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Who was “The Beast of Whitworth Park”?

“This man doesn’t deserve to be living. He is a demon” – Stephen Hannaway (Elsa’s son)

Whitworth Park, in South Manchester, is a Green Flag awarded park that was opened in 1890 as an established part of the Whitworth Institute, a memorial to one of Manchester’s most famous sons, famed inventor Sir Joseph Whitworth. Famed for devising the British Standard Whitworth system, the accepted standard for screw threads, Whitworth made a fortune from his life as a celebrated engineer and entrepreneur and upon his death in 1887, he left much of his fortune to the people of Manchester which in turn was used to establish the Whitworth Institute in the grounds of where the park now is. This was taken over by the University of Manchester in 1958 and established as the Whitworth Art Gallery. Aside from its cultural content, the park is a sprawling, picturesque park that is popular all year around with families, dog walkers and joggers. It’s 18 acres skirt the Manchester Royal Infirmary and the University of Manchester student accommodation, known colloquially as “Toblerones” due to their structural shape.

Whitworth Park as it appears today

But for a period of time following the winter months of 1987, students living in the area became afraid to visit the park, even to go out at night. Because Whitworth Park was the scene in October 1987 of a horrific and savage sex killing that has to this day remained unsolved.

Like many people before her, Elsa Hannaway had dreams of starting a new life far away from her place of birth, the island of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the West Indies. As a teenager in the late 1960’s, she had decided to do just that and made the move to the UK, settling in the Longsight district of Manchester. Elsa was happy here, and over the next 20 years became a mother of five children, and although she had gotten married, had separated from her husband. They had remained on good terms however. Elsa was outgoing and popular, and apart from a minor conviction for theft in the 1970’s, kept out of trouble and instead focused upon her family. By 1984, aged 34, Elsa had became a grandmother too when her 14 year old eldest daughter Joann gave birth to a grandson, Raphael. Elsa doted on her grandson and he in turn doted upon her, and although life was hard with the strains of raising six children, Elsa’s family and the home that all seven lived in in Lydford Walk, Longsight, was her life.

Elsa Hannaway

Elsa also enjoyed a night out on the town on occasion, a chance to let her hair down and gain a bit of respite from the demands of caring for six children, and the night of Thursday October 29th 1987 had been the first chance that Elsa had had to get out for a while. Elsa enjoyed a drink, but was known to be rambunctious, boisterous and sometimes thought of as a nuisance when she had been drinking. Elsa’s first stop of the evening was the West Indian Sports and Social Club in Raby Street, Manchester’s Moss Side, where she was seen drinking quite heavily and dancing alone, before she moved onto the now defunct Big Western pub, also in Moss Side on Moss Side East Road. Elsa stayed here until closing time, when she then left the pub with a man named Ewart Simon. Simon was later to testify that Elsa had been very intoxicated when they had left, and they had parted ways not long after leaving the pub.

Elsa was then next seen in nearby Quinney Crescent, where she was seen in an inebriated state knocking on several doors and attempting to gain access to a number of early Halloween parties that were occurring that evening. Having no luck due to being too drunk, she then made her way back along Moss Side East Road and returned to the West Indian Sports and Social Club, attempting a late drink. Again, because she had clearly had too much to drink, she was refused, and instead attempted to gain a lift home from a departing customer. However, he told her he was not going in her direction and instead Elsa left to make her own way back, setting off from here at about 01:15am. She was spotted again about an hour later, at 02:15am slowly making her way in the direction of her home along Moss Lane East Road at the junction of Lloyd Street. By this time, Elsa was either in company with a man, or was being closely followed. This sighting is quite near to Whitworth Park, only about 150 yards.

The now defunct Big western pub in Moss Side

At 07:00am on the morning of Friday 30th October, a jogger making his usual early morning training run around Whitworth Park made a shocking discovery. He discovered Elsa’s battered and naked body lying in undergrowth about 100 yards from the entrance of the park. She was alive, but very barely. Shaken, the jogger summoned police and an ambulance, which arrived swiftly and rushed her to hospital. Surgeons battled for six hours to save her, but it was too late to save Elsa, who died later that day without regaining consciousness.

The terrible news was broken to Elsa’s children, and her eldest children were left to try to hold the family together, whilst Elsa’s family and friends rallied around. Meanwhile, a huge police investigation was launched, with a team of 125 detectives led by Detective Superintendent Arnold Beales hunting for “The Beast of Whitworth Park”. Immediate and obvious suspects, such as Elsa’s estranged husband and Ewart Simon were immediately questioned and ruled out. Intense enquiries in the local community helped police to pinpoint Elsa’s last known movements, which are recounted above. But there was a missing hour between sightings of Elsa – from 01:15am to 02:15am. Where was she in this hour, and had she met her killer in this timeframe?

