Nominated BEST TRUE-CRIME PODCAST at The British Podcast Awards, 4th Best True Crime Podcast by The Week, The Telegraph's Top Five True-Crime Podcasts, The Guardian and TalkRadio's Podcast of the Week, Podcast Magazine's Hot 50 and iTunes Top 25.
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 TWO HUNDRED AND SEVEN:
On Wednesday 21st December 1853, 27 year old Hannah Heisse, a married mother-of-one gave birth to a baby daughter, later to be joined by her husband, a 34 year old tin plate worker called Bertolt Heisse.
For three days, being cared for by Bertolt and her mother, Hannah rested as this prolonged birth had left her weak. It should have been the start of a new life for this beautiful little family. But owing to a little thing called jealousy, on Saturday 24th December 1853 (Christmas Eve), Bertolt (her loving husband) would unleash a bloody massacre and destroy this whole family forever. But why?
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Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Shaftesbury Avenue, W1; one street north of the killing of Soho king-pin Red Max Kassel, one street south of the brutal slaying of Dutch Leah, a few doors east of the fatal seizure of James McDonald, and three streets south of the striptease of death - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Today, Shaftesbury Avenue is the supposed home of the West End show, but with very few new plays to warrant its nickname, Theatreland is little more than a slew of pointless pap; where faded pop stars crowbar six hits into two-hours of tenuously linked drivel, tired 1960s farces called ‘Oooh Err Missus’ feature two repugnant horn-dogs opening and closing doors until the hinges (and their knickers) fall off, and – for the truly vapid - movies remade for the stage. So expect to see, a rom-com of Schindler’s List, Top Gun the drag-act, a Busby Berkley version of Amistad, and – as the final nail in the coffin, as Disney has truly suckled this withered teat dry – a kitchen sink drama about the Marvel multiverse.
And yet, had anyone opened their eyes, they’d have seen that the real drama was on their doorstep.
Demolished to make way for Shaftesbury Avenue, back in the 1850s King Street consisted of two lines of three storey terraces, crammed with semi-skilled working-class labourers, whether tailors, painters and tin pot makers. On the top floor of 15 King Street once lived Bertolt Heisse, his wife Hannah, her toddler daughter and soon, a new baby. It should have been the happiest of times for this little family…
…but unlike a funny little farce about infidelity, a lack of trust would lead to tragedy.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 207: A Jealous Streak.
Triggers. We all have our triggers, those little ignitions of our dormant thoughts and our uncontrolled emotions, which can make us smile, can make us cry, and – if pressed too far - can make us snap.
His full name was Bertolt Theodore Heisse, a 34-year-old native of an unspecified town in Germany. With no known relatives in England, let alone in London, why he came to Britain is uncertain, but since then he had lived an unremarkable life on the borders of Soho and Haymarket for at least four years.
We know little about his life, and had it not been for his callous crimes, he would have been forgotten.
What’s most vexing is that Bertolt wasn’t a bad man; he worked hard, he didn’t break the law and he wasn’t a layabout, a loafer or a lout. He was just an ordinary man who refused to see his own faults.
Described as professional but sober, since his arrival, Bertolt had been employed as a master tin-plate worker at Messers Farwig & Bullock of 16 Rupert Street, just off King Street. Being a semi-skilled man in an in-demand profession, he would fashion sheets of tin into all manner of household essentials, such as kettles, saucepans, canisters, milk pails, lamps and lanterns, using shears, hammers and solder.
According to Walter Bullock the co-owner, Bertolt was well-liked and well-regarded, being a reliable man who was never late, never unruly and prided himself in the quality of his work. Always a neat man, he liked his life to be as orderly as his appearance, with clean hands, short hair and a tidy beard.
He was sober in character and in drink as he rarely drank, and almost never got drunk. But he was not a solitary figure, a friendless sort, or someone others disliked, he was just as ordinary as anyone else.
