MISS DEATH

by Mark Hodder

  • An introduction to this popular old character for the benefit of new readers.

Diana Temple is vengeful but on the side of justice. She only harms those who harm others. She is sympathetic and tragic, highly intelligent but prone to emotional outbursts. She is doomed. Her significant others are: Charlie the Chat, Monty Lane, Egloff the Peterman, the Bishop, the Cosher Kid, and Agronsky the Arson King.

Miss Death

1929 will be remembered by Sexton Blake for the short but dramatic career of a criminal known as Miss Death. Emerging seemingly from nowhere, this eerie character — a young woman whose features were hidden behind a skull mask — preyed on dishonest industrialists throughout Northern England. Through trickery, bribery and extortion, she ensured that each one of them was put out of business. Though her schemes were illegal, they were always, ultimately, on the side of Justice.

Behind the disguise, Miss Death was actually a working class girl; a Yorkshire lass from a poverty-stricken background. Her name was Diana Temple and she had spent most of her young life engaged in an exhausting struggle to make ends meet. Then came the day that changed her life: she consulted a doctor about frequent chest pains and was shocked to receive the news that her heart possessed a fatal flaw, giving her, at best, a mere six more months to live. Distraught by this terrible revelation, Diana could not endure continual poverty for these last months of her life, so, feeling that she had nothing to lose, she attempted to rob a crooked lawyer named Hammerton Grice. Her arrival at his office coincided with his murder by a former client. In the few moments that she remained at the crime scene, Diana discovered and appropriated Grice's notebook, which was filled with the secrets of the rich and ruthless. This soon became known as The Book of Death, and was used by its new owner as a means to identify her future victims, as well as a way to hold power over certain unsavoury individuals in her employ.

Quickly developing her Miss Death persona, Diana gathered together a group of criminals to help her with her schemes. These men could hardly be classed as willing henchmen. In fact, they hated her ... but remained loyal because she knew their secrets and used the knowledge to her advantage.

Miss Death's campaign against prominent industrialists soon drew the attention of Detective-Inspector Coutts, who travelled north to investigate and was followed by Sexton Blake, Tinker and Splash Page. Over the course of the ensuing weeks, Blake repeatedly interfered with her plans and, one by one, captured the members of her gang. The duel was fought from Leeds and Bradford to Doncaster until, finally, in the latter town, as Miss Death fled from the detective, her weak heart gave out and she died, though not without first revealing information which saved Tinker's life.

Chronology:

1. The Book of Death (UNION JACK issue 1,323, 1929)
Diana Temple, upon hearing that she has but six months to live, takes on the persona of Miss Death. Obtaining a crooked lawyer's notebook, she bribes a number of petty criminals into becoming her gang members and begins to wage a campaign against dishonest industrialists across North England. This attracts the attention of Detective-Inspector Coutts, who travels to Leeds with Sexton Blake and Tinker. The latter is kidnapped by the gang but rescued by his guv'nor, who takes a bullet in the shoulder. Blake manages to round up some of Miss Death's minions and receives a message from her warning him of dire consequences should his interference continue.

2. The Case of the Hairless Man (UNION JACK issue 1,324, 1929)
The head of the Rutherford Razor empire, along with other razor manufacturers, is duped by Miss Death into believing that a miraculous new depilatory cream has been invented. Though willing to pay the fortune demanded for the formula, he first seeks an opinion from his friend, Sexton Blake. Miss Death learns of this and sets a trap for the detective. He is captured, drugged and impersonated by one of her cleverly disguised men. However, nothing is as it seems, and her scheme is foiled by Blake's superior skills. Once again, the Baker Street man finds himself receiving a threatening letter ...

3. The Case of the Bradford Dragon (UNION JACK issue 1,333, 1929)
Lord Fairleigh, a leading light in the wool industry, arranges the murder of a man who's invented a formula to aid wool processing. Miss Death, meanwhile, has fallen in with an insane surgeon named Sir Hector Jarman, who has a grudge against the wool industry. She wants him to help her extort money from Fairleigh. They kidnap the Lord and hold him at Jarman's home — Greystoke Towers — where they try to force him into signing a cheque. When Fairleigh's wife is injured in a car crash, she's discovered by Jarman's African servant who recognises her as the woman to whom his master was once engaged. He carries her to Greystoke Towers, where she dies. This sends Jarman into a berserk rage. He sets free his pet, a Komodo Dragon named Sohag the Terrible, and kills Lord Fairleigh. Blake arrives and shoots the giant lizard but cannot prevent Jarman from leaping into a pool of piranha fish which eat him alive. Miss Death escapes.

4. The Phantom of the Footplate (UNION JACK issue 1,341, 1929)
In Doncaster, train drivers are mysteriously dropping dead on the footplate of a newly-designed locomotive. Amid the rivalry between rail and coach companies, which is causing much industrial unrest, Sexton Blake detects the hand of Miss Death at work. The owner of the coach company — Hogan Flint — is a ruthless millionaire who Miss Death intends to 'take to the cleaners'. However, when she discovers that he is behind the deaths and has arranged for there to be a terrible train accident, she rushes to the rail yard to give warning. There she is intercepted by Blake and suffers a fatal heart attack while attempting to flee from him. This marks the end of her short and tragic career.