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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 11:37 GMT
Solved after 16 years - the mystery of victim 115
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online Magazine

Gravestone
The grave Mr Fallon shares with another victim of the tragedy
For 16 years the identity of victim 115 had remained a mystery. Now police have named the last body of the King's Cross fire. The tale of Alexander Fallon is unique, but unknown people dying alone is far from rare.

His gravestone lists him simply as "an unknown man". To the authorities who have spent the past 16 years searching for his identity, he was known as "115" or "Michael".

The number refers to the tag attached to him in the mortuary, while police initially mistook his body for that of a missing man called Michael.

Finally, the mystery victim of the King's Cross Underground fire in November 1987 has been identified as Alexander William Fallon.

Mr Fallon was 73 when he died. One of 31 victims of the fire, his face, and therefore his identity, was burnt away in the unimaginable heat of the blaze.

Fallon and skull re-modelling
Alexander Fallon and the reconstruction of his skull
At the tail end of the evening rush-hour, a small fire started under a wooden escalator, probably by a discarded match or cigarette. It exploded into a fireball which swept up the escalator shaft into the subterranean ticket hall, generating temperatures of 600C.

Hundreds of people were trapped in the rabbit warren of tunnels below, connecting the six different Tube lines that pass through King's Cross.

As the escalators carried people up to their deaths, panicking crowds tried to scramble free of the black smoke underground, hammering on the doors of trains which hurried through platforms without stopping.

In the days that followed the authorities set about trying to identify the remains of the dead.

But the identity of 115 remained a stubborn mystery. From the fragments left of his skull forensics reconstructed the face of the victim, hoping it would trigger a reaction from friends or family of the mystery man.

Eerie similarities

Interpol was drawn into the search, and inquiries were made as far afield as China, Japan and Australia. Meanwhile, 115 was buried in a pauper's grave in north London, sharing it with another victim of the fire, Ralph Humberstone.

Escalators
Temperatures reached 600 in the ticket hall
To Mary Leishman, the realisation that the victim could have been her father dawned slowly. Only in 2002 did she begin to investigate, acting on the suggestion of a cousin. She found eerie similarities between what was known about the victim and what she knew of her father.

Although he was older than 115's suggested age - 40 to 60 - they were both short men, about 5ft 3ins; both had been heavy smokers; and both had a post-operative clip in the skull.

Forensics have now confirmed they were the same person.

No one knows for sure what Mr Fallon was doing at King's Cross on the night of 18 November, 1987, but his confused circumstances are by no means unusual for men who, like him, drift into homelessness later in life.

Originally from Falkirk in Scotland, Mr Fallon's life veered off course following the death of his wife in 1974, from ovarian cancer.

Erratic contact

He spent more and more time in London, living rough; moving from one hostel to another. The Salvation Army can't find records of him staying in its shelters, but suspects he did.

The saddest examples are where people die on the street and they don't have anyone to call their own
Ian Harris, Salvation Army
It's not an uncommon story, says David Devoy, of London homeless charity St Mungo's. While young runaways warrant most attention, they are still outnumbered by elderly homeless - "tramps" or "vagrants" of more politically incorrect times.

Half of all homeless people over 50 in the capital only became homeless after their 50th birthday. As with Mr Fallon, personal bereavements are often the trigger, particularly for men.

"The common issue is a traumatic event that the person is unable to cope with," says Joe Oldman, of Help the Aged. "Relationship breakdown, the death of wife - women typically have the life skills to run a house. If they die, men can run into lots of problems keeping the house, paying the bills."

While cases like Mr Fallon's death are mercifully rare, many homeless have minimal or no contact with their family before they die.

Mary Leisham and Ena Logan
Alexander Fallon's daughters: Mary Leisham (left) and Ena Logan
And like Mr Fallon they are laid to rest at a minimum cost, paid for by the council.

At the Salvation Army, a basic Christian committal is arranged in lieu of any stated preference. "The saddest examples are where people die on the street and they don't have anyone to call their own," says the Salvation Army's Ian Harris.

But the funerals are not necessarily the sad or lonely occasions one might expect. At St Mungo's, which handles up to 30 deaths a year among the 1,500 it houses in shelters, inhabitants are encouraged to attend say goodbye to their street acquaintances and e-mails are passed around staff, requesting anyone who might be able to attend a funeral.

At least, in the case of Alexander Fallon, his family has found him eventually.


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