Lane - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Situated between Knightsbridge, Bayswater and Mayfair, Hyde Park is one of several royal parks open to the public, but also for filming movies. (“Quiet on set”) Many scenes have been shot here (“and action”) for films like cold-war thriller The Ipcress Files, zombie-flick 28 Weeks Later, the first film about Glyndwr Michael in The Man Who Never Was and my favourite Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.
Movies cost millions, but a shot can be easily ruined by an extra “or background artiste, thank you” who mimes talking like a fish drowning, walks like their proctologist forgot to cut his nails, and ends each scene with the hilarious quip “that’s a wrap, I’ll be in my trailer”, by which they mean toilet.
Hyde Park is a very atmospheric location, with many sights which may leave an indelible memory on a tortured soul, and yet some of the greatest horrors to have happened here weren’t fiction but fact.
On the eastern edge, south of Marble Arch, sits the Alford Street Gate (also known as Fountain Gate).
On the night of Tuesday 23rd October 1928, just shy of Halloween, a constable’s torch-light spotted two bodies splayed on the grass. Drenched in blood, their throats slit, he believed their deaths were a suicide. And although proven to be untrue, the killer’s motive would come not from love or hate…
…but from the twisted imagination of the master of horror.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 175 - London After Midnight.
(Projector spooling). One hundred years on, it’s hard for modern audiences to appreciate the power of the silent horror films of the 1920s. Still in its infancy, cinema was a revelation, but as most films and its directors spawned from the theatres, many resulting films were stale and flat. (Horror music)
Ignited by the the greats of German expressionism - Robert Weine, Karl Martin and F W Murnau - the early 1920s saw an explosion of groundbreaking horror masterpieces which still chill the blood even today. Classics like; The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, From Morn to Midnight, The Golem, and Nosferatu.
With no sound, except for maybe an organ, it was the director’s vision and the actor’s performance which took the audience from a passive spectator to a willing victim whose life was in their hands.
Released during pre-code cinema, in an era before scissor-wielding censors sliced up celluloid of any scene which was deemed unacceptable to the moral prudes, 1920’s horrors were shocking and raw.
But with many British and American attempts utilising the work of Edgar Allen Poe, most failed. All bar a few like; The Lodger, Phantom of the Opera, The Cat and the Canary, much later Dracula and Frankenstein, and in 1927 came London After Midnight, starring the master of Horror, Lon Chaney.
In the trial at The Old Bailey, for the murder of 21-year-old housemaid Julia Mangan, the terrifying gut-wrenching performance of Lon Chaney became a key point of evidence. Only the horror maestro was never arrested or called to testify for his part in her brutal murder, as his alibi was sound…
…unlike the mind of her killer.
Every horror movie requires a victim to be sacrificed, and ours was Julia Mangan.
Born in 1907, Julia was raised in the windswept wildes of Glengarriff, a small isolated village in the Beara Peninsula of County Cork on the far south-west coast of Ireland. Translated as ‘rough glen’, it was as remote as any settlement, as amidst a dense dark forest, small farms pockmarked the land, as ahead lay the violent swells of the Atlantic ocean, a forboding sea of shipwrecks and drowned souls.
As a small girl, with pale skin like an amaemic ghost and flame-red hair like the fires of hell, this was not a place of fear or terror, as this dramatic setting was her home which always made her smile.
With America ahead and England behind, coming from a large Irish family whose parents had always strived to keep their brood clothed and fed - as an eternally cheerful and conscientious girl who put others before herself - she was keen to what was right and to take the burdon from their shoulders.
As her older brother Patrick had done not long before - keen to find her feet, to experience life and to earn an honest crust sending monies back to aide her parents - Julia Mangan moved to London.
Arriving in August 1927 with a battered suitcase of clothes and a headful of dreams, 21-year-old Julia quickly found work as a domestic servant at 35 Stanhope Gardens; a five storey Georgian terrace in the fashionable Knightsbridge, two roads south of Hyde Park and a world away from her home.
Living in a small basement bedroom which she shared with the housemaid Mary Lea, although the hours were long and the pay was modest, she was well-liked as she was always pleasant and positive.
Everyday was an education for this country girl in the big city. Back home; warmth was by peat-fires, light was by candle and entertainment was by father’s mournful songs, but London was different.
In the tall elegant home in which she worked and lived; lights were electric, heat came by pipes and the radio played the popular hits, as the BBC broadcast news from across the world in an instant. And at night she had to close the curtains, as a yellow glow bathed the sky as the city streets never slept.
In her spare-time, Julia explored this chaotic metropolis of lights and sounds, her mouth agape and her eyes wide to the new world of wonder; fast cars, instant foods, high fashion and the latest films.
Surrounding the eternal sprawl of Piccadilly Circus were a wealth of picture houses. As palaces to the modern moving picture, Julia often sat in awe, as her pale skin was bathed in an endless projection of news, cartoons and movies depicting worlds she could not imagine and lives so far from her own.
