From September 1940 to May 1941 London was systematically bombed by the German Luftwaffe causing numerous deaths and widespread damage. After the "Blitz", the Nazis continued to conduct smaller scale air raids which resulted in blackouts across the city. During the course of a week in February 1942 a vicious killer preyed on the women of London, taking advantage of the blackouts to strangle and mutilate his victims in much the same manner as Jack the Ripper. After several failed assaults led to his capture, Gordon Cummins was considered an unlikely murder suspect. But his trial would prove he was a depraved spree killer who used the bombing raids as a cover to carry out his sickening attacks.
Gordon Frederick Cummins was born on 18 February 1914 to John and Amelia Cummins. His father was an assistant schoolmaster who lived in the village of New Earswick, York, where the young Gordon was raised. He received a private education at Llandovery in South Wales and then studied at Northampton Technical School and then afterwards moved to London in his teens. During his later career in the RAF he would boast to his fellow servicemen that he was really the son of a titled member of the peerage and that he was born out of wedlock. Because of this claim to noble heritage he would be referred to as, "the Count" or "the Duke" by his friends and colleagues.
He left with school with few qualifications and then found work at a London Industrial Chemists firm where he was trained until he was sacked for his unsatisfactory perfomance. After this he drifted between part-time work as a casual labourer until he joined the RAF in 1935. He began as a member of the ground staff, known as a "rigger". In 1936 at the age of 23 he married Majorie Stevens, who was working as a secretary to a West London theatre producer. By the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 Cummins had risen to become a cadet officer in the RAF ground crew, however his ambition was to fly spitfires and he subsequently volunteered for aircrew duties. He was posted to the RAF Aircrew Reception Centre in St. John's Wood. This intake ran from 2 to 25 February 1942 and Cummins would be assessed for suitability and then posted to the initial training wing for three months ground training. Around this time he began to style himself the Hon. Gordon Cummins and as a result some of his fellow airmen considered him pretentious. He started to affected an upper class drawl to better reinforce is claims of atristocratic blood. He also boasted of his sexual conquests and claimed to have seduced many women despite his marriage to Marjorie.
On 8 February 1942 40-year-old chemist Evelyn Hamilton travelled London to start her new job at a pharmacy in Grimsby. Like many women she had not managed to find herself a husband and having lost her previous job due to cutbacks she hoped her new career would provide her some financial security. She arrived at her boarding house in Marlybone, leaving her suitcase, and then went out for supper at a Lyons Corner house. The would be the last time anyone saw her alive. The following morning on 9 February, two electricians were walking to work when they spotted a torch lying on the ground near an air raid shelter in Montagu Place in Marylebone. The two men decided to look inside and found the body of Evelyn Hamilton lying on her back in the gutter. A passing policeman heard their shouts for help and within minutes detectives were on the scene. It was found that the victim had been strangled and her killer had pulled up her skirt, revealing her stockings and underwear. Her vest was torn, exposing her breast. It appeared her handbag had been stolen and although there was no apparent evidence of rape, police believed the murder was sexual in nature and not simply a botched robbery.
On the night of 09 February 1942 Gordon Cummins went into Soho, Central London accompanied by Air Cadet Felix Sampson. During the evening Sampson met and left with a girl named Molly and Cummins chose a blonde named Laura Denmark. He paid her for sex but failed to complete the act because he was too intoxicated. After this he headed back to Piccadilly where he spotted another blonde, 35-year-old Evelyn Oatley who also went by the name Nita Ward. The next day two meter readers were allowed entry into a flat at Wardour Street in Soho by a neighbour. After shining their flashlights they found the naked corpse of a women. When police arrived on the scene they found Evelyn Oatley's body sprawled across her bed with her head hanging over the edge. There was a pool of blood on the floor from the wound to her throat. She had been strangled and the killer had cut her throat with a razor blade, which was then used to mutilate her body. She had also been sexually mutilated with a can opener, torch and hair tongs. Clues to the killer's identity were scarce, but it was determined he had taken Oatley's cigarette case, was missing and fingerprints found on the can opener confirmed the perpetrator was left-handed.
Scotland Yard now had two murders committed within 48 hours of each other and Chief Inspector Edward Greeno suspected they might be the work of the same individual. They began by checking the fingerprints found on the can-opener but could not match them to any held on file. Police also began an investigation into the victim, Evelyn Oatley. She had previously married an poultry farmer, but abandoned him to pursue a career in the west end. When work became more scarce she began soliciting men for both money and company. Because of the sexual mutilations, detectives believed they were searching for a sexual sadist who would soon strike again. Although there had been little media attention concerning the first two murders, the prostitutes in Soho, who were commonly referred to as "Picadilly Commandos", were aware of the threat stalking the blackened streets of London. Despite limited police resources and the need to prevents muggings, burglaries and the thriving black market as a result of the war, Chief Inspector Greeno sent more officers onto the streets as a deterrent against further murders. Margaret Florence Lowe was a 43-year-old widow who worked as a prostitute to pay towards her 15-year-old daughter Barbara's weekly boarding school fees. She was known as "Pearl" and "the Lady" by her fellow working girls, because of her fur coats and refined graces. At 01:00am on 11 February she met a well spoken young man and together they went to her flat in Gosfield Street, Marylebone.
