The Acid Bath Murderer | John George Haigh

(John George Haigh. Photo credit:

This is the earliest murder case and serial killer that I have covered here on my blog so far. A lot of people in the UK have heard of John Haigh or as he is infamously known as, ''The Acid Bath Murderer''. Further afield, some people may not have heard of him so I thought I would cover the case this week.

I first heard about John Haigh way back around 2002 when a TV movie based on his crimes was released and it starred an English actor by the name of Martin Clunes. He was usually in comedy roles but this was his first serious role and he did a fantastic job in his portrayal of John George Haigh. You can see this movie called ''A Is For Acid'' on youtube. If you're interested in the case I highly recommend giving it a watch.

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Quick note, this case contains some disturbing and gruesome details so please be warned. 

Let's begin...

John George Haigh was born on the 24th of July in 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire and was said to have been a very gifted boy who could play the piano and had a good relationship with his parents. As he grew up in the village of Outwood in the West Riding of Yorkshire, he struggled with his parents' strong religious beliefs, John was not allowed to celebrate Christmas and there was a lot of strict rules in the household and whilst he was coming of age John claimed the experiences he had in his childhood gave him recurring religious nightmares. 

At school his teachers would describe him as bright but mischievous. John liked to play practical jokes on people and learnt how to forge people's signatures which he would often do. 

John won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield and he won another scholarship to Wakefield Cathedral where he became a choir boy. When he left school at the age of 17 he took an apprenticeship at a motor engineering company for a short while before taking other jobs in insurance and advertising. When he was 21 he was fired from one of his positions after he was suspected of stealing money from a cash deposit box. 

John met and married a pretty 23 year old woman by the name of Beatrice ''Betty'' Hamer. The pair were married on the 6th of July 1934 but the relationship didn't last. That same year, John had been sent to prison for fraud. In one of his previous jobs he had been selling cars that had not belonged to him as well as committing other petty crimes and forgery. He was obsessed with money and tried to create an image for himself with his suits and slicked back hair. He envied the middle class, their financial stability and their lifestyles and wanted that for himself.

As intelligent and charming as he was, John began to realise that the reason he kept being caught for the forgery and thefts was because the victims were alive to report the crimes. He figured that if these people were to disappear, then he could have control of their money, valuables and he could carry on living the lifestyle that he desired without having to face prison.

Whilst John was serving time in prison he began to think about ways that he could carry out his thefts and dispose of the victims and he began reading various books from the prison library. He became obsessed with the murderer Georges-Alexandre Sarret who was a French murderer who disposed of his victims remains in sulphuric acid. John thought this was a great idea and managed to get hold of some samples of sulphuric acid whilst in prison. He would pay some of the other prisoners to bring him some dead field mice and he would conduct little experiments to see how long the mouse would take to disintegrate in the acid. 

Whilst John was in prison, Betty found out that she was pregnant and soon gave birth to their baby daughter but decided to give the child up for adoption. After the breakdown of his marriage and the knowledge of his criminal behaviour, John's family became estranged from him. When he was released from prison in 1943 he returned to London where he had been spending most of his time beforehand and began putting into action what he had been planning in prison, to find someone wealthy, murder them, sell their valuables and then dispose of their body in a vat of acid. 

Whilst working as an accountant in London for an engineering company, he managed to bump into one of his previous employers that he got on really well with at a pub in Kensington. They caught up about old times and his ex employer, William McSwan decided it would be a good idea to introduce the charming John to his parents, Donald and Amy.

William worked for his parents, collecting rent money from the various properties that they owned. It was a family business and John could see that William and his parents were quite well off with money and lived a very luxurious lifestyle which he began to envy.

On the 6th of September 1944, William suddenly disappeared and John went over to his parents house to tell them that William had run off to Scotland to avoid being called up for military service. The truth was that John had struck Wiliiam violently over the head with a lead pipe after luring him into the basement at 79 Gloucester Road in London SW7 before dumping his body in a 40-gallon drum and filling it with sulphuric acid.

John wore a freakish ensemble which consisted of a war time gas mask, a large rubber apron, rubber gloves and wader length rubber boots whilst using the acid to dispose of William's body. Two days later he returned to find that William's remains were nothing but mush and he poured the disgusting contents of the drum down a manhole. 

Believing the charming John Haigh that their son was in Scotland, they decided that John could take over William's job of collecting the rents. This suited John for a little while but then he decided he could have even more money if he murdered the parents and sold their properties. When William's parents began to ask questions about why William had not returned home since the war was coming to an end, John decided to invite them over to William's house (which he was now living in) under the pretence that William had made a surprise return.

On the 2nd of July, the couple arrived at Gloucester Road looking forward to seeing their son. John led them into the basement where he murdered them and disposed of their bodies in acid. He then stole their cheque and pension books as well as selling their properties for which he made about £8,000. He then moved into Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington.

John was addicted to gambling and was running out of money fast by the summer of 1947 so he made plans to find a new victim or victims. He targeted a couple called Archibald and Rose Henderson who were selling their house, he struck up a friendship with them and Rose even invited him to their housewarming party where he impressed the other guests with his piano skills. 

Whilst he was at their house he stole Archibald's revolver and planned to use the gun in his next murder. John moved his workshop from Gloucester Road to 2 Leopold Road, Crawley in Sussex. He managed to move his 40-gallon drums, acid, equipment etc into this new building. He also stayed at the George Hotel in Crawley from time to time.

