With her steel-grey hair pinned to her head and covered by a plain-coloured scarf, small suspicious eyes peering at you from behind thick horn-rimmed glasses and her clipped manner of speaking, one could be forgiven for finding Mrs. Dorothy Evans rather forbidding. Louisa’s knees trembled uncontrollably when she was ushered into Dorothy Evans’s presence. Very much to Louisa’s surprise a kindly, warm smile broke out across the older woman’s face as she was invited to sit.
“Well, my dear, aren’t you just the prettiest little thing!” were the first words she heard uttered. Redness suffused her cheeks as she muttered ‘thank you’.
“And what brings you to Deschamps du Paris, child?”
Louisa, combining a mixture of half-truths, fantasy and fabrications, explained that she had recently arrived in London after the death of her parents and was seeking employment in order to support herself.
“I see,” the older woman said as though she really did see Louisa’s predicament, “that’s very interesting.”
“I’m a good worker,” Louisa volunteered, “and I will work very hard” she promised earnestly.
“I’m sure you are and I am equally as sure that you will do as you say.” Mrs. Evans said brusquely. “But why do you believe that we at Deschamps du Paris need your services, hmm?” she asked.
“Well…, I…, that is…. I don’t know. I am not sure that you do.” Louisa stumbled and stuttered, blushing furiously again.
“You’re at least honest, child. That stands you in good stead in my book.” Mrs Evans smiled, her pulled–back lips revealing small yellowed teeth and very pink gums. “So many of you young people come in to places like this and try to tell us older ones that you are the bees-knees and that the business will surely suffer without you to save the day.” A mirthless grunt escaped the older woman.
“Oh, I would never presume…” Louisa began.
“I know you wouldn’t, girl. We would not still be having this conversation if you had taken that tack.” Mrs Evans said firmly.
“Believe me you are only the latest in a very long line of young girls who have sat in that same chair and tried to bluff their way into working for Mr Deschamps. It has never worked for any of those silly girls and it would not have worked for you, child.” she added firmly, her eyes fixed on Louisa’s face.
Louisa resisted the urge to squirm in her seat under the intense scrutiny of the formidable woman in front of her.
“Yes, ma’am.” Louisa responded.
“Polite as well as honest!” Dorothy Evans laughed delightedly. “Miss Louisa Tavistock, I like you, child!” she exclaimed. “And, I am delighted to say, I actually do have a job for you if you’d like to hear about it?”
The tone at the end of the comment was jocular and teasing. Mrs Evans smiled, revealing her yellowed teeth once again.
“Well, child, are you going to speak?” she chided.
“Oh, yes, thank you ever so much!” Louisa gushed, leaning forward as though she was about to hug her questioner. “Yes, of course, I would very much like to hear about the job, thank you.” she enthused.
That momentous and life-changing day had been two years ago. Louisa had begun work as a model and dresser in the most respected of haute couture establishments in London the very next day and had not looked back since. Within days she was able to move out of the disgusting hovel that was her room at the MacAllister home, much to the disappointment of her avaricious landlady, and take up a room in a beautiful old Georgian house across town owned by two spinster sisters, Mavis and Maud Connolly.
A former music-hall singing and dancing double-act the Connolly sisters had invested their accumulated joint wealth into buying the house and renting its many spare rooms to young ladies of class and breeding or, as in Louisa Tavistock’s case, in respectable employment. A personal recommendation from the redoubtable Dorothy Evans sealed the deal and Louisa, with a lightness in her step and new warmth in her heart, took up residence within hours of meeting the two delightful elderly sisters. She was as happy living there today as she was the very day she had moved in.
Louisa had learned her role quickly and did it exceptionally well. Hers was the name on the lips of the fashionable and well-to-do young - - and not so young - - society ladies who paid handsomely to be in possession of the latest styles and designs from the leading fashion houses of Paris, Milan and other exotic locations. Clothes that Louisa would never be able to afford to wear fitted her slender yet womanly frame beautifully. Many a sale had been concluded on the back of how a new dress or jacket had looked on Louisa’s body. Even Madge, who was not necessarily Louisa’s biggest advocate, grudgingly admitted that the girl had brought something extra to the boutique.
If anybody had taken Louisa Tavistock aside in the summer of nineteen-twenty-three and asked her how she felt about her life she would have told the questioner that she was happy and content. Events from her past, though, were about to cast a shadow over the eighteen year old young woman’s happiness.
