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The Stockwell Strangler – Part 2

“He was always talking of killing people. He once boasted that he had murdered an old person in Enfield, and hinted that he had killed others. When he was taunted by other prisoners for whatever reasons, he’d fly into a rage. He would get really mad, and then when they were least expecting it he’d pick up a chair and hit them over the head” – James Doel (Erskine’s former cellmate)

The palm prints that could tie the Strangler to two of the murder scenes belonged to Kenneth Erskine, a 24-year-old known burglar and homeless drifter who was known to live a transient lifestyle between a number of squats in the Brixton and Stockwell areas. Erskine’s last known address, one of these squats in Brixton, was staked out by police – but he was found to have left there some months ago, and it was unknown where he was currently staying. However, enquiries revealed that Erskine regularly collected unemployment benefit every Monday at Keyworth House, a Social Security Department Office in South London – which he had done since 1984 and where he was quite well-known by the staff there – who knew him as “The Whisperer”, on account of his very quiet and timid voice.

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Keyworth House – The scene of Erskine’s arrest.

Teams of officers staked out the building, and Erskine was arrested when he went to sign on on the 28 July 1986. Erskine meekly offered no resistance or any sort of struggle when placed in handcuffs, and was taken to Clapham police station for questioning.

 

So police had their man – but who was Kenneth Erskine?

Kenneth Erskine was the eldest of four children of his English-born mother Margaret, and his Antiguan born father Charles, and was born in Hammersmith on 01 July 1962. The Erskine household, a council flat in Putney, was not a happy or stable one, and Erskine and his three younger brothers were to spend several periods of their childhood in care homes or with foster parents. Charles and Margaret Erskine divorced in the mid 1970’s and where neighbours of the young Erskine remember him to be a cheerful, chubby boy who could often be found reading the bible, and claiming to believe in love and peace, his behaviour soon seemed to take a turn for the worse after his parent’s divorce. He became a difficult child to control, and like so many children from a broken home, became a bully to smaller and weaker children, often attacking them for no reason and tying them up. Erskine was to receive schooling at a series of schools for maladjusted children, and his time at these was punctuated by several violent attacks on the teaching staff and other pupils. These included stabbing a teacher through the hand with scissors, and taking hostage a psychiatric nurse who tried to examine him by holding a pair of scissors at her throat, pushing a fellow pupil off a moving bus, and starting a fire that caused considerable damage to one of the special schools.

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Kenneth Erskine

If it wasn’t already clear by now that this was a kid who had already homicidal tendencies within him, perhaps it was when he tried to drown several other school children on a trip to a swimming pool by holding their heads underwater until staff intervened that would swing it. Discipline didn’t seem to work with him, and whenever staff tried a different approach such as understanding or trying to show the boy some affection, he would try his hardest to shock them by rubbing himself against them in a sexual manner, or by exposing himself to them and masturbating.

Erskine was cast out by his family at aged 16, after several episodes at home proved too much for his family. It is reported that twice he tried to hang one of his younger brothers, John, and when he tried to give the same brother cannabis then that was the final straw. Disowned by his family, he was kicked out and was to never have anything to do with any of them ever again. Instead, he descended into the world of London’s “Cardboard City”, and became one of its drifters, living in various squats mainly within the Brixton and Stockwell area.

He began drinking and using hard drugs, and turned to burglary as a means to fund his habits, seeming to have no ambition in life but to be a small-time crook. He carried out several burglaries and petty crimes such as breaking open gas or electric meters, but this never amounted to more of a haul than anything except a few pounds. When he did occasionally take an item of larger value, such as a television, a camera, or pieces of jewellery or antiques, he would sell these to back-street dealers for a fraction of what they were worth, all to get money to buy food and to fund his next drug fix.

