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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-FOUR:
On Monday 18th of August 1952 at roughly 2pm, a scream came from Flat 8 on the third floor of 21 Hanson Street in Fitrovia, W1. The neighbours found the body of 23-year-old Georgia Andreou on her bed. She had died possibly by her own hand, but how did she die and who knew what?
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Hanson Street in Fitzrovia, W1; four streets south-west of the Charlotte Street robbery, one street east of the murder of ‘The Lady’, three streets east of the rape by the cowardly billionaire’s son, and two streets south of the gangster who lost it all - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Hanson Street is quite possibly the dullest street in London. It’s so dull, the dogs bark out of boredom, each flat has its own yawn, if a gallery opened up it would be shut down for being too rowdy, and the only sound you’ll hear is as a moped roars by to deliver an overpriced substandard pizza from the place at the end of the road, to brainless deadbeats who refuse to wash up, will only eat the blandest of double syllable foods and then order “Alexa, hire a flunky to chew my food and then wipe my bum”.
Halfway down is 21 Hanson Street, a red brick five-storey mansion-block from which a single sound is rarely uttered. And where families, couples and singletons go about their lives within a few feet of one another, but rarely mix or mingle, except for a perfunctory “hello” and an all all-too-hasty “goodbye”.
And yet, on Monday 18th of August 1952 at roughly 2pm, a scream from Flat 8 on the third floor of 21 Hanson Street carried so far that many of the neighbours came flocking to see what the commotion was about. A woman was dead, possibly by her own hand, but how did she die and who knew what?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 234: Deadly Soap.
When there’s no separation between religion and the law, too often the laws of our land are shaped by moralising policy makers who have very little connection with the side of the society that their law affects. And with almost no recourse, too often it’s the innocent who are driven to take drastic steps.
Georgia Antoniou was born Georgia Andreou on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on an unspecified date in 1929, as one of two daughters and a son to Anastasia. Being a traditional Greek Cypriot who was raised as a Greek Orthodox Christian, when they came to Britain five years before, they brought with them their language, culture and beliefs, which were hard to replicate in post war Britain.
As a trained dressmaker, Georgia got work as a seamstress at a clothing company called Linda Lea off Oxford Street. In March 1949, she married George Antoniou who worked as a commission agent, and for the last two years, they had lived in a small self-contained flat at 21 Hanson Street in Fitzrovia.
Something that rankled Georgia’s values was that she wasn’t married in a Greek Orthodox Church, but in a local registry office. It was never explained why, as her faith had never waivered (as far as we know), but it doesn’t make sense; as the first Greek Orthodox Church in London was built in nearby Soho in the 1700s, for centuries London has had a thriving Greek Cypriot community, and as a Crown colony from 1925, during World War Two, this city became the seat of the Greek government in exile.
As a working-class woman who spoke limited English, like many, she found all the support she needed by keeping close to her family and community, especially during times when she needed them most.
On 7th of June 1952, 23-year-old Georgia visited the surgery of Dr Michael Liassides in Kentish Town, as her mother Anastasia sat in the waiting room. Having examined her, although an initial test proved inconclusive, on the 10th of July, just one month later, Georgia got the news that she was pregnant.
Like her mother, she would have made a great parent, and being fit, strong and healthy, there was no physical reason not to have a child. But as recent immigrants struggling to stay afloat in a foreign land and with her relationship with her loving husband a little strained, this wasn’t the right time for her.
It was the wrong decision for her to have a child at that very moment. It was unfair on the baby to be born into a family which wasn’t ready to accept it. A baby should be welcomed into the world out of love not reluctance, having been forced to exist owing to laws written by men and demanded by large swathes of society who will never give birth. And as much as she would love her child dearly, it wasn’t right to burden it with a life of want, when she could wait until her dire circumstances had improved.
Some might say, “well if she didn’t want a baby, then she shouldn’t have had sex”? But everything was against her; the pill didn’t exist yet, condoms were outlawed by her religion, and abstinence was an option, but how often is consensual sex ever consensual? Is it always an act of mutual passion, or does one party feel pestered into giving up a perfunctory ‘fuck and fumble’ just to get a good night’s sleep?
Inside her body, the clock was ticking. In six months’ time, a baby would be born whether she liked it, or not. And as much as her religion forbade it, society scoffed, and the moralising lawmakers denied her any right to decide what she could do with her own body, she had an impossible decision to make…
…to appease the people by what suited their moral values, or to break the law and risk everything she had worked hard for; her freedom, her citizenship, her home, her family, her health…
…and – of course - her life.
