Roger writing the LAWmag
Jun 2009

John Haigh, Vampire

In the halls of justice, those versant in criminal law carry an uneasy secret.

Many are quick to defer from the painful facts by rushing into judgment of a person's past, rather than the crime itself.

And there are those who are accidental residents of our prisons, nice people ... just victims of poor decisions.

But many more are psychopaths, with no conscious or morals, ready like animals to pounce on the vulnerable, and they sleep soundly in spite of the blood under their fingernails.

Criminal law lawyers defend all.

Law schools churn out new lawyers and criminal law has much to attract: actus reus, mens rea, presumption of innocence.

But some of the beasts they have to defend weigh heavy on their minds and eventually expels many a candidate from the emotional toughness of the specialty.

And yet no law school can prepare a lawyer for a client like John George Haigh (1909-1949).

Dracula posterHaigh lived in England and as a youngster, he was a good student and even a choirboy. He likely came across Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.

As soon as adult life began, Haigh took to crime and found himself frequently behind bars for fraud and theft and, once, for impersonating a solicitor.

Just before the end of World War II, he began his murderous crime wave.

His modus operandi was to search and stalk wealthy Londoners, befriending them.

His first victim was William McSwan who disappeared in 1944.

A year later, he is suspected of having murdered McSwan's parents.

Haigh used his stolen money to move into a swank London hotel called Onslow Court. He presented as social, non-violent and polite. He fit in well and even had a vanity portrait photograph made of himself (see image).

When the McSwan money ran out, Haigh rented a small storage room and lured his next two victims there, husband and wife Archibald and Rose Henderson), shot them, dissolved their bodies in acid, and sold their goods, using forged letters.

His last victim was wealthy socialite and widow, Olivia Durand-Deacon (also spelled Durant-Deacon).

Durand-Deacon was 69 and weighed 200 pounds when she met Haigh.

He pretended to be taken by an idea she had for a cosmetic invention and used this to lure her back to his office, where he shot her and robbed her of her possessions, before dumping her body into an empty drum and pouring acid on it.

This process left a sludge which Haigh poured outside on the yard.

Haigh then pawned her jewellery and had her coat dry-cleaned.

The old widow was promptly reported missing by none other than Haigh himself. He must of thought it would help his cover as he accompanied his victim's friend to the police station to report her missing.

The police noticed his long criminal record and he went straight to the top of the suspect list.

John Haigh, vampire wannabeHaigh's home and storage space were searched. Bingo: Scotland Yard found personal possessions not only of Durant-Deacon but of the Hendersons and McSwans. They also found a gun and the dry-cleaning receipt.

Haigh taunted the police, thinking that under prevailing British law, he could not get convicted of murder without a dead body.

That was enough of a challenge for pathologist Cedric Keith Simpson (1907-1985) who analyzed the mass of fluid still in the soil at Haigh's storage room and identified human fat and bones, a hat pin, gallstones and part of a denture identified by her dentist as belonging to Durand-Deacon.

The trial featured Hartley Shawcross (1902-2003) for the prosecution.

David Fyfe (1900-1967), like Shawcross, was fresh from his retainer as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, when he took the dreaded Haigh case on.

Haigh bragged about his crimes showing no remorse.

No one but Haigh will ever known whether he began his impersonation of Dracula which then inspired Fyfe to plead insanity, or whether Haigh did it to support his solicitor's argument.

In any event, Haigh upped the ante, casually telling police that he had stuck a pen knife into the throat of his victims just after killing them, and had drank their blood. He added the names of the Hendersons and the McSwans and that he:

".. incised their necks and drank a cupful of blood from each."1

In the result, the jury was required to sit through Haigh's nonsense, all of which was lapped up by the London Press.

Fyfe had no choice but to go for broke: to hope that he could lead enough credible evidence to demonstrate clearly that his client was crazy.

Haigh, ever the conman, was happy to oblige.John George Haigh

  • He explained how he plugged the bullet holes in his victims so as to retain the blood.
  • He invented stories of blood-lusting since childhood.
  • When prison guards were within eyesight, he would make a song and dance of drinking his own urine.
  • His best line: he never killed for money.
  • An uncontrollable urge for blood made him do it, someone Haigh described as his wild blood demon.

All of which might of been humorous were not for the real homicides behind it.

The press had a field day, selling newspapers by the millions as Londoners were fed the detail stream of the Vampire Killer's Murders.

Doctors lined up at his trial, at which 11 of 12 declared him fit.

Dr. Simpson provided the "dead body".

The jury took 15 minutes to find him guilty.

Haigh was sentenced by Justice Travers Humphreys to death by hanging.

He was hung on August 10, 1949, leaving the families of his victims to deal with the deaths of their loved ones, made even more traumatic by Haigh's sensational evidence.

There was another twist to this animal's life on earth.

When Durant-Deacon's will was read, one of her legacies was an annual gift to the famous suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, then living in California and barely able to eek out a living ... until the Will was executed.


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Christabel Pankhurst
  • Hemphill, R. and Zabow, T., "Clinical Vampirism", published in the South African Medical Journal, February 13, 1983, page 278 (note 1).
  • Ramsland, K., The Science of Vampires (California: Berkely Books, 2002), pages 107-109.

Posted in Legal History

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