In the 1980’s, the West London district of Notting Hill was just beginning its transformation from a rundown area to the fashionable, affluent area it is now known as, immortalised in the very successful 1999 film of the same name. It has been forever associated with art and “alternative” cultures since it was first established in the 1820’s, but beginning in 1982, Notting Hill found itself having the unsavoury distinction of being the hunting ground of a vicious and prolific sex attacker, a man who became known as the Notting Hill Rapist.
Late at night on 12 August 1982, a female solicitor who had been out with friends for the evening arrived home to the house she lived alone in, in Clarendon Road. She let herself in through her front door, and turned on the light. It didn’t work. Before she could do anything, she was grabbed by the throat from behind and was warned by a man’s rough sounding voice not to scream. The woman was dragged further down the hallway, and her attacker began to indecently assault her. Terrified but with a survival instinct kicking in, she kicked the man as hard as she could between the legs. In pain, the would be attacker swore at her then fled from the premises.
Detectives investigating the incident believed that the most likely scenario was that the woman had arrived home and had interrupted a burglar, a theory given credence due to the fact that Clarendon Road is one of the wealthier streets in the district. But nothing had been stolen, and would a burglar really commit an opportunistic sexual assault instead? It had been too dark for the victim to be able to give any sort of description, and routine enquiries were made but the trail went nowhere.
Then in November, a second incident made police consider the fact that the incident in August wasn’t just a burglary gone wrong. On Wednesday 10 November, a 45-year-old woman was getting ready for bed in her home on Elgin Crescent – which was just 100 yards away from the scene of the August attack and another up-market area. As she was locking up, a masked intruder jumped at her from the darkness of her kitchen. Restraining the terrified woman at knifepoint, the intruder marched her through her house and pushed her onto her bed. He then gagged her and attempted to rape her, but inexplicably stopped after a brief struggle and fled. Again, the frightened woman wasn’t able to give any sort of description; apart from it was a stocky male, strong, and who wore a black mask that she thought was a balaclava.
A month later, on 13 December, yet another incident forced police to conclude that they had a serial sex attacker at large. A television researcher who lived just a few doors away from the second victim, in Elgin Crescent, was asleep in bed after having had an early night due to illness. It was around midnight when she was awoken by a masked man who was attempting to rape her, and after committing a serious assault upon her, the masked attacker fled. Again, no description was available, but in this instance, the intruder had taken money and bizarrely, two knives had been taken also. One of them was a very unique letter opener in the form of a mini Samurai sword. Two days later, the knives were to be found in a bizarre incident.
The intruder had returned to the scene of the first attack, to the first victim. She had returned home to find that her attacker had been back to her flat, had ransacked it, and performed a bizarre ritual with an oversized teddy bear that the woman had in her bedroom. The stuffed animal had been bound and gagged with strips of a bed sheet and left in a prominent position on her bed. Two knives had been left placed upon her pillow – one of these was the letter opener that had been taken in the attack two days before. That was enough for the frightened woman, and she moved house.
An undercover team was formed to try to catch the attacker – but police did not have much to go on. They believed he was local to the area and knew it well, and that he was at the very least an experienced burglar, due to the expertise that the man had shown in managing to enter his victim’s homes silently and efficiently. What they did not know, was why this burglar had now become a serial sex offender also. Whilst a check on known burglars local to the Notting Hill area began, undercover teams staked out the area at night-time, and an increased police presence hit the streets.
Despite these efforts, the attacker struck again just two weeks later. In the most vicious attack so far, a Middle Eastern woman was attacked in her flat in nearby Ladbroke Grove. Like the first victim, she was ambushed as she came home by the attacker, who lay in wait for her. She was viciously beaten and had a sharp knife forced into her mouth when she struggled, with her attacker threatening to mutilate and kill her constantly throughout the assault. The victim was stripped, gagged and bound with bath towels, and then had an obscene sex act performed upon her. Then the attacker fled. This was the last attack for three months.
The attacks had been prominent and regular, and with a gap of so long, detectives hunting the attacker considered that he may have gone to ground. Perhaps he had been imprisoned for another crime, perhaps he had moved, and perhaps he had even died. Their fears that the attacker had not gone away were realised when on 22 April 1983, the attacker returned with a vengeance. In chilling echoes of the first and fourth attacks, a 22-year-old woman was ambushed in her flat on Lansdowne Road when she returned from a night out. This time, the attacker committed a full rape for the first time. Press who had been following the attacks christened the attacker “The Notting Hill Rapist”. Women in the area now lived in mortal fear, and security firms did a thriving trade in secure door locks and burglar alarms. But after the fifth attack, the attacks again stopped.
