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Donald Hume: The Setty Case

Crime Files
Donald Hume: The Setty Case

One man's vendetta against the world

When the torso of wealthy businessman Stanley Setty appeared in the Essex marshes outside London in 1949, police had a difficult case to crack. They eventually arrested Donald Hume, a business associate of Setty, but all they could prove was that Hume had dumped the body - they couldn't prove he had committed the murder. Hume was sentenced to twelve years imprisonment for being an accessory to murder. On his release in 1958 Hume admitted that he had killed Setty during an argument at his apartment, but now he was free to commit further evil - he was soon back in prison after killing a taxi driver in Switzerland.

In his book ‘Hume: Portrait of a Double Murderer’ author John Williams described Hume’s pathological mind as manifested through his angry facial expressions.‘His eyes in moments of rage, stare out with a frozen, unblinking malevolence.

If expression means anything, the eyes of Donald Hume are in truth the eyes of a killer’.

Donald Hume’s early life had been fraught with emotional tension and trauma. His experiences led him, by his own admittance in his book ‘Confession’ written while he was serving behind bars, to become a one-man vendetta against the world.

'I was born with a chip on my shoulder' he confessed and this chip had grown from the moment he was abandoned at an orphanage by his mother. According to Hume his bugbear with society grew from being illegitimate, deprived of a home and a mother’s love, denied not only by her but also by other members of his family.

Hume was the illegitimate son of a school mistress, born in Swanage in December, 1919. He was shortly abandoned by his mother to the West Country orphanage, which he loathed, particularly the three old ladies who ran it.

The place was bleak and forbidding, but worse it was also lacking in any compassion for the children who at that particular time were looked upon as the product of sin and treated accordingly. The proprietors even kept a parrot that shouted out the word ‘bastard’ just to remind the young residents of their lowly position in life.

Life in the orphanage was tough and devoid of the usual comforts expected in a family home. Often eight children would sleep in an iron bed and food was sparse. Punishments included being locked in a filthy, dank cellar for hours on end but more disturbing was the creation by the proprietors of an eerie character known as the ‘old green gypsy’.

A member of staff would dress up in green garb and appear as a visitation to scare the children. The ‘green gypsy’ also carried a green walking stick that rattled as the amateur actor in drag performed their macabre act to scare the wits out of the young residents.

One day after been locked in the cellar with a young girl for a misdemeanour, the two youngsters became terrified when they believed they were about to be visited by the Green Gypsy. But Hume recognised the feet under the Green Gypsy’s dress as belonging to a member of staff and in a fit of anger at being conned by a cruel myth, chased the member of staff with an axe. He was then only seven years old.

Finally, Hume experienced some youthful happiness when he was adopted by his grandmother and taken away from the home. But any sense of security was short-lived as he was soon sent to live with his mother’s sister, Aunt Doodie who was headmistress of a small Hampshire village school.

Far from being loving, Aunt Doodie turned out to be as cold and unforgiving as the proprietors of the orphanage. Doodie also had two daughters, Peggy and Betty and while the girls offered opportunities for Hume to play and feel involved in some kind of family life for the most part he was excluded from social occasions. The situation began to reflect a ‘Cinderella’ scenario with Doodie, her husband and the girls going off on holiday while leaving the young Hume at home to look after the house and chickens. On one occasion Donald was so miffed at being left out of a holiday excursion that he took the house shotgun and blasted Doodie’s favourite cockerel, before throwing it into the cesspool. When Aunt Doodie returned the boy made out that the poor creature had simply drowned.

Hume’s eventual distrust of human nature and descent into becoming a fully paid up member of the misanthrope society, occurred when he discovered from the mouth of the family maid, that Doodie was in fact his real mother and not his Aunt.

This revelation, according to Hume himself, was the catalyst to make him bear a grudge against society even more. His feelings of rejection and being betrayed were exacerbated by this disturbing truth. Together with the fact that Aunt Doodie prevented Hume from attending Grammar school, sending him instead to work in a kitchen, increased his hatred for her and desire to escape. Aunt Doodie, who taught religion and saw herself as a good Christian, kept up the pretence that she was still his Aunt.

Originally Hume planned to get a job on the cruise liners, but abandoned this idea when, after hitching a lift to Hammersmith, he was befriended by a lorry driver who helped him find accommodation and a manual job. But first Hume made his way to Somerset House where he was determined to find out the truth about his parentage. The brutal truth was recorded for him to see with his own eyes on his birth certificate. Aunt Doodie was indeed his mother but there was only a blank where the father’s name should have been written.

