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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 TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHT:
On the morning of Tuesday 11th March 1969, a 52-year-old prostitute known as ‘Scotch Maggie’ went missing from her home at 3 Oxford Gardens near Notting Hill. Two days later, her semi-clad body was found inside a suitcase in an abandoned house at 140 Kensal Road. But who had killer her and why?
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Kensal Road in Westbourne Grove, W10; three streets north of unsolved killing of Emmy Werner, one road east of the drowning of Lena Cunningham, two streets west of the sad end to Minnie Barry, and a short walk from West London’s lady killer - coming soon to Murder Mile.
In the shadow of Trellick Tower, on the bank of the Grand Union Canal sits Meanwhile Gardens, a thin strip of green in a grey manmade jungle; where drunks get pickled in a sea of strong Polish lagers, a line of baggy-pants skaters take turns to fail to do a simple trick, picnics are ruined as the scotch eggs get coated in choking smog as a belching trucks roar by, and gangs in grey Mothercare tracksuits strut about like mummy forgot to change their nappies – “me is done a well-bad botty plop, you get me?”
As part of the 1960s slum clearance, before Trellick Tower was built, a series of canal-side terraces were scheduled to be demolished making way for Meanwhile Gardens. By 1969, 140 Kensal Road was just another mid-Victorian three-storey terrace with smashed windows, no door and a leaking roof.
Being weeks away from its destruction, it was in the backroom of this damp derelict hole that the body of a 53-year-old prostitute known as ‘Scotch Maggie’ was found. As an outcast of civilised society, this forgotten woman had been used-up, spat out and dumped alongside a mess of abandoned rubbish.
Maggie’s death was the epitome of tragic, but who had killed her, and why?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 208: Rags and Bones – Part One.
(Clip: Apollo 11’s “one small step for man”) 1969 was a year of great technological advancements; the world’s first network connection led to the invention of the internet, supersonic passenger jet Concord took its first test-flight and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The present had become the future, and yet, with poverty so endemic, many people lived as they had in the past.
Very few locals knew anything about ‘Scotch Maggie’ – whether her name, her past, or her troubles - and even less wanted to. Maggie was a drunk; a stumbling, slurring, swearing wastrel who drank to forget, sold sex to buy booze, and got sozzled into a sad stupor every day with no memory of the past.
To the world, Maggie was a nobody, a low-class prostitute stuck in a vicious circle of drink, sleaze, and shame, who - even in the police file into her death - was described as “pathetic human driftwood”.
She deserved better, but in the end, she would be forgotten.
Her real name was Margaret Farlow Cameron. Born on the 17th January 1916 in Perthshire, Scotland, little is known about her past, as what she did say was a lie and what she was running from is unknown.
To those few who listened as she rambled incoherently - with her breath a foul-smelling mix of cheap cigarettes, fortified wine and sometimes semen - she claimed to be from a prosperous Scottish family, although, at the time of her death, with her sister hospitalised and incapable, it could never be proven.
With no known work record or education, Maggie’s life was empty, a hollow cycle of little routines to fulfil her basic needs, but even her closest friends and clients knew nothing of her life. If she had a family, none were seen at her council-funded funeral and her grave had no flowers nor a headstone.
Throughout her 53-years alive, she would amount to nothing, as her life was as ephemeral as the mist.
Described as “sparsely built”, Maggie was the epitome of a biological contradiction; skinny yet fleshy, with a chubby red face made rosy by a lifetime of the cheapest booze, and the emaciated body of a woman for whom food was an afterthought. With a tangled mess of reddish-brown hair, contrasted with her ghostly pale skin, the only reminder of her history was a series of old scars and new bruises which told the tragic tale of a woman who was as disposable as the dump she would be found in.
Apart from her death, the only real record that Maggie ever existed was her criminal convictions.
For some unknown reason, Maggie was running from something or someone, which may be why she had so many aliases. Some of which were; Margaret Cameron, Margaret Fowler, Margaret McLaren, Margaret Fowler-McLaren, Margaret Sonja Fowler-McLaren, and although she was known locally as ‘Scotch Maggie’, it was only her closest friends and most regular of clients who knew her ‘Carol’.
According to her criminal record, on 8th May 1935 in Edinburgh, 19-year-old Margaret Cameron was reprimanded for the charge of theft. Two decades later, on 18th January 1954, aged 38, Margaret McLaren (maybe her married name) was fined 10 shillings at Marylebone for outraging public decency. On 9th May 1956, aged 40, Margaret Fowler-McLaren was conditionally discharged in North London for prostitution. On the 15th March 1962, aged 46, she was bound over for two years for stealing fruit. And on 21st March 1964, aged 48 in Marylebone, she was fined £5 for stealing a camera.
