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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 NINETY-TWO:
Just shy of midnight on Wednesday 26th August 1942, across a wooden bench on Lover’s Walk sat 44-year-old Gladys Wilson and her lover Second Lieutenant Ronauld Kurasz of the Polish Army. Both being married to others who the war had split apart, neither Glady nor Ronnie had planned to have affairs, as like so many others, they were just seeking a little affection during a turbulent time of loss and grief.
After ten days of romance, being sat holding hands, they both knew their relationship was to end. But where-as she would see their love as fleeting, for him their love was forever… in both life and death.
Found after her death, Gladys had written nine truly tragic words in her diary. The first four of which were “I love him, but…”. The question was, but what?
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
MEPO 3/2234 - https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1258017
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Lover’s Walk in Hyde Park, W2; one street west of the last sighting alive of Ruby Bolton, a short walk south-west of the last night of fun by the bloody butler, one gate down from the suicide and murder of former lovers Julia Mangan & Robert Williams, and in another odd mirror of both tragic cases, the death pact of the couple who failed to see - coming soon to Murder Mile.
As an ill-defined bridle way off the main walkway around the eastern edge of Hyde Park, it’s strange that a place so littered with death is still called Lover’s Walk. And yet, this is where they stroll.
You’ll see all types of couples here; whether it’s the old ones sweetly holding hands, the young ones sucking face, the new ones bonking and banging their bits together like they’ll win a prize if they erase each other’s genitals, and then there’s the ones with sprogs; who look as ravaged as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner - having been waterboarded by urine, tortured by a tiny tot with lungs like a pig with piles, and imprisoned in a Peppa Pig covered hell - who will confess to (literally) anything in return for five minute nap, a half pint with a pal and a conversation which doesn’t involve stains, fluids or orifices.
For love to last, it needs to be built on a strong foundation of trust, time and friendship.
Sadly, too many loves are doomed to failure, as being too hasty to believe that they’ve met ‘the one’, and fearing that – if they don’t get hitched this second – their lover for life will leave them forever, so many relationships end in break-ups, separations and divorces, and occasionally they end in death.
Just shy of midnight on Wednesday 26th August 1942, across a wooden bench on Lover’s Walk sat 44-year-old Gladys Wilson and her lover 28-year-old Second Lieutenant Ronauld Kurasz. Both being married to others who the war had split apart, neither Gladys nor Ronnie had planned to have affairs, as like so many others, they were just seeking a little affection during a turbulent time of loss and grief.
After ten days of romance, being sat on a bench holding hands, they both knew their relationship was to end. But where-as she would see their love as fleeting, for him their love was to last forever.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 192: “I love him, but…”
To many, it may seem easy to condemn these two as nothing but common cheats, a morally loose pair of lascivious lushes who slipped their marital vows before God as easily as they slipped into a seedy bed of lust to fondle and fornicate. But this is not a story about a tawdry affair, this is a tale about two good people, lost amidst the horrors of war, who – like so many others – were simply seeking affection.
Gladys Maud Pearson was born in and around Fulham in 1898. She would live to the age of forty-four, but blessed with an ageless face, old-fashioned morals and a youthful heart, the newspapers stated she was somewhere between thirty and fifty – which may have made her bristle, blush or chuckle.
The first decades of the twentieth century were a time of hardship and grief, as the world was hit by an onslaught of tragedy; First World War, Spanish Flu, Influenza and the Great Depression had left billions broke, lost and bereft; with their lives only held together by the strength of their family’s love.
The Pearson’s were one such family hit hard by grief, as with her mother Maud left a grieving widow with two young children to feed, Gladys and her younger brother Cyril were raised in the middle-class affluence of Kingston with Uncle William and Auntie Kate, as her mother struggled to cope alone.
Tragedy aside, their childhood was loving. So, it’s no surprise that Gladys sought out any hint of affection, worried that any love she was given could easily be her last. Gladys was a woman who loved to be loved - and who doesn’t. And although remarkably youthful, she was as ordinary as most; with a slim build, short brown hair and pale skin; she had lips that longed to be kissed, a hand which ached to be held, and a set of chestnut eyes which cried out for a special someone to mend her broken heart.
Keen to rebuild her life and to find love again, in 1916, her mother Maud married William Crawley, a respected wool merchant who was good, decent and kind. They lived in a little flat at 58 Margravine Gardens in Baron’s Court and they remained together until their deaths in their seventies and eighties.
According to those who knew her, Gladys was a solid woman; she was reliable and caring, she was warm and big-hearted, a woman who needed to be loved and to love those who needed to be loved.
