MURDERED BY A SERIAL KILLER: ‘Free-spirited’ and ‘beautiful’ Blackpool girl Helene was victim of evil Jack the Stripper
Having moved from Blackpool to the most vibrant and happening city in England at the beginning of the Swinging Sixties, she should have been looking forward to a fresh start.
But her life was tragically cut short when she was murdered by a maniac in what would become the biggest unsolved case in British history.
“I always remember her being beautifully dressed,” said Charles Thomson, 66, Helene’s youngest brother and only surviving sibling. “Even her clothes, when they were sent to us after she had been murdered. She had a state of the art suitcase in a pear shape, and all her clothes were immaculate inside.”
Helene Barthelemy was the fifth child of Mary Thomson, and the first known daughter of a Second World War French resistance fighter who was killed during the conflict.
She was glamorous, cheerful and a free spirit.
But she got into trouble with the law when, in 1962, she was accused of being involved in the robbery and assault of a tourist called Friend Taylor - acting as a ‘honey trap’ to lure the unsuspecting man to a secluded area in Squires Gate, where he was attacked by three other men.
She pleaded her innocence, but was found guilty by a jury who Charles believes may have been unimpressed by her reputation as a ‘goodtime girl’, who had been a sex worker since the age of 16.
She was sentenced to four years in a London prison, but her conviction was quashed in February 1963 when it emerged Mr Taylor had been involved in a number of crimes in the past, casting doubt on his truthfulness in court.
Helene was free to go - but chose not to return to her home town.
It was a decision that would cost her her life.
Jack the Stripper, a depraved, unindentified serial killer, is believed to have already claimed the lives of four female sex workers, and would go on to kill four more - including Helene - in what came to be known as the Hammersmith Nude Murders.
Helene’s body was found in an alleyway near Brentford on April 24 1964. She had been strangled.
Charles, who was 12 when his sister was killed and living in Thwaites, Cumbria, at the time, said: “There was always a lot of activity going on around Helen, but nobody tells children anything.
“I remember going up to her flat and her friend had one of those convertibles with the roof down, and went went for a drive up and down the sea front. It was the first time I ever tasted a melon, because she bought some.
“I always saw her as a free spirit. She was always engaging. She always spoke to me with affection.
“I remember when my mother found out about the murder, because we had two armed police officers came to the house.”
The killing came as a double blow for the family, as Charles’ father, Albert, had died just two years earlier from a heart attack aged 47.
And for the families of all victims, further tragedy was yet to come, as the women, all petite and aged between 21 and 30, were looked down on by the public. An article published in the Sunday News in 1967 called them ‘harlots’, claimed Helene had a ‘rough’ upbringing and had ‘run away to join the circus’, and referenced her ‘moral convictions’.
Charles said: “They were treated as if they were scum of the earth. Even the books about them are all from a man’s perspective. There was no empathy with them at all.
“I don’t care who you are, whether you’re a prostitute or the Queen of England, murder is murder.”
The infamous slayings were the subject of a documentary, Dark Son, which aired on BBC4 last night.
It investigated the theory that ‘Jack the Stripper’ was in fact Harold Jones, a convicted child killer who brutally murdered two girls in Monmouthshire, Wales in 1921 when he was just 15.
He was released from prison in 1941, still a young man at 35 years old, against the recommendations of a psychiatrist, who warned: “He shows no remorse for the crimes, and no apparent desire for any alteration in his condition.”
He died of bone cancer in 1971.
The show followed criminologist Professor David Wilson as he tracked down the daughter of the infamous killer, who came from Abertillery, Wales, to speak with her about her father, and to try to answer the question once and for all - was Harold Jones Jack the Stripper?
Dad-of-one Charles, who now lives in Doncaster, said he was not convinced by the documentary.
But he said he had made peace with his sister’s tragic fate.
“Judging from the comments of my family, there was nothing that could be done,” he said. “There were forces in play that prevented them looking into it themselves.
“I never felt that death is something to be avoided. Helen wouldn’t have wanted us to waste our lives. She wouldn’t have wanted us to wish our lives away worrying about something you can do nothing about.”