Nominated BEST TRUE-CRIME PODCAST at The British Podcast Awards, 4th Best True Crime Podcast by The Week, The Telegraph's Top Five True-Crime Podcasts, The Guardian and TalkRadio's Podcast of the Week, Podcast Magazine's Hot 50 and iTunes Top 25.
EPISODE TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN:
On Tuesday 17th of April 1951, Earl de Wolfe requested that Police break into his home at 19 Manchester Street in Marylebone, as he was worried about his wife Gabrielle and their four-year-old daughter Cherill. Having suffered a breakdown, Gabrielle’s mental health was being overseen by the psychiatrists in London, but being treated as a guinea-pig rather than a patient, her emotional decline would lead to chaos and a murder.
CLICK HERE to download the Murder Mile podcast via iTunes and to receive the latest episodes, click "subscribe". You can listen to it by clicking PLAY on the embedded media player below.
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location is marked with a yellow exclamation mark (!) below 'Regent's Park'. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, click here.
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 Manchester Street in Marylebone, W1; one street east of the last sighting of Rene Hanrahan, two streets south-east of the SOE HQ where Churchill’s superspy was recruited and cruelly dismissed, two streets south of the luring to death of William Raven for the sake of a clean pair of underpants, and one street north of the man who couldn’t drown - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Along this long line of four-storey brown-bricked Georgian terraces with white sills and black wrought iron railings, stands 19 Manchester Street. Like many buildings in this era, it currently occupies private flats and commercial offices. Some are respected, but others like the solicitors just two doors down are not. As with their Google reviews littered with phrases like “rude”, “arrogant”, “unprofessional”, and “he needs a lesson in basic human decency”, it’s a giggle to read if you’ve got a minute to spare.
Thankfully, we live in a world where everybody has a voice, and every piece of praise or grievance can be heard by others. But back in the 1950s, if you wanted a professional’s help, you had to rely on word of mouth and trust. But for many, a posh office, a fancy title and a wall full of diplomas was enough.
Back in 1951, the attic flat at 19 Manchester Street was the home to 36-year-old Gabrielle de Wolfe, her husband Earl, and their four-year-old daughter Cherill. With psychoanalysis in its infancy, many doctors clutched at straws, hoping that any improvement of the patient could aid their understanding.
One such patient was Gabrielle de Wolfe…
…what she needed was help, but what she got was guesswork.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 216: The Good Mother.
Gabrielle de Wolfe was born Gabrielle Isabella Dane on the 1st October 1914 in Balaarat in the central highlands of Victoria, Australia. As the second oldest of four siblings – alongside Paul, Charmian and Winsome – it was no surprise that Gabrielle turned out well-rounded, loving and said to be “of superior intelligence”, being the daughter of Dr Paul Greig Dane, one of Melbourne’s leading psychiatrists.
Psychiatry and psychoanalysis were still relatively new and unexplored medical sciences, especially in the windswept wilds of Australia, so as an early adopter of this form of mental health care, along with his family, Paul travelled the world to find the best psychoanalysts across America, Asia and Europe.
For Gabrielle, she was blessed with a solid education, loving parents, the benefits of world travel and having graduated aged 17, she worked several sales positions in Melbourne for two years whilst gaining life experience, before she attended Melbourne Technical School to study photography.
Many young girls would dream of having such a wonderous upbringing; a loving family, a steady home, a chance to see the world, to eat fine foods, and to sample a wealth of history, culture and people.
Only she would never get to fulfil her dream of becoming a professional photographer, as by the age of 23 when she graduated with a diploma, something had happened inside of her mind. Having suffered a nervous breakdown, with her father being a specialist in psychiatric therapy, he knew that Australia had some good facilities (including his own clinic) to treat her ailment, but that he also knew that the best facilities and the best people in the world for her were currently in London.
In 1937, having agreed that his daughter Gabrielle would be treated by one of the best psychoanalysts, Anna Freud, a pioneer in the treatment of childhood trauma and the daughter of Sigmund Freud, she moved to London to be close to Anna’s clinic, so she could be treated on a regular basis, until well.
Anna Freud would be Gabrielle’s analyst for the next decade…
…and although she was surrounded by the best specialists imaginable, London in the late 1930s was not the best place to be, especially for a woman who had suffered a mental collapse.
