“How can you prove murder if there is no body?”
John George “Sonnie” Haigh was born, an only child, on 24 July 1909 and brought up in a religious atmosphere (both parents were members of the Plymouth Brethren) but as an adult he became lazy and indolent, relying on petty crime to finance his lifestyle.
On 6 July 1934 he married Beatrice Hamer but left her when he was jailed for fraud on 22 November of that year. In 1944 he moved into the Onslow Court Hotel, Queens Gate, West London where he was a popular resident. He rented a basement workroom at 79 Gloucester Road where he worked on “inventions”.
On 9 September 1944 he murdered Donald McSwann at 79 Gloucester Road and then extorted money from his victim’s parents, before killing them on 2 July 1945. On 12 February 1948 he lured Dr Archie Henderson and his wife, Rosalie, to his “factory” (in reality a storeroom for Hurstlea Products, to which he had access) in Leopold Road, Crawley where he murdered them. He turned his attention to Olive Henrietta Helen Olivia Durand-Deacon, a wealthy 69-year-old widow who lived at the hotel.
They discussed going into business together to manufacture fake fingernails and on 18 February 1949 they went to his “factory” where he shot her in the back of the head. As he had done with all his victims, Haigh put her body into a vat of sulphuric acid. Two days later, he expressed concern for Durand-Deacon and went to the police with another hotel resident, Constance Lane. Meanwhile, he pawned or sold her jewellery.
Suspicious of his glib manner, police searched his “factory” and found a cleaning docket for one of Mrs Durand-Deacon’s coats. Her stolen jewellery was also traced. On 28 February Haigh was arrested at 4.15pm. He boasted, “Mrs Durand-Deacon no longer exists… I’ve destroyed her with acid… How can you prove murder if there is no body?”
However, there is no need to produce a body to prove that a murder has been committed. In any case, Haigh was wrong. Pathologist Keith Simpson found several body parts among the sludge from the acid, including 11.4 kg (28 lb) of fat, a pelvis, an ankle, three gallstones and false teeth.
79 Gloucester Road, London; Hurstlea Products, Leopold Road, Crawley, West Sussex, England
Sunday 9 September 1944 — Friday 18 February 1949
Haigh’s trial opened at Lewes Assizes 18 July 1949. He pleaded insanity and claimed to have drunk his victims’ blood. The jury did not believe him and took just 17 minutes to find him guilty. Albert Pierrepoint hanged Haigh at Wandsworth Prison on 10 August 1949.