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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 NINE:
This is Part Two of Two of Rags and Bones.
On Thursday 13th March 1969, the body of a 52-year-old prostitute was found inside a derelict house on Kensal Road, W10. Her missing clothes lead to a very likely suspect, who claimed her death was an accident. But was this the truth, a lie or an alibi?
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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 outside of 39 St Ervan’s Road, W10; just a few doors down from the home of Rene Hanrahan, a six-minute walk south of where ‘Scotch Maggie’s body was dumped, and one street south of the addict who slayed an old lady so he could watch a Bond film - coming soon to Murder Mile.
It’s ironic, but the old Victorian terraces they demolished to make way for these modern monstrosities now go for a song. During the slum clearance, 39 St Ervan’s Road was stripped, ripped and taken to the tip of everything to make hipsters called Fenella and Farquhar Fortescue have a wet dream; like a wrought iron railings to display their collection of artisan vegan twigs, a tin bath to start a steam-punk gin-distillery, and a vintage bike so rusty it’s like a shit shoplifter stealing eighty bags of nuts n bolts.
On Tuesday 11th March 1969, the day ‘Scotch Maggie’ went missing, it would be proven that she had come here to the shambolic lodging of a regular punter in this run-down three-storey terrace.
With lodgers on the same floor and neighbours on several floors below, this second-floor lodging at the rear of the house was the home of a man as equally as forgotten and unloved as Maggie. Seeing her not as a piece of “pathetic human driftwood” but as a pal to get drunk with, he would confess that her death was an accident, and – as the Police had believed – he dumped her body out of sheer panic.
But was that the truth, a lie, or an alibi?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 209: Rags and Bones – Part Two.
For Detective Inspector North and Detective Superintendent Barnett, aspects of the crime scene at 140 Kensal Road didn’t make any sense. Wearing a blue half sleeved jumper and a pair of grey casual trousers, it looked as if she had been stripped and then dressed to remain indoors. With no shoes, no socks, no bra, no knickers and no suspender belt, the victim hadn’t arrived in this abandoned house of her own accord. And with no signs of a struggle, no fresh bloodstains and the suitcase, its binds and rags it was stuffed with not originating from here, it was clear she had been moved from elsewhere.
Theorising that her killer wouldn’t have travelled far as he risked being seen, and with her body stuffed in a large discrete suitcase as if he was dumping some rubbish, may have transported her by taxi.
Every local taxi firm was alerted, with every driver asked to check their logbooks for any drop-offs on or near to Kensal Road between Tuesday 11th and Thursday 13th March, but all proved to be fruitless.
Having alerted the Police to the victim’s identity, although Robert Hartley alias Wilfred Williams was a cruel drunken man and a former mental patient with a violent past, it didn’t mean that he didn’t love her or that he didn’t care, as his emotions at the news of her death would show the detectives.
Prone to lying, Maggie’s excuse that “I’m going to draw money from the Scottish Linen Bank” was untrue, but why? And how could the police find a forgotten woman who most of the locals ignored?
In the local papers, the police issued a very detailed statement hoping to jog any resident’s recollection from that night, stating “the body was carried in a suitcase and conveyed possibly by vehicle to Kensal Road. Superintendent Barnett is anxious to speak to anyone who knew her or the places she visited. Anyone who saw a person carrying a sack in the Kensal Road area is also asked to come forward”.
The Police went door to door, questioning the neighbours across several blocks, and notified by Robert that several items of her clothing was missing – her shoes, her underwear and her black and green ladies coat - they searched bins, sacks and side-streets, and spoke to every rag merchant in the area.
It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack…
…but if you think a needle is there, then it’s worth searching.
During their enquiries, officers visited AT Reads, the premises of a rag and scrap metal merchant called Arthur Read based out of 110 Golborne Road, just off St Ervan’s Road. Making money from second-hand goods, he traded with ‘totters’ – often old men wheeling squeaky handcarts about town which were loaded with sacksful of unwanted scrap like ripped clothes, old books, odd bits of metal and broken suitcases – which he’d buy off them for a fair price; with some of it okay, but most of it crap.
