The Acid Bath Murderer: John George Haigh

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John George Haigh: One of the most notorious English serial killers. Known as the Acid Bath Murderer & responsible for at least six murders between 1944-1949.

Haigh was Born on July 24, 1909 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, England to parents John Robert Haigh & Emily Hudson. He grew up in a village called Outwood in West Yorkshire. His parents belonged to a very strict local religious group called the Plymouth Brethren & this religion believed that almost all forms of casual entertainment, music, magazines & sports were regarded as sinful; only stories from the bible were tolerated. John’s father believed that the world was evil & built a ten foot fence around their yard to shelter him from the outside world. He had very few friends & described his childhood as bleak & lonely. John was taught to fear God as a young boy; his father had a blue scar on his forehead & would tell John that it was placed there by the devil because of his own sins during his youth. This stuck with John & terrified him.

John had recurring nightmares as a child about a forest of crucifixes that would turn into trees & drip with blood. He would see a man collecting the blood into a cup but would wake before he could take a drink. He later told police that it was these dreams that made him believe he needed blood to live & it was widely reported that John’s childhood ambition was to become a vampire.

Around age ten, John saw ways to get around his parent’s strict regime & began pushing the rules. He started to commit small sins like reading non-religious books & found that the blue scar that his father spoke of never appeared. This not only made him believe that he was invincible & could get away with anything, but also made him question his parent’s religious beliefs; did God not exist or did God just not care about what he did?

John played the piano & attended concerts for classical music. He won a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield. Oddly, this same school had another student that would be convicted for killing 3 people; Stephen Griffiths. Like Haigh, he was also a choirboy at Wakefield Cathedral. He was described as “a brainy lad though a bit of a loaner.” When he finished school he was apprenticed to a firm of motor engineers, though at age twenty–one John was fired after being accused of stealing from a cash box.

John was well-groomed, confident, charming & impressed many women. At age 25 John married Beatrice/Betty Hammer (age 21) on July 6, 1934. John knew Beatrice for only four months at the time of their marriage & it’s likely he married Beatrice so quickly to escape his parent’s strict beliefs. After the marriage, John no longer attended church. His new adult life pressured John into the need to make more money, so he decided to start his own business & began to forge vehicle documents.  In November of 1934, John was caught & received fifteen months of jail time for fraud. At the same time, Beatrice discovered that she was pregnant with their baby girl. Fearing she couldn’t care for the child alone, she put the baby up for adoption & filed for divorce. John’s family also 

cut ties with him about this time.

On his release from prison, John started a dry cleaning business with a friend. As the business was becoming successful, his partner was killed in a motorcycle accident & the business collapsed. This reinforced his belief that the life of crime was the way to make money.

In 1936, during his late 20s, John moved to London & met William McSwan, the son of Donald & Amy McSwan, a very wealthy family who owned amusement arcades. John was hired by the family to be their chauffeur and repair their arcade machines. John befriended William & soon became envious of his wealth. John continued his friendship with the McSwan family though moved on to more shady dealings, working under the name of William Cato Adamson, selling fraudulent stock shares from the estates of dead clients at below-market rates. When one of his clients noticed a misspelling on John’s letterhead, the jig was up; instead of Guildford, he wrote Guilford. At age 28, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

During these four years, it occurred to John that his biggest mistake was leaving his fraud victims alive & able to report the crimes.

John spent his free time in the prison library, studying the work of French murder, Georges Sarret who dissolved his victims in sulphuric acid. Using glass jars from the kitchen & dead field mice brought in from the fields, John used small quantities of acid taken from the tinsmith’s shop. He found that it took 30 minutes to dissolve a small field mouse. From here he calculated how much acid & time it would take to dissolve a full grown adult. In John’s mind, if there was no body, there was no crime.

Shortly after his release in 1940, John was back in jail for another 21 months on a breaking & entering charge. Upon this release, he became a salesman for a firm in Crawley until 1944. During an evening in a pub, John happened to bump into his old employer, William McSwan.  John knew of William’s business of working for his parents, collecting  rent from the tenants of their various properties. He was very envious of McSwan’s seemingly lavish lifestyle. John & William began spending more time together, rekindling their friendship, also getting closer to parents, Donald and Amy. As John watched William collect money from his tenants, his jealousy grew. 

