The night Dad met John Haigh, the acid bath murderer.
When I was growing up I enjoyed the times when Dad would sit down after work and tell me stories about his life.
I heard about the time he nearly got caught when scrumping for apples, and how he was a stop boy for the local shoot.
He told me about his jobs after he left school at age fourteen – one of them involved turning a ‘dolly’ in a laundry all day.
There were also stories about his more recent life, like the time he had lunch with the Queen, when, as a princess, she came to the new town of Crawley.
She visited the architect’s offices ( Broadfield House) where the new town was being planned. That’s where we lived, ( the cottage on the estate) as Dad was the caretaker.
Dad told me how he had to fit a special toilet for the royal visit. He spent a long time getting it ready, but in the end she never used it!
But the most fascinating story that Dad told me was about how he met John Haigh, the famous acid bath murderer. Haigh had his engineering work shop in Leopold Road in Crawley.
It was 1948 when the new town of Crawley was just beginning.
Dad and Mum were living at Broadfield House, which had been a country club and hotel. It had just closed, as it was going to be the offices for the new town architects.
Late one night there was a knock on the door. When my dad opened it there were two men standing there. One was John Haigh and the other man, he later found out, was Haigh’s friend Doctor Henderson. Haigh was taking Henderson to his work shop, on the pretext of showing him one of his latest inventions.
“May we have a room for the night?” Haigh asked Dad.
“No, we are no longer open,” my dad answered.
“Well, then may I use your phone?”
“Yes, of course.”
My dad heard Haigh book a room at ‘The George Hotel’ in Crawley town centre.
Haigh gave my dad two shillings for the phone call and then he and Henderson went on their way.
My dad told us how he was later interviewed by the police when they were investigating the Haigh murders, as he was the last one to see Henderson alive. Henderson was probably murdered in Haigh’s work shop that very night! Shortly afterwards Haigh also murdered Henderson’s wife. He murdered nine people in all and disposed of their bodies in vats of acid.
By the time Dad got to the latter part of the story my eyes were as wide as saucers.
I never tired of hearing Dad’s stories, he always made everything so interesting. I think that is one reason I enjoy writing stories myself.
I’m glad that I encouraged Dad to write a memoir just before he died. It’s full of all the stories he told me and is a book I’ll always treasure.