I love the Murder Mile Podcast. For me, it is one of those shows, like The True Crime Enthusiast, where I can hear about cases I have little or no knowledge about. In case you weren’t aware, Michael the host also runs very popular murder mile tours on a Sunday morning – buy tickets here. I asked Mike to tell me more about his motivation for the show and the tours and in a fascinating, very personal piece, he did just that. Enjoy…
Honestly, I started Murder Mile by accident…
…2015 had been a really shitty year; I’d been made redundant, homeless and broke; my legs were smashed with 36 fractures, my energy was sapped caring for my mum and gran (both with dementia), my fledgling writing career was dead (as for a whole year I stared at the flashing cursor of doom) and being diagnosed for the first time ever with depression, I realised that my life was a mess.
Unable to get out of bed (let alone get fit) and with my marathon-running days over, I needed a new challenge to occupy and distract my brain while my body repaired; and so, with a love of history, psychology, human stories and true-crime, I decided to answer a morbid little question I had asked myself as a kid – “how many murders happened on one street?”
Creating the tour
I started by knowing nothing, I picked a few streets at random and (never planning to actually do anything with it, it was really just an exercise and I thought “well, by then I’ll be all fixed”) I gave myself six months to research, write and rehearse a guided walk of Soho’s most infamous and long-forgotten murders. I had performed self-penned plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, so this seemed like a logical extension – writing and performing.
Six months later, I was finished; I’d created a two hour tour featuring 18 murderers across 15 locations and 75 deaths. Eager to not let it go to waste, I performed it for a few friends and (although impossibly nervous) it went well. Four years later, I still perform it every Sunday and I still love it; and better still, it got me out of bed, it gave me an income, it made me feel whole again, and it became a business and – more importantly – my salvation.
But then again, I get bored very easily, and with depression creeping back in, I needed a new challenge.
So realising that hadn’t answered the question – “how many murders happened on one street?” – with too many to fit onto one tour, with my writing mojo restored and feeling that such personal stories deserved to be told in full – the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast was born.
I love writing, I love research, I love history, and – although I’m an intensely shy and socially-awkward person who’d sooner say nothing than a simple “hello” even to someone I know – oddly, I love people. People are fascinating; we’re all so different yet similar, we’re all clever and yet stupid, we’re right and wrong, good and bad, crazy and sane, calm and angry, cautious and impulsive, but it’s only when the things we value the most are threatened, only then do we decide to forgive, to fight, or to kill.
I love learning about what makes people tick, click and flip. Why do we do what we do? Why it is that some people can cope with extraordinary levels of stress, travesty and hardship and come out a better person for it, and yet others snap at the drop of a hat? I wanted this podcast to answer that.
For me, a good true-crime tale isn’t about crazed killers or bloody crime-scenes, it’s not about maniacs and menace, it’s not about shock or gore, it’s about people – real people – and nothing more.
Too often, victims are side-lined, their lives are trivialised, their deaths are glorified and the sum total of their legacy is reduced to being little more than a name, an age and a collection of injuries; a tacky footnote in a tabloid wank-piece where the author froths and foams over every juicy detail in the life of a killer’s blood-thirsty escapade, and yet the victim is described no better than a piece of meat.
What is the Murder Mile podcast?
Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast isn’t about murder, it’s about telling the victim’s story as fairly and honestly as possible; it’s about the small details not the big picture, and it’s about seeing their life through their eyes, from when it was right to where it went wrong, and by understanding their hopes, dreams and fears, only then can (I feel) we appreciate the true horror and sadness of their murder.
Four previous examples in the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast have included:
Richard Henley was a chef in the Canadian Navy; a sad pathetic man with a chronic addiction to masturbation (so extreme) that he shot the owner of a Soho sex-shop to death, simply to satisfy his insatiable lust for porn. Oddly, I opted to tell the his story, as even murderers can be victims. When I researched his childhood, one incident stuck out; aged 13, his devoutly religious father caught him masturbating, instead of educating his child, Richard’s father forced his hormonal son to wear a coarse leather harness across his genitals, every night, for a whole year. A barbaric action which didn’t stop Richard from touching himself, but instead, it turned a harmless teenage act into a deadly addiction.
Ruth Fuerst; first victim of the 10 Rillington Place serial-killer John Reginald Christie is often ignored, relegated to being little more than a side-note in his life-story but (having researched her background) I uncovered a story which was even more tragic than her death. Ruth was a sixteen year old Jewish girl with acid-scared hands and crippled legs who lost her family and home having fled the Nazis, and having arrived in a bomb-damaged London, she thought she had found safety and warmth in a much-needed father-figure; she called him ‘Reg’ and a few days later, he would strangle her to death.
