The Brooke-Heath Murders Part 1

About the Brooke-Heath series of murders, history of the victims and the crime, account of the hunt for the murderer.


The Murders: In 1946, Mrs. Margery Aimee Gardner--32 years old--had separated from her husband, set out on her own, and achieved a certain notoriety as "Ocelot Margie," after the imitation fur coat she was so fond of wearing. On the night before she died, she was dancing at the Panama Club in London with a handsome young man named Lieut. Col. Neville Heath.

Her naked corpse was discovered on June 21, 1946, in a Notting Hill (London) hotel room registered under the name of that same Lieut. Col. Heath. Many lash marks scored her body and face, and she was horribly mutilated. Mrs. Gardner's ankles were tied to the bedposts and the marks on her wrists suggested that they, too, had been bound. Suffocation was the cause of death. The murder weapon was a pillow or, more likely, her gag.

Subsequently, another victim, Doreen Marshall, was discovered in Bournemouth, at the seaside, by a woman out for a stroll with her dog. The body was covered with flies and lay in rhododendron bushes. A sharp instrument, probably a knife, was the murder weapon. She had succumbed before being severely mutilated like Mrs. Gardner. Around her body lay 27 artificial pearls from her broken necklace.

Doreen Marshall had last been seen alive in the company of Group-Capt. Rupert Brooke (a namesake of the poet), whom she had met shortly before. She had had dinner with him at his hotel, then had demanded to be taken home. "I'll be back in a half hour," the young man said to the porter. "No, in a quarter hour," Doreen had snapped.

When he returned became a question. Instead of coming in the door, he used a ladder to get back to his hotel room. (He claimed later that he did this to play a joke on the porter.)

The Hunt: Three days after the discovery of Margery Gardner's body, Police Superintendent Thomas Barratt, who was in charge of the case, received a letter. The writer of the letter was Neville Heath, who explained that while he had indeed rented the room in which Margery Gardner had met her death, he had lent Margery the key that particular night. "She had met an acquaintance with whom she felt obliged to sleep," he explained. She had asked Heath to return later and spend the rest of the night with her. When he came back to the room, the letter said, he found her dead and realized that he "was in an invidious position." Therefore, he wrote that he was going to go into hiding under an assumed name. "I have the instrument with which Mrs. Gardner was beaten and am forwarding this to you today," he wrote. "You will find my finger-prints on it, but you should find others as well." Good to his word, Heath disappeared. The murder weapon never showed up.

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