Month: October 2014

James Hanratty, John Lennon and the Stevonia Fish and Chip Shop




James Hanratty 1961


James Hanratty

James Hanratty

The Murder of Michael Gregsten and the rape and shooting of Valerie Storie began a train of events that were to involve John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the reporter Paul Foot and the Stevonia Fish and Chip Shop on Blackpool’s Central Drive.

Michael Gregsten (36) and Valerie Storie (23) were having an affair. On the 22 August 1962 at 9.30pm they were in a cornfield when a well-dressed gunman abducted them After driving for 60 miles and pulling up a layby on Deadman’s Hill on the A6, the gunman shot Michael Gregsten dead and raped and shot Valerie Storie who survived by pretending to be dead. She was paralysed from the waist down.

An initial suspect was Peter Alphon. Peter Alphon and James Hanratty were staying at the Vienna Hotel before the murder was committed. The confusion around the case was increased by the fact that the hotel manager, called William Nudds, was an extraordinarily villainous criminal of stratospheric unreliablility. If William Nudds ever told the truth it was by accident.

Spent cartridges from the murder weapon were discovered in a sofa in the hotel room two days after the murder. However these cartridges must have been there before the murder.
The gun was found hidden in the back seat of a 36a bus. Helpfully William Nudds later recalled that James Hanratty had asked him the way to the 36a bus route.

Peter Alphon was named as a suspect. He rather made himself a suspect by attacking a woman and saying: “I am the A6 murderer.” Peter Alphon was a drifter, a Hitler admiring occultist, a gambler. In an identification parade Valerie Storie did not identify him and identified an innocent person. It is interesting to think that if she had identified Peter Alphon he would probably have been hanged. Attention focused on James Hanratty who had been staying at the Vienna Hotel under the name Ryan. James Hanratty came from a tightly knit and loving family. He may have suffered from dyslexia and his parents had been advised to put him in a Special School. They refused. He was remembered as being slow but not at all bad. He left school unable to read. He gave up his first job after falling off his bike and being unconscious for twelve hours. After this accident his behaviour deteriorated and he fell in with an underworld figure called Bill France. He drifted into a world of burglary and car theft at which he was a roaring failure. He was a natty dresser.

When James Hanratty was named as a suspect he went on the run and rang up the investigators and newspapers to deny his guilt. .
On 11 October he travelled from Liverpool to Blackpool. At 11.15 pm he was having a meal in the Stevonia Fish and Chip Restaurant on Central Drive when Detective Constables James Williams and Albert Stillings popped in for a cup of coffee. They said they had been chatting to ladies of the night on Central Drive.
You can still eat at the Stevonia Fish and Chip Shop guessing which table James Hanratty used. You may see ladies of the night patrolling Central Drive.  stevonia

James Hanratty maintained his innocence but damaged his case by changing his alibi during the trial. His first claim was that he had been in Liverpool at the time of the murder, but he later claimed that he was in Rhyl. He was able to give very convincing details about his visit to Rhyl.

Valerie Storie identified James Hanratty but at the time he had dyed his hair red and stood out. She had hardly seen him and she asked the people in the line-up to say a phrase; “Shut up I’m thinking.” James Hanratty was the only person with a cockney accent.

There were numerous anomalies in the Prosecution Case. Peter Alphon had not got an alibi. The killer appeared a poor driver whereas Hanratty was an experienced driver. Strangest of all how did Hanratty, a town boy, happen to stumble across Gregsten and Storr in a cornfield. How did James Hanratty get there? If he had used a stolen car the car would have been found.
Charles France a former friend of Hanratty, gave evidence that James Hanratty had said that a good place to hide things was under the back seat of a bus. Charles France started getting hate telephone calls, almost certainly from Peter Alphon. He also suffered from depression and he committed suicide before Hanratty’s execution.
Peter Alphon campaigned against the execution and over the years confessed to the crime.
The jury took a long time to reach a verdict. James Hanratty’s change of alibi was probably the critical factor.
James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison. The executioner was Walter Allen who later after he retired as a hangman gave out change on Fleetwood Pier.
There was disquiet at the time. It was felt by many that the evidence was not overwhelming. James Hanratty’s family and especially his father and mother were stoical, dignified working-class people.
The case attracted Paul Foot, the journalist and Private Eye contributor and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Paul Foot and a number of others including many with a legal background set up the A6 Committee.

