Friday, 30 May 2014

I am a Serial Killer Diarist . . . Unremarked Clues to Two Notorious Crime Sprees.

A serial killer of my acquaintance (recorded in a private diary entry of mine) desisted from further killings after his fifth victim because he had determined the FBI defined serial murder as a body count of at least four slain, and to be classified unequivocally a ‘serial killer’ was his sinister aim.

Reluctantly, then, I am led to characterizing myself as a serial ‘killer diarist’ because I can claim that, in my lifetime, my brushes with criminal homicide amount to at least three murder victims and five murderers, including two of the most notorious serial killers in England from the 20th Century . . . the ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ John George Haigh and the ‘Gay Slayer’ Colin Ireland

To satisfy the curiosity of forensic graphologists I exhibit here the signatures of the latter pair, each investigated for the murders of over five victims:

Initial graphological interpretation: Haigh’s rapid connected pen-flow, in his final letter to his parents from the condemned cell, indicates speed of thought coupled with a regularity that is the product of the sham conventionality of a gifted cheque forger and handwriting fraudster. The extreme connectivity, observed in multiple word linkings, betrays a writer under pressure who nonetheless still possesses remarkable reserves of mental agility. Colin Ireland’s haywire oversized ‘tag’ signature displays a much-practised complexity (of the kind honed in brooding solitude) that expresses the conflicted identity of an unregarded narcissistic attention-seeker (‘Notice me!’) seething with morbid juvenile hang-ups he labours to conceal. Its pretentious illegibility compensates for an inferiority complex by weaving a false image that deceives himself more than others.

I accept that my claim to a more than nodding acquaintanceship with homicide may appear an unworthy boast, but in my defence I can promise I never actively sought immersion in these infamous cases; they impinged upon my private life quite unprompted.

Hitherto Hidden Modi Operandi of Two Serial Murderers.

So I will not dwell on those squalid cases of homicide classified as ‘spontaneous domestic’, ‘drug-motivated’ and ‘argument-excited’.  In my personal experience, these include a notable Royal College of Art alumnus killed by a lover in a frenzied knife attack; a heroin dealer from my Sussex village slain by one knife thrust to his abdomen; and two teenage students who repeatedly stabbed their friend, a fellow student, then burned and buried the body in the grounds of their agricultural college (all three teenagers I’d observed the previous year representing their college at the Kent County Agricultural Show). 
However, these tragic homicides – profoundly disturbing to friends and families of the killed and their killers alike – are cited here solely to highlight the vast gulf that exists between the ‘red mist’ savagery of the impulse-murder, when the balance of the mind is disturbed, and the as-yet-undocumented magnitude of the chilling calculation that two serial killers applied to their notorious sequential killings, only now revealed by my questioning of principal surviving participants.

Rich pickings.

Chronologically, then, John George Haigh and homicide contrived by the art of forgery . . . his forging of letters that netted him a fortune in property – homes, businesses, investments, personal possessions, even a dog – the estates he snatched from the intended beneficiaries of those he deceived and killed.    

His first recorded victim (there are thought to be additional murders) was William ‘Mac’ McSwan, a wealthy young man he battered to death with a table-leg on September 9th 1944. The crime scene was Haigh’s basement lodgings at 79 Gloucester Road, London SW7, where he disposed of the body in a salvaged 40-gallon water butt he’d set aside to contain concentrated sulphuric acid. Two days later he poured Mac’s dissolved remains down a drainage channel in the basement.

He then informed McSwan’s parents that their son had fled to Scotland to avoid his call-up for military service, a deception that contained an element of truth insofar as Mac had intimated to others his intention to evade conscription. 

The extraordinary lengths to which Haigh then went to extract money from Mac’s parents, the source of the son’s wealth, demonstrate in the most graphic terms the dogged cunning of this single-minded killer whose ruthless greed can never be truly comprehended. 

Here, then, for the first time, is a new insight into John Haigh’s murderous modus operandi . . .

According to my informant, who is very close to this case (I write as an irregular native of Mid Sussex, the setting for Haigh’s three final killings in February 1948 and February 1949), Haigh then by is own account duped the McSwan parents by assuring them that their William was alive and well in Scotland, and that only he, Haigh, could be trusted to convey money to the son’s secret bolt-hole. This deception was maintained by a series of letters forged by Haigh to the parents and purporting to come from their son in Scotland.

Over 700 Miles for a Tuppenny-Ha’penny Alibi.

My informant claims that Haigh drove over three hundred and fifty miles each way to a point just across the Scottish border (Kippford and Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire) solely to secure the franking of a Scottish postmark on his forged letters; an alibi bought for the price of a tuppenny-ha’penny stamp. 