But the search for the rapist continued, and detectives looked at what they knew about the man they were hunting. He was stocky and strong, and sounded a native Londoner. He usually wore a dark track suit and training shoes, and was masked in a balaclava. He wasn’t afraid to use violence, and was sexually perverted. Although the man they were hunting was almost certainly an experienced local burglar, he was not forensically aware. Semen samples had been taken from the rapist victims, and although DNA testing was on the near horizon, it wasn’t available at that time. But a broad comparison of matching blood groups could be made, and as suspects and local burglars were questioned and interviewed, some who fitted the general description of what detectives had to go on were asked to give blood samples. This allowed those who didn’t match the rapist’s blood group, identified as group “zero (0)” to be eliminated from the enquiry. More and more months passed with no attacks, and by January 1984, the enquiry was wound down. It was possible that the rapist was dead or had moved away, but detectives believed that the most likely reason for the cessation in attacks was that the rapist had been imprisoned for another crime.
There were no further attacks for more than three years – then in May 1987, the Notting Hill Rapist returned.
If the attacks in 1982 and 83 were distant in the memories of Notting Hill residents, they were reminded in the most horrific fashion on 04 May 1987. Like the MO in the attacks from years before, a solicitor was attacked as she returned home to her Lansdowne Road flat – where the last attack had taken place years before. The woman tried to halt the attack by saying that she had the AIDS virus, but chillingly, her attacker said:
“I have too, I’ll take the chance”.
Holding her at knifepoint, the rapist stripped his victim, tied and gagged her, then brutally raped her. As with the other attacks, there wasn’t much of a description – stocky, strong, violent, London accent. Nothing appeared to have been taken from the flat – and police did find one vital clue that they could add to the profile of the rapist. They managed to glean an imprint of a size 9 training shoe from a work surface in the flat, underneath a window where the rapist had entered through.
The rapist struck next on 28 July 1987, in his favoured hunting ground of Elgin Crescent. A 34-year-old woman had just ended her relationship with her boyfriend, and after a heated row had asked him to leave. Minutes after he had left, the rapist burst into her home and savagely attacked her. He threatened her with a knife in his now trademark pattern, and then tied her up with scarves and a leather belt. As he was raping her, and between threats of violence, the rapist asked her if the reason she had finished with her boyfriend is because he wasn’t very good at sex. He had been listening at a rear window the whole time.
By this time, Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Hutchison was in charge of the hunt for the Notting Hill Rapist, and decided to adopt a strategy of posting plain clothes officers at strategic positions in gardens and parks around the Elgin Crescent/Lansdowne Road areas. It was believed that the rapist was a burglar and prowler local to the area who would spend his nights when not attacking, prowling about and spying on women. It was hoped that a plain clothes unit would be in the right place at the right time – and be able to catch their man. This strategy almost worked twice.
Perhaps the increased police presence had scared the rapist off, as there had been another lull in attacks, but In December 1987, a resident of flats near Lansdowne Road saw a man crouching in the shrubbery at the rear of the block. The alarm was raised, and a nearby plain clothes policeman rushed into the communal gardens and caught the prowler making a run for it. As the man scaled a wall, the pursuing officer managed to grab hold of his leg – but the man broke free and managed to escape, running through gardens and across a children’s play area. Two months later, on 16 February 1988, the same man was again disturbed at midnight in gardens at the rear of Ladbroke Crescent, but again managed to avoid the police blanket and escape.
Many high-profile manhunts have been resolved not through brilliant detective work, but through the shrewd hunches or opportunism of beat constables. A notable example is the capture of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper; or the arrest of John Reginald Halliday Christie when he was being sought over the discovery of bodies at 10 Rillington Place. The Notting Hill Rapist was to be brought to justice due to a hunch of a beat constable, PC Graham Hamilton.
PC Hamilton’s beat area had for many years been the Notting Hill area, and he knew most of the local criminal fraternity through previous dealings. He had a hunch that the rapist detectives were searching for was a 37-year-old local petty housebreaker and violent thug named Tony Maclean, who lived a flat on the Clarendon estate. The Clarendon estate was just a few hundred yards from the scenes of the sex attacks, and Maclean matched the general description given by the victims. He was a strong fitness fanatic, keen on bodybuilding and weight training, and was prone to violence – having several convictions. Also, Maclean’s timeline seemed to fit around the sex attacks. When the attacks had ceased in 1983, it corresponded exactly with a prison sentence of four years that Maclean had started for a brutal attack on a youth with a baseball bat. He had been freed in 1987 – around the time that the attacks began again. Further checks revealed that Maclean had been interviewed as a matter of routine by detectives in 1983, and had voluntarily provided a blood sample. PC Hamilton decided to voice his suspicions to DCS Hutchison.
It was known that the rapist’s blood was in the “zero (0)” secretor category – and it was here that the theory of Maclean as a suspect fell down. When his blood group was checked, the computer screen showed that he was an “O” secretor, an entirely different blood from the Notting Hill Rapist. Furthermore, Home Office files showed Maclean as being released from prison in June 1987 – making it impossible for him to have attacked a woman in May 1987. Maclean was seemingly in the clear. This did not sit quite right with PC Hamilton, who felt sure of his suspicions and would not let the matter drop. Deciding to take Maclean in for further questioning, PC Hamilton called at his flat but Maclean was not home, so the officer left him a note asking him to attend Notting Hill police station. Although under no obligation, Maclean did attend the police station a few days later, in February 1988.
