Editor’s note: Jim Bywaters is a police reporter for the Sydney Herald. He is Australian by birth. He is well known in his own country as a radio commentator, one-time track star, and veteran of the C.B.I. theater of operations in World War II....
On March 12, 1959, a young girl by the name of Marta Soubel disappeared at a carnival in New Bristol, Australia. She vanished completely, never to be seen again in any shape or form by a normal human being. Her age was 21 at the time she disappeared. Of what she looked like we can only say that she was blonde, fair-skinned, and on the verge of ripe womanhood. The only photograph of Marta Soubel in existence is creased and torn. It shows her in a bathing suit. She was a pretty girl, it appears, of neat features and a nicely proportioned body, full breasted, narrow waisted, with average hips.
It is impossible for us to know the exact conditions under which Marta Soubel disappeared. We can only surmise the details from a careful study of the police records in this case and the strange conditions of the identification that was subsequently made by the disappeared girl’s sister and most recent employers.
This much, however, was established. Marta Soubel had decided to give up her job as a domestic servant in the main house of the large sheep farm in South Wales where she had worked for five years. Marta yearned for the opportunities and the better ways of life she believed she would find in a large city like New Bristol. She was determined to better herself in the world, and at the same time she wanted the pleasantries denied to her on an isolated sheep farm. She wanted to see movies, shows, be able to choose her clothes from wide selections in big department stores rather than from a mail order catalogue, wanted good times, and a young man she could share them with.
Marta was certain of finding a good-paying job in New Bristol because of the severe shortage of office help—even in inexperienced office girls.
Marta Soubel had arrived in New Bristol late on the day of her disappearance on the Gangeways local train. She had proceeded from the railroad station to a lower class neighborhood where she had taken a cheap room in average lodgings on Walker Street. She managed to obtain a soggy meat sandwich and tea from her new landlady, and then spent the few hours before evening alone in her room. She had unpacked all her belongings, hung her clothes in the closet and stored them in the bureau drawers in that time.
When evening came, Marta Soubel had dressed and gone out to inspect the city of New Bristol and all the surprises she was sure she would find there. She had already paid for a week’s lodging in advance and talked to the landlady of the possibilities of securing a good paying job. This, plus the fact that she had unpacked all her belongings in her room, made it obvious to all those who came along later that she had intended to return to the room she had taken.
As the police investigation later revealed, Marta Soubel was seen by several witnesses before she vanished from the face of the earth. The neighborhood patrolman spotted her and noted that he had a new face on his beat. An itinerant razor blade salesman, selling his wares from an open valise, wished her a good evening at the corner. A newspaper vendor remembered seeing her pause to read the headlines on his papers.
For a while Marta Soubel walked aimlessly, just taking in the sights of New Bristol. At one point in her journey she was attracted by the music of a traveling carnival that had set up in business on a large empty lot on the outskirts of the neighborhood where Marta had taken lodgings. The girl had been attracted to the carnival. She had walked through it several times, tried a ride or two, a game of chance, and stopped finally to eat some fish and chips at an open air counter. She had spoken a friendly word or two to the counterman who later remembered having seen a good-looking man in a neat black suit step up to the girl and talk to her when she left his premises. The man was slim, bearded, and dark-complected.
They went on a few rides together. Perhaps he stole a light kiss in the tunnel of love. After that, it was a stop for some spun sugar candy. Then a few games of chance in one of which Marta Soubel won a small kewpie doll.
Then, the evening about over, the stranger and the girl had walked from the carnival and paused for a moment outside one of the gates. “Would you come with me now?” he said. “We could have a quiet drink and something to eat at my apartment.”
Marta Soubel refused the invitation. After all, she had only known her new friend a few hours.
“Permit me to walk you home,” he said.
They had walked along a little ways when Anton Beardsley again asked Marta Soubel to come to his apartment. This time he was more insistent. But the girl refused, and began to walk away. Beardsley hurried after her and stumbled. He bumped into her, and she felt a pinprick in her arm.
“What was that?” she asked, startled.
“Nothing,” he said. “The pin in my tie. I am sorry.”
Marta Soubel walked on. Her steps became unsteady. She became dizzy. And then, finally, she keeled over. Beardsley had to move fast to catch her before she hit the ground.
At this point a Rolls Royce car which had been trailing the couple pulled into the curb. A hunchbacked dwarf left his special stool in the driver’s seat, equipped with special controls to match his short frame, and joined Beardsley on the walk. Between the dwarf and Beardsley, the girl was picked up and carried to the car where she was put into the back seat. She was unconscious from the drug that had been injected into her arm when Beardsley had bumped into her.
Marta Soubel was taken to the premises occupied by Beardsley and the dwarf. She was carried up the stairs to a bedroom where Beardsley stripped the clothes from her body and laid her out on a bed. Then he dismissed the dwarf.
