Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #211: The Old Lady Killer - Part One (David John Harrison & Alice Parker)
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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 ELEVEN:
On Monday 11th June 1973 at roughly noon, as part of her routine, she was standing on the first floor walkway awaiting a visit from a librarian. Form out of nowhere, she was dragged into her own home and viciously beaten by a man with no compunction about terrorising the most frail and vulnerable.
The culprit was a local homeless man called David Harrison, and although the evidence would prove that he had unleashed this terrifying attack on old vulnerable woman, in court, his defence was that he wasn’t responsible. But why?
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
J 267/178 Description: Harrison, David John: charged with attempted murder. With photographs https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C11097428
David John Harrison, killed Mrs Lillie Emily Linderman(Lily Lindaman) https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C11097428
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing outside of Kingsnorth House on Silchester Road, W11; three streets south of the home of ‘Scotch Maggie’, two streets west of Reg Christie’s house of horrors, and within the looming shadow of the Grenfell Tower and the tragedies which befell it – coming one day to Murder Mile.
To the side of the endless roar of The Westway flyover, Kingsnorth House is a four-storey block of flats built during the post-war housing boom. Made cheaply of concrete, it was designed to last a decade, but more than 60 years on, although tatty and worn, these council-run flats still serve their purpose.
As a graffiti-covered dead end, it has a lawless feel; featuring a line of ominously locked garages, a ‘no ball games’ signs against which balls are kicked, a fly-tipped version of Mount Everest obscuring a ‘no dumping sign’ and the exposed wires of a CCTV camera having been nicked by persons unknown.
By and large though, it’s a typical council estate where families should feel safe…
…but on Monday 11th June 1973, in Flat 12 of Kingsnorth House, 88-year-old widow Alice Parker was attacked in her own home, by a man with no compunction to terrorise the most frail and vulnerable.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 211: The Old Lady Killer – Part One.
Everybody needs a mentor, someone to teach us good from bad, and to steer us from wrong to right; whether a parent, a teacher, an employer or a friend. Many of us only need a little shove from time to time, but whereas others need a steady hand to guide them straight for the rest of their lives…
…and when they have it, they thrive, but when they don’t, sometimes people die.
The life of David John Harrison was as fragmented as his memory, so some details may not be true.
Born in Wales on 25th of June 1945, David was the youngest of two brothers to Frederick, a toolmaker and a housewife mother. Like many boys, he had a good start in life as he was healthy and fit, being blessed with no illness, diseases, or trauma. But his family life had been in turmoil before he was born.
Raised in a Jewish household, with his father having fallen for a woman outside of his faith, unwilling to bless his loving union to a Christian, the Harrison’s had to go it alone, being isolated from his family.
From what David could recall, although his mother was “a strict woman, but hardworking”, he said his father was kind, but owing to thrombosis of the leg cause by an injury he had sustained in the war, in 1953 when he was only eight years old, his father died, and this left David without a mentor.
For some boys, such a tragic loss of a loving father could have created a cataclysmic collapse of his aims and morals. For some boys, being left at such a tender age to find his feet with a mother he would describe as “affectionate, but I was afraid of her”, may have sent him spinning into a pit of aggression?
But being small and lacking in confidence, what it heightened was his sense of inadequacy, an inability to assert himself or to commit to anything… which – over the years – would grow worse and worse.
Although this shattered family of a widowed mother and her two young boys suffered many bouts of hardship, giving them the best shot at life, this strict disciplinarian ensured they had a good education.
Schooled locally from 1950 onwards, he wasn’t the best student, but he wasn’t the worst. His teachers said his behaviour was excellent, he was quiet and co-operative, but that he lacked drive and ambition.
Said to be a boy who needed the constant encouragement and reassurance that his late father could no longer provide, he tended to fester when no-one was there to guide him. And although his attendance wasn’t great in his final year, this was down to an operation which he never spoke of.
His criminal history was as minor and petty as any young men going off the rails without guidance.
On the 8th of September 1960, aged 15, he was put on a one-year probation order for stealing a bicycle saddle from the black of flats where he lived. And on the 26th of April 1961, aged 16, he was convicted of shop-breaking and criminal damage in Willesden, being sentenced to an attendance centre for 12 months, where it was said “he was polite, quiet and flourished when he was being supervised”.
On the surface, he wasn’t evil or vicious, he was just lost…
….and yet, a second tragedy would push him further to despair.
