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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-SIX:
This is Part One of Three of Coldblooded.
On Saturday 7th October 1944 at 2:15am, 34-year-old taxi-driver George Edward Heath drove his recently loaned grey V8 Ford Sedan east along Hammersmith Road. Forty minutes later, he would be dead. But why was George killed, for revenge, for sport, for money, or something stranger?
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The location is marked with a blue exclamation mark (!) near the words 'Hammersmith'. 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:
An adjective which describes two types of beings.
The first is a reptile whose body temperature mirrors its environment, which is regulated by the cooling or warming of its blood, and with a slower metabolism, needs only feed sporadically on its prey. It is natural, essential, and its mode of hunting is akin to any other creature in nature’s kingdom.
The second is a human who is callous, ruthless and cruel, and as a warm-blooded beast who shouldn’t need to hunt or feast - lacking any empathy - these spineless and soulless vultures seek out the weak, hunt for spoils and sport, and suckle on the gaping wounds of the innocent to feed their bloodlust.
Wrongly attributed to the psychology of snakes and lizards, it’s a term we have reserved for society’s deadliest predators - sociopaths, murderers and psychopaths. And although they tend to hunt at night, our own coldblooded killers come in many forms - those you can spot, and those you cannot.
This is part one of three of Coldblooded.
George Edward Heath was an ordinary guy, doing an everyday job, working long hours to feed his family. Born on 23rd May 1910, George was raised in London, lived in London and would die in London.
Aged 34, being five foot-eight in height and twelve stone in weight - with neatly cropped hair, a square head with a stern face, chiselled features and a prominent cleft chin - George was an unremarkable man who - like so many of us - blended seamlessly into society, never making waves or leaving ripples.
In 1934, while working as a waiter at the Woodlands Hotel in the former Kent town of Chislehurst, he met and fell in love with Winifred Ivy Neve, a waitress, and by September 1935, the two were married in a simple ceremony at Lewisham Registry Office. As expected, two children followed, with George Anthony (his namesake) in 1936 and Arthur Barry in 1939, making their lives as happy as most others.
Described by Winifred as “a restless man, who always wanted to be on the move” and was “very fond of money and having plenty of life”, shortly before their marriage, he quit his poorly paid waitering job and joined Godfrey Davis Ltd as a private hire driver, working irregular hours for a reliable income.
In all honesty, there is very little to report about the life of George Heath, the ordinary London taxi driver. He worked hard making an honest wage, but like many, he never owned his own cab. He was likeable, friendly and polite, being a man with many friends, a steady routine and no enemies. And although his vices were drinking, smoking and gambling; he never lit-up in the car, he never drank on the job, and with as many wins as he had losses, betting on horses was just a hobby to busy his brain.
By 1938, George may have thought that following the death of his parents that he had faced his share of grief, but like so many millions across this city and beyond, the Grim Reaper was hoving into view.
The Second World War was a time of upheaval and turmoil, as lives were lost, families were fractured, and this sprawling metropolis of the innocent became a sky-borne target for destruction and death.
In September 1939, with the younger fitter men conscripted as an endless wall of meat for the cannon fire, George was enlisted as a War Reserve Policeman patrolling the lawless streets of Victoria. Later becoming a unit driver for the Royal Army Service Corps in Mitcham, having been discharged in August, he was briefly a delivery driver for the Entertainment Service Association as well as Hovis the bakers.
Like so many, his life was in chaos... only fate was not on his side.
On the night of 18th September 1940, eleven days into an eight month-long bombing campaign by the Luftwaffe, George was at home at 6 Sangora Road in Battersea - three streets from Clapham Junction railway station, a vital mainline from the south and a key strategic target for their devastating blitz.
As distant hum of bombers loomed overhead, although his wife and boys were safe elsewhere, George was not. And as he hunkered down; being encircled by the blast of landmines on Strathblaine Road, the shockwaves of 20 kilo bombs on Plough Road, and a fiery wall as incendiaries exploding on Brussels Road, trapped in an epicentre of superhot flames and flying shrapnel, George survived, but only just.
