It was fascinating to chat with Portobello Radio host Aidan McManus last night. He’s a walking encyclopaedia of rock music, local history and unsolved crimes.
He is also a guide for the highly rated FlipsideLondon Tours, which explore London as home to David Bowie, Joe Strummer and the Clash, the punk scene and gangsters. His enthusiasm for music and local history is absolutely infectious.
The 1960s Nude Murders case, which occurred on his Notting Hill manor, is one of his interests. Which was why he got me on his show to talk about the case and how London has changed – check out the broadcast here.
I popped into the Castle on Portobello Road before heading over to meet Aidan. This was formerly the Warwick Castle, which was used a lot by a couple of the killer’s victims at the time, Mary Fleming and Frances Brown.
Prince Buster and The Beatles
In a grim show of gallows humour, no doubt fuelled by a few drinks, several women involved in the sex trade even had a sweepstake in the pub one night on who would be the killer’s next victim.
London is special. Beautiful, ugly, intimate, sprawling.
The capital fed my interest in writing about the 60s’ Nude Murders, to explore how the place has evolved. I was a child at the time and my memories are vivid of a Highbury still shattered by the war, paraffin heaters and markets thronging with shoppers.
To say nothing of the pop songs on transistors all around, the TV – Corrie hairnets in black and white – even the way old relatives used to talk. Oh, do give over!
From squalor to £4m houses
The contrast between then and now is jarring. Living conditions, for example. One of the victims of the Nude Killer, Helene Barthelemy, lived in a bedsit in Willesden.
The house was crammed. Helene was in one room on the ground floor. A Jamaican nurse, who became her friend, lived in the back room. On the first floor were two young couples with a single child each, both families living in one room. One room! Toilet and kitchen facilities were shared.
Mary Fleming, another victim, lived in similar conditions in Lancaster Road, Notting Hill. What was once a squalid, overcrowded house in a slum area is today worth £4 million.
London crime scenes
Researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper led me to visit all the crime sites in the company of two recently retired detectives, Brian Hook and Andy Rose. They were generous in their efforts to explain to me the contrast in policing methods from the Sixties with those of today.
One of the areas we toured was Chiswick, by the Thames. It was on the foreshore that two victims were found in 1964, Hannah Tailford and Irene Lockwood.
At the time the area was a bustling commercial neighbourhood of factories and warehouses, dealing with goods coming up the river and transported through wharves. Today it is a collection of dull private flats and gated estates. No doubt expensive, but gentrified and ‘improved’ to within an inch of its life.
Welcome to the new home of this blog, covering true-crime writing, books and other subjects.
I moved it on Guy Fawkes day in the hope that it would arrive with a small bang at least – which is this trailer. It highlights a new series I took part in call Voice of a Killer Special on CBSReality.
It is a fascinating look at killers under the pressure of police interrogation. I have a cameo at the end of the trailer, and did a little filming with the production team in Wales during the summer.
The first killer covered, on Tuesday November 27 at 10pm, is Colonel William Russell of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The series is presented by Britain’s leading criminologist Professor David Wilson, looking pretty stern here but he’s friendly and approachable in real life.