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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-NINE:
In a small basement front room of 3 Rundell Road in Maida Hill once lived a little family; 26-year-old chambermaid Minnie Barry, her fiancé 24-year-old porter Frederick Sorensen and their 3 year old son Frederick. Times were hard, money was tight, and – as a truly diligent woman with a big heart and a focus to provide for her family – she got them through the toughest of times, but only just. But everybody has a breaking point. Everybody reaches their limit. And on Wednesday 28th June 1933, Minnie’s happened right here.
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The location is marked with a red raindrop by the words 'Maida Hill'. 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 3/1685, Murder of Minnie Barry on 28 June 1933
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on what was once Rundell Road in Maida Hill, W9; three streets north-east of the home of Gladys Hanrahan, one street north-west of the registry office where Blackout Ripper got married, and a short walk from the lonely demise of Lena Cunningham - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Maida Hill is a hotch-potch of mismatched buildings reflecting the area’s changing fortune, so among the council flats, stone churches and three-storey Victorian terraces you’re as likely to see a rude boy popping wheelies on a stolen e-scooter cussing “me is wicked, you get me?”, as an opera bore tuts at “that disrespectful rapscallion” as the sleeve of his silk housecoat shuffles to a set of nudie etchings.
Between Oakington, Maryland and Thorngate Roads now stands Paddington Academy. But back in the 1930s, through the middle of this secondary school once stood Rundell Road; two lines of tumbledown houses sub-divided into cramped lodgings for working-class families living on a pitiful little wage.
In a small basement room at 3 Rundell Road lived 26-year-old chambermaid Minnie Barry, her fiancé Frederick Sorensen and their 3-year-old son Freddy Jnr. For Minnie, money was short, but being so focused on providing for her family, she got them through the toughest of times… but only just.
Minnie would fight a brave fight to keep her family from the gutter, and although Wednesday 28th June 1933 would start like any other day, everybody has a breaking point and hers would happen here.
It was a day which began with breakfast… and descended into death.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 179: Minnie.
We all have a temper. For some, it sits way down deep barely making a ripple. Whereas for others, its sits simmering on the surface forever bubbling like a boiling pot of scolding soup on a hot stove. Being so close to spilling over, when tempers flare, all it takes is one more lick of a flame for someone to get hurt in a fight sparked by something small; like a cruel word, an off look, or even the last slab of butter.
With the Great Depression consigned to the past and Adolf Hitler little more than a mild nuisance on the horizon, seen as a time of mechanical evolution, 1933 saw the land speed record break 100mph at Brooklands and one of the country’s first power stations was connected up to the National Grid.
Britain was entering the modern age, but it was only available to those who could afford it.
For the working-classes stuck in a Victorian era, many were only ever a pay day away from starvation. Life was a slog. With a six-day working week, lunch breaks non-existent for another 40 years and sick pay not mandatory for another half century; if you didn’t work, you didn’t earn and you didn’t eat.
Wednesday 28th June 1933 was an ordinary day for 26-year-old Minnie Barry. The sun was bright, the wind was light, and outside – three hours past sunrise – the city was awake and grinding into action.
3 Rundell Road was a standard three-storey Victorian terrace, owned by local solicitor Herbert Blake. As a neat little lodging for those on a low-wage, all of the tenants were married couples and families.
For Minnie, it was a good place to raise her child; it was quiet, safe and clean… but it wasn’t much.
As a small single room, 17 feet wide by 12 feet deep, it was barely big enough for a double bed, a small table for family meals, and a solitary armchair for one person to rest in. With no electricity nor running water; the gas lights gave a dull yellow glow, in front of the fire lay an endless line of damp clothes, and - in the washstand - the same bowl was used to flannel their faces as to clean the dirty crockery.
With a tiny front window half obscured by the pavement, this dark little box had been their home for a little over a year, but it was all they could afford on the meagres wages they both brought in.
At 7am, as per usual, while Frederick silently washed his face and their son 3-year-old Freddy Jnr slept in their bed after a fitful night, Minnie prepared her family a simple breakfast of bread and butter.
The mood was tense, and they had argued many times before…
…only this time, Minnie would be pushed too far.
She was born Minnie Perkins in 1907. Raised in a small two-storey terrace at 24 Percy Street in Jarrow, an industrial town five miles east of Newcastle in the north east of England; life was a constant struggle for her father Samuel a labourer, her mother Edith a housewife and their six children, all under ten.
As the second youngest of the siblings, Minnie was doted on but never spoiled. No matter how young, as a tight unit, every child had a duty to perform and a job to do to keep the family safe and warm.