Of course, later, when Mac’s parents became suspicious of the forged letters and the sums of money demanded by the suave go-between to aid the draft-dodging fugitive, Haigh’s lethal answer was – on the pretext of their meeting William – to lure them to the killing ground of his basement where they were promptly despatched in the same manner as the son. From these three crimes, by forging power of attorney, Haigh gained four freehold properties in London and the transfers of gilt-edged securities held by the McSwans . . . a total of some £4000 (the purchasing power of about £120,000 today).

Suborned Psychiatric Evidence.

More detailed indiscretions I cannot reveal, in respect for my elderly informant’s fears that more disclosures would expose the identity of one of Haigh’s closest intimates. Yet I will reveal that the suggestion, mooted in the national press at the time of Haigh’s trial in July 1949 and hinting his defence plea of insanity under the McNaughton Rules was concocted with the connivance of a suborned psychiatric professional, can now be substantiated

The evidence for this contemporary view (supported by the comprehensive account of my informant, whose anonymity I continue to preserve) I intend to publish soon as a fascinating footnote to the therapies of certain pioneers in psychoanalytically-oriented treatments for psychiatric illnesses, which only a decade later were to include such cures as, for instance, a course of intramuscularly-given LSD and intravenously-given Ritalin, preceded by Sodium Amytal as a relaxant and followed by a chaser of Largactil.

Experimental precursors of these treatments were known to Haigh and the disorders of the mind for which they were devised were replicated in his studied behaviour, and in the claims made by him that his homicidal actions were driven by religious visions (forests of crucifixes oozing blood, etc). . . so I can affirm that a conspiracy by those loyal to Haigh was, indeed, under way to subvert the integrity of his trial with perjured testimony and fabricated symptoms whose aim was the feigning of mental illness to save his neck from the noose. 

Nevertheless, John George Haigh was hanged at 9am at Wandsworth Prison on August 10th 1949. The Medical Panel of Statutory Inquiry had advised the Home Secretary that Haigh was sane in law and no mitigation outweighed the death sentence. 

The Certificate of Death was posted on the prison gate at ten minutes past nine. 
Haigh (1909–1949)                          Ireland (1954–2012)

Palette of Pain:

Colin Ireland and Art’s Sadomasochistic Cabal.

And so to Colin Ireland. My peculiar connexion with that hulking nemesis and his appalling crimes is simply explained by my close association with a principal detective, a senior Met officer investigating the case with whom at the time I was in a relationship.  (And, lest anyone be swift to judge, his wife, known to me since our infancy, remains a cordial intimate of mine, and is aware more than a little of the true nature of our intense attachment.)

Hence, thanks to his influence, on August the 22nd 1994 I was smuggled into the National Police Staff College at Bramshill in Hampshire, where, together with senior police officers and distinguished criminal psychologists, I attended the definitive official debriefing on the case of Colin Ireland and his five murders, illustrated by coloured photographic slides of the crime scenes.

Criminy!’ muttered a visiting lawman seated behind me, ‘that knocks Francis Bacon into a cocked hat!’

And, indeed, the images I viewed that day of the five grim tableaux bestiale surpassed for sordidity the canvases of Francis Bacon, master of Laocoönic writhings stilled on the striped ticking of soiled mattresses . . . and not surprisingly, since their mise en scène shares the same subject matter that preoccupied the murderous psychopath who stalked Soho in 1993 . . . the needy helplessness of homosexual carnality . . . and both traded on it.


The Dark Theatre of Anomic Morbidity.

We’re reaching the murky end, aren’t we . . . ?’ bragged Colin Ireland to his police interrogators at the conclusion of his confession. A policeman’s pager then sounded in the interview room. ‘The Queen’s just given me a free pardon,’ the killer quipped, a remark no less arch, one suspects, than those heard in the milieu of his five gay victims, a dangerous London underworld of casual sexual encounters in which Francis Bacon also prowled. 

Francis and Colin? Colin and Francis? Conclusive similarities? Yes. As I make evident in my new considerations here, their hunting grounds for sexual prey not only overlapped, but their relativist attitude to male flesh as a commodity of desperate commerce drove them to a common vision . . . disturbingly, a vision of shared motifs in the execution of their notorious tableaux nature morte and a shared proficiency in the seduction of one-night-stands to answer their distinct visceral needs  . . . ‘shared’, yes, for the blunt reason that more than a decade before the Soho killings, both men haunted precisely the same seedy gay nightspots, where they were certain of finding the sadomasochistic subculture of willing thrill-seekers they sought.  

