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EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN:
At 5:40am on Thursday 6th May 1948, on the basement steps of 17 Finborough Road in West Brompton, the broken body of 26-year-old part time waitress and prostitute Winifred Mulholland was found. Missing for four days, and dead for almost one, the position of her body posed a perplexing mystery; as had she been hit by car, had she fallen from a height, or had her killer dumped her in plain sight on a busy street? But 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.
On Thursday 6th May at 5:40am, as Albert Stamp strode down Finborough Road towards his work at Earls Court Station, he spotted the stockinged feet of a crumpled body dumped upon the stone steps.
Found outside of a five-storey white-stone terrace at 17 Finborough Road, it was a place that 26-year-old Winifred Virginia Mulholland didn’t belong, and no-one knew how she had got there, but here lay her folded and broken body on the basement steps, among the household waste and the refuse bins.
The post-mortem confirmed several vital details about Virginia’s death:
She had initially been attacked a few days prior, but she hadn’t died until a few hours before her body was found, meaning this semi-conscious or fully comatose lady lay motionless for almost three days.
Sustaining four injuries to her head and her face, death had occured slowly and painfully having been struck with a heavy blunt object (discovered to be a flat-iron weighing close to a kilo) which shattered her skull, lacerated her brain and caused extensive haemorrhages, paralysis and unconsciousness. And possibly whilst she was collapsed, he had struck her three times across the cheeks with a hammer.
Once dead, she was dragged a short distance from where she had lain for three days, with her clothes – a red dress, a white blouse and a rabbit’s fur coat - spattered with long lines of blood droplets which had splashed at the moment of impact from her bloodied face and head, and although her handbag (containing her purse, an ID and a red diary) was near, her red-heeled sling-back shoes were missing.
With her secondary injuries – fractures to her lower left femur and the 5th cervical vertebrae of her neck, as well as a dislocated hip and left knee – all occurring during the early stages of decomposition and before rigor mortis had set in, with no fresh blood under her body, although she hadn’t died on the stone steps, at some point she had either fallen or had been dropped from a height of fifteen feet.
The Police initially assumed that she had been murdered elsewhere and dumped here, as no killer would be so bold, brazen or bonkers as to dump a murder victim’s body outside of their own home, almost like a grisly calling card or a callous confession to the heinous crime of killing a lone prostitute…
…but as the Police swarmed and the neighbours congregated, along the street every curtain was open, every house-light was on, and every tenant was gossiping ten-to-the-dozen, except one. The first floor flat at 17 Finborough Road was in complete darkness, with the curtains drawn, the French windows shut and its short stubby balcony being just a fifteen-foot drop from where her body was dumped.
At 6:40am, having arrived and assessed the scene, Detective inspector Albert Webb made his way to the first floor flat rented to George Cyril Epton, a 41-year-old engineer and widower who lived alone.
(Knocking) Detective Webb was a seasoned investigator, but even he would be unsettled by George’s lack of empathy, and a demeanour described as chilly. (Door opens) “I gained entrance to the bedroom and saw a man” – who was small, thin, thick necked, with pointed ears and piercing dark eyes, with a thin side-parting and a small stubbly moustache – “who wore a grey jacket and mismatched trousers”.
Without prompting, George asked “I supposed you’re here about the murder”, the DI pointedly posed “what murder?” as if to taunt him into a confession, at which he replied “the one outside”, having claimed that he had heard the neighbours gossiping, but that he hadn’t gone down to look, or to help.
Knowing the answer, the DI asked “who occupies this flat?”, George said “I do”, at which DI Webb said “I’m going to have a look around. You’d better join me”, which he did. It was an odd flat, as being badly subdivided, you couldn’t enter the front room via the bedroom without accessing the landing.
The front-room was barely 17-foot square, with a linoleum rug on the floor, a single sofa in front of a log fire, and a stone mantlepiece on which lay some tatty ornaments in no describable order; such as a clock, an empty medicine bottle, a small statue, and two frameless photographs of his dead wife.
With the fire still warm but out, amongst the charred remains of the kindling and coal lay a few bits of detritus later confirmed as a pair of black sling-back toeless shoes with red heels in Virginia’s size.
His excuse was “they are my wife’s shoes. I bought them seven months ago”, as a present purchased shortly before she entered the hospital for terminal tuberculosis, “I tried to sell them, but got no sales, so I put them in the grate last night and lit them on fire” – which was a tall tale he had little proof of.
The DI headed to the balcony, which overlooked the street, and – being an L-shaped balcony with the largest section, accessed by the right French window, being 7-foot square with a small cast-iron railing surrounding it – Virginia’s body lay directly under this window, fifteen feet to the stone steps below.