In 1963, when David was 18, he was at his mother’s deathbed when he witnessed her die of kidney failure, after which he became even more isolated and insecure, often refusing to discuss his past.
With no parents, but classified by the council as an adult, although David struggled, he was supported by his older brother Frederick, a stable influence who was married with kids and had a steady job. The brothers had a good relationship, but occasionally it was strained owing to David’s erratic ways.
He never had a career, only jobs, and many he didn’t hold down for very long; being an office boy at the Boy Scout’s for four months, a store boy at Lamson Engineering on-an-off for three years, and with a few pounds earned as-and-when at local radio shops, factories and market stalls on Portobello Road.
Which isn’t to say he had no ambition, as it was during his early twenties that he and some friends got into music and started a band, writing tunes by day, and performing by night. But later stating “I was unable to keep awake so late”, so guided by bad advice, he began to dabble in recreational drugs.
As often happens, it started out harmlessly enough, mixing vodka and cough-syrup to give him a buzz, and as a little high that he liked – which was also legal – it quickly became a drug he would rely on.
Struggling to manage the pain for the unexplained ailment which required an operation, he began to sink his syrupy-buzz with an occasional Codeine here-and-there, being a derivative of Opium. Oddly, he would never describe himself as a drug user, but this daily habit would envelope him for years.
On the 5th June 1966, aged 21, at Marylebone Magistrates Court, David’s addiction led to a further conviction as whilst working as a packer at British Drug House, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, he stole 223 tablets of amphetamine. Charged with theft, he would serve twelve months’ probation.
According to his probation officer, Mr G Lubowski, “David came across as very immature, a boy unable to face adult life, who required a dependant, someone to watch over him”, which he didn’t have.
Therefore it’s unsurprising that being released, David’s addiction made him blind to his morals. While working as a porter at Queen Charlotte’s hospital in Hammersmith, he stole vital packs of tiny needles used to inject premature babies and several vials of methedrine (also known as methamphetamine).
With his drugs no longer used to take the edge of his tiredness, they had become his way of life. As seeking to vanish into a haze of distorted truth, rather than face his reality, David also took LSD. Taking a cocktail of drugs to sate the side-effects of another - unable to work - to fund his habit, he stole.
Having started sleeping rough, as much as his older brother had tried his best to get David back on the straight and narrow – by giving him a place to stay and finding him a steady job - being a junkie, he never saw the error of his ways or the victims who he hurt, all he could think of was his own needs.
On the 10th of November 1970, at Witham Magistrates Court, he was placed on a three-year probation for stealing a purse from the Co-operative Bank where he worked. With no access to hard drugs, and withdrawal kicking in, the £13 he stole was to feed his habit of two bottles of cough syrup a day.
Having fled Essex and returned to London, often sleeping rough under the rancid roar of The Westway, he stole to feed his habit. But being too zonked-out on drugs to tackle anyone of his size - like a coward - David would target only the weakest, the lonely and the most vulnerable, usually the elderly…
…like 88-year-old widow Alice Parker.
In May 1971, after his release from prison for the theft of three handbags, as a homeless drifter, David didn’t look like a fresh-faced 26-year-old, if anything he looked closer to 40. Being 5 foot 7 with a pale bony body, thinning brown hair fashioned into a long comb-over, a missing tooth and a tatty goatee beard, his eyes were red and his face was ravaged, as his body often battled waves of highs and lows.
Often gripped in the sweaty palm of hallucination, the good ones took him away from his pain but the bad ones – commonly known as ‘the horrors’ – were a realistic nightmare impossible to escape from.
So given how battered his brain was – as a chronic drinker, a heavy smoker and a drifter addicted to Phensadyl, methedrine and LSD – with his life a chaotic spiralling mess, in January 1972 his doctor diagnosed him with depression and anxiety. Prescribed Tryptizole (a tricyclic antidepressant), he collected it monthly from Fish Chemists on Portobello Road, and mixed the good drugs with the bad.
It’s typical, that when he asked for help, even as an addict, he was prescribed more drugs. What he really needed was someone to turn his life around, as he wasn’t wholly bad or evil, he was just lost.
Sleeping rough in a soggy sleeping-bag under the rat-infested Westway, a bedraggled David found the guidance he needed from a man of God, not far from where his home once was. From July 1971, Reverend Peake of the Golborne Centre in the shadow of the Trellick Tower, he gave him a warm bed, clean clothes and three-square meals-a-day, but – more importantly – he gave this lost boy a focus.