The man who had befriended Hume later wrote a letter to Aunt Doodie to inform her where Donald was and if she required him to go back home. She replied that she did not. Shortly afterwards Hume wrote her a letter detailing without restraint what he thought about her.

‘I was vomiting the vindictiveness of my soul in words’ he later recalled in ‘Confession’. This was to be the last time Hume ever contacted his mother again.

From that moment on Donald Hume, at barely fifteen, vowed to make life dance his tune. Over the next twenty years he would become involved in everything from joining the Communist party to taking up joy riding, petty theft and eventually graduating to fraud and criminal activity that would bring about quick riches in any way he could.

Strangely, his involvement with anti fascist organisations and in particular attending rallies to fight Oswald Mosley in the streets in 1936, was perhaps motivated by a strong desire to get involved in physical scraps and attack the police, rather than because he held socialist ideals and principles.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the army, not out of loyalty to his country, which he felt had given him nothing , but out of the prospect of excitement that he believed the war would bring him. His criminal activities involved counterfeit booze making to supply to nightclubs and bars in London which suffered from a shortage of liquor. Hume sold ‘Finlinson’s Old English Gin’ which was basically surgical spirits laced with a small amount of gin. He even bought an RAF uniform and passed himself off as pilot officer Dan Hume, DFM.

Having peddled bootleg gin, he was now selling a bogus personality, passing off forged cheques at RAF stations until he was finally rumbled. His con trick activities often meant he socialised in West End and Soho bars where he would make deals. It was in the Hollywood bar that he first encountered the physically imposing Stanley Setty with his flash suits and flamboyant ties. The forty-six year old car dealer had previously done business with Hume when the latter bought a van from him.

By this time Hume, having actually set up a legitimate electrician’s business on Finchley Rd, in Golders Green, north London, was now married with a child on the way. He was desperate to move on to bigger things, make money and also have adventure. Both men realised that they could be useful to each other.

Hume was intrigued by Setty’s blatant appearance of wealth and prosperity. He could see that the shady car dealer had already arrived at the coveted goal of unlimited easy money; something that himself was striving to reach.

Both men sized each other up and Setty realised that Hume could be useful in his operations.

Thus, Hume began to lead a double life. On one side he had the legitimate electrician’s business and on the other he was working for Setty, basically as his dogsbody, undertaking the role of stealing suitable cars to match log-books that Setty possessed from wrecked cars. The substituted cars would then be re-sprayed and touched up.

Hume’s ability to fly a plane was also useful for aerial smuggling – anything from contraband to illegal aliens. There was a flourishing black market and Hume became known as the ‘Flying Smuggler’. This sideline and his role stealing cars and forging petrol coupons for Setty was his main means of making money. He was indifferent to the idea of earning a living honestly. His electrician’s trade it appeared was merely a temporary blip in his continuing fight against society.

The Trial

The French Connection

Hume’s trial took place on the 18 January 1950 at the Old Bailey. Hume stuck to his story that he had not seen Setty on the day of his murder. He also maintained that the bloodstains had come about because of the parcels having been in his flat. It was left to the jury to make up its own mind on this and the story Hume stuck to that he had carried out an errand for three smugglers.

The defence managed to find a witness who admitted that had worked in Paris with a gang of car smugglers. His description of the men and some of the names seemed to correlate to Hume’s story. The jury were left to ponder whether the gang really existed and that Hume had been an unwilling accomplice.

The Judge, Mr Justice Sellers addressed the jury and laid out the various facts and assumptions they had to make. Could Hume’s story about the three men delivering parcels containing Setty’s body parts be true, especially when the men had no idea when Hume’s wife and child would be at home? Hume also claimed that one of the men pointed a gun at him, but why asked the judge would these men trust someone they had only met a few days before? Finally, he reminded the jury that if there was any doubt in the jurors’ minds about what happened then they were compelled to return a verdict of not guilty.

On the 20 January, 1950, the jury retired at noon after the judge’s last words. It took less than three hours for an astonishing verdict to be announced; that they all failed to agree. Hume himself was baffled and elated that he had not heard the word ‘guilty’ for he knew he was now not to hang.

After twelve more jury members were sworn in, the one indictment of which Hume was found guilty was of being an accessory after the fact to murder. When Hume was asked if pleaded ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ to this charge the canny murderer replied in the affirmative.

