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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.
On the 21st November 1927, in the backroom of a well-respected abortionist at 55 Upper Brook Street in Mayfair, recetnly pregnant Elsie Goldsmith went in to have her little problem solved. His illegal technique was hailed as non-invasive, safe and revolutionary, and yet he destroyed not only the baby's life... but also hers.
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 55 Upper Brook Street in Mayfair where the abortionist's clinic once stood (before it was demolished to make way for the former US Embassey) is where the dark grey triangle is. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as West London, King's Cross, Paddington, etc, access them by clicking here.
Here's a short video of 55 Upper Brook Street where Charles Palmer's medical practice once stood and where Elsie Goldsmith died. And on the video marked 'Bomb Damage' in Grosvenor Square, it shows you 55 Upper Brook Street before it was demolished. This video is a link to youtube, so it won't eat up your data.
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.
SOURCES: To research this, the main source I used was the original police investigation file into the murder / manslaughter of Elsie Goldsmith from the National Archives
Assam Folk - https://freesound.org/people/soundstew/sounds/67117/
Indian Wildlife - https://freesound.org/people/genghis%20attenborough/sounds/27492/
Hindu Priest - https://freesound.org/people/kevp888/sounds/440140/
Bug Zapper - https://freesound.org/people/CGEffex/sounds/107005/
Electrocute - https://freesound.org/people/aust_paul/sounds/30933/
TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE: ELSIE GOLDSMITH AND THE PARASITE INSIDE
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 a young woman cursed with a very deadly conundrum. Her life was perfect; she was wealthy, pretty and married to a good man, but discovering that she was pregnant, either this terrified lady would endanger her tiny body to adhere to the law, or risk her life to end it all.
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 95: Elsie Goldsmith and the Parasite Inside.
Today I’m standing on Upper Brook Street in Mayfair, W1; three roads west of the senseless stabbing of Seydou Diarrassouba, four roads north of Roberto Troyan’s greedy accountant, three hundred feet from the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and a short walk from the home of Joseph King who slaughtered his entire family over a debt of just a few shillings – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Mayfair is a posh part of West London bordered by Hyde Park, Green Park, Piccadilly and Soho which is home to many famous hotels, galleries, institutes and embassies. Where-as this part of Mayfair is so posh, there is literally no dog-shit on the streets. I know! Amazing! But wealth can’t buy you style.
The only businesses you’ll see are tailors for tacky oil-barons who’ll waste a King’s ransom on a shiny gold suit, a showroom for thicky footballers who’ll blow millions on a hyper-car only to wrap it around a lamppost, art galleries so pretentious you’ll often see critics applauding the bin, a surgery for ancient heiresses who’ve had so many facelifts that when they blink their arse cheeks wiggle, and restaurants by celebrity chefs which are only open to the finest shysters, dictators and celebrity paedos, but locked to Brummie scum like me, as – with alarms wailing – the posh police boot me out, scrub me with bleach and tattoo the words “unclean” on my forehead, for fear that I may infect their beloved money.
Before the construction of the former US Embassy, at the west end of Grosvenor Square stood a three-storey 18th century townhouse at 55 Upper Brook Street, which was sadly destroyed in the blitz. As an elegant home to many lords and ladies, it was the epitome of high-society and sophistication. And yet, it wasn’t the bombs which took this lady’s life, but an accident, a lack of education and an unjust law.
As it was here, on the 21st November 1927, in the backroom of a well-respected abortionist, that Elsie Goldsmith went in to have her little problem erased… only the life he destroyed was hers. (Interstitial)
Elsie was raised in a world of great privilege and wealth, but also of fear and ignorance.
Elsie Goldsmith was born Elsie Alice Fawkes on 5th March 1906 in the district of Mussoorie, India; an affluent town at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, blessed with lush green valleys, stunning waterfalls and the dawn-rise shadowed by the snow-capped peaks of Kathmandu and Mount Everest.
With India firmly under the tyrannical boot on the British Empire - even though the self-titled Empress of India (Queen Victoria) was long since dead - throughout the 19th and half of the 20th century, the British Government ruled every aspect of this country, denying it’s people a say in how their lives were run, and Mussoorie was no exception. But Alice wouldn’t know this as she was only a baby.