In September 1972, as David was doing well and was desperate to escape his vicious circle, Reverend Peake got him a job as an assistant at a second-hand furniture store at 99 Golborne Road. Working hard, it would end up being the longest period of stability he’d had since before his dad had died.
Having cleaned up his act, quit the booze, and almost weaned himself off drugs, although he was still described by his probation officer as “exceedingly brittle”, the only crime David had committed since was a minor one. As on 10th of October 1972, he was fined £5 for a breach of his probation, as being excited to start work and find a routine, he’d forgot to tell his probation officer that he’d found a job.
With the supervision of a trusted mentor, David Harrison was back on the road to redemption, but owing to a small spat with his employer, on the 7th of June 1973, he lost his home, his job and fled.
Without guidance, David Harrison would be lost…
…and an elderly lady would needlessly die.
Prior to his trial at The Old Bailey on the charges of aggravated burglary, GBH and wilful murder, his defence was that – being in a drug-induced state - he was neither aware nor liable for his actions.
Examined by Dr P D Scott, a consultant psychiatrist, and Dr A Sittampalan, a medical officer, both of Brixton Prison, David was described as “rational, articulate and co-operative, he reads well and has a good vocabulary” given his malnutritian and his alcoholism. Questioned about his depressive bouts and anxiety, although he had been medicated for 1 ½ years, doctors found no evidence of depression.
Likewise, having said that he suffered from blackouts, an electrocardiogram showed that his heart was normal. Having said that he was severely beaten up by three Irish men one year prior, there was no clear signs of head trauma. And although he would claim he had “taken a bunch of mescaline” on the morning of the murder, the doctors would confirm “there is no evidence to indicate that his mental faculties were impaired at the time of the offence” and he was declared sane and fit to stand trial.
Dr A Sittampalan would confirm to the court “I am of the opinion that he is not mentally ill nor is he suffering from such abnormalities of the mind as to substantially impair his mental responsibility”.
By June 1973, the world wasn’t in a horrible place, but there was lots to worry about.
1.6 million government workers had gone on strike over pay. Earl Jellicoe, leader of the House of Lords had resigned over a prostitute scandal. And UK Prime Minister Ted Heath had lambasted the monies flowing from Tory MP Duncan Sandys to a tax haven as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, having created the laws which made these posh twats even richer. Basically, very little has changed today.
As one of 9 million retirees in Britain, 88-year-old Alice Parker was living on a pitiful state pension, as with no savings, she would eek out every penny to buy bread, milk, eggs, tea and an occasional treat.
Born Alice Mitchell in 1885, in an era before every piece of concrete or steel within her fading eyeline was even built, little is known of her life except the basics. Having married Henry Parker in 1907, together they had a son called William, and spent the bulk of their lives living in nearby Notting Hill.
This area had always been her home, her life and her safety-net - the familiarity of the streets she was born in and would certainly die in - gave her comfort when life was hard, and tragedy would come.
Being widowed, in 1967 Alice moved into a one-bedroomed first-floor flat at 12 Kingsnorth House. As one of this council estate’s most vulnerable, she strived to retain her independence by doing her own shopping and although she lived alone, she was visited weekly by her son, a home help and a librarian.
Within her own home was where she felt safest. Being old, she was no bother to anyone. And having nothing of any value, except sentimental knickknacks of happier times, she had nothing worth stealing. As an elderly infirm widower, her only worries should have been food, warmth and company…
…not fighting off a crazed drug-addict who had attacked her in her own flat.
Monday 11th of June 1973 was a sunny day, it was bright but cool owing to a light drizzle.
As part of her routine, Monday saw a hive of familiar visitors’ pop by to Alice’s first-floor flat; as a local gas-fitter, her son William always swung by for a tea, a biccie and chat in the evenings; her home-help had already done her rounds that morning, and – being perched on the communal concrete walkway which overlooked the car park – by noon, Alice was keeping her eye out for Margaret, the librarian.
Alice loved books especially romances, and as a volunteer for the Woman’s Voluntary Service, a charity which helped our most vulnerable, she was looking forward to receiving a book by Barbara Cartland.
Just before noon, David was walking down Silchester Road, passing beside the Westway flyover, “I had no money and I was sleeping rough and I hadn’t eaten in a few days. I was walking towards Latimer Road station, and I found a piece of wood, not a whole piece, a half piece, and I see a door open”.
