It’s a tragic irony that former Blackpool waitress, striptease artiste and alleged goodtime girl Helen Catherine Barthelemey might have been alive today had she not won her freedom. She would have turned 70 this year.
Instead she met her end in London at the hands of a brutal killer who, like the original Jack the Ripper preyed on prostitutes in Whitechapel and was never brought to justice.
The deaths, known as the Nude Murders in London, where the killer was dubbed Jack the Stripper, as all but his first victim were left naked, are about to feature in a new book, Who Was Jack The Stripper?
The book is due to be published in April to coincide with a TV documentary involving the UK’s leading criminologist Professor David Wilson, on the Crime and Investigation Network.
Crime writer Neil Milkins’ research has led to Blackpool where Helen – who called herself Helene – worked in a variety of jobs until jailed for her role in the robbery and assault of a visitor to the resort in the 60s.
It’s just one of a series of crimes woven together, from Helen’s small-time exploits, to a notorious double child killer and her death at the hands of another serial killer – who may have an association with the first.
The one sure and certain fact is that Helen’s decision to stay in London cost her life.
Convicted of assault, she was released, on appeal, at the Court of Criminal Justice, London. The conviction was quashed after her alleged victim was found to be anything but the “good character” he had been painted in court.
She opted to stay and find work in London. Little more than a year later she was found strangled, number five of eight alleged prostitutes slain by a serial killer.
Scotland Yard’s prime suspect, Mungo Ireland, killed himself in 1965, after the eighth killing. If he was indeed the killer – and several experts believe he may have been assisted by a second man or that another was responsible – it came far too late to save Helen, who died a year earlier.
The gruesome tale was revealed when Welsh author Milkins investigated the life and times of the various women killed in what became known as the Nude Murders of London.
The trail led to Blackpool where Helen had got in trouble with the law. In giving evidence against her for the assault, police said she had been on the game since she was 16, plying her trade first in Liverpool, then Blackpool.
If such was the case it almost certainly put her at risk when she chose to stay in London.
She had family in Blackpool and had moved back here after being fined for helping to run a brothel in the city. Her mother, who later had to identify her body in London, had not seen her daughter for four years.
Now Milkins, of Gwent, has managed to track down Helen’s only son, who now has the surname of his adoptive parents. He’s a successful Cheshire businessman and has assisted the author in building up a more comprehensive picture of his mother’s life and times. He does not wish to be identified.
“He has provided some fascinating information and photographs of his mother,” adds Milkins. “I’ve also had extensive contact with adult children of three of the other murder victims.”
Milkins believes he has enough evidence now to link the grisly serial slayings to another killer, Harold Jones, who forged an evil alliance with “Jack the Stripper” – as he and Mungo Ireland were near neighbours.
The infamous 1920s Valleys child sex killer Jones was released from prison in 1941, after serving 20 years for double murder and rape. A sociopath, he lived near the Hammersmith murder scenes at the times of the killings.
Helen was killed a year after winning her freedom for robbery with violence. She had allegedly lured 25-year-old holidaymaker, Mr Friend Taylor, of Oldham, on to sandhills at Squires Gate in the summer of 1962. He was said to have been set upon by three men and robbed of £22 5s. Helen took the rap alone. Her accomplices were never identified although Taylor testified she had said “leave him alone, Jock, he’s had enough”.
In October 1962, of no fixed abode – having become a striptease artist and prostitute – Helen stood trial at Liverpool Assizes, collapsing in the dock when sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.
She was released, on appeal, in February 1963, chose to stay in London, and, little more than a year later, in April 1964, was found strangled to death, and stripped of all but her stockings, a characteristic of the killings, at the back of 199 Boston Manor Road, a “ lovers’ walk”, in Brentford.
Neil learned of Helen’s fate after writing Every Mother’s Nightmare: Abertillery in Mourning which looked at two child sex murders in 1921. The killer was a baby-faced 15 year-old, Harold Jones, who was only brought to justice after killing the second girl and confessing the first murder to the prison chaplain.
His first victim, Freda Burnell, eight, went on an errand to the shop where Jones worked. Her body was found in a lonely lane. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.
Her hankie was found in a shed near the shop and although suspicion fell on young Jones he was cleared through lack of evidence and actually returned to a hero’s welcome. Milkins reveals: “One of the first to greet him was neighbour George Little who said ‘Well done, son, we knew you didn’t do it’.”
Fifteen days later, Little’s 11-year-old daughter Florence was found dead in the attic of Jones’ home, drained of all but two teaspoons of blood – the kind of curious detail court reporters were prone to report.
He later assisted in the search for the child, just as he had when Freda had vanished.
“He was a man utterly without conscience,” says Milkins.
Jones, too young to face the gallows, was jailed for murder and rape. He was released from Wandsworth jail in 1941 and stayed in London, living under aliases.
Milkins claims to have established links between Jones and the main Stripper suspect, Ireland, and at least three of the dead women. Ireland committed suicide by inhaling exhaust fumes in his lock-up garage in Putney in 1965. Jones died from cancer in 1971 and is buried in Hammersmith Cemetery.