Neon Signs from the Universe aka The Blackout Ripper
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Please note that this, and all episodes of Thrice Cursed have been adapted from their original spoken form to text by myself, and some additional ad-libbed content may have been omitted. All content within is the sole property of Thrice Cursed Podcast. Please don't plagiarize. Plagiarism sucks.
Hello. I’m Rebekkah Rosewood, and this is Thrice Cursed.
Last week, you heard about the unsolved murder of Betsy Aardsma. For those of you that aren’t a fan of listening to unsolved because of lack of closure or anxiety, or any of that other fun stuff… Imagine how the families feel. I can’t promise I won’t cover more unsolved, and I’m actually going to promise that I absolutely will. However, today, rest assured, I’m covering something solved. If you like hearing about gruesome murders, and maybe a little bit of history, prepare your ears, because this is about to be a little bit of both.
On September 7th 1940, 300 German bombers raided London in what would be the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing. These bombings would be known as blitzkrieg (blit-skreeg) or the blitz, and would continue until May of 1941.
These bombings killed approximately 43,000 British civilians, and wounded another 139,000. Because these bombings occurred at night, strict blackout restrictions were imposed by the government. Windows were covered, and oftentimes painted black, streetlights were dimmed, and car headlights were covered or painted to where only small slivers of light would illuminate the road ahead. --Living in California, I can’t even imagine people trying to drive in those conditions. People can barely drive with things fully illuminated.-- Those who violated the blackout laws would not only be heavily fined, but also risked exposing their city to even more of these bomb strikes.
While many came together during WWII, others were more focused on pulling people apart. In some cases, literally. Many people would use the cover of darkness to commit crimes, including someone who would eventually be known as the Blackout Ripper. Just 54 years after Jack the Ripper terrorized London, another spree killer loomed in the shadows.
On the morning of Sunday February 9th, 1942, chief superintendent Frederick Cherril, known as “fingerprint man,” was called to the scene of a murder. This murder took place near an air-raid shelter. Upon arrival, Cherril discovered the body of 40-yr-old Evelyn Hamilton face-up in the gutter. Evelyn had been a chemist who’d lost her job due to wartime cutbacks. She had intended to stay the evening in London before traveling to Grimsby to start a new position as a pharmacist. That evening, Evelyn left her boarding house, and went for dinner at a Lyons Corner house. It was the following morning when an electrician, along with a coworker, spotted a torch lying on the ground near an air raid shelter. Peering in, they spotted Evelyn and began to shout. Within moments, nearby policemen came running. That’s when Cherril was called in.
Cherril, who had been head of the fingerprint dept. Since 1938 always insisted on visiting crime scenes himself for evidence retrieval. At first, Cherril, along with his partner, Sydney Birch, initially thought that Evelyn had been the victim of a theft. Money had been missing from her purse, and she had been strangled, but there were no signs of “sexual interference” or mutilation. This is despite the fact that her clothes were torn, revealing her naked breast, and her skirt had been hiked up, exposing her underwear. --Sounds to me like sexual motive, but sure. From the scene, they were able to lift a set of fingerprints off of her handbag, as well as determine that the killer was left-handed, based off of the bruising left on her neck.
Barely 24 hours after the murder of Hamilton, a new victim was discovered. This second woman was named Evelyn Oatley --yes, another Evelyn. This murder was far more brutal. 35-year-old Evelyn Oatley was so brutally slashed that it shocked the investigating officers. Evelyn had not only been strangled, but her throat was cut open. As she lay bleeding out, the Blackout Ripper used both curling tongs, and a can opener found within her home to abuse and mutilate her genitalia. She was alive through all of this. (Are your ovaries just shriveling up inside of you right now? Because mine are.) Upon further investigation, a torch --or flashlight, for us Americans-- had been inserted inside of her. The can opener and curling tongs were left, almost proudly, beside her body.
Evelyn Oatley was a young woman with dreams of making it in show business. She was afraid to spend nights alone during the blitz, and therefore would bring men home to keep her company. Just before her brutal murder, Oatley had taken to pairing up with older men. She figured she would be less likely to encounter aggressive or violent partners that way. Unfortunately, despite not being within this older age range, the Blackout Ripper was able to charm his way into her good graces, and into her home.
Cherrill was the investigator called to this crime scene as well. He was abe to pull one lone fingerprint from on of the instruments used, and from that, was able to tie this murder to that of Evelyn Hamilton. Unfortunately, there were no matches in the current database to identify their psychopath.