Dotted with ancient huts and stunning temples, the British imposed their own stamp on this foreign land by bulldozing the bits they didn’t like and fashioning themselves a home-from-home, filled with roads, a railway and even a five-star Savoy Hotel, where they played cricket on the lawn, drank tea for elevenses and signified lunch by cannon-fire, with all of the signs in English, churches singing Christian hymns and – in this Hindu region – they lived on a deeply offensive diet of eggs, milk, beef and alcohol.
Mussoorie was incredibly wealthy, but only if you were white and British. And yet Alice wouldn’t know this, as this young lady was shielded from the unpleasant truth, as she would be for the rest of her life.
As the smallest and youngest of four siblings, with her father as a high-ranking official in the British Military and her mother aided by a mass of maids and butlers - living in a palatial colonial-style home behind large iron gates, where a servant was always on-hand to fetch her food, pour her water, to iron her clothes and solve even the smallest of problems – she was mistakenly raised in the belief that her opulent cocoon was would protect her from harm, and yet, it wouldn’t prepare her for the worst.
In 1910, following her father’s death, the family moved back to Britain and settled into a three-storey home at 18 Wilbury Gardens in Hove near the English south coast. Being an independently wealthy widower Florence gave her daughter the best education which – at that time – was in a Convent.
Raised to be a lady, with it deemed improper for her to ever discuss love, sex or even her own body - from her childhood through her teenage years – Elsie received no sex education at school, or at home. Tutored by celibate nuns in a Catholic Convent, this highly-strung and sensitive girl was riddled with guilt and force-fed cruel tales of Eve’s sin – as with no understanding that her periods were perfectly natural – each month she bled red, Elsie wept terrified tears, and blamed herself for defying God.
By 1927, aged 21, being a small-framed virgin with tiny hips – as her only chance at happiness was to marry a man and to bare his babies – Elsie was petrified of childbirth, especially as she lived in an era where only a quarter of children survived to the age of five, and their mothers (especially those whose bodies weren’t built to be stretched, torn and ripped) frequently died in childbirth.
On 20th June 1927, after a short courtship, Elsie got engaged to 41-year-old Valentine Harry Goldsmith; the son to an affluent family, former Paymaster Commander for the Royal Navy and now, the Assistant Controller of newly formed British Broadcasting Corporation. On 8th September, they married at St Simon’s Church in Kensington, and – still remaining true to her faith and her God - during their three-week honeymoon in Paris and the French Riviera, Elsie had sex for the first time and became pregnant.
Ten weeks later, barely showing a bump and being six months from childbirth, the terrified newly-wed was forced to make a drastic decision which would prove fatal for her baby… and herself. (Interstitial)
A wonderful moment in many women’s lives is the discovery that they are pregnant, but for Elsie, the news was met with absolute terror, as – in her eyes - this little blessing could be a death sentence.
Outside of statistics, medically there was no evidence that she was in an abnormal amount of danger. Giving birth two decades before the National Health Service was formed - being wealthy with access to fresh food, clean water and the best a doctor money could buy - although small and slight, she was also young and healthy, but her irrational fear of childbirth had been stoked by years of guilt.
Shortly after their honeymoon, Elsie confided to her husband that she was ‘late’. It’s meaning flew over his head as although twice her age, Valentine was little more than a posh military man with next-to-no experience of women’s anatomy except for some cursory fumblings, but seeing the fear well in her eyes and hearing the word “baby” tremble on her tongue, it was clear that Elsie was petrified.
A few days later, seeing bloodspots in her knickers, Elsie breathed a sigh of relief and put her delay down to getting a chill while taking a bath, and although this was an old wives’ tale, it reassured her.
By the end of October, with her period late but again seeing spots, her fear dispersed. Only this time, as the blood was accompanied by an itchy rash around her vagina and anus, her doctor diagnosed her with threadworm - a tiny parasite ingested by eating infected pork and cleared up with a mild enema – but having missed a second period, the terror of impending childbirth left her in a deadly quandary.
As abortions were illegal, being forced to go full-term if she went to a hospital, this tiny lady risked injury, disability and even death owing to tearing, ruptures, infection, shock and broken bones. Where-as if she tried to induce a miscarriage herself - by falling down stairs, drinking turpentine, swallowing poison, overdosing on laxatives, or by procuring a backstreet abortion where an unnamed man of dubious qualifications sluices out the womb with disinfectant, fishes out the foetus with a wire scraper and flushes it away - every option to terminate her pregnancy risked her health and possibly her life.
