Unsolved Murders

Constance May Smith

Age: 24

Sex: male

Date: 9 May 1936

Place: 66 Old Compton Street, Soho, London

Constance May Smith was found dead on her bed strangled with an electric light flex. Her head had also been beaten in with a flat iron.

The police were called out to her room on the second floor at 66 Old Crompton Street in Soho at 9.10am on 9 May 1936 and found her lying on her back on a bed dead. She had a piece of insulated electric wire loosely round her neck and her head had been severely battered. She had been strangled with the piece of electric wire and battered with a bloodstained flat iron that was found lying on the bed.

She was born as Constance May Hind in 1912 at the East ham Infirmary and was an illegitimate child of a woman who had convictions for fraud and who was convicted at the Central Criminal Court on 22 November 1933 for 3 years for blackmail.

On 29 June 1933 Constance May Hind married and her name became Constance May Smith. They married at the Register Office in Henrietta Street, Strand.

Constance Smith was also known as Leah Heinz under which name she had been convicted eight times for soliciting prostitution.

It was heard that at an early age she was known to have lived with a coloured man and noted that at the time of her death, three men who had doubtless been living on her immoral earnings were in prison.

She was described in the police report as a low type of prostitute and a habitue of low class night clubs in the Soho district.

At the time of her murder she had been living with a partner that had been employed as a waiter but who had latterly been obtaining a livelihood by giving street performances as a conjuror and at certain nightclubs in the West End. The partner said that he first met Constance Smith about a month before her murder at the Caprice Club in Old Compton Street, Soho.

The Caprice Club was described as a low-class place that was generally frequented by moral perverts and undesirables.

The partner said that when he had met Constance Smith she had told him that she was fond of him and they made an appointment to meet the following day. The partner said that the appointment was kept, and that Constance Smith told him that her parents were German and that her mother had money for her in a bank. He said that she told him that she was living at High Street in Bloomsbury at the time and asked him to go and live with her, but he said that he didn't want to live with her at that address and suggested finding rooms elsewhere. The partner said that later the same day they met up again and Constance Smith told him that she had secured rooms at 1 Little Pulteney Street in Soho and he went there with her and ascertained that she had rented two furnished rooms and said that from that time onwards he lived with her.

The partner said that Constance Smith first told him that she was working as a waitress and noted that at that time he had been working at various nightclubs. However, he said that after three days Constance Smith told him that she was not working and was getting money from her mother. The partner said that he told her that he didn't believe her and suspected that she was getting her living on the streets. He said that she then agreed that she was occasionally meeting men and upon further questioning by him said that she was bringing them to the address. The man said that he then threatened to leave her unless she promised to cease bringing men to the place and it was arranged that she should get rooms elsewhere. However, it was thought that the partner had continue to live with Constance Smith at 1 Little Pulteney Street until Sunday 3 May 1936 when they moved to the room at 66 Old Compton Street where she was later murdered.

The partner said that during the time that Constance Smith was living at 1 Little Pulteney Street, that she would remain in bed until about midday and that on most afternoons he would go shopping with her or to a cinema. He would then leave her either in the street at about 6pm or at the address after tea. The partner said that after that he didn't know what she did after that as he was engaged giving entertainments at West End night clubs and didn't return home until the early hours of the morning. He said that he sometimes arrived home before Constance Smith but said that it was usual for her to return home after midnight.

The partner said that on the Monday, 4 May 1936, when they took up residence at 66 Old Compton Street, he asked Constance Smith not to bring men to the address, stating that his reason for doing that was because he was a little apprehensive for her welfare as there were no other tenants in the house.

The partner said that he had supper with Constance Smith on Monday 4 May 1936 and then left her at about 11pm at Leicester Square when she said that she was going home. He said that he arrived home at 3.30am on the Tuesday, 5 May and found her waiting up for him.

The partner said that later that day, 5 May 1936, he left her at 6.30pm at a cafe in Old Compton Street and said that when he got home later in the early hours of the following day, 1.30am 6 May, he found her waiting up for him again. The partner said that in order to avoid her having to wait up for him that she should give him the key to the street door but said that she declined to do that and told him that if he wanted a key that he would have to get one cut. The partner said that as a result of that he suspected her of bringing men to the house and threatened to leave her. He said that Constance Smith cried and dissuaded him from doing that and that it was then mutually agreed to find other accommodation at Regents Park.

