June 6, 1917|
Essex, England, United Kingdom
|Died||October 16, 1946(aged 29)|
Cause of death
|Execution by hanging|
|Other names||The Lady Killer|
Span of killings
|Country||England, United Kingdom|
Heath was born in Ilford in Essex, England. Although he came from a lower middle class background, his father, who was a barber, made considerable financial sacrifices so that he could attend a grammar school, Rutlish School, at Merton Park, southwest London.
He joined the Royal Air Force in 1937, but was dismissed for going absent without leave. He was caught obtaining credit by fraud, and six months later was sent to a borstal for housebreaking and forgery. He used a number of aliases, including "Lord Dudley" and "Lieutenant-Colonel Armstrong".
At the beginning of the Second World War, Heath joined the Royal Army Service Corps and was posted to the Middle East. He lasted less than a year. He was shipped home, but on his way he escaped the guard and headed for Johannesburg where he joined the South African Air Force, eventually rising to the rank of Captain. He married, and the couple had a son, but at the end of the war his wife divorced him on grounds of desertion. He was also court martialled, for wearing medals to which he was not entitled. He returned to England in 1946.
On Sunday 16 June 1946, Heath took a room at the Pembridge Court Hotel in Notting Hill Gate. He used his real name, but added the title Lieutenant-Colonel. He was with a woman, Yvonne Symonds, who he said was his wife - in fact they had only just met. Heath had promised to marry her, so she spent the night with him and returned to her home the next day.
The following Thursday Heath spent the evening with Margery Gardner. She was 32 years old, a trained artist and occasional film extra. Separated from her alcoholic husband, she had a young daughter but was living alone in Earls Court, London. Heath and Margery had been dancing together at the Panama Club in Kensington. The following day the assistant manager entered Heath's room as the chambermaid had been unable to gain entry. Margery Gardner’s body was found naked on the bed but covered to the neck with sheets, her ankles bound and marks to show that her wrists had been too but the restraints had been removed. There were 17 lash marks on her body, her nipples had been savagely bitten, and an instrument had been inserted into her vagina.
The whip that had inflicted the slash marks on her body was nowhere to be seen. These marks showed the distinctive diamond pattern of a woven leather riding crop. Keith Simpson told the police "Find that whip and you’ve found your man", Professor Simpson estimated Margery’s time of death as between midnight and the early hours of the morning. The police learned that Heath and Margery had arrived at the hotel around midnight, and that nothing had been heard until a door slammed at 1:30am. The cause of death was suffocation, but only after the other injuries had been inflicted.
Heath headed to Worthing to see Yvonne, the girl he had proposed to, and spent a few days with her. Her parents were impressed with the "Lieutenant-Colonel", but he left when his name appeared in the newspapers in relation to Margery's murder. He then went to Bournemouth and took a room at the Tollard Royal Hotel, under the alias "Group Captain Rupert Brook". A few days later he met Doreen Margaret Marshall, who was staying at the Norfolk Hotel.
Doreen served in the WRNS during the Second World War, and was discharged on 27 June 1946. Suffering from a bout of influenza and measles, she took a holiday in Bournemouth to convalesce. During the war Bournemouth had become a garrison town, with most of the hotels taken over as billets for troops; one hotel, The Norfolk, on Richmond Hill near the town centre stayed open to civilian guests and this is where Doreen stayed.
Only five minutes from her hotel was the seafront, where 100 foot sandy cliffs framed the beach, and were held back by a low sea wall with a promenade. Whilst walking along the prom on Wednesday, 3 July, Doreen encountered Neville Heath who was, at first sight, handsome and well-spoken. Neville introduced himself as Group Captain Rupert Brook employing the name of the War Poet Rupert Brooke, who had been a frequent visitor to Bournemouth at the start of the century.
Doreen accepted Heath’s invitation to take afternoon tea at his hotel at the top of the cliffs, the Tollard Royal. She spent the afternoon with him and, feeling lonely in Bournemouth, she accepted his further invitation to dine with him that evening. After dinner Heath took Doreen to the hotel lounge to listen to dance music on the wireless. But Doreen was clearly uncomfortable with Heath and asked another guest to call a taxi for her, claiming she was tired. Heath cancelled the taxi and offered to walk her home. On leaving the hotel, Heath told the porter that he would be half an hour. Doreen corrected him, 'he will only be a quarter of an hour.' This was the last time Doreen was seen alive.
Doreen's disappearance was reported to the police by the manager of the Norfolk Hotel on Friday 5 July, who also contacted the manager of the Tollard Royal, as this is where he knew she had dined on the night she disappeared. The Manager of the Tollard Royal advised Heath to contact the police in case he had any information which might help them. On Saturday 6 July, Heath duly telephoned Detective Constable Suter at Bournemouth Police Station and said he might be able to help. He went to the police station, and identified Doreen's picture as the girl he had been with, but said he had left her in the gardens in central Bournemouth.
That day, Doreen’s father, Charles, and sister, Mrs Cruickshanks, had travelled down to Bournemouth very concerned about Doreen. When they arrived at Bournemouth Police Station, by chance they met ‘Brook’, who was introduced to the Marshalls by Suter. ‘Brook’ joked to them about his similarity to the wanted poster of the murderer Neville Heath. Suter felt sure that 'Brook' was the man wanted by Scotland Yard, and asked "Isn't your name Heath?" Heath denied it, and said he wanted to return to the hotel for his coat. The police fetched it for him and searched it. They found a railway cloakroom ticket, which led them to a suitcase containing a riding whip with a diamond pattern weave. Heath was questioned again, and he admitted his real identity. The next day he was transferred to London where he was charged with the murder of Margery Gardner.