Within just 24 hours, The Blackout Ripper struck once again. On Tuesday, February 10th, victim number 3 was found. Margaret Florence Lowe was said to be a conservative and refined woman. She had turned to sex work to help pay her daughter’s boarding school fees. Fellow sex workers had actually nicknamed her “The Lady” because of the classy way in which she dressed and carried herself. The 43-year-old widow would also suffer a terrible fate at the hands of this Ripper.
Friends of Lowe became concerned when she wasn’t at her flat that Tuesday. Chief Cherrill was called once more. The scene he was met with was no less unsightly than the one from the night prior.
Margaret Florence Lowe had been strangled with a silk stocking or scarf. In addition to suffering deep cuts to her thigh, her abdomen had been entirely ripped open, exposing her intestines and internal organs. Just like with Oatley, his tools of torture were both found, and left at the scene. This time though, the knife and razor were left lying on her body. And inside of her, a candlestick had been inserted. Fingerprints matching the first two crime scenes were pulled from the candlestick.
On Wednesday, February 11th, the Blackout Ripper’s fourth victim was found. Doris Jouannet, also known as Doris Robson, was murdered in her flat that she had shared with her husband. Doris had been described as a bored housewife --fucking rude-- who may have turned to casual sex for fun and money. She too, had been strangled with a scarf, and her naked body mutilated similarly to Oatley and Lowe.
The press became aware of the murder spree at this point, and, as they do, published the story of the man now dubbed “The Blackout Ripper.” As expected, this created almost a panic amongst women in the area. As if being terrified you would be bombed in the middle of the night wasn’t enough, now they had to worry about some psychotic murderer on the loose. This fear was particularly prevalent among women who had to work and commute alone at night in London.
Interestingly enough, there would be no attack on February 12th. Whether this was because he was hesitant due to the news coverage, or just otherwise preoccupied, we will never know.
On Friday the 13th, however, he struck again. The effects of unlucky Friday the 13th aren’t only for the innocent, though. This time, to the Ripper’s dismay, his victim would survive. 32-year-old Mary Haywood was approached in a restaurant by a young man. He had seemed charming enough, but when he propositioned her for sex, he was rejected. Despite this, she accompanied him into the blacked out streets. At this point, the man grabbed Haywood by the neck, pushed her into a dark doorway, and tried to shove his hand up her skirt. As she struggled to fight him off, she began to lose consciousness. Fortunately, an 18-year-old night porter had been passing through the area when he came across the struggle, and shined a flashlight in the perpetrator’s face. The ripper bolted, thinking about how he’d only just narrowly avoided his capture.
Refusing to acknowledge the practically neon signs from the universe, the Blackout Ripper’s night didn’t end there. He continued to prowl the streets, still on the hunt. The adrenaline from his near-capture only fueled his bloodlust. Soon enough, he happened upon Catherine Mulcahy. Catherine was a street smart sex worker. When he first approached her, he appeared respectful, and offered her money in exchange for sexual favors. She escorted him back to her home, but was slow to remove her boots. This worked in her favor. As quickly as they’d entered her flat, he dropped the charm and went in to attack.
Catherine was faster. She gave him a swift kick to the shins. He was so shocked by this, that he immediately stopped, handed her another 5-pound note, then ran away.
Not only were these attacks unsuccessful, but they also led to his downfall. In these attacks, The Blackout Ripper left behind 2 clues. One clue would prove to be far more helpful than the other. The lesser clue was left at Catherine Mulcahy’s, in the form of a belt. Not much appears to have been deduced from this though. The clue that led to his downfall was left in the darkened doorway with Mary Haywood. The man behind these brutal attacks was in possession of a Royal Airforce (or RAF) issued Respirator. -- Now, there’s a HUGE military force in London right now. Surely there are a ton of these things floating around the area. It’s not such a big deal, right? Wroooong. Unfortunately for the ripper, all RAF issued gear had serial numbers inscribed on it. And those numbers were logged and tracked.
Despite not being convinced that this attack was anything more than a run-of-the-mill assault, they reached out to the RAF to track the number. This number led to 28-year-old Gordon Frederick Cummins.
Gordon Cummins had only one way to defend himself, which was to disprove the fingerprint evidence, which he obviously couldn’t do. And of course, fingerprints from inside the respirator matched those taken from the other crime scenes.
One news article on Cummins read, “In the mental makeup of Gordon Frederick Cummins, 28-year-old married air cadet, sentenced to death at the Old Bailey yesterday for murdering a woman, there were 3 personalities. Number 1 was his normal life in the RAF. A very intellectual type of airman… Number 2 was the vain young man known to his friends as “the duke” or “the count”, who posed as the Honorable Gordon Cummins, acquired affected speech and boasted of his conquests with women. Number 3 was the murderer.”