Educated to the age of 14, like her sisters, Minnie entered domestic service becoming a chambermaid at several guesthouses in neighbouring towns. Always being polite, conscientious and diligent, it was rare that Minnie was out of work and - if she was - she was swiftly rehired or recommended elsewhere.
She was a young girl living a hard life … but she fought through it all by being calm, honest and patient.
And although such a good woman deserved a nice life and a decent husband…
…it was not to be.
In 1925, aged 18, Minnie gave birth to a baby called Edith; a sweet little girl who she adored but knew that she could never keep. It was a bond which should never be broken, but being unmarried and with the unnamed father having fled, the cruel morals of a judgmental society had given her no choice.
As a single mother - whose sin was cruelly deemed to be her doing, not his - she would struggle to get even the basics to survive; no work, no money, no support and no lodging. As many families did, her child was adopted by her grandmother in the hope of giving them both a better chance at life.
Moving out of Jarrow in search of better work, Minnie saw her daughter as often as she could and never once forgot to send a letter home to say she loved her, to post a little gift to make her smile, or – from her miniscule wage – to support her upbringing as best she could on what little she made.
Keen to find a husband – as a 1920s woman did not exist unless she was a wife - on the 24th February 1927, near the seaside town of Blackpool, 20-year-old Minnie married 22-year-old William Barry. As a night porter, they met at work, they fell in love and moved into a tiny lodging in Lytham St Annes.
Like her later room in Rundell Road, it wasn’t much, but (as she always did) Minnie made it a home.
Only, this little lodging was less like a place of warmth and love, and more like a cold empty prison.
Like a bad apple, William was rotten to the core; a lazy man who did as little as little can do, a useless drunk who pissed every penny up the nearest wall, and a wretched mess who was handy with his fists.
Beaten black and blue, Minnie tried her best to cling on in the hope of building a better life for herself; as a wife with a loyal husband and a daughter they could raise as their own, but it was not to be. With a criminal record for indecent assault, and later being convicted of threats and blackmail, just six months into their unhappy marriage, Minnie fled their home, the town and she would never return.
It was her hope that William would be long gone, but – even whilst he was locked-up in prison – the law made it so he could still make her life hell. As a battered woman, she could abandon him. But as a wife, she couldn’t divorce him without the money to do so, or his say so… which she would not get.
At the beginning of January 1928, Minnie Barry moved to London; she got a job as a chambermaid at the Rutland Hotel at 63 Lancaster Gate in Bayswater, she started to rebuild her shattered life, and it was here – having fallen for a basement porter called Frederick - that she would finally find love.
For Minnie, this was a fresh start in a new city…
… but later driving her to snap…
…this beginning would mark their end.
A little after 9am on Wednesday 28th June 1933, PC Quinnell of Harrow Road police station descended the stone stairs at 3 Rundell Road and entered the small basement room of Minnie Barry, Frederick Sorensen and their 3-year-old son Freddy Jnr - it was an ordinary lodging of an unremarkable family.
The room was as they had left it a little over one hour before.
The bed was unmade as if a small figure had been peacefully sleeping, as - to the side - lay a few little toys where a young boy had recently enjoyed (possibly) his last ever playtime with both parents.
Around a wooden table were three wooden chairs where a family once sat for breakfast; three cold cups of tea with one still full to the brim but two others little more than dregs, a cutting board, a slicing knife, a still warm loaf of bread and a ceramic dish containing a fresh block of butter with a corner cut.
Except for a yellow greasy smear and several white crumbs upon the blades, the knives were clean.
At the washstand – beside a cut-throat razor, a bar of soap and a tub of laundry powder – the sink was empty, but the wooden floorboards bore the tell-tale signs of wetting, as a drizzle and a constant drip led to the lit gas-fire, as five – still slightly damp - black silk stockings hung freely on the fireguard.
For PC Quinnell and Divisional Detective Inspector Worth (who would head up the investigation) there were no signs of a break-in, a struggle or an assault. Everything was as to be expected…
… except in the armchair lay a corpse.
At 9:10am, Dr Mayberry arrived and declared life as extinct. It was odd, as the body looked so peaceful, so silent. Sat upright, with legs straight and bare feet inches from the fire, it was as if the flames were still keeping its toes all toasty warm, and yet everything else began to cool, being already dead.
Had it not been for a coloured cloth covering its face, the detectives may have mistaken the body for someone merely sleeping, and yet – when unveiled - its head would tell a very different story…
…of how an ordinary family breakfast had led to a brutal murder.
Frederick Sorensen was one of three children raised by Frederick, a Danish national and Rachel a native of Jarrow (where Minnie grew up). Born in 1909 in South Shields, his father was a merchant seaman and – like Minnie, and millions of other working-class women – his sisters went into domestic service.