As a hopeless romantic, she often sat with heavy heart watching a tragic tale of love and loss unfold; recent hits were Flesh and the Devil with Greta Garbo & John GIlbert, Sunrise and 7th Heaven both with Janet Gaynor, and - although a horror which wasn’t her thing - the 1923 hit The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring horror maesto Lon Chaney as the mangled beast of the bell tower, Quasimodo, and Patsy Ruth Miller as Esmeralda, a woman who sees beyond his deformity to find love true.
For Julia, the summer of 1927 was an exciting time to be alive.
Two weeks later, as if by fate, she would find love…
…but three weeks after that, she would be dead.
It may be hard for modern audiences to accept, but there was no actor quite like Lon Chaney. In the silent era, when films were soundless and the score was often played by an old dear on a tuneless organ interpreting the film’s action into emotion having never seen it before, as a human chameleon able to contort every inch of his body into a beast before your eyes, Chaney was a god and a monster.
So lauded was Chaney that a popular saying was “don’t step on that bug, it might be Lon Chaney”.
Nicknamed ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’, not only was Lon Chaney a gifted actor who endured pain to create truly jaw-dropping characters - as in the 1920 film The Penalty, when he strapped his lower legs behind his thighs to portray a double leg umputee - but he also created his own make-up. Portraying Erik in the 1925 horror classic, The Phantom of the Opera, his hollow skull like appearance was so shocking, that audiences fainted, fled and even some more sensitive patrons were supposedly committed to asylums. His face is an image so grotesque, it still has the power to shock even today.
As a master of horror, the 1920s saw Lon Chaney at the height of his powers…
…by 1927, his latest masterclass in terror was released, and it was called London After Midnight.
Every horror movie requires a villain to be feared, and ours was Robert Williams and his life was as tragic as any monster Lon Chaney could imagine.
Born on the 28th December 1899 in Tanybraich in Caernarvonshire, North Wales, Robert Williams was came into being as Robert Owen Jones, the illegitimate son of Lizzie Jones, a struggling single mother.
Stemming from a family where insanity was a cruel curse from God, unable to cope and having fled to Canada, aged just three months old, Robert was put up for adoption. Raised as their own by Mr & Mrs Williams of Lon Las in Garn Dolbenman, north west of Porthmadog, his early life was good, being blessed with two loving parents and - like himself - an adopted brother from an adandoned life.
As an average lad of normal features - 5 foot 7, pale skin, dark brown hair and blue eyes - he was as liked as any other boy. Educated at Garn Council School, he left aged 14 and entered the trades. Aged 14 to 19 as a farm labourer, 19 to 21 as an apprentice joiner at Brynkir Arms on the Welsh Highland & Festiniog Railway, and he continued as a carpenter for the rest of his life… cut-short by the incident.
Described as good, quiet if a little distracted, a hideous spector always haunted his soul, as although abandoned at birth, a little piece of his mother would remain within him. Physically, he was rarely ill, with just two bouts of fever and no pox, trauma or seizures. But mentally, sickness was in his blood.
Cursed by moments when this boy seemed “peculiar”, this was not unusual as insanity ran rampant in Jones’ family; declared incapable, two cousins were committed for life to the North Wales Asylum, one had been “an imbecile since childhood”, and two had taken their own lives aged just 18 and 14.
Aged 14, Robert had tried to end his pain by throwing himself against the hind legs of a horse, as its kick could crush his skull and break his neck, but miraculously he survived. Dr Hume had diagnosed Robert with neurasthenia - an ill-defined condition resulting in fatigue, headaches, paranoia and mood swings - and although it was mental abnormality, he could not be certified as insane.
On 24th March 1927, at Caernarvon Quarter Sessions, Robert Williams was acquitted of the indecent assault on a young woman, and - unable to deal with his shame in his hometown - he fled to London.
As a 27-year-old joiner, Robert lodged at 50 Robert Street in Camden with a fellow Welsh bricklayer called Owen Williams, he worked on various building sites across the West End, he visited pubs with his new pals, and - just like Julia who he hadn’t met - he entertained himself with trips to the cinema.
Robert liked horror; that queezy feeling of trepidation as your palms sweat, your heart pumps and the pit of your stomach lurches and churns, as a phantom of unbridled terror stalks your senses.
Released under the title The Hypnotist - directed by Tod Browning who later shot Freaks and Dracula - London After Midnight was a silent horror about an old spooky house haunted by the vampire of its former owner who killed himself. For maximum chills, the horror maestro Lon Chaney had widened his eyes and lips with hidden wires to give his face a maniacal grimace, as shocking today as then.
Robert had only seen the film once…
…but for the rest of his life, it would torture his soul.
