May 1, 2022

John Haigh // 109 // The Acid Bath Murderer // Part 2

John Haigh // 109 // The Acid Bath Murderer // Part 2

John George Haigh was known as the acid bath murder.  He was a serial killer that murdered his victims and put their bodies in sulphuric acid afterwards.  He was a master at forging signatures, and this allowed him to gain access to his victim's possessions and money.

The Acid Alchemist: A True Story of Murder, Deceit, and Unspeakable Horror. , Brown, Robert -


John took all of the expensive jewelry from Rosalie and went through her purse and cleaned their pockets out to make sure he got all the valuables. He did his typical thing of drinking their blood, putting them in a barrel of acid and cleaning up. He slept in the Henderson's hotel room that night. He forged a letter in Rosalie's handwriting to her brother, Arnold Burlin. It said:

Dear Arnold,

There was an incident at Archie's practice and we urgently have to go to South Africa. We are flying out from the Gatwick Airport tonight.

When we eventually return, we want to make a clean start at our new cabin.

We have asked Mr. John Haigh (the gentleman who played the piano so beautifully at our party) to take care of our belongings. Will you please assist him in doing so? Mr Haigh has also been appointed the trustee to our properties and he is going to make some stock market investments on our behalf after he has sold them. My apologies for not providing any further details, but this is a rather sensitive issue.

Hope to see you soon,


John wrote a note to the hotel manager and packed up the Henderson's belongings and checked them out of the hotel room. John kept all of Archie's clothes for himself and he took Rosalie's clothes and sent them to his ex-girlfriend Barbara. When he finally went back to his workshop to get rid of the sludge in the barrels, he realized there was a slight issue. He had previously changed workshops, so he no longer had a drain in the floor. He had to pour the liquid into a wheelbarrow and transferred it to a hedge outside. There was something that John didn't realize though. When he brought the last wheelbarrow of sludge outside, Archie's left foot was was in there and it was intact. 

When John was finished, he went back to his hotel and the receptionist let him know that he had received a message from Rosalie Henderson's brother, Mr. Arnold Burlin. John called Arnold and he said he received a strange letter from his sister and he was very suspicious because they left on short notice and he didn't understand why they would go to Africa. Arnold said he was going to the police with this and John said he couldn't. John explained that the real reason Rosalie and Archie left the country is because Archie performed an illegal abortion on a teenage girl. He said if Arnold went to the police, they would launch an investigation and put Archie in prison.

John sold the Henderson's properties and was now very wealthy again. His ex-girlfriend, Barbara met up with him, wearing clothing from Rosalie whom he murdered. She said she loved all of the clothes and wanted to get back together. Remember the breakup reason though? John told her he was gay and the two of them had never slept together while they were dating. Barbara said she wanted to get married and he could see other men. John laughed and told her that it was all a lie, he wasn't gay, and they got back together. 

On March 5th, 1948, John forged a telegram to Rosalie's brother, Arnold Burlin:

Dear Arnold,

Hope you are alright and getting on well with Mr. Haigh. 

We are very well and having a busy time here is South Africa. Looking forward to seeing you again towards the end of the month.

Kind Regards,


In June of that year, John got into a bad car accident. He was going about 85 MPG and his rear tire burst. As he was trying to hit the brakes, the car was heading over the cliff, so he had to jump out and let the car go. He was scraped up pretty bad and blood was trickling into his mouth. He remembered tasting his blood when he was a child, but realized that each person's blood tasted different. He thought the McSwan family tasted like tin foil, the Henderson's were like steel or iron, and his own blood was like chrome. He had to go to the hospital to get a few stitches. When he got home, Barbara asked where his sports car was and he said it was stolen. Barbara got upset and said it was obvious he lied. I mean, he was cut up and had was pretty obvious that he was in a car accident. He finally fessed up, but said he was on his way to meet up with a design engineer. The real story of what he was doing that day is far worse. 

Earlier in the week, John saw an obituary in the paper for the father of a school friend. So he wrote a letter to the widow saying he would come visit. He planned to start a relationship with her until her husband's will was paid out, then kill her and steal the money. This wouldn't work though because the widow unexpectedly died. The lie about the accident really drove a wedge between John and Barbara. He told the insurance company that his car was stolen and received a payout and he blew through the Henderson's money in less than a year. By February of 1949, he was in debt again. He was gambling, had very expensive tastes, and was living in a very upscale hotel. His bank account was overdrawn and he was 5 weeks behind on his hotel rent. John had been trying to lure people to the workshop, but no one was interested in seeing his “inventions”. Also, Rosalie's brother, Arnold Burlin was bugging John again even through he continued to send him fake letters. Arnold said a cousin had died and he wanted to get in touch with his sister to tell her and he said he may have to go to the police. John decided he should probably just kill Arnold since he wouldn't stop questioning things.