So who was Gordon Cummins? As far as I could find, his childhood was rather uneventful. His father was a civil servant, and his mother a housewife. As a kid, he was put through private school, though his performance wasn’t notable. As The Sims 4 would say, “No need to make room on the refrigerator door… his work is merely satisfactory.” He then attended NorthHampton College of Technology, where he earned his diploma in chemistry.
At 18, he relocated to NewCastle where he got a job as an industrial chemist. He was quickly let go after only 5 months. His next job also let him go due to poor time management. After this, he would bounce from job to job. In October of 1934, he relocated to London, working another menial job.
During his adult life, Cummins developed the desire to be a part of the aristocracy. He would constantly visit high-end clubs and hotels that were well beyond his means. To anyone who would listen, especially acquaintances, he would claim to be the illegitimate son of someone of noble rank. Which is funny to me, because he certainly was a fuckin’ bastard.
He also claimed that this individual gave him an allowance. In order to keep up with this lie, he would both steal, and embezzle.
In 1935 he volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. He was considered ambitious, but was not well-liked among fellow service-men. They found him to be boastful, and arrogant. --GASP. Not OUR Gordon! His claims of nobility earned him the nickname “The Duke” and “The Count.”
Cummins married a woman named Marjorie Stevens in 1936. (I was almost expecting an Evelyn.) Aside from the fact that she had been the secretary of a West End theatre producer, I was unable to find anything else about her. That includes her opinion of this whole mess. Not for lack of trying. The two never had any children. Despite his criminal activity, prior to the brutal slayings, Cummins had no record, and no known history of violence.
At the trial, Catherine Mulcahy was unable to positively identify her attacker, but Margaret Hayward was able to do so easily. Cummins unsurprisingly continued to protest that it couldn’t have been him, and that someone else must have gotten hold of his gas mask and belt. He stated that they had been missing from his kit. (REEEAL convenient excuse there, pal. Where’s the incident report?)
While time logs with the RAF indicated Cummins had been present at the base before midnight every night any attack occurred, fellow airmen admitted that it was very common for them to falsely vouch for each other’s return to base. It was also discovered that on the nights in question, both Cummins and another airman had left the base using a fire escape.
Ok, so at this point, maybe it’s possible that this other unnamed airman took off with Cummin’s mask and belt. Possible, sure. Factual? No. As had been noted before, the prints left on tools at the crime scenes all belonged to Cummins. Even if the mask and belt had been stolen, there was no explaining that one away. However, because fingerprint technology was relatively new, the investigators decided to put one final nail in his coffin. Two of the bank notes given to Catherin by her attacker had been brand new. The Chief Inspector traced both of the serial numbers right back to none other than Gordon Frederick Cummins.
Of course, during the trial, Cummins pleaded not guilty. One of the witnesses called to testify against Cummins was Detective Chief Superintendent Frederick Cherill. On the stand, he stated that he was prepared to publicly stake his reputation on the fact that the fingerprints found on the can opener, and a broken mirror at the scene, which had been used to extensively mutilate Oatley’s body belonged to Cummins.
After only a one-day trial, and 35 minutes of deliberation, Cummins was found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed by Albert Pierrepont at Wandsworth Prison on June 25th, 1942.
Scotland Yard --or the headquarters building of the Metropolitan Police, the territorial police force responsible for policing all 32 boroughs of London, excluding the City of London of later said that they believed Cummins had likely murdered two other women in October of 1941, while stationed in Colerne. These two women were 19-year-old Mabel Church on October 13th, and Edith Humphries on October 17th.
Mabel Church had been found by demolition workers in the bombed out house at 225 Hampstead Road. She was lying on the floor, nearly naked, with a bruise on her jaw and an undergarment tied around her neck. An autopsy stated that she had died from strangulation, but that she had not been sexually interfered with.
Edith Eleanora Humphries had been found in her home, barely clinging to life. She had been found by a woman who lived above her. Edith was rushed to the hospital, but died shortly after. An autopsy stated that she had died from a stab wound to the head that had penetrated her brain. The pathologist also added that she had been strangled, but it was unlikely this contributed to her cause of death. There had been no signs of forced entry in Edith’s home, and it seems likely that whoever killed her had been invited in. At the time of the murder, police were investigating a man who was known to have visited Edith on multiple occasions, and would often make his affections towards her known, despite being told by her to leave her alone.
Both of these murders remain unsolved, despite the thought that Gordon Frederick Cummins may have been involved.
This has been the cursed tale of The Blackout Ripper, and why you should never falsify sign in sheets for a friend. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be someone’s false alibi and unwittingly help them get away with murder. So… if you’re ever in that position, just say no.
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