When he was alone with the helpless, nude girl, Beardsley put flame to a long black cigar and puffed meditatively while he studied the girl’s face and body carefully. He concluded that she was beautiful enough for his purposes, in the first ripening flush of womanhood. He stubbed out his cigar and walked toward the girl who lay on the bed, helpless before his advance. . . .
Some hours later, Marta Soubel came out of her drug-induced sleep. The man at her side, Anton Beardsley, still seemed to be asleep. Her first surprise and shock over, Marta Soubel realized that her body had been ravished most completely and thoroughly.
The girl panicked. She was consumed by an overwhelming desire to escape from the room in which she'd found herself. She wanted to get to the police. She ran to the window, and found that it was barred. She turned desperately, pulled a blanket from the bed, wrapped it around her nude body, and ran to the door and pulled it open. The man on the bed behind her awoke, and watched her intended flight to freedom with an amused grin on his face.
For standing on the other side of the door, in the hallway, barring the way, was the ugly little hunchback. The girl screamed and slammed the door. She turned around towards the man in the bed, her heart beating frantically.
Anton Beardsley rolled out of the bed and advanced slowly and steadily towards the frightened girl. He pulled the edges of the blanket out of her frightened fingers and stripped it away from her body. Then he leaned forward to kiss her roseate beauty.
The girl screamed and fought him off hysterically. He himself did not lift a finger to touch her, but merely moved back a step or two. “I will not strike you,” he said cryptically, “for fear of marring your beauty.”
Beardsley then walked across the room and pulled open a drawer in a dresser. He took out a huge hypodermic needle. With this in hand he advanced towards Marta Soubel. She was terrified. She could not scream. She grabbed the handle of the door behind her, and pulled it open to run, forgetting the horrible dwarf who was waiting there. But he had not forgotten Marta Soubel. He reached up and grabbed her wrists with fingers of steel. It was about as high as he could reach. And he pinned her hands against her buttocks so that she could not raise them to defend herself.
Helplessly Marta Soubel had to watch in horror as Anton Beardsley approached her, grabbed one of her legs, and then jabbed her high up in the soft fleshy part of the inside of the thigh with the hypodermic needle. “So I won't mark you in a visible part of the body,” he said....
There is no witness other than the principals to what happened next. The sequence of events we describe constitute the official police interpretation. And the police of New Bristol could only deduct that sequence of events from the equipment and paraphernalia later found in the infamous murder building at 12 Milshire Street.
The last injection administered to Marta Soubel, on the inside of her thigh, was a fatal one. She died within minutes. Beardsley and the dwarf carried her still warm body down a corridor into a workshop atelier. Here the girl’s naked body was tied with soft cloths by the two men into an attitude of supplication. Then the two men placed the corpse into a huge freezer that rapidly brought the internal temperature of the corpse down and speeded up the process of rigor mortis. When the corpse was finally stiffened in its attitude of supplication, it was removed from the deep freeze and placed on a work table. The soft cloths were removed from the frozen body as they were no longer needed.
Beardsley now sprayed the naked corpse with an aerosol lubricating bomb in order to prepare it for the next step. This was done so that the girl’s body would not stick to the moist plaster of paris which Beardsley and the dwarf were now covering the corpse with. The plaster of paris was baked with infra lamps until it had hardened. Beardsley then broke the mold apart with a hammer and chisel to reveal that a perfect casting had been made of the nude girl’s corpse.
At this point Beardsley released the corpse to the dwarf. The body was taken to an acid-filled tub and immersed by the dwarf. Flesh and bones were consumed by the acid, and the dwarf then pulled the drain stopper and the thick liquid, containing what had once been a human being in solution, then passed down the drain. All evidence of the girl was then flushed and rinsed away. There was no longer any tangible proof that she had ever lived, breathed, hoped, dreamed, wanted, been happy or sad. Marta Soubel had disappeared from the face of the earth.
The bearded Beardsley now went to work on his plaster casting of the girl. He drilled a tiny hole in the casting itself, and then strapped the two halves of the mold together. Through the hole he had drilled, Beardsley forced a flesh-tinted molten wax into the mold. When the wax had cooled and hardened he separated the two halves of the mold to reveal a perfect likeness of the dead Marta Soubel. Now Beardsley touched up the likeness with a paint brush for exact similitude, and cemented a wig of human hair, imported from Czechoslovakia, to the scalp. He next mounted her on a pedestal, and carried the “thing” out of his workshop atelier and down the stairs to his gallery where he stood it among a score of other wax figures, all female, all in various states of undress, all of whom he stroked lovingly as he walked about the room as if they were the real human beings, the living females instead of the waxen imitations. . . .