When he headed to breakfast, he found his next target. 69 year old Oliva Deacon. She lived at the hotel with him, they had been friends for a few years, and she was the one that loaned him money when he couldn't pay rent. Olivia asked John if they could go into business together and said she had a new idea. When she went to the bathroom, John saw Olivia's bank deposit book in her purse and realized that she was even richer than the Henderson's had been. When Olivia came back to the table, she told John her new idea about artificial fingernails. She wanted John to manufacture the nails at his engineering factory that he didn't really have because he lied about it. 

John waited a few days and told Olivia that he already designed the first prototype for the fake nails and he was going to bring her to his workshop to see. When they arrived, Olivia crinkled up her nose and said it smelled like death in there. John shot her in the back of the neck and the bullet exited through the bridge of her nose. John thought he felt a twinge of regret for killing his friend, but it only lasted 5 seconds. He drank her coppery tasting blood, then left to go get some lunch at a local pub. He went back to his workshop to put Olivia in the acid barrel and clean up, then he met up with his girlfriend, Barbara for dinner and acted like nothing happened.

The next morning, people in the hotel were trying to figure out what happened to Olivia. The woman had a very strict routine and always came down for an early breakfast and she had several friends. A hotel employee confirmed that when she cleaned the room, Olivia's been hadn't been slept in. They wanted to report Olivia's disappearance, but John talked them into waiting and said she was probably just visiting a friend. When John went to his workshop to get rid of the sludge in the barrel, he discovered that it was partially frozen due to the cold temp outside. So, he had to defrost it, then use the wheelbarrow to dump it outside. He realized that the hedge in the yard was dying from the acid mixture being dumped by it. 

Back at the hotel, Olivia's friends were going door to door, asking if anyone had seen her. Her friend, Constance Lane insisted that they go to the police and John drove her there. Sergeant Alexandra Lambourne went to the hotel to investigate Olivia's disappearance. It was full of wealthy elderly people because you get three cooked meals a day included in the weekly boarding fee. Alexandra looked around and felt that one person was really out of place. John Haigh wasn't elderly or super wealthy. People in the hotel had also mentioned that he had that important meeting about fake nails with Olivia, but John said she never showed up. Alexandra just had a weird feeling she couldn't shake, especially after she ran a background check on John and saw all the schemes he cooked up over the years. She noticed that John had very smooth mannerisms and she went to her superior and asked permission to investigate John Haigh further, and this was granted. 

Alexandra went to the hotel to find John and asked if they could talk and he agreed. She asked what his relationship was with Olivia Deacon and he said they were dear friends and he met her three years prior when he moved into the hotel and they often had breakfast or lunch together. He gave the same story about how they were going to meet up and go to his factory to look at the artificial fingernails, but Olivia never showed up and he went back to the hotel and straight to his room. Alexandra was very intrigued by that sentence. If he said I went to my room, fine, but he said STRAIGHT to my room which indicates a culpability to her. Alexandra told John she looked into his background and he said he wasn't proud of his past and didn't want to talk about it. She goes, I understand that, but what if the crimes are somehow related to this one? She had clearly struck a nerve because John practically shouted, what are you insinuating? That I had something to do with Olivia's disappearance? Alexandra decided to cool things down and she left, but John was in a full panic. If that damn Constance Lane hadn't insisted on going to the police, this wouldn't have happened.....he figured he would have to get rid of her next. 

Alexandra was busy looking into every angle of this case. She had a hunch that if John killed Olivia, it was for her money. She figured out which bank Olivia's money was at and met with the bank manager. She discovered that Olivia wasn't just wealthy, she was filthy rich. After Alexandra made copies of John's background, it was very easy to see that all of his past crimes had to do with money. John's hotel room was raided and detectives took a case filled with documents from under his bed. John had no idea this was happening because he was in central London, visiting Esme Fargus, Olivia's sister because he was trying to figure out what bank her fortune was at.

Detectives found copies of the transfer deeds to sell the McSwan and Henderson properties. They had now pieced together that John had stolen from two families and five people were missing. This was a much bigger case than they originally thought. The next morning, Alexandra waited at the hotel for John to return and she told him that Detective Inspector Webb was her boss and he wanted a formal statement in writing. John wrote his statement, but he was furious that they wouldn't leave him alone, so he went to the Daily Mirror newspaper to complain about police harassment. The following day, a picture of John appeared next to an article that read:

Police Questioned Me Three Times- I'm Tired Of It

Mr. John Haigh, of room 404 at Kensington's elegant Onslow Court Hotel informed our reporters yesterday that he has now been questioned by the Chelsea Police Department on three occasions and that they were harassing him. The questioning related to one of his friends, Mrs. Olivia Durand-Deacon, a rich widow who has vanished and who the police believe may have been murdered. Mr. Haigh says that the officers are insinuating he had something to do with Mrs. Durand-Deacon's disappearance and that they are out of line. He assured our reporters that he is an innocent man.