She wasn’t a career criminal, but a damaged woman struggling to get by in an unfair world.
From 1964 to 1968, Maggie lived with a trader called John Forde in a decrepit lodging in Harlesden, where her police file states “she appears to have degenerated into an alcoholic of the lowest kind”, a fact that would be backed-up by her remaining criminal convictions as well as her autopsy. As on the 2nd June 1965, 9th March 1966, 16th March 1966, 28th Dec 1967 and lastly – just 10 months before her tragic death - on 6th May 1968, she was fined and imprisoned for public acts of drunkenness.
No-one will ever know the truth as to why Maggie was so sad…
…or why she drank to hide her past and to erase her memories.
By 1968, Maggie was seen as little more than the ‘town drunk’ and a ‘local pump’, a rambling mess who slugged back several bottles a day of King Head wine, before stumbling out into Westbourne Park - unwashed and unkept - to pull any punter who would pay her a pittance, as a slew of vile men defiled her semi-conscious or comatose body as she lay passed out on the bed, a sofa, the floor or the gutter.
For Maggie, this was what her life had been reduced to. She wasn’t a human but a whore, she wasn’t a person but a pisshead, and she wasn’t a woman but merely a hole for a drunken man’s mess.
In September 1968, possibly as a current or former-punter, Maggie met 69-year-old Robert Hartley, a retired seaman, and by the Christmas the two had moved in together into a small single-roomed lodging on the second floor of 3 Oxford Gardens in Notting Hill, just beside Portobello Road market.
Having interviewed Robert Hartley, being the last man known to have seen her alive, the police would state “he would make a reasonable witness, but as with many in this case he’s of low intelligence and prone to drink”. As with Maggie, having been defined as a “very low class of prostitute”, with him as her boyfriend, they had cast-aside a few basic but fundamental facts which would have made him less of a witness and more of a suspect; that he was cruel, violent, insane, and – more importantly - a liar.
Born in Salford in Greater Manchester in August 1900, although Robert Hartley went by several aliases – like Thomas Harris, Harry Brown and Harry Williams – throughout the investigation he had deceived the detectives, as Robert Hartley was also an alias, as his real name was Wilfred Ronald Williams.
In truth, Robert had never been a seaman, he had never set sail, and the medals he proudly wore had been purchased for a pennies in a pawn shop, so passers-by would give hand-outs to this brave soul.
His criminal record was extensive, and these were only the crimes he was convicted of.
In 1918, 19 and 20, in Salford, Wigan and Bolton, he would serve six weeks, two months and one year for six counts of theft. In 1921, he served three months for ‘unlawfully wearing military medals’ for the purposes of deception, and although he now had a family, he was unable to change his ways.
In 1923, 24 and 25, he served a total of seven months in prison for the ‘neglect of his family’ and for ‘cruelty to his children’. Bookending the abuse of his wife and babies, he would serve five months for twice picking-up prostitutes in Salford, and a further fifteen months for stealing lead piping and lino.
By 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, Robert had abandoned his children and married Jeanie his second wife, only to serve five months hard labour in 1940 for three counts of theft. It was a time when good people sacrificed their lives to protect their country - only he didn’t, as he couldn’t.
On the 21st January 1941, having been ‘certified of unsound mind’, Robert was committed to Knowle Mental Hospital in Winchester, with an unspecified psychopathic disorder, later being removed to Prestwick Mental Hospital on 4th June 1942, where he remained an asylum inmate for four years. Discharged on 21st April 1945, the next twenty-four years consisted of petty theft and drunkenness.
Robert Hartley was a cruel violent drunk, and even though his lies would ultimately be outed, he was never considered a suspect, and the Police took his statement to being as near to being a fact.
Maybe being burdened by a lack of hard evidence, they went with the best facts they had? Maybe being an abuser, they felt that a woman like Maggie deserved no less of a man? Or with Maggie being “pathetic human driftwood”, maybe the effort of a thorough investigation wasn’t worth their time?
The last known movements of the woman known as ‘Scotch Maggie’ were certified as true and signed for in the shaky hand of a barely literate man, on 9th April 1969, a full month after her body was found.
Probed by the police for details to flesh-out their unanswered questions, Robert stated: “the night before, I slept with her. She always got completely undressed before getting in and wore a nightdress”. By all accounts, she was no more drunk than usual, they hadn’t fought, and she had slept soundly.