John Lennon had a traumatic experience in Blackpool at the age of six when his father had taken him to stay with a friend. John’s mother had come to take him back. Eventually John went back with his mother. John Lennon’s first wife had been born in Blackpool. So it may have been this connection with a place he knew well that brought the case to John Lennon’s attention. John also had an experience of terror on Blackpool beach which led him to explore primal screaming as therapy.

The case against the conviction rested on the lack evidence that James Hanratty was guilty. He had not been guilty of violent crimes previously. There were no fingerprints in the car, and James Hanratty did not usually wear gloves. Peter Alphon confessed and had no alibi. Paul Foot managed to examine Peter Alphon’s bank accounts and found that Peter Alphon had received £5000 which he couldn’t account for at the time of the murder.

It looked like the state had hanged an innocent man.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono proclaimed Hanratty innocence at Hyde Park Corner and were supportive of James Hanratty’s parents.

The investigators had denied information to the defence, most significantly the reported sightings of Hanratty were incompatible with the recorded mileage of the car. This was important because it was the only evidence apart from Valerie Storie which linked James Hanratty to the car.

One of the leading investigators was Kenneth Oxford, who later advised Mrs Thatcher after the Hillsborough disaster when 96 football fans died.  He was a man with a strong attachment to the Establishment, possibly stronger than his attachment to the truth.
At this stage almost everybody thought that James Hanratty was innocent. The Home Secretary and Senior Policemen investigating the case thought that James was innocent. It only remained for an Appeal to overturn the trial verdict.


There was a DNA test which which involved disinterring James Hanratty’s body and evidence from Valerie Storie’s underwear. This test proved positive. The Appeal upheld the original conviction.

By this time John Lennon had himself been murdered and James Hanratty’s father had died and his mother was suffering from dementia. Paul Foot continued to believe that the evidence had been contaminated.

We are left with a strange situation. James Hanratty was guilty but on the evidence available at his trial he would not be convicted nowadays. His family continue to believe in his innocence.

The defenders of Hanratty cling to the fact that the kind of DNA test, called Low Count DNA relied on very small samples and that items of James Hanratty and Valerie Storr had been together in a cardboard box.  This box had been lost for some time so its forensic integrity was compromised.   In the box there was an empty phial.  It may have contained a sample from James Hanratty and leaked over the contents of the box.  Otherwise why store an empty phial?  The FBI do not accept the kind of DNA test used as evidence.  Similar evidence has been disregarded in other UK trials.

I used to believe that James Hanratty was innocent but now I believe he was probably guilty but I will not feel totally convinced until the kind of DNA test used is validated. This kind of test is not accepted in any other jurisdiction and similar evidence has been dismissed in the UK.


The case involves a number of coincidences.
The astonishing fact that the original prime suspect and the later suspect were staying in the same hotel. This Hitchcockian  confusion is increased by uncertainty who was staying in the room where the cartridges were found. Peter Alphon was obsessed with the case even before he was a suspect. How likely is it that a person obsessed with a murder case would be staying in the same hotel as the murderer?
(A formidable problem for those who see Peter Alphon as the murderer scenario is this: who in their right minds would pay a nutter like Peter Alphon £5000 to frighten Michael Gregsten when London was full of villains who would do a good job for £100. An unaccountable £5000 did appear in Peter Alphon’s bank account. This would have bought you a nice house in London in those days.)

The proprietor of the Old Station Inn at Taplow, Maria Lanz, where William Gregsten and Valerie Storr had a drink before they were kidnapped saw Peter Alphon at the Hotel while William and Valerie were there.

Six witnesses confirmed that Hanratty was at Rhyl. One could confirm the exact day because he had just visited the bank and so had documentary evidence. He said that a smartly dressed man with a cockney accent tried to sell him a watch. One Rhyl witness was so convinced that he tried to ring up the Home Secretary on the morning of the execution.

