Sunday, 8 December 2013

John George Haigh - The Acid Bath Murderer

File:John George Haigh 1909-1949.jpg
Image attribution: By Gps909 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

For a serial killer, one of the most difficult problems to solve is how to dispose of a body. You could, of course, just leave it lying in a ditch somewhere. But that would basically amount to handing law enforcement a whole lot of free evidence.

British serial killer John George Haigh believed that he had come up with the perfect solution to this problem. He would gain the trust of his victims over the course of several months, before luring them to an out-of-the-way location, where he would kill them quickly, often with the aid of a gun. Finally, he would dissolve the corpse in sulphuric acid, before forging papers that would allow him to take over his victim's material possessions.

English law has a concept known as corpus delicti, which basically means that a crime has to be proven to have occurred before a person can be convicted of it. John George Haigh assumed that if no body could be found, then it would be impossible to prove that a murder had been committed. Consequently, he could never be charged with the crime, however much the police suspected him.

This plan seems to work on the surface. But it is actually possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a murder has taken place even if the body is never recovered. For example, if a person goes missing and a large amount of her blood is found at the primary crime scene (more than a person could be expected to lose and survive), then that may be enough to prove murder in the eyes of the English legal system. As it happens, though, John George Haigh's disposal method didn't work quite as well as he had hoped. When the police searched his residence, they found human gallstones and bones. When combined with other evidence, this was enough to convict 'the acid bath murderer' (as he was dubbed by the media) of 6 murders. He would later confess to a further 3, but these were never proven.

Haigh tried to plead insanity, but this was rejected by the jury, who took only 15 minutes to find him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to die by hanging, a punishment that was carried out on August 10, 1949.

John George Haigh appears to have been primarily motivated by greed and the challenge of committing the perfect crime. He was also possibly motivated by his strict upbringing. His parents were members of a strict Protestant sect known as the Plymouth Brethren. They were famous for their austere practices, as the young John George Haigh was only too aware. He spent an inordinate amount of time within the confines of a 10 foot fence that his father had erected around the family home to keep the world out. He was not permitted to play sports, and the only form of entertainment available to him was Bible studies. He would later claim that he was plagued from a young age with religious nightmares. But this might have just been a last ditch attempt to avoid the death penalty.

You might also be interested in:
Are All Serial Killers Insane?, Richard Ramirez - The Night Stalker, The Zodiac Killer

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