The Cleft Chin Murder
Note: This account may contain some inaccuracies, as it has been distilled from many newspaper reports and other articles which differ considerably, sometimes wildly, and I have omitted a number of details for that reason. However, the main facts are not in doubt.
London in the Blitz.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
This is a sadly typical photograph of London during the Blitz and it was why ex-soldier George Edward Heath moved with his wife and two children to Hard's Cottages in West Street, Ewell when their Battersea home was wrecked by a bomb in 1942. Heath was discharged from the Army after being wounded at Dunkirk and worked as a lorry driver - or so his wife thought. In fact he was driving a London taxi at night and eventually rented lodgings in Kennington. Whether he was in business for himself or moonlighting as an employee of a car hire firm is uncertain, but he was not licensed to accept casual fares on the streets in either case. He did and it killed him.
Extract from the 1866 OS Map - Click to enlarge
Red Buildings = Hard's properties
Heath has been described as a 'wide boy' and was apparently involved in racetrack betting; he had also been charged with an assault on a publican but was unable to make the court appearance since by then he had been murdered.
On 7 October 1944 a dead man was found in a ditch at Knowle Green, Staines, Middlesex: he had been robbed and shot in the back. Initially the press dubbed him 'the man with the ink-stained fingers', since he carried no identification, but he later became 'the man with the cleft chin' and thereafter the case was known as 'the cleft chin murder'. Police soon identified him as the 34 year old Heath. Given what they discovered of his life, their initial theory was that he had been 'executed' by London racketeers operating in the black market, but the truth was quite otherwise - he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and became the victim of an amoral young man who, had he not been caught quickly, might well have murdered more people.
In legal terms there were two killers, since the shooter, Hulten, was accompanied by a foolish and impressionable young woman. It would be tempting to label them as a latter-day Bonnie and Clyde but they were not on that scale at all and as you read on you will see that they were incapable of pulling off something like a successful bank robbery. The girl, Elizabeth Jones, went along for the ride and found herself in a situation that was way over her head - but she stayed on the 'merry-go-round' nonetheless and even enjoyed herself.
Karl Gustav Hulten was born in Sweden in 1922 but his mother took him to Massachusetts when he was a child. He had various jobs, such as a grocery clerk and mechanic, and after Pearl Harbour he joined the US paratroopers; he was married with a small child. In 1944, having been posted to England as part of the D-Day invasion force, he went absent without leave, stealing a US Army truck in the process: this was a conspicuous ten-wheeler, so you would imagine that he should have been apprehended promptly, but he wasn't - he even called in at various army camps to fill up with free petrol. Hulten obtained money by stealing and slept in the truck, basing himself in Hammersmith, West London.
There is no particular evidence that Hulten's past life had been 'murky' in any respect (according to reports he could be flashy and a braggart, no more than that), but Elizabeth 'Betty' Maud/Marina Jones was a rather different story. She was born in Glamorgan in 1926 (maiden name Baker) and was apparently so attached to her father that, when he was called up, she attempted to hitch-hike to his base. When she was sent home her mother took her to court as out of control and Betty was sent to an approved school. She left there at the age of 16 and almost immediately married soldier Stanley Jones, who was considerably older. According to her he was violent on the wedding day and they parted. It is easy to see how this girl's life was going to pan out after that. She had tried getting married as a perceived solution to her situation and that had been a complete, instant disaster. As often happens in such circumstances she gravitated to London, where, using the name of Georgina Grayson, she worked in clubs, did a little stripping and was very game to be picked up by a man with some glamour and/or money. As it turned out, the one she selected on 3 October 1944 had neither.
When Hulten met Jones
You often wonder how people's lives might have turned out had they not met a particular person. In this case Hulten had already embarked upon his course in life and was headed for prison or worse. But Jones might not have ended up in the dock at the Old Bailey had she steered clear of the Black and White Café in Hammersmith on 3 October 1944. She got into conversation with Hulten, who said he was 2nd Lt Ricky Allen of the US Army (he had the requisite uniform, which was stolen, plus a firearm), and spun her an enticing (enticing to Jones, that is) yarn about being involved with 'the mob' back in the States; they arranged to meet late that night. She might have known that all was not as it seemed when he appeared in the ten-wheeled truck.
Their first outing together was a ride towards Reading in the blackout and Hulten boasted that he was going to hold up a hotel near Maidenhead. Then he spotted a girl on a bicycle, pushed her off and took her handbag. Frankly, this was about his maximum level of competence as a criminal, but he was showing off now and next day he decided to rob a taxi driver, who would almost certainly have plenty of cash on his person. Jones obviously went along with this and it is important not to get seduced by the idea that here was a basically decent little ingénue up from the sticks - had she been that she would have walked away after the incident with the girl on the bicycle. Hulten was not holding her physically captive.