Michael Gregsten’s widow later went on to have an affair with her brother in law William Ewer,  who left his wife. This would be of no interest except for possibly the oddest coincidence in the case. In some accounts of the case Janet Gregsten instigated the investigation into James Hanratty by a psychic experience. This reported by Tom Foot, Paul Foot’s son. William Ewer was looking after Janet Gregsten after the murder. She was at his shop in Finchley Road, Swiss Cottage, when she saw James Hanratty going into a florist’s shop. She said to William Ewer:”He fits the description… I’ve got an overpowering feeling that it’s him.” William Ewer phoned Scotland Yard. On some accounts that is how the investigators connected the false name that Hanratty was using, ” Ryan”  with James Hanratty. James Hanratty sent flowers for his mother’s birthday and through that investigators discovered the real identity of Ryan. Does Scotland Yard solve murder cases through psychic intervention?

Charles France came to visit William Ewer who had a shop is Swiss Cottage.  Charles France was distraught and apologised.  What was he apologising for?  One possibility is that he supplied James Hanratty with the murder weapon.  What pressure did the investigators use persuade Charles France to give evidence against James Hanratty who was a close friend?  Shortly after his visit and before James Hanratty’s execution Charles France committed suicide. Before his suicide Charles France had hate telephone calls almost certainly from Peter Alphon. How did Charles France know that William Ewer was connected with Michael Gregsten?

The  weirdness of the A6 murder continues to tease.  Part of the puzzle is the feeling that there is some part of the story that we don’t know. Another suspicion is that the Appeal was rigged.  It was well known that most people believed that James Hanratty was innocent and the Appeal went ahead because the Establishment was convinced that they had irrefutable evidence.  The Establishment could have avoided an appeal by revealing the DNA evidence.  They wanted the Appeal to  take place and fail.   The defence was taken by surprise by the DNA evidence and unable to formulate a plausible response.

There is the possiblity that James Hanratty committed the crime randomly.  We would feel more convinced if the form of DNA evidence used in the appeal was accepted as reliable in other cases.

As with so many things we only know a part of the truth.  If that.

Further reading
There are a number of books.
Who killed Hanratty by Paul Foot. A splendid summary of the case against conviction.
Shadows of Deadmans Hill by Leonard Miller makes the case for Hanratty’s guilt.
There is an article by Paul Foot’s son Tom in the Islington Tribune 13 January 2013 which summarises Janet Gregsten’s revelation.
There is a splendid online discussion which explores every aspect of this intriguing case.

Mrs Merrifield and Mrs Ricketts 1953

A bungalow to die for

A bungalow to die for

A Bungalow to die for

In 1953 Mrs Louisa May Merrifield was 46. She was married to Albert Merrifield, 71. She had been married twice before and both her previous husbands had died. She had had twenty jobs in two years when she saw an advertisement. The advertisement offered board and lodgings in return for acting as caretaker for Sarah Ann Ricketts aged 79.
Mrs Ricketts lived in a bungalow on Devonshire Road, Blackpool, worth £3000.
Mrs Ricketts was a lively soul. She lived on a diet of spoonfuls of jam and nips of rum and brandy. She was a will-changer. Her two previous husbands had both died as a result of suicide by gas at her bungalow in Devonshire Road, one feels there is a story there but it is outside the scope.
Mrs Ricketts took a shine to her new housekeepers. She had her will altered so that they would inherit the bungalow. She soon changed her mind. She complained to van-drivers that she was hardly fed and that her housekeepers spent a lot on rum.
In those days a middle-class homeowner such as Sarah Ann Ricketts would have goods such as rum and groceries delivered to her home.

Mrs Louisa Merrifield was not a discreet person and it is hard to escape the notion that we have strayed into an Ealing Comedy. Talking to a friend Mrs Veronica King, Mrs Merrifield said: “I will go and lay the old lady out.”
Mrs King said that she did not know that Mrs Ricketts had died. Mrs Merrifield replied:
“She is not dead yet, but she soon will be.”

Stranger still Mrs Merrifield chatting to Mrs Barrowclough at a bus-stop complained that she had found her husband in bed with the old lady and “it got her vexed.”
Mrs Merrifield added: “If he does it again I will poison the old **** and him as well.”

