Jonathan Oates on the Acid Bath Murderer Special

Posted Aug 11, 2012 by Alexander Baron
Jonathan Oates is a librarian and archivist as well as an accredited historian. He also has a nice sideline in murder. Writing about it, of course!
A photograph of historian and author Jonathan Oates.
A photograph of historian and author Jonathan Oates.
Jonathan Oates
Jonathan Oates is no stranger to this site. Last year he discussed his new book on the Jacobite risings, and his forthcoming book on seriall killer John Reginald Halliday Christie.
Here, he talks some more about his Christie book, and about another notorious case he has been researching, that of acid bath killer John George Haigh who was hanged for murder in 1949.
AB: Hello again. What have you been doing since last time we spoke?
JO: I've been working in my day job and coping with the pressures of family life, as well as working on an on-line course for family historians.
AB: How is your book on the Jacobites going sales-wise?
JO: Don't know. As an academic tome, and not inexpensive, I imagine sales are limited. Only one review on Amazon!
AB: Christie lost it in December 1952 and was arrested on March 31, 1953. Originally your book was to be published to "celebrate" the half centenary of his execution. Why has its publication been brought forward?
JO: I suspect it is because the book was completed in 2011 and so the publishers thought it best to bring publication forward by a few months; 2012 is the 60th anniversary of the murder of Ethel Christie, the crime for which Christie was executed.
AB: When and where are these talks you're giving on the subject?
JO: The talks are on the evening of November 8, at Kensington Library, lunchtime on November 21 at Shoe Lane Library in the City of London. I don't yet know the dates of the talks at Ealing Town Hall or for the Ealing branch of the University of the Third Age.
AB: I gather you're also working on a book about a lesser known villain, although one who may have actually murdered more than Christie.
JO: Yes, I have been doing some research into John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer, and am currently negotiating with a publisher for a biography.
AB: Did they find forensic evidence relating to six victims or just the one?
John George Haigh  who was hanged for murder in 1949. Unlike most serial killers his motives appear ...
John George Haigh, who was hanged for murder in 1949. Unlike most serial killers his motives appear to have been purely financial.
JO: Forensic evidence existed only in the case of Haigh's last victim, Mrs Durand-Deacon, though there was other evidence, such as financial records and ration books, to link him to the other five.
AB: Is it possible that Haigh claimed to have murdered three people he didn't, if so, what do you think was the reason for that?
JO: Haigh claimed another three victims, probably because, as with Christie, 'the more the merrier' - both men were trying to secure a verdict of guilty but insane and believed that more victims pointed to insanity.
[Christie's insanity defence was half-hearted; he did not appeal his conviction, and appeared if not glad then not unhappy to die].
AB: Although he was tried only for one murder, do you think he would have been convicted of any others?
JO: I think it would have been difficult as there were no bodies, but there was some circumstantial evidence; ie ration cards and other documentation about the five others being found in Haigh's possession; plus the financial trail could have been a useful line of investigation, as he sold property and possessions of the deceased. Some of this property was identified by those who knew his vcitims.
AB: This may sound a daft question, but would you class Haigh as a serial killer? It is generally accepted that serial killers murder for the thrill of it, or out of some perverse desire, but Haigh appears to have murdered solely for financial gain.
JO: Haigh made considerable amounts of money from the middle class people he killed. He doesn't seem to have had any sadistic or sexual motive. He claimed to have no interest in sex since his 20s. Of course, he may have felt a sense of power when he killed his victims and that gave him some sort of momentary thrill; but most serial kilers like to prolong their victims' agony and thus elevate their sense of power.
[Some people might not agree entirely with this last point].
AB: Do you think there is more recreational murder around today, and if so, why? And do you have any thoughts about the recent spree killings in the USA?
JO: Quite possibly; there's more killings (trebled in the UK since the 1960s).
Spree killings seem to happen a lot in the USA; perhaps because there are more firearms in private hands and perhaps because there is more of a gun culture - in the UK the only two similar events were Hungerford and Dunblane.
[And Cumbria, of course].
AB:: How much are your books, and where can people buy them? What about signed copies?
JO: The Christie book will be on sale from October. I am happy to sign any copy presented. It will retail at £19.99.
AB: No one appears to have written a book about the London 7/7 bombings as yet, certainly not a popular paperback. Do you think someone should, and could you recommend anyone who has for example a knowledge of London and murder as well as the proper academic training?
JO: I have a feeling I saw a review of a book about 7/7 recently. There's certainly a few memoirs of it about. I wrote a few pages on the topic in a recent book, London Under Attack. The problem is that a full length study would require access to papers which won't be released for decades. That's not to say someone couldn't write a tentative study, albeit based on limited source material.
The  Onslow Court Hotel when John George Haigh lived from 1945 until his arrest for murder in 1949
The Onslow Court Hotel when John George Haigh lived from 1945 until his arrest for murder in 1949
This fried chicken shop at 79 Gloucester Road  was the scene of Haigh s first three murders.
This fried chicken shop at 79 Gloucester Road, was the scene of Haigh's first three murders.