The Naked City Feb 9 2017
Axe and you will receive.

Above and below are the cover and assorted interior scans from a February 1953 issue of True Police Detective, a magazine we've discussed once or twice before. You get the usual collection of true crime tales, explored in procedural detail, with striking photo spreads posed by professional models, as well as some actual crime scene shots. One story we noticed here concerned the murders in London of 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed in May 1953. The two had last been seen alive embarking on a bike trip. Songhurst's body was found the next day floating face down in the Thames, while Reed's was located five days later when a section of the river was drained. Reed had been raped, and both had been beaten unconscious and hacked with an axe. The physical evidence was clear: an assailant had surprise attacked both victims, beaten them unconscious, axed Reed and disposed of her before turning his attention to the helpless Songhurst.

One curious part of the tale is that the girls disappeared while biking from London to Brighton, according to the author. It seemed to us like a pretty long trip and we were right—as the crow flies it's more than forty miles. So we think the magazine got that part of the story wrong, since the girls' families were expecting them back home by evening. In any case, our interest derived from the simple fact that the crime hadn't been solved at the time True Police Cases went to press. A man named Alfred Whiteway had been arrested, but the story ends with, “Whiteway is awaiting trial that will determine his guilt or innocence.” Since we had already invested the time to read the entire saga, we wanted to find out how it ended.

The case almost turned on chance. A month after Songhurst and Reed had been found, Whiteway was arrested for raping a woman and assaulting another on Oxshott Heath. He had the Songhurst/Reed murder axe in his possession when police picked him up. While being driven to the station he managed to hide the axe under the car's rear seat, where it remained until the vehicle was cleaned some time later and an officer discovered the weapon. Instead of realizing its significance, the officer took the tool home and used it to chop wood, blunting the edge and obliterating any blood evidence. If he had simply realized how suspicious it was to find it under the seat of a police car the case would have been solved.

In the end, old-fashioned procedural work finally cracked the case. Whiteway had been maintaining his innocence the entire time, but forensic investigators finally found minute traces of blood in an eyelet and seam on one of his shoes. Confronted with blood evidence he broke down and confessed. He had attacked the girls in a rage, raped Songhurst, and tossed both bodies in the Thames. If he expected his admission to earn him leniency he was disappointed—he was convicted in court of what became known as the Towpath Murders and hanged at Wandsworth Prison in December 1953. And the axe that almost but didn't break the case ended up in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, where it still resides today.


The Naked City Aug 28 2015
Putting the pieces back together.

How many slayings over the years have been called “jigsaw murders”? Plenty. All a killer has to do is cut up the body and “jigsaw” becomes the go-to nickname. The particular jigsaw murders referred to on the cover of this August 1947 True Police Cases are ones committed in Lancashire, England during the late 1930s. A doctor named Buktyar Rustomji Ratanji Hakim—“Buck” for short, and aka Buck Ruxton—strangled his wife Isabella. And in a sad but classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time, a maid who had the misfortune of witnessing the event was also strangled.

But Ruxton wasn’t finished. He yanked out the women’s teeth, cut off their faces, chopped up their bodies, and disposed of the pieces in a stream 100 miles from his home. The guy was really using his head. Other than needing to explain the absence of his wife and maid, he had to feel pretty confident about going undetected. But he had wrapped some of the remains in newspaper—a newspaper sold only in his area. That helped police zero in. And when they noted the precision of the butchery, they immediately narrowed their search to medical professionals. Needless to say, there weren’t too many doctors in the Lancashire area whose wives were suddenly missing.
You may wonder what the trigger was for all this carnage. It was jealousy. It always seems to be jealousy. Isabella was socially quite popular, and Doc Ruxton thought she was cheating on him. He anguished over this constantly, and the couple fought often, which is the reason the poor maid didn’t realize until too late that she wasn’t witnessing just another fight. Ruxton had no actual evidence his wife was cheating, but in the end his lack of proof didn’t matter—that only meant she was too clever to be caught.

Because the police used newly developed forensic techniques to help solve the crime—for instance, superimposing photos of Isabella’s face over the decomposed head to aid identification—the case generated a lot of attention. True Police Cases scribe Alan Hynd wasn’t the only journalist with an interest. Many true crime writers wrote about it, and the story eventually became an entire book by T.F. Potter in 1984 called The Deadly Dr. Ruxton: How They Caught a Lancashire Double Killer. All these years later, of the many jigsaw murderers, Buck Ruxton remains among the most famous.


Modern Pulp Dec 3 2009
…and step two three four, die two three four...

Remember the era of day-glow exercise wear, when all the fabrics looked like they’d been bathed in radiation? True Police Cases magazine circa December 1989 reminds us how insanely hideous the look was, as their cheeky cover star hunts either the man who gave her a painful wedgie, or the hairdresser who committed malpractice on her fringe. As far as the headless dancer mentioned at left goes, we’d pay money to see that. We went to The Nutcracker once, and those dancers were really good, but they had heads. This Iowa dancer must be more than just a shocker—he must be a balletic genius.     


History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
March 21
1963—Alcatraz Closes
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
March 20
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
March 19
1931—Nevada Approves Gambling
In the U.S., the state of Nevada passes a resolution allowing for legalized gambling. Unregulated gambling had been commonplace in the early Nevada mining towns, but was outlawed in 1909 as part of a nationwide anti-gaming crusade. The leading proponents of re-legalization expected that gambling would be a short term fix until the state's economic base widened to include less cyclical industries. However, gaming proved over time to be one of the least cyclical industries ever conceived.
1941—Tuskegee Airmen Take Flight
During World War II, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, aka the Tuskegee Airmen, is activated. The group is the first all-black unit of the Army Air Corp, and serves with distinction in Africa, Italy, Germany and other areas. In March 2007 the surviving airmen and the widows of those who had died received Congressional Gold Medals for their service.
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