Louisa May Merrifield was concerned that Mrs Ricketts would change her will in favour of Alfred, or that Mrs Ricketts’ daughter would dispute the will. She asked a doctor to visit to confirm Mrs Ricketts was of sound mind. The doctor was able to confirm this.

And then Sarah Ann Ricketts died. She died five days after the doctor had confirmed that she was of sound mind on the 14 April 1953. The doctor refused to sign a death certificate and a post-mortem found that Mrs Ricketts had died as a result of phosphorous poisoning. Phospherous was available in the rat poison Rodine where it was put on bran as a bait. It cost one shilling and sixpence a tin.

Despite searches no Rodine was found in the bungalow or in the garden. There was no evidence that Sarah Ann Ricketts or Albert had bought Rodine. The evidence that Mrs Ricketts had died as a result of phosphorous poisoning was to be disputed.

Mrs Merrifield was a suspect.  While the police where searching the garden she hired the Salvation Army to play “Abide with me” outside the bungalow. She also entertained journalists with tea and cake. One journalist remembers looking at the cake that she said she had baked herself and then eating it anyway. The same journalist talks of feeling affection for Mrs Merrifield.

Finally Mrs Merrifield and later her husband Albert were arrested.

One distinguished expert said that Mrs Ricketts had died of phosphorous poisoning. Another claimed her health was extremely frail and she could have died of liver failure.

But Mrs Merrifield did not make a good impression on the jury. She would arrive at court each day in a taxi beaming and waving. It was clear that she enjoyed the attention.

The jury found Mrs Merrifield guilty. They were unable to arrive at a verdict regarding Mr Merrifield who was memorably described in court as a “tragic simpleton.”

Simpleton or not it is hard to imagine the state of mind of Mr Merrifield as he returned to the bungalow in Devonshire Road. He had after all inherited half of  it. There he was in his inherited bungalow awaiting the hanging of his wife, a husband about to become a widower.

On 18 September 1953 Mrs Louisa Ann Merrifield was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint who had spent his honeymoon in Blackpool.

Mr Alfred Merrifield did not comfortably fit the role of grieving widower, he donated his wife’s clothes to Louis Toussauds and until his death he used to give talks on the incident. He came to an arrangement with Mrs Ricketts’ family and left the bungalow in Devonshire Road. He took to hiring caravans and getting into disputes with his neighbours.
He died aged 80.

Try to imagine these vanished people and wonder what they were like?  Mrs Merrifield came from Wigan and was quite wealthy at one time.  She was affectionately remembered in Wigan.  She met Mr Merrifield in hospital when she was attending her dying husband but she managed to slip in an extra husband who also died before she married Mr Merrifield.   Why did Mrs Ricketts two  husbands chose the gas oven? What in the name of God was the courtship of Alfred and Louisa May like? Could it be that Louisa May Merrifield was loud-mouthed and strange but not a murderer? Could it have been suicide or even the “tragic simpleton” Alfred  Merrifield? Or not poison at all as one of the medical experts thought?  Could it be that Mrs Merrifield’s behaviour was a consequence of stress or even some kind of breakdown?   There was an appeal but, it failed.

Alfred Merrifield lived on until the 60’s. Did he think affectionately of his young bride? Did he think about conversations with Louisa May in that bungalow? What do you talk about with a wife who is about to be hanged?
We cannot know.