Sadly, we know little about his love live, whether he was ever engaged, previously wed, a gay bachelor, a grieving widower, or was simply a singleton who was in and out of love like an eternally jilted Romeo.
Described as tall, dark and handsome, Bertolt had no problem attracting the ladies… but that was one of his faults – it wasn’t the single women who wooed him who he wanted, but the married ones. As a lover of other men’s wives, he openly flirted with any filly who took his fancy, it is said he engaged in tawdry affairs with any attractive woman who caught his glance even for a second, and – even when shopping for basics like bread – he couldn’t help but slather a sexy stranger with his smoothest words.
Obviously, as a lothario who preyed on those in loveless marriages, there are no records of his illicit affairs or who with, so we can only speculate. But as much as he only thought of himself and his carnal lusts, he never set aside a single iota about the fall-out from his dirty little dalliances with an already-wed woman he had wooed into bed – not her husband, her children, her life or the aftermath.
Thomas Chater, who also lived at 15 King Street would state “he was very fond of other men’s wives”…
…which was ironic, given his little issue.
It’s unsurprising that Hannah, his future wife was described as ‘an attractive lady’, a real head turner who made men draw sharp breaths, with a gaping mouth, a widening of the eyes, and causing a slight shift in how they sat, often crossing their legs for fear of their lower half mustering a ‘moral outrage’.
27-year-old Hannah Hodgkin was from Spalding in Lincolnshire in the east of England. As one of several daughters to a family of farmers, she had come to London (possibly) to start a new life where her past would never be known, being an unmarried mother to two toddlers, one of whom had recently died.
Travelling 140 miles south from the remote wilds to the bustling throng of the big city must have come as a shock for Hannah, but gripped with grief and fleeing her pain, she arrived with nothing but a bag of essentials and her toddler daughter, in search of paid work, a nice home and hopefully a husband.
Bertolt was an obvious choice for Hannah; a tall handsome man who was neat in both life and in style; a sober professional who (as a steady worker) could provide her with everything she could ever want; and as a lover would give her whatever she desired and take on the child of a man he had never met.
In January 1853, at a nearby church (believed to be St Ann’s in Soho), Hannah Hodgkin married Bertolt Heisse, in a small service attended by her family, but not his, having no known relatives, until now.
For Hannah, this was the start of a new year and a new life with a new husband. Being neither rich nor poor but financially comfortable given his steady income as a semi-skilled craftsman, shortly after their marriage, Mr & Mrs Heisse moved into the front attic rooms in a three-storey terrace at 15 King Street.
It was a decent lodging house owned by Mr Powell, a local baker, and occupied by several tradesmen and their families, some of whom Bertolt knew. Entered via a communal street-door, at the top of the wooden stairs, the Heisse family lived in two rooms; a kitchen/sitting room and small tidy bedroom.
For Hannah, it must have seemed like a dream come true; a happy marriage to a man she loved, a little toddler who was healthy and happy, a nice home to live in and enough money to be comfortable.
At that point, her life was perfect…
…until something changed everything.
Bertolt loved the ladies. That little fact about his wandering eyes, his creeping-hands and his ardent loins which longed to stand proud before a butt-naked beauty who was already betrothed to another bloke was well known. Whether - whilst married to Hannah – he ever dipped his wick in another man’s inkpot is unknown, but his thoughts were never far away from his beautiful new wife… and her fidelity.
He never saw the irony of his actions, as when he flirted with women, it was just a bit of harmless fun; but when she dared to look at other men, or if they dared to ogle his lovely wife, Bertolt would fume.
Jealousy pervaded his every waking day and haunted his dreams, as he lay beside the woman he loved.
As she slept soundly, he wondered which man it was she dreamed of, never thinking it could be him. As she dressed for the day, he questioned why she looked so pretty, why her perfume was so pungent and always checked to see if her ring was still on her finger, having had it placed there by God himself.
In his mind, adultery was the ultimate sin, but only if this sin was committed by her, and not him.
