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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, set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about the tragic death of eight-year-old Peter Buckingham; a lovely little boy who wasn’t starved, abused or mistreated, if anything he was adored, and yet, several traumatic incidents lead to this innocent being murdered by the one person who loved him the most – his own mum.
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 of the flat at 134 Milton Avenue, NW10 9which has since been demolished) is marked with a dark green triangle. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as Soho, King's Cross, Paddington or the John George Haigh or Reg Christie locations, you access them by clicking here.
I've also posted some photos to aid your "enjoyment" of the episode. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
Credits: The Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE: THE LAST GASP OF PETER BUCKINGHAM
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about the tragic death of eight-year-old Peter Buckingham; a lovely little boy who wasn’t starved, abused or mistreated, if anything he was adored, and yet, several traumatic incidents lead to this innocent boy being murdered by the one person who loved him the most – his own mum.
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatization of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 89: The Last Gasp of Peter Buckingham.
Today I’m standing on Milton Avenue in Harlesden, NW10; four streets south of where the First Date Killer dumped Kate Beagley’s bloodied car, two stops east of the factory where Reg Christie met Muriel Eady, three streets south-west of the home of the suitcase canal dumper (Tomass Kocik) and barely one mile west of the bungled release of Ashraf Amrani - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Harlesden is a real hotchpotch, where-as in the 1900’s it was still a pretty little village on the outskirts of London, as the city’s population swelled, Harlesden Village was swamped by an industrial hub, full of cranes, trucks, trains and the choking chug of factories. Today it’s no different, except that drifting among the exhaust fumes you’ll detect the fragrant whiff of fried chicken, cannabis, stale pits and a confusingly delightful smell as the biscuit factory fires-out its ovens. Mmm. Toasty biscuits!
Unless you live here, Harlesden isn’t the kind of place you’d consciously visit. Yes, it has some sights; Acton Lane Power Station was where parts of Batman and Aliens were filmed, Dennis Nilsen was briefly a local policeman, there’s a hospitality company which sends pedants into a spin as they’ve spelt ‘events’ with an apostrophe, and even I lived here, in an almost derelict rat-infested old people’s home where the cockroaches were eaten by the mice, the mice were eaten by the rats, and as the rats died of obesity, the cockroaches moved back in. And although I once saw three mice dancing in my bag of dried cous-cous, we still received from Brent Council a four-star rating for hygiene. Baffling!
Two streets from Harlesden Village is Milton Avenue. One side of the street consists of a 1920’s terrace and the other is mishmash of new builds and maisonettes, now known as Greenwood Terrace. Being heavily bombed during the war, many of the original buildings were demolished long ago and any memory of this murder has long since erased, and although – as one of thousands of Londoners who were killed that year - there’s no memorial to the little boy, his story is no less tragic.
As it was here, on Thursday 18th November 1948, in the ground-floor flat of 134 Milton Avenue, that a desperate mother felt forced to make a tragic decision and took the life of her own son. (Interstitial)
Murder isn’t always about money, pride or revenge. It isn’t always about monsters, sadists or maniacs. Often there is no clear distinction good or evil, right or wrong, villains or victims, as killings aren’t always about hate. In fact, we are more likely to be murdered by the ones we love.
Elenore Buckingham was born either Elenore Kary, Elinora Karg or Elsinore Cary, somewhere in or near the rural village of Finkenberg in Austria on a date close to the 21st May 1915, but with so many records lost, falsified or destroyed, the first twenty-one years of her life will forever remain a mystery, and yet if she hadn’t felt forced to do something so heart-breaking - like many of us - she would cease to exist.
Like so many millions born before her, Elenore’s story is one of insurmountable tragedy and trauma.
