Jack the Stripper is the nickname given to an unidentified serial killer responsible for what came to be known as the London “nude murders” between 1964 and 1965 (also known as the “Hammersmith murders” or “Hammersmith nudes” case).
His victimology and nickname is similar to Jack the Ripper’s. He murdered six — possibly eight — prostitutes, whose nude bodies were discovered around London or dumped in the River Thames. The victim count is ambiguous because two of the murders attributed to him did not fit his modus operandi.
Hannah Tailford: 30. Originally from Northumberland, Tailford was found dead on 2 February 1964 near the Hammersmith Bridge. She had been strangled and several of her teeth were missing; her underwear had also been forced down her throat.
Irene Lockwood: 26. Lockwood was found dead on 8 April 1964 on the shore of the Thames, not far from where Tailford had been discovered; their two deaths, along with that of Elizabeth Figg, were linked and police realized that a serial murderer was at large. Kenneth Archibald, a 57-year-old caretaker, confessed to this murder almost three weeks later, but his confession was dismissed due to inconsistencies in his version of events, and because of the discovery of a third victim.
Helen Barthelemy: 22. Barthelemy, originally from Blackpool, was found dead on 24 April 1964 in an alleyway in Brentford. Barthelemy’s death gave investigators their first solid piece of evidence in the case: flecks of paint used in motor-car manufactories. Police felt that the paint had probably come from the killer’s workplace; they therefore focused on tracing it to a business nearby.
Mary Flemming: 30. Originally from Scotland, Flemming’s body was found on 14 July 1964 in an open street in the district of Chiswick, where police presence was heaviest. Once again, paint spots were found on the body; many neighbours had also heard a car reversing down the street just before the body was discovered.
Frances Brown: 21. Edinburgh-native Brown was last seen alive on 23 October 1964 by her friend, fellow prostitute Kim Taylor, before her body was found in an alleyway in Kensington a month later on 25 November. Taylor, who had been with Brown when she was picked up by the man believed to be her killer, was able to provide police with an identikit picture and a description of the man’s car, thought either to be a Ford Zephyr or a Ford Zodiac.
Bridget O’Hara: 28. Irish-born O’Hara, also known as “Bridie”, was found dead behind the Heron Trading Estate in a storage shed. Once again, O’Hara’s body turned up flecks of industrial paint which, incredibly, were traced to a covered transformer just yards from where she had been discovered. She also showed signs of having been stored in a warm environment. The transformer was a good fit for both the paint and the heating.
– Possible victims
Elizabeth Figg: 21. Figg was found dead on 17 June 1959, a full five years before the Jack the Stripper murders started, near the river Thames in Chiswick. Her death was considered by some to bear many similarities to other victims, such as the location of the body (near the Thames and in Chiswick, where Mary Flemming’s body would be found in 1964), and death by strangulation.
Gwynneth Rees: 22. Welsh-born Rees was found dead in a rubbish tip on 8 November 1963. Once again, investigators felt Rees may have been a Stripper victim due to her being found near the river Thames, and because she had been strangled with a ligature; several of her teeth were also missing.
Chief Superintendent John Du Rose of Scotland Yard, the detective put in charge of the case, interviewed almost 7,000 suspects. He then held a news conference, falsely announcing that the police had narrowed the suspect pool down to 20 men. After a short time, he announced that the suspect pool contained only 10 members, and then three. The Stripper did not kill any more after the initial news conference.
According to the writer Anthony Summers, Hannah Tailford and Frances Brown, the Stripper’s third and seventh victims, were peripherally connected to the 1963 Profumo Affair. Also, some victims were known to engage in an underground party and pornographic movie scene. Several writers have postulated that the victims may have known each other, and that the killer may be connected to this scene as well.
Like the Jack the Ripper killings, the Stripper’s period of activity seemed to cease on its own, and there were few solid clues for the police to investigate.
For Du Rose, the most likely suspect was a Scottish security guard called Mungo Ireland, whom Du Rose first identified in a BBC television interview in 1970 as a respectable married man in his forties whom he codenamed Big John. Ireland had apparently been identified as a suspect shortly after Bridget O’Hara’s murder, when flecks of industrial paint were traced to the Heron Trading Estate, where he worked as a security guard. Shortly after the trace was made, Ireland committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, leaving a note for his wife that read: “I can’t stick it any longer”, and finished, “To save you and the police looking for me I’ll be in the garage”. Whilst seen by many as a strong suspect in the killings, recent research suggests that Ireland was in Scotland when O’Hara was murdered, and therefore could not have been the Stripper.
A recent book also named British light heavyweight boxing champion Freddie Mills as the murderer, although this has not been substantiated.
In his book on the case, Jack of Jumps, David Seabrook said a former Metropolitan Police DC was a suspect in the opinion of several senior detectives investigating the case. This suspect was recently identified as DC Brian Cushway by the writer Stewart Home in a review of Seabrook’s book but there is no evidence supporting the allegation, which is merely speculative.
Jimmy Evans and Martin Short in their book The Survivor allege the culprit was Superintendent Tommy Butler of the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad.
The Crime and Investigation channel’s Fred Dinenage Murder Casebook put forward the theory that the killer could have been Harold Jones, a convicted murderer from Wales. Jones killed two girls in 1921 in the town of Abertillery. Because he was 15 at the time, he was not liable for the death penalty, instead receiving a life sentence. He was released 20 years later for exemplary behaviour. In 1941, at the age of 35, after being released from prison, he is believed to have returned to his home town, Abertillery, and visited the graves of his early victims. In 1947, he surfaced in London. Moving to Fulham, he married and had a daughter.
All the Stripper murders had similar features to his early murders: no sexual assault, but extreme violence was inflicted on the victims. Due to poor record-keeping, he was never considered as a possible suspect by the police. The writer Neil Milkins alleges in Who was Jack the Stripper (2011) that the culprit was Harold Jones, but all the ‘evidence’ is based on coincidence. Milkins fails to establish whether Jones held a driving licence and/or owned a car or van, which the real culprit must have done, and no link between Jones and Mungo Ireland is established. Although Jones killed twice when he was 15 there is no evidence that he was a psychopath or a serial killer.
The crime novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square (1969), written by Arthur LeBern, is loosely based on the case; the protagonist strangles women with his necktie. The book was adapted for the Alfred Hitchcock movie Frenzy (1972).
The crime novel Bad Penny Blues (2009) by Cathi Unsworth is closely based on the case.