The partner said that the Wednesday, 6 May 1936, he left Constance Smith at 3pm at Leicester Square. He said that Constance Smith told him that she was going to go home and see her mother and so he went off to a club in Soho where he stayed until 12.20am on 7 May 1936 and got home at 12.30am to find Constance Smith waiting up for him.

The partner said that on the Thursday 7 May 1936, after having supper with Constance Smith at a restaurant near the Euston Road, he left her at 11pm at Tottenham Court Road. He said that he then went off to a nightclub and said that he expected her to go home. He said that he arrived home at 3.45am on Friday 8 May 1936 and whistled up to their room as usual but received no reply. He said that he then went off and walked about the vicinity and then returned to 66 Old Compton Street at 4am and noticed that she was looking out of the window into Old Compton Street. He said then, as was her usual practice, she threw the door key into the street to him and he went upstairs. He said that when he got upstairs Constance Smith was fully dressed. He said that he asked Constance Smith where she had been and said that she smiled and said that she had been to the Caprice Club that was almost opposite. The partner said that he then asked her why she had gone there and said that she said, 'I have been out of somebody's way for a couple of hours'.

The partner said that he didn't understand and said that he then found a seaman's discharge book in a drawer of the dressing table and questioned her about it and said that she explained that it belonged to a man that she had been with. He said that she told him that she had met the man before and that he would probably return to the address for it. He said that he then told her to return it to the man and said that she promised to do so by the morning post.

The partner said that they then retired to bed and that at about 11am on the Friday, 8 May 1936 he discovered a raincoat on top of the wardrobe. He said that she told him that it belonged to the man that she had been with the night before. The partner said that Constance Smith then got out of bed at about 11.45am and took her handbag from under her pillow. He said that she then went to the door, apparently to pay money to the landlord. He said that they also spoke again about returning the seaman's discharge book and said that Constance Smith mentioned that she was waiting for the landlord to return with five shillings change out of the money that she had given him. He said that Constance Smith also intimated that she was getting a new dress and that when he questioned her about it, she told him that she had no money and so he gave her 2/6d to pay as a deposit on the dress and 4/- to enable her to get some lunch.

He said that he then left her at 3pm, noting that she had asked him to be home at 2am the following Saturday morning.

The partner said that he then was out until 4am on 9 May 1936 and that when he returned to 66 Old Compton Street he whistled up as usual but got no reply. He said that he went off and then returned to 66 Old Compton Street at 5am and then again at 6am, but could still not get any reply when he rang the bell. He said that he then went back at 8.45am and obtained the assistance of a shopkeeper on the ground floor to open the street door.

The partner said that he then went straight to Constance Smith's bedroom on the second floor but found the door locked. He said that he knocked at the door but was unable to get a reply. He said that there was a puppy in the room that was whining and said that he then went off to a cafe where he found a friend who he told that he thought that something was wrong. He said that they then went back to 66 Old Compton Street and forced the bedroom door and they discovered that Constance Smith was inside, dead with head injuries.

The partner then immediately, at 9.10am, went to get a policeman, finding one at the junction of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.

An unemployed labourer of no fixed abode said that on 9 May 1936 at 6.30am he saw the partner standing in the street outside 66 Old Compton Street. He said that he had met the partner for the first time on 7 May 1936 at a club at 18 Little Denmark Street. He said that the partner, who had previously told him that he was living at 66 Old Compton Street said, 'I am trying to get in but can get no reply'. The unemployed labourer said that they then went off to a cafe in Old Compton Street where the partner told him that he was living with a girl at 66 Old Compton Street and that he wanted to get into the house to get dressed. The unemployed labourer said that they then went off to another cafe at High Street, Bloomsbury where they remained until about 8am.

The unemployed labourer said that they then went back to Old Compton Street and he asked the partner if he could go into 66 Old Compton Street to get a couple of hours sleep. He said that the partner said that he would see about letting him into the rooms and said that he would see the shopkeeper when he came to the shop about opening the side door and letting them in. The unemployed labourer said that they waited until 8.50am when the shopkeeper arrived and opened the street door and admitted them into the house. The unemployed labourer said that the partner then went in while he waited outside in the street.