The relationship of Julie & Robert began under uncertain circumstances. The exact date is unknown, but a month after her arrival in London, 21-year-old Julia Mangan was introduced by her room-mate Mary Lea, to a 27-year-old Welsh carpenter called either Walter Ellis or Mills - no-one was sure what.
Why Robert used an alias is a mystery, but maybe being shamed of his past, he was hiding the truth?
There was no doubt that Julia liked him; he wasn’t handsome but he was cute, he was sometimes funny but also serious, and although he skirted the facts of his past, his emotion was always honest.
Mary Lea was undecided if he liked him and her brother Patrick dispised him from the start, but like Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as a small girl with a big heart, she would always seek to see beyond the ugliness of his quirks and faults, to find true love inside her very own Quasimodo.
It’s a romantic notion that no matter how deformed a person is that not every beast is a monster…
…only Robert’s deformity was not upon his skin, but in his soul and in his brain.
On 10th October 1927 - one week into their love and two weeks before her death - with his work rate eratic, Robert lost his job as a carpenter. With no job and no wage, he risked losing his lodging, only - as a man who was haunted by the spectre of his past - what he feared most was loneliness.
As a habitual drinker, who boozed to quell his pain, where-as this perculiar boy was often odd, under the dreaded influence of alcohol, those who knew him said he became “crazy” and “unpredictable”.
With no work to occupy his time, he drank. Supping to sooth his sickness, drink was not the medicine to aide his ailments and - lost in liquor - he could no longer trust his senses. As even while he was awake, he saw visions of a ghastly face he had feared for months and was goaded by a ghostly voice.
On Saturday 20th October 1927 - one week before - being hungry and spent as the harrowing spirit haunted his addled mind, Robert had tried to end his torment by ripping apart his throat with a razor, only - unable to hold he blade straight - he had failed, having displeased the voice who only he knew.
His death was soon, but how and when? And unable to kill himself, he grew obsessed with Julia.
Wherever she went - like an icy wind howling down an unlit alley - it sent shivers down her spine to know that he was always behind her. Whenever she worked - like a havock-making gremlin - doors were knocked and doorbells rang. And even when she tried to sleep - like the bumps and crashes of a lonely poltergeist who demanded her undivided attention - he would never give her peace.
On Sunday 21st October at 8:10pm - although it was against the rules to have any male-friends in her quarters - in her basement bedroom at 35 Stanhope Gardens, Patrick and his girlfriend Hannah came by, only to find Julia crying and Robert blind drunk and collapsed on he bed, muttering incoherantly.
With his eyes as wide as a werewolf’s gaze minutes before seeing the moon, and his mouth as bloody as a vampire’s smile after feeding - having gashed his head and mouth in a drunken stumble - Robert didn’t look like he was in this world or the next, but trapped in a twilight land of misery and pain. As all he could utter was “I want Julia, I want Julie, I want Julie”, as if he was demented ot possessed.
Unable to move him herself and being to frighten to do so - as a burly builder - Patrick hauled him up like a hod of bricks and carted the rambling reprobate out of her employer’s house, never to return.
Robert was gone, Julia was grateful (as his presence risked her losing her job and the wages she sent back to her loved ones) but - more importantly - as the hard door was slammed behind him and this crazy crackpot landed flat in the street, to her brother Julia declared “I never want to see him again”,
On Monday 22nd October 1927, he called again, but - this time - she kept him at a distance and her words brief. In her eyes, their love was dead and their relationship of just three-weeks was now over.
Knowing how fragile he was, Julia needed to find the right words to break it to Robert gently…
…only their parting words would come from her lips, or even his, but those of Lon Chaney.
As a domestic servant, Tuesday 23rd October 1928 was a typical day for Julia Mangan; she cleaned, dusted, washed sheets and with her duties done, she finished her shift at 7pm. She had a bite to eat, she got dressed, she told Mary Lea “I’m going out for a breath of fresh air” and at 8:15pm she left.
Robert’s day was a different to Julia’s as night is to day. Being bored, having sunk enough booze to sink a battleship, it wasn’t the beer in his gut which haunted his brain, as - every time he blinked - that face grimaced, those eyes glared and that voice goaded; mocking his manhood in a ceaseless whisper like a dying breath, of how he was weak. Even as - in his jacket pocket - he fingered the sharp blade of his cut-throat razor, the final act of his life was to be a river of blood spewing from his neck.
Neither Julie nor Robert had spoke of their plans that night, so whether they had agreed to meet, or he had followed her to a familiar place? Nobody knows, but they would meet for one last time.
The scene was set - Hyde Park, one of the few places a person can feel feel alone and isolated amidst the rippling chaos of London’s streets; it has darkness, shadows and silence. As an ancient hunting ground, blood has soaked into every inch of its soil and every tree has soaked-up the juices of death.
