Names that are notorious for their criminality

Ruth Ellis, who was hanged at Holloway Prison on 13th July 1955, for killing her lover, racing drive

Ruth Ellis, who was hanged at Holloway Prison on 13th July 1955, for killing her lover, racing driver David Blakely. She was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Author Kris Hollington takes Ham&High readers on an exclusive criminal tour through Hampstead and Highgate

Thursday, January 28, 1982, 8pm: The Flying Squad was lying in wait outside the Milk Churn Restaurant in Heath Street, a short distance from Hampstead Tube, for the UK’s most wanted man – David Martin, a bisexual transvestite robber who went armed with gun in handbag.

Police had been watching his home for days before they realized that the tall, leggy blonde who came and went was, in fact, Martin.

A gun fanatic, Martin had stolen 24 firearms while on the run so the officers were certain he was armed – and he’d already shot one policeman in the leg during a botched arrest.

Martin saw the squad coming and dodged into Hampstead Tube, down the stairs, through a stationary train and into the tunnel, avoiding the 25,000-volt tracks, and sprinted towards Belsize Park – where more police were waiting.

Sentenced to 25 years, Martin reportedly began a homosexual affair in prison with serial killer Dennis Nielsen before asphyxiating himself in his cell in Parkhurst in 1984.

At the top of Heath Street is Jack Straw’s Castle, site of the suicide of John Sadleir MP (1813-1856), who drank hydrogen cyanide on February 17, 1856. Sadleir had been expelled from the House of Commons the day before after it emerged he had disposed £1.5m of investors’ money in fraudulent speculations, causing a bank or two to collapse along the way.

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Hampstead Heath was where the so-called Railway Rapists began their crimes in the early 1980s. The two men – who attacked 18 women in 1983 alone – carried a ‘rape kit’ of balaclavas, knives and tape.

Attacks that took place in and around the Heath included two 18-year-old Danish au pairs on July 17, 1984; a French au pair, aged 23, on February 2, 1985, followed by another 23-year-old one month later.

On December 29, 1985, Alison Day, 19, was dragged off a train at Hackney Wick Station in East London and repeatedly raped before being strangled.

Two more women were killed before the police captured one of the men: John Duffy, a martial arts instructor, who was arrested while following a woman through a park.

In February 1988 he was convicted of two murders and four rapes and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison.

It took another decade before Duffy revealed his accomplice’s identity: father of four David Mulcahy. The men had been friends since their schooldays at Haverstock School in Haverstock Hill. Both will die in prison.

At the bottom of the Heath, near the train station, is the Magdala pub, 2a South Hill Park. It was outside this pub, on Easter Sunday 1955, that Ruth Ellis, 28, shot her boyfriend David Blakely dead. Blakely had previously punched Ellis while she was pregnant, causing a miscarriage.

Ellis was sentenced to die on July 13, 1955. As the day drew near, the murderess said: “You won’t hear anything from me that says I didn’t kill David. I did kill him … it’s a life for a life. Isn’t that just?”

Ellis was the last woman to be executed in the United Kingdom. The death penalty in the UK was abolished in 1970.

Some people decide to become criminals out of choice, such as Adam Worth (1844-1902), known as the Napoleon of Crime and widely believed to be the model of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis: Professor James Moriarty.

Worth ended up as one of the less celebrated residents of Highgate’s famous cemetery (also home to John Sadleir, buried in an unmarked grave).

Worth – who robbed banks, organised jailbreaks (including his own) and ran a Parisian gambling den (where the tables folded into the walls and floor during raids) – in 1876 stole what was then the UK’s most valuable painting: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Thomas Gainsborough (1787).

After five years in prison for a cash transit robbery in 1892, Worth robbed £4,000 from a London diamond shop. Then, through the Pinkerton detective agency, he returned the Gainsborough for $25,000.

Worth spent the rest of his life in London, living with his children (one of whom became a detective) in comparative peace and quiet. He is buried under his ‘respectable’ alias of Henry J. Raymond.


Also buried in Highgate is Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident assassinated by radioactive poisoning in London in 2006. His body is contained in a heavy-duty specially sealed coffin.

A short distance from the cemetery is Waterlow Road. Previously known as Bismarck Road, no.14 was where Margaret Elizabeth Lofty, 38, was found dead in her bath in December 1915.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded but, thanks to a tip-off from an observant newspaper reader surprised to read of yet another ‘accidental’ bath-related death, police decided to investigate.

Lofty was newly married and, a few days before her passing, had willed everything to her husband, George Joseph Smith, 43.

Smith, who was a serial bigamist, was also found to be a serial uxoricidist, in that he was guilty of the murders of three of his wives – all of whom died in their baths and all of whom had left him everything they owned.

On the fine sunny day of August 13, 1915, as hangman John Ellis (with a tally of 203, not including himself – he committed suicide in 1932) led Smith to the scaffold and placed a hood over his head, Smith cried: “I’m innocent!” Ellis, indifferent, pulled the lever a moment later.