The unemployed labourer said that after an interval of about five minutes, the partner came out of the house and asked him to go to the landing on the second floor. He said that the partner then started hammering on the bedroom door and shouted, 'Leah', but could get no reply. The unemployed labourer said that the partner seemed worried and suggested to him that something was wrong as the bedroom window was shut. The unemployed labourer said that he then suggested that they break the door which they did by bodily pressure and then went in to discover Constance Smith lying dead on the bed. The unemployed labourer said that the partner was upset and then immediately went to report the matter to the police.

The policeman that the partner found after finding Constance Smith dead said that the partner came up to him whilst he was on duty at the junction of Great Windmill Street and Shaftesbury Avenue and said to him, 'Oh, constable, will you come along, I think my girl has been murdered. I have just broken into the flat and I saw her on the bed. Her head is covered in blood, I think her throat is cut. This poor little dog was with her'.

The policeman said that he then immediately attended 66 Old Compton Street where he saw the body of Constance Smith and then called Vine Street Police Station to report it.

Constance Smith's room was a bed-sitting room on the second floor at the front. She was lying obliquely on her back on a double bed. She was wearing shoes, with her stockings neatly rolled down to the ankles. Her cotton dress was pulled up to the waist, leaving the pubis and legs exposed. Her legs were slightly apart. Her left hand was lying across her abdomen and her right hand was across the bed. Her face was inclined to the right and the right side of her face and head had been battered. There was also a piece of electric wire flex loosely round her neck, but it wasn't tied.

It was also noted that there were long pear-shaped splashed of blood on her legs, particularly on her left leg and a bloodstained flat iron was resting on her right hand.

Constance Smith was found on her bed lying on a pink counterpane that was partly pulled over her head, completely covering her face. The bed she was lying on had not been slept in but the bed clothes were slightly disarranged. The pink counterpane covering her face and hand had been torn and her nose and mouth were protruding through it which indicated that she had been struck on the face during the time the counterpane had covered it.

A black right-hand glove was also found lying on the bed near her left foot.

The police report stated that the position of her body indicated that she had prepared herself for the purpose of sexual intercourse.

It was stated that the flat iron had been part of the household effects and that it had not been taken to the flat by the murderer.

The room was furnished with a wardrobe, dressing table and setee. Underneath the wardrobe, which was standing in front of the window opposite the bed, the police found a pair of lady's knickers which were wet and very dirty.

On the mantelpiece, among other articles, the police also found a lady's black handbag which was open and had no money in it. There were also two pennies and a small envelope such as was used for containing rubber sheaths (French letters) on the mantlepiece.

The bed clothing where Constance Smith's head was resting was considerably bloodstained and the blood had penetrated through the bed and had stained certain suitcases that were lying under the bed.

There was a Yale lock on the street door as well as another Yale lock on Constance Smith's room.

The police report stated that there were three apparent blood spots on a certain hanging behind the door of the room. However, the room was not in disorder.

There were two lady's coats lying on the settee.

Following the discovery of the murder, the police determined that the nature of Constance Smith's injuries pointed to the probability that the assailant's clothing would have been bloodstained and, on the morning of 9 May 1036, a message was sent out calling for immediate enquiries at cleaners and laundries to trace bloodstained clothing. As a result of the message, several bloodstained items were traced but it was proved that none of them proved to have any connection with the murder.

When the doctor examined her body, he said that he thought that she had been dead for a minimum of six hours and possibly longer.

Amongst the items that the police examined, they found some fingerprints on a petrol lighter, however, they said that the imprints disclosed insufficient data for comparison. The police said that they found Constance Smith and her partners fingerprints throughout the room. However, the police did find a fingerprint on a piece of wood on the front edge of the mantlepiece which after examination they concluded did not belong to any persons that had right of access to the premises. However, they were unable to identify whose print it was and filed it in the Scene of Crime Collection.

When the pathologist later examined the body, he said that there were serious injuries on the front of her head and that her skull had been fractured and that brain matter was visible. He also added that brain matter had also been visible on the bedspread. He said that there was a gaping lacerated wound on her face and head and that she had numerous haemorrhages in the skin on her face.

The pathologist said that her neck was encircled in its upper part by a dirty mark produced by the pressure of the electric light wire and that the cricoid cartilage of her larynx was fractured on the left side. He also added that there was no pregnancy, no evidence of venereal disease or any indications of recent sexual intercourse, noting that spermatozoa were absent.

