Trigger warning: descriptions of violence, murder, death.
In this article:
- John George Haigh was a serial killer in 1940s England who rose to infamy for killing six people and then dissolving their bodies in acid.
- Seemingly motivated by monetary gain, Haigh would kill wealthy acquaintances and then take hold of their fortunes.
- Haigh was eventually arrested and sentenced to death when human remains were found in a pile of rubber behind his workshop.
Anyone who’s ever seen the first season of Breaking Bad remembers the “Cat’s in the Bag…” episode in which Jesse attempts to dissolve Emilio’s body in a bathtub using hydrofluoric acid. Against Walt’s instructions, Jesse fills the bathtub with the acid, which eventually eats through the bottom and causes Emilio’s liquid remains to be spilled all over the house.
While Breaking Bad is a work of fiction, every piece of fiction must come from a real inspiration. The inspiration for this scene very well may have been John George Haigh, better known as the Acid Bath Murderer.
Haigh’s vicious serial killing spree occurred in the 1940s, a time when forensic science was far more primitive than it is today. However, it didn’t take an investigative mastermind to figure out what had happened when the police found pounds upon pounds of human fat, part of a human foot, and part of a denture as well as several vats of acid on Haigh’s property.
Yes, throughout the 1940s, John George Haigh was confirmed to have killed six people (and possibly three more), all of whom were given the acid bath treatment. All of them were killed, it seems, for monetary gain.
This is the story of John George Haigh, who would become known as the Acid Bath Murderer, and the victims whose lives he viciously stole in pursuit of material gain.
John George Haigh, the Choirboy
John George Haigh was born in Lincolnshire, England, to his parents John Robert and Emily, who were both members of a conservative Protestant sect. The family was well-off and there were no reports of Haigh’s parents ever being abusive toward him.
In fact, Haigh even learned to play the piano proficiently and became a choirboy as a young man. After finishing school, he got a job with an engineering firm and later worked in insurance and advertising.
There were some red flags in Haigh’s childhood, but nothing to indicate that he would commit multiple murders later in life. According to Haigh himself, he used to have religious nightmares in his sleep, often involving blood.
It has also been reported that Haigh would always say as a child that he wanted to be a vampire. Still, on the whole, Haigh’s childhood and adolescence were fairly normal and pleasant.
Yes, everything in Haigh’s life was going just fine until he was fired from his job under the suspicion that he stole a cashbox. From that point, his descent into criminality would only grow worse and worse.
In 1934, at age 25, he was imprisoned for two years on a count of fraud. After being released, Haigh would keep swindling people.
In 1939, Haigh was once again charged with fraud and imprisoned for four years. While in prison, Haigh began to consider ways that could continue to take people’s money without being caught again.
This led him to learn about Georges-Alexandre Sarret, the French double-murderer famous for dissolving his victims in sulphuric acid.
The Acid Bath Murderer
Not only did John Haigh read about the crimes of Georges-Alexandre Sarret while in prison, he actually began to experiment with sulphuric acid while behind bars. By dissolving the bodies of field mice in acid, he eventually calculated how long it would take to dissolve the body of an adult human in acid.
Leaving prison in 1943 with dark and hidden intentions, Haigh first got a job as an accountant for an engineering firm. Soon after, he ran into an old colleague named William McSwan. Haigh soon became jealous of McSwan’s wealthy lifestyle.
One day, in 1944, he lured McSwan to Gloucester Road, hit him over the head with a lead pipe, and then put his body in a tub of sulphuric acid. Two days later, McSwan poured the tub, now full of only sludge, into a nearby manhole.
Haigh then told McSwan’s parents that McSwan had gone into hiding to avoid being drafted into World War II. Haigh even moved into William McSwan’s home and began collecting rent for his parents.
In 1945, McSwan’s parents grew suspicious as to why their son hadn’t returned yet since the war was coming to an end.
On July 2, Haigh convinced McSwan’s parents to follow him to Gloucester Road, saying that their son was waiting to surprise them there. He killed them both by hitting them over the head and then disposed of their bodies.
Now flush with the family’s money and property, Haigh moved into the swanky Onslow Court Hotel in Kensington. His money didn’t last long, though, as Haigh quickly developed a gambling problem. By 1947, he was in need of a new source of income, another family to kill.
He found what he was looking for in Archibald and Rose Henderson, a wealthy couple that was in the process of moving houses.
He sewed himself into their circle by pretending that he was interested in buying their home and then got invited to play the piano at their housewarming party. While at the party, he stole Archibald Henderson’s revolver, which he would end up using to kill the man.
Haigh, who was posing as an engineer at the time, invited Archibald over to a workshop he had been renting, saying that he had an invention he wanted to show him. When they arrived, Haigh shot the man in the head with the revolver.
He then asked Rose Henderson to come to the workshop, saying that her husband had gotten sick. He killed her as well and put both of their bodies in drums full of acid. He then forged a letter with their signatures granting him ownership of their estates and then sold all of their things with the exception of their car and their dog, which he kept for himself.
After the murder of the Hendersons, Haigh had enough money to sustain himself and didn’t commit another crime for over a year. However, it was his next and final murder that would end up getting him caught.
The Truth About John George Haigh Bubbles Up
Haigh’s final victim was a wealthy woman by the name of Olive Durand-Deacon, a fellow resident at the Onslow Court Hotel who had heard Haigh talking about how he was an engineer.
She approached him with her idea to make artificial nails. So, in February of 1949, he invited her over to his workshop and shot her in the head with the same revolver that he had stolen from Archibald Henderson. He then stripped her of all her valuables and dumped her body in an acid bath. Olive Durand-Deacon’s disappearance was swiftly reported to the police.
Detectives on the case quickly found out that Durand-Deacon had been talking to Haigh and that the man had a criminal past, so they went to search his workshop.
Unlike the Gloucester Road workshop where Haigh had murdered the McSwans, his new workshop did not have a drain anywhere near it, so he had been dumping the decomposed bodies and acid on a pile of rubber near the back of the property.
The investigators found 28 pounds of human flesh, human gallstones, part of a human foot, and part of a denture in that rubber pile. After this discovery, Haigh quickly confessed to killing Durand-Deacon, the McSwans, and the Hendersons. He also admitted to killing three other people, but this could never be proven.
Haigh pleaded insanity and even claimed that he drank the blood of his victims. The jury found him guilty in a matter of minutes. On August 10, 1949, John George Haigh drank a glass of brandy and then walked to the gallows to be hanged.