A Look Back: “Railway Killer” Who Terrorized London Was Arrested

John Duffy [Metropolitan Police]

LONDON, ENGLAND — On November 7, 1985, London police arrested John Duffy, a martial arts expert, former railway carpenter — and rapist and serial killer.

Since 1982, women in London had been living in fear of a pair of rapists who were terrorizing the city. The crime spree began when a victim, known only as KJ, was raped by two men near Hampstead Heath railway station — and 18 more were attacked over the next year.

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After three victims were raped on the same night in 1985 in Hendon, West London Police set up an urgent investigation to try to find the perpetrators.

David Mulcahy [Metropolitan Police]

They nicknamed the investigation “Operation Hart.”

But soon, the rapists’ spree of terror would escalate even further.

On December 29, 1985, 19-year-old Alison Day was grabbed by two men, raped repeatedly, and strangled with a ligature before her body was sunk into the River Lea.

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Police further stepped up their search for the attacker — for whom the media had swapped the nickname the “Railway Rapist” to the “Railway Killer.” 

On April 17, 1986, a 15-year-old victim was raped, strangled and set on fire.

Investigators got a break in the case after the Alison Day murder investigation was taken over by Detective Superintendent Charles Farquhar, who was able to link the killing to previous “Railway” rapes.

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The case made history because it was the first investigation to use basic computers, as well as criminal profiling and an early version of HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System).

Police were focused in on suspect John Duffy, and when they searched his parents’ home, a rare type of string called “somyarn” was found — which linked him to the second murder victim. In addition, investigators believed that Duffy’s knowledge of traditional bow saws linked him to the unusual method of strangulation using a self-made tourniquet.

David Mulcahy was also questioned, due to his close friendship with Duffy, but was later released due to lack of evidence.

Duffy went on trial in February 1988 and was convicted of two murders and four rapes, and sentenced to a minimum tariff of 30 years by the judge. Following his conviction, Duffy told a forensic psychologist what the police knew already — that he had not attacked the women alone.

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But it was not until 1997 that he identified his accomplice as Mulcahy, who had been a close friend since childhood. Police then tracked Mulcahy for months, and used new DNA technology to link him to the rapes and murders. In 2000, Duffy appeared in court, where he claimed that Mulcahy was the instigator of the attacks and that it was him who had suggested that they turn to murder to increase their sexual stimulation.

Horrifying details emerged during the trial, including the fact that the men planned every detail of the murders, down to the tissues Duffy carried in a matchbox to wipe away and burn forensic evidence. They referred to the killings as “hunting parties” and often sang along to Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller” as they searched for victims — before tossing a coin to decide who should be first to rape before they killed the women.

Mulcahy was convicted of three murders and seven rapes and given three life sentences, with a 30-year recommendation. Duffy was convicted of 17 more rapes and received a further 12 years.

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Neither man is expected ever to be released from prison. Police believe that there may be many more victims out there.

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Main photo: John Duffy [Metropolitan Police]



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