Hallbottom Street, in the Greater Manchester town of Hyde is situated in the picturesque area of the base of the Pennines. It hasn’t changed too much since the 1970’s, when it was part rural lane part mix of council housing and stone cottages. But in 1979, this picturesque road was blighted by being the scene of a horrific double murder. A young couple were bludgeoned to death in their own home in what a senior detective investigating described as “one of the most vicious killings I have ever come across”. It is a crime that remains unsolved to this day.
The victims were 30 year old part time taxi driver Joe Gallagher, and his girlfriend of two years, 20 year old barmaid Frieda Hunter. The couple had lived together for about a year in their semi- detached council property, no 3 Hallbottom Street, Hyde. Frieda and Joe were described as being a devoted couple, very outgoing and involved in the popular and predominant biker community of the 1970’s. Joe was from the Wythenshawe area of Manchester, and was described as being academically outstanding, doing well enough in studies to have a promising career as a laboratory technician. Perhaps there was some essence of nomad in Joe, for he left his promising laboratory career and signed up for the Army, leaving home and spending three years as a serving soldier. It is not documented as to whether Joe had a remarkable Army career or not, but when he left after serving three years he adapted a totally contrasting “hippy” kind of lifestyle, a world away from the regimented routine of Army life. He lived for a time in a commune near Glastonbury, and then moved further north to Birmingham. Here, Joe was briefly married to a woman who bore him a son. But the marriage did not last, although it is unclear as to whether at the time of his death Joe was divorced or still married. The couple split up and Joe found himself embroiled in the biker culture and heavy rock scene of 1970’s Britain. He rode a Triumph Tiger motorcycle and found a job as a roadie for a band. It also about this time that Joe began to use cannabis, which was commonplace in the biker culture of the 1970’s.
Frieda Hunter was 10 years Joe’s junior, and had moved down to the Hyde area from her native Scotland to study a creative arts course at the local Polytechnic college. She hadn’t enjoyed the course and decided to drop out, but as she had made a lot of friends and also enjoyed the biker culture and the music scene, Frieda had decided to stay in the area. Frieda and Joe met and began a relationship in the late 1970’s, and eventually the couple moved in together to 3 Hallbottom Street. In mid- February 1979, Frieda had started working as a barmaid at the Queen’s Hotel in Hyde, and on Saturday 24th February had worked a busy shift. Joe had collected her from work after closing time that evening as was their routine, and the couple had gone home.
It was the last time both Frieda and Joe were seen alive, except by their killer.
By Wednesday 28th February 1979, a friend of Joe’s and fellow taxi-driver was concerned that he hadn’t been able to reach him for several days. He had called at the house on two occasions since the Saturday evening, with no reply, and his concern was grave enough that when there was no answer on the Wednesday, he decided to force his way into the property. His concern was heightened when he found the rear kitchen window already broken, and upon entering he discovered something horrific. Joe and Frieda were found in their upstairs bedroom. They were lying together in their blood-soaked bed, each of them having received at least 14 blows each to the head and face. The couple had been battered to death in an attack so severe that their heads had been effectively destroyed. When found, the body of Joe was laid across Frieda as if he had tried in vain to protect her from an attack. The later post mortems were to determine that the likely murder weapon had been a large and heavy hammer, and that Joe and Frieda had been killed possibly up to three days before they were found.
A murder enquiry was immediately launched, but house to house enquiries soon established that no sound of a struggle or screams coming from the house had been heard at any time between the Saturday and the Wednesday. No suspicious activity had been noticed by any of the couple’s neighbours or residents of Hallbottom Street throughout this period, and there were no obvious or immediate suspects. Investigating officers appealed for witnesses who had noticed anybody in the area that was heavily blood-stained, which the killer would surely have been due to the ferocity of the attack. But no one came forward to report seeing anyone who had been. A mass search for a murder weapon was undertaken, with specialist search teams searching ponds, drains and rubbish tips in the area. But this was to no avail; no murder weapon was or has ever been found.
A possible motive for the savage killing was also elusive. Neither Joe nor Frieda was found to have had any disagreements or arguments with anybody, and neither was found to have anybody who bore them a long standing grudge. They were described by all who knew them as being devoted to each other, and no evidence was found that suggested that either of them had been having an affair. Detectives reasoned at first that the couple had been murdered during the course of a robbery that had gone wrong. Supporting this theory was the fact that an empty wage packet of Joe’s was found on the floor of the couple’s bedroom, and Frieda’s purse was found to be empty. But nothing else was found to be missing, and a simple robbery would not explain the horrific level of violence used.