They picked out a likely taxi and followed it. When the female passenger left the cab Hulten blocked its path with the truck and brandished his gun at the driver. However, it had escaped his attention that there was still a passenger in the back seat and this happened to be a genuine American officer who had already drawn his weapon. The inept robbers fled. One might hope that this would have been enough to deter them, but sadly it didn't. Cruising along the Edgware Road in the truck they saw a girl toting a suitcase and offered her a lift: she was heading for Paddington to get a train to Windsor. Hulten and Jones offered to drive her there. When they reached Runnymede Park Hulten pretended that there was a problem with the truck, stopped and hit the girl with an iron bar. She was more durable than he thought, so he next tried to strangle her, but it required the assistance of Jones to subdue her. He then threw her in some water, probably believing that she would die, and took her belongings. Very fortunately the girl survived. If Jones had previously been something of a marvelling bystander, she was now looking at an attempted murder charge if caught. Next day she and Hulten did something even worse.
6 October 1944
On this day Hulten and Jones decided to have another try at robbing a taxi driver and flagged down George Heath in Hammersmith Broadway. Heath was in his Ford V8 saloon car and agreed to drive them. Then, as they started along the Great West Road, Hulten told him to stop, Heath turned to open the passenger door and Hulten shot him in the back. He made Heath move out of the driving seat and drove off whilst Jones emptied the dying man's pockets. The haul from this amounted to about £8 in cash and some personal items: Heath's identification documents were thrown from the car window and he was then dumped in the ditch at Staines.
A Ford V8, similar to the one George Heath was driving.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Having spent a pleasant day with Hulten on George Heath's money, Jones said she would like a fur coat so they drove to Piccadilly to find one - with Hulten as the 'mastermind' this would not be a logical mode of theft, such as smashing the shop window of a furrier. When a lady wearing a desirable fur emerged from a hotel Hulten got out and tried to take it off her: his efforts were thwarted by the approach of a policeman and once again the wannabe Bonnie and Clyde fled. Mercifully the end of this murderous crime spree was near.
Lethal though he was it would be hard to find a criminal as stupid as Hulten. He still had Heath's car and parked it in full view on a street in Fulham, where it was duly spotted by police, who staked it out and grabbed him when he came to collect it: Hulten was still armed. In the meantime Jones had been talking and what she said reached the ears of the police: she was taken in for questioning and charged with murder. Hulten was handed over to the US Military, but they waived jurisdiction and he went on trial with Jones at the Old Bailey. Both were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Whatever one's view on capital punishment, according to the law at that time (the doctrine of 'common enterprise') Hulten and Jones were equally guilty and one could say that they deserved the same fate. Indeed, until the Homicide Act of 1957 the death penalty was mandatory for those convicted of murder. Although most women who were executed in the UK up to 1945 had committed the murder personally, there was precedent for hanging a woman who had been the accessory rather than the actual killer - for example, in the case of Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, who were hanged in 1923 for the fatal stabbing of Thompson's husband (and doubt has been expressed as to whether Mrs Thompson was really an accessory at all). The only way to avoid the noose in 1945 was via a reprieve from the Home Secretary, then Herbert Morrison, and Jones received one. No such luck for Hulten, who was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 8 March 1945. Jones's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but she was released on licence in 1954 and nothing more was heard of her publicly: she is believed to have died in the mid-1980s.
Postscript on capital punishment
About three years after Hulten's execution Labour MP Sidney Silverman tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, proposing that capital punishment be suspended for five years: this amendment was overturned in the House of Lords but the then Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede1, set up a Royal Commission to report on the subject and announced that all convicted murderers would be reprieved until the law was settled.
The machinations, debate and hangings dragged on for years and in the meantime there were several controversial executions, such as those of Timothy Evans and Derek Bentley (both of whom were of poor intellect and were subsequently granted posthumous pardons). Bentley was perhaps the pivotal point in the saga, since he had not fired the fatal shot and the actual shooter, a minor, escaped the noose because of his age. The final catalyst for the 1957 Homicide Act may well have been the execution of Ruth Ellis in 1955: she was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. The Act limited the circumstances in which the death sentence was mandatory, but it was not until 1965 (later in Northern Ireland) that it was abandoned for most crimes, due once again to a private member's bill introduced by Sidney Silverman. The last UK execution occurred in 1964 and total abolition occurred in 1998.
1. James Chuter Ede was an Epsom man and has several mentions elsewhere on this website.