In July 2015, a ninety-one year old British ex-pat living in a care home in Canada was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and given just a few months to live.
Wracked with guilt, plagued by nightmares, and unable to pass away peacefully because of the bloody burdens of his past, he promptly walked into a local Police station and admitted to the murder of Soho prostitute Margaret Cooke, outside the Blue Lagoon club at 50 Carnaby Street, on 10th November 1946.
This is the longest gap between a crime and a confession in British criminal history.
What started as a relatively straight-forward murder - a local prostitute / exotic dancer / singer in a suspected argument with a punter is shot to death outside of nightclub - soon descended into urban myth, local legend and journalistic farce, as once again the tabloid press, keen to increase sales with a salacious story, attributed her death with a convenient character who'd proved profitable before, causing panic amongst the peddlers, prostitutes and populous of the seedy streets of Soho.
His name was "The Soho Strangler".
From 1946 to 48, four sex workers had been murdered within streets of each other, gripping Soho in fear, as their brutal slaying seemingly echoed not only Jack the Ripper, but also The Blackout Ripper, and The Soho's Strangler's original killing spree just a decade earlier.
But then again, following the sensational murders of a still disputed number of street-walkers in London's East End of the 1888's, to a convenient character concocted by the newly formed tabloid press, dubbed Jack the Ripper, fact was far less important than a good story, some gory details and a sinister name to strike fear into a gullible public and - more importantly - increase sales. Therefore the 1948 so-called Soho Strangler killings were just as inaccurate:
In 1935-36, suspicion for the killings of "French Fifi", "French Marie", Marie Jeanette Cotton and "Dutch Leah" fell onto their pimp, known locally as "Red Max Kassel", even though - hardly reported in the press - he'd actually been murdered on 24th January 1936 by his partner "Roger Vernon" who was subsequently imprisoned just two days later, meaning neither man could have possibly committed all four murders.
in 1948, suspicion for these four murders of "Russian Dora", "Black Rita", "Ginger Rae" and Margaret Cook, again fell onto those of their pimps - The Messina Brothers, even though only the symbolic murder of "Ginger Rae" matched their very specific method of enforcement, and by 1948, The Messina's were long gone. The Messina Brothers had dominated Soho vice since the mid 1930’s, but by the late 1940’s, a Police Task Force had been set up to stamp out prostitution, shut down the brothels and convict those who had a strangle-hold on Soho. The Messina's; Alfredo, Attilo, Eugene and Carmelo all fled Britain, they were hunted, captured and imprisoned, with each serving a paltry four to six years before being deported back to Malta. The remaining brother, Salvatore went into hiding and was never found.
And yet, in the case of Margaret Cook? The facts is, that she was last seen, outside of The Blue Lagoon Club at 50 Carnaby Street, arguing with her boyfriend - a local hoodlum - who owned a revolver. He fled the country, no-one knew where, just a few days later.
And yet... the murder, up until a few months ago, remained unsolved.
Along with the murders of "French Fifi", "French Marie", Marie Jeanette Cotton, "Dutch Leah", “Ginger Rae”, “Russian Dora”, and “Black Rita”. None of these cases has ever been solved, none of their killers were ever caught, and many of these murders attributed to prostitution being a notoriously dangerous profession*. Over the last ten years in the UK, sixty prostitutes (both male and female, that we know of) have been murdered, meaning that if you are a sex-worker you are forty-two times more likely to be murdered than anyone else, and yet, it is sixty-four percent less likely that your case will lead to a conviction.
As of today, the - still unnamed - 91 year old British ex-pat who confessed to the murder of Margaret Cook outside of the Blue Lagoon club in 1946 is currently awaiting extradition for his crime. But given his age, infirmity and declining health, British Authorities are unsure whether he’s fit to stand trial for murder, or whether the case will even go to trial... at all.
* on average there are 562 murders in UK per year, that’s less than two per day, but that accounts for one prostitute being murdered every two months.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian 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 quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 18 murderers, 3 serial killers, across 21 locations, totalling 75 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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