In John's written statement to the detectives, he wrote a few extra details. He said that he worked for Hurstlea Products Factory, but the manager confirmed they didn't have a John Haigh on the payroll, but the manager said there was a John Haigh renting a storeroom from his company. The manager, Mr. Jones, said that he didn't have a way to enter the workshop John was renting from him because John claimed he needed both keys since he had a business partner named Mr. McLean. Detectives were shown to John's workshop and they broke in. The stench of death and decay instantly burned their nostrils. They looked around and saw bottles of sulphuric acid, blook stains on the walls, and glass jars of blood. They found rubber boots, rubber gloves, a gas mask, a knife, packets of fake nails with a receipt from the department store, several passports, identity cards, and driver's licenses that belonged to the McSwan and Henderson families. They also found a dry-cleaning ticket for a Persian lamb coat which is what Olivia was last seen in. 

Olivia's missing person's report had been printed in most of the major papers in London and Crawley. A man from a jewelry store read the description and called the police so say that a man who went by Mr. McLean (the name of John's “business partner”) sold him jewelry and it was the same person in the newspaper photo that whined about being harassed by the police. The man from the jewelry store took things a step further too. He drove to the hotel and showed the jewelry to the hotel staff. Olivia's friend, Mrs. Constance Lane, recognized the jewelry instantly and said it was definitely Olivia's. 

Forensic inspectors arrived at John's workshop and they found the revolver and confirmed it had been fired recently and the serial number was registered to Mr. Archibald Henderson. An inspector did find the sludge near the dying hedge, but it wasn't initially suspicious because it was an industrial area and there was waste all over the neighborhood. The detectives began calling family members of the McSwans and Hendersons. They also contacted the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa and they were assured that there was no record of Archie or Rosalie Henderson crossing the borders of the country. 

John didn't have any clue that his workshop was being raided, so he was sitting in his hotel forming his next plan. He wanted to forge a letter from Olivia to the bank, informing the manager that she owed John money and authorized him to take a withdrawal from her account. He was planning to say she was on vacation and that's why she couldn't go there herself. Another idea, was to invite Olivia's friend, Constance Lane, to his workshop to kill her. His third plan was to plead the corpus (del-ick-tye) delicti if he was caught by the police. This literally means, body of the crime. It basically says that a confession isn't enough for a conviction, there must be evidence that a crime occurred. John believed that if there isn't a body, there isn't evidence. 

On February 28th, 1949, John went down the elevator at 7:15 AM for breakfast. When the elevator doors opened, detectives arrested him. He asked if he could eat breakfast first and they said no. When they brought John in to the interrogation room, they pulled out Olivia's jewelry and asked if he remembered selling them to a jewelry store. John started pacing around the room, so they put the dry-cleaning ticket for Olivia's coat on the table. John came up with a quick plan to plead insanity. Broadmoor was a high security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane and he asked them what are the chances of being released from Broadmoor? Investigators said they didn't really know, but they needed to know what happened to Olivia. John said, “Mrs. Durand-Deacon no longer exists. She has disappeared completely and no trace of her can ever be found again. I have destroyed her with acid. You will find only the sludge that remains at my workshop on Leopold Road. Other than that, every trace has gone. Yes, I've sold her jewelry in Horsham and yes, I've dropped her coat off at the dry cleaners in Reigate. The question is: what are you going to do about it?”

At first, it was just silent in the room and Detective Webb said, “What the hell possessed you to do that?” John replied, “Well, I needed her money, so I lured her to my workshop and shot her in the back of the head. Then I used sulphuric acid to make her body disappear.” 

Now. Detective Webb told John that he was obviously being charged with murder in the first degree and asked if he wanted legal representation. John said, “Detective, I don't think you understand the situation. I am completely immune to prosecution. How can you prove murder if there is no body? There is a legal term called corpus delicti by which a person cannot be convicted for murder unless there is a body present to confirm the killing.”