Asked if he had any recent deliveries from his totters, Arthur recalled “I had one from a guy I only know as ‘Polish Joe’”, a small weak pensioner who picked up odd bits around Portobello Road market.
“I saw him on Wednesday 12th March at 11am, carrying an old mail bag full of rags. I remember saying to him ‘you been robbing the Post Office, Joe?’”, not being fluent in English, “he said ‘me not well, me not eat’”. Walking with a pronounced stoop, he looked sick, but then he was prone to drink. “This was the first time I had seen him in months. I gave him 10s for the bag, but I haven’t opened it. I never check the rags from ‘Polish Joe’, as they always look dirty, like they’ve come from a building site”.
Usually, Arthur would send the sacks of rags straight to the rag factory for sorting, but this time, being a bit behind in his work, it was still in his shop, bound and untouched, right where he had left it. Cutting the tie, inside he would find a woman’s black and green coat, a pair of green socks, a white suspender belt, a pair of white soiled knickers, and a set of false teeth, all later identified by Robert as Maggie’s.
Polish Joe had Maggie’s clothes.
But did he find them, steal them, or was he hiding them?
Known as ‘Polish Joe’, Josef Balog was actually born in Hungary in 1905, only no-one would ever know that, as like Maggie, he was a nobody who meant nothing to no-one, “like pathetic human driftwood”.
As Maggie had, Joe had fled his homeland as the Nazi’s rose to power, but unlike Robert Hartley who wore fake medals to fleece many good people of their hard-earned cash, Polish Joe was a war-hero.
In 1939, he enlisted in the Polish Army fighting for the allies, serving as a private in the infantry, seeing action and surviving unscathed until he was demobbed in the late 1940s. With the Hungarian borders restored, although the monarchy had been abolished, many natives feared returning to Hungary as – being a satellite state of the Soviet Union – they feared the brutality of the Hungarian Secret Police, now under the orders of the Soviet State, especially those who were Hungarian Jews, like Josef Balog.
After the war, he lived in Romania where he learned his craft as a carpenter, and in 1957, he returned to England, living in London on a £9 per week pension from the Polish Army. Barely enough to live on, as a feeble man with arthritic hands, a curved back and a liver abused by chronic drinking to curb his pain, Joe was not a well man. But if he didn’t work, he wouldn’t eat, and if he didn’t eat, he would die.
Joe became a totter simply to pay his way, as when he wasn’t stood in the doorway of the Caernarvon Castle public house on Portobello Road, the squeaky wheel of his handcart made of tubular steel with a large wooden box on top could be heard from Golborne Road to St Ervan’s Road to Oxford Gardens.
It had been a while since carpentry had made him any money, so although he still kept his tools and an apron made of white twill, it was his meagre money as a totter which kept his lonely life rolling on.
Prone to drink and blighted by poverty, Joe had a criminal record for a few minor offences; on the 23rd August 1965 in Marylebone, he was conditionally discharged for possessing a hatchet; and three times in 1966, 1967 and 1968, he received three fines for being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
It was said, that as a drunk and lonely man who found solace in sex-workers, this was how ‘Polish Joe’ met ‘Scotch Maggie’, as two outcasts from society who were forgotten by a world which did not care. In return, he loaned her money, bought her drinks and he gave her first dibs on the clothes he found.
In 1966, at Joe’s former lodging at 45 Fermoy Road, just shy of Meanwhile Gardens, PC Laing charged both Joe and Maggie for being drunk and disorderly, in an argument during which Joe hit Maggie. They apologised, they remained friends, and as one of the few who truly knew her, he would call her ‘Carol’.
