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Ronald TRUE






A.K.A.: "The Finborough Road murderer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 6, 1922
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1891
Victim profile: Olive Young, 25 (also known as Gertrude Yates), a prostitute
Method of murder: Asphyxiation (a dressing gown cord was tied around her neck and a towel had been stuffed down her throat)
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death, 1922. The Home Secretary reprieved True from his death sentence and committed him to Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Died in 1951

Ronald True was charged with the murder of 25-year-old Olive Young. She was a prostitute and her real name was Mrs Gertrude Yates. Her naked body was found by her cleaner in the bathroom. She had been asphyxiated. A dressing gown cord was tied around her neck and a towel had been stuffed down her throat.

True's trial opened at the Old Bailey on Monday 1st May 1922. His defence was one of insanity. Four days later the jury decided that True was guilty and he was sentenced to death.

An appeal was dismissed but a re-examination of True was ordered and three medical experts declared him to be insane. He was reprieved and removed to Broadmoor. He died there in 1951. 


Ronald True (Manchester, England, (1891 – Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, 1951) was an English murderer. He was found guilty of the murder of a prostitute in 1922 but reprieved by the Home Secretary on the grounds of insanity and confined for life in Broadmoor Hospital. His case raised important issues relating to the legal defense of insanity.

True was born in Manchester in 1891 and educated at Bedford School. He failed to settle to a career and his family found a series of positions for him overseas. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 but was discharged after his increasingly eccentric behaviour, combined with addiction to morphia, led to his discharge in 1916.

He visited the United States in 1917, where he married Frances Roberts, with whom he had a child. He returned to Britain where his family made him an allowance. His behaviour was now even more eccentric and he was convinced that he had a doppelgänger who was his mortal enemy. He abandoned his wife and child and lived on his allowance and on various petty frauds and thefts.

In March 1922 he murdered Olive Young (also known as Gertrude Yates), a prostitute, in her flat at 13 Finborough Road, Earls Court, and stole some money. He failed to take elementary precautions against detection and was arrested a few days later.

He was tried for murder at the Old Bailey in May 1922. The defence at his trial was that he was insane, which was undoubtedly true, but Sir Richard Muir for the prosecution argued that under the M'Naghten Rules he "knew what he was doing and knew that it was wrong" and that he was therefore legally responsible. The jury found him guilty.

He was reprieved by the Home Secretary, Edward Shortt, amidst political controversy, it being argued that True was being leniently treated on account of his influential family. Shortt defended his decision successfully in Parliament. The controversy was heightened due to the concurrent case of Henry Jacoby, an eighteen year old working class pantry boy who had murdered a 65 year old titled lady, Lady White, and was hanged.

True was confined to Broadmoor Hospital. During his incarceration, he worked actively in the hospital's drama activities. He died at Broadmoor Hospital in 1951.

In Popular Culture

The murder of Olive Young and True's later incarceration, and relationship with fellow murderer Richard Prince, in Broadmoor Hospital was the subject of a play, Lullabies of Broadmoor, performed at the Finborough Theatre, close to the site of Olive Young's Murder, in 2004.


  • Donald Carswell (ed), Trial of Ronald True, William Hodge and Co., 1950. ISBN 0852790163

  • Harry Hodge, Famous Trials II, Penguin, 1948. ISBN 0140006346



Murder in the Finborough Road

The Pantry Boy and the Toff

In 1922, in the basement flat of the house, 13a Finborough Road, one of the most infamous murders of the interwar period was committed by Ronald True - the murder of Gertrude Yates, a prostitute who worked under the name Olive Young,

Ronald True was born in 1892, the illegitimate son of a sixteen year old spinster and a youth of seventeen. His mother eventually married well, and True was educated at public school. He was employed in a string of disastrous short term jobs in New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and China (where he became a morphia addict), as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, from which he was invalided out in 1916 after crashing three aeroplanes; as a test pilot and flying instructor in the United States; and as the assistant manager of a mine in Ghana. As his drug addiction and mental illness became worse, he became a con artist, using his good manners and public school accent to swindle his way around the country.