The New Bristol police were later able to reconstruct the strange history and motivation of one Anton Beardsley. He was an unsuccessful Melbourne artist, a modernist. He was an abstractionist who dealt in non-objective sculpture. He had been laughed out of the galleries in Melbourne. His downfall into ridicule was made complete by Melissa Wilson, the female art critic who wrote that Beardsley had regressed to meaningless symbolism because he was ignorant of the female form, its true beauty, and was afraid of women.
Shortly after her article appeared Melissa Wilson had disappeared. Evidently, driven mad by his artistic failure, Anton Beardsley had made her the first of his victims.
Beardsley had obviously been driven mad by his failure. An outcast himself, he had joined forces with the hunchback dwarf, one of the dregs of the Melbourne underworld. They met one night when they both cornered the same female waif down an alley and struck a bargain to take her together. In this peculiar bargain, the sculptor would have the victim to make her likeness while the dwarf would have her to destroy, to wipe out one more symbol of the sex that had rejected him. Beardsley, in his insane mockery of the critics who had destroyed his reputation, struck out for the most real of realism—he created his gallery in New Bristol of what he claimed were his sculptures of women in wax. He chose the easily destroyed wax, he said, because beauty itself was not permanent.
Very likely Anton Beardsley would have gone along until he had decimated the entire female population of Australia and had duplicated them all in wax if Marta Soubel’s older sister, Elizabeth Soubel, had not become worried at not receiving any word from Marta and gone to New Bristol in search of her. Elizabeth Soubel found her sister—in wax in Beardsley’s Gallery of Wax Women.
Elizabeth Soubel fainted on the gallery floor at the foot of the wax casting of Marta. When she came to, the gallery owner, Anton Beardsley, was bending solicitously over her.
“Permit me to take you upstairs to a private room where you can rest,” he offered.
Elizabeth Soubel was suspicious and afraid. Before she could protest, however, the tall dark stranger had taken charge, had her arm in his and was leading her out of the gallery and up the stairs. On the stairs he stumbled for a moment and bumped into the girl. In that moment, she felt a pinprick in her arm. By the time the girl reached the top of the stairs the opiate drug had already begun its work, and docilely Elizabeth Soubel permitted Beardsley to lead her into the bedroom where he had previously murdered her sister.
As had happened to her sister, Elizabeth Soubel’s clothes were stripped from her body. She, too, was raped as a preliminary to her murder. But this time there was a difference. When Elizabeth Soubel awoke from her drugged sleep, she did not panic. She found the full hypodermic that Beardsley had prepared for her with a death-dealing drug. She emptied this needle and filled it with harmless water from the tap in the corner of the room.
Like her sister, Elizabeth Soubel was stopped at the door by the hunchback dwarf. Beardsley left the bed and approached Elizabeth Soubel with what he thought was the death-dealing hypodermic. When he injected the harmless water into Miss Soubel’s leg, she pretended to pass out.
Beardsley and the dwarf carried the girl to the workshop atelier. While the dwarf went to prepare his acid bath, Beardsley began to arrange the limbs of what he believed to be a dead girl.
On the work table there lay a modeling knife. Unknown to Beardsley, Elizabeth Soubel’s hand closed on this knife. When he turned his back for the first time, she rose silently behind him and drove that knife with all of her strength into his back. Beardsley collapsed. He lay on the floor, slowly bleeding to death.
“Where is my sister?” Elizabeth Soubel hissed in Beardsley’s ear, bending over him.
Beardsley shook his head. Some perverse instinct prevented him from putting the girl out of her misery with the truth.
Elizabeth Soubel looked frantically around the workshop. Her eye fell on the vat of boiling wax. She dragged Beardsley to this vat and worked him over its lip, sliding him feet first into the cauldron. The skin blistered away from his body to his waist—there was a soggy mass where his legs had been. Still Beardsley refused to talk. Elizabeth Soubel fixed her fingers in Beardsley’s hair and lowered him farther into the boiling wax. It crept up past his waist, over his chest, above his neck, and briefly covered his mouth, before the vengeful girl tilted his head back. Beardsley choked and his lips parted. “The dwarf,” he gasped, “dissolved her in a tub of acid.”
There was a horrible cry of anguish. But it came from the girl’s lips, not those of the man in the vat. His heart had failed him, and he was dead. Slowly he slid beneath the surface of the viscous wax as the girl opened her fingers and let him go.
Elizabeth Soubel searched the murder house until she found the dwarf preparing a tub of acid for herself. She screamed and threw herself at the little man. He went over backwards with the gallon jug of acid in his arms, and landed in the tub. The jar broke, and the acid poured on his chest, eating into his flesh. Horror-struck she watched as the little man melted before her eyes. It was a sight she would never forget....
The police of New Bristol, Australia, found Elizabeth Soubel wandering in the streets, naked except for the blanket she had wrapped around herself. She was half insane with grief. Only after several days under sedation was she able to tell her story—a story which was confirmed by a painstaking examination of the horror house of waxen women at 12 Milshire Street, New Bristol....