Warning: The following contains disturbing descriptions of violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Their bodies were found with clothing removed, sometimes stripped so bare that even their false teeth were taken. All the victims were sex workers, all were small of stature, and all showing no signs of struggle. The local press began calling the uncaught killer “Jack the Stripper,” an ode to Jack the Ripper, who had terrorized London sex workers about 75 years prior.
The homage would end up serving as a foreshadow. Like Jack the Ripper, Jack the Stripper’s case was never solved.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, says Robin Jarossi, a journalist whose book The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper delves deep into the case.
“[Investigators] put in a Herculean amount of work,” Jarossi tells A&E Real Crime. “Scotland Yard mounted its biggest investigation ever (at the time). They drafted in every single detective, cadet, female police officers… They spent months knocking on every door in West London. But they never really had one decent suspect.”
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There was hardly any evidence. Despite the victims being stripped, investigators didn’t see signs of rape or sexual assault at the murder scenes. There were patterns to how the women were killed: For example, the killer seemed to use the victims’ own clothing to strangle them. Occasionally, a victim would be punched. But none of this evidence helped narrow their search.
The investigation caught a small break when the fifth victim, 22-year-old Helen Barthelemy was found with flecks of paint on her body. Forensic investigators determined that the pigment appeared to come from a spray-paint gun used to fix dinged-up cars at auto body repair shops.
Two subsequent victims had the same paint flecks on them, leading investigators to believe that the killer worked in auto repair.
“That was their best lead,” Jarossi says.
Another tip came in on the killer’s vehicle. On July 14, 1964, at around 2:30 a.m., two men painting a restaurant interior saw a suspicious figure with a gray van in the restaurant’s parking lot. After they called out to him, the man, startled, drove off. A few hours later, the body of Mary Fleming was found on a cul-de-sac a 10-minute drive away.
Police began scanning the roadways for gray vans. But the clue never led anywhere. Investigators found themselves at a dead end.
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Part of the problem, Jarossi claims, was Scotland Yard’s “leave no stone unturned” approach to the case. Instead, Jarossi thinks the case would’ve been better served by an investigation that honed in on a smaller geographic area.
That’s the specialty of criminologist Dr. Kim Rossmo, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation at the Texas State University’s School of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Rossmo, who also served as a detective inspector for the Vancouver Police Department for 21 years, uses “geographic profiling” to analyze serial crime and use probability models to map out where the perpetrator lives.
“If you think of psychological profiling as the whom, then geographic profiling is the where,” Rossmo says, noting that map modeling is useful for investigators who need to prioritize when dealing with a large list of suspects.
Rossmo analyzed the Jack the Stripper murders—also called the “Hammersmith Nude Murders”—for Jarossi’s book, ultimately concluding that the killer likely lived in one of two potential hot spots: one area of approximately 1.6 square miles in the Central Hammersmith neighborhood of London; and another square mile in the Notting Hill part of town.
According to Jarossi, that information would’ve helped investigators hugely, especially because they would have discovered a potential suspect—a repeat child murderer—living in the middle of that map.
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Had police used Rossmo’s geo-spacing, they may have done more work investigating Harold Jones. Jones had killed two young girls at the age of 15, sending him to prison. He never showed remorse for the murders, yet was released during World War II to be placed into the armed services.
There were other details that would’ve made Jones a prime suspect: He was an autobody mechanic. And he had links to an industrial area where some of the bodies were found.
Ultimately, though, we’ll likely never know. Jones died of bone cancer in 1971. And although he has a child who carries on his DNA, there’s no DNA from the crime scene—so there’d be nothing to compare his family DNA against.
Others were suspects in the press only—more urban legend than true candidates for consideration. Lightweight boxing champion Freddie Mills—who had rocketed to national fame in the 1940s and was mysteriously found shot to death in 1965—was named in the tabloids as a potential suspect by hearsay. Police denied ever seriously considering Mills.
Other suspects came under speculation for equally thin evidence: Kenneth Archibald, a 57-year-old who confessed, recanted and for whom no other evidence was found; and an unnamed police detective who was imprisoned for burglarizing various West London properties.
None of the cases were as strong as the one against Harold Jones. Still, Jarossi isn’t convinced that history has found its man. With the detectives who worked the case all dead or retired, and the killer likely dead as well, it’ll probably remain forever cold.
“If I were going to bet on it, I’d say it was somebody we’ve never known,” Jarossi says. “There’s somebody else out there.”