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Who Was The South Yorkshire Strangler?

“We have a beast at large who has killed once, and will possibly try to kill again” – Detective Chief Superintendent Clifford Lodge (speaking in 1964)

Maltby, Wakefield, May 1964. 13-year-old Anne Dunwell had been visiting her aunt in Bramley, just a few miles outside Rotherham, South Yorkshire, with whom she had been planning to stay for a few days. Anne lived with her grandparents in the nearby village of Whiston, and on the evening of Wednesday 6th May 1964 she had decided to return to their home in Sandringham Avenue to keep her grandmother company, as her grandfather was working a night shift. At 9:15pm, she left the friends that she had been with that evening, and made her way to the bus stop opposite the Ball Inn, Bramley, to catch the 9:29pm bus that would take her back home to Whiston.

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Anne Dunwell

Anne never caught that bus, and she never made it back to Whiston.

At 7:30am the following morning, a lorry driver travelling to work, Thomas Wilson, made a gruesome discovery whilst driving down Slade Hooton Lane, a winding and remote country lane between the villages of Carr and Slade Hooton. He was later to describe the scene:

“I was driving down the lane when I saw what I thought was a tailor’s dummy with its feet in the hedge and back on the manure heap. I thought it was a practical joke and drove on. When I got to work, I told my brother-in-law what I had seen and to make sure we drove back. We went within two yards of the body, which had a stocking round it’s neck, and noticed that the legs were badly bruised. There were also bruises on the face. The arms seemed as if they had been placed behind the back”

The body was that of a young female, and was naked – except for a pair of stockings wrapped tightly around the neck. It was some hours later revealed to be the body of Anne Dunwell, and a post-mortem was to reveal that she had suffered a savage sexual attack, before ultimately being strangled with her own stockings. No other clothing was found near the body.

A massive police hunt was immediately launched, with a mass widespread search of the surrounding areas being undertaken and enquiries made in the area to establish Anne’s final movements. Within a week hundreds of actions had been completed and thousands of statements taken. Anne’s last known movements were traced, and it was established that she never caught the 9:29pm bus, no one could recall a girl matching her description being on the bus. Someone matching her description was seen near the bus stop at around the crucial time, however. Had she been abducted off the street – or had she got into a car after accepting a lift from her killer? Anne’s family firmly believed that she would never have accepted a lift from a stranger – so police worked on the theory that Anne had either been forcibly snatched from the bus stop, or had begun to walk towards home and had accepted a lift from her killer – who must have been someone she knew.

ulley-country-park-ulley-reservoir-in-ulley-country-park
Ulley Reservoir

Five days into the investigation, the search area moved to Ulley Reservoir, some six miles from where Anne’s body was found. Walkers had found some items of clothing, including a pale blue coat with a Peter Pan type collar, at the water’s edge – and this was soon identified as belonging to Anne. A specialist team of police frogmen from Nottingham searched the reservoir, and were soon to find other items that were identified as having belonged to Anne. This included the distinct wicker basket that she was carrying when last seen alive. It was many years later, thanks to advancements in forensic science, that the clothing was to provide useful evidence and insight into Anne’s killer.

Detectives were also left to sift with a multitude of potential suspects, suspect vehicles, and potentially crucial sightings. After an appeal had been made to “courting couples” who had possibly been in the area of the murder scene at the time, and therefore may have seen something of relevance to come forward, one such couple did. They reported seeing a dark-haired man, sharp featured and about 18-25 years old, and a girl parked in blue saloon car at about 11:00pm in a clearing in Slacks Lane, a lane in close proximity to the bus stop where Anne was last seen. The courting couple remembered the sighting vividly because the couple in the saloon car had been “struggling” – and their car headlights had picked this out as they had passed. The “struggling” couple were never identified or came forward for elimination – was this Anne and her killer?

By the end of May, detectives were no further in their investigation despite having spoken to more than 10,000 people during the enquiry. They did, however, have a suspect that they wished to trace, and an identikit picture was placed in the local press. This man, known as “Pete” was described as being:

“aged between 21 and 27 years of age, of medium build and between 5″5 and 5″6 tall, with a thin, pockmarked face and nose. He had short dark brown hair worn in a wavy, brushed back style, and was clean-shaven”.