Until the Abortion Act of 1967, a series of unfair moralistic laws had led untold scored of good decent women to seek out the only alternatives they had to an unwanted pregnancy. Even in 1952, five years into the formation of the National Health Service, a taxpaying woman couldn’t have (what is in effect) an unwanted growth removed from their insides at a publicly funded hospital. So, many sought out unqualified backstreet abortionists, unreliable homemade remedies or drank a cocktail of unregulated poisons – which newspapers advertised as ‘a cure for menstrual blockages’ – many of which caused hair loss, fever, vomiting, bleeding, loss of kidney function, blindness, paralysis, and even death.
In 1923, 15% of all maternal deaths were due to illegal abortions and the rate of unwanted pregnancies was climbing. One woman said “my aunt died self-aborting. She had three children and couldn’t feed a fourth… so she used a knitting needle and died of septicemia leaving all her children motherless”.
In 1936, the Abortion Law Reform Association was set-up to campaign for the legalisation of abortion. In 1938, Dr Alex Bourne was acquitted of performing an abortion on a 14-year-old girl who had been gang-raped and was suicidal - which opened the doors to the legally acquired abortion, but only if her life was in danger and with a psychiatrist’s approval. And although the 1960s and the availability of the contraceptive pill changed women’s lives, far too many were still being killed by illegal abortions.
In 1967, the Abortion Act became law which legalised abortion for pregnancies up to 23 weeks and 6 days, with no limit on a foetus with a fatal abnormality, or any birth which posed a risk to the mother.
It’s a law which still exists today…
…but for Georgia, living in 1952, she didn’t have that option.
It’s understandable that Anastasia, Georgia’s mother, would deny all knowledge of the abortion, as under the Offences against the Person Act of 1861 and The Infant Life (Preservation) Act of 1929, even the act of aiding an illegal abortion risked her being imprisoned. So, what she knew or did is uncertain?
Initially, she stated “I did not know my daughter was expecting a baby or had been to see a doctor”, which we know was untrue, but upon her arrest, the statements she gave may be nearer to the truth.
Back in June 1952, Anastasia said of that time “my daughter told me that she had not seen her period for a few days”, and with it being spotty and inconsistent, “I told her perhaps it was a cold”. But with the pregnancy confirmed by Dr Liassides, Georgia’s nightmare had begun.
“When we left the doctor’s house I said to my daughter ‘you have a husband and married women do have children’. Many times we spoke about the pregnancy. She said she did not want to have a child as she was not married in a church, and I used to tell her that many Cypriot ladies were not married in the church, but they did have children because the registry marriage is valid”. But as a Greek Cypriot with traditional values, Georgia was not convinced. Whether this is true or not, we shall never know.
“A few days later, my daughter said to me ‘I have heard of a certain woman, and I want you to come with me so that we can see this woman. Perhaps she knows something to tell me about this matter’”.
Taking the short walk along the Charing Cross Road from her mother’s house on Goodge Place to a poorly lit side-street off Shaftesbury Avenue, Georgia & Anastasia arrived at 54 New Compton Street.
Anastasia would state “we went to the house of this woman, and I learned her name is Harita”. Which wasn’t entirely true, as her name was Haritini Mattheou, a 54-year-old widow with two children, who made a living as a seamstress, but – as a former nurse – helped those in need in the Greek community.
Haritini would contradict “I have known Anastasia for three or four years. I met her on the corner of New Compton Street, and we talked together because we are both from Cyprus. She has been to my house many times and I have been to her address in Goodge Place about three months ago”.
As the possible abortionsist, it’s also understandable why she would lie. But this is not to imply a kind of sinister conspiracy, far from it, as these were two working-class immigrant women who spoke very little English and had even less status engaging in an illegal act - not for profit, but because it was right.
What their conversation was, we will never know, as – rightly afraid of the law and the ramifications of their actions – what was decided has been lost to the midst of time. Anastasia said, “my daughter and the woman were speaking together in English, which I do not understand”, whereas Haritini said “Mrs Andreou and another lady who she said was her daughter went into my flat and stayed about half an hour. Mrs Andreou talked about her feet and bad legs”, but apparently nothing else was said.
As they left, Anastasia recalled “I heard the woman say to my daughter ‘it is nothing, don’t be afraid’, with Haritini stating, “they asked me to call on them at Hanson Street and I said ‘of course, one day’”.
In their statements, neither of them say anything about an abortion…
…and for good reason.
Monday 18th of August 1952 was the day that – possibly by chance - Haritini Matheou popped by the flat of Georgia Antoniou for lunch, and Georgia’s mother, Anastasia dropped in to do some cleaning.