Elsie was terrified; she didn’t want to have a baby, and she didn’t want to die.
By the first week of November, having confided to a close friend, Elsie was advised to visit a specialist at 55 Upper Brook Street in Mayfair; he had a solid reputation, a polite gentlemanly manner, a long-list of very exclusive clients and – having agreed to help her – he also had a new-fangled apparatus which could solve her little problem. His name was Charles Palmer… but he wasn’t a doctor.
Charles Jackson Palmer was born in 1868 in the Irish city of Cork, although he wasn’t Irish, as with an English father and a Welsh mother, his confusing identity would follow him for the rest of his life.
Raised in the middle-class English suburb of Edgbaston, to two working-class grocers who had strived to give their boys a better life than they had been handed, by living in a large house, being catered for by two servants and afforded the best education available – as the youngest, John studied the exciting new science of electrical engineering and Charles studied medicine at Birmingham Medical School.
Fuelled by a need to exceed his parent’s wildest dreams, Charles aspired to be a wealthy respected doctor who was accepted by the cream of London’s high society, but as a Welsh-Irish-Brummie afflicted with an odd accent, even though he adopted a plummy voice, a bowtie, a nice suit and a cane to try and fit in, his success would always be an uphill struggle, as – academically – he was not gifted.
After fourteen years of private education, with three years studying biology in Birmingham, four years of anatomy at University College and (supposedly) an apprenticeship under Sir Alfred Fripp (chief surgeon to The King), Charles never gained a medical degree and therefore he never became a doctor.
But that didn’t limit his ambitions.
Fascinated by modern technology and utilising his brother’s wizardry of circuitry, in 1903 he set-up his own medical practice treating all manner of ailments using the wonder-drug of the age – electricity. Known as ‘vibro-massage’, this revolutionary technique could cure everything from nerves, backpain, headaches and muscle strain, using a set of electrodes, a treatment table and a steady current.
By 1907, he was so respected among the upper-classes that having acquired such affluent clients as the Duke of Argyll, the Duke of Grafton, the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Lonsdale, he moved into a larger premise in St James’, and later, to the more exclusive 55 Upper Brook Street in Mayfair, hiring a maid and a butler, with a reception up-front and a consulting room outback. So legitimate were his credentials that he was although unqualified, in 1921 London County Council issued him a licence.
Dubbed by the tabloid press as a “quack” and a “fraudster”, in fact he was far from it. His reputation was solid, his clients were satisfied, he never went by the title of ‘doctor’ (instead he used the more accurate ‘medical electrician’), and as a wealthy London professional everything he did was legal and above-board. But his desire to carry favour with the society elite would be his undoing.
In March 1926, the Countess of Kinnoull discovered that she was pregnant and in need of a discrete professional with a non-invasive solution to her little problem. Electricity was a miracle, it could cure as much as it could kill, and although Charles wasn’t keen on this kind-of-thing, he agreed to help her.
A few weeks later, Countess Kinnoull miscarried, she was unharmed and Charles Palmer unwittingly became the secret abortionist to the London elite - one of whom would be Elsie Goldsmith.
By November 1927 - with her second period absent, her third period late and her tiny body deformed by a barely noticeable bump – unlike the threadworms, a very different kind of parasite was growing inside of Elsie’s womb; sucking her fluids, distorting her organs and making her vomit. There was no cure, only nine months of agony, capped-off with an excruciating torture, which she might not survive.
Elsie was almost three-months pregnant, but not a single day of it had been a blessing. Every day she wept, every night was spent awake, every moment she asked God (given that she hadn’t sinned) why he had was punishing her, and - although she was still only young - the stress had aged her. Being absolutely terrified, Elsie just wanted this thing out of her body right now, but the law had said no.
So, when a close-friend recommended a “medical specialist” with an impressive roster of high-profile clients, who used no cutting, no scraping, no poisons and no risk of infection, just a new revolutionary technique which gently stimulated the womb’s muscles to induce a very natural miscarriage, Elsie saw this as a ray of hope, and – seeing his wife’s distress - Valentine wanted what was best for her.