As an average woman with an ordinary life, we know little of her circumstance before the day it ended. Married in her early twenties, Gladys Wilson (as she became) found happiness with a man she loved and together in a cosy home they had a son who they nicknamed Budge. Life was simple but good.
As a romantic, throughout her life, Glady kept a diary in which she jotted down everything; from those most wonderous moments which made her the woman she was (her marriage, her son, their home), to her most intimate of thoughts; whether her fears and foibles, issues or aches, loves or losses.
Being so private, she wasn’t one to gossip about her worries, but in her diary, she would spill her heart.
On Tuesday 25th August 1942, the day before she died, in her diary she would commit to paper some of the most heart-breaking and tragic words this woman would ever write, unaware that it would be some of her last. It was a simple sentence composed of just nine words, the first four of which were…
“I love him, but…”
September 1939 saw the start of a war which ripped loved ones apart in a way which never been seen on that scale before. The Second World War was a global conflict which wouldn’t leave a single family untouched by grief, displaced by tyranny, bombed to oblivion, evacuated for safety or ordered to fight.
For Gladys, as with so many wives and mothers, with her loving husband and her only child conscripted and shipped overseas, she had gone from being a woman of purpose, to being a lost lone lady rattling around an empty house with no-one to care for. As if she was already bereaved, this once bustling home of her beloved family now hung with the eerie ghosts of their presence; their photographs, their clothes, and even their smell. Only now, this woman who loved to be loved was all alone.
With a phone call from overseas nigh-on-impossible – even just to hear their voices or be assured they were alive - she felt blessed if she received a letter-a-week, or (held up or lost by conflict) as a bunch every few months. But as the war dragged on from a skirmish it was said would be done by Christmas to a fight with no end in sight, Gladys did as most women did, and knuckled down to her life and work.
In 1940, she moved in with her mother and step-father in their little lodging at 58 Margravine Gardens in Baron’s Court, and being conscripted into the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (renamed the Women’s Transport Service) - as a skilled truck-driver and motorbike rider - Gladys served her country shuttling the injured on the front-lines of North France, Norway and (as a key defensive position) East Scotland.
With her beloved boys far from home, the war had proven a distraction from the gaping hole in Gladys' heart. Being so busy, she had little time to mourn the two men in her life she never knew if she would ever see again soon. Work had given her purpose and focus. But what she needed most…
…was a little affection.
Thanks to the stories we’ve been told, we have a rose-tinted view of how the soldiers who fought and their sweethearts back home held each other’s pictures to their hearts and remained forever faithful. The war pushed ordinary people to the brink, not just of their safety and sanity, but also of their love.
By 1942, three years into the war, Britain had taken a turn for the worst; as the Luftwaffe’s bombers ravaged our skies, Nazi hoards perched on the shores, and so thick and fast were our losses that even Dunkirk would be rewritten forever as a success of our British pluck, rather than a failure of our forces.
The people were rightfully in fear, as – with no end in sight, the dead mounting and fresh meat being forced into the grinder - those whose anthem claimed “we shall never be slaves”, looked likely to lose.
Before war had begun, even as it loomed, the people needed hope and love. In the first few months, the marriage rate in Britain skyrocketed by 250%; with many marrying those they barely knew, to fulfil a dream before they died, and with some even getting wed and having a baby to avoid conscription.
Marriage requires a strong foundation to survive so many months or even years apart, but having hastily committed to a life of love with a stranger they were little more than smitten by; in 1939 the divorce rate was one-in-six, by 1946, the first year after the end of the war, it had risen to one-in-four.
In terms of statistics, the interwar years were chaotic. Owing to the mass slaughter, 1941-42 was the only year this century where the death rates outweighed the birth-rate. And as the war escalated, so did the birth rate. But with so many parents widowed and too many marriages over - the greatest victim of this rush for to find love was the children – as by 1946, adoption had risen and peaked.
It’s impossible to say how many children were put up for adoption, having been born out-of-wedlock or made by mistake as a brief dalliance between two lonely strangers who were looking for affection.
But this is not to shame them, as what happened-happened. In the turbulent time of war as everyone drowned in a sea of misery and death, the only antidote was love. For some, it was sex. But for others, it was those special things they missed; a little kiss, a warm hug, a lingering smile or holding hands.
Gladys & Ronnie were just two regular people, married to others but parted by the war, who found love in each other’s arms, and who knew – when all this was over – it would never be spoken of again.