Although living and working in London, their mutual upbringing would prove a perfect match as it gave them both a chance to see their families, and especially for Minnie, to see her 8-year-old daughter.
As a boy, Frederick was described as quiet, passive and often a little distant. He had begun life fit and well with no illnesses or diseases. But at the age of seven, he suffered an unexplained haemorrhage to the sinuses, which left him with a distant gaze, memory loss and partial deafness in both ears. At times, being unable to hear what was said to him, this made his temper quick and his mood sullen.
Beginning life as a rivet catcher in the South Shields Docks, aged 19, when work was slack, he uprooted to London seeking a better wage and he found himself a job as a basement porter at the Rutland Hotel.
It was here that Minnie met Frederick and they fell in love…
…only every day of their four years together would be a struggle…
…right up to the point of when she snapped.
As an exemplary employee, Minnie was swiftly promoted to Staff Maid, a senior position on a higher wage which afforded a simple but a better standard of living for herself, and for her daughter back home. Life was going in the right direction; a good job, a decent wage and a potential husband-to-be.
For the first year, they lived at The Rutland Hotel, as free room and board came with the job; the hours were long, the work was hard, they saw each other little, but it gave them a taste for living together.
Only, an unexpected change in their circumstances would force them to rethink their situation.
In February 1930, their son – Frederick – was born in Balham Hospital; he was good, quiet and healthy. With both parents working, earning and doting upon him, he would have had a good life. But with William Barry having been released from prison, and still refusing to grant Minnie a divorce, her marriage to Frederick would remain in limbo, limiting their rights and branding their son as a bastard.
To disguise their shame; she wore a brass ring as if it was gold, they went by the title of Mr & Mrs, they lived as man and wife, and their son was christened with both names, as Frederic Sorensen Barry.
It was a ruse which made life a little easier, but - as a regular bone of contention - they often fought.
In May 1932, this small family moved into the front basement room at 3 Rundell Road; a dark airless box barely big enough for a singleton, but Minnie made it a home as best she could. Together they could afford the rent of 9 shillings a week, and as they always paid on time, their life had some stability.
For Minnie, she had always held onto her jobs as she was calm, honest and patient…
…but burdened by deafness – although he was liked – Frederick’s temper often got him into trouble.
Having been dismissed from the Rutland Hotel, Frederick had moved from job-to-job; a few months at the Lindus Court on Cromwell Road, three weeks at the Hotel Elizabeth, five weeks at the Park Royal in Paddington, and eight months at the Hyde Park Hotel on Queensborough Terrace in Bayswater.
Earning a decent wage as a kitchen porter on 25 shillings a week, the family were doing well.
That was until the 16th July 1932, when – in a trivial spat over a word his partially deaf ears had misheard - in what he often described as “a spasm”, he unleashed a volley of fists at the chef.
The fight was short and both men apologised, but with his pride being hurt, Frederick left his job.
For the sake of the family, Minnie begged him to return as they needed both wages, but he wouldn’t.
With a patchy employment record, regular work was hard to come by. Across the following year, he did odd stints as a labourer, a painter and a shop assistant, but from the August of 1932 onwards, Frederick was forced to sign on at the Labour Exchange and relied heavily on benefits and handouts.
Even with two wages, money was always tight; rent was 9 shillings a week, food was 12 shillings, 7 shillings a week was sent to raise to her daughter, and earning just 23 shillings a week - even with public assistance - Minnie would struggle to buy her family the basics; like bread, milk, tea and butter.
By the end of May 1933, four weeks before the murder, she hadn’t enough money to pay the rent.
Since the Christmas last, Minnie had taken on extra work as a kitchen assistant at Lyon’s & Co, and as an assistant at several shops in Kilburn. It was a little extra cash to help them get through life, but all these extra hours would put an immense pressure on her strength, her energy and her patience.
Working long hours, she paid for a babysitter while Frederick was (supposedly) out seeking a job…
… but feeling exhausted, as her cool demeanour slipped away, a temper began to bubble underneath.
To Minnie, Frederick had given up. Depressed and living off dole money, he always made an excuse as to why he couldn’t work - “the pay’s crap”, “it’s miles away”, “it’s not what I want to do”, always thinking of his needs and never once putting himself forward as the breadwinner of this little family.
And yet, her stresses were only beginning, as by the start of June, Minnie was two-months pregnant.
With life getting harder and money no longer stretching as far – as an industrious woman - she did her best to buy the food, to pay the bills and to keep the house clean. But she didn’t have seven shillings to send to her daughter, and – already three weeks late – the nine shillings to pay this week’s rent.
In their cupboard; the bread was down to the crusts, the tea leaves were reused so often the brew was pale and tasteless, and the pitiful knob of butter in the ceramic dish was barely enough for two.
