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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 THIRTY-TWO:
On Friday 23rd April 1960, 23-year-old Elaine Baker finished her shift as a striptease artiste at the Peeperama on 47 Frith Street in Soho. It was an odd job for her to do, as she was so quiet and shy. Fifteen minutes after her arrival back home at 19 Tredegar Square in Bow, East London, she stabbed her boyfriend to death. But why?
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The location is marked with a dark grey/sludgy coloured exclamation mark (!) near the words 'Soho', among the mess of markers. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other 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 Frith Street in Soho, W1; one street north of the Taj Mahal killing, a few doors south of the five-shilling striptease, the same building as the last failed erection of The Blackout Ripper, and a few doors down from the shopkeeper who sold more than bacon - coming soon to Murder Mile.
At 47 Frith Street currently stands Ronny Scott’s jazz club, a musical institution, where nightly swarms of hipsters’ form - wearing cravats, bowties, monocles, feather boas and top hats, as nothing says ‘I have no personality’ like dressing like a Victorian street urchin at a Mardi Gras – and where they hope to hear some nice jazz, like, you know, something with a recognisable melody? But instead they end up listening to that free-form bollocks which sounds like an asthmatic stomping a seal pup to death.
Back in the 1960s, at 47 Frith Street was a seedy little strip-club called Peeperama, where sad losers got their jollies by ogling bored ladies jiggling their wobbly bits. One of those ladies was Elaine Baker, a young woman with dreams, who was described as “one of the shyest striptease artistes I have ever met”, and although it looked as if she was having fun, behind her painted-on smile lay pain and anger.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 232: Finally, a home.
Everybody has a dream. For some, it’s something they can achieve by themselves; whether to paint, to write or to build a business, where all they need is themselves and belief. Whereas for others like Elaine, her dream of a home, a marriage and several children required a second person - a husband.
Elaine Baker began life as Elaine Barkworth on the 10th of August 1936.
She said she knew little about her early life, her family and her upbringing, incorrectly telling the Police that she was born in Manchester, but maybe her childhood was something she had chosen to forget?
Raised in the district of Bucklow in Cheshire, she never spoke of her father, she didn’t have a loving relationship with her mother, and as at least one of five siblings, she had two brothers and two sisters, but being taken into care when she was only 12, she spent most of her formative years in foster care.
Denied love and guidance, as she was bounced between care homes and foster parents owing to her parent’s neglect, although her abandonment had made her incredibly caring and maternal with a deep desire to be loved but also to give love, regressing into herself, she became the epitome of shyness.
As a short curvy redhead with pale skin and freckles, she always looked young, and later described as “a pathetic little creature”, for the price of a kiss, a hug or a little compassion, often she was easily led.
In 1954, when she was 18, her foster mother died. And although legally an adult, no longer being the burden of the council’s responsibility, she was out on her own, even though she was still only a child.
Described as being of lower-than-average intelligence owing to inconsistent schooling, she earned her way as a single girl through a series of manual jobs in laundries and hotels, and through necessity, she received three minor convictions: for the theft of a coat and stockings, a breach of probation and ‘the use of insulting words’. She wasn’t a bad person, she just lacked trust in others, and for good reason.
Her late teens were riddled with more tragedy than most people could cope with in a lifetime. In 1953, aged 17, she lost all contact with her mother and her father she couldn’t remember. On 18th of August 1955, aged 19, as part of her dream, she gave birth to a child, but being illegitimate in an era when a single mother was as sinful as theft, she was forced to give it up for adoption. And on 14th May 1956, after just three weeks of unhappy abusive marriage to Karl G Baker, yet another dream had shattered.
In August 1958, with no family, no home, no children and no marriage, every part of her fantasy was broken, and being desperate to leave all of her pain behind, she fled to London to start a new life.
Three months later, she would meet Ronnie, the man of her dreams.
As a shy uncertain girl, it took real courage to come out from behind her shadow to work as a cinema usherette at the Troxy on East London’s Commercial Road. Burdened by a soft voice, a quiet manner and a pale face which blushed like a little cherry tomato whenever a stranger spoke a few words to her, although far from outgoing, maybe it was her childlike qualities which lured Ronnie towards her?
Three years her junior, 20-year-old Ronald was born and raised in London. As a six-foot three-inch hunk of loveliness, with a boyish face, a mop of dark hair and a big beaming smile, although he towered over this tiny redhead, Elaine was instantly smitten. Seeing him as marriage material, they moved in together, and with him earning three times her wage as a labourer, life looked promising.
Elaine would state “for six or seven months we have lived together as man and wife” in different parts of East London. Unable to afford much, at the start of March, they moved into a small basement room in a shared lodging at 19 Tredegar Square in Bow. And although it wasn’t much, it was their home.