But what began as a bit of fun, a little kissing to soothe a broken heart, soon blossomed into a love that they could no longer control. So besotted was Ronnie, that she became his one-true-love. So smitten was Gladys, that in her diary, she would write four words about the man she had fallen for.
“I love him, but…”
Ronauld Kurasz was a 28-year-old Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army Corps. With his homeland smashed and its military shattered within the first month of the war by dual invasion by Germany and Russia, as millions were displaced, 80,000 men went into exile and reformed the 1st Polish Corps.
Formed in September 1940, 14,500 soldiers comprising of two Rifle Brigades, an Armoured division and a parachute unit were there to protect a 200-kilometre stretch of Scottish shore between the Firth of Forth (north of Edinburgh) to Montrose (south of Aberdeen) as Norway had fallen to the Nazis.
Having built sea-defences and gun batteries to repel an invasion, the 1st Polish Corp were billeted in the small town of Cupar in Fife, which – for the next few years – would become their temporary home.
For Second Lieutenant Kurasz, known as Ronnie, as welcoming as the locals were to these visitors from a foreign land, their kindness could never fully erase the losses they felt; of the country they had lost, of the lives they had left behind, and of the friends and families they may never see or hear from again.
Through the fate of being a soldier, Ronnie had survived. But being ordinary civilians, he had no idea if his wife or children had lived. With millions displaced and dead, he had no way to contact them and no knowledge if they knew where he was, in an unwinnable war which the Allies were losing.
Three years had passed in a flash, but to those still grieving, it felt like a lifetime.
Cupar was a nice place, it was safe and friendly. To make these lost souls feel at home; Polish delicacies were cooked, strong beer was never in short supply, and – as a reminder of the land they were fighting for –from the tower of the Corn Exchange, each day a bugler played the St Mary’s Call of Krakow, in tribute to a lone sentry who while sounding the invasion alarm in 1241… was killed mid-note.
As welcoming as the town was, Ronnie struggled to survive in this strange land so far from home. His work had kept him busy and his friends had made him smile, but what he missed most…
As an ambulance driver for the Women’s Transport Service, it was sheer coincidence that Gladys was billeted at Lodge No 19 at 72 Bonnygate in Cupar, barely half a mile from Ronnie’s barracks.
With her diary lost to the midst of time, we will never know how Ronnie & Gladys met. Perhaps having been injured – as a mix of Florence Nightingale and Stirling Moss – maybe Gladys had rescued Ronnie and the two got chatting over some surgical swabs and the smell of iodine? As enlisted soldiers, maybe they shared a kiss being hunkered down in a bunker on manoeuvres? Or maybe, needing to kick off their boots after a hard day at work, these two lonely people caught each other’s eyes over a pint?
It began as a friendship, two lovers with heavy hearts finding solace in each other’s company. Being an easy remedy to their grief and a distraction from their pain, all they wanted was to feel loved again.
To neither Gladys nor Ronnie, it wouldn’t have seemed like they were engaged in an illicit affair, as all they were doing was chatting, smiling and laughing - the simple things which a being with a beating heart needs to survive. And maybe, having taken a long walk in the dunes, holding hands and sharing a long lingering silence as the waves broke, they kissed for the first time… and knew they were in love?
It was wrong and they would have known it. But being so many miles and years apart from their loved ones, although absence makes the heart grow fonder, it’s hard to love a memory as it fades every day.
It’s unlikely it was planned this way, but before they knew it, they were in love…
…only this was a love which they knew would never last.
(Whisper) “I love him, but…”
June 1942. The outcome of the war hung on a knife-edge; as the Battle of Midway had proved a turning point in the Pacific, Tobruk was captured in a defeat that Churchill called a “disgrace”, and the first reports had filtered back that gas was being used in concentration camps to exterminate the Jews.
Horror was everywhere, but for Ronnie & Gladys, their hearts were broken for reasons closer to home. Gladys was no longer an ambulance driver based in Cupar, she had been requisitioned back to London.
London was her home, Cupar was his, and with both ordered to serve their country as and when their superiors decreed, the war had ripped them from their loved one once before, and now, it had again.
Being 420 miles apart, with a limited train network and issued only a few days leave a year, they saw each other as often as they could, but with the long distance taking up a full day, it was never enough.
To fill the void of loss and loneliness, they wrote as often as they could; but even a scented envelope, a wallet-sized snapshot and a few handwritten pages of words of longing and dreams of what may be, could never repair the new hole which had ripped in their hearts, as their memories grew distant.
