Donald Hume: The Setty Case

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.