Fact. The five death scenes, with their grisly homophobic set-dressing, were viewed by investigators hunting the ‘Gay Slayer’ as calculatedly the unknown killer’s painterly ‘compositions’ or, in other words, fixated, psychotically conceived, corporeal ‘works of art’, which, according to the profiler assigned to the case, were not disfigured by gross mutilations because these would detract from the aesthetics of the arrangement.  ‘The motifs change and develop,’ the profiler stated. My shorthand notes from the 1994 police file are quite specific on these connexions (nevertheless, please be assured, where confidential issues of privilege arise, sensitive witness statements have been redacted to preserve the anonymity of certain insiders who testified from the gay cruising scene).

The murder room that was the site of Ireland’s second atrocity, the asphyxiation of a handcuffed Christopher Dunn, was characterized by Baconian mirrors around the bed; mirrors were also propped against the walls. The police assumed the ritualistic arrangements were for photos to be taken by the killer (untrue) or to confound investigators with the perverse effect for finders of seeing the body manifoldly reflected back at them. The case profiler suspected ‘. . . the positioning of the bodies gave the killer pleasure and was meant to please investigating officers with his piece of work.’ 

Colin told the police that the defiled corpses were ‘. . . almost like a signature – to almost let you know I’d been there. I was reaching that point – you know where you feel you have to set up a stage each time.’

The Placidity of Violence.  

As an older Royal College of Art alumnus David Hockney* once told us (he was in his late twenties at the time and still living in Notting Hill Gate where I had student digs; this was following his days of slumming it in a shed at Kempsford Gardens, off the Earls Court Road): ‘. . . I am not conscious of violence . . . I do not think that many of my generation are obsessed with violence.’ And, deliberately setting a distance between himself and Bacon, he went on, ‘A painter using violence as an activity, as Bacon does, is rare . . . Violent action alone becomes placid in time . . . I refused to do my national service. I was a conscientious objector and worked in a hospital laying out corpses.’ 

As an admired pacifist with a defined aesthetic rationale (the symmetry of a diver’s superb pectorals, say), David regarded the so-called artists of ‘violence’ as merely campily querulous. It’s certainly true, in my view, that fixed action on the canvas can in time mutate into the tame placidity Hockney identifies; his doubts shared by those who believe that a rendering of la condition humaine, when conceived as a screaming skull trapped in a notional human cage, is discerned ultimately as portraiture veering towards the risibly hammy.

In Bacon’s case, this placidity of violence – the ‘sham pain’ he proposed for his friends and rendered on those unsized verso canvases regarded by the cognoscenti as transgressive art – was, of course, the expression of a consummate passive-aggressive masochist with a bent for self-abasement and who’d remained complaisantly acceptant of the whip since his teens; his lover, Peter Lacy, for example, threatened to chain him to a wall, stalled like an animal on fouled straw; the sort of kinkiness that only hints at the master-slave sexual dynamics of Bacon’s dependency on dominant partners . . . his beau idéal, after all, was Colonel Gaddafi.

Spectrum of Desire: The Coleherne Psychosexual Colour Code.

And it was these ill-fated master-slave sexual dynamics, observed in precisely the same loci as Bacon’s stomping grounds, that the homophobic heterosexual killer Colin Ireland exploited when he, too, stalked the streets of Soho scouting for future victims. As Ireland disclosed to the police, he worked as a bouncer in a gay nightclub, ‘notorious in its day’, called Scandals in Wardour Street (on the fringe of Soho before you reach Leicester Square). His antipathy to homosexuals strengthened during those bleak times in the late 70s, when his duties included turning away wealthy celebrities of advanced years who would arrive late in the evening intent on picking up good looking smartly dressed East Enders who’d ventured ‘up west’.

Bacon’s peregrinations through Soho’s ‘Black Mile’ were no different . . . a late night circuitous ‘monkey parade’ into the mephitic depths of the West End (according to a Berwick Street Market veteran) that led from the Colony Club in Dean Street via The Golden Horseshoe and Charlie Chester** casinos in Archer Street thence to Scandals and on to the ‘Meat Rack’ of Piccadilly Circus, where a man-about-town braved the risk of being lured to an unceremonious ‘queer-rolling’ in some dark alley

Curiously, Bacon’s compulsive sous le manteau activities in London’s nightlife mirrored the furtive nocturnalism of Haigh who, scuttling around blackout London during WW2, hid his crimes under cover of darkness. At precisely this time of national emergency, Bacon by his own admission scratched a living from the underground gambling dens he frequented and by a chronic running up of reckless debts. (Haigh and Bacon were exact contemporaries, both born 1909.) Bacon avoided conscription by inducing an asthma attack on the day of his medical.

Some thirty years later, in the sexually charged atmosphere of London’s Seventies counterculture, the man dubbed the ‘Gay Slayer’ (‘IC1 White European type’) amassed a similar knowledge of precarious lives subsisting in the city’s shadows; knowledge he would later apply when, in 1993, he made a New Year's resolution to become a serial killer, choosing gay men as his victims because he had determined that their sadomasochistic passivity when bound or handcuffed made them willing targets.