The time was set - 10pm, more than four hours since the sun had set, and with a vague hint of moon obscured by a blanket of dark forboding clouds, the night was was as the sky brooded gloomily. Being mid-week and too late for the sensible, the park was as deathly quiet as an old abandoned crypt. Even the usual cackawing of crows or foxes screams were dulled by the endless traffic on Park Lane.
And as for the actors in our terrifying horror - this intimate scene of love, loss and longing was to be played by a cast of only two; Robert & Julia, the victim and villain, who once loved but now loathed.
It was an odd place to meet at any hour of the day or night. Perched on the eastern edge of Hyde Park, at a place called Fountain Gate, it’s both somewhere and nowhere; as being half way between Marble Arch and Welllington Arch, even when the park is fit to burst, it’s eerily quiet and silent.
Sitting on a bench in the gap between a footpath and a horsetrack, the two sat talking.
With no witnessest, what happened that night can only be based on the words from Robert’s mouth and the memories from his fevered mind, so how much of what follows is true or real is debateable?
Robert would state: “We sat down and talked for a bit. I said I was going to give up the drink and that sometimes I felt I could not give it up”. He had tried many times in the past and had always failed.
“Julia said ‘I will pray for you. God can do nothing unless you do yourself’”. As a Catholic, this was typical of her kindness, believing there was goodness in everyone and giving a hint of hope to follow.
Only Robert’s demon wasn’t booze, but his brain.
“My head was then getting troublesome. Thoughts came into my mind. I felt my head getting fuller and fuller. It seemed to be steaming at both sides, like a red hot iron being pushed inside my head”.
And like all horror movies, in the third act, a shock twist would bolt us from our seats. “I thought I was in a room and a man was standing in the corner pulling faces at me, he threatened and shouted at me that he had got me where he wanted me”. Goading Robert and tormenting his soul - as he had done for several months since - before him was the face, the voice and the eyes of Lon Chaney.
As real as the sweat on his own palm and the razor within - like a scene from London After Midnight - the horror maestro stood before Robert; his ghoulish eyes bulging as if the devil was gouging them out and his grimaced mouth goading him to kill, his famished fangs seeing his flesh as not enough of a feast. In the mind of a disturbed man - as the epitome of terror personified - Lon Chaney was here.
“The last thing I remember was Julia whistling”, which was something she often did when she was both nervous and afraid, and as that familiar feeling pounded inside his skull, “I felt as if my head was going to burst” and with that, the music swelled, the lights dimmed and the screen faded to black.
(Silence, projector) “I’m teling you the truth, I had no intention of hurting her”...
At 10:10pm, alerted from Hyde Park police station set inside of Marble Arch, PC John Green raced to Fountain Gate to a report that a couple had “passed-out”. Only it was worse than he could imagine.
Found between the path and the horsetrack, the first body found was Julia’s; face down and curdled up, her left hand still clutched at her throat, with her white glove saturated with blood, as a deep gash had ripped apart her flesh and drained her lungs of her last breath. An autopsy confirmed that the injury was “not self-inflicted” and “considerable force had been used to inflict such a wound”.
She was declared dead at the scene.
Nearby lay Robert. Like Romeo & Juliet, you may expect these two ex-lovers to die side-by-side? Only they were not. Robert was found face down, his back turned and 36 feet away. With his throat slit and the bloody razor in his left hand, it’s no mystery who murdered Julia Mangan. And yet, in his right, he held a letter, addressed to Julia, written by her mother - its contents never disclosed. (End)
Discovered in a serious condition but miraculously still alive, Robert was rushed to nearby St George’s hospital, he was operated upon and being discharged a week later, he was arrested for her murder.
Examined by Mr Watson, Medical Officer of Brixton Prison, no evidence of insanity or epilepsy was found and when recounting the incident, Robert did not mention being “terrified by a face”. When interviewed by Dr East, Medical Inspector of Prisons, he appeared emotional and depressed but did recall the face of Lon Chaney. And when examined by Dr James Cowen Woods, a specialist in mental diseases, it was believed he had suffered from an episode of epileptic automatism; a seizure of the frontal lobe where the patient is lucid, but unaware of their actions, as if they are sleepwalking.
Declared sane and with a scarf covering the scar on his neck, on Wednesday 9th January 1929, at The Old Bailey, he pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder. Summing-up, Mr Justice Humphries asked the jury: “I do not know whether you have seen ‘London After Midnight’ in which Lon Chaney acted”, but he left the weight of the case up to thejury to decide; was he insane and guided by a terrifying memory of a horror actor in a film, or was he sane and merely using the idea of a vision as an excuse.
Having initially failed to reach a verdict, after much deliberation, the next day, they found him guilty of murder. They did not believe he had seen Lon Chaney and he was sentenced to death. But on emotional grounds, his execution was later commuted to a life in penal servitude.
** 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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