The man also drove a dark grey Mini van and was known to offer lifts to young girls – including pupils of Wickersley Secondary Modern. Anne’s school. Several names were given to the incident room as a potential identity for “Pete”, and although these were investigated, no arrests were made and the identity of “Pete” could not be ascertained.

Despite the massive investigation, no arrests were forthcoming, and the enquiry into Anne’s murder was gradually scaled down, until it remained a cold case for many years. However, with the advances in investigative work and forensic science, in 2002 South Yorkshire Police re-opened the enquiry with the full support of Anne’s surviving family. The original statements and actions were looked at, and an appeal about and reconstruction of Anne’s last known movements was shown on Crimewatch U.K. Even after all this time, new witnesses came forward offering information. This included a woman who was 15 at the time of Anne’s murder who went to school with her, and who had seen her on the night she died walking along Bawtry Road in Wickersley, heading towards Whiston at about 9:45pm. This seemed to confirm police suspicions that Anne had never boarded the bus that evening, and had instead begun to walk towards home. She was halfway home when she met her killer.

Also highlighted was a different person of interest, alongside “Pete”, that was also never traced, and who rapidly became the prime suspect in Anne’s murder. A witness who had been spoken to at the time of the original 1964 investigation was re-interviewed about her statement and was now able to provide additional information. The witness had described seeing a girl, likely Anne, walking towards a van parked near The Ball Inn on the evening of Anne’s murder. In addition, this witness now recalled that the driver of the man was wearing “shiny cufflinks”. This became significant because it tallied with other descriptions of a person of interest who was reported in 1964, but one who was never traced.

This man was seen, crucially, in the Ball Inn just a week before Anne was killed, where a barmaid recalled serving him brandy. The witness who gave the description recalled talking at length to the man, who he recalled mentioning that he had worked in Rotherham and Doncaster at times. The Ball Inn held live entertainment on Wednesday evenings at the time, and was consequently full of people who had travelled from the Sheffield and Doncaster areas – yet despite so many people this man stood out and was remembered. The man talked about psychology at length, and gave off the impression that he was well-educated. He was also chain-smoking “Craven A” cigarettes, which he kept in a silver case, and he wore distinctive jewellery. This was a distinctive ring with a blue coloured stone worn on the middle finger of his left hand, a gold wristwatch with round black face and gold roman numerals and hands on a gold expanding bracelet, and cufflinks that were described as having a gold surround, with a red design of a female carrying an open umbrella.

A detailed physical description was given of the man, and he was described as:

 “a male, in his mid 20s and 5ft 7in tall with a slim build and dark eyes. He had short auburn hair and spoke with a soft Scottish accent which police believe could be from the Inverness area. He was wearing a dark green suit, checked shirt, tan shoes, and cufflinks” 

And the man was also driving a small van that may have been grey, green or blue. This matched with several other descriptions of vehicles that police wished to trace and eliminate from their enquiries – including a small grey or light green van that was seen parked on a small track near a disused mill on Green Lane at about 10:15pm on the night of Anne’s murder. A Google Images snapshot of this location is shown below:

Google Maps:

This is just two hundred yards from where Anne’s body was found early the next morning. The driver of the van was never traced.

Surprisingly for such a detailed description, this man was never traced. It seems remarkable that police were aware of “the Scotsman” back in 1964, but could never find him. Perhaps it is worth remembering here, without attempting to sound so critical, that policing was very different back then and it was down to old-fashioned “door knocking”, rather than the tools that today’s investigators have at their disposal. Perhaps it was the poor information management and filing system, with sheer vastness of information, details of sightings of vehicles and persons received that it meant that many such a crucial person was lost in the mix. It would be more than 10 years later when these problems were more tragically highlighted, and again concerning Yorkshire police, with the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.

Perhaps the most important breakthrough in the re-opened enquiry in 2002 was the obtaining of a workable DNA profile from the clothing that had been used to strangle Anne. Forensic scientists were able not only to obtain a DNA sample of the killer from traces of semen found in the knots, but were also able to show that the killer suffered from gonorrhoea. But a match for an existing profile on the NDNAD for the killer has so far proved negative.  Medical confidentiality has frustratingly provided a stumbling block and closed off a possible avenue of investigation for police – as Anne’s killer would have required medical treatment for such a condition.

