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John Haigh: The Vampire Killer

Vishwas Purohit Oct 27, 2018
Labeled by the British Press as 'The Vampire killer' in the 1940s, John Haigh would kill people for profit and also drink some of their blood. Although cautious about choosing his victims, one choice caused him to get captured by the police, after which he confessed his crimes.
John Haigh was born on 24th July, 1909, at Stamford in Lincolnshire. He was brought up in Outwood, Yorkshire. He left school at seventeen and was apprenticed to a motor engineer. He left home, and on 6th July, 1934, he got married. He was involved in several frauds and was sentenced to jail many times.
It was apparent that he could never earn an honest living. Soon after, his wife divorced him. After one of his stints in prison, he started working for Donald McSwann as a chauffeur. He was again sentenced for fraud and robbery.
Later, he opened a mechanic workshop, and one day, casually bumped into his former employer, McSwann. That is when began his killing spree. He thought that a murder could never be proved until a body has been found, and so, he would drown his victims in acid and make their bodies disappear, having tried this method on rats first.

The First Murder

Haigh invited McSwann for a drink, and took him to his workshop. He boasted about his workshop, and it was, indeed, a basement to be proud of. There was equipment for every kind of craftsman ... for the carpenter, the welder, the sheet metal worker, and ... the murderer.
McSwann stared at the 40 gallon vat of sulfuric acid in one corner. His curiosity drove him to ask about the need for such a strange array of equipment. His questions were never answered. Crouchng behind him, Haigh swung the hammer in a deadly arc, and he slaughtered his first victim.
According to Haigh's confession later on, he drank some of McSwann's blood. Then he spent the rest of the night methodically dismembering his body and feeding it into the vat. The sulfuric acid bubbled and smoked, occasionally forcing him to escape outdoors for a breath of fresh air.
By the next afternoon, McSwann's remains had dissolved into a mass of sludge. Haigh disposed it off, bucket by bucket, sloshing the ghastly residue into a basement manhole connected to the sewer system.

Consequent Murders

It was September 1944, and no one thought anything of McSwann's disappearance. Haigh's murder for profit scheme was succeeding to perfection. He assured McSwann's aging parents that their son was hiding out in Scotland until the end of the year. In between trips, he ran the pinball arcade business that had belonged to his victim.
Wartime crowds poured into the arcade, and he was taking in money hand over fist. But it was still not enough to buy the lifestyle that he wanted, and greed drove him to his next murder for profit. Moreover, his first victim's parents had already started suspecting him, and so, he decided to kill them in the same manner.
He wrote to them, again forging their son's name, and begged them to meet him at the home of his dear friend, John Haigh.

On the night of 10th July, 1945, Haigh bludgeoned them to death in his workshop. After that, he dissolved their bodies in the vat of acid, and poured the reeking sludge down the drain.
Using forged documents Haigh helped himself to the entire estate - five houses and a fortune in securities and later transferred it to his own name.

The Next High-Profile Victims

Because of his inveterate gambling, self-indulgence, and a string of bad investments, he was broke again by February 1948. He decided to invite a young married couple, Rosalie and Dr. Archie Henderson, to look at his new workshop at Crawley, south of London. Both went into the acid bath.
Although the Henderson's estate had been profitably disposed of in 1949, Haigh found that he needed one more victim. Still convinced he was living a charmed life, he chose this one with little caution.
She was Mrs. Olive Durand-Deacon, a 69-year-old widow whose husband had left her 40,000 pounds. She lived at the same London residential hotel as Haigh, who had not paid his bills for months and was desperate for money.
Mrs. Durand Deacon believed that apart from having a private income, Haigh had made money by patenting inventions. She put to him an idea for false plastic fingernails. Haigh showed interest, invited her to visit his Crawley workshop, and in February 1949, drove her down there.
What happened next was described by him in a statement he made to police and which was read at his trail:

She was inveigled by me into going to Crawley in view of her interest in artificial fingernails. Having taken her into the storeroom, I shot her through the back of her head, while she was examining some materials.
Then I went out to the car and fetched a drinking glass and made an incision, I think with a penknife, in the side of her throat. I collected a glass of blood, which I drank.
I removed her coat and jewelry (rings, necklace, earrings, and crucifix), and put her in a 45-gallon tank. Before I put her handbag into the tank, I took from it about 30 shillings and a fountain pen. I then filled the tank with sulfuric acid, by means of a stirrup-pump. I then left it to react.
As an afterthought, Haigh added: I should have said that, in between having her in the tank and pumping the acid, I went round to the Ancient Priors [a local teashop] for a cup of tea.
It took some days and two further trips to Crawley to check on the acid tank before Mrs. Durand-Deacon's body appeared to have been entirely dissolved. Meantime, the police had questioned her fellow guests at the hotel, including Haigh.


The killers glib, over helpful manner made one detective particularly suspicious, and he checked on the 39 year old suspect's background. He unearthed a prison record for minor frauds and arrested Haigh. He confessed the murder, but claimed that he could never be proven guilty, because the police could never find any of his victim's remains.
He was wrong. Forensic scientists examined the foul sludge that had been emptied from the tank onto the ground into the yard of the Crawley workshop.
They identified 3 gallstones, a part of the foot, remains of a handbag, and an almost complete set of false teeth. These were shown to Mrs. Duran Deacon's dentist, who confirmed that they had belonged to the trusting widow.
In court, the killer's lawyers claimed that he was insane. They pointed to a strict and unhappy childhood to his claimed habit of drinking his victim's blood. But, although the British press labeled him the Vampire killer, the judge and jury failed to accept this bloody trait as an evidence of insanity.
After a trail of only two days, he was found guilty of murdering Mrs. Durand Deacon and sentenced to death.

Asked if he had anything to say, Haigh replied airily: 'Nothing at all.'

On 6th August, 1949, he was hanged at Wandsworth Prison. Thus ended the life of the Vampire Killer.