Although Erskine became an experienced burglar, he was also an incompetent one. He was arrested by the police several times over the years, and this led to a term of imprisonment in Feltham Young Offenders Institution in Hounslow, West London. Whilst Erskine was imprisoned there, he spent lots of his time drawing and painting, and these pictures were displayed on the wall of the cell he shared with his cellmate, another experienced burglar named James Doel. The pictures were alarming and gave a glimpse into Erskine’s disturbed mind – they always seemed to be pictures of elderly people dying in horrific ways. Chillingly, they were often depicted laying in bed and either gagged, stabbed to death, burned alive – or having been decapitated and with blood spurting from their necks.

Against the advice of doctors at the Institution, Erskine was released in 1982 and immediately went back to his cycle of living on the streets, drug taking and committing petty crime. He had never seemed to fit into anywhere or with any group, no friends of his were found, and no one claimed to have even known him in the years he spent on the street. His life seemed to be so empty and void of anything, friends or direction, that after his arrest, detectives were unable to find even a single possession of his except the clothes he stood up in, and a collection of building society books. This existence continued until four years later, when he embarked on his killing spree and claimed the lives of at least seven old age pensioners.

So police finally had The Stockwell Strangler under arrest, but questioning him proved nearly as difficult as it had been to find him. Erskine, who psychiatrists were later to diagnose as having the mental age of a pre-teen, spent many hours of being questioned behaving in a bizarre manner. He was either giggling, day-dreaming or staring out of the window. He never confessed to any of the murders, but did admit burgling the old people’s homes, and claimed at first that someone must have followed him in after he had left each time and committed the murders. He then claimed that he didn’t remember killing anyone, but that he may have done it without knowing it.

A psychologist who was to interview Erskine at great length said that Erskine lived in a world of his own, and at times could not distinguish between fantasy and reality. He was so open to suggestion that at times, after being read a story, he believed that the story was about him. He would claim that he wanted to be famous, and had developed a trait of nodding his head when he meant no, and shaking his head when he meant yes. In the opinion of the psychologist, Erskine had a mental age of eleven.

Yet although clearly a very disturbed individual, he wasn’t completely out of control.

When he was arrested, the only meagre possessions Erskine had were details of 10 bank and building society accounts that he had opened as a means to store the proceeds gleaned from his burglaries, and throughout the Strangler’s reign of terror it was noted that he had paid in nearly £3,000 between these – a substantial sum of money in 1986. This was despite having no job and claiming unemployment benefit.

The prints that Police had found at two of the crime scenes belonging to Erskine were concrete evidence against him, but DCS Thompson wanted more evidence that would positively link him to all of the murders, and the attempted murder of Mr Prentice.

The Two photographs of Erskine that were issued to the media

Therefore, the unusual step of issuing Erskine’s photograph to the media was carried out in an attempt to find any witnesses or leads that could assist in this, and on 11th August 1986 two photographs of Erskine were issued to the media. One was a police mugshot taken when Erskine had spent a period of his life as a dreadlocked Rastafarian, and the other was his police mugshot after his arrest for the Stockwell Strangler murders, depicting Erskine with shorter hair. As a result, police received dozens of calls, but these mostly only amounted to coming from shopkeepers and residents in Brixton, who recognised Erskine because he was a familiar character around the area.

But it also brought details of an extremely important sighting that had occurred on the evening that the Strangler claimed his final victim. A 25-year-old businesswoman, Denise Keena, came forward and told police of an encounter that she had had with a man on Putney Bridge at about 11:30pm. Denise had been disturbed and terrified so much by an individual – who was apparently being sick – that she had actually called police, although the man had vanished by the time they arrived: She described him as follows:

“He had this sort of terrible grin on his face. He looked as if he was out of control. It was a horrible, awful, disgusting expression. He had wide, staring eyes and his mouth was open. All the muscles and tendons in his face were standing out, drawn tight against the bones”

Denise had recognised Erskine as this man – and this encounter took place just 200 yards away from the ground floor flat of Florence Tisdall. It must have occurred less than an hour after the Strangler had killed Florence.