Sex tourism in Victorian Blackpool

Holidaymakers were the lifeblood of Blackpool and serving the needs of holiday makers was an industry. This included prostitution. Single men would arrive with money in their pockets amorous thoughts.
We know precious little about how the market worked. Since hotel workers and waitresses were paid low wages they may have supplemented their income. Research based on London suggest that prostitution involved an jaw-droppingly high proportion of the female population. Often these were poorly paid and their clients were also poorly paid. Single men were attracted to London by the high employment levels. The Victorian cult of respectability meant that poor people were too poor to marry and also that single men from wealthier backgrounds were unable to find sexual partners in their own social class. This is not the place to go into the emergence of prostitutes as literary figures but in Victorian Times the prostitute began to emerge as an admirable figure. One decadent writer said that he slept with prostitutes because it was cheaper than paying for a hotel. We are looking at enormous levels of prostitution that touched all classes. We are also looking at a black hole. We know very little about these prostitutes or their clients. We don’t know how many women were involved, or what they earned, or who their clients were. The authorities in Blackpool tended to nurture the reputation of Blackpool as a family resort and did not draw attention to prostitution. The hey-day of Blackpool prostitution must have been the Wars Blackpool had a surplus of young males because military and also because parts of the Civil Service were based here. I have been told that a very well turned out hotel in General Street was a brothel during the Second World War. Is it true? I haven’t got the foggiest idea, but that formal and informal prostitution achieved industrial levels during the Wars.
We know very little about this hidden world. In 1895 the Gazette and News had news items that give us rare information about this trade.

The Gazette and News reported a raid on 122 Lytham Road, Blackpool. Jessie Gibson appeared before Blackpool Police Court charged with having kept a brothel there. Also there were three girls including Jessie’s daughter who were accused of aiding abetting and three men. One of the men, James Watkins, was found in the room of Jessie Gibson. Various witnesses saw three officers from the Volunteer Encampment at South Shore leaving the building and on Whit Sunday six officers were seen leaving. The girls had previously worked in a Pantomime in Sheffield. Interestingly one of the accused said that the girls were “gay girls.” In Victorian England “gay” was associated with prostitution.
JULY 28 1895

(The building has now been demolished and is on the site of the Hilton Hotel)
Catherine Briggs Bolton “a refined looking woman of middle age” was charged with keeping a brothel at 3, Derby Road. Kate Lumsden “a matronly woman of diminutive stature and attractive features , with golden hair and the general appearance of an actress” Three other women were charged with aiding and abetting. One was elderly and the other two were young and as the Gazette puts it: “of good appearance.” P.C. Drabble said that he had seen strange men entering almost every night and mysteriously: “on one occasion one of the men held up a book and invited the women to kick it, which they did.”
Mrs Bolton said that it was true that gentlemen had visited the house but that they were professional friends.
One of the girls, Kate Lumsden, said that she had formerly been an actress and she had many friends in the profession who visited her late at night. The Bench was unconvinced.
Catherine Briggs Bolton was committed to prison for a month and the others were fined.
AUGUST 9, 1895
8, Grosvenor Street

Grosvenor Street

Grosvenor Street

At Blackpool Police Court Margaret Mary Fearns: “a lady-like and good-looking person” was charged with keeping a disorderly house at 8 Grosvenor Street. Two women and a man were charged with aiding and abetting. The house was raided by the Chief Constable, Mr Derham, and constables. When they raided the house one of the bedroom doors was locked and was not opened for several minutes. Inside the room John Bradshaw and Mary Fearns were partially dressed. Mary Fearns said that she was a dressmaker from Bradford. Mary Fearns was imprisoned for two months and the others were fined.

These articles all appeared in the Gazette and News under the heading “The Purity Crusade” in 1895.
The houses raided obviously catered for wealthier clients. The lower end of the market would be more informal. Grosvenor Street is interesting because besides being located near the current Red Light District it is very close to the route between the Railway Station and the Raikes Palace Gardens. Before the Pleasure Beach, or the Tower, or the Winter Gardens the Raikes Palace Gardens was the major tourist attraction in Blackpool. It was built reputedly by a man who made money from wrecking and robbing ships. Regardless of whether of not this is true he did build a fine building which remarkably given the incurable vandalism of Blackpool Council and Blackpool residents is still standing. The building was later taken over by nuns who later moved to Layton Hill. During the nun’s residence the body of a newly born baby was discovered in the pond on the premises. This is probably the origin of the ghost stories about drowned nuns. Then the site became a popular entertainment centre. It was the first mass entertainment centre outside of London and for a time it was profitable. It featured boating lakes, a monkey house, and above all dancing. Visitors to Blackpool had a considerable appetite for dancing.
By 1895 the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Piers offered considerable competition and the days of the Raikes Palace Gardens were numbered. However it was still able to offer world class celebrities. Blondin who had crossed Niagra Falls on a tightrope was among the best known celebrities of his day and he was appearing there on the day Chief Constable and his Police Constables were raiding Grosvenor Street.