According to Georgia’s husband, at 9:30am, “she got up, she was well, a baby was due”. And although, at 10am, he left for work as usual, he didn’t know that neither she nor the baby would survive the day.
At 1pm, Haritini said she dropped by, with the door to Flat 8 of 21 Hanson Street opened by Georgia.
A short while afterwards, Anastasia claimed “I thought it was right to call there and make the bed for her as usual, since I knew that she was starting work after the holiday”, having taken two weeks off.
The flat was small, thin and practical; with a sitting room overlooking the street, a bedroom opposite the front door, a dining room at the back, and in the middle, a kitchen-cum-bathroom with a gas hob for cooking and a bath for bathing, as before central heating, that was how you heated the bath water.
Anastasia said “I went upstairs, opened the door and I saw my daughter in the bedroom. When I saw her, I was surprised, and I said, ‘why did you not go to work’. She told me she was unwell. Then in the bedroom I saw the woman, but I had no right to say anything, it was not my room”. Which was odd as Haritini claimed “the three of us sat down and talked about the housework in general”, nothing more.
In her defence, Anastasia said she was only there to make lunch, as proven by a half-cooked chicken in the kitchen - even though she also believed that her daughter was at work and was surprised by a guest in the flat which made no sense at all - and that Haritini had was only there for a chat and a tea.
It was while she was in the kitchen that Anastasia said she noticed “a bowl on the gas, I don’t know that was in it, the water was coloured”, and feeling afraid “I wanted to leave the house, not to see or know anything. My daughter said to me ‘go and sit in the sitting room. It is nothing to do with you’”.
It was then that both stories converged, as apparently Georgia said ‘I’ve got a headache’, her mother told her to lay down, and seconds later, both women stated “we heard a noise like something falling”.
In the bedroom, Haritini said “Georgia was lying on the floor of the bedroom… the mother and I lifted her on the bed. I then put water on her forehead to bring her round, as I have nursing experience having been trained as a Registered Midwife in Cyprus and was given a certificate in 1931 and 1935”, which was either a brave or a stupid thing to admit, given the situation which had already unfolded.
By their own accounts, they had no idea why she was ill, “she had a pain in her stomach”, and although Georgia was able to open her eyes, she could not speak, was barely conscious and barely breathing.
Desperate to revive her from a mysterious collapse, they did whatever they could; Haritini massaged her heart and her unstockinged legs with eau-de-cologne, and raised her legs over her head, as in the 1950s, these were believed to be effective forms of artificial resuscitation; and according to Anastasia “I smacked her on the face, bit her thumb and did what I could to bring her to, but I could not do so”.
Telephoning for Georgia’s GP and stating, “come at once, bring an injection to save my daughter, she has fainted’”, Dr Liassides arrived just after 2pm, but by then, Georgia Antoniou was already dead.
A single scream echoed the length of Hanson Street that day…
…only, it wasn’t the death throes of Georgia, but the grief of her mother, Anastasia.
Karen Russell in Flat 8, two floors below, ran up the stairwell to see Anastasia collapsed on the step; hysterically wailing like her soul was full of nothing but tears, as – described as demented – she ran from room-to-room, pulling at her hair and hitting herself, unable to comprehend the sheer horror.
Joined by two neighbours, as they stood in the doorway, Caroline Ferris and Margaret Poli both saw Georgia’s lifeless body semi-clad and sprawled across the bed, and it clear that she was dead; as her open mouth uttered nothing not even a breath, a glistening tear on her lid was the only movement in her staring eyes, and her sweat-soaked face was etched in terror as if she had seen the devil himself.
Unable to get any sense out of Anastasia, when asked “‘what happened?’, Haritini said ‘I don’t know… she fell down here’”, and when asked, “‘why haven’t you sent for a doctor?’, even though she had, she lied ‘I don’t know her doctor’, as Haritini silently slipped out of the flat, unseen by anyone.
By the time that Dr Liassides arrived, the ambulance had already been stood down, a local undertakers were aware, and the attending Police Constable had alerted Scotland Yard to a possible homicide.
Headed up by Detective Inspector Percy Woolway, this was a scene he had seen far too frequently in the last few decades, as many good women were driven to do something drastic out of utter despair.
As always, the evidence was self-explanatory: as upon entry, the acrid stench of disinfectant stunk the air, as well as the sheets, the pillow and the groin of the woman herself, as with her stockings, slippers and knickers on the floor, her pale bare legs were stained with a steady stream of congealed blood.
In the basin lay the recently pared shavings of a block of Lifebuoy soap. On the stove, a soiled pan sat empty, as around it fizzed the white scum of a foamy lather. And between her legs, lay an assortment of items which hadn’t arrived by accident; several rolls of cotton wool, an enema syringe, and the remainder of a glass containing two ounces of stiff soapy jelly made up of one-third of carbolic soap.