Both Denise and Mr Prentice attended a police line up, and unhesitatingly picked out Erskine as the man Denise had seen, and the man who had attempted to murder Mr Prentice. Erskine was initially charged with two murders, those of Janet Cockett and William Downes, and the attempted murder of Mr Prentice – and was remanded in custody, although more murder charges were added whilst Erskine was awaiting trial. These amounted to the murders of Nancy Emms, Zbigniew Stabrava, Valentine Gleim, William Carmen, and Florence Tisdall. The only death that he was not charged with was that of Trevor Thomas, due to the forensic evidence from that scene being unusable to ascertain definite charges of murder.

His trial began at London’s Old Bailey court on 12 January 1988, where he was charged with the seven murders and the attempted murder of Mr Prentice. Erskine pleaded not guilty to all charges, and appeared a pathetic and disturbed figure when he appeared in court. It was as though he didn’t seem to be aware of what was going on really, and had to be chided for falling asleep at least once during the trial. At another point, he caused uproar by appearing to be masturbating during proceedings.

The jury heard the horrific stories of how each victim had been brutally murdered and then sexually assaulted, and learned the idiosyncrasies that were apparent throughout each of the crime scenes and that had become the killer’s calling card – such as the photographs at the scenes that had been turned face down or facing away. Erskine’s background and record of schooling and offending were revealed at the trial, which gave the jury an insight into what a deranged mind the defendant had. The forensic evidence against Erskine detailed the palm prints found at two of the scenes, and shoe prints that were found at the scene of the double murder and at the attempted murder of Mr Prentice that were a match to shoes found in Erskine’s possession. His building society records were also discussed, and they showed several transactions that could be tied into corresponding times following a burglary – where money taken would then be deposited into an account. One of these accounts yielded an important piece of circumstantial evidence – as Erskine was shown to have had £350 to pay into a building society account the day after William Carmen, the Strangler’s fifth victim, was murdered and his savings of £500 were taken.

Several witnesses gave evidence at the trial, including Denise Keena who recounted the sighting of the man she identified again in court as Erskine on the evening of Florence Tisdall’s murder, and Alice Mcpherson, the member of staff on duty who had spotted the intruder in the Somerville Hastings home on the night of the double murder. But perhaps the most powerful witness at the trial was Fred Prentice, who despite his limited mobility, took the stand and told the courtroom of his horrific ordeal at the hands of the man he identified as the accused.

Erskine was never to take the stand and speak, nor to allow any cross-examination of himself as was his legal right. But tapes of Erskine’s interviews with police were played that showed the extent of how disturbed Erskine’s mind was, as within these tapes he claimed that a woman’s whispering voice haunted him constantly. He claimed that it came out of walls and doors and gave him dizzy spells whenever he heard it, claiming:

“It tries to think for me. It says it will kill me if it can get me. It blanks things from my mind, I can’t fight it”

Erskine was also heard on the tapes admitting to burgling each of the victim’s homes – but claimed that another person must have gone in after he had left and committed each murder. The jury didn’t buy any of this, and on 29th January 1988 he was found guilty on all counts by a unanimous verdict. Standing before Mr Justice Rose, Erskine was sentenced to a life sentence for each charge, with Mr Justice Rose telling him:

“I have no doubt that the horrific nature and number of your crimes requires that I should recommend a minimum sentence which you must serve. In all the charges except the attempted murder, I recommend to the Secretary of State that you serve a minimum of 40 years. I waste no further words in cataloguing the chilling horror of what you did. It is clear from the medical reports that from a very young age you treated others sadistically, and that your behaviour sexually and in other ways was grossly abnormal”

At the time, this was longest sentence of its kind ever imposed by a judge in an English court. Upon hearing the sentence, Erskine appeared close to tears, but then steeled himself and was taken away to begin his sentence. Very soon afterwards he had soon accepted his fate, as he was reported to have told a prison officer:

“I’m nice and cosy inside, and I don’t give a damn if I ever come out”