What can be said about Anne’s killer? Whilst both the “Scotsman” and “Pete” remain important persons of interest that require elimination from the investigation, one must bear in mind that the physical descriptions of each of these persons were made more than fifty years ago. This effectively renders each description as useless now – unless someone can provide solid, reliable evidence that names a person that matched all or many of the aspects of the descriptions, whom they reliably and with reason, have grounds to suspect. Then of course, depending upon if the person is still living (which is only a possibility now due to the passage of time), a simple DNA test would be able to incriminate or exonerate such a person.

It is likely that Anne’s killer was from the Yorkshire area, and was expressly familiar with the areas of Bramley and Whiston. The key locations to the case are all within a relatively small geographic area, and the area where Anne’s body was dumped is remote and suggests a local knowledge, someone either having lived around the area or worked there. The reservoir where her clothes were dumped also suggests this. Of course, as the killer had a vehicle this is not an offender necessarily confined just to these areas, he could have come from further afield. But offenders tend to operate in areas of comfort and familiarity to them. It is likely that the killer of Anne Dunwell had offended before, although he may never have been arrested before. If he had, it would have been most likely for sexual offences, or offences of violence. He is/was certainly a violent man, and likely one that would have experience at approaching young girls, or be practised at enticing young girls into a vehicle. If Anne was last definitively seen halfway home at 9:45pm that evening, then she was taken very close to home from a relatively busy main road. No screams were reported as being heard, meaning that he was either very good at quickly restraining Anne, or was good at being charming and appearing genuine and non-threatening and gave her no cause to be wary. It is of course a sad fact that fifty years ago, young girls were especially less wary about accepting lifts from strangers, but perhaps he wasn’t a stranger – perhaps Anne knew him well enough to accept a lift.

The killer had access to a vehicle, perhaps a car but more than likely a van of some type. A van would offer ample room within the back to commit a rape or a physical assault. Police re-investigating the crime in 2002 released details that would seem to support this. When Anne’s clothing was recovered from Ulley Reservoir, it was of course dirty and covered in silt. But it also contained traced that led detectives to believe that Anne had come into contact with foundry slag or coal dust residue at the time of her death. This was a very house-proud girl who was wearing her brand new, favourite coat that night – she certainly willingly would not have got it dirty. It is possible that she met her death in the back of a vehicle, or perhaps a building, where such materials were kept. Mini vans of similar description and colour were reported frequently around the general area on the night of the murder – including the important sighting of one just 200 yards from where her body was found at around the time she was last seen alive. Plus, the killer required a vehicle to transport Anne’s clothes to where they were found, six miles away.

It is likely that the vehicle sighted at 10:15pm parked just 200 yards away from where Anne’s body was found was the killer’s vehicle. It is a scant few miles from where she was picked up by her killer, and if she had accepted a lift just a short distance from home, only to be taken elsewhere, she would have surely panicked. This would mean that the killer would have had to restrain her immediately or at least after a short time. It was likely that she was raped and strangled shortly after she was taken, and was left at the body site just a short time later. The timings of this would fit perfectly within the 30-minute window of Anne last being seen, if of course it was her sighted walking towards Whiston at 9:45pm, to the vehicle being sighted parked on Green Lane.

Did the killer of Anne also strike again, again in Yorkshire and not too far away, about a year later? In the next post on TTCE, another crime, the unsolved case of a victim of similar age, and a relatively short geographical distance from Anne’s killing, will be examined and possible comparisons made.

More than 50 years have now passed since Anne Dunwell met her killer whilst walking home that Wednesday evening in May 1964, and her killer has never yet been brought to justice. It remains the oldest unsolved murder on the files of South Yorkshire Police. I believe that it was likely a stranger abduction, and that Anne was taken by chance. Someone known to her would have more than likely been highlighted as a suspect, barring sheer fluke or very poor police work. The information was seemingly there at the time of the initial investigation, although in 1964 the benefit of computing and the modern-day HOLMES investigative system were not available. With today’s tools of detection, it would be very likely that Anne’s killer would be identified and would face trial for his crime. Indeed, there exists a DNA profile of Anne’s killer, and several reports exist of varying stages in the investigation. Some reports say that following the re-investigation, the pool of suspects in Anne’s murder had been narrowed down to just two suspects – both of whom were now dead. Other, more recent, reports will claim that an elderly sex killer, who has been securely detained for more than 45 years now, is being looked at as a significant person of interest in Anne’s murder. The crimes of this perpetrator in question will be looked at and recounted in a post on TTCE in the very near future.