Raised among the snow-capped peaks of the Tyrol mountains; life was simple, physical but rewarding. It may seem unimportant, but - living far from city’s disease-ravaged slums, the choking fumes of the industrial towns and (being barely a whisper on the horizon) the mechanised slaughter as millions bled red across the bloody battlefields of The Somme - every day Elenore breathed in the fresh crisp air of the clear blue skies, she drank the cold clean water from the newly-formed mountain streams and under her feet the soft dewy grass danced. Finkenberg was a tranquil place; quiet, calm and unspoilt.
So, her young life should have been idyllic... but even death can visit paradise.
In 1915, as the youngest, Elenore was one of six siblings in a family of eight. With three babies having died before they were born, the family were already used to pain, but the worst was yet to come.
In 1916, the First World War took their father, then the measles took two boys, chicken pox took a girl and with the Influenza pandemic infecting a third of the world’s population over two years and killing close to one hundred million people, the family weren’t spared, and Spanish Flu took two more.
By 1924, Elenore was both the youngest, the eldest and the only child in this devastated family who had survived. And what began as a little farm full of cows and crops - as the plants withered and the cattle keeled-over - the only thing they seemed to be growing were gravestones.
For the next ten years, all Elenore and her mother had left was their home, their country, their lives and each other, but as the twenties gave way to the thirties, a new horror was looming.
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian, just like Elenore. He loved his country, just like Elenore. And (supposedly) he had Jewish ancestry, just like Elenore, so she thought she should have been safe… but she wasn’t.
Resenting the restrictions placed upon Germany after the First World War, Hitler sought to restore power by expanding his country’s empire. In 1934, with the Nazis banned in Austria, Hitler ordered all fascist sympathisers to smash, loot and destroy; and in a coup which saw the country’s Chancellor murdered, within a few years, Austria fell under the Sudetenland and its people under Nazi control.
Fuelled by rabid anti-Semitism, bigotry and a deluded mission to eradicate those who weren’t of pure-blood, the Nazis persecuted and executed anyone with a traceable Jewish ancestry, who they saw only as a ‘mischlinge’ (or half-blood) - just like Elenore. In the blink of an eye, everything she had owned or loved was gone and (for nothing she had said or done) she was no longer welcome in her own country.
Elenore was just a small quiet woman; too shy to speak up and too timid to lash out; with her bitten-down fingernails often trembling and her pale pained face framed by the frayed ends of the pigtails she chewed. She had no siblings or parents to protect her, and yet, somewhere within her was a fire.
In April 1936, although she had never set foot outside of her village before, clutching a small battered suitcase and barely able to utter a few English words, she fled her homeland and headed towards an uncertain future, unaware she was escaping an almost certain death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
In June 1936, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War, twenty-one-year-old Elenore Kary arrived in (what was still) the peaceful and undamaged city of London. Here she would become a wife, a worker, but - best of all for Elenore – a mother, as among her new family, she was safe.
And yet, just eight years later, this doting mother would put her own child to death. (Interstitial).
Compared to a little rural village like Finkenberg, London was dirty and chaotic. For someone so timid, the city was a terrifying noisy cacophony; here she couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t breathe and everything was slathered in soot. Nothing was soft, fresh or natural. It never got dark and it never went silent, but seeing the city as her sanctuary from death, slowly this crazy chaos became her new normal.
In April 1937, Elenore embraced England as her own and became a naturalised British citizen – which proved a very prudent move as many innocents with Germanic accents would soon be seen as possible spies and deported back to their homelands, only to be imprisoned and executed as traitors.
In June 1939, just ten weeks before the Second World War was declared and with Austria under the jackboot of Nazi control, Elenore married James Buckingham – a lovely older gentleman who (being aware of her frayed nerves from a turbulent childhood) he was always kind, devoted and patient.
And as if some divine being had witnessed her tragic little life and decided that (for once) she deserved to be given a bit of break, on the 16th May 1940, the recently married Elenore Buckingham was blessed with (not just a baby boy) but she gave birth to twins.
John & Peter were perfect; two pasty bundles of joy, all wrinkly and bald, chubby and helpless, with reassuringly milky smells, playful little gurgles and consistently full nappies, and although both boys were born with two arms, two legs, ten fingers and ten toes, Elenore couldn’t help but worry.
