I was surprised and delighted to be contacted recently by Frank Quinn, the son of one of victims in the Hammersmith Nude Murders case.
This was, of course, the unsolved serial-killer investigation from the 1960s that I cover occasionally on this blog, having first written about it in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper.
Frank is the son of Frances Brown, who was the fifth of six women to be murdered.
The killer, who successfully eluded what was then the biggest police manhunt in history, picked up the women in his car or van, strangled them and left their bodies at public spots around west London. Dubbed Jack the Stripper by newspapers, he removed their clothing and jewellery, and sometimes their teeth, leaving few forensic clues for police.
‘The case has dominated my life,’ Frank told me. He feels it has been shrouded in mystery for too long, and is encouraged now that ‘things are coming out’.
Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
The BBC4 documentary, Dark Son, followed up the findings in my book earlier this year. This pointed to convicted child killer Harold Jones as the man who should be considered the number-one suspect.
‘I found it an excellent documentary,’ Frank said when we spoke by phone. ‘It’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time. I never thought in my lifetime I’d ever see it happen.’
He is hoping the Met will make a serious attempt to reopen the case. In particular, he thinks they should look into Jones’s employment and driving records.
It is thought the killer may have used a grey Hillman Husky and that he worked on the Heron Trading Estate, where the bodies were stored before being dumped.
‘I’m convinced it was Jones,’ says Frank.
Father’s desperate search for Frank’s mother
However, while it is encouraging for him that there are new clues coming out after the shocking case lay dormant for several decades following the final killing in 1965, the pain of events surrounding his mother’s murder reverberate to this day.
Frances Brown had three children. Frank is her youngest, born in 1964 just outside of Glasgow. His sister was born in Edinburgh, 1961, while a brother was born in London, 1963.
He has met his sister, but not his brother, who was adopted. ‘That’s the one piece of my life that I would like to find.’
Frank also never got to meet his father. Paul Quinn, as Frank says, was in a bit of mess when Frances went missing in 1964. He launched his own desperate search for her around the streets of Shepherd’s Bush, and gave up custody of Frank.
Finally, he went back to labouring work in Maidstone while he tried to get his life back into some order.
When he later attempted to be reunited with his son, Paul could not get permission.
Frank says, ‘He died, sadly, in 2002 from throat cancer. He was living in Maidstone all those years.
‘When he gave me up, he was in a bit of a mess. But two years later he came back for me and they turned him down.’
My father wasn’t given a second chance
Frank was never told his father wanted to take him back. ‘Basically, they blackened his name. They made out he didn’t give a damn, they kind of said he was a pimp. They always referred to him as my mother’s boyfriend. So throughout my childhood, Paul Quinn was my mother’s boyfriend, never my father.
‘Had they been honest with me, at 16 I could have gone to the Salvation Army and found him. It would have been simple. We could have met and talked about it, because he knew a lot about the case as well.
‘These social workers were middle class. My father was a working-class Irishman, and I think in those days they were very prejudiced against the Irish.
‘He had child care ready for me and everything. They basically told him to get lost. He made some mistakes, but everyone deserves a second chance. He wasn’t given a chance and I never saw my father. That’s thanks to Hammersmith social services. What can I do about it now? Nothing.’
Instead, he waits to see if his mother’s killer will finally be exposed for his crimes.
Frank asked me, ‘Do you realise the day the last victim disappeared [Bridie O’Hara on 11 January 1965] was Harold Jones’s birthday?’