Her first appointment was on 8th November at 9pm. Elsie was escorted by her husband as he wanted to get a measure of the man and his machine, but any doubts he had were very quickly dismissed.
Situated just shy of the corner of Grosvenor Square, 55 Upper Brook Street was a neat, clean and well-presented townhouse in the heart of a very exclusive part of Mayfair. As their taxi pulled-up and the black front-door opened, the Goldsmith’s were greeted by Charles’ butler and offered a cup of Earl Grey tea by Charles’ maid, as they sat - holding hands - in the stylishly ground-floor reception room.
At 9pm precisely, Charles Palmer, a dapper man in his late fifties - dressed in a tailored suit, a smart bow-tie, small round glasses and confidently speaking in an educated and affluent timbre (as any hint of his Brummie accent had been drummed-out after three decades working in London’s most exclusive districts) - explained his equipment, answered their questions and reassured Mr & Mrs Goldsmith that after twenty-four-years as a “medical electrician”, who was fully licenced by London County Council, that his services would be safe, private and discrete. Instant results were not be guaranteed as the ‘vibro-massage’ technique required a thirty-minute course twice-a-week for the next four-to-six weeks, but all previous clients had successfully miscarried.
As Valentine was satisfied, Elise felt comfortable and Charles was available, having sent her husband home – as she preferred to discuss such delicate matters without him present – Elsie Goldsmith had her first treatment that night. By midnight, being back home at 44 Gordon Square, she was smiling, she was tired, she was unsure if had worked as she only felt a mild tingling, but she had already begun to look and feel a little brighter. She attended her second appointment was on 11th November, a third on the 14th, with three further sessions booked for the 16th, the 18th and the 21st.
The course would last several weeks, but by the end of her sixth appointment, Elsie would be dead.
Monday 21st November 1927 was a very ordinary day; the sky was a gloomy grey, the air was soaked with an incessant drizzle and a gritty bitter wind howled around 44 Gordon Square. Inside, Elsie sat by a roaring fire, fitfully dozing in short interrupted bursts, as – having barely slept in weeks – her heart thumped, her nerves surged and her little body lay slumped in the chair, all limp and lethargic.
Ten weeks in, not knowing whether she was pregnant was worse than actually knowing, but with this thing still being too small, she had yet to feel the horror as it writhed and slithered inside of her.
In her mind, having sucked her energy dry, the parasite had grown and the swelling was proving harder to hide, so even in her own home – for fear that her staff may gossip about her immoral deeds – she had to conceal her shame under thick dark layers; a billowing black dress, a vest, a pullover and a fur coat. Except the darkness of her disguise only accentuated her ghostly pale skin and her red-raw eyes.
At 4:30pm, Elsie drank her last ever cup of tea. At 5:30pm, she left her home for the very last time, and – being dressed in black - she hailed a taxi, like a corpse catching a hearse to its own funeral. But Elsie wouldn’t know any of this, as today was just an ordinary day for a very routine appointment.
At 6pm, arriving at 55 Upper Brook Street, Elsie was greeted by the familiar smile of Charles’ butler, welcomed with a curtsey from Charles’ maid, ushered into the consulting room, and as always, she was assessed by her specialist who had a calm voice, a caring tone and a reassuring bedside manner.
As she had done five times prior - behind a modesty screen - Elsie disrobed, placing each garment neatly folded on a chair. To allow the treatment to be unimpeded; she removed her corset, suspenders and silk knickers, but to keep her dignity intact, she kept on her dress, a vest and knee-high stockings.
Only once she was comfortable, Elsie announced that she was ready, Charles re-entered the consulting room, popped on the electric light above, and gently guided his patient onto the ‘treatment table’.
To the far side, away from the drawn blinds, stood a large stainless-steel table; six-feet long by three-feet wide and high, which brightly gleamed as it was pristine clean. At the top was a soft white padding for her head, with the same at the base for her feet, and as Elsie lay herself face-up on the table, she winced as the cold metal touched her bare skin, for which Charles apologised, and they both giggled.
The process was simple and painless. Wired up to the mains supply at the skirting board, a small engine powered four small motors on the corners of the table, each fitted with variable resisters which fed a constant electrical flow to the patient’s skin via padded electrodes and sterilised rods, stimulating her nerves and heating her muscles over a period of thirty minutes. And although the mains outlet gave a deadly charge of 200 volts, through its intricate circuitry, the appliance reduced this to a consistent flow of just twenty Ohms, resulting in a mild vibration, a pleasant warmth and a tingling sensation.