For the last six months, Joe had been in a relationship with Mary Wood, a 59-year-old kitchen porter known as Daisy, who had lived with him in the second-floor rear lodging at 39 St Ervan’s Road. But not a fan of his foul temper, on Sunday 8th March, three days before Maggie’s death, Mary had left him.
By Tuesday 11th March 1969…
…Josef was lonely, sad and looking for company.
That day, according to Robert Hartley, Maggie left 3 Oxford Gardens at roughly 9:30am, wearing few of the clothes she would be found dead in - blue jeans, a blue blouse, black leather shoes and a black and green coat – possibly seeking her daily quota of several bottles of wine and a punter to pay for her time, it’s likely that she headed to Portobello Road market where ‘Polish Joe’ was known to stand.
As two outcasts forgotten by society – an old broken man and a poor fallen woman - ravaged by drink and lost to time, it was easy for them to vanish unseen and unheard on a busy city street, as unless they were begging, swearing and causing a nuisance, most people would never acknowledge them.
They weren’t seen on Portobello Road, Acklam Road or St Ervan’s Road. It was a dull day but with bright daylight when Joe popped his key in the lock and let Maggie into his shared home, climbing the stairs past three floors in which eight couples and families lived, as they ascended to the top floor.
With two lodgings split by a partition wall, the tenants of the front top-floor lodging (Cynthia & Roy Johnson and their two children) didn’t hear Joe & Maggie enter his room, but then, why would they?
Joe’s room was small, a cramped little hovel occupied by a double bed and a large wooden dresser, it was the kind of room you’d expect an old totter to live in. With almost no spare space, he had stuffed piles of clothes, books and boxes of what-not into every possible slot. It was messy, but on his walks across Kensal Town and Notting Hill, he had acquired some creature comforts; like a wireless radio, a small television and a paraffin heater by the side of the bed, which he used for cooking and warmth.
Thankfully, being a hoarder – whether by choice or by necessity - the landlady let him store his squeaky old handcart, his tools, his hessian sacks and anything he had hoped to sell later in the basement; with the room piled high with cracked paintings, broken electronics, books, twine and a few large suitcases.
In his Police statement, Joe would admit “before she come to me, she drunk anyway. She come my house 3 o’clock. I drink one bottle of beer, one big one. She drink the wine, me drink the beer”. Being a big drinker, “she demanded more wine. I buy her two bottles of wine and a half bottle of brandy”.
By this point, Maggie was intoxicated and struggling to sit upright on the edge of his bed. “I opened the wine. I told her she shouldn’t drink it, because I am going to the laundrette on Golborne Road” which he did three times a week without fail. “I left between 6 and 7pm. I went back at 7:30pm”.
Entering his room, he found Maggie collapsed on the floor, unconscious but breathing: “I picked her up. She asked for some water. She didn’t want anything else”. At the scene, a glass of water was found.
Initially seen across her left eye and the crack of her mouth, a splash of blood had streaked as she had slipped off the bed in a drunken stupor, DI North would later find “two small patches of dried blood (of Maggie’s group) on top of the paraffin heater” situated two feet from the head of the bed. Also confirmed by Joe “when I got home, she knock head on paraffin fire, it fall over and go out”.
As determined by Dr Donald Teare the pathologist: “the haemorrhage to her brain was consistent with a heavy blow or a fall”, probably two or three. As with bruises to all four limbs, her stomach, her right buttock, and only a light scratch to the knuckle of her right little finger – with no signs of a struggle – they could have occurred in a comatose fall, being too drunk to use her arms to protect her head.
Among a sea of old bruises and an explosion of red from her nose, these new bruises, the Pathologist would state “were likely to have occurred within 12 hours of death”. Which begs the question, why didn’t he call for help if she was unwell? Was he too drunk, too afraid, or – with her conscious and breathing as the booze dulled her swelling pain – did it not seem too serious as he put her to bed?