On the evening of 12 February 32-year-old Mary "Greta" Haywood was approached by a man in a Picadilly restaurant. The man, wearing an RAF uniform, slammed £30 down on the table and propositioned her. She told told she was waiting for her boyfriend and she was not that kind of girl. However, she did accompany him outside into the street and he then pulled her into a doorway and tried to kiss her, placing his hands inside her skirt. When she told him to stop he put his hands around her throat and began to strangle her.She began to fight him but his grip was too tight and she fell unconscious on the ground. The altercation had drawn the attention of a night porter who shone his torchlight into the doorway. The man dropped his gas-mask respirator and ran away. When police were called they found the gas-mask had the RAF number, 525987 printed on it.
Shortly after the attack on Greta Hayward, prostitute Catherine Mulcahy also known as Kathleen King, met a prospective customer. After agreeing she would charge him £2 she took him back to her flat at Southwick Street, near Paddington railway station. As they undressed the man attempted to strangle her. Mulcahy, who had kept her shoes on, kicked him in the stomach and successfully fought off her attacker whilst shouting "Murder!" to alert her neighbours. The man fled and threw a £5 note in her direction as he ran away. In his haste, the man had left behind his uniform belt. Doris Jouannet was a 32-year-old housewife who occasionally used the name Doris Robson and picked up men to relieve her boredom and to make some extra money. On the evening of 12 February her husband returned home from his evening job as a hotel manager and found the couples bedroom door locked. The police were called to the apartment in West London at Sussex Gardens, Paddington eventually broke down the door to reveal Doris had been murdered, strangled with one of her own scarves and wearing nothing but an open bloodstained bathrobe. The Police also found the body had been sexually mutilated with a razor blade. Meanwhile both Haywood and Mulcahy had reported their encounters with the man in the RAF uniform and the police were now in possession of a gas-mask, presumably dropped by Haywoods attacker as he fled, aswell as his belt from the Mulcahy assault. They now attempted to locate the owner of the gas-mask with the serial number "525987".
By now the newspapers were reporting about the latest attacks and murder which they attributed to "the Blackout Ripper", because of the similarities between these murders and the prostitute murders of Jack the Ripper, who also mutilated his victims. Florence Lowe had not been seen for three days and when her daughter arrived at her flat on the morning of 14 February and received no answer, she contacted police who entered her apartment in Gosfield Street and discovered her decomposing body. She had been strangled with a silk stocking and her body had been mutilated with a variety of implements in the now distinctive pattern which was the signature of the Blackout Ripper. The killer had performed these sexual mutilations using a razor blade, a knife and a poker. The pathologist Bernard Spilsbury examined the victims body and after seeing the extensive injuries, which said were "quite dreadful", he commented the killer was "a savage sexual maniac".
The police were quickly able to trace the RAF serial number to 28-year-old Gordon Frederick Cummins and he was brought in for questioning by Scotland Yard detectives. However, Cummins became evasive during questioning and displayed an arrogant indifference towards his guilt. He denied knowing anything about the murders or the attacks on Haywood and Mulcahy. He had no previous criminal record and no known history of violence towards women. Police then searched his accommodation and found several items amongst his possessions which belonged to the victims. Officers found a pen engraved with Jouannet’s initials and a cigarette case that Barbara Lowe later identified as her mothers. They also found another cigarette case which belonged to Evelyn Oatley and one of his shirts was bloodstained. Detectives checked Cummins fingerprints against those found on the tin opener used to mutilate Evelyn Oatly, they were a match. They also matched his fingerprint to some left on a glass in Margaret Lowe's flat. Still more evidence was found when investigators traced the £5 note thrown at Mulcahy to Cummin's payday records and mortar dust in his gas-mask was similar to dust found in the air raid shelter where Evelyn Hamilton had been murdered.
Despite such strong evidence linking his to all the murders and attacks, he was only charged with the murder of Evelyn Oatley and arraigned to stand trial. During his brief trial the court were told of his vanity and boasting about his sexual prowess. The prosecutor Mr. G.B. McClure also brought up his claims to peerage, and his self-styled nobility which resulted in his nicknames of "the Count" and "the Duke" from his friends. Although Cummins was represented by Mr J. Flowers, his guilt was soon proven without doubt. It would be the expert fingerprint testimony from Chief Superintendent Frederick Cherrill which would seal his fate. After only 35 minutes the jury found him guilty.
On 28 April 1942 he was sentenced to death by hanging. He continued to deny his culpability and wrote letters to his wife Marjorie in which he vehemently protested his innocence, whilst his family even attempted an appeal on his behalf in early June. His case was for clemency was also taken up by the Archbishop of Canterbury who wrote to the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison to inform him that a number of people who observed the case closely had been disturbed and dismayed at what they called, "extremely precarious evidence". However the Home Secretary refused to intervene the appeal was ultimately dismissed by Lord Chief Justice Humphreys who confirmed the sentence.
Detectives strongly believed that Cummins was also responsible for the murder of two more women which occurred during air raids on London in October 1941. Having previously being dismissed from the RAF, Gordon Cummins was led to the gallows at Wandsworth Prison on 25 June 1942 as German bombers conducted an air raid overhead, and executed as a civilian by the famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint. Because he continuously denied his guilt, it was never established exactly why Gordon Cummins began his reign of terror on the women of London.
Written by Nucleus
Written by Nucleus