During the interview, Maclean answered everything put to him in a cocky manner and denied everything, even going so far as to show PC Hamilton his penis to prove that he couldn’t be a rapist. Maclean’s penis was badly scarred from a childhood accident after he fell onto broken glass, and as he showed it to PC Hamilton, he exclaimed:
“This is why I ain’t no rapist”.
Despite this, and despite what the computers said, PC Hamilton was more convinced than ever that the man sat across from him was the Notting Hill Rapist. At the cessation of the interview and before leaving, Maclean provided yet another blood sample.
It was a few days later that PC Hamilton got confirmation that his suspicions weren’t unfounded. Forensic examiners contacted him and informed him that the sample Maclean had provided showed he was a “zero (0)” secretor – which matched the rapist. PC Hamilton telephoned and asked them to double-check to confirm, which they did – Maclean was a “zero (0)” secretor. What had happened was as follows: The computer operator when entering details of Maclean’s blood onto the computer had mistakenly typed the letter “O” instead of a “zero (0)”. A simple typing error had had massive consequences. A check with the Home Office to confirm Maclean’s prison release dates revealed yet another clerical error – Maclean had actually been released in January 1987, but a typist had typed JUN instead of JAN. Bolstered by this, a warrant was issued, and Tony Maclean was arrested at his home on 01 March 1988.
Maclean appeared at the Old Bailey in April 1989 charged with a string of offences, totalling three rapes, two attempted rapes, burglary with intent to rape, and robbery. He pleaded not guilty to all counts, meaning that the victims would be forced to undergo cross-examination. The jury heard emotional and sickening accounts from several of the women who had been attacked, and their powerful testimonies left a marked impression on the jury. But it was the miracles of forensic science that provided the most powerful evidence. By 1989, DNA testing was accepted as conclusive evidence by British courts, and Professor Alec Jeffries himself, known as the man who had pioneered and perfected the art of DNA Profiling, testified at Maclean’s trial. He testified that Maclean’s blood sample showed an identical match with semen taken from his victims – and that the chances of the semen belonging to anyone but Maclean were in the region of three million to one.
Maclean was found guilty on all counts, and remained impassive and emotionless when he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, plus a further 12 years for attempted rape, indecent assaults, and burglary. City of London Recorder Sir James Miskin, QC, told him:
“You are a total menace to women, and these three rapes were absolutely foul”.
Following Maclean’s conviction, the two of his victim’s who had testified in court hugged each other, weeping. DCS Hutchison, who led the hunt for him, said:
“I’m absolutely delighted this sex maniac has been taken off the streets. While casing places, he saw the girls and realised how easy it would be for him to rape them. When we kept watch, we found girls undressing in front of their windows. Maclean would have seen the same and he was tempted”
The full M.O of Maclean’s crimes was established at his trial. A fitness fanatic, he would go out jogging and run the half mile from his flat to his hunting grounds, at first casing basement and ground floor properties to burgle, but then turning to rape. The below map shows the proximity of Maclean’s home and the site of the attacks:
He would sometimes watch a property for days at a time and see women undressing. When he had learned his intended victim’s routine, he would return days later and break in just before the victim was due home. He would then unscrew the hall light, and wait in the darkness for his victim to come home. Gloved, masked and always armed with a knife and strips of cloth to gag and restrain the victim, Maclean would then rape or indecently assault them, and then flee into the local area he knew intimately.
Psychologists claim that Maclean’s desire to rape stemmed from feelings of sexual inadequacy – even though he was a married father of two children. It transpired that Maclean had found sexual relationships with women difficult throughout his life due to the damage to his penis caused in his childhood accident. In an attempt to prove his masculinity, more to himself than anyone, Maclean took up bodybuilding and weight training – a common trait amongst sex killers and rapists. Maclean had targeted professional, wealthy women because in his view, they were out of his league and represented a lifestyle that he could never hope to be a part of. Hatred and jealousy drove him to attack and rape. His attacks were brutal and escalated in this, and whilst the physical harm varied, the psychological cruelty and terror that he inflicted upon his victims was always paramount. Police were in no doubt that Maclean would have gravitated to murder if he hadn’t been stopped when he was.
“Maclean was a twisted pervert who enjoyed terrorising and humiliating young women. He picked on well to do professional types because they made him feel inferior. He is a very dangerous man. I am sure that if we had not caught him when we did, he would have moved on to murder in a very short space of time” – Detective Chief Superintendent James Hutchison
Much praise was heaped upon PC Hamilton for his pursuit of Maclean, and the hunch that he wouldn’t give up on. If not for his hunch, and even more so for following this said hunch in the face of what may have seemed conflicting evidence, a dangerous rapist may still have been stalking the streets to this day – he might even have become a dangerous killer.
The True Crime Enthusiast