“He just went to the shop, which was perfectly normal for an eleven year old kid, and never came back” – Dennis Baron (Allan’s brother)
Nearly 50 years have now gone by since one of the most infamous unsolved murders in the North-East of England was committed in the winter of 1970. On a bitterly cold January day, an 11-year-old boy disappeared from a street in Newcastle where he had been playing with his friends, and he was not seen again until he was found murdered on farmland just a few miles away the very next morning. Whoever killed him was never caught, and nobody has ever been arrested in connection with his murder. It should be noted that information available concerning the case is rather sparse, and what is available can be contradicting and solicits more questions than provides answers. As usual, TTCE will recount the facts that are known before making any possible analysis that can be made.
Allan Graham would have been approaching his 60th birthday this year. He may have married and have raised a family of his own, and he may even have been a grandfather now. But Allan never got that chance, because the 1970’s were just three weeks old when, on the 24th January 1970, he disappeared whilst on an errand visiting a shop in a busy Newcastle street. Reports surfaced, albeit years later, of a man in a van who seemed to know Allan and who drove off with the boy in his van after calling him to get into the vehicle. Allan was never seen alive again, except by his killer.
Like most boys of his age, Allan was football mad and was outgoing and boisterous, being what his half-brother Dennis Baron described as a “lad’s lad”. Although he came from a broken home, living with his mother Mary Wells in Gateshead, Allan was described as being happy and full of life. He had half-brothers some years older than himself that he idolised, and over the weekend of the 23rd to 25th January 1970, Allan and his mother were staying with one of these brothers, Dennis Baron. Dennis was 25 at the time, and lived just four miles away from Allan and his mother, across the River Tyne in the district of Benwell. Allan regularly visited his brother’s home, and had made many friends in the area.
Allan was outside playing football with some of these friends that Saturday afternoon, the 24th January 1970, when he was summoned by his mother and told to go and collect some cigarettes from Appleton’s sweetshop and tobacconist, which was located on the end of Gerald Street where Dennis lived. A convenience store stands in the place of Appleton’s now, but the rest of the street has not changed too much since the 1970’s, it remains terraced and well populated. Allan had just 50 yards to travel to the shop, but when he hadn’t returned after 30 minutes his mother was at first cross, thinking the boy had got distracted and had rejoined some type of game along with the other children. Going out to scold him, she was annoyed that Allan was nowhere to be found, and returned back to the house. When hours had passed, during which time darkness had fallen and Allan had not returned for an evening meal, any annoyance was long forgotten and was replaced with alarm. After a fruitless search of the Gerald Street area, and nearby Hodgkin Park, Allan’s worried family reported him missing.
Of course, this was long before the age we now live in, where computers and smart phones are commonplace. Whereas today any missing person appeal can be widespread near instantaneously via social media, and this information is available to read and re-distribute on a wide variety of platforms, a missing person’s appeal in the 1970’s was much more basic. Allan’s family, neighbours and volunteers searched the local area far into the night in a police coordinated operation. A description of Allan was circulated, and police patrols were told to be on the lookout for the missing boy. What began as a missing person enquiry was, however, sadly to take a more sinister and tragic turn just a few hours later.
Callerton Grange Farm stands about 7 miles away from the Benwell district, in a remote location in between the villages of Ponteland and Throckley. A farm worker making an early start at the farm at dawn on the morning of 25th January 1970 made a horrifying discovery. Lying in a water-logged ditch adjacent to Callerton Grange farmland off Stamfordham Road was the body of Allan Graham. He had been strangled. Shaken, the worker abandoned all thoughts of work for that day, and contacted police.
What was to be a massive police murder enquiry was launched from that instant. The scene was sealed off, and samples were taken from Allan’s body and the surrounding area. House to house enquiries were made in the Benwell area where Allan had disappeared from, the Throckley area where his body was found, and the Gateshead are where he lived. Allan’s family were questioned extensively, his friends and school friends were spoken to, and his life and background were looked at to try to establish a possible motive. All known sex offenders within the local area were spoken to, and even a reconstruction of Allan’s last known movements was made just a week after his disappearance, with Allan being played by a policeman’s son. The reconstruction aired on the day of Allan’s funeral at Gateshead’s Saltwell Cemetery, the 31st January 1970.
Police quickly formed the opinion that Allan’s killer knew him, and this wasn’t a stranger abduction. They believed that he was deliberately targeted, and the attack had a mixture of a homosexual and a “vengeance” motive. Believing that the answer to whoever killed him may lay in some overlooked part of Allan’s life or interests, these were examined more closely. Allan’s diary was scrutinised for any clues, and local pigeon breeders were spoken as it was discovered that Allan had a vested interest in pigeons, and knew many of the traders and racers. But all of this led to nothing, no one at the time came forward to say that they knew anything or had seen anything the day of Allan’s disappearance that could help further the investigation. Every possible lead led police to a dead-end.
