When I discovered there were easier ways of making a living than to work long hours in an office, I did not ask myself whether I was doing right or wrong. That seemed to me to be irrelevant. I merely said, 'This is what I wish to do'. And as the means lay within my power, that was what I decided.

John George Haigh, a.k.a. "The Acid Bath Murderer", was a British serial killer, con artist, and one-time family annihilator.


Haigh as choirboy

Haigh pictured as a 12 year old choirboy at Wakefield Cathedral.

Haigh was born in 1909 and raised in a highly religious household. His parents, John Robert and Emily, were both members of the Plymouth Brethren, an ultra-puritanical, highly conservative Christian sect. His father, who set up a tall fence around the family house in order to lock out the outside world, had a mark on his forehead which he told his son had been branded on him by God as punishment for a past sin and that he too would get marked if he sinned. When John did in fact commit minor sins in the form of pranks and petty thefts and was not marked, he realized that it was in fact possible to commit crimes and go unpunished and grew up a cynic. John was also told that his mother could not be marked because she was an "angel". He kept several pets which he cared for deeply, even holding the lives of animals in higher esteem than those of humans. After finishing school, where he kept to himself, he became a car mechanic. Though he loved cars, he absolutely detested dirt and always wore gloves for hygiene purposes. Because it was such dirty work, he left after only a year and became a clerk at the Wakefield Education Community, but didn't like that job either.

John found a career in advertising, but was soon arrested as a suspect in the theft of a cash box, but was released. On July 6, 1934, he married one Beatrice Hammer, whom he barely knew. Though his parents disapproved of their union, they allowed them to stay with them. A mere four months later, John was convicted of fraud for a hire-purchase agreement scam and they divorced. Hammer later gave birth to his daughter, whom she immediately put up for adoption. After serving his sentence, John, who lived on as though he had never even been married, ran a dry-cleaning business, which went quite well until his business partner died in a motorcycle accident and World War II began, leading to a decline in business. After being released, he continued committing fraud, forging people's signatures to pay for fake car purchases, before being arrested again and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Killings, Arrest, and Execution

As the years passed by, Haigh racked up several prison sentences for fraud. In 1936, he moved to London and found work for William McSwann, a wealthy amusement park owner, both as a chauffeur and as a repairman of his park machines. They found that they had some interests in common and struck up a friendship. McSwann's parents, Donald and Amy, met Haigh and approved of him immediately. He was then sentenced to four years in prison for posing as a lawyer. Less than a year after finishing the sentence, he was arrested again for theft of goods and sentenced to 21 months in prison. It was during this prison sentence that he began planning a perfect crime. He took a particular interest in the legal term corpus delicti, a law which basically states that it must be proven that a crime has been committed in order for an accused to be convicted of it (Black's Law Dictionary defines it as "the fact of a crime having actually been committed"). Haigh, somewhat loosely, interpreted the law as simply "No body, no crime". His fellow inmates even took to calling him "Ol' Corpus Delicti". In prison, he experimented with disposal of bodies in acid, completely dissolving a rat in a vat of acid in the prison workshop. After being released from prison for the last time in his life, he set his plan in motion. He rented a workshop at 79 Gloucester Road, London SW7 and placed a 40-gallon (ca. 141 liters) vat of sulfuric acid inside. On September 9, 1944, he lured McSwann to the building, killed him and placed the body in the vat. After two days, the body had completely dissolved and the sludgy remains were poured down a manhole. Haigh convinced McSwann's parents that he had run off to Scotland to avoid being drafted into the war. He even forged postcards from their son and sent them from Scotland to keep up the illusion.

Haigh workshop

Police officers searching Haigh's workshop.

Haigh trial

Haigh leaving Court during his trial.