“The attack was sickeningly severe. I will not rest until we have our man. It was an appalling attack by a very violent man who must be caught” – Det Supt Arnold Beales (speaking in 1987)

Investigators were shocked and appalled at the ferocity of the crime – Elsa was found to have been savagely attacked, in the best guess of police by being brutally beaten unconscious by the killer’s bare hands and feet. It was so ferocious an attack that Elsa had been left with devastating internal injuries, severe brain damage, and had even had a tooth kicked out. She was then dragged 100 yards off the street into the darkness of Whitworth Park, where she was stripped naked and savagely raped and beaten further. Her killer then left her to die in the cold and the darkness. It appeared to be primarily a sex crime, as Elsa’s handbag was found amongst her pile of discarded clothes nearby to her body. However, a six inch gold chain that she was wearing around her wrist that evening was found to be missing. An appeal for this chain was widely made, but it was never found. What was also discovered, amongst the pile of clothing, was a man’s Sekonda watch with a broken strap. Had Elsa pulled it off her attacker whilst trying to defend herself?

Press release following the murder

The crime created a blanket of fear amongst Manchester’s student population, many of whom were left too frightened to be alone outside at night, and many self imposed curfews were invoked by the sizeable female student population, who went out in groups if they did at all at night. Although the crime was headline news and was very widely publicised, after the initial flurry of information had been received investigating officers soon found themselves hitting a wall of silence. The area was one that still retained, like many other similar areas of the time, a dim view of a police force that they considered racist and hostile towards the largely ethnic community. Many of the community that investigators enquiries were focused upon were in turn openly hostile and distrusting of the police, and bore a cynical view of police intention and commitment towards catching Elsa’s killer. The following statement reflects this:

“One teenager asked me did we really try that hard when the victim was black. It is a sad view but one that makes us more determined than ever to succeed on this enquiry” – Murder squad detective

As a result, it is possible that not everyone who could have provided crucial information at the time did come forward. Several people who had been in the vicinity of the park did however come forward, and it was one eyewitness whose information provided police with the strongest lead that they were to use.

Patricia O’Laughlin had also been out that night, but unlike Elsa, had managed to get a taxi back home. Patricia lived very near to Whitworth Park, and sometime after 02:45am she had just got out of the taxi when she saw what she was to describe later at the inquest into Elsa’s death. Patricia saw a West Indian couple arguing a short distance away on a footpath leading into the park, a couple that police were convinced was Elsa and her killer. Patricia told the inquest that she saw the man grab the woman from behind in a bear hug type grip, and then pinion her arms to her sides. Not wanting to get involved in what she believed was a domestic argument, Patricia walked off, but looked back to see the man stood over the woman, with the woman on her hands and knees loudly moaning, “Oh my god”. The man was described as being in his early 20’s, West Indian with a Rastafarian appearance, 5″8 to 5″10 tall, stubbly bearded with dreadlocked hair, and wearing a knitted hat with multi-coloured red, green and gold circles. An artist’s impression of this man was created and widespreadly appealed, and is reproduced here

Is this the face of Elsa’s killer?

What was very likely the same man was seen fleeing from the park at about 03:10am. He had a panicked look upon his face, and ran off at high speed out of the Oxford Road side of the park, before disappearing in the vicinity of Hathersage Road. This is the side of the park to the right from where Elsa’s body was later found.

This man was never traced, and never came forward.

Despite all efforts by detectives, Elsa’s case soon came to a standstill, and took its place as part of the sad number of murders that remain undetected in the UK. Police were left with the feeling that someone in the community knew who Elsa’s killer was, but because there was such a high disregard for the police in that area, and because the community perceived the police as being racist, the feeling that that high feeling of disregard had caused the community to close ranks and effectively shield the killer remained.  This undoubtedly hampered the investigation, as police tried expressly hard to catch Elsa’s killer and were unfairly blamed as doing nothing. They utilised the local and national press and television to keep Elsa’s name at the forefront of people’s minds, even going so far as to air an appeal on an illegal Moss Side radio station named IRS Radio. It was hoped that the appeals may prick the guilty conscience of the killer or of someone shielding him, but it was in vain. What didn’t help get the community on side was the fact that government officials raided the station just a few weeks later and closed it down.

Today, Elsa’s murder remains one of the unsolved cold cases that Greater Manchester Police have on their books. Her children have all grown up and have families of their own now, with even her beloved grandson Raphael having a son of his own now. But the entire family still live through each day remembering the terrible day that Elsa was taken from them. In an interview with the Manchester Evening News in 2016, Elsa’s eldest daughter Joann, now a mother of three herself, described the day that she and her siblings learned their mother was dead, and how she feels that Elsa’s murder has now largely been “forgotten”.