Despite the efforts of the Bournemouth Police, Doreen’s whereabouts remained a mystery until Sunday 7 July, when waitress Kathleen Evans, out walking her dog, noticed a swarm of flies by a rhododendron thicket in Branksome Dene Chine. Further investigation revealed Doreen’s body, badly mutilated, with the clothing removed. Wounds found on her hands suggested she had grasped defensively at a knife. She had received blows to her head, her wrists and ankles had been tied, one nipple had been bitten off and her throat had been slashed. As with Margery Gardner, an instrument, possibly a branch, had been inserted into her vagina. She also had a large gash that ran from the inside of her thigh up to her mutilated breast.
Although Heath was charged with Doreen’s murder, his subsequent trial and execution related only to his earlier murder of Margery Gardner. Doreen's body was returned to her parents and buried in Pinner Cemetery.
Trial and execution
The trial of Neville Heath for the murder of Margery Gardner began on 24 September 1946. Heath originally told his counsel, J. D. Casswell KC, to plead guilty, but when Casswell questioned this, said "All right, put me down as Not Guilty, old boy". Casswell chose not to call him to give evidence, and relied on the defence of insanity, calling Dr William Henry de Bargue Hubert, an experienced criminal psychiatrist, to testify as an expert witness. Dr Hubert testified that Heath knew what he was doing but not that it was wrong, but the prosecution easily destroyed Hubert's argument: unknown to Casswell, Hubert was a drug addict and was under the influence of morphine in the witness box.
Two prison doctors testified that although Heath was a sexual pervert and a psychopath, he was not insane. Heath was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on 16 October 1946 at Pentonville Prison. Prior to his execution, as was the custom, Heath was offered a whisky by the governor. A playboy to the last, Heath replied, "While you're about it, sir, you might make that a double".
In February 1946, a few months before the murders, a woman, Pauline Brees, was found naked and tied up in a hotel bedroom in the Strand Palace Hotel, London. Heath stood over the woman, ready to thrash her. She had alerted the staff of the hotel by screaming. She refused to press charges to avoid any publicity. When Margery Gardner's body was found in June, Margery was mistakenly identified by the staff at the Strand Palace as having been involved in this incident in February.
This error was reported in the press at the time, suggesting that Margery Gardner had gone to the Pembridge Court Hotel fully aware of Heath's sexual tastes and that she, therefore, must have had some sort of masochistic tendency. Despite the assumptions of many studies of the case to date there is little evidence for this. Sean O'Connor suggests that Heath barely knew Margery Gardner and that they had never spent the night together before the night he killed her.
References in media
- The Heath case was dramatised on the radio series Secrets of Scotland Yard around 1948 as "The Man About Town" and in the subsequent series The Black Museum in 1952 under the title of "The Powder Puff".
- The Neville Heath murders and trial were dramatised in 1981 in the British television reenactment series Ladykillers (original 1980 series titled Lady Killers). Ian Charleson portrayed Heath in the episode, which was titled "Make It a Double".
- In Handsome Brute: The Story of a Ladykiller, Sean O'Connor (producer) examines previously restricted files from the Home Office and Metropolitan Police. New findings from these files question some of the preceding information in this entry.
- In the summer of 1946, Heath dated the South African actress Moira Lister. The Scottish actress Molly Weir also claimed that Heath had tried to chat her up at Bobby's Department Store in Bournemouth in July 1946.
- Heath's case has been suggested as the basis for three novels by Patrick Hamilton, The West Pier, Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse and Unknown Assailant. Heath's story is also the inspiration for Arthur La Bern's 1966 novel, Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, which is the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 thriller, Frenzy.
- In the final book of Spike Milligan's War Memoirs, he said that after he left his parent's home in Deptford after he arrived back in the UK in 1946, he rented a room in 13 Linden Gardens, London, which he states in the book is where Heath stayed for a while. The landlady who owned the property said that he was a "very nice man" and "couldn't believe that he had that (referring to the murders) in him"
- (See "One of the Few" by Gp. Capt. J.A. Kent, Ch. 2, about 4 pages from end of chapter)
- 'Handsome Brute' (2013), Sean O'Connor p.99
- Register of Births, September Qtr 1924, Brentford, vol 3a, page 273
- Register of Marriages, December Qtr 1941, Hendon, vol 3a, page 1502
- Lives and times of the Mayors of Bournemouth, Bournemouth Council, 2000
- Dorset Murders, by Roger Guttridge, 1990
- Donald Serrell Thomas (2006). Villains' paradise: a history of Britain's underworld. Pegasus Books. p. 115. ISBN 1-933648-17-1.
- O'Connor, op.cit, p.382
- O'Connor, op.cit, p.368-70
- Ladykillers: "Make It a Double" on the Internet Movie Database
- 'The Very Merry Moira' (1969) by Moira Lister.
- 'Stepping Into the Spotlight' (1975) by Molly Weir.
- Back cover copy to 2013 reprint of the Gorse Trilogy
- Critchley, Macdonald (1955). "Neville George Clevely Heath". In Hodge, James H. Famous Trials 5. Penguin. pp. 55–106.
- Simpson, Keith. Forty Years of Murder. London: HarperCollins.
- Gp. Capt. J.A. Kent. One of the Few. Corgi. Character reference for Heath, four pages from end Ch. 2.
- Joshua David Casswell (1961). "My fourth client to be hanged". A lance for liberty. Harrap. p. 237.
- Sean O'Connor (2013). Handsome Brute. Simon & Schuster.
- "Neville Heath". www.historybytheyard.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-11-27.
- "Neville Heath". www.stephen-stratford.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-11-27.