Blondin was already in his seventies at this time and he strained his back carrying his son on a high wire. He was nursed at the Railway Hotel by Katherine James who worked there. So successful were her ministrations that he married her on November 25, 1895. She was: “A brunette of attractive appearance 30 or 40 years his junior.” He died two years later but in his obituary in the “Times” there is no mention of his wife. Little remains of the Raikes Palace Gardens which was visited by millions of people. A walk around the site reveals holes in the road which were made by the metal fence around the Gardens.

Raikes Palace Gardens

Raikes Palace Gardens

The aviary at Fleetwood Memorial Park came from the Gardens. The owners of the Raikes Palace Gardens wisely sold the land for building development.

Evelyn Oatley, Helen Barthelemey and Irene Richardson. The Blackpool Victims


Blackpool had a huge turnover of temporary residents and it is not surprising that Blackpool residents have been among the victims of some of the most notorious crimes.



Evelyn Oatley originally Evelyn Judd originally came from Yorkshire. She was a victim of the “Blackout Ripper,”
Evelyn Judd married Mr Oatley a retired chicken farmer in 1936 and lived in Lyddesdale Avenue, Anchorsholme. They parted amicably and she went to London. Before the war she had a promising theatrical career but when the war limited opportunities she turned to prostitution. He husband visited her in 1942 and realised that her life had taken a new turn.
London in 1942 was an astonishing and frightening place. The Blitz destroyed landmarks, rubble filled the streets, people crowded into air raid shelters. Because of the Blackout streets were pitch black at night.
An unprecedented series of murders of escalating brutality took place..
The first victim, Evelyn Hamilton, was strangled in a bomb shelter on the 9 February. Evelyn Oatley was the second victim. This extremely bloody and brutal murder took place in Evelyn Oatley’s flat. The body was mutilated with a can opener. On 11 February Margaret Florence Lowe was murdered and mutilated with a knife and razor blade. On the 12 February Doris Jouannet was murdered and mutilated. The Blackout Ripper killed four women in five days. Sir Bernard Spilsbury was called in to evaluate the forensic evidence.
A young woman called Greta Harwood was enjoying the company of a dashing air-force cadet in a pub near Picadilly Circus on 14 February. He was good company until he propositioned her. She left and he followed saying:”You must let me kiss you goodnight.” He put his hands round her throat.
They were disturbed by an air raid warden and he ran off leaving his gas mask.
The gas mask was traced to Gordon Frederick Cummins, aged 28. Gordon Cummins with wealthy parents and a good education had had been selected for pilot training.
He denied the crime but a search found stolen material from the murdered women and his fingerprints matched those at Evelyn Oatley’s flat.
Gordon Frederick Cummins was tried for the murder of Evelyn Oatley. He was found guilty and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in June 1942. He was executed during an air raid. His wife and father visited him each day before his execution. He insisted on his innocence. Later another body was found, Mrs Church, and the murder was attributed to Gordon Frederick Cummins.
We have no idea why a person with no record of crime should suddenly murder five women. He made little effort to avoid detection. The crimes were disconcertingly  brutal and he went from one murder to another  without pause. He was said by his colleagues to be well built and good-looking. He boasted about his sexual conquests and claimed to have an aristocratic background.





Margery Gardner

Margery Gardner

Margery Gardner was a resident of Blackpool in 1940 when she accompanied her husband, Peter Gardner, who was serving in the RAF.  She was born in Sheffield and was a very attractive young lady.  She was also gifted.  Her Headteacher described her as “half-genius.”  Her particular talent was for art and she studied art at Chelsea Art College.

Like many students she was also attracted to the bohemian, heavy-drinking, eccentric lifestyle around Chelsea and rebelled against the restrictions of middle-class life, however she was attached to her family.

Margery made unfortunate choices of partner..  Her husband, Peter,  was a heavy drinker, unwell, and finally dishonest.  He was imprisoned after a fraud committed while he was in hospital.  The fraud was intended to finance his  drinking binges when he escaped from the hospital in the afternoons.  Peter served a prison sentence.