Joann Hannaway

“Raphael even called her “mummy”. When news of the murder was broadcast on Granada TV that night, little Raphael pointed at the screen and said ‘there’s mummy’. That broke everybody’s heart. I’ll never forget that. Obviously there is someone out there who would know who’s done it or who knows something. I think it’s really sad after so many years that it’s just been left. She’s been forgotten. I don’t think she should be forgotten. I don’t think anybody should die on their own like that. To me it was a pointless waste of a life” – Elsa’s daughter, Joann (speaking in 2016).

But cold case detectives in 2016 decided to undertake a full forensic review of the case, in the hope that some breakthrough could be made even after the passage of so many years.

TTCE believes that by today’s standards, the best chance to be able to find Elsa’s killer would be by the discovery of any workable DNA samples from the items retained from the crime scene. It wasn’t concentrated on at the time, as DNA profiling was still relatively in its infancy. Instead, the focus of the investigation was a more old fashioned knocking on doors approach. There are no reports of detectives recovering any samples such as blood or semen from Elsa or the crime scene at the time, possibly because the offender may have used a condom and then taken it away from the scene with him. With technological advancement in DNA profiling, it is today possible that any item of Elsa’s clothing, or the Sekonda watch found at the crime scene, may produce enough DNA samples to make a workable profile – albeit depending if these items have been retained for 30 years, and if so, in condition that makes testing for such samples possible. This remains a better and more realistic hope for evidence rather than an eyewitness coming forward 30 years later. As 30 years have passed, the artist’s impression of the Rastafarian man (who it should be pointed out, is the most likely but not definite killer) is now largely moot. It was a generic enough impression, considering the largely ethnic area that Rusholme and Moss Side was at the time, to not allow the killer much fear of being recognised from it. And of course today, the person – if he is of course still alive – will have aged and would be middle aged now. He may have even moved out of the area.

The initial investigation in 1987 looked at and ruled out any persons of interest in Elsa’s day to day life as possible suspects, but this is not to say that she was unknown to her killer. It is possible, indeed likely, that Elsa’s killer had met her earlier on that evening. This could have been in either of the pubs, or at one of the properties holding parties that she had been turned away from. Both Ewart Simon and the customer that Elsa had tried to get a lift home from were eliminated as suspects, and neither reported her as seeing her with any other men that evening. But perhaps someone who police never found noticed her, and seeing her walking home afterwards, joined her? She was seen at about 02:15 nearby to Whitworth Park in the company of a man – was this Elsa’s killer? It is likely. It does not appear to have been a premeditated crime – the amount of violence used instead suggests a heated argument that got out of hand. Possibly someone attempted to persuade Elsa to have sex and was refused, which then led to an argument and ultimately, to her death? It is most likely that this was a drink fuelled crime. No weapon or restraint was used in the attack, no attempt was made to hide the body, and Elsa’s killer did not shy away from attention, being involved in a heated discussion with her that was heard and witnessed. It was also only a short distance into a public park in a very urban area of Manchester. This does not sit as the work of a calculating and organised sexual predator. Instead, Elsa was beaten to death in an orgy of violence. A spur of the moment crime.

This is not to suggest though that this was the killer’s first sexual offence. It is likely that this man had a history of previous offending, possibly previous sexual offences but most certainly for violence or offences committed under the influence of alcohol. A person does not rape and batter a woman to death as their first offence. Police at the time became convinced that Elsa’s killer was the same man responsible for two previous rapes in the park, and if this was the case it would certainly support this theory. TTCE believes that the offender was certainly local to the area at the time, and was very familiar with the Whitworth Park area, therefore should certainly be considered as the prime suspect for the previous rapes. The age of the suspect in the artist’s impression, and the locale of the attack, suggests that he could quite possibly have been a student. He may have also left Manchester upon cessation of his studies, and so avoided the police dragnet. Or he may have been spoken to at the time and mistakenly ruled out of the enquiry.

It seems quite tragic that mistrust and a sour opinion of police may have contributed to this man evading capture for so many years and helped flaw and taint the investigation. This was a despicable crime, one that broke up a family and still to this day shows the effects on Elsa’s family and friends, who desperately want the crime solved so that they can gain some form of closure.

“She was 37. She was still young and able-bodied. She missed out on numerous grandchildren. It’s sad. It would be nice if somebody turned around and said ‘I remember and I need to say something’. Then she can be rested. There’s no way no-one knows nothing. It’s impossible. But some communities stick together and don’t want to say anything. It would be a big weight off my shoulders and my brothers if something came out of this. It’s been nearly 30 years. The person who did this needs to come forward and give the family some closure. It’s been a long time.” – Elsa’s daughter, Joann.

Links to some of the press articles at the time of Elsa’s murder can be found Here

Anyone with any information concerning Elsa’s murder should contact Greater Manchester Police using the 101 service, or alternatively by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111


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