In 1945, after the war had ended, the McSwanns sought Haigh out again. He lured them to his workshop, killed them the same way he had killed their son and disposed of their bodies the same way as well. He then forged letters that allowed him to take possession of their estate. Haigh lived of the wealth he got out of the three murders for three years. When the money ran out, he approached another couple, the Hendersons, built a relationship with them over the course of five months, lured them to his new workshop on 2 Leopold Road in Crawley, West Sussex, shot and killed them with Dr. Henderson's own .38 Webley service revolver and dissolved their remains. After taking over their fortune and spending it in only a year, Haigh pursued yet another victim, a wealthy widow by the name of Olive Durand-Deacon. On February 18, she too was lured to his workshop and shot with a .38 Enfield revolver. Haigh then took her personal belongings, including her expensive Persian lamb coat, and placed her body in an acid vat. She was reported missing by a friend two days later as well as by Haigh, who fabricated a story that the two had arranged a meeting for which Durand-Deacon never showed up.

When the investigators discovered that Haigh had a long criminal record for fraud, forgery and theft, he quickly became a suspect. They searched his workshop and found an attaché case with Haigh's initials, paperwork linking him to the McSwanns and the Hendersons and a dry cleaner's receipt for Durand-Deacon's coat. A jewelry store owner also recognized him as the man who had pawned a piece of jewelry belonging to Durand-Deacon the day after her disappearance. In a more damning scenario, the acid vats also yielded evidence in the form of a great amount of human fat, three human gall stones, fragments of human bones and dentures and the handle of a red plastic bag and a lipstick container. After being arrested, Haigh began confessing to his crimes; not just the six murders to which he had been tied but also three additional murders which were never confirmed. He smugly challenged the police to prove his guilt, counting on the absence of a body getting him cleared. He was proven to have made a mistake in his planning and was charged with his six confirmed murders. Claiming insanity, he said he had drunk the blood of his victims using a straw before dissolving their bodies and also to have been afflicted by blood-related and sometimes religious nightmares since childhood. Another claim was that his craving for human blood had been awakened when he was in a car accident in 1944. He was tested by a dozen of medical examiners, most of whom came to the conclusion that he was sane but feigning insanity. At the trial, which involved 33 witnesses, Haigh pleaded not guilty. It only took the jury a quarter of an hour to find him otherwise. He was held at the Wandsworth Prison until he was taken to the gallows and hanged on August 10, 1949.

Modus Operandi

Haigh's known victims were direct or indirect victims of his cons, all of whom were killed in order to silence them. He took his time to build a relationship with them and then lured them to his workshop using some kind of ruse and killed them there. The first victims were struck on the head with a pipe and their throats then slashed, and the rest were shot in the head with a .38 Enfield revolver. Haigh then dissolved their bodies by putting them in vats and would pour sulfuric acid into them and, using his skills at forgery, took over the victims' fortunes. According to Haigh, he also drank the blood of his victims after killing them, hence his nickname "The Vampire".

Known Victims

Haigh victims

Several of Haigh's victims.

  • The McSwann family (all were bludgeoned with a pipe and their throats slashed):
    • September 9, 1944: William Donald McSwann (son)
    • July 2, 1945: Donald and Amy McSwann (father and mother, respectively)
  • February 12, 1948: The Hendersons (both were shot in the head)
    • Archibald Henderson, 52
    • Rosalie "Rose" Henderson, 41
  • February 18, 1949: Olive Durand-Deacon, 69 (shot like the previous victims)
  • Note: Haigh also claimed responsibility for three more murders that have been unconfirmed:
    • Kensington: Max
    • Eastbourne: Mary
    • Hammersmith: Unnamed middle-aged woman


  • Like Haigh, a Texan 1930s serial killer named Joe Ball, a.k.a. The Alligator Man, misunderstood the legal term corpus delicti. He disposed of his victims by feeding them to a pack of alligators he kept on his property, planning to get away with the murders based on the fact that there were no bodies. Though he shot himself when police came to question him, it is safe to assume that he would have been convicted of and sentenced to death for his crimes.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Four
    • "Masterpiece" - While Haigh has yet to be directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Henry Grace - Both were serial killers who disposed of victims in acid and planned to get away with their murders based on the fact that there were no bodies.


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