Stanmer Park, in Brighton, is a large open park directly west of the University of Sussex campus in Brighton. A beautiful park, it is filled all year around with dog walkers, families taking advantage of the many outdoor pursuits, cyclists, walkers and runners. It is a very appealing and memorable place, where countless people have spent many happy times. But Stanmer Park does have a blot on its horizon, because in 1978 it was the scene of a horrific, brutal and as of yet unsolved murder.
In 1978, Margaret Frame was 36 years old and was married. Described as being quiet by nature, Margaret was nevertheless regarded by all who knew her as being devoted to her husband Peter, and nine year old son Andrew. The family lived in a modest house on Saunders Hill, Coldean, and Margaret worked as a cleaner in the evenings at nearby Falmer High School, which was on Lewes Road, about a mile and a half from her home. Directly the other side of Stanmer Park.
Margaret had worked as usual on the evening of Thursday October 12 1978, and when she had finished set off to walk the short distance home as she had done many times before. Margaret’s journey took her through Stanmer Park, but she had no reason to be fearful. She was very familiar with the route and it was only a short walk back home.
But that night, someone was watching her. Someone followed her through Stanmer Park.
When Margaret did not arrive home that evening, her husband Peter was frantic with worry. Finally, he reported her as missing to police the next day, after having spent most of the day looking for her himself. A massive hunt for Margaret got underway, and police and volunteers scoured the area in vain. Appeals were made for her to come home, and enquiries were made to see if Margaret had perhaps gone off with someone – perhaps a lover – to start a new life. Police were eventually forced to discount this theory and had to concur with all of Margaret’s friends and colleagues that she was a devoted wife and mother, and wasn’t the type to run off with someone. It seemed likely that Margaret had come to some harm.
This was sadly realised as fact ten days after she had disappeared, on October 22 1978. Margaret’s body was found buried in a shallow grave by a specialist police search team. She had been savagely attacked, raped and her body severely mutilated. Reconstructing the crime, police were led to believe that Margaret had been attacked from behind by her killer, who had stabbed her in the back. He had then savagely raped her and left her to die. But, and for reasons police have never been able to explain, the killer then returned to Margaret’s body. He removed all of her clothes, then dragged her body for over 500 yards into a thick wooded area of the park. Before burying her, the killer removed all of Margaret’s jewellery and took it with him. But the final and perhaps most chilling aspect is that the monster had slit her throat from ear to ear. Police believed that a serious attempt had been made to remove Margaret’s head.
The discovery of Margaret’s body brought fear to Brighton, similar to the fear that gripped the north of England that same year with the Yorkshire Ripper still at large. Scared locals and the local press dubbed Margaret’s killer, “The Beast of Stanmer Park”. An intense investigation into Margaret’s murder was undertaken, with some 5,000 house to house enquiries carried out in the local area, and 2,500 statements taken from members of the public. A fingertip search of Stanmer Park was carried out for a possible murder weapon, which police believed was an extremely sharp, serrated, long knife. It has never been found. Replicas of Margaret’s missing jewellery were appealed to the public, who approached detectives in their hundreds offering to help. A link to the appeal is reproduced here:
Her background and relationships with family, friends and colleagues was examined in an attempt to gain a possible insight into someone wishing her harm. Everything that could possibly be done at the time was done. But nothing was found. Margaret did not have a secret life, and was not involved in an illicit affair. She seemed to be well liked and well regarded by all who knew her.
The police enquiry drew a blank. Despite all of the extensive enquiries, no-one came forward to say that they had seen or heard anything that night. No one had been seen hurriedly leaving the park that evening, and no one had heard any screams or the sounds of a struggle. Detectives had no forensic evidence from the killer to work with, and the only motive that they could establish was that Margaret was a random victim of a maniacal sex killer. Eventually, the enquiry was wound down, with nobody ever charged, and the murder squad was disbanded as manpower was re-distributed to other crimes that needed investigating. It was suggested that detectives had strong suspicions about the identity of the person responsible, but could never get enough evidence to bring charges. “The Beast Of Stanmer Park” had escaped justice.
