The Lady Killer
With natural charisma, Neville Heath could charm most into bed, but they didn’t always leave alive.
Born in Ilford Essex on the 6th of June 1917, Neville Heath was an attractive young man who charmed everyone he met. In 1937 at the age of twenty, he decided he wanted to join the army and enrolled as a pilot.
Neville Heath via mirror.co.uk
Heath came from a lower-middle-class family but always had issues with petty crime. While in the army, he stole money from the mess room and abandoned his duties. When he was finally caught using a fake identity to apply for credit, he was sent to a borstal, a young offender’s institution.
Heath thrived in the detention centre and was given roles with leadership opportunities by the governor, who eventually helped with Heath’s application to the Air Force two years later.
The Air Force rejected Heath’s application due to his criminal record, and instead, he joined the Royal Army Service Corps, the unit which kept the British Army supplied with food and weapons. Heath was stationed in the Middle East, where he continued with his fraudulent activities. He was court marshalled when it was discovered he was misusing service uniforms and medals.
During the journey home, he jumped off the ship when it docked in Johannesburg, South Africa, fled, and took on the alias of Captain Selway for a few months.
He then joined the South African Air Force and took on another pseudonym, Lieutenant Colonel James Armstrong. However, after flying a few missions for the Air Force, his cover was exposed, and he was sent back to England in January 1946.
When he returned to London, he applied to join the Royal Institute of Navigation to become a commercial pilot. He was accepted onto the course and began his studies, but towards the end of the programme, the school discovered his criminal past and his discharge from the army. He was removed from the course, and tutors told him that he would never become a pilot.
Over the years, Heath had been writing letters to his family, bragging about his progress in the army and his change of studies to become a commercial pilot, and he continued to lie about his endeavours.
Neville Heath wrote many letters throughout his lifetime, and they often arrived in the hands of his victims after he had committed a crime, explaining why he did whatever the crime was. Because of Heath’s demeanour and good looks, the many victims of fraud and deceit often forgave him and never went to the police.
Instead of studying, 29-year-old Heath was spending his days in dance halls and pubs, drinking until late. According to Harry Procter, a journalist for the Sunday Pictorial (now the Sunday Mirror), Neville Heath and John Haigh, the Acid Bath Murderer, often drank in the same pubs in London.
Heath had rented a room at the Pembridge Court Hotel in Notting Hill, under his real name, adding a fake army title of Lieutenant Colonel for good measure. Because of his good looks and charming personality, Heath had no problem attracting young women, and he was a hit at the clubs.
On the 15th of June 1946, Heath met 19-year-old Yvonne at a Women’s Royal Navy Service dance in Chelsea and took her to dinner in the hope of getting her to return to the hotel room with him. However, she refused, but they continued their evening regardless. The next day, they spent the whole day together, and Heath proposed to Yvonne. She accepted, and the pair went back to the Pembridge Court Hotel together.
Yvonne Symonds via mirror.co.uk
The following day, Yvonne left the hotel and returned home to Worthing, West Sussex, to her parents’ home, to tell them the news of the engagement.
Four days later, Heath met Margery Gardner. She was an artist and actress and was recently separated from her husband, with who she had a young daughter.
Margery Gardner via facebook
The pair met at the Panama Club, one of Heath’s usual haunts in Kensington, where he asked Margery out for dinner, and she accepted. The couple then continued their dancing, and eventually, after midnight, they went back to Heath’s hotel room.
The next day around 2 pm, Alice Wyatt went to change the towels and linen in Neville Heath’s room, but she was unable to enter. She requested the help of her father-in-law, who was the hotel manager and together, they got the door open.
They found Margery Gardner in the bed, dead and nude. She was covered to the neck with the bedsheet, and her ankles were still bound. She had 17 lacerations from a whip to her body and bruises on her wrists, from where she had been tied up. Her nipples had been sadistically bitten, she had been raped and a foreign object her been inserted into her. Her cause of death was eventually suffocation by a pillow after her torture.
Neville Heath had already left the hotel that morning to visit his new fiancée in Worthing, but he had signed his real name when he rented the hotel room, and the staff called the police.
He met Yvonne and his future in-laws down on the coast, and the family and Heath had dinner at the Blue Peter Club in Angmering.
Margery’s murder had already been reported in the press. The headline in the Sunday Pictorial read “Yard in Search of ‘Square Face’” in reference to Heath’s jawline. Yvonne had begun to ask questions, so Heath concocted a story that he thought would convince her that he had nothing to do with Margery’s death.
He told Yvonne that he met a man on the streets of London, who asked Heath if he could borrow his hotel room to have sex with Margery, a “sex worker”. Heath claimed that the mystery man was the one who killed Margery while he walked around London, waiting for the copulation to finish.