The news reports were shocking: the series of rapes and murders of nine young girls over the course of just three months made national headlines. Louisa shuddered as she read the accounts, fearing the worst. It had to be more than coincidental that those poor girls lived in and around the area where her uncle and her own would-be rapist, George Parsons, lived and worked. She was as sure of the guilt of the two men as she was of her own name. Her dilemma was what could she do about it?
The police would want tangible proof: Louisa had never told another soul about the horrors she had experienced at her uncle’s hands nor of the further horrors that were about to be inflicted upon her body by the pig, Parsons. Furthermore, she was a criminal herself: the money she had stolen, for whatever reasons she might need to give at some future point, did not absolve her of a criminal act. Would the police listen to her story and act upon it if they knew what she had done? Louisa was certain that they would not take her as seriously as they might if she told her story in person. Besides, she was not so sure that Parsons had not reported the theft, thus making Louisa herself a wanted person.
A shudder rippled through her slender frame and a she felt slightly nauseous all of a sudden. She folded the newspaper a laid it aside. Rising and walking on trembling legs she drew herself a glass of water from the tap in the kitchen and drank it down in one go. The water lay heavily in her stomach as she looked out of the bay window of her room. The green of the small open space usually helped to calm her troubled mind, but not today. It was that damn newspaper report!
Two of the victims had been aged under ten years of age. What sort of sick mind saw ten year old little girls as sex objects? When she was that age Louisa had very little idea about human anatomy, let alone the reproductive cycle. She blushed a little as she recalled her first menstrual cycle experience. She had been terrified that she was going to die. What must it have been like for those two little girls to have had their immature bodies invaded and abused so? They could not have had any knowledge of what was happening to them, surely? One of them had been so badly abused that she had lost her life along with her innocence. Two other young girls, aged thirteen and fourteen years, had also died at the hands of rapist killers. It was that which had made Louisa Tavistock so angry. She simply had to do something.
There were two other options open to her if she didn’t give voice to her suspicions in person: by way of a handwritten letter or maybe an anonymous telephone call. Of the two options, the latter was more attractive. There were a number of Police Call Boxes dotted around the city to make contacting the police as quick and easy as possible. Without giving herself time to ponder the matter any further Louisa located a police box some distance away from her lodgings. Other than running away from her aunt and uncle’s home, it was the most nerve-wracking thing she had ever done.
The voice on the other end of the telephone had an indifferent, uninterested tone until Louise mentioned the word ‘murder’. Suddenly the voice was very interested and attentive. Louisa had detailed her fears and suspicions about the potential involvement of her uncle and his friend, Parsons, in the vile crimes. When she was asked to explain why she had those suspicions her throat went dry and she found herself unable to speak for several moments. It was only the insistent enquiry “are you still there, miss” that allowed Louisa to speak again.
“Yes, I’m still here,” she said in a soft, low voice.
“Can you please tell me why you think these two…, er…, two gentlemen might be involved in these crimes, miss?”
Tears began to slide from her eyes and she began to shudder uncontrollably. This suddenly felt like the worst idea of her life.
“One of them did it to me!” she sobbed into the handset. “He raped me!”
“Miss? Do you need help? Can I get someone to help you?” the suddenly solicitous and caring voice said.
“No, thank you.” Louisa managed “I have to go now.” she added hurriedly. She could hear the tinny voice speaking unintelligibly as she slammed the heavy handset back into its cradle.
She fought the urge to flee by forcing herself to take several deep breaths before turning and heading back to the sanctuary of her room. Once back home she locked her door and threw herself upon her bed and allowed herself to cry through the pain and humiliation and agony of the secret she had kept to herself for all those years.
Louisa felt guilt, too: if she had been able to find the courage to speak out when she was being abused by her uncle and if she had not run away from George Parsons maybe those other little girls would not have been harmed. She knew her thinking was irrational and that her uncle would have tired of her eventually. She was sensible enough to realise that it was unlikely that she was the first young girl he had abused and that it was equally as unlikely that she would have been the last. That he had invited a partner in the shape of the vile George Parsons into his sick pastime served to strengthen her beliefs and suspicions about the pair of them. She stemmed her tears and bolstered her dented self-image with the thought that, with God’s will and grace, she had helped to bring about their sick and evil reign.
To be continued...