But the crime has never been forgotten or the murder file closed, and Margaret’s murder was re-appealed by police in 2000, albeit with no success. This was met with sadness by local residents, who still remember the effect Margaret’s murder had on the community back in 1978:
“It was very upsetting to all the staff and everybody concerned, the governors and her colleagues. There was an element of fear because women were confronted with their vulnerability in their own community.” Ray Blackwood – local resident and chairman of governers at Falmer High School, 1978
Frustratingly, there is very little information concerning this case available for research, apart from what has been presented here. Very little is known about the killer – there is no physical description available of any suspects, no reports of any forensic evidence recovered from the offender, and no details of any exact items of appeal that police made, except for reproducing Margaret’s missing jewellery. It seems reasonable to surmount that this is not the first offence of this killer – the savagery and mutilation of the body suggests that this is a person who is familiar with violence, almost certainly a sex attacker. The lack of detail presented in the scant information available makes it difficult to profile Margaret’s killer, and leaves more questions than provides answers. Margaret was found naked – where were her clothes? Had they been taken as some sort of trophy, or concealed? Were they found with her? It is details like these that help paint a psychological picture of the man responsible. No weapon has ever been found, so it is a reasonable assumption that Margaret’s killer brought it with him and took it away again. A person prowling around a large, dimly lit park at night armed with a large knife would only do so for one reason.
It has become a bit of an urban legend that Peter Sutcliffe has been looked at as a suspect in Margaret’s murder due to his employment as a lorry driver travelling all over the country. 1978 was the midst of Sutcliffe’s killing spree, however, nothing to suggest his culpability has ever surfaced. The author of the definitive book on other crimes that Sutcliffe allegedly committed (Yorkshire Ripper – The Secret Murders – reviewed on TTCE in a previous post) told me that he examined Margaret’s murder out of possible interest but found no evidence to suggest that Sutcliffe may have been responsible for the crime. It seems that Sutcliffe’s involvement in the crime does not extend further than that of urban legend.
However, developments that have occurred in the years after this horrendous crime suggest that the name of Margaret Frame has surfaced as a possible victim of infamous British serial killer Peter Tobin. The crimes of Tobin are very well documented and it would serve no purpose to recount them here, apart from a brief summary of the murders that Tobin has been convicted of and is serving a whole life tariff for. Tobin is known to have killed at least two young girls in the 1990’s, Vicky Hamilton and Dinah Mcnichol (whose bodies were both found buried in the garden of a former home of Tobin’s in 2008), and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the horrific rape and murder of another young woman, Angelika Kluk, in Glasgow in 2007. Due to Tobin’s nomadic lifestyle and the amount of places he has lived in the United Kingdom throughout his life, he is suspected of being responsible for many more murders and disappearances throughout the United Kingdom. These include the infamous “Bible John” killings in Glasgow in the 1960’s, although no charges have ever been brought against him for these murders. According to prison sources, Tobin himself claims to have a grim tally of up to 48 victims.
Is Margaret one of these victims? Where the murder of Margaret Frame becomes a possible connection to Tobin is the many similarities with the modus operandi that he is known to have utilised with his known victims, and the details of her murder. Tobin was known to take jewellery from his victims, and Operation Anagram, the police investigation into Tobin’s life and movements, appealed on television and in the press several items of jewellery that were found in his house in an attempt for members of the public to identify, so police could possibly tie Tobin to other disappearances or murders. Some of the jewellery police found was years old, and very unique. Of course, every item of Margaret’s jewellery – her watch, earrings, and all of her rings – had been taken.
Tobin was also a convicted serial rapist and sexual sadist. He is known to have stabbed Angelika Kluk to death after raping her, and concealed her body. He is suspected of doing the same to both Vicky Hamilton and Dinah Mcnichol, although their bodies were skeletonised when found some 17 years after they had disappeared, so an exact cause of death could not be ascertained. And both girls were buried. Raped, stabbed and buried – the same as Margaret.
But what is perhaps the most telling factor that possibly ties Margaret’s murder to Peter Tobin is that in the years preceding and succeeding 1978, Peter Tobin lived in a succession of houses less than three miles from Stanmer Park. Displayed here is a Google Map link showing addresses where Tobin lived over the years, note the proximity to Stanmer Park.
I am in no way suggesting that Tobin is definitely responsible for Margaret’s murder, it is up to the reader to draw conclusions for themselves based on this albeit circumstantial evidence. But this man will highly likely have offended before Margaret’s murder, and again afterwards. I believe that Tobin is a definite person of interest in this case and if not already, should seriously be looked at as a definite suspect by Sussex Constabulary. He is a sexual sadist and a convicted serial killer who has the same psycopathy as the man who raped, stabbed and buried Margaret Frame. He can be placed just a few short miles away from Stanmer Park at either side of 1978. Surely the chances of two men with the same psycopathy and same intent to rape and kill women, living in the same area at the same time, stretches credulity? It is of course possible, it is just my opinion that it is highly unlikely. Of course, unless Tobin himself confesses, it may never be known for certain if he is responsible or not. There is no forensic evidence to link him definitively to the crime, no DNA evidence, and Tobin himself is notorious for not talking to police about his crimes. He just tells them to “prove it”.
It may just be possible that “The Beast of Stanmer Park” is already serving a life sentence. Perhaps time will tell.
The True Crime Enthusiast.