He decided on the 12th of February 1948 that he was going to make his next move and murder Archibald and his wife Rose. He invited Archibald to the workshop under the pretence that he was going to show him a secret invention he was working on. Archibald had no reason to doubt the well spoken, smartly dressed and friendly John Haigh, so he went along. John shot Archibald in the back of the head with the stolen revolver. 

He planned to murder Rose too and decided to call her and make up a story that Archibald had fallen ill and could she come over right away. Rose was concerned for her husband so she went over as fast as she could and she too was shot. 

John put on his rubber apron, war time gas mask, gloves and wader length rubber boots & put the two bodies into the oil drums & began to fill them with acid.

He forged a letter from the couple and managed to sell all of their possessions for around £8,000 but decided that he wanted to keep their car and pet dog. 

His last victim is reported to have been a 69 year old woman by the name of Olive Durand-Deacon who recently lost her husband. Olive was quite wealthy and was a fellow resident at the Onslow Court Hotel. With his usual routine of charm and friendliness, John managed to befriend the woman and told her he was an engineer. She told him she had lots of ideas about inventions and she wanted to ask his advice on one involving artificial nails. John said he would love to talk more about it and show her some things at his workshop.

John shot Olive dead at his workshop on the 18th of February 1949 and removed all of her valuables that she had on her which included a real fur coat, money, pieces of jewellery and placed her body into the drum with the acid as he had done with his other victims. Two days later, one of Olive's friends had reported her missing.

(4 of John Haigh's victims. He also murdered Amy's husband Donald and Son William) 

Due to John's history of fraud, it didn't take long for the police to track him down to his workshop where they made some gruesome discoveries. They found a case filled with documents and receipts which related to the sales of the McSwan and Hendersons houses as well as a dry cleaners receipt for Olive's fur coat.

The workshop which was rented by John did not contain a floor drain which his previous one at Gloucester Road had so he disposed of the liquefied remains at the back of the property. Some of the remains had not completely dissolved so investigators were able to find part of a human foot, human gallstones and part of a denture believing to have belonged to Olive. The police found the 28 pounds of human body fat on a rubble pile.

John George Haigh was swiftly arrested and taken to the police station, during questioning he asked Detective Inspector Albert Webb ''Tell me frankly, what are the chances of anybody being released from Broadmoor?'' (a high security psychiatric hospital in Crowthorne, Berkshire). The detective replied that he couldn't discuss that sort of thing to which John said ''Well if I told you the truth, you would not believe me. It sounds too fantastic to believe.''

John then went on to confess to the murders of Olive, The McSwans and the Hendersons. He claimed to have killed three other people too, a young man by the name of Max, a girl from Eastbourne and a woman from Hammersmith. These three other murders could not be substantiated. 

John was sentenced to death by hanging and the door of the cell to which he had been held was preserved and is currently on display at the Horsham Museum 

When he was in the condemned cell in Wandsworth Prison it was reported that he asked a guard if there was the possibility that they could do a trial run of his hanging to make sure everything would run smoothly but this was refused. 

Just before his execution was carried out, he was asked if he would like a brandy. John George Haigh replied ''Make it a large one, old boy.''

John George Haigh - The Acid Bath Murderer was hanged on the 10th of August 1949. 

My thoughts...

They say money is the root of all evil. I wonder with John Haigh if his childhood of being deprived of celebrating Christmas and the strict rules he had to follow had made him even more hungry for money. It was like he was trying to over compensate for what he missed out on and his greed turned him into a monster. 

The thought of how he disposed of his victims is sickening and how cold, calculated and cruel he was, to trick, lie and steal from people even after they had died without a care in the world.

This is definitely one of the sickest cases I've ever come across. 

What are your thoughts? Leave them below or drop me a line elsewhere on social media.

RIP to Olive, the McSwans, the Hendersons and the other victims of John George Haigh, he could be responsible for more that we'll ever know. 

Further reading & sources:

A Is For Acid

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  1. This makes me think of an episode of breaking bad haha. I always thought this was the best way to dispose of a body, but can easily go wrong. And the horrible stench...another great post!

    1. Thank you for the comment and taking the time to read the post : ) x

  2. I'm not surprised that it seems like John's past of his family's religion seem to harm him, and that he had nightmares from it. I wonder if that is why his family become estrange from him? Since at this point he had only been charged with fraud, and I doubt at the time they knew about the suspected stealing from the other job.

    I'm surprised that they he learned from all that from books at the prison, and they allowed books like that while he was in prison. I feel so bad for Betty, but I feel like she gave her daughter the best possible life that she could without having him as a father she didn't have to be judge about something she couldn't control.

    It's extremely messed up that he choose to do this to people who thought he was their friend and he knew them, I just can't understand that at all. For money? I can't understand why people kill for it tbh, and have that greed in their heart. Then pretty much taking over his life, and then killing his parents for more money is so gross. Then making friends with Archibald and Rose and killing them with their own gun. Then he killed Olive a vulnerable woman. :(

    I'm surprised that they didn't catch him sooner, after William was murder, I would wonder why his parents didn't try contact him though, and they didn't look into his home. When John confess to killing 3 other people I have to wonder if it is true.

    When he said this "trial run of his hanging" I have to say I think he has some serious issues, especially with mental health. I agree with what you said but I also have to wonder if his strict religion ruined him as a person. What he did to other is honest unforgivable, and so completely messed up.

    Love is Zero

    1. Yeah I totally agree with your comments, there was a feeling of him trying to over compensate for the things he lacked in childhood or was unable to enjoy due to the religious aspect. Thanks you for taking the time to read and comment : ) x

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