From the 7th of September 1940, for the next eight months and five days, the Luftwaffe unleashed an endless barrage of incendiary bombs, land mines and high explosives from the brooding skies, hoping to pummel, not just the British industrial complex into submission, but also its innocent people.
Today, we still herald the bravery of those who survived it by praising their ‘blitz spirit’, as being the victors, we chose only to record those who died (or sacrificed their lives). But – as was the way of the era – we still fail to acknowledge the many thousands whose mental health had been affected during and after the bombardment, as every day, a fear of death or dismemberment would haunt their eyes.
But there was no denying that, once you remove the rose-tinted spectacles of historical bias, the blitz must have been a terrifying experience, as an unrelenting cacophony of bangs erupted about your ears – day and night – as a series of faceless strangers tried to kill you for something you hadn’t done.
History has chosen to recall the scars of our past through joyous photographs of crowds of Londoners having a good old singsong in tube tunnels and air-raid shelters, like a flipped mid-digit to Hitler. But in reality, many couldn’t rest or sleep in these concrete coffins, as with the tunnels echoing to the sound of deadly explosions, many occupants never knew if they would come out alive, and if, what or who they had left behind could be found in one piece amidst the shattered remains of their lives.
That said, with the help of therapy, Gabrielle came through it…
…and having found a sense of wellbeing and happiness, she also found love.
How and where they met is uncertain, but with 30-year-old Earl Felix Sylvester de Wolfe being a theatrical agent with a premises at 4-5 William the Fourth Street just off The Strand, which he ran with his partner Richard Stone, they may have met at a private function, and there, the two fell in love.
Being charming, handsome and charismatic, Gabrielle’s mood was buoyed by his attention, and as an entrepreneur with big dreams of running West End shows once the war was over and the theatres re-opened, until then, he would do his bit as an entry level aircraftsman, an AC2, with the Royal Air Force.
In July 1942, amidst the smouldering ruins of Paddington, they married, and Gabrielle became Mrs de Wolfe. But as with many wartime romances, being enlisted to serve his country and be sent overseas as and when decreed, for the first four years of marriage, they spent more time apart than together.
With the war over, as Earl returned to the theatres, Gabrielle discovered that she was pregnant.
This pregnancy marked an uncertain time for them both, as with Gabrielle often gripped with stinging bouts of paranoia, depression and anxiety, no-one really knew how she would cope with something inside her; a parasite of love who wriggled and kicked her from within, who made her sick and wheezy, and with no control over its movement, it kept her awake at night, and it dominated her entire day.
Pregnancy is both a beautiful and a demonstrative thing, but oddly for Gabrielle, it gave her something to focus on but herself, a mission beyond her troubled marriage, and a distraction from her anxieties.
On the 8th of December 1946, Gabrielle gave birth to a daughter who she named Cherill. Being a good weight and with all her limbs, this baby girl was healthy, happy and nursed by a woman who everyone who knew her described as a ‘loving and devoted mother’. Mothering had remade her…
…but as the tiny tot became an inquisitive infant, with the wonderous ones giving way to the terrible twos and the troublesome threes, anyone who has experienced it will know that as much as child-rearing is rewarding, it can also be as mentally draining and physically exhausting as being tortured.
With no end in sight and no hope of release, weakened by a lack of sleep to the point where forming basic words can be a struggle, many feel like a cash machine forever dispensing notes, a prize heffer trapped in a milking shed, or merely a wet-wiped hand eternally wiping up brown gloop from an anus.
Mothering was her greatest joy as she watched her baby grow, but doing this mostly alone – with Earl often at work, having few friends and her family the other side of the world – it was also unrelenting.
Apart from her unspecified ‘mental neurosis’, no-one really knew what was wrong with Gabrielle…
…and as no-one knew how to treat her, she was as much as guineapig as a patient.
Suffering headaches which crippled her body and depression which ravaged her mind, living in an era when GPs recommended smoking as a cure for nerves, and we were yet to arrive in an era where they doled out tablets like a vending machine having been given a full seven minutes to deduce a patient’s medical issues, Gabrielle was blessed to have one of Australia’s core experts in psychiatry on her side.
In 1948, concerned for his daughter’s welfare, her father Dr Paul Dane came to London, and knowing only the best specialists to aid Gabrielle’s recovery, he introduced her to Dr Maurice Aubrey Partridge, a consultant in Psychiatric Medicine at St George’s hospital, and she continued to be treated by him.
