Military, WW2

WWII RAF Airman Nicknamed the Blackout Ripper Murdered Four Women in London

  • His violent killing spree in 1942 shocked even the most hardened of police officers.
  • Historians often say that the war covered all crimes, including murder and theft. Cummins happened to be among the perpetrators.

Blackout Ripper Gordon Cummins killed four women and attempted to murder two more in London. During World War Two, crimes against women significantly increased across Britain. These crimes remained largely unnoticed because of the ongoing war. Fear of enemy bombs were not the only threat though.

One such fearful tale is the heinous rampage of Gordon Cummins. He was a 27-year-old Royal Air Force airman. The English serial killer is now famously known as the Blackout or Wartime Ripper.  Cummins violently mutilated and murdered four women in 1942 in London. Evelyn Hamilton, Evelyn Oatley, Margaret Lowe, and Doris Jouannet fell victim to his killing spree. Fortunately, Greta Haywood and Catherine Mulcahy survived his violent assaults.

His rampage left even the most experienced and hardened police officers shocked and disturbed.

Blackout Ripper and Evelyn Hamilton’s Murder

Evelyn Hamilton was a 41-year-old pharmacist.

The last time people saw Evelyn was one evening, alone at the Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch, having some food and drink. However, it’s still a mystery whether Cummins befriended her there or stalked her later in the dark during the blackout when she left.

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Nonetheless, one thing is for sure: her killer enticed or forced her into the air-raid shelter in London’s Marylebone, where she went through hell. Later in the morning, a local electrician found her lifeless body. The electrician found Evelyn lying face-up with her dress torn, her face bruised, and her shoes scuffed by the concrete floor. The English serial killer had strangled her to death.

Evelyn Oatley’s Murder

After killing Hamilton, Cummins murdered Evelyn Oatley.  Under the name of Lita Ward, Evelyn worked as a nightclub hostess and a prostitute. Unaware of the serial killer, Evelyn met a similar fate.

Cummins brutally mutilated her body. He beat and choked her until she lost consciousness. The Wartime Ripper slashed her throat, abdomen, and legs with a razor blade and a tin opener.

Witnesses informed that a young airman had approached Oatley in Soho the evening before the murder. Additionally, a woman named Ivy Poole saw her at 11:40 pm going upstairs with a man in the same building where Oatley and Poole resided. Poole informed the police that suddenly after midnight, the music volume on Oatley’s wireless went unusually high. The following morning, meter readers found her lifeless body.

Margaret Lowe’s Murder

The Blackout Ripper did not stop at Oatley’s murder. The next night, he murdered Margaret Lowe in Marylebone. She was a 43-year-old widow who worked as a house cleaner and a prostitute to make ends meet. Sadly, her daughter, Barbara – a boarding school student – found Lowe’s dead body after people told her they hadn’t seen her mother ‘for two or three days.’

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Cummins followed a similar pattern. He strangled Lowe with a silk stocking or scarf and slit open her abdomen, which exposed her intestines. The Ripper also inserted a wax candle into her. There was also a deep, wide wound on the right side of Lowe’s groin.

Catherine Mulcahy’s Escape

After murdering Lowe, Cummins nearly killed 25-year-old Catherine Mulcahy. She was also a sex worker. Mulcahy took the charming airman to her flat near Southwick Street, where he attempted to strangle her. Luckily, she was able to escape by kicking him with her boots on. Mulcahy then ran screaming to a neighbour.

To prevent Mulcahy from reaching out to the police, the serial killer gave her a sorry note with some cash, a £5 note. The message read, “I’m sorry. I think I had way too much to drink this evening.” However, the airman forgot his RAF belt while trying to make a swift exit.

Debris in a bombed out London Street.
The blackened and bombed out streets of London made it unsafe for woman to walk at night. It wasn’t just the fear of bombs though.

Doris Jouannet’s Murder

The Blackout Ripper targeted Doris Jouannet next. She was married, but her husband frequently traveled for work. However, Jouannet liked to earn money in her husband’s absence too.

Only a few hours after assaulting Mulcahy, the Ripper met Doris. A stranger to his true identity, she took Cummins to her flat in Paddington, where she was brutally murdered. He strangled her with a stocking, mutilated her body, and broke her jaw. Police found Jouannet’s dead body when her husband, Henri, called them after finding the bedroom door locked from the inside. 

Attempted Murder of Greta Haywood

Cummins attempted to murder Greta Haywood after Doris. He bought her a drink at the Brasserie Universelle and grew restless. Haywood stated later that the RAF airman became ‘unpleasantly forward.’

He forced her into the doorway and tried to strangle her. Luckily, a delivery boy rescued the lady. Consequently, Cummins escaped the scene, leaving Greta alive. In his murderous spree, the serial killer had become increasingly careless. He left his gas mask and haversack, which had his service number — 525987 — behind.

Gordon’s Conviction

Later, when police investigated, they found murder evidence from Cummins’ room — Jouannet’s pen and cigarette cases of Oatley and Lowe. For technical reasons, he was not tried for any other than Oatley’s murder. The jury convicted Cummins in only 35 minutes. As a result, the forgotten English serial killer was hanged in June 1942 during an air raid.

“A sadistic sexual murder has been committed here of a ghoulish and horrible type, but of a type which is not at all uncommon, and that has been done by somebody. What you have to determine is whether, upon the evidence, it has been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the murderer was the man who stands in the dock. His life and liberty are in your hands, but in your hands, also, are the interests of society.” Mr Justice Asquith, presenting his summation of the case to the jury prior to their deliberations. 28 April 1942.

Historian Hallie Rubenhold likes the fact that no one remembers Gordon Cummins today. However, she hates how serial killers gain the ‘rock star’ status while their victims remain largely unknown.

Rubenhold is the presenter of a new podcast, Bad Women: The Blackout Ripper. In her podcast, she focused on victims rather than the killer. The historian believes that the mayhem of war acted as a screen for these killings, where death was part of everyday life.