“The French windows were fastened. I opened them and went onto the balcony. I noticed bloodstains on the balcony floor and broken pieces of a costume clip”; blood which was Group A, the same as the victim’s, with the matching parts of the broken costume clip found on the balcony and under the body.
The DI asked George: “when were you here last?”, his reply “we used to come out in the summertime”, DI “how did these bloodstains get here?”, he asked pointing to several dark flaky patches of dried blood determined to be human, to which George replied, “that’s not blood, it’s dirt”. But knowing how to read a suspect and to either illicit the truth or to make them stumble into a mistake, DI Webb left a long and blistering silence, which although only a minute or two long, felt like a lifetime for George.
Keen to fill the void, George stammered “it might be blood. My wife died of TB. She used to spit blood”, which wasn’t a lie, but having died three months earlier, the recently used cloths found in the scullery at the rear of the landing suggested that a partial if pointless clean-up of the crime-scene had occurred.
Returning to the bedroom, which was 11 feet wide by 14 feet deep and consisted of a double bed and a wardrobe, “I noticed bloodstains on the wooden foot of the bed, and I said, ‘what’s that’?”, pointing to a dark flaky pool of blood. George retorted “that’s been there a long time. It looks like red ink”.
To say that the DI didn’t believe his lies would be an understatement, as still wearing the same clothes he was wearing on the Sunday before, his grey jacket and mismatched trousers were “heavily stained” with Group A blood, and upon closer inspection, a few hairs from a rabbit’s fur coat were found. When asked why his clothes were bloodstained, George replied “I’ve been having a lot of nosebleeds”.
With enough evidence to at least caution him, DI Webb gave George a chance to tell either the truth, or his side of the truth, by asking “I’m making enquiries into the death of a woman who was found this morning on the stone steps of the front of this house. Can you tell me anything about it?”, George replied “No, I don’t know who she is. I’ve never seen her. Someone must have dumped her. That’s the way they do, isn’t it? I heard a car driving away at 4 o’clock this morning after my bell had rung”. Only no-one on the street or in the house heard a bell ring, a body being dumped, or a car speeding away.
Enough was enough for Detective Inspector Webb, and at a little after 8am, barely an hour since he had arrived at the scene, he would state “I’m not satisfied with your answers as to why there are bloodstains in your flat, and you will be taken to Chelsea Police Station while I make further enquiries”.
And with that, George Epton was cautioned and driven away.
On the surface, he didn’t seem like a crazed killer, or a sexual sadist…
George Cyril Epton was born on the 22nd April 1903 in Kirkstead, Lincolnshire, as one of three children to George, a farm wagoner and Harriet a housewife, with an older sister and a younger brother.
His education was patchy, and although this quiet lonely boy was described as “average”, it was later discovered that he had the IQ of a 10-year-old boy, which may be why - although many said he was helpful and amiable - being prone to bouts of cruelty, he was never listed as certifiably insane or feeble minded, but he would freely admit to leading a careless and an immoral life for some time.
Aged 13, he left school, and spent two years as a butcher’s boy. Aged 15, for six years, he worked as a casting packer, and although he told the Police he served in the Army for five years, he never enlisted. In fact, for the next six years, until he was 27-year-old, he drove a tractor at Bardsley’s Farm in Lincoln.
In 1930, George married Doris, a local girl and the two had a child. But unable to cope with his ‘cruelty’ and with the law making it impossible for her to divorce him, in 1932, Doris fled to Great Yarmouth, started a new life and meeting a good man who raised their child as his own, she cut all ties to George.
George was not a great success in work or in life, so he sought happiness with the ‘ladies of the night’.
Prior to his worst crime, he had two convictions committed when he moved to London. On 20th February 1934, he was bound over for 12 months for “being a suspected person” and caught a second time on 31st August 1935, he was sentenced to two months hard labour for picking up prostitutes.
A year later, having hidden the fact that he was still married to Doris, he bigamously married 27-year-old Gertrude Bloomfield, and they lived as man-and-wife, until the outbreak of the Second World War.
In September 1943, Mr & Mrs George & Gertrude Epton (as they were known) moved into Flat C on the first floor of 17 Finborough Road; consisting of a bedroom, a living room, a scullery and a balcony, and over the five years they lived there, they kept to themselves and rarely spoke to the other tenants.
Life was going well for them both, he loved her dearly and frequently – when his miniscule wage as an engineer’s assistant could afford it – he bought her treats like chocolates, tights, and shoes. But with Gertrude’s tuberculosis worsening to the point where she was unable to sit savouring the fresh air on their balcony, being bedbound and coughing up blood across this tiny little flat, Gertrude had to be hospitalised, until her tragic death on the 24th of February 1948 left him alone, lost and broke.