It is uncertain whether she had undressed herself, if she was already naked, or if Josef dressed her in pyjama-like clothes, but the blue half sleeved jumper and the grey casual trousers she was found in were not hers and – although Robert Hartley would state that before she got into bed “she always got completely undressed” - not only were her blue jeans and blue blouse missing, so was her underwear.
According to Joe, he nursed her through the night stating “Wednesday she all day sick”. A head-shaped pool of blood was found in a congealed mess about the pillow, dotted with strands of her greying hair.
To keep her warm, he said he wrapped her in bedspread knitted together from several multicoloured woollen sheets, which – along with his white twill apron – was stuffed into the suitcase with her body. And as she slept and her bruised brain bleed, she slowly drifted into a coma, and then to her death.
Josef would state, she died between 10 and 11pm, which mirrored the pathologist’s findings.
But now Josef was stuck.
Trapped in a small, cramped room with a dead woman whose head wounds even an expert couldn’t determine whether they were committed by a fist or a fall suggesting either foul play or an accident – coming from a Soviet-run country where brutality, corruption and confessions were routinely beaten out of the innocent – Joe the frail elderly totter, as the detectives would predict had panicked.
Joe would state “when she die, I got very fright”.
But knowing he had to do something to get her dead body as far from himself and unseen – he didn’t pop her in a taxi as the detectives had incorrectly deduced – instead he used his skills as a totter; a man with a handcart, some sacks, an old suitcase and an encyclopaedic knowledge of every derelict house for miles around, having searched every room seeking a few odds and sods to salvage and sell.
If anyone had been seen wheeling a squeaky handcart along the dawn-lit streets of Kensal Town with a large wooden box on top (as inside a battered old suitcase hid the body of a dead prostitute) it would have looked odd. Only being a shambling old man, going about his job, pushing a squeaky old handcart full of unwanted crap as he did every day – Josef the totter was unseen, forgotten and invisible.
Being elderly, weak and infirm, his disposal wasn’t the swiftest or the quietest.
At 1am, Philomena Charles, a tenant in the front 1st floor room heard a noise “a banging door, it was shaking the house. I didn’t go upstairs to see what it was, I went to bed”. As like everyone else, she was used to Josef’s noise, bringing odd things and strange woman back at all hours of the night.
Cynthia Johnson, Josef’s neighbour would state “at about 2am, I was woken by a noise of Joe leaving his room and going downstairs. Then I heard a terrible noise outside, the banging of metal and things”, as he rummaged in the basement for a large suitcase, and a red, black and yellow wire to bind it as the lock was broken. “Half an hour later, I heard him come back, go into his room, he closed the door and opened it and closed it again. There was no more noise after that, and I went to sleep”. During which time, he stuffed Maggie’s body into the suitcase, with her knees tucked up tight to her chin.
At 5:30am, just as dawn was breaking, Cynthia recalled “I heard Josef’s radio going, it was turned up loud, I did not hear him in his room or on the stairs”, but just like Philomena, “outside I saw his hand cart… Josef had something heavy on it, covered with a black coat and then he went down the street…”.
Being just a six-minute walk or a twelve-minute totter from 39 St Ervan’s Road to 140 Kensal Road, the witnesses both stated that he returned thirty minutes later, only the large box was empty. This sighting went unseen by almost everyone else along that journey, but with Cynthia & Philomena being black, and ‘Polish Joe’ prone to drunken racist outbursts, there was no love lost when the Police made door-to-door enquiries about a suspicious man, seen with a large suitcase or box, at roughly that time.
Discovering the sack at Arthur Reed’s rag merchants just one street away, which contained some of Maggie’s clothes and a smashed set of her false teeth, the case was as good as closed. Knocking on his door, Josef let the Police in, they sealed the crime-scene and he was promptly taken in for questioning.
Held at Harrow Road police station on Friday 14th March, initially, he denied everything, including knowing Maggie or being at the abandoned house, but being confronted with evidence, he confessed to the unlawful disposing of her body, but he flatly denied that her death was anything to do with him.