‘I picked them up at the Coleherne pub . . .’ Colin Ireland confessed to investigators (a gay pick-up joint but a step away from Hockney’s Kempsford Gardens in Earl’s Court), ‘. . . frequented by homosexuals who are involved in sadomasochism, leather type combat, you know, soldier-type clothing, that sort of . . . that type of . . .  clientele [observed when] working in Scandals in the late Seventies . . .’ Earl’s Court, as the police file makes clear, was a magnet for the ‘Vest and Pecs Pack’, i.e. ‘suntanned muscular men’ posing in ‘designer-tee-shirts’.

‘At the Coleherne,’ the Police Report continues dispassionately, ‘they line up at the bars according to sexual preference. There is a sadomasochist group in the pub. There is also a sexual code in the way they wear their handkerchiefs . . .’  [One of Colin’s victims] had been known to display the colours black and red. ‘Black denotes heavy SM while red denotes “fisting” . . .  “fisting fucking” [the Report explains] is the term used to cover the practice of inserting the lubricated fist into the anus . . . [adding] one S&M practice is to pour molten wax down the urethra of the penis.’

False Flag Operation.

For his final murder, Colin Ireland admitted the colour code had netted his victim. According to a gay witness (who confessed to being attracted to the killer upon first observing him), Colin was wearing an MA-1 flight jacket (black nylon) and ‘From the rear left pocket of his jeans he had a pair of black leather gloves sticking out, not all leather but had webbing between the fingers.’

The fact that Francis Bacon was a well-known habitué of the Coleherne has been, I believe, hitherto neglected in critical considerations of the significance of the artist’s unique palette; that is, his profound cognisance of the custom of gay handkerchief colour-coding in this and any number of London's sadomasochistic ‘leather bars’ of those times. (Incidentally, Bacon’s own trademark leather jackets were from the South of France.)

And it was this wearing of colour-coded handkerchiefs to signal sexual proclivities – a code devised to free gay cruising from the dangers of mixed messages in SM mating rituals – that aided Colin and Francis alike in their quest for pick-ups, since it was by these fetishistic criteria that their very similar modi operandi were underpinned. 

In sketchy spectral order, the psychosexual colours identifying sadomasochistic practices are: White, Light Pink, Dark Pink, Red, Orange, Mustard, Yellow, Green, Light Blue, Dark Blue, Lavender, Purple, not forgetting Black, Brown, Beige, Olive and Grey.   

I believe that the significations of these psychosexual colours have not been explained by art critics, and their influence on Bacon’s later iconography is worthy of a semiotical study for deeper exploration towards decipherment.

(In a future study I propose to remedy this shortcoming by cross-referencing Bacon’s own palette to the codified colour system practised by sadomasochists to identify the sexual predilections of potential partners, and indexed to perceived intensities of pain or humiliation. For example, as both Francis and Colin were perfectly aware, ‘flagging’ the white hankie in the left back pocket denotes a dominant abuser in search of the catamitism of the procurable abused, whose white signal would be flagged in his right pocket.)

May I add a literary note: When a man’s concupiscence is self-advertised then, to steal a line from Chekhov (Platonov), who in turn echoes the words of his mentor Nekrasov (maligning a prostitute), there are fatal words on his forehead: ‘For Sale at Public Auction’.


Killing . . . the ‘Roller Coaster Effect’.

‘What is it?’ 

According to Colin Ireland, this was the most common chat-up line at the Coleherne, meaning, ‘Which SM are you into?’ 

‘It’s like milk boiling [the urge to kill], you can’t stop it,’ Colin continued in his confession, quoted in the Case File. Murder became an addiction. ‘I went to the Coleherne that evening and I felt that if I was approached by one of the group that tended to trigger feelings in me – masochistic men – I felt there was a likelihood I would kill.’

(The Police Report from 1994, I should emphasise, is not in the public domain, and remains held under wraps by the Met’s Serious Case Review Group, due to its sensitive contents, particularly gay witness confidentiality.)

Yet for me the Report does not – cannot – begin to tell all. So, to learn more of the Coleherne’s arcane subculture that hustled behind its blacked out windows, and to add substance to my Theory of Psychosexual Colour Symbolism in the decoding of Bacon’s later paintings, I arranged to meet one of the pub’s young barmen, X, who had agreed to introduce me to a number of regulars with long memories. This was many, many years ago. The Coleherne is now defunct.

Agreed, there was a certain inappropriateness in the figure that hastened down the Old Brompton Road that bright midday, dressed as I was in my thornproof tweed hacking jacket and Church’s brogues. Yes, a hayseed in tweeds up from the country. (I was heading for the Hurlingham for a polo meeting. From the Coleherne it was just three Tube stops down the District line to Putney Bridge. I had a lunch date fixed with a rising poloist of latin good looks who, afterwards, was to show me his latest string of mustangs.) 

