Unsolved Murders

Elizabeth Figg

Age: 21

Sex: female

Date: 17 Jun 1959

Place: Dukes Meadow, Chiswick, London

Elizabeth Figg was found dead on a towpath beside the River Thames at Chiswick on Wednesday 17 June 1959.

She was a prostitute and a good-time girl and although she had been lodging in Holloway, it was her habit to solicit people in cars and not take them back with her.

It was thought that she had been strangled by a client somewhere, possibly the man's room or his car, and then dumped near the towpath where she was found. She was found in long grass under a willow tree near the Boat Race finishing post in an area known as Duke's Meadow. Her body had been found leaning naturally against a tree and her blue and white striped dress had been smoothed to just below her knees, her right hand straightened by her side and her left hand folded across her lap. Her dress was said to have been torn at the waist and her breasts had been exposed.

However, it was noted that most of her clothes and her handbag was missing and they were never found. All Elizabeth Figg had bene wearing when she was found was her blue and white striped dress which as described as being of a striking design.

Her body was found by police on routine patrol through Duke's Meadow at 5.10am which had a reputation as a 'lovers' lane' and a place where prostitutes would take their clients and courting couples would go. It was found on scrubland between Dan Mason Drive and the towpath an about 180m west of Barnes Bridge. The area was also said to have been known as 'Gobblers’ Gulch'.

A pub landlord at The Ship public house across the river from the location where Elizabeth Figg's body was found said that he saw car headlights at about 12.05am as a car parked in the spot where her body was later found and that shortly after they were switched off he heard a woman scream.

Her cause of death was given as manual strangulation.

She had lived in a furnished bedsitter in Duncombe Road, Islington. She was described as quietly spoken. It was said that before coming to London that she had lived in Liverpool.

A timetable of the known events leading up to her murder was detailed:

  • 6pm 16 June: Elizabeth Figg met a coloured professional boxer friend. The boxer had lived in Dunsmore Road in Stamford Hill.
  • 7.45pm 16 June: Elizabeth Figg left the boxer at the Archway in Hornsey, telling him that she was going to her dressmaker.
  • 8.30pm 16 June: Elizabeth Figg arrives at her dressmakers, a married woman that lived in Durley Road, Stamford Hill.
  • 9.05pm 16 June: Elizabeth Figg left the dressmakers saying that she was going to catch a bus to Aldgate.
  • 11.30pm 16 June: Elizabeth Figg was 'picked up' by a builder and decorator at Finsbury Park. The builder and decorator had lived in Springdale Road in Stamford Hill. He said that he had wanted to spend the night with Elizabeth Figg but she had told him that she had an appointment at Holland Park.
  • 1.10am 17 June: Elizabeth Figg left the builder and decorator, however, they had arranged to meet again at 3.30am. The builder and decorator said, 'She left me then at Holland Park Station and I arranged to pick her up again at 3.30am. She did not keep the appointment, but two police officers arrived instead and asked me why I was parked without lights'.
  • 5.10am 17 June: Elizabeth Figg was found dead.

Elizabeth Figg's inquest heard that there was no trace of her after 1.10am. When she was last seen she had been wearing her blue and white (or black and white) dress and wearing black shoes which had originally been white but had been painted and carrying a purse type white handbag.

It was said that in her handbag Elizabeth Figg kept her keys, a powder compact and a small maroon autograph book that Elizabeth Figg had used as a notebook.

It was noted that at the time of her murder that Elizabeth Figg had been calling herself Ann Phillips. It was noted that although she was a prostitute, that she had no convictions against her.

The professional boxer that had lived in Dunsmore Road in Stamford Hill was thought to have hit Elizabeth Figg in the past and to have acted as her pimp. However, it was reported that he was ruled out as a suspect in the case.

It was said Elizabeth Figg was sometimes taken home by the same taxi-driver who would take her home from Holland Park and the police were trying to trace him.

The police said that they were certain that Elizabeth Figg had been picked up by a man in Bayswater and that he had then driven her to Chiswick where he strangled her.