On the morning of Tuesday 11th March 1969, the day of her death, according to Robert “I got up first at 7:30am and made a pot of tea”, although there would be no witnesses to any part of what followed.
“She got up about 8:30am”, he would state, giving herself a brief ‘top n tail’ in the sink and popping in her dentures consisting of several interspersed false teeth on an old and cracked vulcanised plate.
“I watched her get dressed”, later confirming the jewellery she wore; a yellow metal bracelet, a green plastic ring, a pink bangle and a black plastic ring, but – oddly - none of the clothes she would later be found dead in, not a blue half sleeved jumper and a pair of grey casual trousers; but blue jeans, a blue blouse and a pair of black leather shoes, none of which would ever be found. And although, her green and black ladies coat (last seen hanging on their bedroom door) was missing; her underwear would be stripped from her body; a pair of green socks, a suspender belt and a white pair of knickers.
He would state, “at that time, there were no injuries or bruises on her face, arms or body”. Two days later though, when her body was found, her face would be a barely recognisable bloody swollen mess.
“I left my flat at about 9:15am to get some cigarettes. She was getting ready to go out, saying she was going to draw money from the Scottish Linen Bank in the West End”. The problem was there was no such bank. There was a British Linen Bank, but she didn’t have a bank account and she kept no savings.
That would be the last time that Wilfred Williams alias Robert Hartley saw Maggie Cameron alive.
At 9:45am, returning (unseen by any neighbour and unrecorded by the tobacconist) to their second-floor room at 3 Oxford Gardens, he would confirm “she had left, and I haven’t seen her since”.
Where she went was unknown, who she saw was a mystery, as being a staggering drunk too incapable of conversation and a drifter who many people only acknowledged when they wanted her removed from their premises, nobody cared where she went as long as it was as far away from them as possible.
Anyone can vanish if no-one is watching out for them. With few close friends – an alcoholic called Jack, a totter with a handcart called Polish Joe and a few sex workers who were only known by aliases - the only people she regularly spoke with were the sort of unnamed unsavoury man who used her for sex.
Living just off Portobello Road market, it’s likely she went there first, but no one recalled seeing her.
A few days later, Robert Hartley would report her missing. He would state “she tended to disappear, but not for more than a few hours, or a day or two”. And yet it was only when he saw an article in the paper about a dead body being found that he contacted the Police, and identified it as Maggie.
On Thursday 13th March 1969, half a mile north of their home, lay a long line of mid-Victorian three-storey terraces scheduled for demotion near a site called Hazelwood Grove. With the backs of these brick shells facing the bank of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union canal, the fronts faced the road.
Devoid of people, except for the demolition team, no-one had any reason to be here. Resembling the ghosts of an old forgotten street or a smashed smile in a broken mouth, Kensal Road was an eyesore, with roofs caved in, broken pipes, spewing sewers, windows smashed and doors gone. Inside lay the detritus of past lives, as outside unscrupulous fly-tippers dumped a bag, a box, a trunk or a wardrobe.
At 8am, Ralph Spreadbury, a plasterer from Dagenham started his shift near this row of eight derelict houses, having been employed there for the last four months, most of which had been uneventful.
At 12:30pm, he had a sandwich for lunch and went for a little walk, “one of my hobbies is collecting old books. A few days ago I had noticed that there were some old books in a box on the pavement outside a house opposite the building site. The house was derelict… and the door was wide open”.
Having been dumped, it was his if he wanted it. “I had a look through the box. There were two or three books, but they were soaking wet…”, as over the last few days, the rain had lashed down, making the bank at the back a soggy mess. “I looked in the window by the door and saw a lot more books scattered around the floor… I had a look, but they were all soaking wet as the water had gone through the roof”.
He could have explored higher up the house, with two floors above, but with a few walls missing, too many bricks crumbling, a river of rainwater pouring in, and the wooden staircase as rotten as an old manky mouth, it was unsafe to enter this building, let alone to tread on the bare broken floorboards.
But then again, Ralph liked old books, and these were free.
“I went to the back room where there was a sofa”, it was old, used, battered and dumped. Around it lay a sea of unwanted objects; papers, books, clothes and old tat that no-one would be willing to buy.
“At one end of the sofa was a brown suitcase”, not big, just three feet long by eighteen inches wide. “The case was not locked. It was very damp and it looked quite old”. With his lunch over, and most of the books too water-damaged to read in this hovel strewn with rats, pigeons and flies, he could have quit his hunt, but curiosity got the better of him. “I then opened the case on its hinges to see if there were any books in it” and the contents would burden his brain with nightmares for the rest of his life.