Committed to Long Grove, a psychiatric hospital in Epsom for a full year with what we would call PTSD, although physically well, upon his discharge on the 21st of August 1941, George was a changed man – gruff and lost - but still keen to work hard, do his bit, and to provide for his family, so he soldiered on.
In 1942, he moved his family to Hard’s Cottages in Ewell, Surrey, as far from the bombs as possible. And although his landlady described him as “a model lodger who was devoted to wife and children”, growing unhappy, they separated in Autumn 1943, he returned to London to work as a cabbie, and in July 1944 he started seeing Violet Fleisig, a married mother-of-two while her husband served overseas.
George Heath had survived so much. And yet, it wasn’t a bomb which would snuff out his life, as merely being the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time… (a taxi drives along a street)
…fate put him in the path of a coldblooded killer.
The last time he saw his wife was on 21st July. He stayed the night, he kissed his kids, he gave her £7 on top of the £4 he sent each week, and then did his shift even though he had been bitten by a dog.
As a private hire cabbie, George worked antisocial hours from 7:30pm to 4am to pull in the nighttime crowd of the West End, driving a slew of faceless strangers to familiar and uncharted parts of the city.
On Tuesday 26th of September 1944, eleven days before his murder, George visited the garage of Harry Hawkins at Sunninghill in Ascot to hire a car. Handing over a cheque for £14 (£750 today) as security, that day he drove away a nearly new grey Ford V8 four-door saloon with the registration plate RD8955.
With no dents, being pristine clean, and with the handbrake in full working order, George was required to return it by Saturday 7th October at 9am, as it was booked up to drive passengers to Ascot Races.
George had every plan to keep that promise, as to him, the car was merely a means of making money to feed his family, but to his callous killer, it was the place where he would breathe his last breath.
Friday 6th October was George’s last day alive, although he didn’t know that.
Dressed in a grey flannel suit, a white shirt, brown brogues and a dark blue Melton overcoat, George undertook his pre-work routine of putting everything where it was needed; a silver-plated pencil and a slightly leaky fountain pen in his breast pocket to fill in his cabbie’s logbook, a Swiss made Bentima watch on his wrist with luminous figures as the city was still in blackout, a cigarette case with an odd sliding mechanism, and a black leather wallet containing a photo of his girlfriend Violet and his kids.
At 7pm, he met Violet at the Pineapple pub where his autopsy would state he ate a meal of potatoes, and as always, he drank no alcohol. She said his mood was good, he wasn’t anxious or worried. And back at her flat at 45 Cumberland Street in Westminster, he had a shave, and agreed that at 8am, he’d take her and two pals to Ascot Races, giving him time (as promised) to return the car to Harry Hawkins.
Starting at 9pm, he prowled for pick-ups in the West End, but finding the streets quite quiet, he swung by Godfrey Davis Ltd by Victoria Station, the private hire firm he had worked at for almost a decade, and chatted to Arthur Green, his pal of 14 years to see if there were any jobs to be swung his way.
The pickings were slim, as the recent barrage of V1 rocket attacks had sent a second wave of civilians to leave the city behind, so with only £7 in his wallet, he returned twice at 10:30pm and 11:05pm, but he was unable to accept a job as “he had a pickup at The Regent Palace Hotel in Piccadilly”. As always, George left his pal wishing him “all the best” and saying, “see you later” - only this time, he would not.
The next four hours of George’s life as a cabbie in that car are missing. We don’t know where he went, where he travelled to, what he charged, or who he carried, as his driver’s logbook was never found.
The night was bitterly cold and frustratingly wet, and with the wartime blackout still in-force meaning that not a single streetlight was on, the road was black, the pavement was in shadow, and even the dull yellow headlights of George’s grey V8 Ford Sedan had been narrowed to just two thin little slits.
At 2:15am, just two hours before his shift was due to end, while driving from Hammersmith Broadway, as he passed Cadby Hall on the Hammersmith Road, he was flagged down by a young lady (“taxi”).
Pulling up to the corner of Munden Street, as she peeped inside his cab, although it was as dark as the blackest night, George could see she had brown curled hair, pale skin and red lips, and as a slim girl in a fashionable floral print dress, her perfume was just a little heavy as she was bunged up with a cold.
