The Blackout killer or The Blackout Ripper.
Ian Duncan / RAF Museum
Gordon Frederick Cummins
This is a story of one of the most evil of killers during the Second World War in Britain.
Very little is known about Gordon Frederick Cummins prior to the Second World War. All that is known is that he was born in either late 1913 or early 1914 in New Earswick, north of York.
It is supposed that he was born ‘out of wedlock’ to a titled member of the peerage and as a result was called ‘The Count’ by his friends and colleagues. When he was 23 years of age he married a theatre producer’s secretary. (No details found) He volunteered to join the RAF as WWII started in 1939.
In 1942 he was serving in the RAF as a LAC (Leading Aircraftsman) He was ground crew but decided he needed some thrills and so he volunteered for aircrew training.
He was posted to Regents Park for initial aircrew training. The Course intake ran from the 2nd to the 25th February and while in London he decided he would enjoy himself.
Rein of terror
Over just six days in February his rein of terror lasted, which caused great fear throughout the northern part of London. He took full advantage of London’s night blackout conditions and murdered four women, mutilating three of his victims in such a terrible sexual way. It was through these mutilations that the newspapers named him as a ‘Jack the Ripper’ type. The general public, in particular the women, wouldn’t go out at night unless they had too.
During the early days of February 1942 the newspapers had a field day as each murder was discovered. Meanwhile these same newspapers were harassing the police as to what they were doing about it. They continued to remind the police that the public were so scared they couldn’t go out. What about these murders? Have you any suspects yet? Have there been any more Murders? How many officers are working on these cases,? Are these more ‘Jack the Ripper’ type murder cases? These questions filled the headlines as well as other pages in each of the daily newspapers.
On Sunday 9th February 1942 the body of Evelyn Hamilton aged 40 years old was found in an Air Raid shelter in Montague Place, London W1. She had been strangled and her handbag containing £80 stolen. Apart from the strangulation marks, the body had not been mutilated and there was no evidence of any sexual activity.
Evelyn had worked as a pharmacist in Holborn. Her body was found by a man in the shelter while he was on his way to work.
The police were quickly on the scene searching for clues.
The following day, Monday the 10th February the body of 35 year old Evelyn Oatley, also known as Nita Ward, was found naked in her flat in Wardour Street.
She earned her living as a prostitute. She had been strangled. Following this her throat had been cut and she had been sexually mutilated with a can opener. The police found fingerprints on the can opener which confirmed that the person responsible was left handed. This was the first clue in the case. There were no suggestions that these two murders were linked.
Margaret Florence Lowe
On Tuesday 11th February, a 43 year old prostitute, Margaret Florence Lowe, also known as Pearl, was murdered in her flat in Gosfield Street, Marylebone. She too had been strangled with a silk stocking and her body terribly mutilated with a number of implements. These included a razor blade, a knife and a candlestick.
Her body was not discovered until three days later. The pathologist, Bernard Spilsbury, after seeing her body stated that ‘they were quite dreadful’ and that the murderer was a ‘savage sexual maniac.’ He said that in his opinion the similarities between the killings and the mutilations convinced him that they were done by one and the same person.
The next victim, it seems, was a younger woman and her badly mutilated body was discovered on Wednesday 12th February 1942. She was Doris Jouannet and aged between 32 and 40 years old. She was also known as Doris Robson. She was murdered in a 2-roomed ground floor flat which she shared with her husband. (A local Hotel Manager.) She was known to pick up servicemen in Leicester Square. She had been strangled with a scarf and her naked body sexually mutilated.
It was after this murder that the newspapers really went to town and described the killer as the ‘Blackout Ripper.’ This was obviously in reference to the similarities to the ‘Jack the Ripper’ of the Victorian times in 1888. The general public were alarmed at what was going on and the police appearing not to be doing much about catching this monster.
This became more evident when just two days later. On Friday 14th February, Greta Hayward was attacked in a doorway near Piccadilly Circus by a man in RAF uniform.
He had suggested and tried some sexual advances which she had previously rejected. She managed to escape as her attacker was interrupted by the arrival of a delivery boy making his rounds. She had been very lucky. As he made good his escape he left behind his gas mask in a container which was marked with the number ‘525987.’ This was an excellent clue.
This time there was a very big clue when the attacker had been disturbed by the delivery boy, he left behind his RAF issued gas mask. The gas mask had the service number ‘525987’ on the side, identifying to whom it might belong.
The uniformed attacker ran off in the opposite direction. She straight away reported this incident to the police. A man in uniform? Could this be the man they were searching for?
This could well be a very important clue, a serviceman serving in the RAF.
The police were working on this lead and quickly found that the gas mask number was going to lead them to Cummins. As they were working on this lead, there was yet another attack, on another prostitute. This time it was Catherine Mulcahy, another prostitute, who was also known as Kathleen King.
She had propositioned Cummins, telling him that she would charge him £2 but he would have to take her home in a taxi to Southwick Street, where she lived. This address was near to Paddington Railway Station.
They reached her flat and quickly took their clothes off. They were just about ready when all of a sudden the lights went out. The man took advantage of this and tried to strangle the woman but she fought back. Still wearing her shoes she kicked him hard in the stomach which made him take a quick exit. The cheeky man then threw down a £5 note on the bed before running off leaving his uniform belt behind.
A uniform belt behind.
She reported this attack to the Police straight away. This was yet another clue, a RAF belt. Was his name or military number on it? Surely the net could soon be closing now. Although the evidence so far gathered pointed to an RAF member doing these attacks, they didn’t actually point to the attacker being a ‘Ripper’ type murderer.
These different items led to Gordon Frederick Cummins. He was interviewed and arrested on 16th February 1942. His quarters were thoroughly searched and various items belonging to his victims were found. The police had been working diligently behind the scenes and from two of the flats where the murders had taken place his fingerprints had been found. His fingerprints also matched those found on the can opener used to mutilate Evelyn Oatley.
Cummins trial started on 24th April 1942 for the murder of Evelyn Oatley at the Old Bailey with Denis Nowell Pritt for his defence; the trial took place with Mr. Justice Asquith presiding.
However, the trial had to be restarted due to a legal technicality and re-commenced on the 27th April.
The trial lasted just one day due to the overwhelming evidence against Cummins. In fact the Jury took just 35 minutes to come to their agreement.
The Jury returned to the Court, soon after the Judge re-entered. The foreman stood up and the Judge said, “Have you come to an agreement?” “Yes your Honour, we find the defendant guilty.” He was sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal was launched in early June but was dismissed. He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison by Albert Pierrpoint on 25th June 1942 during an air raid.
The foremost fingerprint expert of that time, Detective Chief Superintendent Frederick Cherrill, was instrumental in proving the case against Cummins.
Later Scotland Yard announced that Cummins had murdered two other women during air raids in London in October 1941
Gordon Cummins : The Blackout Ripper
Researched and written by David Rowland