None of these items belonged in the flat, and when quizzed neither woman said they recognised them.
Having already questioned Anastasia, Haritini Matheou was arrested one week later, and at her flat at 54 New Compton Street they found a similar syringe, an identical brand of soap, and “eleven ampules of an undisclosed drug” which she admitted was to aid only herself, owing to a bout of constipation.
On 3rd of September, Anastasia Andreou and Haritini Matheou were charged “with the manslaughter of Georgia Antoniou and conspiring to procure an abortion”. Both women denied the charge, they both gave statements pleading their innocence, and they were both remanded on bail for seven days.
They denied any involvement in this illegal abortion…
…but the evidence of what happened to Georgia was irrefutable.
Her autopsy conducted by Dr Donald Teare at St Pancras Mortuary told a tragically familiar story.
Listed as young, healthy and free from disease, a few hours or maybe a day before her death, Georgia had laid on her bed, praying that her unwanted and unspoken pregnancy would vanish without a trace.
With her undergarments removed for a procedure she couldn’t have done alone, the pared shavings of carbolic soap, of the type freely available to most households, was dissolved in a warm pan of water until it reached a frothy Luke-warm lather, as if she was about the scrub her kitchen. Partially made of carbolic acid, it acted as an antiseptic for cleaning wounds, unless it was administered in a purer form.
As a common form of abortion, the dissolved carbolic soap was inserted directly into the uterus using a rubberised enema syringe. Containing 30% carbolic acid, as the frothy lather engulfed the womb, being an irritant, the acid would cause the lining to enlarge, enflame and bleed until the embryonic sack had burst, and a few days later, the deceased foetus would be expelled… or that was the idea.
A bruise on the back of the uterus’ neck was consistent with an enema syringe, and although a white fizz had enveloped the recently deceased two-month-old foetus, the pathologist formed the opinion “that the amount of pressure needed to distend the uterus by 4 ½ inches could not have been caused by the girl herself”. The baby was dead, having drowned in acid, but with the foetus still un-detached, force had to be used, her placenta had ruptured, and the lethal froth had entered her bloodstream.
Carbolic soap was a cheap and readily available form of abortion to the average woman in need, its effects were quick, effective and devastating to the foetus, but – all too often - lethal to the mother.
It only took a small tear in the delicate lining of the placenta for a few air-bubbles to leak inside of her. Once within, even a microscopic bubble of carbolic acid or even just pure clean air could circulate her entire body in just three minutes resulting in an embolism in her veins, arteries, heart, lungs and brain.
Suffering confusion, paranoia, anxiety and even audible and visual hallucinations, her prolonged death – which the pathologist said “took as much as ten minutes” – would have resulted from arrhythmia, heart failure, lung collapse and a stroke, as lying helpless, her last gasps of breath frothed with blood.
With no way to revive her, all Anastasia could do was to watch the daughter she had tried to save, die. And although, just 15 years later, an abortion had become a legal day procedure in a local hospital…
…owing to unjust laws by the moral few, Georgia was killed because she didn’t have a choice. (End)
Tried at the Old Bailey on 28th of October 1952, dressed in black and weeping uncontrollably, Anastasia Andreou stood in the dock, alongside Haritini Matheou. Pleading not guilty to the charge of feloniously killing Georgina Antoniou and unlawfully conspiring to procure an abortion, with such a public outcry of sympathy over this case, the prosecution provided no evidence, and both women were dismissed.
It’s a situation that neither woman should have found herself in, to be forced do something illegal and harmful to herself, over a choice which was made by a stranger whose own belief had shaped the law.
We all have a right to speak, a right to think and a right to believe, but the laws should be there so we all have the right to choose what is best for us, not what is best for someone we don’t know whose beliefs and lives may be contradictory to ours. And if law results in thousands of innocents dying every year, you have to question whether it’s right that a belief takes precedence over the lives of others.
Since the implementation of the 1967 Abortion Act, around 10 million abortions have occurred legally and safely in the UK, 214000 happen in England and Wales every year, and with a mortality rate of just 0.6 deaths per 100,000, it’s a comparatively safe medical procedure which is only getting safer.
The International Classification of Diseases stated that the most common reason for 98% of abortions was "the risk to woman's mental health". Thankfully in the UK, woman have a choice. But back in 1952, and even today in some supposedly “civilised” countries, women like Georgia have no choice at all.
So, ask yourself this? What do you want? A law which goes against your supposedly moral beliefs, or – once again – thousands of desperate women driven to their deaths and being killed by deadly soap.
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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