On Sunday the 16th of June 1946, a good looking man and his equally attractive wife took a double room at the Pembridge Court Hotel, Notting Hill Gate, and signed the register as Lieutenant-Colonel and Mrs. N.G.C. Heath. In fact, the brief line in the hotel register carried two lies. Although Neville George Clevely Heath used his correct name, he was not a Lieutenant-Colonel, and the young woman, Evond Symonds, was not his wife, although she expected to be in the near future.
They had only met the previous evening at a dance hall in Chelsea, the charming Heath had proposed, she had accepted and decided to spend the night with him as a prelude to marriage. Nothing too sinister in all that, nothing that had not been done by young people a thousand times before, except that the next woman to enter that hotel room with Heath on the Thursday of the same week was most brutally murdered by him.
Heath had led an unusual life of military service, punctuated by crime. He joined the RAF in 1937 at the age of twenty, but was dismissed for being absent without leave, fraud, and posing as ‘Lord Dudley’. Within months he was in trouble again for dishonesty and ended up in Borstal.
When war broke out he volunteered for the Royal Army Service Corps and was given a commission. Before the year was out he was found guilty of ‘false pretenses’ and passing bad cheques, cashiered and sent back to England. He slipped his guard in South Africa and joined the Air Force there, rising to the rank of Captain. He also married and had a son, but with the end of the war he was court-martialed, for wearing decorations he was not entitled to, and his wife divorced him. By 1946 he was back in England, but almost immediately he was in trouble once again for posing as Lord Dudley and wearing decorations he was not entitled to.
After his ‘wife-to-be’ had returned home to her parents in Worthing on the 17th, he stayed in the hotel on his own until the evening of Thursday the 20th which he spent with a woman acquaintance, Mrs. Margery Gardner, dancing and drinking in the Panama Club, Kensington.
Margery Gardner was a dark-haired, good-looking woman, a few years older than Heath, who enjoyed the nightlife and was, it later transpired, promiscuous and masochistic. They took a taxi back to the Pembridge Court Hotel around midnight and apart from a door slamming around 1.30 am, nothing more was heard from the couple.
Next morning the chambermaid tried a number of times to enter the room to do the cleaning, but each time there was no reply. At 2 pm the Assistant Manageress used her pass key to gain entry. There was no sign of Heath, but Margery Gardner was dead in bed. She had been savagely beaten with a diamond patterned weave riding whip. There were seventeen discernable whip marks on her breasts, torso, and back.
Both her breasts and nipples had been cruelly bitten and there was a seven-inch wound into her vagina, later established as being done by a poker from the fireplace. The actual cause of death was asphyxia, not caused by strangulation, but by gagging with a scarf. She had also been tied up at ankles and wrists, although her wrist ties and gag had been removed.
Although Heath had attempted to clean up any trace of his presence by wiping his fingerprints from everything he had touched, he missed one print which, when compared to prints on record with the C.R.O., gave the police someone who could probably ‘help them with the inquiries’.
Heath meanwhile had left the hotel about 1.30 am that morning – when the door was heard to slam – and headed for the home of his ‘wife-to-be’ in Worthing.
However, when the story of Mrs. Gardner’s murder hit the papers, he was obliged to leave there and went to Bournemouth where he booked in at the Tollard Royal Hotel as Group Captain Rupert Brooke.
About this time he did something quite remarkable for a man who was being sought by Scotland Yard for murder. He wrote to them explaining that he had loaned the key of his room in the Pembridge Court Hotel to Mrs. Gardner for the night of the 20th as she wanted to entertain a man friend there.
When he returned to the Hotel he found her dead and then, in a panic, he took the whip and fled. He also said that he would forward on the whip to Scotland Yard, but in fact never did.
This was quite a clever ruse by Heath because it accounted for the fact that it was he who had booked the hotel room and would account for any fingerprints he had missed and the fact that he was in possession of the whip.
Unfortunately for Heath, the staff at the Panama Club who knew him, identified him and Mrs. Gardner drinking and dancing together that night, and the taxi driver who took them to the Pembridge Court Hotel was prepared to swear the man with Mrs. Gardner around midnight, about the time of her death, was Heath.
Meanwhile, ‘Group Captain Rupert Brooke,’ enjoying a holiday in Bournemouth, had met a young ex-wren called Doreen Marshall and invited her to dinner at his hotel. After dinner, the girl ordered a taxi to take her to her own hotel but her charming companion persuaded her to cancel the taxi and allow him to walk her home.
The following day the manager of the Norfolk Hotel reported to the police that one of his guests, a young woman called Doreen Marshall appeared to be missing and that she had taken a taxi that evening to the Tollard Royal Hotel with the intention of dining there.
‘Group Captain Rupert Brooke’ was contacted and asked to come to the police station to see if he could help them in their search for the missing girl. He turned up at Bournemouth Police Station about 5:30 and was interviewed by Detective Constable Souter. Heath identified a photograph of Doreen and said he had walked her back as far as the garden of the Norfolk Hotel, and then taken a stroll back to his hotel along the seafront.
While ‘Brooke’ was talking, DC Souter realized that he was very similar to the man Heath, whom Scotland Yard was interested in, in connection with the death of a woman in London, and during a break, phoned the ‘Yard’ for confirmation. ‘Brooke’ was asked to remain at the police station while some inquiries were made, but asked, that as the evening was getting cold, could he go back to his hotel and collect his jacket.
The obliging police said ‘don’t worry, we will collect it for you’. In the pocket, they found a ticket for a railway left luggage locker, and in the locker, they found an attaché case. In the case was a leather riding whip with a distinctive diamond pattern which corresponded exactly with the injuries on Margery Gardener’s body. Also in the case was a blue woolen scarf stained with what proved to be Mrs. Gardener’s blood and saliva, and was assumed to be the article she was gagged with.
Because of this evidence, Heath was returned to London, still protesting his innocence, and charged with Margery Gardner’s murder.
Meanwhile, in Bournemouth, the police had discovered the dead body of Doreen Marshall, hidden in rhododendron bushes in a local beauty spot called Branksome Chine. Her injuries were horrendous. She had been knocked partly insensible with a number of blows to the head, but as defensive cuts to her hands showed, she had also resisted a knife attack. Her wrists and ankles had been tied and her breasts savagely bitten, with one nipple bitten off. Her breasts had then been slashed repeatedly with a knife, her ribs buckled and her throat cut. When she was dead, her attacker had split her vagina with some rough instrument.
Heath stood trial in No. 1 court at the Old Bailey and his only line of defense was that he was insane at the time he committed the murders.
The defense called an expert witness, Dr. W.H. de Bargue Hubert, who was a very experienced criminal psychiatrist with a good reputation. He claimed that Heath had known what he was doing, but, at the crucial time, not that it was wrong.
However, the Crown Counsel, Mr. Anthony Hawke, completely destroyed Hubert’s arguments and made him look a sorry figure on the witness stand. What no one guessed at the time was that Hubert himself was mentally sick and also a drug addict. Within the year he had killed himself with a drug overdose.
The evidence against Heath was so overwhelming that there was little doubt about the outcome. He was undoubtedly what was described in those days as a ‘moral defective’, but it was decided, he was not insane under the law. If, in fact, he was sane, then there is only one other conclusion, he was downright evil.
The jury took only a short time to decide he was guilty and he was sentenced to be hung by the neck until dead.
Just before his execution, Heath asked for a whiskey. When it was brought to him, he said: “I think I’ll make it a double.” Once he had drunk it, it was claimed that he said to his guards, “come on boys, let’s get on with it”.