It was very successful in treating muscular pain, but for abortions, it needed to be more invasive.
As before, Elsie had padded electrodes placed on her temples, with one on her spine and – having first syringed a soapy solution into the wall of her uterus to aid the miscarriage - a sterilised stainless-steel electrode, shaped like a five-inch rod, was inserted deep into her vagina, millimetres from the foetus.
Having placed a bath towel over her lower half, the treatment began at a little after 6:30pm, and as the tingling would last roughly thirty minutes, Elsie distracted herself with pleasant thoughts, of her beloved husband, of her holiday plans, and of a life free from the parasite inside her. (mild buzzing)
For Charles, it was key to keep his equipment in good condition, but being keen to carry favour with those well-to-do ladies who preferred to be treated in the privacy of their own home, often his kit was dismantled (spark), transported (spark) and re-assembled (spark), again and again and again (spark).
At 7pm, with the session coming to an end, (voltage up) Elsie complained of a cramp in her stomach, beads of sweat had formed on her forehead and her breathing was short and erratic (voltage spikes).
Before Charles could react, abruptly her fists clenched tight and white, as with almost superhuman strength this tiny lethargic lady sat bolt-upright, fast and unaided like she was possessed - with her back arched, her face contorted and her whole-body convulsing - as a thick white froth foamed around her screaming lips. For a several painful seconds, as a resister had blown, Elsie was rocked by the full flow of 200 volts of electricity, until the circuit popped and she slumped back onto the cold steel table.
Having been electrocuted, she was barely breathing, barely conscious and barely alive.
Charles Palmer panicked; he didn’t have a nurse, he wasn’t a qualified doctor and (even after fourteen years of medical school, and twenty-four years mostly dealing with muscle pain) he didn’t know what to do. So, having wafted smelling salts under her nose and administered a very antiquated version of CPR which involved raising her arms above her head and bringing them down to her sides, after fifteen minutes of flapping, he called for a proper doctor. But by then, Elsie and her baby were dead. (End)
A woman was dead, but Charles Palmer was less concerned about her than he was for his reputation, as any bad publicity amongst high society’s elite could ruin him, so - as he wasted the next three hours trying to coerce a doctor to sign-off her death as ‘natural causes’ - by her side, stroking her hand and kissing her cooling cheek sat Valentine, copiously weeping over the woman he had only just wed.
At 10pm, the Police were finally notified and although Charles was full of excuses, seeing the electrical device, his treatment table and a full abortionist’s toolkit, as well as her small pale body marked with a series of tell-tale signs like bruises to her thighs, burns to her temple and a white soapy liquid which frothed and bubbled from her scorched genitals, Mayfair’s most prominent ‘medical electrician’ was arrested, taken to Vine Street Police Station and charged with the death of Elsie Goldsmith.
At a five-day trial held at the Old Bailey on 31st January 1928, Charles Jackson Palmer was found guilty of manslaughter and unlawfully using an instrument to procure an abortion. He was sentenced to seven years penal servitude, which he served at Maidstone Prison, and died a few years later.
Of course, everyone blamed the abortionist, some blamed his equipment and where-as others blamed Elsie, shaming her with unfair accusations of adultery and debauchery. And where-as she was entirely innocent, as often happens, the real culprits were never caught or brought to justice.
Elsie Goldsmith was a young girl, raised in an era where any talk of sex was silenced, in a family where body matters were taboo, in a religion where a woman’s reproductive organs were both praised and shamed, and it was (and still is) all wrapped up in a dictatorial legal system which forced a good woman to make a deadly decision to terminate not only the life of her unborn baby… but also herself… having been given the right to create life, inside her own body, but with no decision how she should end it.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
After the break, I’m going to do my usual thing; waffle a bit, slurp a bit, maybe breathe, have a sit down, chat about coots and do some talking for roughly half an hour. Ooh exciting.
Before that, a big thank you to my new Patreon supporters who are Cat Lady Christina, Rebecca Latham and Liss Hand, I thank you all. Plus a thank you to Vlada Beaumont for the very kind donation, I thank you.
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 of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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