The article also included a picture of Heath and encouraged him to turn himself into police.
Instead, he wrote them a letter.
Sir, I feel it to be my duty to inform you of certain facts in connection with the death of Mrs Gardner at Notting Hill Gate. I booked in at the hotel last Sunday, but not with Mrs Gardner, whom I met for the first time during the week. I had drinks with her on Friday evening, and while I was with her she met an acquaintance with whom she was obliged to sleep. The reasons, as I understand them, were mainly financial. It was then that Mrs Gardner asked if she could use my hotel room until two o’clock and intimated that if I return after that, I might spend the remainder of the night with her. I gave her my keys and told her to leave the hotel door open. It must have been almost 3 a.m. when I returned to the hotel and found her in the condition of which you are aware. I realised that I was in an invidious position, and rather than notify the police, I packed my belongings and left. Since then I have been in several minds whether to come forward or not, but in view of the circumstances I have been afraid to. I can give you a description of the man. He was aged approx. 30, dark hair (black), with small moustache. Height about 5’ 9” slim build. His name was Jack and I gathered he was a friend of Mrs Gardner of some long standing. I have the instrument with which Mrs Gardner was beaten and am forwarding this to you to-day. You will find my fingerprints on it, but you should also find others as well. N. G. C. Heath
On the 23rd of June, instead of going back to London or sending the whip, Heath travelled to Bournemouth, around 85 miles away from Worthing, where he checked into the Tollard Royal Hotel under the pseudonym, Group Captain Rupert Brooke.
Tollard Royal Hotel via flashbak.com
Doreen was born in Brentford in 1924. She had been suffering from measles and influenza, and her doctor told her that the sea air would help her illness. She had just arrived in Bournemouth for her short holiday.
Doreen Marshall via dorsetlife.co.uk
While walking along the promenade, she met Neville Heath, or Group Captain Rupert Brooke, who invited her for afternoon tea at his hotel, which she accepted.
After tea and persistence from Heath, Doreen agreed to also have dinner with him later that night at the hotel. The pair ate in the lounge and the night manager of the Tollard saw that Doreen was visibly uncomfortable in Heath’s company. She was last seen going outside with Heath to get into a taxi to take her back to her hotel.
The following day, the day manager got a call from the Norfolk Hotel, where Doreen had been staying. She had not returned to the hotel that night, and they knew that she had been dining at the Tollard. She had disappeared between the two hotels.
Later that day, a woman was walking her dog on the beach when she saw a swarm of flies. Thinking nothing of it, the woman continued home, where she picked up the morning paper. In the news was the disappearance of Doreen Marshall, and she realised that she needed to revisit the beach.
The woman and her father returned to the beach and found Doreen’s body. She was naked with her arms tied behind her back. Her nipple had been bitten off, and she had defensive wounds on her hands. She had been stabbed, and her throat had been cut.
The Bournemouth police took Neville Heath in for questioning, where officers saw the scratches on his neck. He told them he had blacked out and had no memory of the night Doreen went missing. He said that he woke up on the beach with his hands covered in blood, and there was no sign of Doreen.
In reality, Heath took Doreen down the beach, removed all of his clothing and then attacked her. He then cleaned himself in the sea and went back to the hotel, where he climbed up the side of the building and back into his room.
During the questioning, Heath asked if he could get his sports jacket from his hotel room, as he was getting cold. Instead, one of the investigators retrieved the jacket and soon realised why Heath wanted the clothing in his possession.
Doreen’s train ticket from Bournemouth to London was in one pocket, as well as a pearl from the necklace she was wearing that night. In the other pocket was a left luggage ticket for Bournemouth train station. The contents of the luggage locker were a suitcase holding the leather whip used to torture Margery Gardner, a bloodstained woollen scarf with Margery’s hair on it and several pieces of clothing with the name “Heath” embroidered on them.
Police now had proof that Neville Heath and Rupert Brooke were the same man, and when confronted by the police, Heath calmly replied, “oh, all right”.
On the 24th of September 1946, Neville Heath stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of Margery Gardner. His defence tried to plead insanity, but the prosecution explained the timeline of his crimes and claimed that his actions were progressive and not those of a mad man. Heath also didn’t support the insanity plea, as he didn’t want to be sent to Broadmoor.
Neville Heath was eventually found guilty of the murders of Margery Gardner and Doreen Marshal in two separate trials. He was executed by hanging at Pentonville Prison on the 16th of October 1946. He was 29 years old.
The notice put outside Pentonville Prison announcing Heath’s execution via theguardian.com
Twenty minutes after his execution, a waxwork figure of Heath was premiered at Madame Tussauds in London.