John George Haigh
John George Haigh (24 July 1909 – 10 August 1949), commonly known as the Acid Bath Murderer, was an English serial killer in the 1940s. He was convicted for the murder of six people, although he claimed to have killed nine. He used acid not to kill his victims but because he thought it was an undetectable method of destroying their remains. Haigh dissolved corpses in concentrated sulphuric acid before forging papers to be able to sell their possessions and collect substantial sums of money.
During the investigation, it became apparent that Haigh was using the acid to destroy victims’ bodies because he misunderstood the meaning of the term corpus delicti, and mistakenly believed that, if victims’ bodies could not be found, a murder conviction would not be possible. Despite the absence of his victims’ bodies, there was sufficient forensic evidence for him to be convicted for the murders and subsequently executed.
The “Acid Bath” murders
John Haigh was freed from one term in 1943 and became an accountant with an engineering firm. Soon after, by chance, he bumped into his former employer, McSwan, in the Goat pub in Kensington. McSwan introduced Haigh to his parents, William and Amy, who mentioned that they had invested in property. On 6 September 1944, McSwan disappeared. Haigh later admitted hitting him over the head after luring him into a basement at 79 Gloucester Road, London SW7. He then put McSwan’s body into a 40-gallon drum and tipped concentrated sulphuric acid on to it. Two days later he returned to find the body had become sludge, which he poured down a manhole.
He told McSwan’s parents, William and Amy, that their son had gone into hiding to avoid being called up for military service. Haigh then took over McSwan’s house and when William and Amy became curious as to why their son had not returned as the war was coming to an end, he murdered them too – on 2 July 1945, he lured them to Gloucester Road and disposed of them.
Haigh stole William McSwan’s pension cheques, sold their properties – stealing about £8,000 (£310,000 in 2015, when adjusted for inflation) – and moved into the Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington. By the summer of 1947, Haigh, a gambler, was running short of money. To solve his financial troubles, he found another couple to kill and rob: Dr Archibald Henderson and his wife, Rose, whom he murdered after feigning interest in a house they were selling.
He rented a small workshop at 2 Leopold Road, Crawley, Sussex, and moved acid and drums there from Gloucester Road. Haigh was also known to have stayed at Crawley’s George Hotel on several occasions. On 12 February 1948, he drove Henderson to Crawley, on the pretext of showing him an invention. When they arrived Haigh shot Henderson in the head with a revolver he had earlier stolen from the doctor’s house. He then lured Mrs Henderson to the workshop, claiming her husband had fallen ill, and shot her also.
After disposing of the Hendersons’ bodies in oil drums filled with acid, he forged a letter from them and sold all of their possessions for £8,000 (except their dog, which he kept).