In a Welsh accent she asked, “are you a taxi?” - which was a logical question as with no signs, no ‘for hire’ light and no passengers in the backseat, as owing to rationing, taxis were shared to save on fuel and tyres, so unlike London’s black cabs, private hires were hard to tell apart from other cars. George replied “private hire, where do you want to go?”, at which she said “wait a minute” and went back to the dark damp doorway, where a man, possibly her boyfriend, was sheltering from the wind and rain.
For a minute, George waited, and although it irked him, he knew that beggars can’t be choosers when the night was as quiet as this, so for a short while he waited, unwittingly making a fateful decision.
A moment later, a stocky man with a boyish face was led from the shadows by the girl. Dressed in the green trousers and a khaki tunic of a US Army officer, as he said “take us to the top of King Street” - a ride of just five minutes and ten shillings - it was clear that this was an American of European decent.
As far as we know, George had no suspicions that his life was about to end, as this couple of lovebirds on a night-out sat in the dark of his backseat, the girl behind the passenger’s seat and the man behind him, as they silently watched the world go by - George focussed on the road, too tired for chitchat.
George Heath was an ordinary man, doing his regular job, who was chosen at random…
…and yet, he was just two and half miles from his murder, and barely forty minutes from his death.
As the taxi drove down King Street, with this usually busy shopping district dark and deserted, not a sight nor sound emanated from the thick rows of shops, pubs and lodgings on either side. In the five minutes it took to drive its full length, nobody uttered a word, until at the junction of Goldhawk Road, George gruffly broke the silence – “okay, well, we’ve passed King Street, where do you want to go?”.
The soldier uttered “it’s further on, I don’t mind paying more”, and although (as a cabbie) George was used to passengers dithering, across the next ten minutes as they drove a further one and a half miles, the man kept uttering “a bit further, no further still, a bit more”, as if he was looking for somewhere or someone, when in fact, he was looking for a dark and isolated spot to kill a cabbie in cold blood.
The passenger’s indecision had riled George, but needing the fare, he said nothing and carried on, not knowing that this was the last time he would drive down the Chiswick High Road or see another day.
At the Chiswick roundabout, George bluntly barked “this is the Great West Road, where now?”. Only this was it. It was an odd place for a couple to depart being far from any houses and surrounded by a few empty factories which were guarded by nightwatchmen, but it was the perfect place for a killing.
“Just here” the solider said, being one of the last words George would ever hear, as he pulled the taxi into an unnamed layby for the last time, and as George applied the handbrake, his killer cocked his .45 calibre US Army pistol, which George didn’t hear or react to. Instead, being a man of manners whose shift was almost done, he reached over the passenger’s seat to unlock the left rear-door for the lady.
The time was 2:30am.
(Bang) Whether George knew what had happened is uncertain, as the loud explosion rang in his ears, a wetness poured down his back, and a sharp pain pierced his chest. Moaning loudly, he slumped over the steering wheel, unaware that a hot bullet had torn into his back, splitting his sixth rib and fracturing his right third rib as it exited his chest, as splintered lead ruptured his lung and severed his spinal cord.
And as George lay motionless and silent, as he slowly drowned as his vital organs bled, he would live for another fifteen minutes, but for every single second, he would be paralysed and at his killer’s whim.
Unable to fight or flee, with his head slumped on his chest, George heard his killer shout “move over, or I’ll give you another” as he was shoved across to the passenger’s seat and the car drove off at speed.
The man was driving, and although he couldn’t see, George would have felt it as they crossed the River Thames at Kew Bridge, sped down Kew Road and onto Twickenham Road heading south-west, as with each mile they drove, he got weaker, and colder, and ever closer to death, but his killer didn’t care.
“Check his pockets”, the American soldier barked, and although George could barely breathe in short gasps as his failing body echoed with an ever-increasing death rattle, rather than helping him live, like a vulture, the Welsh woman stole his watch, his wallet, his fountain pen and pencil, his cigarette lighter and a case, pocketing £4 in notes, some silver coins, a few petrol coupons, and then binning the rest.
To them, it was nothing but worthless tat. It didn’t matter that everything was precious to him; his driving licence which gave him a job, his cabbie’s logbook which was a history of his career, a watch he was given as a gift, a pen he had borrowed from his girlfriend, a letter from his wife, and a treasured photo of his boys – aged just five and eight – who he would never see again, nor say “goodbye” to.
