LONDON, ENGLAND — On August 10, 1948, John George Haigh, also known as Britain’s infamous “Acid Bath Killer,” was put to death by infamous executioner Albert Pierrepoint at Wandsworth Prison in London.
Haigh was charming, handsome, well-dressed and — to acquaintances who were not aware that he was one of 20th century Britain’s most notorious serial killers — appeared to be just an ordinary, nice man leading a fairly glamorous life.
He was brought up in Outwood, Yorkshire, and left school at 17 to work as an apprentice for a motor engineer. Haigh married in 1934, but the union fell apart after he received a prison sentence of 15 months for forging vehicle documents.
He moved to London in 1936, where he was able to get a job as chauffeur to the McSwann family, but this ended when he went back to prison to serve a four-year sentence for fraud. During his time behind bars, Haigh reportedly got his idea for body disposal when he performed a jailhouse experiment in which he dissolved a mouse with sulfuric acid.
After his release, he ran into William McSwann by chance, who invited him to dinner — and Haigh killed him by hitting him over the head and stuffing him into a 45-gallon drum in his basement at 79 Gloucester Road, London.
After drinking the victim’s blood, Haigh donned a rubber apron, gloves, galoshes, and a gas mask and poured concentrated sulphuric acid into the drum to cover the body — which melted the human bones over a period of two days.
Haigh would later return to pour the ooze down a manhole and then move into McSwan’s residence. He told his victim’s parents that their son had vanished to avoid World War II conscription. But after the war was over — and McSwan still failed to materialize — Haigh murdered McSwan’s parents, Donald and Amy, and dissolved them in the same manner.
Haigh, who claimed to be a vampire, and did drink the blood of his victims after murdering them, was also described by experts as a sociopath who killed for profit, and to maintain his lifestyle. Authorities estimated that Haigh made about £4,000 from the McSwan family — but he had spent the fortune by 1948.
In February of that year, the killer lured Dr. Archibald Henderson and his wife Rosalie to his new acid bath workshop in Crawley, West Sussex — where he fatally shot them and turned their bodies into sludge.
He was able to forge papers that gave him power of attorney and subsequently property, and ended up netting around £8,000 from the Hendersons. He also kept their dog.
The next year, he made a fatal mistake after targeting Olivia Duran-Deacon, a 69-year-old widow who lived in his apartment block. After she was reporting missing, police found papers tying him to all three sets of murders in Haight’s ramshackle workshop. They also found “28 lb. of melted body fat, part of the left foot eroded by acid, three gallstones, and 18 fragments of human bone eroded by acid” that were later deemed a match to the missing widow. Police also found a recently fired .38 Enfield revolver, some dentures, and a dry-cleaning receipt for a black Persian lamb coat.
In all, Haigh killed six victims. A month after his arrest, he also admitted to three more murders — a woman and a youth in West London and a girl in Eastbourne — but these claims were never substantiated.
Haigh was overconfident and reportedly believed that he would escape justice because if the bodies could not be found, he could not be charged with the murders. However he was proven wrong when investigators found enough sufficient forensic evidence for him to be convicted — and put to death — for the string of killings.