John George Haigh is the man who thought he could get away with murder and his crimes are some of the most notorious and sickening in British history.
John George Haigh wanted to get rich quick. Only, he wasn’t very good at it. His mission for a quick buck landed him in prison time and time again for theft and fraud. The long lonely hours in his cells could have been a chance for the petty criminal to reflect on his life, change his ways. But it was during one incarceration that John George Haigh concocted his most dastardly money making plan yet – murder.
He would kill the rich and take their money. But first he had to work out how to get rid of the bodies. Haigh believed he’d found the perfect solution.
After reading books on acid in the prison library, he began a series of experiments in the prison’s workshop, dissolving the bodies of mice in small quantities of sulphuric acid. And on his release, he began to apply these gruesome techniques to humans.
Haigh’s first victim was an old friend. William Donald McSwan – known as Mac – was Haigh’s former employer who’d taken a shine to him. After the pair met up, Mac took Haigh home to meet his parents – Donald and Amy – who told him that they’d recently invested in some property. Mentioning their wealth was a huge mistake.
Later, Haigh bludgeoned Mac over the head, dissolved his body in a 40-gallon barrel of sulfuric acid before pouring it down the drain. Callously, he then began to live off his victim’s assets. And when he could no longer fob off his Mac’s parents with lies about the whereabouts of their missing son, they met the same fate. By now, Haigh had obtained a steel bath, and it was there that the bodies Mr and Mrs McSwan were left to dissolve into nothing.
Haigh began to live off the McSwan’s estate. But two years later, his funds were beginning to dry up so he turned to murder again. Haigh befriended an affluent couple, Dr Archibald and Rose Henderson. After gleaming information from them about their assets, he shot them both and dissolved their bodies. Forging documents from the couple, he was able to sell their possessions and live off the spoils.
But Haigh continued to live beyond his means, gambling and staying in an expensive hotel. It was there that he met a wealthy elderly woman, Mrs Olive Durand-Deacon. With money running out, she’d be his next victim. After luring her to his workshop, Haigh shot Mrs Durand-Deacon and disposed of her in the acid bath. But it would be his final murder.
A friend of Mrs Durand-Deacon reported her missing, and after establishing her link to Haigh, his sickening workshop was searched. Police found Mrs Durand-Deacon’s belongings, and documents that linked Haigh to the McSwans and the Hendersons. They also found dentures, Mr Henderson’s foot and a gall bladder that had all survived the acid bath. Given little option to do otherwise, Haigh confessed to the killings, plus three others.
The case captivated the nation. Crowds arrived at court when Haigh stood trial in July 1949. Those who couldn’t get a seat, peered through the windows, hoping for a glimpse of the warped killer.
In the dock, John George Haigh claimed insanity. He said he’d been plagued by dreams of blood since he was a boy, and that he’d drank blood from each of his victims. But the jury rejected that defense and took just 15 minutes to convict Haigh of murder. He was sentenced to death and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in August 1949.
John George Haigh, the man who dreamed of wealth and would stop at nothing to get it, is thought to have amassed the equivilent of £250,000 during his murder spree. But money was no good to hin as he met a lonely end, reviled by the nation with no-one to miss him.