She knew she had been blessed, so unlike her three unborn siblings who she never got to see, both of her babies made it through to birth. Unlike her older brothers and sisters, some who didn’t survive into infancy, her boys dodged every childhood illness. And in a small Hampstead flat, thick with the steam from a never-ending cycle of wet towels, drying sheets and nappies bubbling on a boil-wash – solely owing to their doting mother - both John & Peter made it through their first year unscathed.
Elenore was a fighter… but still, her life was wasn’t without its challenges.
Once again, with the Nazis snapping at her heels, the threat of a German invasion in her new homeland became a real possibility. Being in the grip of rationing, everything her babies needed was in short supply, but they never went without. And with her husband James being too old to enlist and too crippled to return to a better paid job as a labourer, earning very little as a night-watchman, it meant that when he worked, she slept, and when he slept, she worked, so although the newly-weds rarely saw each other, their life just about ticked along… but through it all, Elenore fought on.
Anyone who ever met them said that the Buckingham’s were a delightful family – they were honest, decent and loving – and that, at the very centre of it all was Elenore. At the inquest, the words of her friends and neighbours never once wavered; to her beloved boys, she was a good mother; she would do anything to feed them, anything to clothe them and anything to protect them. Anything!
But no-one ever thought that – in order to keep them safe - she would do the unthinkable.
Between 7th Sept 1940 and 11th May 1941, the Luftwaffe unleashed an aerial assault on Britain. No longer attacking strategic targets, but striking populated areas instead, as the allied forces were out-matched and ill-prepared to repel such a devastating and unrelenting attack, for eight months, day and night, the German bombers rained down wave-after-wave of bombs, mines and incendiaries - which left forty-three thousand civilians dead, one hundred and thirty-nine thousand injured and two million homes (and lives) destroyed – as the Nazis sought to pummel Britain into submission.
But it failed.
People were dead, lives were ruined and cities had fallen, and yet life went on.
For the sake of her twin boys, Elenore had embraced the British way of life, as with a straight back, a stiff upper-lip and a mid-digit to Adolf, the order of the day was to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. So, as ordinary people went about their everyday lives, it wasn’t uncommon to head to the local shops only to find rubble, for the death of a friend to casually crop-up in conversation, and to dodge body-parts as you walked the bomb-damaged streets, as things really were ‘here today, gone tomorrow’.
Like so many others, this became Elenore’s new routine; and as distant bombs dropped; she washed (boom), she cooked (boom), she cleaned (boom); and as the bangs and shakes grew louder and nearer, she’d grab her twins and take cover under a sturdy table, or if she was out, with John & Peter tucked under each arm, she’d sprint into the nearest air-raid shelter, to endure yet another sleepless night and restless day, as babies cried, bombs dropped and the world around her was smashed.
Through it all, she stayed strong for her boys, but the unrelenting trauma took its toll. Being in her late twenties; her skin was now wrinkled, her hair grey and even a knocked pot made her flinch. So after 262 days of almost constant death and destruction, as the blitz ceased, the bombing didn’t just stop. Instead, for the next three years, it became unpredictable.
And then, a second Blitz began.
Owing to the invention of radar and having strengthened our air-defences, aerial attacks by bombers and fighters were kept at bay, but as the Nazis had developed both V1 and V2 rockets, death no longer came from the skies, but from the horizons, and with a more devastating force. This time, there were no sirens and no warning, as each flying bomb was fast, fierce and indiscriminate.
(Booms heard, things shake, growing louder and nearer). On 3rd June 1944, the Hampstead flat of the Buckingham family was hit (huge blast). Thankfully, the bomb wasn’t a direct hit, so although it shattered windows and splintered doors, it was enough to knock out a wall, but nothing more.