The kitchen they shared with several others, but that was no problem, as it was clean, it had the latest mod-cons and most of the lodgers were quiet and helpful. Barely 10 feet square and with not even enough space to swing the proverbial cat, although their bed sitting room was a little pokey, it had everything this young couple needed; a sofa which folded out into a bed, a radio to play their records on, a decent sized wardrobe for all of their clothes, and even two porcelain cats to make it look nice.
It was the start of something special for Elaine. Finally, she had a home. A place to call her own. With a job that she liked, the man who she loved, and – having come from nothing – there was talk of the things that she dreamed of the most, a happy marriage, many babies and a life of unbridled happiness.
Her dream had finally come true…
…and yet, once again, it would end in tragedy.
It made sense that Ronnie paid the lion’s share of the bills, as he earned £11 per week whereas she only took in enough for the rent and little more than that. But as a bone-idle dawdler who despised the daily grind and would rather spaff his cash up the wall by seeing his pals and quaffing pints, “I used to get annoyed”, Elaine would state “because Ron wouldn’t go to work”. In short, he couldn’t be arsed.
In court, the judge described Ronnie as “a worthless creature who treated her like an oriental chattel”; little more than a skivvy who made his meals, cleaned his clothes, and funded his nights on the sauce.
With the Troxy on its final year as a cinema, before it shut, shifts were short and with their being few jobs she could do, “we had one or two arguments about this, but we’d always make up afterwards”.
It was then, that - instead of agreeing to get off his arse and earn an honest living like any prospective husband with half a brain cell and an ounce of love in his heart - he made Elaine an indecent proposal.
It wasn’t her thing, but – it was said – that Ronnie had taken her to Freddie’s Tropicana Club on Greek Street in Soho. It served drinks and it played music, only it wasn’t a nightclub, but a seedy striptease.
The Tropicana at 11 Greek Street was a sleezy little cesspit, hidden under a cheesy café and accessed by a set of dark-lit steps, it led down to a dingy basement which stunk of bad breath, body odour, stale ciggies and an unerringly salty stench which made anyone with a set of working nostrils gag and retch.
As the only female customer, Elaine couldn’t help but feel a sickening wave of revulsion wash over her as a gaggle of perverted little gits, grinned lasciviously as they eyed her tiny body up and down. Only, Ronnie hadn’t brought her here for fun, but for work. Having nagged incessantly, although a shy girl who blushed uncontrollably and was insecure about her shape, he wanted her to become a stripper.
Yes, she would hate it. Yes, she was afraid. And yes, just the thought of it made her feel nauseous. But with it paying £12 per week, three times her miniscule wage as a cinema usherette, a little bit of saucy nudity would clear their back rent and any unpaid bills, until he found work and got back on his feet.
It was something she didn’t want to do, but for him, she would. And with the Tropicana’s owners also running the Peeperama on Frith Street, although the manageress said, “she was the shyest stripteaser there”, Elaine’s demureness lured in the perverts who – through her – fantasied about shy young girls.
To cover their debts, she started stripping at the start of March.
After that, Ronnie didn’t work again…
…as with her earning more than him, he didn’t have to.
Friday 23rd April 1960 started out as most days often did… with an argument. Over the past few weeks, as he became lazier, more self-entitled and often woke late with a hangover after a jolly night out with his pals paid for by her, and as their fights had become physical, she used make-up to hide her bruises.
Three days before, Ronnie had finally got a job labouring on a building site. Elaine would say “I set the alarm for 7:30am, but he didn’t get up” – he didn’t want to and (in his mind) he didn’t have to. Having made breakfast, Elaine used a torch to navigate their messy bed-sitting room as the light-switch he had said he would fix was still broken, and with him “still in bed as I left at 11:05am, I asked him if he was going to work. He said he was. As I left our room, I left the door open thinking that would make him get up, but as I went up the stairs to head out, he slammed the door shut and that made me mad”.
He wasn’t going to work, she knew that. With 10 shillings in her purse, she’d given him two-thirds to put food in the cupboard, which she hoped he would do. And although she’d work a 12-hour shift until nearly midnight to earn money for them, she guessed that by the time she got back, he’d be drunk.
The Peeperama at 47 Frith Street was as equally seedy as the Tropicana. Being just shy of Old Compton Street, this side of Soho was surrounded by pubs, brothels and similarly seedy establishments, which catered for some of the most pathetic losers imaginable who lived for drinking, leering and wanking.
Like any other striptease, this venue was as erotic as an abattoir, as a parade of bored women sat behind a foul-smelling curtain waiting to be ogled like pieces of meat before some drooling deadbeats.
