The London Underground Serial Killer: Separating Truth From Urban Legend

By Scott Wood Last edited 18 months ago
The London Underground Serial Killer: Separating Truth From Urban Legend
End of the line. Photo by Simon Wicks from the Londonist Flickr pool.

There have been many reports of a serial killer operating on the London Underground in the 1970s, murdering people by pushing them under trains. Scotland Yard has even been accused of covering up the killings for the sake of avoiding panic.

Former detective Geoff Platt claims that convicted murderer Kiernan Kelly confessed to the killings in 1984 after murdering his cell-mate William Boyd. Kelly, described as ‘a violent drifter’, then confessed to murdering two other men in London in the 1970s for which he was convicted. He had already been charged with attempted murder when he allegedly pushed a man in front of a train at Kensington station in 1984 but was acquitted. The reports do not say which ‘Kensington station’.

Geoff Platt claimed to have been one of the police officers present when Kelly made his confession after murdering William Boyd.

"He was loaded with testosterone and adrenaline, mentally, physically and sexually aroused and could not stop talking about what he had done. He was asked if he had murdered his cellmate and he admitted that he had, and, unprompted, he then went on to admit that he had also previously killed fifteen other people. There being no evidence to support this claim, the police officers refused to accept his story and Kelly had to work very hard to convince them that he was telling the truth."

Platt claimed that Scotland Yard and/or "press officers working for the Government" suppressed this confession to prevent terror on the London Underground.

Others have been on the trail of this. A blog dedicated to murder cases mentions Kelly in conjunction with tube deaths, the ‘Kensington station’ attempt and another at Oval station in 1953. That's just one other attack — not 15, 16 or 18.

Another chilling account of murder is from 1985, the year after Kelly’s secret confession, in the form of an urban legend. Researcher Michael Goss reports on The Maniac on the Platform rumour in Magonia magazine on 19 May 1985. Goss overheard a woman discussing the maniac on the circle line in February 1985 but the ‘polish’ of the story suggested to him that the tale had be told many times before and had become shinier and easier to repeat through repetition.

"The Maniac lurks on crowded Tube platforms, taking his stand just behind the front ranks of oblivious passengers who are waiting for the train. In front of him, very near the platform edge and indeed too near to recover herself if something made her lose her balance, is his chosen victim a young woman. Then, as the train sweeps into the station, the Maniac gives her a short, abrupt but irresistibly powerful thrust in the back. She topples forward and…"

Geoff Platt became convinced that Kiernan Kelly had carried out the tube murders after investigating his confession. Kelly used the Northern line for his crimes and Platt claims to have found “a number of people who jumped off the platform into the Northern line." British Transport Police have invited “Mr Platt to submit any information he has on these matters to us."

Did a rumour picked up by a folklorist in the mid-1980s show people were in fear of a tube killer? Perhaps. The story Goss collected mentions that “the police had hushed up all details lest the publicity inspired a spate of ‘copy-cat’ murders.” A different reason to Platt’s theory of avoiding panic, though both explanations fulfil a need in human thinking for an idea to be complete: a killer on the tube is not common knowledge not because there is no evidence but because of a cover-up.

One count against the rumours being related to the alleged murders on the tube is that the story Michael Goss overheard said the victim described was a woman, while Kelly’s victims, real and otherwise, were always men. This could be down to the stories drifting from the reality of the story over time gaining ‘polish’, and taking on a more conventional narrative of men attacking women, or the urban legend could be a coincidence unrelated to Kelly’s possible crimes.

It’s not clear in the reports whether the supposed murders were being covered-up because they happened in the 1970s, which seems to be speculation on Geoff Platt’s part, or after Kelly had confessed. It would seem strange to cover up a confession, which did include two actual murders, if it was not believed and there was no evidence for in 1985.

Hopefully readers of Platt’s book The London Underground Serial Killer will get a clearer idea of what did and didn’t happen and when. Reviews on Amazon — the book was published in April — are mostly positive with one sceptical one star review. Amazon reviews hold about as much truth as sensational speculation about serial killers. For the sake of the peace of mind of those who may have lost loved-ones, evidence is what matters. Hopefully Platt’s book can offer some.

See also: our video all about the urban legend of the corpse on the tube.

Last Updated 27 October 2016

Bill Ellson

Jumping under a tube train is not a very effective or efficient way of committing suicide. A considerable proportion of 'one-unders' result in severe injuries and death in the days following or sometime in the eighteen months after that. Some would be suicides end up in the 'suicide pit' and are not injured. That is people who are deliberately trying to kill themselves.

We are being asked to believe that Kelly had perfected a technique of pushing people under trains that was 100% effective in causing death.
We are being asked to believe no train driver ever noticed Kelly.
We are being asked to believe nobody else on the platform ever noticed Kelly.

People being deliberately pushed under tube trains are a rare occurence, but they have happened. (In a well known incident in 1964 Christinu Stellina tried, but failed to push a 16 year old telephonist off the platform at Tottenham Court Road.)
We are being asked to believe the British Transport Police failed to ask simple and basic questions of drivers.
We are being asked to believe the British Transport Police failed to ask simple and basic questions of other passengers on platforms.
We are being asked to believe that coroners failed to ask simple and basic questions.
We are being asked to believe bereaved families simply accepted inexplicable 'suicides'.

Mr Platt's tome is a work of fiction.

Bill Ellson

"The reported number of murders varies from 18 in the Independent and 16 in the Mirror as well as the above 15."

Only 9 in the Times, but that was on Friday 8 June 1984:
"A tramp, who told police he had killed nine times in 30 years, was jailed for life yesterday for the second time in a fortnight.

Kiernan Kelly, aged 54, was described by the Common Serjeant, Judge Tudor Price at the Central Criminal Court, as a danger to the public."

"He was cleared of murder in 1977 but last summer he made a long statement admitting killing nine vagrants"
Whoever organised the 'cover up' did not do a very good job.

ASLEF shrugged

Kelly was being held for robbery when he killed his cell mate in 1984, he had been cleared of a murder in 1977 and attempted murder in 1982 but he doesn't seem to have been convicted of anything before his confession.