Outside the smouldering ruins of their home, Elenore sat, as she cradled her four-year-old boys; both were a little bruised and a little dirty, but unharmed, so when James returned, being relieved to see that his family was safe, he reassured his silent and motionless wife not to worry. Things can be bought and objects can be replaced, but – what mattered most – was that they were all okay…
…but as they would soon discover, some things could never be fixed.
Being homeless, the Buckingham family salvaged what they could, borrowed what they had to and with so few safe and habitable houses left standing, they moved into a ground-floor flat in Harlesden.
Milton Avenue wasn’t great. Being a major industrial junction, the parks of Hampstead were replaced by thundering trains, the rubble-strewn street was pockmarked with bomb-craters, everything was buckled or smashed, so – with this part of the city still a prime target for the Luftwaffe, as the second wave of the blitz pummelled London in one final push - along each side of this two-storey terrace were the ghostly shells of what-were-once family homes. Everything was tinged with death…
…and although this little flat was too small for a family of four; it had a roof, walls, floors, water, warmth and (in a small kitchenette) a simple gas oven. So, for now, they made do, as Elenore returned to her usual routine; as she washed (boom), she cooked (boom) and she cleaned (boom).
On 30th April 1945, with Adolf Hitler dead, the war was finally over…
…but Elenore’s battle had only just begun.
Across the smoky ruins of the city, as the people cheered, the children played and jubilant church bells rang out, with her native Austria free and her twin boys safe, Elenore should have been elated. But this tiny nervous lady, who was still only thirty, had witnessed enough trauma to last a lifetime. Her body was frail, her brain was fried, her smile was gone and her nerves were shot. For Elenore, these weren’t joyous sounds, as every cheer shrieked like a scream, every church bell clanged like a funeral toll and a child’s wail was shrill like an air-raid siren, even the silence was deafening, as now a soundless sky didn’t signify peace, as in her mind, the stillness was a warning of new dangers to come.
Two days later, being unable to cope, Elenore took an overdose of Aspirin.
One week later, having almost recovered, she attempted suicide again.
On 8th May 1945, suffering from severe depression and having been declared ‘a risk to herself’, under Section 16 of the Lunacy Act, Elenore was committed to the Shenley Mental Hospital in Hertfordshire; a new psychiatric facility regarded as the cutting edge in mental health, which offered rest, relaxation and recuperation, as well as innovative treatments such as viral therapy, drug-induced comas, insulin injections and electro-convulsive therapy – a successful treatment for major depressive traumas.
Administered a course of ECT, a good diet, exercise and bed-rest, Elenore showed much improvement; as over the weeks she became calmer, happier and healthier. But having never been apart for so long from her twin boys, the longer she stayed, the more anxious she became, so believing it would be more beneficial for Elenore (and John & Peter who were still only five-years-old) to be with their mum, on 28th July 1945, after ten weeks away, Elenore Buckingham was discharged from Shenley Hospital.
Upon her return to Milton Avenue, she was reassured by familiar things; her tiny little flat, her doting husband and – of course – her babies, as every night she cradled her boys as they soundly slept.
She was home… but home was full of nothing but bad memories; and now, on every radio, in every newspaper and before every feature film were reminders of what this former Austrian had potentially fled. Images of the holocaust; of the death camps, of the rotting bodies and of the gas ovens.
After sixteen months, the horrors returned, and having attempted suicide a further three times, being declared “of unsound mind”, on 5th November 1946, as the celebrating city launched a cacophony of fireworks – being tortured by the bangs and the flashes - Elenore was re-admitted to Shenley Hospital.
With her delusions darker, her self-hatred deeper and paranoid that the nurses had stolen her babies, Elenore repeatedly escaped from Shenley, and although a second course of ETC and insulin injections (to curb her psychotic episodes) did show some improvement – against the advice of the hospital’s superintendent – as such a lengthy separation had caused anxiety not just to Elenore but also her twin boys, James petitioned for her release and – after five months away - Elenore was discharged.
Eighteen months later, she did the unthinkable.