John began renting a small basement workshop on 79 Gloucester Road where he allegedly worked on his ‘inventions.’ His workshop was equipped with 40-gallon drums, a rubber apron, wellies & a gas mask. During this time, John continued to gain William McSwan’s trust. On Saturday, September 9, 1944, John & McSwan went to John’s workshop where John smashed William’s head with a lead pipe. He also said that he slit his throat & said, “I got a mug & took some blood from his neck, in the mug & drank it.” He then put William’s body in a 40-gallon drum & covered it in sulphuric acid. He described in his confession how, when the body was finally submerged in liquid acid, the fumes overwhelmed him & he had to go outside. He later covered the drum & went home to sleep, leaving his former employer & friend to dissolve into liquid sludge.  Two days later, William’s body had mostly dissolved into thick, black sludge which John poured down a drain in the road behind his workshop during the middle of the night.

As expected, William’s parent’s Donald & Amy, wondered what happened to their son. John told them he had fled to Scotland to avoid being drafted for WWII. His family knew of his fear of the draft & easily believed John’s story. From here, John quickly slipped into William’s role of collecting rent for Donald & Amy, living in the McSwan’s house.  He maintained the lie by sending postcards & letters to Donald & Amy, posing as William. As the war came to an end, Donald & Amy couldn’t understand why William had not returned home.  During this time, John upgraded his workshop with a stirrup-pump, DIY tin face mask & a bathtub made of steel.  He then told Donald & Amy that William had returned to London for a night for a surprise visit & he was to meet them at John’s workshop at night. John wanted the McSwan’s to be discreet about William’s visit so they hadn’t told anyone about it. On July 2, 1945, Donald was led to the basement workshop where he was smashed in the head with a lead pipe, meeting the same fate as his son. After placing Donald’s body near the steel bathtub, he retrieved Amy & repeated his actions.  John was now faced with disposing of two bodies. The couple was stripped of any valuables & they were dismembered to more easily dissolve. Their dismembered body parts were placed into the bathtub & covered with sulphuric acid as well as hydrochloric acid & left to dissolve over the next few days.. During this time, he met with Donald & Amy’s landlady, telling her the couple had gone to America. He had all their mail forwarded to him, including Mr. McSwan’s pension check. Posing as William McSwan, John forged a Power Of Attorney form & made 6-8k pounds selling their property (equivalent to ~250k pounds in 2020).  He took the money & moved into the very ritzy, Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington. By 1947 the money was nearly gone due to Jonn’s lavish ways & gambling habit; it was time to move on to another victim. 

By this time, John no longer had his basement workshop at 79 Gloucester Road & was on the hunt to find a new location where he could bring his victims. He found a small space outside of London at 2 Leopold Road, Crawley, Sussex. All of his supplies had been moved to his new space & he felt ready to find his new victims. John pretended to show interest in a house that 52-year-old Dr. Archibald Henderson & his 41-year-old wife Rose,  were selling. After receiving an invite to the Henderson’s home to place the piano at their housewarming party, John used this opportunity to steal their .38 caliber Webley revolver. Like the McSwan’s, John built his trust with the couple & on February 12, 1948, he drove Mr. Henderson to his new workshop under the guise of showing him a new invention, proposing they partner together for business. On arrival, John shot Mr. Henderson with the stolen revolver in the back of the head, killing him instantly & stripped him of any valuables. To save time, he did not dismember Henderson’s body; he placed his body into a 40-gallon drum & covered it with sulphuric acid. John then lured Rose Henderson to the workshop, claiming her husband had fallen ill; as she arrived, he shot her & placed her body in a second drum of sulphuric acid, leaving their bodies to dissolve over the weekend. Later, in the middle of the night, John emptied the barrels into the back yard. He then pawned the Henderson’s belongings, though, to his dismay, only made 200 pounds. The nice guy also kept their car & their dog. Haigh forged letters by Rose Henderson, writing a lengthy letter to her brother. After selling their properties and possessions he acquired around £8000 in total. Unexpectedly, Rose Henderson’s brother Burlin was prepared to go to the police. Haigh managed to convince him that the couple had emigrated to South Africa on the grounds that Dr Henderson had carried out an illegal abortion.