According to the newspapers, Brian Robinson was a killer who wantonly stabbed a married father-of-one to death, but did he? Digging deep, I found a heart-wrenching story of a disabled black man, orphaned by his mother, who fled Jamaica to seek a better life in 1960’s London (an era of segregation, race riots and bigotry), and having tried to defend his injured friend, Brian was cornered by fourteen racists armed with bricks and bottles. Was this murder, or simply a lone man trying to protect himself?
Evelyn Hamilton was the first victim of the Blackout Ripper. Dumped in an air-raid shelter, her semi-clad corpse was stripped, cut and posed in a humiliating way, but by knowing who she was as a person, it makes her death even more harrowing. Evelyn was a prim woman, neat and proper, a lonely spinster who had lost her job, and gripped with depression, that very evening, she celebrated her 41st birthday alone. She had never had a boyfriend, so it’s easy to see why this plain and dowdy woman was lured to her death by a handsome airman… who (that week) would cruelly murder her and several others.
Importance of research
For me, research is key to discovering who these people were. I approach each case cold knowing just the bare essentials – name, date and location – as if I know too much in advance, it’s easy for me to be influenced by the original writer’s thoughts, beliefs and bias. So until my initial research is done, I avoid all books, articles and documentaries on the case, and I focus solely on first-hand accounts.
My primary source (if available) is the original police investigation file held at the National Archives; it contains witness statements, autopsy reports, crime-scene photos, location maps, evidence lists, court transcripts, biographies and psychological evaluations. Often they are held under a court order for 30, 50 or even 100 years, and when they are available, some sections are redacted, but what I love is that they are raw, honest, unedited and a complete and utter mess.
Unlike a novel, they have no synopsis, no character lists, no chapters and no appendix, it’s like reading a loose-leafed book with no page-numbers which someone has dropped on the floor, and (as they point to the scattered pages) they say “there you go, read that” and run away laughing.
By starting on any page, with no idea what’s true or false, important or irrelevant, it helps me find the story within the story; by asking who is this person, how did they live and die and – most importantly – why should I care? It’s never just a story about murder, it’s always tale about love, hope or loss.
These case files aren’t just an invaluable source of undisclosed facts about the murders, they are also about the people themselves, so by interrogating each witness statement, even the smallest and most insignificant detail (what a person wore, ate or said, liked or disliked, even odd comments about their hobbies, habits or beliefs) can help give me a clearer understanding of what their thoughts, reactions and emotions might have been during their lives… and their deaths.
Which is not to say that eye-witness statements are always accurate – they’re not, or that first-hand accounts should ever be taken as fact – they shouldn’t, or that families always know the truth – they don’t; but their statements can give me an insight into personal details I wouldn’t find anywhere else.
A victim isn’t just a space-filler in a tawdry newspaper, a target for a maniac’s knife, or a sliced-up slab of meat for a pathologist to poke at, I feel it’s absolutely important to respect their lives and – to do that – we need to see them as well-rounded, fully-formed and totally believable people. If we can like, love or hate them (even for the short duration of an episode) we can appreciate their plight.
I take the same approach when writing, recording and editing Murder Mile. Each episode is told from a single person perspective, as I want you to – not just know about the crime, the people and its impact on their lives – but to let you see it through the victim’s eyes, so you see what they see, feel what they feel and (by recreating their world using an intricate soundscape) you can experience their emotions.
Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast covers 300+ untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murder cases all within London’s West End, many of which you will hear for the very first time; including the Denmark Place Fire (one of Britain’s worst mass-murders), The Blackout Ripper (the untold story of London’s forgotten spree-killer and his victims) and The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place, to name but a few.
As part drama and part documentary, the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast isn’t for everyone; it’s original and different, it’s emotional and experimental, it’s unusual and brutally honest; some people love it, some people hate it and some people don’t get it (and I totally get that). But if you love true-crime, if you love drama, if you love life and real people, then maybe Murder Mile is just for you.
Still to this day I struggle with depression; it’s not something you can conquer, it’s not something which goes away and somehow it has become a part of me, but without it, if I hadn’t hit rock bottom and tried to fight my way out, I would never have found Murder Mile, and – for that – I feel truly blessed.
A new episode of the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast drops every Thursday.
Please come and join me. I look forward to your company.
Oh. I almost forgot. Did I ever find out “how many murders happened on one street?”. Not quite, but on a single undisclosed street in Soho (barely 150 feet long) so far I’ve found has eight murderers, one serial killer, seventy two murders and more than two hundred attempted murders… and I haven’t finished counting yet. Where is it? That’s my secret, but maybe you’ve already walked down it.