“From the ferocity of the attack, this was personal – facial and all head, that’s where the injuries were inflicted. Yes there was an empty wage packet, an empty purse, but it was clear the person had gone upstairs, killed them, come back out, and gone.” – Det Sgt Julie Adams, GMP Cold Case Unit
It was this ferocity, this complete overkill that led detectives to believe that the motive for the couple’s violent deaths was very much more of a personal motive, and answers may perhaps actually lay in the lifestyle that the couple had and the circles that they moved in. Their lifestyle was scrutinised and the murder enquiry soon focused solely upon this, with police becoming convinced that the key to solving Joe and Frieda’s murders lay within the biker community. It was established that Joe and Frieda had many friends who were members of the Dragon’s North West chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Many of these were involved in criminal activity and there were more than a few unsavoury characters within this society.
But this was to prove a mammoth task. Joe and Frieda had many friends and acquaintances that shared their passion for biking and rock music, and during the course of the enquiry detectives were to carry out nearly 2,000 interviews spanning the length and breadth of Britain. What became apparent throughout the course of these interviews was that, like many fellow members of the biker community in the 1970’s, Joe and Frieda were both regular cannabis users. It was said more than once that Joe himself was a known cannabis dealer. Joe’s family claim that they knew he used cannabis, but that it was to ease chronic pain he suffered following a series of operations upon a facial disfigurement that he had had since birth. It has never been established whether he dealt in cannabis or was just a user.
Was the murder then drug related? It was certainly a working theory, but this does not explain the level of violence used – or why Frieda was killed also? In fact, the press jumped on the drug angle and this led to Joe’s family feeling that because he was a cannabis user, the press highlighted this part of his character rather than focus overall upon the kind of man that he was. They believe that this led to a lack of public sympathy due to how drug use was viewed as unsavoury and was frowned upon, and even made potential important witnesses not come forward or want to get involved. Joe’s family described how their whole family suffered following this:
“The Press were extremely unkind to us. They needed a story and said he smoked cannabis – it was something they came back to. That was just a tiny little part of Joe. People my mother had known for years ignored her in the street, and parents at my school demanded that I was expelled because they reckoned my brother was a drug addict. It got really nasty.” – Margaret Linnane (Joe’s sister)
But ultimately, this line of enquiry like all others in the case drew a blank. The theory that the murders were drug related remained exactly that, just a theory. Throughout the course of the enquiry, several suspects were interviewed and eliminated, and no one was ever charged in connection with the brutal double murder. It has been reviewed periodically over the years, and the Greater Manchester Police Cold Case Unit is keen to stress that the murder file remains open. They are optimistic that there is still someone out there who has information that could help solve the murder of Frieda Hunter and Joe Gallagher, and that due to the passage of time and the public having more open mindedness nowadays about cannabis use and non-conventional lifestyles, this person or persons may now come forward and give vital information.
There is relatively little information available for research about this case bar what has been presented here, and what is available poses many questions. Did the killer or killers bring the murder weapon with them, or was it something they used as a weapon that was to hand? Who was struck first, was it Joe or Frieda? Who was the intended target – was it Joe, Frieda, or was it both? I do not think that the killer was invited in – I believe it likely that the couple were battered to death in bed whilst asleep. No screams or sounds of struggle were reported at any time, so this would seem likely. There is no mention of any signs of an attack in another room, and why would a killer do so but then move the couple to the bedroom? This does then suggest someone having forced entry – but someone I believe was known to the couple. Someone who knew their movements and knew that they would be home at the time. Perhaps someone who had followed them home after Joe had picked Frieda up from the Queen’s Hotel, and waited for the opportunity to break in and attack. This suggests a planned attack, not a random burglary gone wrong. I also do not believe that it should be discounted that the motive for the murder was jealousy, perhaps committed by a jealous suitor. With the absence of any witnesses having seen anyone fleeing the scene, it is even impossible to determine whether the killer was male or female. To overpower a couple would normally suggest a strong male – unless they were attacked whilst asleep. The level of overkill suggests a crime of passion, a moment of madness.
Of course, this is all speculation. There is no physical description of any suspects, there is no report of any forensic evidence being left behind by the killer, and there is no definitive motive. There is not even any way to determine which of the couple, or if it was the both of them, was the intended target? It is very likely that the answer did lie within the circles that the couple moved in, but detectives could never find the answer in these circles. It is likely that someone still knows or suspects who is responsible for the murders, but perhaps fear of reprisal has prevented them from coming forward for all these years. Joe and Frieda do not deserve this.
“The couple’s way of life may not have appealed altogether to those with more conventional backgrounds, but they were perfectly harmless and innocent people who worked honestly for a living and had a stable relationship.” – Coroner Peter Revington (speaking at inquest)
Anyone with information can contact GMP’s Cold Case Unit on 0161 856 0320 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
The True Crime Enthusiast