The detectives busted out laughing and Detective Webb was like, listen, “Unfortunately, that is not going to work in this case, John. They tried to explain that you don't need a body to prove murder and John was like, of course you do. Detective Symes actually had a background in law and said that the term corpus delicti means a body of evidence is needed to prove the crime, not necessarily a physical corpse. Besides, the jewelry and dry-cleaning ticket represent bodies of evidence. So does the revolver with John's fingerprints all over. John knew that he was caught and he did end up confessing to the murders of the McSwans and the Hendersons as well. Then, he told them he drank their blood. He did this because he thought it would make him look insane and he couldn't be convicted.

Detectives now had to go back to the workshop to investigate the sludge substance by the dying hedge. They found a round object the size of a cherry and it was a gall bladder stone that the acid couldn't dissolve. The sludge was processed at a lab that afternoon and the technicians had to wear thick rubber gloves and they had to rub petroleum jelly on their arms to protect themselves from chemical burns. Obviously, most of the evidence had been destroyed by the acid, but they did find two more gallstones, 28 pounds of human body fat, part of a left foot, 18 fragments of human bone, a lipstick container, the handle of a red plastic handbag, and the most important item, fully intact dentures. 

Detective Webb met with Olivia's dentist, Helen Mayo, and was told that Olivia suffered from gum shrinkage and that's why she had special dentures made. They were a perfect match for the mold they had on file for her. Olivia's blood was also discovered on a shirt in John's apartment. The police scientist on the forensic team actually performed tests with sulphuric acid on Sheep's legs and other materials and discovered that the acid acted at varying speeds depending on how much fat there was. He concluded that fat was highly resistant to acid. Olivia had a bit of a weight problem, but that actually helped preserve evidence in the sludge. 

John Haigh was getting a little worried, so he did end up requesting a lawyer and he was advised to continue with his insanity plea. He was formally charged with the murder of Olivia Durand-Deacon on March 2nd and was transferred to Lewes County Prison. The newspapers were posting things like, Vampire killer in Notting Hill. John did get several psychiatric evaluations and most psychiatrists agreed that a need to drink blood was usually seen with a sexual disorder, but John showed little interest in sex. He was found to be egocentric and had trouble figuring out the difference between reality and fantasy, but that doesn't make you insane. John didn't have money to pay for his defense, so a journalist at The News of the World, Stafford Somerfield, said he would reimburse his counsel at the end of the trial if John gave him an exclusive interview about his life story. This was controversial, but surprising legal at the time.

The murder trial began on July 18th, 1949 and only last two days. More than 4,000 people showed up to get a seat in the courtroom for the man dubbed the vampire killer. When it all began, John plead not guilty. The defense talked about his childhood, the Plymouth Bretherens, his nightmares, and how he believed he must drink blood to stay alive. John was not paying attention to anything that was being said because he was busy filling out crossword puzzles during the trial. He was really gunning for that insanity plea. 

A psychiatrist told the jury that he believed John Haigh was mentally ill and paranoid. He believed that John had been sheltered in a fanatical religion that brought on the paranoia. A child brought up in that kind of environment is destined to escape to a world of fantasy. The psychiatrist believed that John was unaware of his actions while trying to live out his fantasy of drinking blood. It took the jury 16 minutes to find John Haigh guilty. Once juror admitted that it was based off the evidence and the fact that John was so arrogant and acted invincible. Since John asked the detective about getting released from Broadmoor in the initial interview, it indicated that he already planned on using the insanity plea before the trial started. 

Judge Travers Humphreys said, “John George Haigh, the sentence of this court upon you is that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison, and thence to a place of execution, and there you suffer death by hanging, and that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall have been last confined before your execution. May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

John stood as still as a statue and there was no emotion on his face as this was read. He was transferred to Wandsworth Prison and his girlfriend, Barbara visited him the next morning. She said she received a call from the manager at Madame Tussauds museum and they wanted to create a wax figure of John for the Chamber of Horrors exhibit. It was going to be called John George Haigh-The Acid Bath Murderer. John was thrilled and said he always believed in reincarnation. Barbara said they asked if he would donate clothing to them for the wax figure and he said he would be delighted. They also wanted to stop by to do a death mask fitting. 

The Home Secretary did want to respect the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1884, so they had 3 psychiatrists review John's case and they all concluded that he was pretending to be insane. Three days before his execution, John sent a package to the museum. It had a formal white shirt, a bright red tie, and his favorite brown woollen suit. There was a handwritten note instructing them to always keep his wax figure clean and in mint condition. The hair must be combed back and parted, the shirt cuffs had to show and the trousers needed to be creased. On Wednesday, August 10th, 1949, John was hanged and a crowd of 500 people watched. 

The Acid Alchemist: A True Story of Murder, Deceit, and Unspeakable Horror. , Brown, Robert -