They had a daughter but this did not bring them closer.  Peter Gardner did not contribute to his daughter’s maintenance and took up with another partner.  Up to this point Margery had been loyal and tried hard to make a home for herself and her husband.  At some point she realised it was useless and returned to London.  Her daughter was looked after in a nursery although Margery saw her regularly.

Margery was not in good health.  Anxiety over her husband and the fear of bombing and the lack of regular work and poverty all added to her troubles.  She moved in bohemian circles in London and knew Quentin Crisp, the Naked Civil Servent.  She worked  occasionally a film extra.  Her letters to her mother show that she was worried about her health and about money.

She told her landlady that she had  met a dashing  airman called Jim.  He was tall and had film star good looks and was charming.

Not only that but he had invited Margery for a meal.  Margery  had a boyfriend called Peter Tilley Bailey.  It is unclear how close their relationship was but Peter Tilley Bailey said that Margery was always faithful to him.

Margery met Jim at the Trevor Arms at 8.30 on the 20 June 1946.  She had not got enough money for a drink, she did not know where her next meal was coming from.  Jim invited her to the Normandie Hotel for dinner.  After dinner they went to stylish clubs and ended up in the Panama Club.  In the Panama  club Margery saw Peter Tilley Bailey with a young nurse.  They greeted each other curtly.

At 12.20 am they left and caught a taxi.  Margery Gardner was drunk. They got out at the Pembridge Court Hotel.

Margery had been writing a novel and it was autobiographical.  The theme was the life of a single woman in London.  The character “Julie” truly enjoys the novelty and excitement of living in London.

Margery was killed during that night by Jim whose real name was Neville Heath.  She had been beaten and whipped.  In a previous incident which had not been reported to the police Neville Heath who used a number of aliases had been asked to leave a posh hotel specialising in officers and their families when, hearing cries from his room, staff had entered the room using duplicate keys to find a lady tied to the bedpost and Neville Heath whipping her.  Neville Heath was outraged that staff had entered his room without being invited.

When Margery Gardner’s body was found Neville Heath had left.  They issued a description of Neville Heath.

At this point Neville Heath was in serious trouble.  The next thing he did was astonishing.  He went to Bournemouth where he courted one young lady and when she rejected him and left Bournemouth he courted another young lady, Doreen Marshall.

Doreen Marshall disappeared.  She had been with a man called Group Captain  Brook the evening before she disappeared.Group Captain  Brook phoned the Police Station and made an appointment with DC Suter.  Although Brook was not arrested at this point his hotel room was searched and a cloakroom ticked was found.  When the cloakroom ticket was presented a case contained a distinctive diamond patterned whip with blood on it.  Doreen Marshall’s body was found.  An attempt had been made to hide it in.  She had suffered dreadful sexual mutilations.

The game was up and Heath was arrested.  When Group Captain Brook was arrested he said phlegmatically:” Oh, all right.”

Doreen Marshall  had been killed with extreme violence.    It was a pointless killing and guaranteed Neville Heath’s capture.  Neville Heath agreed that he must have been guilty of both murders but could not remember any of the circumstances.  He made no effort to avoid the death penalty.  He discouraged a defence based on insanity because he preferred to die than be locked up.

Neville Heath charmed all the men and women that he met, he had dozens of girlfriends.  He was a fraud, con-man and a murderer and a war hero.

Heath did drink on an epic scale, this may account for his blackouts.  He was also  upset by his divorce and separation from his son.  His case has similarities with that of  Frederick Gordon Cummins.

martins images

Neville Heath

Neville Heath  had a precise grasp of the class system.  His combination of charm, good looks and claiming exalted rank  in the admired RAF helped him to escape the consequences of his acts.  He also an expert at expressing repentance which made people feel that he was basically a good man who made mistakes.

He was hanged on Wednesday 16 October 1946 at Pentonville by the irritating but efficient Albert Pierrepoint.  He got on well with the staff at prison and his final words when he was offered a drink of whiskey before his execution  capture the spirit of the man.

“While your about it sir, you might make it a double.”

