A world champion boxer was among the unlikely suspects put forward by the press – but who really was Jack The Stripper?
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By Chris Summers 12 September 2018
In September 1963 Gwynneth Rees, 22, a Welsh-born prostitute, was strangled and dumped, naked, on a rubbish dump in Mortlake, not far from the river Thames in south west London.
When more sex workers went missing and were found murdered and naked in February and April of the following year it became obvious to the police, to the press and to the average newspaper reader that a serial killer was on the loose.
An American journalist coined the nickname Jack The Stripper.
Robin Jarossi, author of The Hunt For The 60s Ripper, told Totalcrime: “The victims were all prostitutes. It was a big story but it did not engender the same level of fear of something like the Yorkshire Ripper. If you look at the papers of the time there was not a lot of sympathy for the victims. The press focused on the seedy side. The shadowy world of London and there was little said about the victims as people.”
Most of the victims had moved down to London from Scotland or the North of England and soon found the streets of the capital were not paved with gold.
They had gone on the game and ended up playing a deadly game of roulette every night, mostly in the Hammersmith area of west London.
Hannah Tailford (pictured), 31, who was originally from Northumberland, was found drowned in the Thames near Hammersmith in February 1964.
Irene Lockwood, a 25-year-old sex worker who had moved to London from Nottinghamshire, was found strangled at Corney Reach in Chiswick on 8 April 1964. She was pregnant at the time.
Two weeks later Helen Barthelemy, a 22-year-old Scot, was found in an alley off the Boston Manor Road in Brentford. On her body were tiny flecks of paint, probably from a workshop.
In July 1964 Scottish-born Mary Fleming, 30, was dumped in a residential road in Chiswick. Paint was also found on her body.
In October 1964 Frances Brown, a 23-year-old Glaswegian, vanished after getting into a punter’s car. She was dumped in Kensington in November. Brown had known Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies and gave evidence for the defense in the trial of Stephen Ward, at the height of the Profumo scandal.
In February 1965 Dubliner Bridget O’Hara, 28, was found in a storage shed on the Heron Trading Estate in Acton.
Her body had flecks of paint on it, which were identical to that found on a nearby electrical transformer. It appears the killer had probably stored all the victims at this location.
In May 1965 John du Rose, the detective in charge of the case, decided the killer had committed suicide and in his memoirs he claimed the murderer had taken his own life because the police were closing in.
“But it’s not really true. I suspect it was just face-saving by DuRose, who was known as Four Day Johnny by the media because he closed cases so quick, but this was a high profile failure for him,” Mr Jarossi told Totalcrime.
Mr Jarossi also discounted another suspect, often bandied around by the press – former world middleweight boxing champion Freddie Mills (pictured) who shot himself in 1965 – and said he believed the most likely suspect was actually Harold Jones.
“As a 15-year-old Jones had killed two little girls in the 1920s. They were sex murders. He was released in 1942 and joined the armed forces. After the war he moved to Fulham and then ended up living in Hammersmith. He lived in a street near two of the victims. The police interviewed 7,000 suspects but never knew that he was living right there,” Mr Jarossi told Totalcrime.
In fact Jones may have claimed another victim earlier.
Elizabeth Figg, 21, was strangled in Duke’s Meadows, Chiswick, in June 1959 and may have been Jack The Stripper’s first victim.
This autumn the BBC is broadcasting a documentary, Dark Son, featuring criminologist Dr David Wilson, which will further examine the case.
But why did the police not catch the killer at the time?
Mr Jarossi believes it was because they did not realise they were dealing with a serial killer – a term which had not yet been coined.
“They had no CCTV or DNA or any forensics at all, really. They convinced themselves it was someone who knew all the victims and they spent months trying to find connections between all the victims. They had not got their heads around the fact that he was a serial killer who was looking for a certain type of woman,” Mr Jarossi told Totalcrime.