Even the most ordinary of days could illicit his irritable temper, as simply walking along Berwick Street market shopping for the basics, his ire would rise as his eyes maybe saw – what he believed – was her licking her lips too often, her hips to close to a man’s, her hands fondling fruit too suggestively, and a predatory wife-snatcher prowling these civilised street looking to pounce on his stunning young bride (as decreed by the law) and thus, ruining his perfectly good marriage, owing to a lothario’s carnal lusts.
At home, he would watch her, by keeping one eye open for any sign she was having an affair; whether a new dress, a racier shade of lippy, a crinkled bedsheet, or an extra cup in the washing-up bowl. But at work, it was worse, as plagued by a possessive streak of jealousy, all he could think about was her.
A small change became obvious to Walter Bullock, his boss at Messers Farwig & Bullock a few months after the marriage, as sometimes – not often – Bertolt’s punctuality and professionalism began to slip, as instead of worrying about the solder on his tinware, he was focussed on who his wife was shagging.
There was no proof she was unfaithful, but once that seed was planted, it could do nothing but grow.
And yet, it was that seed and the suspicion…
…which changed their lives forever.
The summer of 1853 should have been a truly happy time for this little family; the weather was good, their home was fully-furnished, and a swelling in her womb told Hannah that she was pregnant. Like a special little gift for both parents, this baby would be born either on or near to Christmas Day. By all accounts, Hannah was ecstatic with joy and now their family would be complete. But Bertolt was not.
As a jealous man who trusted her about as much as any man could trust him with their wife, although he had no evidence of an affair, a boyfriend, or any sex out of wedlock, he couldn’t be certain if the child was his; in the same way that some men who he no longer spoke to said the same of their child.
When told of her happy news, his face was blank and his mouth grimaced, as his mind raced to work out who – outside of himself – the father was; and with that, he would taunt her with his suspicions.
As her belly grew larger, the greater he grew distant with his wife and her unborn baby. Whereas once, each morning he would kiss her, now he would barely grunt her a ‘good morning’, as while she slept, he couldn’t help but think of who had been inside his home, inside his bed, and even inside his wife.
Her swelling wasn’t a symbol of their undying love, but an incessant reminder of her possible infidelity. Her belly wasn’t a countdown to family contentment, but a ticking timebomb to the moment of truth, as it would only be when he held the baby in his hands that Bertolt would know if the child was his.
Until then, he felt nothing for her, or even for ‘it’. Every time she twinged; he felt no pains of sympathy. Each time she was sick, all he felt was utter repulsion at the thought that ‘this thing’, this ‘spore’ was most likely conceived by another man’s seed spat-out in an immoral act of filth between her and ‘him’.
At some point, they stopped sleeping together, as Hannah and her infant daughter took the bed, and an almost silent and motionless Bertolt made a bed in the sitting room. Feeling unwelcome in her own home, until the birth proved her right, she couldn’t move out as her money was his, as was their home.
Until that day, Hannah would do what would come naturally, by building a nest for her brood; a little bowl, a woollen shawl, a wooden crib, and some soft toys for this baby she would love no matter what.
But the more reminders he saw of this off-spring which (most likely) wasn’t even his, the less he would contribute to its impending arrival; he paid the rent and gave her money for food, but nothing else.
And the bigger her belly got, the nearer the day of reckoning would come, the more unkind he became. Described by his neighbours as a man with a short fuse and a violent temper, those who heard them quarrel said it never lasted long and it was rarely physical. And although he would never hit her…
…once he had shaken this pregnant woman hard.
By November, with Hannah’s bulging bump being a perpetual reminder of what happiness or horror was to come, Bertolt’s work at the tin-plate factory was becoming inconsistent and sloppy, as his mind wandered, his hands trembled, and – even amongst his colleagues – he became ratty and ill-tempered.
He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t think about anything except who the father was.