Minnie had held this family together, where-as Frederick had given-up; he frittered his hours away, he loafed about, he rarely helped, and as his temper spiked - like William - he beat her black and blue
A few days before, in his coat pocket, Minnie found his diary. Had he merely scrawled a few bad words about her or had maybe named a woman he was seeing on the side, she wouldn’t have been surprised.
But inside, she saw something which made her seethe – a stack of betting slips for horses, dogs and football matches, having squandered the last vestiges of the cash they didn’t have and couldn’t afford.
On the surface, Minnie tried to remain calm…
…but on the inside, she was already fuming.
The morning of Wednesday 28th June 1933 began like any other; a bright sky but etched with gloom.
Having had a fitful night, 3-year-old Freddie hadn’t slept a wink, and as he tossed and turned, neither had his parents. Leaving him to snooze in their small shared bed, Minnie & Frederick began their day.
For Minnie, it would be another endless slog of utter exhaustion; with a house to clean, shopping to do, three jobs to hold down and a pot of money she would somehow have to magic out of thin air. As for Frederick, he washed his face and made his excuses, but she knew he wouldn’t go looking for work.
Upon the table, lay three pale cups of tea, three thin crusts of bread, and under the lid of the ceramic dish lay a pitiful blob of butter, which – if spread painfully thin – might cover two slices, but not three.
Arguing quietly so as to not wake their son, Frederick blamed Minnie for not buying enough butter, Minnie blamed Frederick as it was his gambling which had left them broke, and – in a fit of petulance – Frederick snatched a few pennies from her purse and stormed out into the bustle of Rundell Road.
It may seem like nothing, but this was the spark which would ignite the fury.
With him gone, Minnie washed her black silk stockings in the sink and placed all six on the fireguard.
Just shy of 8am, Frederick returned with a fresh loaf, a block of butter and - sitting in absolute silence, unable to look at one another - they ate their bread and supped their tea as the young boy slept.
Sometimes, a long silence can pacify a fight as the warring sides slowly see sense.
But still furious, as he had dared to blame her for the situation that they were in…
… it was then that Minnie snapped.
(Silence, building tension, and then Minnie mumbles) “you’re lazy”.
And that was it. As a calm and patient woman, her temper rarely surfaced beyond a cruel word she would quickly regret; followed by a tear, a silence and an apology. Minnie was not a bubbling pot of rage or spite; she was just a good woman with a feckless boyfriend who knew that she deserved better.
Only, better would never come.
Enraged at a trivial spat over a word his partially deaf ears had misheard - once again, in what he would describe as “a spasm” – (Frederick): “I saw the hammer lying on the mantle shelf. I got hold of it and swung it wildly at her” – the steel head of the hard hammer fracturing her skull above her right ear.
“She shouted ‘Freddy’ and clawed at my face. I put my fingers round her throat and kept pressing. I saw a black silk stocking on the fireguard, I grabbed it and slipped it round her neck and pulled it hard. I did not realise there was any blood until I saw it on the floor… then I realised she was dead”. (END)
Still sleeping, realising his 3-year-old son could wake at any moment and see his mother dead, “I picked her up, I put her in the chair, and I covered her face with a cloth because I didn’t want him to see her”.
As his boy awoke, Frederick went about their morning as regular as any other; he washed the boy’s face, he got him dressed, he gave him a breakfast of a thick slice of bread slathered with a hearty knob of butter, as - beside him - his mother lay silent and still, propped up in an armchair. His father’s ruse being to say “mummy’s asleep, she’s very tired, let her nap” – and this woman would sleep forever.
At 8:50am, Frederick left 3 Rundell Road never to return, and - clutching his son’s hand for one last time – he entered Harrow Road police station and told the officer “I think I have done my wife in”.
Arrested at 11am, Frederick Sorensen would make a full confession to the murder of Minnie Barry.
Tried at the Old Bailey on 22nd September 1933 before Mr Justice Swift, his defence had discovered an inflammation in his skull (caused during his childhood) which led to his deafness and mood swings, but being declared as sane, he was found guilty and was sentenced to death. Having lodged an appeal, Frederick Sorensen later had his sentenced reduced to life in prison, which he served at Pentonville.
And that’s it.
We all have a temper. For some, it sits way down deep barely making a ripple. Whereas for others, it sits simmering on the surface forever bubbling like a boiling pot of scolding soup on a hot stove.
As their tempers frayed; Minnie lost her life, Frederick killed his lover and a little family was destroyed forever. As in many arguments, their fight had a multitude of facets, and yet, as their rage built, all it took was a single spark to end in death, being over something as simple… as a knob of butter.
** 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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