The Suicide Room At Red Lion Square: A Barrister's Terrifying Encounter With The Dead

In 1971, Rosaleen Morrison claimed to have an unexpected incident during the night while stopping with a friend, it wasn't until the following morning that her strange experience turned out to be a terrifying encounter with a suicide victim.

Rosaleen Morrison recalled her terrifying experience in 1971
The encounter took place at Red Lion Square, London, 1971

In May 1971 Rosaleen Morrison, an Edinburgh barrister, was staying with her sister in London, and had been asked as a matter of domestic expediency if she could sleep somewhere else for one night. A nearby hotel was the obvious answer but Rosaleen recalled that an old friend, Winston Hemmingsley, had just taken a flat in Red Lion Square for a couple of months, and had previously pressed her to stay there if ever she was at a loose end in London. The tenants of the flat, a Dr Rosemary W, and a medical student who shared it with her, were to be away, separately, for about eight weeks, and felt that letting it to a slight acquaintance was preferable to leaving it as an open temptation to vandals and squatters.

Rosaleen telephoned on the Friday morning to ask Winston if it would be convenient for her to stay with him that evening, but the response she received was not encouraging. Winston seemed preoccupied and reluctant despite the cordiality of his previous invitation, but eventually, and unconvincingly, said that she would be welcome.

She could not guess at the reason for the change in attitude: Rosaleen was aware that he had for some time shared the flat with a girl, Heather - on a strictly platonic basis - so that embarrassment, prudery, or fear of criticism were not the reasons. She was a little dismayed when she did arrive at Red Lion Square at about 5pm that evening. The flat, obviously designed for a single person, with one small bedroom, a sitting room, bathroom, and kitchen, was stretched to accommodate two: three seemed impossible with decency. But the physical problems were heightened by the psychological ones: Winston and Heather seemed extremely uneasy for no apparent reason, and the earlier preoccupation had developed into an inhibiting tension.

Winston explained that Heather did not like the bedroom (which was normally occupied by the medical student), and was sleeping on the divan in the sitting room (normally used by Dr W), while he had a sleeping bag on the floor. He urged Rosaleen that it would be "cosier" if she joined them in the sitting room, but this bizarre menage a trois, even if divorced from all sexual implications, conflicted with her conceptions of dignity and decorum, and there was a perfectly good bed in the next room. With some emphasis, she insisted on using the bedroom, if it was definitely not occupied.

The instant she entered it, however, she could appreciate Heather's disquiet: it could only be described as stark, and with carpet, walls, and ceiling all in dark blue it gave an impression of claustrophobic gloom. There were no curtains at the window apart from some almost transparent net, and the only furniture was a small desk and a single bed, from which all of the bedding apart from the quilt and a sheet had been removed. Several whimsy pictures of flower fairies hung crookedly from the walls, and on the mantelpiece were several photographs, among them one of an attractive girl with short hair, sitting in the front seat of an open car looking at two large dogs in the back. All of this, and an intangible unpleasantness, made Rosaleen uneasy.

Turning to Winston who had followed her into the room, she asked casually if the photograph was of Dr Rosemary, but he said that he thought it was of her flatmate, the medical student. He apologised for the lack of blankets, saying that they were all at the laundry, and on that count again urged her to sleep in the lounge where it would be warmer. When Rosaleen said that she would be content with the quilt and her overcoat for the one night, he conceded victory. Their evening meal was taken at a restaurant, and later back at the flat, they talked until the early hours of the morning, when Winston made a last effort to get Rosaleen to join himself and Heather in the sitting room. Now slightly suspicious of his intentions, she rejected the suggestion more firmly than ever and went to bed.

Always uncomfortable in an unfamiliar room, she found difficulty in getting to sleep: the unrelenting light streamed in through the window; the unaccustomed and inadequate bedding left her chilly, and she was unaccountably disturbed by the whole of the evening's events. Nevertheless, after some time she did fall into a doze, only to be roused soon afterwards by the sensation of someone's hair brushing her face. As she opened her eyes she was conscious first of that slight change in the quality of the light that suggests the imminence of dawn, and then of a person bending over her. Her immediate reaction in the confusion of waking was that Winston was attempting to seduce her, but his innocence was established at once when she recognised the young woman of the photograph on the mantelpiece, who now had long hair. Rosaleen knew at once that there must have been some mistake with the dates, and that the medical student, returning late from a party, had come home to bed. "Who are you?" Rosaleen demanded instinctively, using speech more to cover her embarrassment than to seek information and feeling at the same time a wave of annoyance at Winston for being so stupid as to make such a mistake. The girl reached out to grasp the top of the bedclothes to pull them back, and replied, "I'm Hillary, and what are you doing in my bed?" The whole encounter was completely rational, even if acutely uncomfortable, and Rosaleen felt that she must at least offer some vindication of herself. "Winston and Heather said I could stay here," she said, "it's only for one night. I'm very sorry, I did not mean to take your bed." "Oh - you mean there are others here too?" asked Hillary, then sadly, wearily, she added, "Oh dear...", and straightening up she moved towards the door, apparently to discuss the matter with Winston. Despite her anger towards Winston, her personal embarrassment, and her pity for the girl, all of which seethed in turmoil inside her, Rosaleen, seduced by sleep, closed her eyes and was conscious of no more of the argument until she was wakened at 11am the following morning by Winston who said that she was wanted on the phone. As she passed through the sitting room she complained that the night had been bad enough without having been forced into the position of stealing someone's bed. She made some brief but acrimonious comments about not being told that Hillary might return, and how guilty she felt.

Coming back from the telephone she was aware that there had been a change in the atmosphere: the tension had now turned into something more frightening. She was asked to repeat what she had said: Winston's face was white and frozen, and without a word he picked up the phone to speak to Dr W. Rosaleen heard Hillary's name mentioned, but the rest of the conversation was a series of deliberately non-committal comments. Even whiter than before, he turned to Rosaleen and asked flatly:

"How did you know Rosemary's flatmate's name was Hillary? I have never mentioned it to you. And whoever came into the flat last night couldn't have been Hillary - she is in hospital, not expected to live. She tried to commit suicide in her bedroom a few days ago by slashing her wrists, and was taken away the day before we moved in. When we arrived later the place was indescribable - there was blood from the bathroom to bedroom, splashes on the carpet, curtains, and walls, and the bedding was soaked. We spent the day cleaning up, scrubbing down, and taking everything we could move to the laundry - that's why we were so strange when you rang. We were furious about Rosemary, and I said some pretty harsh things when we got to the salon - until one of my assistants told me he had just heard from Rosemary what had happened."

Despite the intense strain on their faces, Rosaleen could not help believing the whole thing was a hideous, obscene joke, until Winston took her back into the bedroom and showed her in the light of day what had escaped her in the dimness of the evening before. There were still spots of blood on the carpet and walls, and terrifyingly, on the desk was a small wooden-handled dagger with the rust of blood on its blade. When Winston pulled back the quilt to show that there was a great dark stain on it which had been hidden by the sheet, Rosaleen's deep feeling of pity turned first to intense revulsion, and then to black anger towards Winston for having allowed her to sleep under it. Then, when he pulled back the curtain across the alcove at the head of the bed to reveal Hillary's yellow broderie Anglaise evening dress saturated about its hem with browning blood, she was again swamped by immense pity at the sheer pointlessness of it all. It was some months later amid the sanity of her work in Edinburgh that the last scene of the nightmare was played out. Visiting Rosaleen, Winston confessed that he had been lying that morning when he reported that Hillary was unconscious in hospital: she had indeed died during that night, but he feared for all three if he had made this known.

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