Young X shimmered in a black silk shirt. The youth’s bruised jaw was patched with pink Elastoplasts and his right forearm was bound in plaster of Paris. I raised an eyebrow.
    ‘Private ding-dong.’ He grinned painfully. ‘Last night sorta got aht of hand.’
    ‘Ding-dong,’ I repeated, pointing to the optics behind the bar, ‘then you deserve a Bell’s. Make it two.’
    In the darkest recesses of
that blacked-out room at the rear of the Coleherne public house, X confirmed the legend of Francis Bacon as a connoisseur of the pub’s leathermen’s bar, and substantiated Colin Ireland’s account of the colour-code.  

In general, I learned, the colours worn on the left side denoted the ‘active’ participant or ‘giver’ (a ‘top’ or ‘topmaster’). Worn on the right meant ‘passive’ or recipient.  It seems that the exception at the Coleherne was the colour orange, which, worn on the right, meant ‘Nothing tonight.’

Getting Away With It.
As Colin Ireland explained to his interrogators, the colour-coded rôle-playing favoured his murderous methodology, an admission that may be seen to add substance to a theory of victimology that a victim can be the willed agent of his own murder. 

To one trussed victim Colin said, ‘You know what I think this is about tonight, don’t you?’  
   ‘Yes,’ the victim answered. ‘And you could probably get away with it ’cos there’s no connexion.’ 
   ‘I got the impression,’ Colin went on in his confession, ‘that he was a man who wanted to die. I thought he’d almost felt he’d sought me out, as I had sought him out, in a way, in a strange way.’

Of his first killing he confessed, ‘Just something clicked, something snapped . . . and I finished it.’  Colin Ireland is described by the police as six-foot-one-and-bit with ‘sixteen-and-half stone of pressure’ behind his coups de grâce. Curiously, this killer of leathermen carried a ‘Leatherman’, a multi-tool device. The rope (‘specially-made cord’) he bought from a ship chandlers near the Kursaal on Southend’s waterfront. 

Early on in the series of murders Ireland wore an SAS-style camouflage combat smock, and later, for picking up his victims, he admits to wearing ‘an American green M65 field jacket’ and (for his final murder) ‘a black bomber jacket’. He boasts of always leaving the Coleherne by the same door to avoid the CCTV security system. (It should be noted that serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, began his reign of terror at the Coleherne pub, the ‘crucible’ of his initiation into London’s homosexual subculture.)

As Ireland’s stepfather said after his stepson’s trial, ‘Colin wanted to rid the world of those sick [sado-masochists] . . . and decided that it was his mission to wipe them out. He did what he did and makes no apologies for it . . .’ 

The sybaritic milieu of one victim, so graphically described in the Police Report, reads like a passage by des Esseintes: ‘A temple to sado-masochism. Cords, various chains, giant dildos, a flail, a truncheon, leather & plastic fetishistic gear, waders & plastic sheeting. [The victim] was an amyl nitrite user & supplies were found in the fridge . . .’ Hafada scrotal piercing, and steel nipple rings, are also described as a distinguishing fetish of a victim who, according to a ‘close friend (of eleven years),’ was estimated to have had ‘between five and six partners a day.’

Mention of the waders and plastic sheeting is instructive; in the hankie code known to Colin and Francis the colour yellow figures quite prominently.

Extreme Urolagnia in the Ring.

A relative and contemporary of mine, ‘Simon Pure’ (I shall call him, on account of his naïvety when an art student), an alumnus of the Royal College Art (where Bacon kept a studio for some time), has in his maturity delved into the homosexual clique that surrounded Bacon because he came to know a number of the key players in later life.

An RCA tutor of Simon’s, the artist Richard Chopping, friend and subject of Francis (who painted him a number of times) reflected the sadomasochistic preoccupations and extreme fetishes (including urolagnia) of the Sohemians of the Sixties in his novels, The Fly, and The Ring. (The Chopping portrait is by Bacon; amusingly, its coded colour is suggestive of heavy SM, whipping, rubber and bondage, all in interplay with subtler shades of humiliation – or ‘hum’ in gay argot.)

