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The “Knotty Ash” Murder

More than fifty-five years have now passed since one of the most horrific and strangest unsolved crimes in the history of Liverpool, the savage killing of mother of two Maureen Dutton in 1961 in her own home. At the time, and still to this day it has baffled police, and nothing definitive has ever been established as to the motive for her murder. Bogus medical professionals, strangely acting youths, and even a ritual sacrificial angle all became part of the investigation at the time.

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Maureen Dutton with sons David and Andrew

Brian and Maureen Dutton were a young couple who lived in the quiet Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash, which is famous for being the birthplace and home of celebrated British comedian and entertainer Sir Ken Dodd. There is nothing to suggest that the Dutton’s were anything but a happy couple, Maureen being a housewife as was the popular tradition of the time, and husband Brian a research chemist working at the ICI establishment in nearby Widnes. The couple already had a two year old son, David, and in November 1961, the Dutton family had become four when Maureen gave birth to the couple’s second child, a boy, Andrew.

On the 20th December 1961 Liverpool, as was the rest of the country, was getting ready for Christmas. The Dutton family, who lived at number 14 Thingwall Road, were excited about little Andrew’s first  Christmas, and Brian had gone off to work that morning at 8:00am after taking Maureen a cup of tea up to her as she was still in bed. Maureen had made plans that day to take David to visit the Christmas nativity scene at nearby Childwall Parish church. As the area was blanketed in freezing fog as it had been for a few days, Maureen had decided not to take 22 day old Andrew out with her and David, and had arranged for her mother-in-law Elsie Dutton to come and babysit that afternoon.  Elsie came to visit Maureen and the children that morning and agreed that she would return to look after Andrew in the afternoon, but by 1:30pm the fog had worsened so much that Elsie was unable to get back there, and phoned Maureen to say so.

This telephone call was the last time Maureen was confirmed to be alive.

Brian returned home at 6:10pm that evening, and straight away was struck by the fact that the house was in darkness. Entering the house, he noticed that the remains of the families lunch were still half-eaten on the dining table in the front room. He couldn’t hear any sounds, and moving to the family living room at the rear of the house discovered a horrific sight. His wife lay dead on the floor, having been brutally stabbed at least 14 times. His son David sat nearby in a daze, and baby Andrew lay in a crib. Although neither child had been harmed, it is believed that David had witnessed his mother being murdered. Shaken, Brian immediately raised the alarm.

The subsequent murder hunt operated from the city’s Old Swan police station, and was led by Chief Superintendent James Morris of Liverpool CID. But right away the enquiry team were struck with a lack of solid leads. There were no apparent signs of forced entry to the house, indeed, it appeared as though Maureen had willingly opened the door to her killer. Nothing appeared to have been stolen from the house, there were no signs of a struggle, no obvious forensic evidence from the killer left at the scene, and Maureen had not been sexually assaulted or interfered with. No one had been seen visiting or leaving the Dutton house that afternoon, and no sounds of a struggle or screams were heard by anyone in the area. Teams of police search specialists scoured the bushes, streams and drains of Knotty Ash and Dovecot with metal in an attempt to find a discarded murder weapon, which is thought to have been a long bladed knife. But no murder weapon was or  has ever been found. The massive enquiry looked at every angle possible, with thousands of people spoken to and some 20,000 statements having been taken within a month of the crime. Local sex offenders and housebreakers were looked at and ruled out one by one, vehicles in the area were checked and ruled out, and toddler David was constantly monitored by a policewoman in case any of his babble could reveal any clues as to what he had witnessed. The child was however, incoherent, and was never able to give police any leads.  But these lines of enquiry all petered out, nor has any motive for Maureen’s murder ever been firmly established.

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Police investigating Maureen’s murder hunt for a murder weapon in the Knotty Ash area

The city press jumped on the story, and the “Knotty Ash Murder” became front page news. The subsequent publicity and house to house enquiries led to several theories being presented, and reports of people that police wished to speak to to eliminate from their enquiries. Three in particular seemed promising. Reports came through of a man who was operating in the area on the pretence of being a doctor, visiting women who had recently given birth and requesting them to undress so he could examine them. The man had examined one Halewood woman at home, but when her concerned husband contacted the local health service to ascertain the man’s identity, it was revealed that the man was a fraudster. As Maureen was a new mother, this was a promising line of enquiry and the hunt was on for the bogus doctor, but for the time being this was a line of enquiry that seemed to lead nowhere.