The pathologist said that Elizabeth Figg had died no later than 2am on 17 June 1959.

Her body was identified by her room-mate, an 18-year-old girl that had called the police after seeing Elizabeth Figg's photograph in a newspaper. It was noted that before her body was found, more than 300 people had contacted the police with details of missing women. The photo in the newspaper was described as a 'death mask' picture of Elizabeth Figg.

The bed-sitter that Elizabeth Figg had lived in in Duncombe Road was said to have cost 48s a week. Her landlord said that Elizabeth Figg had been living in the bed-sitter for about two weeks and that he thought that she was a waitress in the West End. He said, 'A blonde girl friend used to call for her and they generally went out together at about 6.30pm. As she had her own key I had no knowledge of when she used to return'.

Elizabeth Figg's room-mate later went on a 20 mile tour of London with Murder Squad detectives in the search for anyone that might have known Elizabeth Figg. Elizabeth Figg was said to have had a large number of friends. It was said that the trip had covered several of London's vice spots and had spread out from Duncombe Road in Upper Holloway where she and Elizabeth Figg had lived to Harringay, Stepney and Bayswater, places where it was believed that Elizabeth Figg had been in the hours before she was murdered.

It was heard that it was Elizabeth Figg's usual custom to leave the Harringay area at about 11pm and then go to Holland Park where she would sometimes stay until 4am.

Her room-mate later said, 'I had known her for about three months, during which time I learned that she came from Liverpool and that her mother was living in London'. She also told the police that they were 'flat broke'.

It was reported that after Elizabeth Figg's murder that street girls in the Bayswater Road area had formed a 'ghost squad' to trap the strangler.

During their investigation the police said that they interviewed many call-girls and it was said that they had heard how girls were picked up in the West End and then driven to 'lover's lanes' miles away beside the River Thames.

Psychiatrists later built up a picture of the man that they thought had strangled Elizabeth Figg, describing him as 'a very tidy person, with an eye for detail'.

It was reported that the 'artistry'  with which the murderer had crossed Elizabeth Figg's legs in front of her and arranged her body as it was found would have taken about 20 minutes in the dark.

The police said that they thought that Elizabeth Figg had been murdered in the man's room or his car and then taken out and placed by the tree near the towpath.

However, another sighting was reported to the police of a woman struggling in a car with a man in Westbourne Gardens, Paddington, about five miles from where Elizabeth Figg was later found. It was said that neighbours in Westbourne Gardens saw a man struggling with a girl in a beige car at about 12.30am. It was further noted that a beige car was also seen on the night of 16 June 1959 and was described as 'suspect car No. 1'. A woman that had lived in the third floor flat in Westbourne Gardens said, 'I could see a man grasping a woman's throat in the car. It was a beige coloured shooting wagon'.  Another neighbour said, 'The shooting wagon pulled up to the kerb. After some terrible shrieks, I saw the woman push and shove the driver. It was pitiful to hear her shrieks. I have no phone so I could not call for help. I was too terrified to go to the car. Lots of people looked down from their windows, but no one went to help the girl. You see, this is a dangerous place to mind other people's business'.

Her inquest was held on Thursday 13 August 1959 at Ealing where a verdict of 'murder by a person unknown' was returned.

It was later suspected that Elizabeth Figg had been an early victim of the serial killer 'Jack the Stripper' who was said to have murdered a number of women in the London area, dumping their naked bodies in the river, during the 1960s.

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

see en.wikipedia.org

see National Archives - MEPO 2/9895

see Liverpool Echo

see Chiswick Herald

see True Crime Library

see The Times

see Weird Island

see Unsolved Casebook

see Daily Mirror - Friday 14 August 1959

see Daily Herald - Friday 19 June 1959

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 19 June 1959

see Western Mail - Friday 14 August 1959

see Kensington Post - Friday 26 June 1959

see The People - Sunday 21 June 1959

see Daily Mirror - Saturday 20 June 1959

see Weekly Dispatch (London) - Sunday 21 June 1959