Neville was always keen that his beloved younger brother Mick should join the RAF. Mick did his best but was traumatised by his experiences. He was stationed in Blackpool and during a visit to Tussaud’s waxworks he was shocked to find himself looking at a waxwork of his own brother.

Former girlfriends spoke about how gentle and considerate he was and many men have recalled him with affection.  He was  a  hero.  When he was piloting a bomber which was on fire he put himself at risk of death by burning to help a fellow crew member who was having difficulty with his parachute.  The two managed to escape seconds before the aircraft was destroyed.


Helen Barthelemey was a victim of the “Jack the Stripper” murderer who has never been caught.
In the 60’s she made a living as a striptease artiste in Blackpool.
An Oldham visitor to Blackpool called Friend Taylor, aged 25, was lured to join her on the sandhills at Squires Gate where he was promptly robbed and beaten up by her accomplices. She was sentenced to four years imprisonment but when she was freed on appeal in February 1963, she remained in London where she worked as a prostitute.
In April 1964 she was discovered naked and murdered in a back street in Brentford. She was one of the six murders attributed to “Jack the Stripper.”
The “Jack the Stripper” murders were never solved. The victims were all small and slim. All the victims were found naked. All the victims had been strangled and had teeth missing. The victims were discovered in a small area near the Thames. There is disagreement about whether the total number of victims was six, seven or eight. The presence of spray paint on some of the bodies led investigators to suspect that the bodies had been kept in a garage. After his suicide the officer leading the enquiry implied that the prime suspect was a man called Mungo Ireland who committed suicide in 1965. The murders stopped. There is no evidence that Mungo Ireland was the killer. There is a parallel with the Jack the Ripper murders when investigators implied that the chief suspect was a man who committed suicide. Helen’s killer could still be alive.
There was a link between two of the Stripper’s victims and the group around Doctor Stephen Ward. Doctor Stephen Ward helped provide girls for, amongst others, John Profumo the Minister of State for War and the Soviet Naval Attache Captain Yevgeny Ivanov. John Profumo denied this but later confessed and resigned. The Profumo Scandal which involved nineteen year old Christine Keeler rocked the British Establishment in the 1960s. No doubt retired colonels all over the country were spitting marmalade and toast over the breakfast table when it was learned that the Minister for War shared a girlfriend with a Soviet Naval attaché. Doctor Stephen Ward who had also had social relations with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon was tried for living off immoral earnings and committed suicide. This scandal contributed to the defeat of the Conservative Government and the election of Labour in 1964. The role of Stephen Ward has never been explained, many people believe that he was working for British Intelligence and that his trial was unjust and an act of revenge by the Establishment. His former friends were conspicuously unsupportive.

irene richardson


Irene Richardson originally came from Glasgow. She lived in Blackpool from the mid sixties until 1976. She worked as a chambermaid in various hotels including Grosvenor House, living in Exchange Street, Grasmere Road and Central Drive.
Her original name was Osborne and she married a barman called George Richardson. After the break-up of this relationship she moved to Leeds and took a job cleaning at the YMCA. She may have been bullied by a man who took her wages and she was desperately poor, sometimes sleeping in public toilets or on friends’ floors.  On February 5 1977 she was murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, at Soldiers Field in Leeds.
She had two children one was born at the Glenroyd Hospital, Blackpool, in 1969 and taken into care. Her son was adopted and has described the moving realisation that his mother was a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper.


Prostitution was a factor in most if not all of these murders and we only sometimes get a fleeting glimpse of the world of  of prostitution in Blackpool.
There is something overwhelmingly sad about the victims. Poverty was a factor in their lives. A girl working in Blackpool was likely to propositioned regularly especially if she worked in hotels or cafes and prostitution was a temptation for spectacularly underpaid women. When Irene Osborne married George Richardson they must have believed that better times lay ahead. When Helen Barthelmey was released from jail on appeal life gave her a new opportunity. There was a time when Evelyn Oatley looked forward to a life in Anchorsholme. These women shared the Blackpool we live in.  Their crime was being poor.
Helen Barthelemey and Irene Richardson both had sons who were successful in life and have written movingly about their discoveries about their mothers’ lives.