Hume was sentenced to just twelve years in prison.

The Arrest

Following the Fivers

It wasn’t long before various people were looking for Stanley Setty, including his sister and brother-in-law who reported him missing. The papers printed stories with headings such as ‘Dealer With 200 Fivers Vanishes’ inferring that Setty had been killed because of the £1000 he had on him.

Setty’s car was fingerprinted, but Hume felt confident that with so many questions relating to the dead man’s background and lifestyle the police would be on a wild goose chase for a long time.

On the 8 October 1949, the papers revealed that Scotland Yard had issued the numbers of Setty’s £5 notes that he had received from the bank on the morning of his death. Some of this money had been deposited by Hume into his own bank account and also paid taxi cabs while travelling from London to Elstree Air Field. Hume now became worried that his blind greed, all for a miserly £100 could now lead a trail to him.

The police also recovered a notebook belonging to Setty which detailed all of his business associates. Then Hume’s nightmare came true when the torso finally turned up on the Essex mudflats on Friday, 21 October 1949. The first witness to come forward was a taxi driver who had been given a £5 with the published serial numbers. He explained that he had taken a customer from Southend Airport to Finchley Road.

After further investigations which involved all airfields in the area it did not take long before the police discovered that Hume had hired a plane and was also an associate of Setty. They knocked on Hume’s door at 7.30 am on Thursday 27 October 1949.

Detectives were posted at both the front and back of the flat. Chief Inspector Jamieson and Superintendent MacDougall interrogated Hume at the Albany Street Police Station, although he kept up a convincing plea that he had nothing to do with the murder. He denied that he owned a car which appeared futile when he was then asked about the ‘parcels’ he took on board the hired plane.

Realising that petty lies were not going to get him off the hook, Hume concocted an elaborate story about how he had been offered £150 by three shady smugglers who he only knew as Mac, Greeny and The Boy. The men asked him to drop off the parcels by plane into the sea. Hume made out that he was desperate for the money and only later realised that the situation was very suspect. Despite his convincing act the officers did not believe him. After forensics had swept his Finchley Road flat they discovered bloodstains under the floorboards.

The Crimes

Man's best friend

In the summer of 1949, Hume was happier than he had ever been. Cynthia, his wife, gave birth to a little girl and, along with a respectable image and apartment, he had a legitimate business. His ego on the other hand was inflated by a deluded belief that he was part of the ‘gangster’ world; a world concocted from the many gangster movies he had gorged himself on week after week in the cinema.

Setty, himself a former jailbird imprisoned under Debtors and Bankruptcy charges, was desperate to get back into business, despite the authorities impeding his attempts. Hume had never liked Setty, but felt compelled to work for him in order to enhance his own wealth prospects. Why Hume disliked Setty so much is not known.

Whatever the reason, the worse thing Setty could have done was strike out at the one thing for which Hume had unconditional love, his dog Tony.

Hume’s terrier accidentally ruined a re-spray job on one of Setty’s stolen cars which prompted Setty to kick the dog in a fit of rage. For Hume, that one act of aggression towards his darling pet caused the brittle veneer of his friendliness towards Setty to disappear. His suppressed resentments gave way to hatred for something that most sane men would have forgotten in minutes. By the time he met up with Setty again in his Finchley Road flat he was ready to strike out at the slightest provocation.

On Tuesday 4 October 1949, Stanley Setty was carrying out his usual business transactions at Warren Street in central London. He sold a new Wolseley Twelve saloon to a dealer for £1000. The buyer gave Setty a cheque which later that day was cashed at a bank for two hundred £5 notes.

Later during the day Setty stopped off at Hume’s flat to talk business. He usually let himself in. By the time Hume arrived home and saw Setty’s car parked outside he was already building up anger.

It is not known exactly what words were exchanged between the two men, only that a heated argument developed into a physical fight. According to Hume’s later confession he picked up one of his wartime souvenirs, a German SS dagger and aimed it at Setty in defence.

Setty called Hume’s bluff and swiped at him. During a violent grapple Setty fell to the floor where Hume slashed repeatedly at his chest. As Setty fought back by trying to break Hume’s neck, he was stabbed in the chest and legs. Hume then lay back and observed Setty dying.

“I watched the life run from him like water down a drain” he recalled in his newspaper memoirs. “I had to hurt him. This man who had kicked my dog.”

