First there was Jack the Ripper and then there was Jack the Stripper; two London serial killers, some 80 years apart, whose crimes stopped as suddenly as they had started and whose identities were never known.
Between 1959 and 1965, the bodies of at least eight young women, all prostitutes, were found in or around the River Thames after being stripped naked and brutally murdered. The public wondered, with its usual morbid fascination, when the next victim would be found.
Then suddenly, the killings ceased.
There never was a ninth murder.
The Stripper, much like the Ripper before him, had seemingly vanished into the London night air.
Did he consider his mission to be accomplished?
Was he himself murdered?
Did he commit suicide?
The latter two questions began to be asked by amateur sleuths and conspiracy theorists who believed Jack the Stripper to be former world light heavyweight champion, Freddie Mills.
Mills died suddenly in mysterious circumstances that have never been satisfactorily explained. In July 1965, a few months after the body of the last Stripper victim was found, Freddie’s body lay dead in the back of his car outside his own restaurant in a Soho alley.
He had been shot in the head and a small caliber rifle was positioned between his knees.
Police concluded his death was a suicide, (shock horror) but his family have always maintained he had been murdered.
Professor David Wingate, resident medical officer at Middlesex Hospital the night Mills’s corpse was brought in, concluded from his medical examination that someone had taken the gun off Freddie and shot him with it. Interestingly, Professor Wingate was not called to give evidence at the Coroner’s inquest.
Mills was a husband and father but also rumored to be bisexual and possibly facing a public indecency charge at the time of his death. All sorts of stories began to emerge and people believed what they believed. Freddie, it was reported in some quarters, had been having a private affair with singer Michael Holliday, a very popular Bing Crosby sound-alike of the era.
When a depressed Holliday took his own life, Mills was driven to followed suit?
That relationship might have been further complicated by Holliday’s links with the notorious gangster twins, Ronald and Reginald Kray, who were decent and well known amateur boxers before settling on their less conventional career path.
Ronnie Kray was a known homosexual and super sensitive about it.
Reggie Kray suffered a conventional marriage but reportedly also preferred the company of men.
Another suitably juicy theory is that Freddie killed himself in a fit of depression because Chinese gangsters were trying to take over his restaurant business.
Just over 10 years ago, “reformed” South London gangster Jimmy Tippett did a pile of research for a book on Freddie Mills which, to the best of my knowledge, was never published.
Mills, said Tippett, was scurrying around gangland asking where he could get hold of a pistol. Gangsters believed there was somebody Freddie wanted to “sort out” and offered to take care of the matter on his behalf. But Mills insisted he wanted the pistol personally.
Finally, a desperate Freddie managed to loan a rifle from a friend at a fairground.
Here is what Jimmy Tippett was reported as saying: “In those days the members of the boxing fraternity were like a Masonic circle.”
A lot of people who were close to Freddie, are still unwilling to talk about exactly what was said during those times, and those who are won’t say anything on the record. But it is known that Freddie feared the police were closing in on him for the Stripper murders and decided to take his own life rather than face trial.
He had apparently been suffering from “dizzy spells and bouts of depression for some time.”
Mills, it was said, was unable to control his violent inner self at the point of sexual climax.
The police investigation into the death of Mills was headed by Leonard “Nipper” Read, the detective who subsequently arrested the Kray twins and helped to secure them life sentences in prison. Read stuck to his belief that Mills had committed suicide, but insisted Freddie was not Jack the Stripper. Read explained the confusion by revealing that the chief suspect was, like Mills, was a married man and former boxer in his forties who also happened to committed suicide in mid-1965.
That man has never been named.
Tippett investigated Read’s claims but found little to link the chief suspect to the murders.
If you thought the death of Sonny Liston was a mystery, the Freddie Mills saga is something else. It won’t go away and it keeps growing legs.
Old and second hand legs mainly.
“Why can’t poor old Freddie Mills be left to rest in peace?”
Others, rightly or wrongly, will always continue to wonder if “poor old Freddie Mills” really was the guy who got away with it.