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The Charteris Road Murder


In the late 1950s Veronica Murray, known as ‘Ronnie’, came from Londonderry to find work in London. She eventually worked as a prostitute on the streets and clubs of Soho, and in June 1958 rented a room at 58 Charteris Road in Kilburn. When Ronnie had not been seen by her friends in Soho for several days, one of them phoned her Turkish landlord Ratomir Tasic. A shocking sight awaited him as he entered her room on 19 December 1958. Ronnie had been beaten to death and was lying across her bed. The murder squad detectives led by Superintendent Evan Davies, found that she had been hit several times on the head with an ornamental dumbbell. Some unusual circular marks were found on her body, but the fingerprints at the scene did not match any on file. The police released a photo of Veronica a few days later but this produced no suspects and the case went cold.

Veronica 'Ronnie' Murray

A year later on 11 October 1959, Mrs Mabel Hill was celebrating her birthday in London’s West End, when a man asked her for a light for his cigarette. They returned to her home in Ismailia Road Fulham and had coffee. But when she refused to have sex, he hit her and tried to strangle her with a pair of stockings. Mabel passed out and was taken to hospital where she recovered and was able to tell the police what had happened. Detective Inspector Peter Vibart noticed the pattern of circular marks on her body which could have been made using the neck of a bottle, but the forensic scientists could not say for sure. Vibart remembered similar marks on the body of Veronica Murray the year before, and the same fingerprints found at Charteris Road were also found at Mabel’s home.

In fact, there was a series of more than 20 robberies where the mysterious fingerprints were found. One was from the Hartnell Suite at the Westbury Hotel Mayfair, where the famous actor George Sanders lived. The same prints were found on 18 October, when 65 year-old Mrs Annie Belcher was hit with a poker in her home near Sloane Square after she disturbed the burglar.

On 21 November 1959 there was a robbery at a house in Markham Street Chelsea where a clock and cigarette lighter were stolen from Australian businessman William Sloane. A photo of the distinctive lighter was published in the press, and a solider contacted the police saying he bought it from a guardsman in the next bunk for 5 shillings. The police travelled to the Welsh Guards Camp in Pirbright Surrey and on 24 November 1959 Michael Douglas Dowdall was arrested and taken to Chelsea police station. His fingerprints matched the man they had been looking for. Chief Inspector Acott interviewed Michael and he was charged with burglary, the serious attack on Mabel Hill and the murder of Veronica Murray.

Dowdall confessed, and bizarrely said he had taken a pair of shoes and the toothpaste from the hotel suite of George Sanders, ‘because he liked the taste’ – the tube was found in his barracks at Pirbright. In his statement Dowdall said, ‘It is when I get drinking I do these things. I am alright when I am sober. It has been worrying me for a long time, and I have wanted to go to a doctor. I am glad it is all over.’ He said he was very drunk when he picked up Veronica Murray near Trafalgar Square and they went to her home in Kilburn by taxi. After they had sex, they got into an argument and when she called him ‘a filthy little Welsh bastard’, he hit her several times on the head with an ornament from the mantelpiece.

At his trial fellow soldiers said that when they celebrated Mick’s 18th birthday at a hotel in Guildford, he had drunk two and a half pints of gin and had to be carried to the taxi back to the camp. They said he frequently returned drunk at 7am after being in Soho for the weekend.

Michael Dowdall in dress uniform

Michael was a small, thin, young man, whose father, an Army Captain, had died in WWII when he was just 18 months old and his Welsh mother brought him up in Paddington. When he was seven his mother died, and he went to live with an aunt in Llanhilleth near Abertillery in South Wales. He was a difficult boy who got into trouble at school. When he was 15 he joined the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards as a drummer boy and was posted to Chelsea Barracks. He hated the soldiers making fun of him because of his small physique. In 1958, during his leave from Pirbright Camp, he carried out robberies and used the money to pay other guardsmen to wash his shirts and clean his boots. He said his mates in the Army made him feel like a nobody but when he had a drink he felt better and more important. Two years previously he had tried to hang himself in the guard room while under arrest for being absent without leave.

At his trial at the Old Bailey in January 1960, Dr Brisby the chief medical officer at Brixton prison, said Dowdall was a psychopath and a social misfit, who believed people mocked him. He showed no remorse for his crimes, and an electroencephalogram showed that Dowdall had a defect in his personality which impaired his mental responsibility, especially after drink. A second physiatrist gave similar evidence. The judge directed the jury that if they believed Dowdall’s mental responsibility was substantially diminished when he killed Veronica Murray, they should convict him of manslaughter not murder. The jury returned with a verdict after more than three hours discussion. On 21 January 1960 Michael Dowdall was found guilty of manslaughter and goaled for life.

He was released on licence in July 1975 suffering from a serious illness and went to live at 94 Dartmouth Park Hill near Archway. On 10 November 1976 he died at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead from a lung infection and chronic hepatitis.

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