One of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, and a classic case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, John George Haigh was possessed by excessive vanity, grandiosity, a lack of empathy and a willingness to do anything to get what he thought he deserved. His predilections for drinking the blood of his victims and using sulfuric acid to dispose of their bodies earned him the names “The Vampire Killer” and “The Acid Bath Murderer,” as well as a prominent place in serial killer history.
Targeting individuals with money, which he took for himself after he murdered them, Haigh’s killings spanned from 1944-1949.
Born: July 24, 1909, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England
Died: August 10, 1949, Wandsworth Prison, London, England
M.O.: Early victims were killed by blunt force trauma to the head but later victims were shot; Haigh used sulfuric acid to dissolve the bodies before disposal
Victim Count: 6
Best known for: His use of sulfuric acid to dispose of his victims’ bodies and drinking blood
“When I first discovered there were easier ways to make a living than to work long hours in an office, I did not ask myself whether I was doing right or wrong.’ That seemed to me to be irrelevant. I merely said, ‘This is what I wish to do’. And as the means lay within my power, that was what I decided… If you are going to go wrong, go wrong in a big way, like me. Go after women – rich, old women who like a bit of flattery. That’s your market, if you are after big money.”
John George Haigh grew up in a kind, loving but also authoritarian household with parents that belonged to an ultra-conservative religious group that advocated puritanical, self-disciplined lifestyles. They erected an eight foot fence around their yard, isolating John from other children and demanding strict adherence to their way of life. However, they were also very supportive and forgiving when Haigh got into trouble with the law in later years. As is typical in children from authoritarian households, Haigh’s capacity for moral reasoning, self-regulation and self-reliance was stunted and his classmates characterized him as a bully. In keeping their son away from other children, Haigh’s parents prevented him from learning critical early lessons in sharing, taking turns, making friends, and respecting non-authority figures. Without the tools to communicate constructively and verbally with others, Haigh expressed his feelings physically.
Although Haigh dreamt and fantasized about surpassing the financial success of his parents, he didn’t actually work constructively towards achieving this goal. He believed he was special and deserved to get what he wanted. When he didn’t easily earn it, he looked for ways to take it. For example, while Haigh held the appearance of a businessman, he engaged in all sorts of scams and swindles on the side.He went to jail twice for committing fraud and served one hard labor sentence for stealing, but the risk of punishment and imprisonment did not deter him. He saw his criminal activity as a part of a game, and one that his brushes with the law made all the more thrilling. In 1944, Haigh’s crimes escalated to murder when he reacquainted himself with a wealthy old colleague and friend named William McSwan.
In an unhappy reunion, Haigh bashed McSwan over the head with a pipe until he died, stripped him of his valuables, dissolved his body in an acid bath and dumped the resulting sludge into the city’s sewer system. His motive? Financial gain. Using his former friend’s ID card, Haigh slowly drained his bank account and sent fake correspondences to his family members. William’s parents, Donald and Amy McSwan, were Haigh’s next victims; he killed them to get access to their son’s remaining assets, as well as theirs. His remaining victims were a wealthy couple and a widow that he befriended under the guise of doing business together, but later killed.
Haigh falls into a rare category of serial killer that uses murder as a means to an end; he killed his victims for their money. Haigh was also a highly intelligent, organized killer, choosing his disposal method via acid on a purely practical basis. Haigh misunderstood the legal term “corpus delicti” and believed that he could never be convicted of murder if there were no bodies to be found. While Haigh didn’t particularly enjoy killing, and was actually a little grossed out by it, he didn’t feel remorse either.
When Haigh was finally caught, and his elaborate lies weren’t enough to save him, he tried to convince the jury that he was insane. He told them about a recurring childhood nightmare he had about a forest of crucifixes turning into trees oozing blood and a man bidding him to drink. It wasn’t enough. Haigh was executed within the weeks following his trial.