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Memory Lane: A proper tribute for Evelyn

Ros Seton at the grave of her aunt Evelyn Oatley, murdered by the 'Blackout Ripper' in 1942

Ros Seton at the grave of her aunt Evelyn Oatley, murdered by the 'Blackout Ripper' in 1942

BACK in January, we highlighted a new book, Scenes of Murder: Then and Now which investigates 150 years of crimes.

Among the atrocities featured are those of RAF cadet Gordon Cummins, branded the Black Out Ripper for his killing spree 70 years ago last month, in wartime London.

A Fylde coast victim was Evelyn Oatley. She had married in Blackpool in June 1936, but when murdered was separated from her husband Harold Oatley, a retired poultry farmer, who was living in Lyddesdale Avenue, Anchorsholme.

Author Winston Ramsey had appealed for information on Evelyn’s final resting place, as no record could be found of her burial.

Meanwhile, Evelyn’s niece Ros Seton had spent years searching for her aunt’s grave and made contact with Winston, who told her he had checked dozens of cemeteries in the Blackpool area and also around her home town of Keighley, but without success.

Although cremation was unusual during the war, Ros told Winston she was now going to check crematoriums and she could not believe it when her very first call struck gold.

Not only was Evelyn listed in the records of Streatham Park Cemetery but she was buried there in a common grave. Why Evelyn should have been laid to rest in south London is a mystery yet to be solved, but meanwhile Ros was able to place a proper tribute on the grave which had remained forgotten and unmarked for 70 years.

In a statement to the police, Mr Oatley had said that before their marriage, Evelyn had “obtained a situation” in the chorus at London’s Windmill Theatre.

But retired entertainer Jill Millard Shapiro has contacted Memory Lane to say: “Evelyn Oatley was not a Windmill Girl. She never worked at the Windmill Theatre in any capacity. I have done considerable research on Mrs Oatley to prove she was not at the Windmill and can assure you she was not an actress or dancer and had never appeared on any theatrical stage. I was a Windmill Girl and now have a Windmill Theatre archive.

“The Windmill opened in 1932. The girls were all trained dancers. Evelyn had never had a dancing lesson in her life. The girls who posed in the nude were called Revudebelles and there were only about six of them who are all named.”

Convent schoolgirl Jill herself auditioned at the age of 14, later admitting “the enormity of what I was doing hadn’t hit me”.

She was seen by theatre owner Vivian Van Damm, who asked two questions: “Can you dance and can you sing?”

Jill, who will be 69 in July, says: “I answered yes to both. He paused for a moment, looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I like you. I’m going to take a chance on you.’ That moment defined who I would be for the rest of my life.”

n Readers can follows Jill’s recollections at http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Archive/Feb2003/JillShapiro/JillShapiroArticle.htm on the Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History website.

n Scenes of Murder: Then and Now is available price £39.95 and readers can get more details at www.afterthebattle.com or by ringing (01279) 418833.

 

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