That was his statement made in court, it was vague, as if he couldn’t remember or he didn’t want to recall, but his eyesight must have been good, as from the road, it’s not easy to see through the trees.
As a small white-haired lady whose bony frame was swamped by her comfortable but ill-fitting clothes, Alice was alone, outside of her flat, as David ascended the concrete stairs to the first-floor walkway.
Coming from her right, she saw a thin bedraggled man who stank of cigarettes, drink and stale sweat, walking towards her with cracked eyes and a dirty face. Only he didn’t look threatening, he looked lost and he looked destitute like the world had chewed him up and spat him out. And in a quiet soft voice, when he asked her “where’s Nottingwood House?”, being just one building over, she told him.
Of course, he knew where it was as he knew the area well, but what he wanted was a distraction.
In court, David would claim “I had no intention of using the wood, it was just to scare her really, and at first, I asked her where some flats were. She was going to sort of walk away when I grabbed her”.
Pushing this little dot of a woman inside her own flat, he barked “be quiet or I’ll kill you”, as in his right hand he brandished a sharp piece of wood like a deadly dagger. In his own words he would state “she started struggling. She scared me, you know. I just lost all sense and started hitting her. I told her to sit down and if she got up, I would hit her. She kept getting up, I didn’t hit her any more after that.”
Lying slumped, like a broken ragdoll on her living room floor, she lay truly terrified as a crazed stranger with a malevolent look pummelled her face with his fists, until her pale skin went black and blue.
Telling her to “shut up” and “keep quiet or I’ll kill you”, he dumped her in the armchair and told her to sit silently, as he ransacked her small sparsely furnished flat. She didn’t have much, but like many elderlies who distrust the banks, he stole all of her money; £20 from a glass cabinet in the living room, £50 from a black handbag, a lighter her son had left and £2 in small change from a jar in the kitchen.
He had taken her life savings, but also her dignity and her sense of safety.
Dragging her into the bedroom, “I put her in the wardrobe so she wouldn’t shout an alarm or nothing, so I could get away”, and then he fled. Having been left beaten, bleeding and dumped, inside an almost airless and dark space, no bigger than a coffin, this frightened old lady lay, too scared to move as with this terrifying addict having threatened to kill her if she screamed, there she would stay, all silent.
At his trial, David Harrison would plead not guilty to murder…
…only it wasn’t Alice Parker who would die.
Although frail, as an 88-year-old woman who had lived through the Great Depression, two World Wars, bereavements and had given birth – fired-up by a strength which had kept her independent, physically well and mentally sharp at this great age – although a coward had locked her in, “I was in there about half an hour” Alice would tell the court, “well it seemed a long time, before I forced my way out”.
Hearing Margarete Geier, the librarian arrive knocking at her locked door at 12:10pm, Margaret would state “the front door was closed as usual, I knocked, I heard knocking from inside, I looked through letterbox and I heard Alice call ‘wait a minute’”. Having kicked the wardrobe open from inside, a few moments later – although bruised and shaken - Alice opened door, and they called the Police.
Taken to St Charles’ Hospital, she had a large bruise to her head and two fingers on her left hand were badly fractured, but having been kept in for observation, she was discharged three days later. (End)
Arriving at the crime scene, Detective Sergeant Landcheet assessed the evidence before him.
From underneath the table in the living room, a piece of wood was found. On the outside of a large, fitted wardrobe, the finger and palm marks of the suspect was lifted. And with Alice giving an excellent description of her attacker – mid-20s, average height, thin build, messy brown hair, a goatee beard his right canine tooth missing, and wearing a ‘modern’ coloured shirt, a brown-ish tie and a brown jacket” – although no-one else had seen him, the Police had a starting point for this baffling case.
David was one of hundreds if not thousands of possible suspects the Police investigated, but with no prior history of violent assault or the false imprisonment of an elderly lady, he was discounted.
That day, as Alice was taken to hospital, David would confess “I got the train to Westbourne Park and booked into a guest house for a few nights”, where he enjoyed a bath, clean sheets and a hot meal off the life savings he had stole from his terrified old lady, and the rest he spent on drink and drugs.
Like many addicts, being unremorseful and having squandered her money on his needs, David would go in search of another vulnerable old lady to attack inside of her own flat, only this one wouldn’t live.
But who really was David Harrison? Was he truly a hopeless addict devoid of any morals, a lost boy in desperate need of guidance, or was this all a ploy to save this old lady killer from a life sentence?
The final part of The Old Lady Killer concludes 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 of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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