It’s uncertain why – whether an order or an opportunity – Gladys applied for a job in the Mechanised Transport Corps. In need of skilled drivers, the MTC drove dignitaries of foreign and British agencies, they shuttled SOE agents to airfields, and – as Gladys had done – they drove ambulances into war-zones. Only this time in Syria, Egypt and Palestine, where Gladys’ husband and son were based.
Once again, for this brave and selfless woman, it was a chance to serve her country and rekindle her life with the loved ones she had lost so long ago. Having been successful in her interview, Gladys would initially be posted to the northern city of Leeds, with her attachment beginning at the end of August.
On Friday 15st August 1942, issued a 72-hour leave pass to see his beloved in London, Ronnie booked a room at a boarding house at 13 Colosseum Terrace, to the side of Baker Street and Regent’s Park.
Across this long weekend of love, they packed in as much as any couple could; they dined over candle-lit dinners, they took in a West End show and walked hand-in-hand seeing the sights, but unable to take their eyes off each other, as the two lovers shared a moment, they knew it was for one last time.
With his 72-hour leave almost up, Sunday 17th August was to be their last day together, but unable to part, Ronnie did the unthinkable and – risking two years in prison – he went Absent Without Leave.
Classed as a criminal and with his career in jeopardy, this secret couple who had signed in under the assumed name of Mr & Mrs Kurasz, laid low, kept quiet and spent as much time in each other’s arms, knowing that – like the sands inside an hour-glass –their brief relationship too was coming to an end.
On Sunday 23rd, one week before she was due to start her new job, Ronnie met Gladys’ mother; they chatted over tea and cake, although it is uncertain if Gladys introduced him as a ‘friend’ or ‘boyfriend’.
With their time almost up and their savings spent, on Tuesday 25th August, Gladys & Ronnie checked out of the boarding house by Regent’s Park. Later found upon their person, they had both written passages in their diaries that day. Although only part of it was found, Ronnie’s was tragic and paranoid.
It read; “We are absolutely two broken people. She give up always everything for me, also her life”.
Whereas Gladys’ last entry in her diary addressed to her mum was less of a suicide note, but was more of a last will and testament, which spoke of the fears she could never say in words.
It read: “To my mother. Just in case anything happens to me today, Ronnie is still here. He should have returned yesterday, but says he cannot live without me in the awful place where his regiment is. I hope everything will be alright. But Ronnie is in a terrible state about going back. We have had a wonderful leave together. He threatens all the time to kill himself and me”. And following her tragic premonition, she wrote the most heart-breaking words this lonely woman would ever write.
“I love him, but… I don’t want to die”.
On Wednesday 26th August 1942, just before midnight, Ronnie & Gladys walked – as many couples do – along the tree-lined seclusion of Lover’s Walk in Hyde Park. With her bags packed, her lodging booked and new job awaiting her in Leeds, she had told her mother “I won’t be late”. But she was.
After ten days of romance, being sat holding hands, they both knew their relationship was to end. But where-as she would see their love as fleeting, a little affection to repair her lonely heart. For him, their love was to last forever, as this would be their last goodbye. (Two shots, then one shot - END).
Hearing the shots, at roughly 11:40pm, PCs Heath & Gillespie were on duty in Hyde Park when they heard three shots and ran in the direction. 100 yards west of Stanhope Gate, across a wooden bench on Lover’s Walk, they found a uniformed soldier and a woman in her civvies, collapsed and bleeding.
With two bullet wounds to her left temple, one behind his right ear and an Army-issue Smith & Wesson .38 calibre revolver in his right hand with three of the six rounds spent – discovering their diaries upon their person - it was no mystery to the officers what had happened, as death permeated this path.
With Gladys sprawled across his chest and with no defensive wounds, in a moment of surprise he had shot her in the head while she was distracted by something else. Clutching his dying lover to his body, this couple who were not to be would die in each other’s arms - whether she wanted to, or not.
As the ambulance arrived, it had proved to be a miracle that Gladys had clung onto a sliver of life, but by the time she had arrived at nearby St George’s hospital, the doctor declared her life as extinct.
An inquest was held at Westminster Coroner’s Court before Mr Bentley Purchase. Concluded without the jury retiring, it was determined that Second Lieutenant Ronauld Kurasz had “murdered Gladys Wilson and that he had committed suicide while of unsound mind”. Giving evidence, Glady’s brother Cyril would state that “she would have been the last person in the world to take her own life”.
It’s tragic that - as a woman who loved to be loved - the war had driven Gladys to find affection in the arms of another man who truly loved her. But instead of finding warmth, she found only death.
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.
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Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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