1978’s The Playbirds was, unquestionably, Mary’s best movie, and perhaps one of the finest British sexploitation films of the entire Seventies. Playing an eager young policewoman, who goes undercover to catch a serial killer, Mary, for once, was afforded the opportunity to act as well as just strip. Although the origins of the film’s storyline seem, on the face of it, to be hugely influenced by the 1959 movie Cover Girl Killer (a fact I first noted in my 1999 biography of Mary), The Playbirds’ director/co-writer Willy Roe claims that he never actually knew of the earlier film’s existence. Cover Girl Killer is a monochrome quota-filler thriller starring a young Harry H Corbett as a bewigged social inadequate, in bottle-thick glasses, who snuffs out models from a girlie magazine he has become obsessed with. With hindsight, the parallels between that film and Mary’s are obvious, but if Roe is correct, and I’ve no reason to doubt him, then it’s just purely coincidental. What is true, and has never been reported before, is that The Playbirds took elements of its plot from a very real, and very brutal, London-based murder, which shocked the entire country.
Just over 40 years ago on a snowy 18 March 1975, a 21-year-old glamour model named Eve Stratford was raped and murdered at her home in Lyndhurst Drive, Leyton, east London. Detectives believe Eve may have known her killer, probably inviting him into the flat she shared with her singer boyfriend Tony Priest, from psychedelic rock band The Onyx. There were no signs of forced entry and a neighbour in an adjacent flat heard male and female voices talking, apparently calmly, just hours before her dead body was discovered. Eve was found with a nylon stocking tied around one ankle and a scarf binding both hands behind her back; her throat had been cut multiple times. A bunch of flowers was found on the floor beside her. The murder created a sensation in the press, in part, due to Eve’s glamorous profession. Unsurprisingly, the tabloids dubbed the unknown assailant ‘The Bunny Girl Killer’.
Eve Stratford was born in 1953, the daughter of a German mother and Royal Army Medical Corps father. They travelled around the world when Eve was a child before settling in Aldershot, Surrey. Eve relocated to London in 1972 with dreams of becoming a glamour model, before taking up residence as a Bunny Girl in Playboy’s Park Lane club in the autumn of 1973, where she was photographed with the likes of Eric Morecambe, Sid James and boxer John Conteh. Eve was suspended from the club in February 1975 when her employers discovered she had taken a modelling job for a rival ‘girlie’ magazine, something which was against the club’s rules. With cruel irony, at the time her death, Eve was featured on the cover of the March 1975 edition of Mayfair magazine (volume 10, Number 3), as well as nine pages inside, all photographed by Ed Alexander. She had hoped her appearance in the magazine (under the name ‘Eva von Bork’) would open doors into the worlds of film and television. Nobody can predict how big a star Eve might’ve become had she lived long enough.
Eve’s murder featured heavily in the British press for several months and, over the subsequent years, filmmaker Willy Roe had kept a collection of clippings on Eve and other high-profile murders which he hoped to use as a basis for a film. That movie was originally entitled The Blue Girl, before eventually becoming The Playbirds. Although she had never met Eve, Mary knew all about the case. In 1978 she revealed details of her upcoming ‘X’-rated movie in an unbroadcast radio interview: “That’s a sexy thriller loosely based on the terrible murder of Bunny Girl Eve Stratford,” Mary commented. “It shows beautiful girls posing for centrespreads being bumped off by a religious nut. And I play a 4’11” policewoman that poses as a model to capture the murderer.”
In September 1975, just six months after Eve’s awful murder, her death had a chilling postscript, when a 16-year-old schoolgirl named Lynn Weedon was beaten and raped in Hounslow. Although Lynne survived the horrific attack, she later died in hospital. Nearly 30 years later detectives revealed that DNA taken from Eve and Lynne’s bodies indicated that both victims shared the same killer, and the double murders were featured on BBC1’s Crimewatch programme in 2007.
Just last week the Metropolitan Police launched a new appeal for information about Eve and Lynne’s killer. Detective Chief Inspector Noel McHugh said: “The man who carried out these murders is now of a different, older generation. I would imagine he must have reflected upon his actions every day over the past 40 years. It’s inconceivable he has kept the perfect secret for 40 years. It’s a heavy burden to carry and he must have let details slip over the years.” Although Eve’s parents are now dead, Lynne’s mother also made a new plea for information surrounding the young women’s deaths.
It’s maybe unlikely that readers of this blog will know anything regarding Eve’s appalling murder, but anyone with information should call the London Metropolitan Police incident room on 020 8785 8099 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
All words strictly © Simon Sheridan 2015