For these stars of the show, there was no dressing room, no glamour and no hints of Hollywood, just a few stools, a brimming ashtray, a curtain rail of unwashed slutty outfits they’d only wear for a few minutes at best, a cracked make-up mirror with a single stark bulb overhead, and an overflowing toilet.
It was about as sexy as a dose of dysentery, but for a few sad gits that night, it was enough.
For Elaine, “I learned the job, but I didn’t like it”, so as the purple curtains were pulled apart, again like a wound-up automaton, she started to dance. With no stage just a sticky carpet, a single light which was hardly flattering, and a cheesy track playing in mono through a crackly record player, surrounded by a semi-circle of creaky chairs and sleezy men stifling semis, a sea of leering eyes ate up every inch of her unveiling skin as with hands in their pockets, they all bobbed up and down to the sexy rhythm.
Still painfully shy, as much as she hated it, Elaine did what she needed to do, to live and survive. Like so many others, although her body danced, behind her eyes she was dead, as the second she saw the sad bastards before her, she knew that all she wanted to do was to spit in their faces, or be sick, so as she jiggled her bare breasts a few feet from several possible rapists, three things occupied her mind:
Hunger: as having given her boyfriend every penny she had, only able to afford a sandwich and a cup of tea all day, she was weak, and tired, and aware that the audience could hear her rumbling belly.
Drugs: as being conscious of her weight, struggling to stay awake and needing something it soothe her pain and shame, she’d started drinking, and taking Preludin, an appetite suppressant and a stimulant.
And finally, there was hope: as still believing that her dream could still come true, “I hope that Ronnie would get a job and that we’d get married”. But deep down, she must have known it was a lie…
…as back home, a nightmare awaited her.
At midnight, Elaine exited the tube at Bow, her feet aching after twelve hours tottering in high heels, dodging kisses and ducking gropes as a butt-crack of losers headed home to their wife’s cold shoulder.
With her cheeks sore from grinning inanely, as she entered the dark silence of Tredegar Square, again her belly rumbled having barely eaten a thing all day. She hoped that she’d be welcomed home by her husband-to-be with a soft kiss, followed by a nice meal lovingly prepared by him, but it was not to be.
“When I walked into the kitchen, I saw there was no meal”; there were no plates on the table, nothing boiling on the hob, and no food in the cupboard, just half a bag of old potatoes, barely at their best.
“I went into the front room which was in darkness”, as after weeks of complaining, he hadn’t fixed the light switch, he hadn’t even attempted to fix the light switch. In fact, as always, he had done nothing.
Flickering her lighter, by its limp orange glow “I saw Ronnie lying on the bed with his clothes on”, him all sprawled out like he’d had a hard day; the stale odour of beer and cigarettes on his breath, and the seven shillings she had given him for food was gone having been blown on getting pissed with his pals.
“I asked him if he had been to work. He rolled over and said, ‘what’s it to you?’, I said ‘If I’m working so should you, or are you going to start your old tricks again?’ By this, I meant not bothering to work. He then said, ‘I’m sick’, I replied ‘the only thing you’re sick with is idleness’. He then called me a ‘bloody bastard’ and as I turned, he jumped out of bed, and we argued”. It was like every other night prior.
He told lies, he made excuses, he never once thanked her for keeping them float by paying the rent, clearing the bills, and putting food in his belly. “And as he slapped me round the face, I tried to hit him back, but I could not reach him”, as this six-foot three-inch hulk towered over the tiny frame of Elaine.
She told Detective Superintendent Beal, “I walked into the kitchen and went to a drawer and took out a knife”. When asked, “Is this the knife?”, showing her a small four-inch blade, she replied “yes, I was going to peel some potatoes and make chips. Ronnie came in behind me, I asked him if he wanted any, he said, ‘what do you care if I eat or not?’. We had words and hit me on the nose and forehead”.
As her eyes filled and her nose bled red, knowing this would be another bruise she’d have to hide, she stood there shaking, knowing that this was what her life had become. There was no dream, only shit.
What happened next may never be known, as Elaine’s recollection was hazy at best.
Initially, she told the Police, “he walked into the kitchen and then called out”, (“Elaine!”) “when I went into the hall, he was lying there covered in blood”. The DS asked “as far as you were aware, you were the only person in the basement with him at that time. So, how do you suggest he was stabbed?”, at which she replied, “I don’t know. He might have done it himself. He was always saying he was fed up”.
As those words stumbled from her fumbling mouth, they all knew it was a lie, as her fingerprints were found on the knife’s handle, and his blood had poured down her waist, her legs and her feet. Only it was clear that she was not evil woman hellbent on murdering her man, this was just a frightened girl who was in panic and fear, grasping at straws, as the life she had always dreamed of was now over.
Later, Elaine would claim it was an accident “he walked out into the hall and called ‘Elaine! Elaine!’. At first, I thought he was fooling. I thought something must be wrong. I walked out and saw Ronnie lying on the floor, crouched up and a lot of blood, and I realised I must have stabbed him with the knife”.