According to Earl, “my wife was highly strung and suffered terribly”, so – as was the wonder surgery of the day which had shown some success – in April 1950, Gabrielle was admitted to the York Clinic at Guy’s Hospital to undergo a leucotomy, as psychosurgery commonly known as a prefrontal lobotomy.
Developed in the early 1940s, a lobotomy involved the surgical cutting of the white nerve fibres of the prefrontal cortex (which regulates our thoughts and emotions to the other parts of the brain), as well as the anterior part of the frontal lobes, which regulated our higher cognitive functions, such as our memories, emotions, problem solving, social interactions and our motor functions.
With neurologist Antonio Moniz awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1949 having originated this form of lobotomy, it quickly became the hot operation of the early 1950s, hailed as a breakthrough for many psycho-disorders, with Gabrielle being one of 20000 people who was operated on in 1950.
Being a highly invasive surgery with a 5% mortality rate, Gabrielle was kept in for observation at St George’s hospital for the next two weeks, and given the all-clear, she returned to the new flat she shared with her husband and her four-year-old daughter at 19 Manchester Street in Marylebone.
The surgery seemed like a partial success, as her mood had begun to stabilise…
…but as with many of the survivors of that form of lobotomy, Gabrielle would now be struck by a slew of new symptoms; like confusion, incontinence, weight gain and seizures. A report would state that “the operation had alleviated her distress”, but owing to “severe intracranial bleeding”, this had resulted in epilepsy, anxiety, paranoia and sleeplessness, “as personality changes had taken place”.
In a study conducted one year later, Dr Maurice Partridge confirmed that along with a lack of spatial awareness, a foggy thought process and patients becoming emotionally and intellectually blunted, outside of the 5% mortality rate, lobotomy patients also had an above average suicide rate. Therefore in 1952, just one year after Gabrielle’s operation, that form of lobotomy was abandoned in Britain.
But once a lobotomy has been done, it cannot be undone.
As a woman once described as being “of superior intelligence”, with very little after care, she was left to fend for herself, plagued by her damaged brain in an isolated flat surrounded by a screaming child.
Unsurprisingly, by the autumn and following the death of her father from stomach cancer in October 1951, being gripped by suicidal thoughts, she often phoned Earl in his office to demand that he came home at once, as – in her own words – “if you don’t, I shall kill myself, and take the baby with me too”.
Those who knew her felt her threat was empty, as being a devoted mother, many thought it was just a cry for help. So to ensure she got the help that she needed, Dr Partridge admitted her to the Atkinson Morley Hospital, a renowned mental health facility in Wimbledon and she remained his patient.
It was said that Gabrielle exhibited symptoms such as nerves, migraines, anxiety and struck with fears that she was incurable. With – as her doctor would report - bouts of “severe depression displayed by ideas of hopelessness, frustration, everything going wrong, her husband not wanting her, or her child to have grown up like her…” although she “worshipped her child”, it would later become clear “she felt she could no longer keep trying to get on well mentally, and could not bring her child up properly”.
Her report would state “…so severe was the disease of the mind… at the time of the act, the defect of reason was so severe that she would be incapable of knowing that what she was doing was wrong”.
Gabrielle was struggling, she was alone and confused…
…but it was made all the worse as Earl had applied for a divorce.
Tuesday 17th of April 1951 seemed like an ordinary day for Earl, as he returned from a business trip to Bournemouth and went straight to his theatrical office on the Strand. The day before, he had tried to call Gabrielle at 6pm, but getting no reply on the phone, he thought she was bathing the baby. And with her not picking up at 9pm, he guessed she had taken a sleeping tablet and had gone to bed.
At 10am, he tried again, but getting no reply, he tried several times across the next two hours thinking she had taken their four-year-old daughter to school. But by 12:30pm, growing concerned, he caught a cab to 19 Manchester Street in Marylebone, being described as “gravely worried” and rightfully so.
As he entered the communal door and ascended to the attic flat, Earl would state “I knew something was wrong, as I couldn’t open the door with my keys”, as Gabrielle had bolted it shut from the inside.
At 1:40pm, having ran to the nearest phone-box and called the Police, within minutes, Sergeant Cullen and PCs Nichols & Carpenter were met by Earl outside of the building, who stated “I want you to break down the door, I suspect my wife is in danger”. And with Sergeant Cullen placing his nose against the keyhole, getting a strong whiff of coal gas seeping through, they forced the door open and got in.