Unable to work owing to his depression, for the next three months George signed-on, drawing in benefits of 24 shillings a week, and seeking out the affections of girls, many of whom were prostitutes.
How he afforded the services of sex-workers, alongside the cost of his rent is uncertain.
According to him, he regularly saw two girls; stating “since my wife died, I’ve been friendly with Fray, a German girl who works at the Milk Bar on Charing Cross Road”. Although, the Police could never identify her, the place where she worked was where Alice Williams, the ‘Madam’ of the Victory Café had previously worked. And the second girl called Dorothy, he also met at The Victory Café, but neither of them - he would claim - he had seen that week, and no other woman had visited his flat.
For the Police, George Epton didn’t seem like a crazed killer, or a sexual sadist…
…and although he would strongly deny even knowing Virginia, the unshakable evidence found in his flat would lead to the conclusion that he had something to do with her death. But what?
Held at Chelsea Police Station, George gave his first of two statements about his whereabouts.
On the day Virginia was last seen, went missing, and was most likely murdered, he would state “I left home on Sunday 2nd May at about 4pm. I went to meet Fray” (who Police never identified) “I waited, but she did not turn up. I walked down to the Milk Bar in Leicester Square”, where even he would admit “I did not meet anyone I knew and I spoke to no-one”, and then “I got on a No 14 bus at Piccadilly and went home. I got home at about 10:15pm, and went to bed after making myself a cup of coffee”.
The next day, as Virginia most probably lay collapsed, paralysed and bleeding, “I got up at 7am and went to the Labour Exchange at 2pm. I never went out before then”. His landlord visited that morning to collect the rent, stating “he paid £2 2s 10d”, even though he was broke, and confirmed “the sitting room was not in any disorder… and I didn’t go into the bedroom, I had no need to”. After this, George said he went to the Forum Pictures on Fulham Palace Road and returned home at 10:15pm”.
Again, he kept no receipts or ticket to prove his movements, and no-one saw him, except his landlord.
On Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th, as Virginia’s brain swelled with blood, George went to the cinema twice, supposedly with Fray, he visited two pubs and went back to Piccadilly, always getting home at about 10:30pm. Although no-one saw him, and he couldn’t prove as to how he could afford such fun.
And at sometime during that night, as Virginia died of her injuries, George said he heard a sound.
“At 4am, I was woken by Dr Wallace’s doorbell ringing. Then my bell rung. I heard a car starting off from outside of the house. It seemed to go round the corner. It sounded like a big car. I heard some voices talking outside in the street. I could not hear what they were saying. I went off to sleep again”.
With his statement patently a complete fabrication from start-to-finish, a thorough search of the flat unearthed several key pieces of evidence which George had failed to destroy, in what was quite possibly the worst clean-up of a murder scene in history – of which he had four days to do a good job.
A trail of evidence proved both his movements and his timings for the murder, but not the motive:
Hairs from the rabbit’s fur were shed from her coat to his suit, to the rug where she fell, to the chair where he sat her, to the bedroom where she lay, to the balcony where she was dropped and the steps where her twisted remains were found. With blood spattered by the mantlepiece, the impact of four hard blows sprayed droplets in long lines from her head to her stockinged feet, and with her blood free flowing while she was alive, it stopped when she died, as the dried flakes scuffed the surfaces.
In the scullery sink, four damp pieces of cloth were found, still speckled with Group A blood, as he had failed to fully wipe away any traces of her, from the chair, the rug, the wall, the bed, and the floor.
In the charred remains of the fire lay the recognisable remains of her shoes. Although blackened and scorched, the leather straps held true, the metal buckles hadn’t warped, the red heel was still visible and although badly burnt, the shoemaker’s mark and the size of the shoe was still visible on the sole.
To the side of the fire, where he had dumped it moments after the attack still lay the hammer; its octagonal face identical in every detail to the bloodied indentations left on her shattered cheeks, and the flat steel of its face, all the way to the hammer’s neck, spattered with her fair hair and dried blood.
That would have been enough to convict him, but found on the scullery washboard, having left it after a very brief (but ultimately fruitless) attempt to clean-up, lay the one kilo flat iron he had used to cave in her skull. As being so old, rough and rusted, her dried blood had recessed into the deep pits.
The evidence against him was irrefutable, as along with his fingerprints, although no-one had actually seen George with Virginia, he might as well have left a map and directions titled ‘how I killed her’.
After a sleepless night in the cells and being confronted with the evidence, the next day, on Friday 7th May at 10pm, George requested to see DI Webb and stated “I told you lies. I want to tell you how it happened”. Again, he was cautioned and made a second statement which may be nearer to the truth...
…only this statement would make him out to be the victim.