When charged, Josef would state “I understand. I not kill her. It was the wine”.
Tried on the charge of murder at the Old Bailey on the 10th of July 1969, the prosecution would state that “Josef Balog had repeatedly beaten Margaret Cameron over the head” given his prior offence for assaulting her, whereas the defence would claim that whilst insensibly drunk, she fell, hitting her head.
The evidence was stacked against him:
He said she had died owing to drink, but her blood contained 13 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood - a blood alcohol level which was too low for a woman who had supposedly drank so much.
He said she had hit her head on the Paraffin heater, while he was at the laundrette, only no-one saw him there, and – with Dr Rufus, a noted neurologist stating that her brain haemorrhage “was as a result of several blows of falls” – three strikes from a fist seemed plausible, but for a woman to fall from the bed hitting her head on a paraffin heater three times, that was too much of a coincidence.
There were other details which made no sense: why there was a bruise on the inside of her right thigh, why the crotch of her knickers were stained with her blood, why an undetermined semen stain was found on her suspender belt, and why – when at 10am on the Wednesday, when Maggie was still alive – in his handcart, Joe delivered a sack to Arthur Reed, which contained some of her missing clothes.
In court, Detective Superintendent Barnett would attest: “Josef Balog intimates a defence that she met her death as a result of a drunken fall whilst alone in his room. Evidence to disprove this lies in the bruises found on her body being inconsistent with this story. In particular, it may be through the cunning and callous manner in which he disposed of this woman’s body which leaves no doubt she met her death as a result of a vicious and possibly prolonged beating at the hands of the accused”.
Josef Balog was a good as guilty, but with no eyewitnesses to her death, no proof that he disposed of her body and no acts of aggression seen or heard prior to the wounds being inflicted – unable to prove anything - after twenty minutes of deliberation, he was acquitted of all charges, and walked free. (End)
‘Polish Joe’ the totter returned to his home that night, and he died a few years later of alcoholism. But was he innocent, or being invisible to the world, had the investigation missed a little detail in his past?
In his minor criminal record, it lists four convictions: three for being drunk and disorderly and one for possessing an offensive weapon. But that’s not the full story. In 1966 he was tried at the Old Bailey for assault, GBH and ‘shooting with intent’, as reported in the Marylebone Mercury on the 3rd Sept 1966.
It was said, on the morning of the 13th June 1966, Kathleen Carmody – a young Irish woman said to be of eccentric habits, heavy drinking and fraternising with men – met Josef Balog when saw her sitting on a bench outside a public house on Harrow Road and he invited her back to his room for some wine.
Returning to his squalid lodging at 45 Fermoy Road, where he had once assaulted ‘Scotch Maggie’, Kathleen would state “I was sitting on the edge of his bed, two bottles of wine later, he suggested I go to bed with him”. Although homeless, she finished her wine and said she would leave. Only, being an angry little man with a short fuse and bulging pants, Josef was not the type to take no for an answer.
She would state “He picked up a stool and hit me over the side of the head with it. Then tore off my shirt and trousers and took off my underclothes. I was left with nothing at all. He told me to go back to the bedroom” and as she this terrified girl prepared to flee “he pulled out an airgun and shot me in the right knee”. Bleeding from a head wound and screaming at the top of her lungs, Kathleen ran out into Harrow Road, where she was found by a female constable and was taken to Paddington Hospital.
Charged at Harrow Road police station, he denied knowing Kathleen, owning an air-pistol, bringing any girl back to his room, and – when asked why his shirt was bloodied – he blamed it on a nosebleed.
Tried at the Old Bailey, with no eyewitnesses, not enough hard evidence and with Kathleen changing her story and failing to turn up at court for the trial, Josef was acquitted of a crime remarkably similar to what may have happened to Maggie – a drunk, a sex-worker and a forgotten woman who he had been used-up, spat out and dumped in an abandoned house amongst a mess of unwanted rubbish.
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 of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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