Inside, the officers stumbled down the hall, as fighting back the fumes, their lungs struggled, and their eyes streamed. Being two decades before natural gas was used in kitchens, even a few breaths of 1% carbon monoxide was enough to knock a grown man out, but with coal gas containing 200% carbon monoxide, a psychiatrist at the time would state “every kitchen has an executioner’s chamber”.
In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, half of Britain’s suicides were by coal gas, but with it being phased out in the 1970s, suicide by gas would drop to almost zero and the suicide rate was reduced by a third.
In a small passageway off to the right of the entrance hall, officers entered the small kitchen. Spewing out cubic metres of highly combustible gas, all four jets of the ring cooker were unlit but on full, turning this little room into an airless box of death, as lifegiving oxygen was replaced by a toxic powder-keg.
Turning off the jets, the officers could barely see or breathe, as with every side of each window sealed shut with adhesive tape, they had to cut each seal with a sharp knife, simply so they could breathe.
But as the gas leaked out and fresh air fed in, it was on the kitchen floor that they saw a mattress.
Covered in two blankets like this mother and her baby were just going to sleep, in front of the cooker lay Gabrielle, all still and pale, as in her arms lay her four-year-old daughter Cherill. Dressed in a blue woollen cardigan and a pink flowered dress, having drifted into unconsciousness, the child was dead.
In the bedroom, several handwritten letters scrawled in Gabrielle’s hand were found. Described as rambling in nature, with bad grammar and odd spellings (which was unusual for this bright woman), they showed the imbalance of her mind, as she poured out her final thoughts to her loved ones.
To Doctor Partridge, she spoke of her motive “I don’t think I can get well or bring up my little girl up as she should be”, some blame “my mother had no intention to come to my aid, and my husband in facing the facts”, and a thank you to him “allow me to express my thanks for all you have done”.
To her mother was a fragmented letter written in a stream of consciousness “the little one is terribly intense, inherited from me, it’s nobody’s fault. She is not ill, but may well become if I sent her away. Mummy it is the morning of this terrible thing. I don’t want to do it. I want to fight till I drop”.
In several letters, equally as confused, she insisted that her few possessions be shared between her siblings, that a suit (possibly her dead father’s) not to be given to Earl, and in one final request, “we had best be cremated, it’s like me to wake up, after I’m dead or baby, she is so intense, SO DO THAT”.
In her letters, although rambling, it was clear that she had intended to take her own life and that of her four-year-old child by gas asphyxiation. But with the officers unwilling to give up until the doctor had arrived, having attempted artificial respiration on both, somehow, Gabrielle was still alive. (End)
Brought back from the dead, Gabrielle was taken to St George’s Hospital, where physically she made a full recovery. Committed to Fulham Mental Hospital, having been declared fit to stand trial, upon her release one week later on the 25th April, as was his duty, Detective Inspector Wallis arrested her.
When told that she would be charged with the murder of her child, she replied “I understand, she was such a lovely baby. Can you tell me why I didn’t go too?”. Having explained how and why she survived, she replied “the baby felt nothing. I drugged her first, then carried her to the kitchen while she slept”.
An autopsy was carried out, it was determined that Cherill had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, with Dr Francis Camps confirming “her body was healthy, well-fed, there was no evidence of abuse”.
Six months later, Gabrielle’s case proved a turning point in psychiatric treatment, with the president of the psychiatric side of the Royal Society of Medicine stating “there is a possible lethal complication of leucotomy with three murders committed by leucotomized patients who are now in Broadmoor”.
Tried at the Old Bailey, on the 24th May 1951, the jury did not retire to consider their verdict, as the evidence was clear – Gabrielle was found guilty of wilful murder but was declared insane at the time. Seen as mentally ill, she was sent to Broadmoor to be held “until His Majesty’s Pleasure be known”.
With Gabrielle declared mentally incompetent, Earl was granted a divorce. He re-married in 1960 and 1967, and as of 2005, he was still living in Paddington, although it was unknown if he was still married.
As for Gabrielle, nothing is known about the rest of her life; whether she was released, remarried or had another child, but having been moved to the West Midlands, she died in June 1986, aged 71.
…with those who knew her, still holding on the truth that she was “ a good mother”.
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".
Subscribe to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast
Note: This blog contains only licence-free images or photos shot by myself in compliance with UK & EU copyright laws. If any image breaches these laws, blame Google Images.