George said that he met her in Piccadilly, “it was on Sunday night at about 10:15pm. She smiled at me. I asked her if she would like to come home with me and she said she would as she had nowhere to go. We got the no14 bus… we went home, then we sat on a chair. Then we had, you know, intercourse”.
It’s likely this was the truth, as being a prostitute who picked up men there, with George looking small, thin and harmless, she may have had no reason to fear him and its unlikely this was a planned attack. And with semen found inside of her, but no evidence of sexual assault, it’s hard to dispute this part.
But it was after the sex, that something happened, and the mood changed.
“I went into the bedroom”, George would claim “and realised I was missing £9 from my hip pocket”. With no proof that George even had £9 (£450 today), all we can do is assume that either it was his and that she had robbed him, that he had paid her and he wanted it back, or that with no income of his own and Virginia making £4 per punter, he saw her money hidden in her shoe and tried to rob her.
“I asked her whether she had taken my money. She said ‘no’ with a grin”, he would claim, suggesting that his attack (provoked by her) was warranted, as this woman who made her income by illegal means sought to cheat him. Although, as far as we know, she had no known history of defrauding her punters.
Suggesting that he gave her a second chance to admit her mistake, “I asked her again and she still said ‘no’”. Only, with no witnesses to any of this, it was only the two of them who saw what happened; but being alive, he had everything to lose, and being dead, she had no-one to tell her side of the story.
“I got hold of her and hit her on the back of the head”, he would claim, ignoring the fact that she was hit on the forehead, and making no reference to the flat iron, which he had earlier admitted “belonged in the kitchen” which was at the back of the flat and could only be accessed via the communal stairwell.
“She fell down”, and as she did, seeing the £9 fall from her shoe as it dislodged in the assault, “I picked it up, and hit her two or three times on the face with her shoe”. Although, as we know, the marks on her cheeks were made by the hammer’s 3cm octagonal face, rather than her shoe’s 1 cm oblong heel.
His lack of empathy was staggering, even by his own admission, “I thought she was still bluffing as she lay on the floor…”, as blood poured down her face and pooled about her head. “I pulled her into the bedroom, she was dying” he would state in court, but caring not a jot “in there, I had a cup of tea”.
“After I had thrown two cups of water in her face to revive her, I pulled her beside the bed, she was alive, as I pulled the blanket over her, and she lay beside me”. Which, although deeply creepy, made no sense, as in order to move her to the bedroom, he had to drag this comatose and bleeding woman out of the front room, along the communal landing and beside the shared staircase, he risked being seen by the tenants, just so he could hide her in his bedroom, when only he had the key to both rooms.
And having admitted that he slept in bis own bed, he also spent three days with a dying woman at the foot of his bed, until – with the swelling of her brain having peaked – she slowly died of haemorrhaging.
The death of Virginia was long and torturous, as her swelling brain was punctured by the shattered bony fragments of her skull, until the pressure constricted every air molecule and every cell of blood.
Only George didn’t care, as the callousness of his confession would confirm: “I went into the bedroom and she was dead. I pulled her in the front room, onto the balcony and threw her over”, as falling 15 feet her body slammed on the hard stone steps, a twisted mess of limbs which dislocated and snapped.
“I threw her bag over and burnt her shoes”, as being out-of-sight and out-of-mind, he wasn’t a criminal genius, thinking that such a brazen disposal by dumping the woman he had killed on his own doorstep was the one place the police wouldn’t assume that a killer would dump a body, he just didn’t care about this woman, as having done what he wanted with her, he disposed of her, like household waste.
And having had a quick stab at cleaning up the mess, he had cup of tea and went to sleep. (End)
Assessed at Brixton Prison as “being of a low IQ, but not insane or feeble-minded”, he was deemed fit to stand trial, which began at the Old Bailey on the 15th of June 1948, just six weeks after the murder.
Arraigned before Mr Justice Burkett, Mr Hawke for the prosecution stated this was a cold-blooded murder, whereas Mr Morris for the defence would claim “her injuries were caused by accident”.
Found guilty of murder by a unanimous jury, although Justice Burkett donned a black cap to pronounce a sentence of death - with the House of Commons having implemented a ‘no hanging vote’ on the 14th April which began our journey to abolish capital punishment like any other civilised country – he would not be executed, but instead would be given a life sentence, to be served at Wandsworth Prison.
But with his sentence commuted to life, being his first violent offence and with the wardens stating he was “a good man of quiet disposition, respectful and co-operative”, he served his time tending to the prison gardens without supervision. After ten years inside, in December 1958, he was released and returned to Lincolnshire to live with his mother. He died in August 1990, and lived till he was 87.
Up to his death, he stuck to his story that he had been robbed by Winifred Virginia Mulholland, and that he had justifiably taken her life. but also her dream as sought to seek out a new life in Canada.
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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