Take this despatch from Chopping’s frontline of ultrafetishism, for example. The young homosexual protagonist in this fiction has just been beaten into semi-unconsciousness by a gang led by his ex-lover called Boy, a sexual opportunist . . .
Silently they lugged his half-slaughtered body like a side of meat. [Note. A side of meat; a familiar Baconian image.]  The Boy motioned his cronies to gather round.  With cold deliberation he unzipped his jeans, gesturing to them to follow suit. Four jets descended on to the unconscious body to complete his defilement.
Here, for your interest, from a memoir, is a description of Francis Bacon’s studio, which mentions Richard Chopping. It’s the marriage celebration of the painters Michael Wishart and Anne Dunn.  The party in the studio was attended by clientele from the Gaygoyle Club and the Colony Room in Dean Street.
Francis astonished everyone by painting his two large chandeliers crimson, and his face a more delicate colour. The end of our celebrations coincided with the opening of a two-day regatta party given by Dickie Chopping . . . in Essex.
 And here is another description of a homosexual club; from Dickie Chopping’s novel:
The club was a basement. One had the feeling of being confined in a converted air-raid shelter. The acrid smell of urine clutched at the gorge. The club consisted of a large room lit by a Waterford glass chandelier of unusual and unexpected beauty. Behind and in the middle of the bar, like an Empress, was enthroned the woman who ran the bar.
The Empress must be salonnière Muriel Belcher, obviously (‘the great Jewish wit’ at her ‘Wailing Wall’), although the Colony Room was not in a basement. The fictional club sounds suspiciously like an amalgam of the Colony Room and the Rockingham club in Archer Street.

The epigraph to The Ring quoted by Chopping is from Baudelaire.
The supreme pleasure in Love lies in absolute knowledge of doing evil. And men and women know, from birth, that in Evil is to be found all voluptuousness.
An engaging conceit, no doubt, for those dishing out the Evil, but not for Colin Ireland’s victims on the receiving end, betrayed by false colours in a leather bar

(Of course, the pioneering symbolist Baudelaire found his followers in Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, whose own tempestuous sadomasochistic affair should be elevated to no more than an orgy of ‘blood and sperm’, if the verdict of Verlaine’s wife, Mathilde, is to be believed.)

Sexplay with Menaces . . . Fatally Trussed Up with Telephone Cable.

Dickie Chopping describes in his novel the fictional club’s clientele of rent-boys. The majority of them had ‘roughed up’ a good many of their clients. One was a psychopath, who would ultimately flee the country, after a succession of violent beatings and trussings-up with telephone cable following a more than usually perverted sexual connexion, which had proved fatal to his unfortunate partner.

In this shadowy subterranean world, then, of sexplay with menaces, it is surely not at all surprising that the Colin Ireland investigation progressed hesitantly, given the controversy surrounding the Operation Spanner trial some three years earlier, which had resulted in convictions of homosexual men for acts of consensual sadomasochism. Within London’s cruising scene of 1993 there was a mood of intense suspicion and noncooperation in response to scrupulous police enquiries. While, on the part of the police, in the early stages of the investigations, there was a tendency towards provisional deductions theorising the deaths of the first victims had resulted from BDSM bondage games that had turned fatal.

Bed knobs and Yawn-Makingly Familiar Transgressions.
‘I tied him up,’ Ireland told police, describing a victim’s submission, ‘there was a bed . . . four posts with knobs on the top and I tied him by his fists with cord. Specially-made cord.’
Of his last victim Colin remarked dismissively, ‘He was obviously, the leather type. The leather type is a certain type of . . . the gay scene that’s very much into wearing leather . . . the hero without a cause type.’

This remark, pointing up, as it does, the relativism of those sadomasochists who live solely by Nietzschean reliance on ‘exalted sensations’, also evokes Francis Bacon’s rather grandiose post-ratiocinated Nietzschean creed of cleaving to, in his own words, the ‘brutality of fact’ and to a pursuit of the nihilist’s ‘easy and intense ecstasy of a particular kind without counting the consequences.’ (An incisive observation on nihilism from a significant year – 1932 – by William Plomer, a closeted writer of pronounced sensitivity.)

This deficiency of scruples, this ‘optimism for nothing’ but visceral existence untrammelled by bourgeois shibboleths and defined by a cultish aesthetic of violence certainly set the tone for the artists who composed the ‘Ring’ of raffish chancers and devotees of ‘rough sex’ that surrounded Francis Bacon in his prime. 

In a word, Bacon’s compulsive subject was the naked, unreined Id.

Richard Chopping, numbered among Bacon’s closest devotees, shared this compulsion. As Simon Pure recalls: ‘I remember Dickie as a controversialist and he interviewed me as an applicant during the RCA Admissions assessments. His interest in students like me seemed to be focused on literary violence, exemplified by the sadism of Flaubert. I remember we discussed Flaubert’s Salammbô, which fortunately I had read, and the passage at the siege of Carthage, where the barbarians pulled out the toenails of the slaughtered to sew into breastplates. This excited Mr. Chopping’s interest. I then mentioned a crucifixion in Salammbô.’
They found a lion attached to a cross by its four limbs like a criminal. His enormous muzzle hung to his breast, and his fore-paws, half-concealed beneath the abundance of his mane, were widely spread apart like a bird’s wings in flight.
‘I refrained from observing that Bacon’s anthropomorphic Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), therefore, seemed rather yawn-makingly familiar and, by contrast, somewhat tame once one had learned that Flaubert had stolen a march on the artist by some eighty years.’