By July 1970, the investigation was at a complete standstill. No one had been arrested in connection with the murder, and police had no clear suspects despite interviewing hundreds of people and taking thousands of statements. Every lead that police had had been followed up and had lead nowhere, and the investigation remained shelved until 1972, when a separate investigative team reviewed the evidence in a fresh look. This review too proved unsuccessful, and even a £100,000 reward offered in 1974 by the now defunct News Of The World newspaper for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Allan’s killer failed to bring any new information in. Allan’s case joined the annals of UK unsolved murders, and was left subject to periodic reviews for many years.
Finally, in 2014, The Newcastle Chronicle newspaper ran a feature over several weeks focusing upon some of the North-East’s infamous unsolved crimes, and Allan’s murder was featured as part of this. It prompted yet another review of the case, by Northumbria Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, and this time, modern policing techniques and advancements in forensic science would be available. But arguably, this served to highlight flaws in the original investigation. Following the newspaper feature, important witnesses who could provide what would have been crucial evidence at the time of the initial investigation came forward with information that, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, was not taken at the time.
Allan’s childhood friend Ken Brown, from Arthur’s Hill, contacted the Newcastle Chronicle following the feature to say that he had been playing with Allan and another friend, Dave Bryson, moments before Allan vanished. Ken was to describe Allan going into Appleton’s shop to get cigarettes, and went on to say:
“When he came out of the shop this van was there on the side of the road. There was a man in the driver’s side with the window open. He shouted, ‘Allan get in here now’ or “Come on Allan, get in here now”, and Allan started to run away. This person in the van definitely knew Allan, and the way he shouted at him sort of upset me. It was like he was getting told off. It was very abrupt. We never saw Allan again after that.”
Ken went on to describe the van as being taller than a car, dark blue in colour and having two rear doors and one on either side. The vehicle had chrome front fittings and bumper, and round headlights. The driver of the vehicle was described as being:
“Aged between 26 and 30, of slim build, and with dark hair, combed back-over with a greasy product like Brylcreem. He was wearing a light blue shirt and a donkey jacket. He spoke with a Geordie accent”.
Dave Bryson tragically died in 2001, but his aging father Matthew also came forward to echo Ken’s story. Matthew remembered Dave telling him he had been playing in the street with Allan the day he disappeared, and heard a man shouting his name from a car or van. Matthew said:
“My son used to knock about with him and he played with him on the street. Our Dave was playing with him that day. He was in the shop with him then they went around the corner together and were kicking a ball about. Then he heard a bloke shout at Allan saying: ‘Come on, get in here’. Then he ran off. I think our Dave was the last one to see him alive.”
According to Ken and Mr Bryson, uniformed police officers spoke to both boys on the day Allan’s body was found, and told them that they would call at their homes to take a formal statement from them with their parents present. For reasons unknown, this never occurred. Mr Bryson too assumed that police did not need to speak to his son when no visit materialised.
“The police knew I had been with Allan that day, but not one person actually came to my house” – Ken Brown.
Allan’s surviving family, his brothers Fred and Dennis Baron, were critical of this and the initial investigation as a whole:
“I don’t understand why no one come forward until now. A week after Allan died the police did a televised reconstruction. He was missing for eight hours before he died. Mum was desperate to find out who did it, and was always very sad and frustrated that Allan wasn’t given justice. I only hope now that the police identify the killer before my time is up. What Ken is saying ties in with what we always thought. I still believe it must have been someone Allan knew as he was a lad’s lad and a little fighter so he would have put up a fight if someone tried to get him into a car.” – Fred Baron (Allan’s brother)
This is a very sad crime, not just because it remains unsolved and for nearly 50 years a family has had to live with the constant reminder that the killer of a son and a brother has escaped justice, but because it seems to highlight a very flawed initial investigation. It seems incredulous that such important witnesses were not spoken to immediately and a formal statement recorded, and a description of both suspect and vehicle issued. Had they been, there is a massive chance that Allan’s killer would have been found.
What then, can be ascertained about Allan’s murder? Unfortunately, the absence of clear and detailed information available about the crime as a whole makes this difficult. It is therefore important to understand that the following is in no way definitive – it is speculation based upon the known facts of Allan’s murder. Police theory was that Allan’s killer knew him and vice versa – TTCE is inclined to agree with this. The fact that he went missing from an area that he did not live in and was just visiting suggests that someone knew he would be there that weekend. Gerald Street was, as is now, a terraced and heavily populated street with children playing outside. No one reported seeing Allan being snatched, and a stranger abduction in such an area would bring with it a high risk of being seen or foiled. Conversely, unlikely, whereas a streetwise schoolboy would not be alarmed getting into the vehicle of someone known to them. This would not draw direct attention as there would be no scene or struggle.