As the Ford V8 was floored down Twickenham Bridge and onto the Chertsey Road, it would have been then that 34-year-old George Edward Heath had died, a life snuffed out for the contents of his pockets.
No prayer was said for the dead man, just a desire to dump him and flee.
The car was driven at speed onto the Staines Road West, onto Kingston Road and Stainash Parade to Knowles Green, sixteen and a half miles from the Chiswick roundabout, and as his slowly cooling body lay slumped in the passenger’s seat, it shimmied back and forth as the car turned onto an old dirt road.
Amidst a dark canopy of trees, the car stopped, the engine now as silent as George’s heart. With the passenger’s door opened to the cold night air, the man dragged him out by his armpits as the woman grabbed his legs, and with no ceremony or send off, they rolled his body into a ditch, like rubbish.
Wiping his filthy blood off their hands with the handkerchief they had stolen from his overcoat, they both got in his car and fled, leaving his cold dead carcase out in the wild where the animals could feast. And as they had struggled to ride the uneven grass and dirt-track, although there was one witness – Reginald Turney of Stainash Crescent who was sleeping in his Anderson shelter when he was awoken by a car’s engine revving hard as if it was driving on bumpy ground - he ignored it and fell asleep.
The killer’s journey back was a chance to dispose of the evidence.
As the woman drove, the man examined the spoils of his killing, tossing the wallet out of the window and scattering the papers and photos along the Great West Road. Having found the bullet casing using the dead man’s torch, he flung that too. And as the grey Ford V8 was driven back to Hammersmith, it was hidden among a slew of civilian and military vehicles in a car park behind the old Gaumont Cinema.
There, they parked up, applied the now slightly dodgy handbrake, cleaned out any of the dead man’s belongings, and wiped down the car with a handkerchief inside and out, so that – apart from a small dent on the nearside front door and on the passenger’s dashboard – it looked just like any other car.
But did the killer run? No.
Being callous and coldblooded, with his bloodlust satisfied and needing to fill his belly, they went to the Black & White café in Hammersmith Broadway to have tea, chips and egg. It didn’t matter that a man was dead and lying in a ditch, as – to him – being quarter-to-four in the morning, all he wanted was to get home, to bed, to sleep. And although he asked one of the cabbies in that café to drive them - using the dead man’s money, and possibly asking one of his friends who was unaware that his pal was dead, and soon that his wife, girlfriend and children would all be grieving – they declined.
So, as he walked back to the woman’s flat on King Street for sweet dreams and some nookie, just a short walk from where this vicious odyssey had begun, it is said that this exchange between them took place; she said “he’s dead isn’t he?”, he replied “yeah”, she said “that’s coldblooded murder then, isn’t it? How could you do it?”, as he said “people in my profession haven’t the time to think”. (End)
The next morning, he sold off George’s possessions for so few pounds that didn’t last them the rest of the day. Everyone knew they were nicked, but being wartime, even the most decent of people were happy to buy anything which was unavailable, on the black market as long as no questions were asked.
The K he sold for eight shillings to a confectioner called Fleischman. The cigarette case and lighter he sold to his old pal Len Bexley, as repayment for a debt. The watch with the luminous figures he sold for £5 to Morris Levene. And having scattered the evidence of his heinous crime among a sea of seemingly innocent people, he knew that he would be safe, as no-one would be likely to tell the police or to brag to friends that they had willingly purchased stolen goods.
That day, to celebrate his good fortune, they went to the pub and got pissed, they headed to the café and had a fry-up, they went to the White City Stadium and placed a few bets on a dog, and then headed to the cinema to see Christmas Holiday, a crime thriller starring Deanna Durban & Gene Kelly.
By the end of the day, every penny he had made by killing George Heath was gone. His death was as meaningless as the rind on bacon, and his life as disposable as his photographs he had tossed away. For George’s family, their grief would last a lifetime, but for his killer, this cruel and callous act was just as quickly forgotten. It was a murder committed by a coldblooded psychopath…
…but who was the cruelest?
Part two of three continues next week.
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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