The Convergence of Sadomasochism . . . Bacon as ‘Superman’.
Critics of Bacon have noted his assumed Nietzschean leanings, and his sharing of an ethos that discounted notions of body and soul; a reductionist ethos that deemed human beings to be ‘simply bodies, and nothing else’ but with a capacity for ‘exhilarated despair’.  This point was taken up in a novel (written by a Fitzrovian drinking crony of Bacon’s) in which Francis is satirised as a follower of Nietzsche. The Nietzschean painter in the novel resents a critic, complaining:
‘He says I stir up clear waters to make them muddy and seem deeper than they are.  That’s Nietzsche, actually. Not [the critic]. He’s terribly good. Nietzsche I mean. When I’m painting I sometimes try and believe I’m superman . . .  good artists are so often promiscuous. It makes it difficult for them to live in society, because society thinks them immoral.  They’re not helped by the thousands of bad artists who think that immorality makes them good artists.’
And this connexion between a prominent British artist and a lurking homicidal psychopath, both active in violent contiguous subcultures, is not the only instance identified in the history of painting in twentieth century London. Some seventy years earlier, Walter Sickert produced his ‘Camden Town Murder’ series (1908), in which he relished the sensationalist frisson a naked subject of voyeurism could induce in the gallery-going public; a morbid series that sparked suspicions that when a young man his guise had been ‘Jack the Ripper’, the brutal unidentified perpetrator of the serial murder of prostitutes in Whitechapel in 1888 (Nietzsche’s Year Zero, not so incidentally, for the Revaluation of Values).

Les petites morts douces de l’après-midi?
Sickert’s voyeuristic post-mortal ambiguities.

If contemporary accounts of the Whitechapel killer’s motives are to be believed, then Colin Ireland’s mission to cleanse London society of what he perceived to be an unspeakable contagion shares a similar compelling animus. (Incidentally, my great-uncle had been taught by Sickert and Professor Tonks at the Slade. Uncle once drew, on a folded sheet, a caricature of Sickert chasing his hat in a high wind. When you opened the fold you saw it was not the hat that Sickert was chasing but a naked model. ‘A skirt-chaser,’ Uncle hinted darkly, ‘and a whole lot worse. In fact, a thoroughly bad hat.’)

Mocking Clues to Homophobic Murder. 
I have no searing criticism to level against the police in their handling of the Colin Ireland case, which was sensitive to the point of punctiliousness. ‘We are not thought police,’ the senior police investigator stated, ‘prying into what goes on in the privacy of people’s homes.’ The Case File makes clear the investigators’ consultations with GALOP (the Gay London Police Monitoring Group) to seek a collaboration in nailing the ‘Gay Slayer’ at the height of the media blitz, when the Press were determined to highjack the case.
However, though Colin’s homophobic motivation was evidenced powerfully at the crime scenes, and knowledge of it could have led directly to the Coleherne pub’s leather scene, the relevant clues were not read correctly, in my personal view, due to the inexperience of the ‘token gay officer’ on the case who was blind to many of the practices and customs associated with homoerotic leather-sexuality.

That is why, frustrated at the police’s seeming failure to perceive an emerging murder series, conforming in Colin’s mind to the textbook Crime Classification defined by the FBI, Colin’s taunting of the police by telephone included this challenge: ‘You've got some good leads on my identity from clues at the scene.’ 

So if Colin Ireland assertion was correct, what were the deliberate clues he intended to be revealed in the symbols he arranged so fastidiously on the bodies of his victims?

Cryptic Clue 1: A key motif was observable at the scene of the first murder. The prosecution at Ireland’s trial stated that, as an expression of his disgust, Ireland ‘got some condoms and put one in [the victim’s] mouth and another in his nostril. As a further humiliation he put two teddy bears on the bed in a “69” position.’
So far as I can determine, the police profiler (an eminent forensic psychologist) at no time connected these ‘cuddly toys’ (as he refers to them) to the ‘big boys’ nights’ of ‘leather-clad truckers’ (as they are termed in the Case File) observable at the Coleherne or other gay hangouts where the teddy bear was worn.

Bear identity for huggers.

As the Report establishes, Colin knew of these gay venues where ‘Chubbies and Chasers’ gathered.  Yet the Report at no point connects the teddy bears to Colin’s mockery of a significant offshoot of the leather community . . . the hypermasculine Whitmanesque hugging/cuddling subculture singing ‘the body electric’ whose practices are visibly identified by the wearing of teddy bears.