Gertrude Yates (who used the business name of Olive Young) was a 25 year old former shop girl in a West End fur store who worked as a prostitute (although she preferred to use the term, "a lady with male friends") from her basement flat in the Finborough Road. She had made enough money, not only to pay the 43 shillings a week rent on her flat, but to furnish it with "sateen weeping Pierrot dolls, shiny pot reminders of daytrips to seaside resorts, and sequinned greetings cards that were too pretty to throw away" and employ a daily maid, Emily Steel, who also lived in Finborough Road.

True had first spent the night with Olive on Saturday, 18 February 1922. She found her new client rather peculiar and frightening and, after discovering five pounds missing from her handbag after his departure, decided that she wanted nothing more to do with him.

During the next twelve days, True made many attempts to arrange another meeting with Olive, but she avoided his calls and phone calls.

At the same time, the True family, realising that he was by now dangerously insane, were trying to trace him in an attempt to get him into long-term treatment for his mental illness.

Late at night on Sunday, 5 March 1922, True turned up unannounced at 13a Finborough Road. Olive Young had been out on a trip to Piccadilly Circus and had just got the tube home to Earl's Court, arriving home around 11pm.

It is impossible to explain what made her change her mind and let him in. But she did, and let him stay the night.

The next morning, Olive Young's maid let herself in to the flat as normal, and met True on his way out. He murmured "Don't disturb Miss Young. We were late last night, and she is in a deep sleep", and left.

Some time later, the maid opened the bathroom door and found the body of her mistress. She had been battered to death with a rolling pin. Most of her jewellery and trinkets were missing, and even a pile of shillings to feed the gas meter and a half-crown and some pennies to pay the milkman had been stolen.

Later that night, True was arrested in a box at the Hammersmith Palace in King Street where he was watching a music hall show.

His subsequent trial at the Old Bailey lasted five days, and he was sentenced to death.

The crime would probably have faded into oblivion, but for the fact that five days before True's trial, Henry Jacoby, an 18 year old pantry boy in Spencer's Hotel in Portman Square, had also been sentenced to death for the murder of one of the hotels guests, the 65 year old Lady White.

Whilst finding Jacoby guilty, the jury made a strong recommendation for mercy, and the day before his sentence was due to be carried out, a petition for his reprieve signed by several hundred people including two members of the jury that convicted him, was handed in at the Home Office. Edward Shortt, the Liberal Home Secretary, refused his appeal, and Jacoby was executed.

The next day, after examination by medical experts declared that Ronald True was insane, the Home Secretary reprieved True from his death sentence and committed him to Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

There was a massive public outcry, fanned by the popular press. The popular perception was that there was one law for the middle class True, saved from the scaffold for the death of a prostitute; and another for the working class killer of a titled lady. Whilst not entirely borne out by the facts, the scandal was exacerbated by the fact that, whilst not insane or mentally deficient, Jacoby was undoubtedly an immature simpleton. The scandal led to a parliamentary committee to examine the law relating to insanity which, however, left the the M'Naghten Rules of 1843 unchanged. The M'Naghten Rules state that every accused person is presumed sane until the contrary is proved to the jurys satisfaction, and that it must be shown that the accused must be "labouring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind as to not to know the nature and quality of his act, or, if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong."

Even the hangman, John Ellis, was profoundly affected by Jacoby's sentence. Ellis himself committed suicide ten years later, and it has been argued frequently that the execution of Henry Jacoby had a permanent effect on Ellis mind. In an interview, he said "I saw t'poor lad the day before his death. He was nobbut a child. It was t'most harrowing sight I ever saw in my life. And I had to kill him the next day."

Ronald True died in Broadmoor in 1951, aged 60. In Broadmoor, he was a major figure in organising entertainment for the inmates, alongside the conductor of the hospital band, Richard Prince, the killer of actor William Terriss at the Adelphi Theatre Stage Door in 1897.

A new play on the True and Prince cases, Lullabies of Broadmoor, specially commissioned for the Finborough Theatre was performed in January 2004.



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