The pathologist concluded that Constance Smith had been a healthy woman and that there was no disease to account for her death. He said that her head injuries were produced by very violent blows on the forehead with a heavy blunt object, such as the flat iron found on the bed, and said that the bloodstained edges of the flat iron could have produced most of the wounds on the forehead, the more severe wounds being the earlier, the less severe wounds being inflicted after her skull had been fractured.

The pathologist added that from the distribution of the blood that had escaped from her wounds, he thought that it was clear that Constance Smith must have been lying in the position in which she was found when her injuries were inflicted. He added that any of the injuries could have rendered Constance Smith unconscious.

He also said that the splashes of blood on the fronts of her arms and lower limbs were caused by blood splashed by the weapon striking the bloodstained surface of the head, and that they indicated that Constance Smith had not moved after her head injuries had been inflicted. He said that the large bruise over her left lower jaw was probably produced by a blow with the fist or other blunt object and that the bruise on her lower lip had been caused by another blow.

The pathologist added that the mark round her neck was produced by the electric light wire in the act of strangulation, as shown by the dirty mark that it produced, with the diameter of the pressure mark corresponding with that of the wire. He said that the ligature had been applied during life, as was shown by the haemorrhages beneath the pressure mark which was found beneath the skin and in the deeper tissues. He said that there were also signs of strangulation in the tiny haemorrhages in the skin of the face, in the whites of her eyes and on the surface of her heart as well as by the bloodstained froth in her nostrils and mouth. He added that the abrasions on the front of her neck and the fracture of the cricoid cartilage of the larynx suggested that her throat had been gripped by the hand of the assailant, which also happened whilst she was alive.

The pathologist said that the wound over her left pubic bone was produced by a violent blow with a blunt object.

He also said that all of her injuries were recent and had been inflicted shortly before her death.

He concluded that from the large amount of blood that had escaped from the wound to her head, that he was of the opinion that her head injuries had been inflicted first and that she had survived for a short but appreciable time, with her death having then been brought about by strangulation with the electric light wire. He said that her throat might have been gripped by her murderer whilst he was inflicting the injuries to her head.

He said that from the development of rigor mortis and the partial warmth of her body when he had seen it at 12.55pm on 9 May 1936 that he was of the opinion that she had died about two to fifteen hours before.

66 Old Compton Street comprised of a self-contained general provisions shop on the ground floor, a basement and three upper floors, the entrance to which was gained by a side door.

The basement had two rooms and none of the tenants knew Constance Smith which was stated as understandable seeing that she had only been at the address for a few days, and none of them said that they had heard anything unusual or seen any suspicious persons in the building. Nothing else was found of any note from any of the other floors in the building.

The police made extensive enquiries amongst prostitutes and persons of the underworld in the Soho district and it was soon elicited that Constance Smith was a well-known prostitute who solicited in Old Compton Street and Charing Cross Road. She had been seen with several unknown men who it was thought no doubt accompanied her to her room for immoral purposes on the night of 8 May 1936. A hall porter at the London Casino Restaurant in Old Compton Street said that he had seen Constance Smith at about 12.30am on the Saturday, 9 May, proceeding along Old Compton Street on the south side towards 66 Old Compton Street. He said that she was accompanied by a man that he described as being about 30 years of age, 5ft 7in tall, with a fair complexion, light brown hair that was brushed back, with a slim build and dressed in a raincoat and not wearing a hat. The police said that the hall porter was a reliable type of man who had known Constance Smith for some years past as a prostitute and his statement was also confirmed by another prostitute. The other prostitute said that she had seen Constance Smith entering 66 Old Compton Street at about 12.30am on 9 May 1936 accompanied by a man aged about 25, 5ft 5in tall, with a medium build, a fresh complexion, brown hair, clean shaven, dressed in a long black coat and wearing no hat. The prostitute said that she had known Constance Smith for about six years and that when she saw her, Constance Smith said hello to her.

Another prostitute said that she also saw Constance Smith at about 12.30am on 9 May 1936 walking along Old Compton Street towards Charing Cross Road. She said that she was alone at the time and that when she saw her she said, 'What are you doing out day and night, Leah?' and said that Constance Smith replied by saying, 'Yes, if you can't get it in the day, you must get it at night'.

