John George Haigh was born on July 24, 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire and grew up in Yorkshire, England. His parents, John and Emily belonged to the religious sect of the Plymouth Brethern. He was raised on Bible stories and any kind of frivolous entertainment was strictly forbidden. His father claimed the world was evil and erected a 10 ft fence around their property to discourage contact with the outside world.
John Sr. had a bluish birth mark on his forehead. He told his son that it was the devil's mark because he had sinned. John Jr was in a constant state of anxiety that he would "sin" and it would leave a mark. Contrary to what his father told him, he did not suffer any dire consequences for his infractions and he started to believe that he was invincible. He also learned to lie quite convincingly at an early age.
As he got older he stopped attending his parents church and adopted a more worldly practice. In 1934 he married Beatrice Hammer and the couple moved in with his parents. The marriage lasted only 4 months when he was arrested for fraud and sent to prison. Beatrice gave birth to the couple's daughter and gave her up for adoption. After Haigh was released from prison he returned to his parents home and worked briefly as a dry cleaner before moving to London.
He answered an ad for a job as a secretary/chauffeur to amusement park owner, William "Mac" McSwann. The two became fast friends and Haigh was soon promoted to manager. He left after one year citing that he wanted to be his own boss.
He opened up an office pretending to be a solicitor and set up a stock scam. When he was caught it earned him four years in prison. While there he studied law books in order to perfect his craft and chanced across the Latin phrase "Corpus delicti". He erroneously interpreted the phrase to mean no corpse (body), no conviction and it would prove to be the key factor in his downfall.
Within a year of being released he was imprisoned yet again for theft. He vowed that this would be the last time he was caught and decided to put a more profitable plan into action. In order to get the real money he had to prey on older, wealthy women. He learned how to work with sulfuric acid in the prison tin shop and experimented with mice to learn how long it would take their bodies to dissolve.
Upon his release from prison Haigh obtained a position as a bookkeeper. When he had saved up enough money he rented a basement space at 79 Gloucester Road and set up his ghoulish workshop which included special glass containers of sulfuric acid.
One night when Haigh was out on the town he ran into his old friend Mac McSwann and the two reminisced about old times. Mac took him to see his parents, William and Amy, who told him about their profitable investment properties. Unbeknownst to them they had sealed their fate with their revelations.
Around September 9, 1944 Haigh invited Mac to his basement workshop. Sometime during the night he snuck up behind him and bludgeoned him with a blunt object and then slit his throat. He left him overnight to bleed to death and returned the next day with a 40-gallon drum. He stuffed McSwann in the drum, filled it with sulfuric acid and covered the drum. He returned two days later to find the drum filled with a black sludge and poured the contents down a manhole drain.
Haigh told McSwann's parents that he had run off to Scotland to avoid the draft. He bolstered his lie by putting his talents as a forger to use sending fake postcards from Scotland.When his parents became concerned about their son's continued absence he invited the McSwanns to his basement workshop and killed the in the same fashion as their son. He told their landlady that they had moved to America and their mail, including William's pension checks, forwarded to him. He forged Mac's signature on a Power of Attorney given him control over the McSwanns estate. He sold their properties and securities and netted a tidy sum of approximately £8000.
He moved to Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington and passed him self off as a liaison officer who dealt with patents and inventors. By the summer of 1947 Haigh had gambled away most of the money and needed to find more victims.
Dr. Archibald and Rose Henderson were selling their house. Haigh pretended to be interested in buying their house and cultivated a friendship in order to learn the extent of their considerable assets.
Haigh rented a storehouse on Leopold Road in Crawley, London. He moved his possessions from Gloucester Street and set up his workshop once again. He ordered more sulphuric acid and two 40-gallon drums.
On February 12, 1948, Haigh drove Dr. Henderson to Crawley on the pretext of showing him an invention. Once in the workshop Haigh shot him in the back of the head with a gun he had stolen earlier from Dr. Henderson. Next he lured Mrs. Henderson to the workshop and she too was shot in the back of the head. He placed the bodies into the two 40-gallon drums and dissolved both bodies in the sulfuric acid. As he dumped the sludge in the corner of the storehouse yard, he noticed that one of Dr. Henderson's feet had not dissolved. Unconcerned he tossed the foot on top of the sludge.
He forged a letter from Dr. Henderson giving him legal authority to obtain their possessions and properties. The sell of which totaled £8000.
Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon, a wealthy widow and resident of Onslow Court, approached Haigh with an idea she had for artificial fingernails. He invited her to his workshop to discuss her idea further.
February 20, 1949, Constance Lane walked into the Chelsea police station and reported her friend, Mrs Durand-Deacon missing. She was accompanied by John Haigh.
Policewoman, Sergeant Lambourne had been assigned to question the residents of Onslow Court about the disappearance. When she first encountered Haigh her gut feeling told her that he was not being truthful and she decided to run a background check on him. Within the hour his extensive criminal past was uncovered.
When she reported her suspicions to her superiors the West Sussex constables decided to search his workshop. The found three 10-gallon glass bottles of sulfuric acid, rubber boots and gloves, and a gas mask. They found a man's attache case bearing the initials J.G.H that contained papers belonging to the Hendersons and McSwanns, a .38-caliber Enfield revolver, and a cleaner's receipt for a Persian lamb coat that was identified as Mrs Durand-Deacon's. They also located jewelry belonging to Mrs Durand-Deacon's that had been sold by Haigh.
When Haigh was brought in for questioning he denied any involvement until he realized the evidence they had against him. Before he began his bizarre confession he asked one of the inspectors "what are the chances of anybody being released for Broadmoor?" The inspector refused to answer. Assuming he was safe, after all, as he put it, "How can you prove murder without a body?" Haigh confessed to the murders of Mrs Durand-Deacon, the McSwanns and the Hendersons. In an attempt to set up his insanity defense he claimed that he had had nightmares about blood since he was a child and had been driven by a compulsion he could not control to drink the blood of his victims after he killed them.
As the police continued to search his storehouse they identified a fine spatter of bloodstains on one of the walls. They then focused their attention on the sludge in the corner of the yard.
They carefully sifted through the sludge for 3 days and cataloged the following evidence:
- 28 pounds of human body fat
- three gallstones
- part of a left foot
- 18 fragments of human bone
- upper and lower dentures
- handle of a red plastic bag
- lipstick container
April 1, 1949 John Haigh went on trial for the murder of Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon. Confident that he would be found insane and confined to Broadmoor for a period of time, Haigh paid little attention to the proceedings preferring to work on a series of crossword puzzles instead.
During the closing arguments the crown stated that Haigh thought he had discovered the perfect method of concealing a crime. He had committed murder for gain and had only raised sanity as an issue when he got caught. He had laid claim to vampire tendencies in order to advance his insanity plea.
It took the jury only 15 minutes to find him guilty. John George Haigh was executed at Wandsworth Prison on August 6, 1949.