Allan was found strangled, and police were inclined to believe that the motive was a mixture of sexual and vengeance. Again, the absence of information makes this difficult to ascertain. It is not reported if Allan was found clothed or unclothed, it is not reported if he was strangled manually or with a ligature, or if there was any evidence of an actual or attempted sexual assault, and if his possessions were still on his person – all points if which clarified would help to confirm or deny these theories and could provide important pointers to provide an insight into the psychological makeup of Allan’s killer. It is very likely that the motive was of a sexual nature – an 11-year-old boy is not a lucrative target for robbery. Nor can it have been an argument over a woman both killer and victim were involved with. Vengeance is a possible motive – but what does an 11 year old boy do to warrant being killed in revenge for? TTCE believes that perhaps not vengeance is a motive here, but possibly Allan had witnessed something that his killer wanted kept quiet? Or perhaps Allan had been groomed by his killer, and when propositioned sexually had refused and caused a scene, and his killer had strangled him in a panic? It would be likely that if vengeance was a motive, Allan’s body would have shown signs of being beaten – there is no report of this, which tends to support the theory of a sexually motivated killing. It is equally possible that Allan’s murder was unplanned and was a spur of the moment crime, perhaps even having been killed accidentally during sexual activity gone wrong? But again, due to the lack of clear report of the crime scene, the state of Allan’s body etc makes these theories pure speculation.
It was reported that the ditch in which Allan’s body was found was waterlogged, and that it had rained throughout the night before his body was discovered. This may have removed any workable forensic evidence, although samples were removed from his body and the surrounding area and were retained up until 2016. However, despite DNA tests using the latest advancements in forensic DNA recovery being performed on these surviving samples, obtaining a DNA profile from these has so far proven unsuccessful.
Police believed initially that Allan had been killed around the area of Gerald Street soon after getting into the van. This seems highly unlikely. It would be too risky an area to strangle someone for risk of detection – it is more likely that Allan was killed near to where he was found. The area his body was dumped is open countryside, so the risk of his killer being disturbed or spotted is minimal. It was also under cover of darkness, which added extra cover for the killer. The location suggests a killer very familiar with the local area – perhaps because it is his home turf? There is of course, examples of the predatory travelling sex killer – the names Robert Black and Brian Field spring instantly to mind – and it is of course possible that Allan was the victim of such an individual – but it is impossible to assign guilt to anyone with such a lack of distinct evidence. If this were the case, and Allan was killed by a travelling sexual predator, then it would be more likely that Allan’s body would have been dumped much further away than 7 miles away (Black for example was known to have dumped victims up to hundreds of miles away from the sites of their abduction).
It seems that the best opportunity to catch Allan’s killer was missed, and that this was at the beginning of the initial investigation. If Ken and Mr Bryson can be classed as reliable witnesses (and there is no reason to suggest that they are fabricating or falsely recollecting their accounts), then there were people who had seen Allan’s likely killer well enough to describe him and his vehicle at the time of his disappearance, and this is information that was not acted upon for reasons unknown. It is incredulous to believe that this wasn’t the information which the initial focus of the enquiry stemmed from – it is surely basic and crucial information to find out and this would surely have come out. Yet if this is true and police never followed it up, then questions must also be asked why it took over 40 years for these witnesses to come forward and repeat this information, despite repeated reviews and re-appeals – and a substantial cash reward being offered? If somebody you know is found murdered, and the crime remains unsolved – then you tend to remember details vividly and take a keen interest. Because the information was received after such a large passage of time, it is rendered largely useless now. Any physical description of the driver is now useless. It is unlikely that the vehicle would even still exist – plus there is no record of any registration number.
This largely sums up how frustrating the Allan Graham case is – a series of constant dead ends and missed opportunities. There are no clear suspects or motive, plus very little known definite facts about Allan’s final movements. A lack of such information means that it is impossible to profile Allan’s killer accurately. He may have been a repeat offender or it may have been his first offence. It may have been sexually motivated or may have been vengeance based. He may have continued to offend prolifically, or he may never have offended again, ashamed of what he had done but too cowardly to come forward and admit guilt. He may be in prison, in hospital, or even abroad. Or he may still be walking the streets of the North-East. The passage of time means that if Allan’s killer is still alive, he would be elderly himself now – of course, if he is even still alive.
What lines of enquiry do detectives have at their disposal now, nearly 50 years later?
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, of Northumbria Police Homicide and Major inquiry Team, is leading the review, and said in 2016:
“It was a huge inquiry in 1970. It lasted six or seven months and there were hundreds of people interviewed and thousands of statements taken. But 1970 and 2016 are poles apart in how we investigate. So, we are reviewing what was done then, and what we could do now – it just needs some fresh eyes. We never stop investigating as we could get some new intelligence and we will always look at it. We will be speaking again to any officers who were involved in the original investigation. We are also hoping to speak to other members of the public and Allan’s family again to see if they can recall anything they recall that can help us identify who was responsible for his death.”
Sadly, this came too late for Allan’s mother to see her son’s killer brought to justice, as she passed away in 2001. Allan’s surviving brothers, Fred and Dennis Baron, still hold out hope, however slim, that Allan’s killer can still be found and brought to justice. It seems however, that barring a DNA match or a deathbed confession, whoever killed young Allan Graham will remain as much of a mystery as it has done for the past 47 years.
Anyone with any information concerning Allan’s murder should contact Northumbria police on 101
The True Crime Enthusiast