Like most days, Thursday 18th November 1948 was a living nightmare. The Buckingham family were stuck in a no-win situation, as whether at home or in hospital, Elenore only got worse; her language was foul, her moods were manic and - petrified that her neighbours were conspiring to kill her and gripped by the terror of being sent back to Shenley Hospital - her life was one-long paranoid delusion.
At 7:30pm, as per usual, James headed out on another twelve-hour nightshift. With Elenore becoming more violent, he never felt she would hurt their boys, as only he was the brunt of her abuse and only his face bore her scars, and although she had threatened to kill their kids, he knew she never would.
As everyone would later testify, Elenore was a good mum; she was loyal, loving and - devoted to her eight-year-old twin boys, John & Peter - she would do anything to protect them. Anything!
That night was no different; she made her boys a light supper of vegetable stew, she washed their faces, she brushed their teeth, she dressed them in vests and underpants, and having kissed their foreheads, she put them both to bed. With the icy winter wind howling, the old house drafty and the coal fire out of fuel, on the floor of the kitchenette she placed a mattress, and as all three snuggled-up together under a duvet, they were soothed by the warmth of the gas oven, as they drifted off to sleep. (Hiss/gas sound)
Elenore whispers – “this is the only way out… this is what everybody wants”.
(Coughing) During the night, John awoke; with his skin shivering, his eyes stinging, his head pounding and his lungs spluttering, unsure if this was a nightmare, all he knew was that (with the gas oven off) the kitchen was dark and cold. In her arms, he saw his mother feverishly rub his brother’s frozen limbs, and as she carried the limp boy into the bedroom and tucked him under a duvet, John followed - but as he snuggled up next to Peter, he could feel that the bed was as icy cold as his brother.
Still feeling drowsy, it didn’t take long till John drifted back to sleep; and although his twin was still and silent, his mother was not, as she sat on the bed beside her two boys, hugging herself and rocking back-and-forth, repeating “he’s still warm, he’s still okay, he’s still warm, he’s still okay”.
But Peter wasn’t okay. (End)
At 8:55am, when James returned home, as he entered the hallway, he was hit by the smell of gas, but the tank was drained. In the kitchenette, the oven’s taps were open, but the gas had gone. And in the bedroom was what remained of his family; John was crying, Peter was silent, and – with her eyes red raw - Elenore wept “I tried to keep him warm but I couldn’t bring him back to life”.
Elenore and John were both treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and made a good recovery, but Peter – who was the smallest, the weakest and the nearest to the gas taps – had inhaled the most of the invisible odourless poison. At 10:20am, eight-year-old Peter Buckingham was pronounced dead. There were no signs of violence, abuse or a struggle, and (given the type of oven) experts declared it was impossible for the gas taps to be turned on by mistake.
Elenore Buckingham was charged with murder, attempted murder and suicide by asphyxiation, to which she confessed: “I was doing the three of us, but I just couldn’t stand it, the gas made us sick. It’s Shenley Hospital I’m afraid of. I didn’t want to go back, so I was taking my two children with me”.
At her brief trial, the jury took into account the traumas she had suffered; her diseased siblings, her dead parents, the Nazis, the war, the blitz and a bomb blast, and although no-one doubted her undying devotion and love for her boys, even though she had survived so much, the biggest horrors she faced were the ones she could never escape - the ones inside her head.
On the 8th December 1948, at the Old Bailey, having been certified insane and declared unfit to stand trial, Elenore Buckingham was found guilty of wilful murder by reason of insanity; she was detained at His Majesty’s Pleasure and sent to Broadmoor Psychiatric Prison, where her fate is unknown.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget, after (hopefully) a brief advert, although you never know, I shall be saying random words and moving about my boat as I make a cup of tea, eat a cake and generally waste lots of air.
Before that, a big thank you to my new Patreon supporters who are Oliver Hepworth, Stacey, John Dane, Jennifer Green, Anna White and Melanie Gudgel, I thank you. I hope you all enjoy the virus-free thank-you cards and goodies.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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