Cryptic Clue 2: More sinister still, also on the occasion of his first murder, Colin placed a soft toy (a rabbit, according to the police profiler) by the victim under his left arm. The Case File refers to two other unsolved murder cases in which homosexuals were killed in settings similar the Colin Ireland murders. Common factors included: ‘elements of theatre’; ‘elements of sadism’; ‘elements of bondage’; ‘arrangements which symbolise control’. In one of the cases there figured an Ireland-ish taunt: ‘A dead rabbit was nailed to a doorpost.’

Hence, it is my belief that the theories proposed by psychologists, namely, that Colin’s strategically arranged tableaux of furry animals represented a tragic lost childhood, and that the toys were symbolic of a stolen innocence (his encounters with paedophiles), can be dismissed because their meaning was entirely specific, and related pointedly to his adult crimes.

Cryptic Clue 3: The very method of Colin’s crimes suggested strongly the nature and appearance of the perpetrator, just as Colin hinted. Only a formidable individual posing as a ‘top’ (S&M master/dominant partner) could have overpowered his victims and secured their submission so compliantly. Beyond the absence of sexual activity on the part of the dominant ‘top’, the denunciatory feature of the knotted condoms applied to gag one victim, for example, indicated a moralising mission or crusade (Colin reserved his most desecratory embellishment of the bodies for those victims he found to be undisclosed HIV-positive). Indeed, it would be not so removed from the truth of Colin’s motivation to imagine he saw himself as something of a Hercules in his mythic cleansing of what he regarded as Augean stables; for the slaying of the Nemean Lion we may take the cat Colin killed to punish one of his victims, arranging its carcass with the condom-enclosed tip of its tail in the victim’s mouth, and the animal’s mouth fastened on the man’s penis and testicles.  

Decipit frons prima multos. The initial appearance of a man can deceive many, even himself. The face Colin Ireland viewed in the mirror each day was classically that of Heracles of the Twelve Labours – the physiognomy of a boxer, with a broken nose, 
as broken as Michelangelo’s. Colin was vividly described by a witness as sporting ‘a kink in his nose’.

Critique of the Theatricality of Violence

‘I should have been a con-man, a robber or a prostitute,’ boasted Francis Bacon. ‘But it was vanity that made me choose painting, vanity and chance.’

By Bacon’s own analysis, his reliance on chance was integral to his character and central to his creative process as a painter. ‘The mystery [of art] lies in the irrationality by which you make appearance . . . enormously instinctive and accidental things [that come out of a desire] for returning fact onto the nervous system in a more violent way.’ As a fellow connoisseur of the Coleherne’s leatherman subculture, Francis like Colin revealed himself to be no different in his fascination with the homosexual male in articulo mortis, in both sexual and nihilistic terms. Both gambled, relying on chance to achieve the desired effect from their corporeal assemblages, whether on canvas or on post-mortal bedsheets. And driving them was the mutuality of a bleak world-view that saw only meaninglessness. 

‘I would like some day to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting. I always think of myself not so much as a painter but as a medium for accident and chance.***’  

Colin Ireland, Soho’s ‘Gay Slayer’, could have said it with greater conviction. 

The theatricality of Bacon’s ambition now rings distinctly hollow.

Yet, in a their hunting of fresh conquests in Soho’s moral twilight, these jaded optimists of nothingness, these deceivers not so undeceived, sought, successfully after their own fashion, each to kill the night.

London’s Time Out report on leads in the hunt for Colin Ireland.

* For covert priapean subject matter in David Hockney’s youthful drawings, see: 

** Extraordinarily enough – and almost too incredible to countenance – the ‘senior Met officer’ to whom I refer as one of the principal investigators of the Colin Ireland case to my certain knowledge (since he confided these details to me) by sheer coincidence struck up an acquaintanceship with Francis Bacon in a Soho dive one night, and went on to Charlie Chester’s in his company to carouse into the small hours.

*** Ars longa, vita brevis – I can't refrain from adding that it was John Minton, tutor at the painting school of the Royal College of Art, who recommended Francis Bacon for the position of artist-in-residence at the RCA. Readers of this account of the braggadocio of London School artists might like to consider that it was a student of Minton, and habitué of Bacon’s Soho watering holes (the Colony Room Club, The Coach and Horses, and the French House), who also boasted of more than a brush with homicidal criminality . . . in this case, a five-minute-affaire with the American serial killer and necrophiliac, Paul John Knowles, captured in 1974, believed to be responsible for deaths of over thirty victims, tortured and murdered with the most unconscionable cruelty. Ars longa, vita brevis. Yes. Certainly. As admirers of Caravaggio can confirm, he and his art lived longer than the victim he knifed with the rara dexteritate of a master’s hand.

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremisCompulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence . . .

see Eisner’s Sister Morphine (2008)
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

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