At work, of the men he once trusted, he thought “is it him?”. Of any stranger in the street, he posited “perhaps it’s him?”. In his tired and fevered mind, he interrogated himself “is it a friend?”, “was it an ex-lover?”, “could it be a tenant at home, or someone I don’t know?”, “or maybe, it was the man who looked at her all those months ago on Berwick Street?”, as now, every smile was deeply suspicious.
It was the ‘not knowing’ which was driving Bertolt crazy. By December, with barely three weeks to go, the only way to know was for the baby to be born, until then, he’d have to wait, and wait, and wait.
Two weeks before, he would confide to a colleague, that if the baby wasn’t his…
…“I would cut her throat”.
As autumn gave way to winter and his sullen mood was replaced by an irritable temper, Bertolt had bought a spring knife with eight-inch blade. With the moment of truth almost upon them, his decision would be simple; if it was his, she would live, but if not “we should go off together in one bloody bed”.
On Wednesday 21st December, in the attic room of 15 King Street, a baby was born.
Ghostly pale and drenched in sweat, Hannah had done something miraculous in an era when 1 in 150 women died in childbirth. Sat slumped in a mattress bathed in blood, her labour was so prolonged she had barely enough strength to cuddle this bundle of joy, but just enough energy to smile, as this pink podgy mass of flesh gurgled at his adoring mum – a healthy little boy, with ten fingers and ten toes.
The second miracle was that Hannah had done this all alone, as having sent her mother (Mrs Hodgkin) a letter and some money to travel down, she had arrived too late to aid her, and Bertolt was at work.
At his usual hour, with no sprint in his step having been told of the birth, Bertolt arrived at his home. In his hands, he didn’t carry some flowers or a toy, and his face was far from the epitome of joy. Up the stairs he lolloped like a condemned man climbing the scaffold to his own death, which in truth, he was, only it wouldn’t be just her maternal excretions which would bathe the bed red that night.
Setting foot in his room, he saw his wife, on his bed, holding her baby. She smiled hoping her joy would be infectious, only his face was as cold and hard as marble. The moment of truth had finally dawned, as with scrutinising eyes pressed into a harsh squint, Bertolt gazed upon the little sprog before him; examining its eyes, its hair, its face, its hands, to see whether it looked like him, and whether it didn’t.
We have no record of what the baby looked like, but Hannah’s mother would state “he shook his head and simply said ‘enough, enough’”. Although what he meant by that will never be known. Moments later, he covered his shivering wife in warm bedclothes and whispered in her ear something unheard.
The day was Saturday 24th December 1853, Christmas Eve.
Across King Street, a mattress of icy snow carpeted the cobble-stone streets, a grey sky was blanketed in a thick sooty haze of burning tinder, as the soothing smell of roast chestnuts stained the air. It wasn’t Christmas as we would know it today, but across the land, they celebrated the birth of a little boy.
Still weak after her herculean ordeal, Hannah mostly slept clutching her baby, as her mother and even Bertolt (who had taken a day off work) busied the house and readied the food while she rested.
Mrs Hodgkin would state of her son-in-law “he seemed very kind”, which surprised her, given how Hannah had described him in her letters, and yet, Bertolt showed no anger towards his wife or child.
At 7pm, as Bertolt felt the need to “purchase some necessaries for the child”, he escorted Mrs Hodgkin not to the less-salubrious Berwick Street market in Soho, but over to Grafton Street in Mayfair. A much longer walk, but well worth it, being a well-to-do area where the society elite would shop and eat.
Having trudged for twenty-minute through the snow, although a little pooped, Bertolt decided to treat Mrs Hodgkin to tea and buns in a teashop off the Burlington Arcade, warming their toes by the fire, as a band of merry mistrals played a festive tune. Like the logs set in flame, she had warmed to him.
Bertolt seemed like the perfect son-in-law, as he popped off “to get Hannah something special, I’ll only be but a minute” as he left the one woman who could have saved her alone. Mrs Hodgkin’s words would haunt her forever, as she replied – “mind you do, or I shall never find my way back again”…
…but then again, that was the point.