At that point, unsure what to do, Elaine shouted for Michael Molloy, a labourer who lodged in a back room on the ground floor who had always been very decent to both. Oddly, when questioned, Michael confirmed “I went to sleep and heard a scream. I thought I was having a nightmare, so I took no notice. A couple of minutes later, I heard Elaine calling me hysterically, and I thought something was wrong”.
And it was. Michael would state “I found Ronnie lying at the bottom of the stairs on his stomach. I turned him over and saw blood. Elaine was kneeling over Ronnie; she was sobbing, calling his name”.
As blood pooled around Ronnie like a sticky red halo, desperate to stop the bleeding, Michael started searching for a wound, “Elaine was very excited and in trying to find where the blood was coming from she tore the shirt completely off. I said, ‘this chap has been stabbed’, but she made no comment”.
Dragging Ronnie to the kitchen, the only room with a working light, making do as best he could to save his life “I collected some clean underpants to dress the wound. He was coughing. I laid him on his back, had Mrs Hynes call for an ambulance, and I covered him with blankets as that seemed all I could do”.
When asked why she’d changed out of her bloodied clothes and why Ronnie’s blood had been washed away, Michael replied “the floor was completely covered with blood which I mopped up. I told Elaine to get dressed and clean herself as she’d have to go to hospital” – as to him, this wasn’t a crime scene, but a shared house in which many people lived, including this young couple who often had fights.
With the ambulance arriving faster than the police, as Elaine got in to accompany Ronnie to hospital, when PC Adams asked, “what happened?”, again in panic, she said “I don’t know. I didn’t see”. Not realising that everything thing she said and everything she did would be used in evidence against her.
With Ronnie gasping for breath, when the ambulanceman asked “what happened?”; she said she didn’t know, she said she’d tell him later, and then “he was playing with a knife, he had an accident”. And when asked in court to recall her words, both of these professionals did so, without hesitation.
And although they had sped just a short distance to Mile End hospital, by the time they had arrived, with a single stab wound to the heart, Dr Lucas would inform Elaine that Ronnie was dead. Becoming hysterical, she kept saying “it can’t be, it can’t be”, and on several occasions in the hospital and on route to Bow Police station, she became violent, and she had to be retained as she tried to flee.
Questioned at 1:20am, an hour after their fight, asked to tell the truth, Elaine sobbed “I did do it. I was making chips, I had the knife in my hand, and I said, ‘have you been drinking?’, he said ‘yeah, so what, I’m not gonna to sit and wait about for you every evening’. I saw red and struck out with the knife”.
An autopsy conducted by Dr F E Camps at Poplar Mortuary would confirm “he had superficial scratches to his right arm and his upper chest” indicative of a fight with a long-fingernailed woman, “and a single stab wound midway between the nipples, which passed between the ribs, and embedded four inches deep (the full length of the blade) through the end of the heart and part of one of the valves, resulting in extensive internal bleeding of the left side of chest”, which was the primary cause of death.
And with the Scientific Officer of the Met’ Police Laboratory unable to find any trace of alcohol in his blood or urine, the knife having been wiped clean of his blood, and Elaine having changed her story several time to several witnesses, having started with nothing, now her life was over. (End)
Held at Holloway Prison, the medical officer would state “she has shown no evidence of mental illness, she has extensive bruising to the left-hand side of her forehead, upper chest, upper arms, both thighs and lower legs. All of these injuries are recent, within the timeframe of the incident”, and although impulsive and emotional, she didn’t show any sign of aggression, but got upset talking about her past.
With the press taking pity on her predicament, a nationwide appeal was made to find her parents, and – after almost seven years apart – Elaine and her mother Constance were reunited at Holloway Prison.
Tried at The Old Bailey on the 21st of May 1960, she pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder owing to provocation, with the prosecution not asking if she had intended to kill him, but to do him harm.
When cross-examined, the Met’ Police’s scientific officer stated that no alcohol was detected because “it is destroyed a rate of ¾ of a pint per hour”, and with the pathologist confirming that – although considerable force had been used to stab him - “if, at the time, the body was moving forward, it does not need a great deal of force. It is no more than just an ordinary push”. Implying that if he was moving forward to attack her, she could conceivably have stabbed him by mistake, as she had initially thought.
Described by the judge as “a pathetic creature who was full of remorse for the man she still loved”, three days later and after four hours of deliberation, a jury of nine men and three women found her not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter. When the verdict was read, it was said she wept.
As she was led away to freedom, when interviewed on the steps of the Old Bailey, she said “I was very much in love. I felt I could reform him. Perhaps then for the first time in my life I would have a home”.
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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