At this point, John was in his late 30s. The money from the Hendersons lasted him only a little over a year. His next & final victim was Olive Durand-Deacon, 69, wealthy widow of solicitor John Durand-Deacon. Olive was a fellow resident at the Onslow Court Hotel, John living there for 4 years &  Olive for 6 years. John, being a very personable & charming man, had chatted with Olive during dinners & referred to himself as an engineer & inventor. During lunch on February 14, Olive told John about an idea she had for artificial fingernails & hoped he could help her improve the idea to make it marketable. John invited Olive to his Leopold Rd workshop on Friday, February 18, 1949  & shot her in the back of the neck with the revolver he had stolen from the Henderson’s, stripped her of her valuables, including an Persian lamb coat & put her into an acid bath. Later he returned to the hotel where he enjoyed a three course meal. This murder was less thought out & hurried; he didn’t have a very close relationship with Olive & really no way to gain her assets. When John returned to dispose of Olive’s remains from the 40 gallon drum, he realized the body had not fully dissolved & some whole pieces remained as he poured the contents in the yard at the back of his shop.  Mrs Constance Lane, who was also a retired woman living at the hotel was deeply concerned by her friend’s disappearance. ‘Don’t you know where she is, she told me you were taking her down to your factory? Well I must do something about that’ To avoid suspicion Haigh offered to go to the police station with her and report the matter. Policewoman Sergeant Lambourne was immediately suspicious of John. On Monday, Scotland Yard’s Record office was contacted & John’s criminal record was revealed.. Thursday another statement was given & Saturday, February 26th, the police visited John’s workshop. The door was forced open where police discovered a rubber apron, gas mask & empty drums. They also found the revolver & a dry cleaning bill for Olive’s Persian lamb coat which became bloodied during the shooting.

At 4:15pm on Monday, February 28th, Detective Inspector Albert Webb waited for John to return to Onslow Court & on arrival, he was taken to the police station . Later that night, John confessed saying, “I’ve destroyed her with acid, you will find her in the sludge that remains at Leopold Rd. Every trace has gone, how can you prove a murder if there is no body?” He mentioned the McSwanns & the Hendersons during his confession, saying that he killed them so he could drink their blood. He also reported killing three others though the claims could not be confirmed.

On Tuesday, March 1, pathologist Dr Keith Simpson examined John’s workshop & found bloodstains on the walls & a hat-pin at the bottom of a 45-gallon drum. After Dr Simpson found a gallstone in the sludge in the yard, all the residue was collected & taken to the police lab. It was processed & produced a list that included 28# animal fat, part of a foot, 2 more gallstones & a full set of dentures. Olive’s dentist was able to  identify these dentures belonging to her & John’s fate was sealed. Additional findings included pieces of pelvic bone, 2 discs from her lower spine, a handbag, a lipstick container & a notebook.

John was charged with Olive’s murder on March 2 and taken to Lewes Prison. Trial began July 18, 1949; it took the jury 17 minutes to find him guilty. He had hoped he would be found insane & it was even said that he drank his own urine in jail to prove his point. On Wednesday August  10th, a crowd of around 500 people gathered outside Wandsworth Prison in the bright sunshine. At 9am Haigh was hanged by Albert Pierpoint, assisted by Harry Kirk. Just prior to his execution, Madame Tussaud’s requested a fitting for a death mask and Haigh was happy to oblige.He left his clothes to Tussaud’s with the stipulation that his waxwork was always kept spotless, with trousers neatly creased, shirt cuffs showing and hair parted. 


  1. Wikipedia
  2. The Story of John George Haigh, The Acid Bath Murderer, Is Just As Gruesome As His Nickname Suggests by Katie Serena:
  3. Murderpedia
  4. Old Police Cells Museum
  5. The True Crime Edition: The Acid Bath Murders by Josie Klakstrom
  6. The Wakefield Express: John George Haigh: Everything you need to know about the Acid Bath Murderer & his links to Wakefield
  7. Crime & Investigation: John Haigh Crime Files
  8. The Acid Bath Murderer – John George Haigh
  9. YouTube: The Acid Bath Murderer part 1 & 2 by Eleanor Neale

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