At roughly 8:57pm, Bertolt arrived at King Street, not ambling in a slouched saunter as he had when he heard that the baby was born, but his feet fixed with a determined sprint, as he bolted upstairs to his room, where his wife, lay on his bed, with her bastard baby who was born to another man’s seed.
Bursting open the wooden door to the front attic room, upon seeing his supposedly cheating wife - it didn’t concern him that her toddler lay playing at her side, that Hannah was still bruised, swollen and bleeding from the strain of childbirth, or that this one-day-old baby was quietly suckling at her breast – all he saw was rage, as he started stabbing at her with feverish hatred with his eight-inch knife.
As any mother would, with her instincts to protect, the left-hand side of her body took every piercing stab and slash as this weakened woman shielded her baby in her bleeding arms. Knowing though that she was no match for his blade, she screamed “murder!” as this limp lady stumbled from the room.
With her terrified toddler clutching at her mummy’s leg, Hannah staggered onto the landing, her once white nightdress now sopping wet with thick red rivers from her neck to her legs. Seen by candlelight, and said to be “a shocking sight”, Mr Lloyd, a quick-witted neighbour carried her, profusely bleeding, to the safety of his ground-floor room, where on a sofa “her strength failed her”. With the door locked, she was safe, and her child was safe… but in her haste, her new-born baby had slipped from her grip.
All the way down King Street, his panicked words were heard screaming “Fetch a doctor!”, “Call the Police!”, and with PC James Vener patrolling nearby Nassau Street, help was there within a minute.
But by then, it was too late.
Aided by PC Vener, Dr Robert Martin of Frith Street entered the silent attic with trepidation. Inside, it was still. On the bedside table, the eight-inch blade still dripped as thick red globs oozed freely. Said by the doctor to be “a frightful scene”, the floorboards pooled with a never-ending sea of blood. And with the sheets soaked thick, steam rose as the hot blood mixed with the cold winter air blowing in.
From the gaping wound in his neck, gurgling was heard, as across the bed, Bertolt lay. With his own blade, he had slit his own throat from ear-to-ear. Described by the shocked doctor: “all blood vessels were cut, every nerve severed, and – slitting across the larynx - both carotid arteries and jugular veins were ripped”, as having thrown himself in pained agony back onto the bed, “having sliced right down to the bone, it was only the cervical vertebrae which had prevented his head from falling off”.
It didn’t take a medical man to confirm that Bertolt Heisse was dead.
And yet, this room still held one more terrifying sight. At first, neither man had seen it, until it blinked. As among the sodden sheets, it was only when its blood-soaked lids opened wide and the whites of its eyes were seen, that the baby was found – silent, shocked, but with not a scratch on its body. (End)
Along with her toddler and her baby, Hannah was taken to the Cleveland Street workhouse where she was attended to by the surgeon, suffering several stab wounds to her face, arm, shoulder and chest.
Three days later, an inquest was held in the vestry room of St Ann’s church in Soho (where it was said that the happy couple had married a few months before). With his wounds self-inflicted and his wife’s wounds a deliberate act of attempted murder (as Hannah still clung to life), after much deliberation, the jury returned a verdict “that he had destroyed himself while in a state of temporary insanity”.
For several days, Hannah was attended to by doctors who described her as “being in a low and weak state”, and although – by New Year’s Eve - her mother said she was “progressing well”, a few days into the New Year, Hannah Heisse, a recently widowed mother of two, had succumbed to her injuries.
With her body too weak having only just given birth, although those stab wounds weren’t all that deep for such a young and healthy woman, her blood loss was too great, and her strength was too little.
There is no record of what happened to her toddler and her baby. Had her family adopted them, they may have stood a chance albeit scarred for life, but left to the workhouse, their fate would be sealed.
Bertolt Heisse lived his life loving other men’s wives, he had no qualms about the families he ruined or the conflict he had created, just as long as he could fulfil his own carnal needs. But when the tables were turned, and his own paranoia took hold, lives would be lost… owing to his little jealous streak.
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 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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