Another lead that ultimately led to a dead end was the sighting of a young blonde woman who had drawn attention to herself on the afternoon of the murder when she had boarded a number 10d bus from nearby East Prescot road, very close to the murder scene. She had an Irish accent, and was babbling incoherently about how she needed to get out of the city immediately, how she had done something terrible, and how she was going to London to catch a plane. When the woman was last seen when she exited the bus at Liverpool’s Lime Street, she kept repeating “Oh my god” over and over. Who was the woman and what had disturbed her so greatly? She was never traced, and never came forward.

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Press coverage of the “Knotty Ash” murder

But by far the strongest lead police had to go on were the reports of a “good looking” youth wearing a black leather jacket who was seen several times in the vicinity of Thingwall Road on the day of the murder. He was spotted running very fast down Thingwall Road that afternoon, and not long after was spotted being violently sick near the steps of Court Hey Methodist Church, which is in quite close proximity to Thingwall Road. Whilst vomiting, the man kept his hands firmly wedged within his pockets as he was doing so, and this was unusual enough for the witness to remember vividly. A woman who lived only a few doors up from the Dutton family reported that on the afternoon Maureen was murdered, she had answered a knock at her door and been confronted by who was likely the same man. He had a menacing look upon his face and didn’t say a word, but just stood there clapping his hands together. Frightened, the woman had quickly slammed and locked the door. The witnesses helped police produce an identikit picture of the youth, and this was published in the local press to a good initial response. Within 24 hours of the identikit being published police had received over 60 suggestions as to the identity of the man, but each name suggested was eventually eliminated, and this man has never been found.

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Press Identikit picture of the “Running Man” in the black leather jacket. Who was he?

One of the strangest aspects of the crime is the consideration that detectives gave to the possibility that Maureen Dutton was a sacrificial victim in some sort of offering to a Polynesian god known as Tiki. This was an angle that was seriously looked at, as it was believed that the cult had some followers in the Liverpool area. Detectives acting under the orders of the Deputy Chief Constable of Liverpool, Herbert Balmer, examined the activities and customs of the cult and found that its members believed in making sacrifices to Tiki during the winter solstice – the time period in which Maureen was murdered. The cult members were also known to have a reverse swastika symbol tattooed on their upper left arms.  Although ultimately the sacrificial victim angle was ruled out as a motive for Maureen’s murder, the angle did lead to a strange twist of fate. In 1962, a male nurse living on Upper Parliament Street in Liverpool was arrested for theft of drugs and equipment from numerous Liverpool hospitals. The man was identified as being the bogus doctor reported as a line of enquiry the previous year, and was found to have the Tiki cult symbol tattooed on his upper left arm.  But he was ultimately ruled out as a suspect in Maureen’s murder, and police were back to square one. The investigation wound down as time went on and leads dried up, and Maureen’s killer has never been found to this day.

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The Dutton family, pictured following Maureen’s murder.

Due to the amount of time that has passed, there is a real possibility that the killer may be now dead themselves. If they are still alive, he or she would be likely in their seventies or eighties now. It is likely that they will have committed other crimes, and also more than likely have been already known to local health professionals and police – this person will surely have been in the system somewhere. But he or she slipped through the cracks and was missed at the time, perhaps never to be caught again.

Maureen’s husband and family were left to grieve, and her children David and Andrew were both forced to grow up without knowing much about their mother bar the horrific fate she suffered. Yet Maureen’s murder has never been forgotten, as the crime has been re-appealed over the years and police have regularly reviewed the very cold ashes of the crime awaiting new information that may lead them to the killer. As recently as 2016, the crime was again appealed in the Liverpool Echo newspaper and an amateur crime writer is planning and researching a book about the case. Until that day comes that the killer comes to light however, the tight knit community of Knotty Ash will still remember with a chill the day that death came out of the fog and took one of their own.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

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8 thoughts on “The “Knotty Ash” Murder Leave a comment

  1. I have some interesting finds on this case and recent work .. which my members have posted also .. would be interesting to find some more details on the ICI man himself.. as this could link the man we think was involved .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was at the Thingwall rd murder on the day it happened and i think i was the running man as at the time i was pushing my motorbike down the rd to get it started but the privates hid the bike so all you could see was me running if you know what i mean i had been sent to a house two doors away with my mate we were ( plumbers ) as soon as we arrived he sent me back to the yard for a water key my bike wouldn’t start so i had to bump start it i was away for about 1 and a half to 2 hours when i got back he just said he had fixed i don’t know how but just rushed me out of the house so i had to push the bike again and i was wearing the cloths that was mentioned a black motor cycle jacket i have been telling people and the police for years but no body wants to know, cheers Bill

    Like

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