The police report stated that as far as could be ascertained, Constance Smith was last seen alive by the prostitute who had seen her enter 68 Old Compton Street with the man who, in all probability, was responsible for her death. However, it stated that it was just possible that she had met a further man after that time, but that despite exhaustive and diligent enquiries of person who frequent Old Compton Street at a later hour, no one could be found who had seen her after that time.

As part of their investigation the police checked all records that they held involving men that had assaulted prostitutes within the previous 18 months and although they saw 103 persons, none of them were thought likely to have been the suspect and the line of enquiry in no way assisted the investigation.

The police also interrogated the three men that Constance Smith had previously lived with who were all in prison but said that none of them could offer useful information.

It was noted that during the course of their enquiries, a number of assaults hitherto unknown to the police came to light in which prostitutes complained of having been assaulted in circumstances in which it was evident that robbery was the motive and other cases where assaults were committed by sexual perverts and men of sadist tendencies.

The police report concluded that whoever had been responsible for Constance Smith's murder had undoubtedly accompanied her to her room ostensibly for the purpose of having sexual intercourse. The police report stated that that theory was supported by the position of Constance Smith's body such that she had prepared herself for sexual intercourse with her stockings carefully rolled down to the ankles with her knickers removed and her dress drawn up around her waist.

The report stated that there was no suggestion that she had been murdered in any other position other than that in which she was discovered as the bloodstains were confined to a limited area of the bedding where her head had rested. The report also noted that the pathologist had been emphatic that the first blow would have rendered Constance Smith unconscious and that it was struck in the position in which she was found.

The report also noted that it was reasonable to assume that robbery was the motive, stating that quite apart from the fact that her handbag was found open and no money was in the room, it was thought very probable that she would not have consented to have prepared herself for sexual intercourse without first receiving payment. The report also stated that other evidence suggested that she had taken several other men to her room prior to midnight on 8 May 1936, for which it was thought there was no doubt that she would have received renumeration for.

The report stated that careful consideration had been given to the possibility that her murder was committed in revenge on the part of an acquaintance or a ponce, but it was concluded that it that were the case that evidence of a row and disorder would be expected resulting prior to the blows being struck.

The report stated that the circumstances of the case indicated that her assailant was probably a chance acquaintance who had accompanied her home for the purpose of robbery and that the ferocity of the attack indicated that he would have been a dangerous homicidal man.

Her inquest on 9 June 1936 returned a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown and that Constance Smith had died from asphyxia caused by a piece of flex and injuries inflicted with a flat iron.

The Coroner said in his summing up, 'There is no doubt that this girl of twenty-four has been murdered. A murder was committed by some person unknown. You must realise the difficulty in cases like this which the police encounter, especially when a young woman who is a notorious prostitute and conducts her business in the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning when no one would see her. She was seen with a man walking towards the flat and he was probably the murderer. If so, it must have been a homicidal maniac, because of the ferocity with which he attacked the poor girl, battering her head with the flat iron, also tying a piece of flex round her neck and strangling her in that way, and gripping her fiercely by hand that he probably suffocated her as well. It is extremely likely that he would have bloodstains on his clothes. To begin to find a man such as that is difficult, but the police have not been discouraged by the difficulty of the enquiry and hundreds of statements have been taken and they have not been successful. Their enquires will go on'.

The police report noted that: 'It is most unfortunate that we have to admit defeat in out investigations into this case following so quickly on the undetected murders of Josephine Martin and Jeanne Marie Cousins. There is nothing to show however that there is a connection between any of these cases. This latest case is one of an unfortunate young girl born out of wedlock and of a woman criminal who has left her almost throughout her lifetime without any parental control or the slightest thought for her welfare, to lead a life of prostitution on the streets of London. She was continually engaged in soliciting strange men to accompany her to her rooms for the purpose of prostitution, and whilst doing this that she met her death. Despite the most exhaustive enquiries no evidence could be found upon which even suspicion could be attached to any known person and it is unlikely that the crime will ever be solved. The investigation has thrown considerable light on the vice-dens of Soho and has been the means of an addition being made to the already extensive knowledge of these matters possessed by the Divisional 'Vice-Squad'. Unless there is some unexpected development the enquiries cannot be carried out further'.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.truecrimelibrary.com

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1707