Every man and his dog has heard of Jack the Ripper but how many of you have heard of the Blackout Ripper aka Gordon Cummins during London Blitz in the Second World War over a period of only 6 days in London he killed four women he was nicknamed the Blackout Ripper due to his comparison to Jack the Ripper, his attacks took place at night during the blackouts.
He was a Royal Air force Serviceman where he was often called “The Count” because he claimed to have noble heritage which of course was a lie he was in fact just an average man from York born in 1914, married to a theatre producer’s secretary.
He was caught when after being interrupted during an attack he left behind a RAF issued gas mask that was traced back to him, he was sentenced to death and hung on the 25th June 1942.
From the start of that conflict, the streets and buildings of London were kept dark as a precaution against aerial bombing by the Luftwaffe. Street lamps were not lit; the windows of houses, shops, offices and factories were painted over, shuttered or screened off with thick curtains. Showing even a chink of light could lead to an appearance in court and a heavy fine. As bombs fell upon the capital, Londoners took refuge in cellars, underground train stations and public air raid shelters. In a period of six days in February 1942, in the midst of a darkened, blitzed city, Cummins who was 28 at the time murdered four women and attacked two others. Three of his victims were mutilated after death. The newspapers dubbed him “The Blackout Ripper”.
On the morning of Sunday 9th February, the body of teacher Evelyn Hamilton (aged 40 or 42), was discovered in an air raid shelter in Montagu Place in the Marylebone district. She had been strangled, her handbag (containing £80) was missing. There were no signs of sexual assault; her body was not mutilated. The killer had either placed her in the shelter after death or launched his attack when he found himself alone with her within its walls.
On Monday 10th February, Evelyn Oatley (aged 35) was found dead in her Wardour Street flat (apartment) in the Soho district. Oatley had turned to prostitution and was using an assumed name – “Nita Ward”. The actual cause of death was strangulation. Her throat had been cut; she was naked and her body had been sexually mutilated with a tin opener. That implement was found close by – covered in Oatley’s blood; it provided fingerprints. An examination of the body yielded the fact that the killer was left-handed.
On the next day, Tuesday 11th February, another prostitute, Margaret Florence Lowe (aged 42 or 43, also known as “Pearl”), was murdered in her flat in Gosfield Street. She had been strangled with a silk stocking and mutilated with both a knife and a razor blade. Her body was not discovered until three days later. The pathologist Bernard Spilsbury stated, after examining this victim’s body, that the murderer was “a savage sexual maniac”. The similarities between the killings and mutilations convinced the police that the same killer was responsible.
On Wednesday 12th February, Mrs Doris Jouannet (aged, depending upon different sources, 32 or 40 – also known as “Doris Robson”) was murdered in a 2 room ground floor flat in the Paddington district that she shared with her husband (a hotel manager). Jouannet was known to be in the habit of picking up servicemen in Leicester Square. She had been strangled (with a scarf) and her naked body sexually mutilated.
Greta Hayward was attacked on Friday 14th February, near Piccadilly Circus. A delivery boy on his rounds interrupted her assailant and Hayward was able to escape. When he fled he left his RAF-issue gas mask behind at the scene which as I mention was how he was identified.
Even as the police were working on that lead, he struck again. A prostitute called Catherine Mulcahy (also known as “Kathleen King”) was attacked in her flat located near Paddington Rail Station. She resisted Cummins so effectively that he abandoned his murderous intentions, gave her an extra £5 and left quickly.
On 16th February, the police arrested Gordon Frederick Cummins in the St. John’s Wood district. His fingerprints matched those on the bloody tin opener and a search of his quarters turned up several items that belonged to his victims.
On 27th April, Gordon Cummins was tried for the murder of Evelyn Oatley at the Old Bailey (before Mr Justice Asquith). He was charged with only one murder – presumably so that the authorities could immediately charge him with any of the other 3 homicides in the unlikely event of an acquittal in the Oatley case. The Prosecution was handled by Mr G.B. McClure; Cummins was represented by Mr J. Flowers. The trial lasted only a single day and the jury took a mere 35 minutes to find Cummins guilty of the murder of Evelyn Oatley. He was sentenced to death by hanging.