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A look at Edgware’s notorious ‘rubbish dump murder’ of 1931

In 2024, murder is thankfully rare in our borough – but this wasn’t always the case and, in 1931, a particularly grisly crime occurred in Edgware; a crime which became known as the Edgware Rubbish Dump Murder.

Steam trains and stench

In 1931, a railway line ran between Mill Hill and Elstree and, the sides of this train line was known locally as Scratchwood Sidings; an area which was, essentially, a rubbish dump for refuse collected from train stations, coal yards and other railway buildings.

Unfortunately for local residents, the rubbish would form a kind of compost which would often be smouldering and filling the air with a foul stench.

A grisly find

On the 30th of May 1931, an out of work labourer by the name of Michael McGlade was searching Scratchwood Sidings for wood for his fire when he got more than he bargained for.

As he searched the tip, he spotted what would turn out to be a blackened hand with clenched fingers. On further investigation, he could just about make out the shape of a man’s body and he quickly ran from the area in order to alert the police to his find.

On inspection by the local Constable, PC William Taylor, it was discovered that the corpse’s right arm and both feet had been completely burned away but the face was intact, albeit covered with a piece of sack cloth. The policeman also found a pair of glasses and a tobacco tin close to the body.

The heart of the matter

To begin with, the authorities assumed that the body was that of a homeless man who had come to a tragic end from natural causes however, this changed when it was revealed that the man’s jaw and nose were broken – with the coroner stating that the injuries may have been caused by ‘kicks from a booted foot’.

Although the facial injuries prevented identification, the police gained a clue when they saw that the corpse sported a tattoo of a red heart pierced by a sword.

The investigation led police to an area of rough shacks known as ‘the huts’ where homeless men made their camp and they began to interview the men that they found there.

Although most would not speak due to a deep distrust of the authorities, one man who went by the name of John Armstrong told the police that he was woken one night by some strange sounds and when he looked outside, he saw two men known as Tiggy and Moosh assaulting another shack dweller by the name of Pigsticker.

The men were arrested in the dead of night and, although they refused to speak, a bloodied axe in one of their huts sealed their fate. At trial, both were found guilty and were sentenced to death.

The dead man, known as Pigsticker, was eventually identified as 45-year-old Herbert William Ayres of Watford, whose brother described him as a petty criminal but otherwise a decent hard working cheerful man.

The two guilty men were hanged at Pentonville Prison on the 5th August that year.