1940: Lluis Companys, Catalan president 1698: Six Streltsy of rank

1946: Neville Heath, torture-killer

October 16th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1946, 29-year-old torture-murderer Neville George Clevely Heath was hanged at Pentonville Prison for the murder of Margery Aimee Brownell Gardner, 32, an aspiring film actress.

Heath was one of the most notorious British killers of the mid-twentieth century. Although his victims numbered only two (the other being 21-year-old Doreen Margaret Marshall), he stood out from the pack by his brutality and sheer sadism. The Murders of the Black Museum, 1870-1970 provides this graphic description of the terrible injuries he inflicted on Doreen:

She had been struck several times on the back of her head. There were also abrasions on her back, a bruise on her right shoulder and an area of redness around the left collar-bone, as if someone had knelt on her. The left side of her chest was bruised and a rib had fractured, piercing the left lung. Her left arm was bruised, as were both wrists, which appeared to have been tightly tied; they also bore finger-nail imprints of her assailant. The fingers of both her hands were badly cut on the inside, as if she had seized a knife in self-defence. All these injuries had been inflicted before she died, her death itself having been caused by a haemorrhage resulting from two deep knife-cuts across her throat.

After death a nipple had been bitten off and her body had been mutilated. A jagged series of slashes reached from her vagina vertically up to her chest, where they were joined by a deep diagonal cut from each nipple to the centre of her body, forming a Y. A rough instrument, possibly a branch, had also perforated and torn her vagina and anus.

Heath came from a respectable, lower-middle-class background. His parents scraped together enough money for him to attend a private Catholic school, where early on he developed as a reputation as a bully.

As an adult he fell into crime, but there was nothing on his record to suggest he was capable of such gruesome acts; his previous convictions had been for offenses such as fraud, forgery, burglary and deserting the military.

In between stints in jail, he married a woman from a wealthy, prominent family and they had a son. By 1945, however, they were divorced.

Margery, Heath’s first victim, was separated from her husband at the time of her death. She had a masochistic predilection for bondage and flagellation, but even so, Heath was too much for her. In May 1946, they checked into a hotel together and he was so violent that she got scared and had to be rescued by hotel security.

Incredibly, however, when Heath called her to ask her out on another date, she agreed and they met again on June 20. They got drunk at a nightclub and took a cab to a hotel. No one heard any unusual noises during the night, but the next morning Margery’s bound, gagged and mutilated corpse was found in her fourth-floor room.

She had horrific injuries, all inflicted while she still lived, including cuts on her face, arms and back in an unusual criss-cross pattern. The cause of death was suffocation.

There was no sign of Heath, but within a day or two he’d been identified as a possible suspect and was sought for questioning.

Heath’s fiancee read about the murder in the papers and asked him about it. He told her he’d stumbled across the scene after Mrs. Gardner was already dead, and promised to go to the police and make a statement. He never did, but he did send a letter to the chief inspector, saying he’d lent his hotel key to Mrs. Gardner because she had nowhere else to sleep. She went to bed with a man named “Jack” but told Heath to come to her room after 2:00 a.m. to spend the rest of the night with her.

When he did, he wrote, “I found her in the condition of which you are aware. I realized that I was in an invidious position, and rather than notify the police, I packed my belongings and left.” Heath said he had the murder weapon and was mailing it to the police station in a separate package. He never did.

Instead, he went to Bournemouth and checked into the Tolland Royal Hotel under the name Rupert Brooke, after one of Britain’s most famous poets.

There he met Doreen Marshall.

Doreen Marshall.

Heath encountered Doreen on July 3 and asked her to have tea with him. She agreed. Tea turned into dinner, and the date didn’t end until almost midnight. At this time Heath said he would walk Doreen home, although she wanted to take a taxi instead. She was never seen alive again.

On July 5 she was reported missing and the Tolland Royal Hotel staff, knowing she’d dined with Heath, asked him to get in touch with the police. He did so, identifying himself by his alias Rupert Brooke. He told the story about their date and saying he’d left her on the pier and walked back to the Tolland Royal alone.

One of the police officers interviewing him about Doreen Marshall recognized Heath as the man wanted for questioning about Margery’s murder and confronted him, saying, “Isn’t your real name Heath?”

“Rupert Brooke” denied this, and when the police said they were detaining him for further questioning, he asked to be allowed to go to the hotel and get his coat. He’d come back right away, he said.

The cops were not that stupid and sent one of their own officers to fetch the coat. Inside was half a train ticket in Doreen Marshall’s name, as well as a cloakroom ticket issued at a train station on June 23. The police went to the train station to fetch what their prisoner had stored there: it turned out to be a suitcase containing several incriminating items, including clothing monogrammed with Heath’s real name, a bloodstained scarf and handkerchief, and a bloodstained riding crop woven in a criss-cross pattern that, it turned out, matched the marks on Margery’s body.

On July 8, Heath was formally charged with Margery’s murder. At around the same time, Doreen’s body turned up: she’d been dumped, naked, in a clump of bushes about a mile from the Tolland Royal Hotel.

At his trial, none of Heath’s friends or family members came to testify on his behalf. Given the evidence against him, his defense attorney could hardly argue that their client was innocent. Instead they claimed he was insane: only a madman could have committed such acts.

But Heath’s calm, composed manner, and his obvious efforts to cover up his crimes, went against the insanity defense and the jury had no trouble convicting him.

In his final letter to his parents, he wrote, “My only regret at leaving the world is that I have been damned unworthy of you both.” Just before his hanging, he was offered the customary drink of whiskey. He agreed and added, “Better make it a double.”

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gallows Humor,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Rape,Sex

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