Shortly afterwards, Hume dragged Setty’s 13 stone body through the flat to the end kitchen where he hid it in the coal cupboard. He then started to clean up the apartment trying to remove bloodstains, which had seeped into the carpet and into the floorboards. At one point, realising that he had to dispose of Setty’s car, Hume had to retrieve car keys from the dead man’s jacket. He then drove Setty’s car down Finchley Rd past Swiss Cottage and eventually to Setty’s own lock up at Cambridge Terrace Mews. He was back home at around 10.45 pm where he pondered on whether he should go to the police. It dawned on him that he might have got away with the perfect murder.

Hume thought hard about how he could get the large body out of the flat and dispose of it without been seen. He finally came up with the idea of dismembering the corpse, parcelling body parts and dropping them in the sea by plane.

The next day, 5 October 1949, Hume began work on his macabre plan in the early hours. He first took the stained carpet to the next-door dry-cleaners and instructed them to dye it dark green. While Cynthia and the baby were having breakfast, Hume touched up bare patches on the floor with varnish. There were still stains on the sofa that troubled Hume but his main worry was to get the body dismembered and out of the flat while Cynthia was away.

Hume had a bank appointment that morning at 10am and, having pocketed some of the money he found on Setty’s body, he decided to deposit it in order to pay off an overdraft. Most of the £1000 was bloodstained but Hume was able to retrieve £100 of undamaged notes for himself.

When Cynthia left the flat with the baby for an appointment at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Hume had only ninety minutes in which to dismember the body in the flat before the cleaning lady arrived.

The grisly operation was easier than Hume had imagined.

“I felt no squeamishness or horror at what I was about to do”, he recalled as he began dismembering the body using a linoleum knife to cut to the bone and then a hacksaw.He dismembered the legs first and packaged them up into a parcel using carpet felt. It was only Setty’s staring eyes that upset Hume, which he then covered as he continued to cut up the body. It took several strokes to remove the head which he placed in a box that contained baked beans. He also added pieces of brick and rubble to make the parcels heavy. The torso was the most problematic and after an abortive attempt to put it in a cabin trunk he pushed it back into the coal cupboard. The one thing that broke his heart was having to burn the damaged £900.

At 2.30 pm Hume left the flat with two packages, the legs under one arm and the box with the head in it. He got into a hired car along with Tony his loyal dog, and sped towards Elstree Air field where a light blue Austin aircraft was waiting. It was 3 pm by the time he put the gruesome parcels in the plane and set off for Southend, despite his real destination being the English Channel.

Ninety minutes later he could see the French coast. He first threw out the SS dagger and tools before dumping the parcels which sank out of sight. Later he arrived at Southend airfield and made sure he was seen by as many people he could. It was 8.30pm by the time he got back to his London flat.However, the torso deeply troubled him. All the time whilst chatting with Cynthia and trying to keep up the pretence of everyday life, the grisly reminder of the murder lay only a few feet away, hidden from view.

The following morning Hume arranged for a decorator to come to the flat. The unsuspecting man also helped Hume carry the torso, which was heavily packed with lead weights, out of the flat and into Hume’s car. It had even gurgled while the two men carried it to the vehicle, but Hume made a convincing excuse for its strange sounds. Amazingly, while Hume went back to the flat to clean the coal cupboard he left the torso in the car for an hour.

When Hume arrived at the Elstree airport a friendly engineer helped him carry the torso onto the plane. Together with his trusty canine companion, Hume set off again for the English Channel. Only this time the quest to dump the evidence was not so easy. At first the torso, which rested in the back seat, would not budge when he tried to push it out through the door.

Hume even had to hold the joystick between his legs as he wrestled with the body part. After this failed, he tilted the small plane at an angle in order to try and get the torso to slide and smash through the door. Finally, after a great deal of drama that nearly involved the dog falling out of the plane, the torso released itself from its position and fell from the aircraft. Moments later Hume was shocked to see the weights and blanket that had covered the body had got caught on a hook in the cabin. Realising that the torso had fallen out just covered in carpet felt, he knew it was unlikely to sink. He eventually managed to break the weights free leaving them and the carpet to drop into the sea.

Hume was now faced with the worse case scenario, a body that would float. He could see the torso bobbing in the water and realised he had no choice but to return back to land and hope somehow that it wouldn’t turn up on the coastline. The small speck he could still see bobbing in the water was evidence that could hang him.