For further information concerning Anne’s murder, I thoroughly recommend author Scott C Lomax’s “Unsolved Murders in South Yorkshire” (a review of which has featured on TTCE previously and can be found here:). Within, the author covers Anne’s murder and details both the original investigation, and the re-investigation in great depth, and makes for an informative and well researched read.

This is a horrendous crime, and Anne’s family have suffered greatly over the years because of her callous murder. Her grandmother was to have a nervous breakdown because of it, and Anne’s father’s health gravely declined in the years following his daughter’s murder. Each went to their graves not knowing who was responsible, and it is finally left to Anne’s only surviving relative, her sister Irene Hall, to fight for justice for her sister and to ensure that Anne is not forgotten. Speaking on the 50-year anniversary of Anne’s murder, her sister Irene told how the crime still affects the family:

“We are truly grateful to all of those who have already helped the police, but I appeal to those who, for their own reasons, have kept information to themselves for so long,” says Irene. “Anyone who knows anything about the death of Anne, however small or trivial they think it may be, please contact the police. “It is possible that the person responsible may now be dead but did they admit what they had done? Please if anyone can help us finally get justice for Anne, have the courage to make that call to the police. We can only hope that one day Anne’s murderer will be identified, giving us closure on a 50-year nightmare and allowing Anne to finally be at peace.”

Anyone having any information concerning Anne’s murder should contact police on 101, or through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

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Case Studies

8 thoughts on “Who Was The South Yorkshire Strangler? Leave a comment

  1. I often think of this poor child and sometime later my family had their DNA taken after my sisters son had his taken at the police station for a minor offence. The Police explained that it matched DNA found on poor Anne. No-one in my family were incriminated. The DNA originated from my mothers side and her family originated from Nottingham and moved to Leeds however reading this article I read about a Scottish person of interest. My Mothers G Grandparents were from Scotland and it just made me wonder if there is any chance that there may be a Scottish connection.

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    • I would say there is a chance there could be a Scottish conection . But what I can’t comprehend is if there was a match to your family why the police didn’t follow up on this ? Are you sure you have got this correct could you have got the story muddled up some how as with dna if you have a match it can’t just turn up nothing you just need to persevere with it until you come up with a complete profile that matches your sample from the crime scene. I would like very much to discuss this with you in more detail as it sounds very interesting.

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  2. I have been researching unsolved murders out of personal interest and have been particularly concentrating on Peter Tobin. I know that he does not necessarily have any connection to this area, but this certainly fits his MO, and the fact that police referred to the suspect as ‘Pete’ and that the suspect had a Scottish accent? Does anyone have any thoughts on this possible connection?

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  3. Kenwyn Coopland:
    Born 1944, Wales
    Lived From 1949 Redcar
    Builder c.1960-1966
    1963 Linda Cook unsolved murder, Found dead on Green Lane, Redcar back alley route Coopland took home to Dormanstown, catching bus from Laburnum road to Fleet Dormanstown. Cook got off the bus Coopland was getting on after he had drank with fellow builders from Cleveland View building estate. Look at description of killing method for similarities to other murders. Was ruled out of investigation as was only 19/20 at the time and considered a minor.

    He was sent, likely by his family (who shielded him regularly) to shelter with family in rural Rotherham area in 1964. (Check the census for address and proximity to the murder above, and check the method).

    Arrested April 1966 for rape of two children, Marske, Redcar.

    1966-1970, in prison retrained as crane drive.

    From 1970 worked as crane driver in lackenby, Middlesbrough. Made frequent visits to Cardiff. Check route A1 and old M62 route, and timings of his shifts through old logbooks of the Lackenby site. Now look at timings of Mayo, and Anstell-Lamb.

    1972 series of rapes inGuisborough area reported in local press fitting same description.

    “Mrs Ford, a mum of three, had been raped and strangled with a scarf on February 10, 1972.”

    1972-1973 shielded once again by family and moved to Leeds.

    1973 rapes minor in Leeds

    1973 jailed for murder of Mrs Ford.

    Late 1990s a DNA profile
    Of Cooplands was ran against Mayos and found negative. However, the technique used at the time carried high false negatives. Now with PCR that sample needs running again against all of the above.

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  4. Well-written article. In the files of the ‘Rotherham Advertiser’ are many articles I wrote on this case; my late grandfather was on the original investigative team.

    Like

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