Being heavy, he left it flat on the floor and lifted the flap.
The suitcase looked like it was packed with assorted rags, until he saw - protruding through like one of the undead had failed to crawl out of a grave - a left hand, all wrinkled and pale, with a black plastic ring on its left ring-finger. “I saw what I thought was a large doll in the case”, only this doll was lifelike, with a plumpish round face, a skinny bony body, and its reddish/brown hair bursting out of the side.
This woman, being five-foot-five in height, had been folded up like an unsightly hanky. Bent double, with both knees forced up to her face, her arms twisted back and her feet buckled under her bottom, someone had forced her into this impossibly tight space, with barely an inch to spare on either side.
With rigor mortis leaving a dark hue to the left of her trunk, there was no denying she was dead. And with her face smashed, as if her nose had been repeatedly beaten as concealed blood had splattered from several hard explosions across her nostrils and her eyes, foul play had definitely taken place.
Ralph would later testify “I lifted the cloth to see if it was a man or a woman, but I felt so sick that I let go… and I walked out of the house. I went back to the site and saw the Foreman (Stan)”. Having returned to the scene, and seeing the body within, Stan called the Police who arrived promptly.
At 12:55pm, PC Rogers arrived and secured the scene, at 1:30pm, Dr John Shanahan pronounced her life as extinct, and at 1:15pm, Detective Inspector Kenneth North and Detective Superintendent James Barnett headed up the investigation, into an – as yet – unknown woman found dead in a suitcase.
Aside from her identity, two questions would plague them…
…how did she get there, and why did she die?
As a crime scene, it didn’t make sense as to why she was there, as although derelict buildings were used by prostitutes and punters for brief sexual trysts, she wasn’t dressed to go out. With no shoes or socks, she wore a blue half sleeved jumper and a pair of grey casual trousers. Only all of her underwear had been removed; she had no knickers, no bra and (as although worn in that era) no suspender belt.
Although on the surface, her discovery was shocking, it seemed to be an entirely motiveless crime, as who would rob a semi-clothed woman when all she seemed to own was jewellery of the cheapest kind, and if this was a personal grudge, where was the passionate violence or the sadistic wounds.
Her cause of death was determined to be a brain haemorrhage caused by “repeated blows to the head and face”. And yet, with no signs of struggle at the crime scene, as she hadn’t been raped, strangled, violated, bludgeoned or abused, the pathologist - Dr Donald Teare – was unable to precisely determine how or if she had been attacked, “as the haemorrhage is consistent with a heavy blow or a heavy fall”.
Around the body, items had been stuffed – possibly – to pad out the suitcase so it didn’t look like it contained a dead body, including a dirty white cloth, an apron made of thick cotton twill, and a unique bedspread knitted together from several multicoloured woollen sheets. It had been bound with a red, black and yellow wire, and along with the suitcase, none of these had originated from this house.
Dead for at least 24 hours, with no fresh bloodstains found, it seemed odd that someone would waste so much time stuffing a body into a suitcase, only to dump it in a derelict house whose backyard faced an empty towpath on a dark unlit section of the Grand Union canal, where bodies often wash-up.
The detectives would speculate that someone had crammed her into the suitcase in a state of panic and that – having been attacked elsewhere – she had been transported to this spot from somewhere else, as although the house was soaking wet, her feet were bare, and her body was bone dry. (End)
An autopsy held at Westminster Mortuary would confirm that no sexual assault had taken place, the victim hadn’t been bound, muffled, gagged, dragged or restrained, and with no skin cells under her fingernails, she hadn’t clawed at her attacker in her last moments alive. In fact, she hadn’t struggled.
With her dental plate missing, her eyelids and forehead bruised, and extensive bruising to the left side of the skull but the bones entirely intact – although three ounces of haemorrhage to right of the brain was found - “the injuries to the eyes and mouth were consistent with fist blows or falls, at least two”.
With a little blood in her airway, she had lived for a short while having been rendered unconscious, making bruises “which occurred within 12 hours of her death”, and although all four limbs were freshly bruised - except for one knuckle on her right little finger – there were no scratches and no scrapes.
Why anyone would murder Maggie was baffling, being a harmless part-time prostitute who drowned her sorrows in cheap wine and who was no bother to anyone, being as unloved as she was forgotten.
But someone had. Someone had – deliberately – taken the time to undress her, to fold her body, and stuff her corpse into an old unwanted suitcase, hide her amongst rags, and – risking being seen – carry her to where this “pathetic human driftwood” would be dumped like rubbish in an abandoned house.
The concluding part of Rags & Bones continues next week.
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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