Image via Unsplash.com- Marek Piwnicki

How The Halifax Slasher Terrorized A Community With Violence But Actually Never Existed

Residents of an English community were repeadtly attached by a brutal criminal, but it turned out he wasn’t real

Andrew Martin
3 min readFeb 19, 2024

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Few things are as terrifying when a community realizes that they are being brutalized by a relentless criminal. When violence is involved, that only increases the fear and anxiety. For two weeks in 1938, a British city suffered ongoing vicious attacks on its residents by someone they named the Halifax Slasher, only to discover that he never actually existed.

In November, 1938, the tranquility of Halifax, England was shattered by a wave of fear and paranoia sparked by a series of savage attacks. The alleged perpetrator of the incidents, which predominantly targeted women, was dubbed the Halifax Slasher. He was vividly described by witnesses to the Daily Mirror:

“Flat, boxer-like face… Few teeth. Wearing a dirty-coloured raincoat and a grey trilby… Moving in stockinged feet… Black teeth… Wears no hat… Has piercing eyes.”

The hysteria began when Mary Gledhill and Gertrude Watts reported being violently assaulted by a man with bright buckles on his shoes, who was wielding a mallet. Subsequent accounts of attacks, usually involving a razor or knife, only fueled the public panic. Residents organized vigilante groups and neighborhood watches, hoping to capture the madman who had targeted their community. Over the course of two weeks, the reports of victims of the Slasher grew:

It was said that the Slasher may have had as many as 13 victims, as some assaults that may have been the responsibility of others were attributed to him.

The vigilante groups proved to be more trouble than help, mistakenly chasing and beating up innocent individuals suspected of being the Halifax Slasher. Many were scared to venture outside their homes, so businesses stagnated, and the town descended into uncertainty as reports of the violence spread.

The city had actually experienced similar attacks in the past. In 1927, James Leonard was caught slashing women’s clothing with a knife. However, he was able to be quickly ruled out of being involved in the 1938 attacks because…

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.