It is not known for certain that the murders that Erskine committed were his only killings. There were at least four other deaths that police thought were the work of the Strangler. These were the deaths of 57-year-old John Jordan, who was found strangled in his flat in Brixton on 4th February 1986; 73-year-old Charles Quarrell, who was found suffocated at his home in Southwark on 6th May 1986; 70-year-old Wilfred Parkes, who was found strangled in the bedroom of his flat in Stockwell Park Estate on 28th May 1986; and the murder of Trevor Thomas, whose body was found in an advanced state of decomposition in his home in Clapham, on 12th July 1986. Following Erskine’s conviction, police closed the files on these deaths – satisfied in the belief that the likely killer had been taken off the streets already, and was facing many years behind bars.

But police were left with a haunting thought. They could never get a coherent confession out of Erskine – his mental age and appalling memory saw to that – but what if he had started long before? One senior detective who had been in court to see Erskine put away, summed up police feeling, saying:

“There is simply no way of knowing just how many defenceless old folk he has killed, it could be dozens. This man must be from another planet. He simply just does not have any regard for human life at all”

So it is suspected as being possible that Erskine could have been responsible for many more murders of the elderly, but their deaths were mistakenly ruled as being due to natural causes – as was nearly the case with his first known victim, Nancy Emms. Erskine himself has never admitted to any other killings, but due to his mental age it is possible that he had genuinely forgotten others. He was to say on taped interviews that he had no memory of killing anybody, but admitted that he may have done so without being aware.

A psychologist examining the Strangler’s crimes before Erskine’s arrest theorised that the killer was possibly a gerontophile – there is no record of Erskine, although he had a long criminal record and was an experienced thief, having ever committed any sexual offences before the Stockwell Strangler killings. It is likely that he was bisexual, with the emphasis leaning towards of the homosexual persuasion – there is evidence of him at age 18 stabbing and slashing a fellow youth that he was involved in a homosexual relationship with. There are no records of Erskine ever being involved in a heterosexual relationship – although this shouldn’t be discounted as so many details of Erskine’s years on the streets are largely unknown due to his nomadic lifestyle. Yet he didn’t just commit sodomy against men – he also committed buggery against elderly women also. The Strangler’s sexual assaults always took the form of this. Psychologists theorised that the Strangler chose to sexually defile the elderly because of some deep-seated grudge against an older figure – perhaps an abusive parent or grandparent. Now it is known that Erskine’s home life was far from idyllic – but why the sexual excitement towards the elderly? Had at some point in his life he been exposed to something that occurred at a crucial point in defining, and so affected his sexual makeup?

Erskine has spent the majority of his sentence in Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire, after he was found to be suffering from a mental disorder. Broadmoor has of course been home over time to some of the most high-profile names in British criminal history, such as Ronnie Kray or The Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, but Erskine has largely stayed out of the headlines in the years that he has been incarcerated, only coming to the public’s attention a minor number of times. In 1996, he was reported as having helped save the life of Peter Sutcliffe by raising the alarm when Sutcliffe was half strangled by another inmate, Paul Wilson, who had attacked the Ripper with the flex from a pair of stereo headphones.

He did not resurface in the public eye until 2005, when it was reported that he was being prepared for a move to a medium security facility, as a Mental Health Tribunal believed that he was no longer a danger to the public. Unbelievably, it was reported that Erskine was being recommended for a move to Lambeth Hospital – which is located in Stockwell! Unsurprisingly, news of this caused uproar, with one Broadmoor source quoted as saying:

 “Medical staff and psychiatrists now believe he is a low risk .If he is allowed to go back home it will be an insult to all those old people he killed. The public may accept him being moved to a low security unit but putting him in South London is a step too far”.

In July 2009, an appeal against his murder convictions got them reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility in a decision announced by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and two other judges, at the Court of Appeal in London.

Fresh medical evidence had been given at the appeal by psychiatrist Dr Andrew Horne, a consultant at Broadmoor Hospital who had been one of Erskine’s doctors for 20 years, said that the clinical schizophrenia Erskine was accepted as having suffered from since 1980 would have diminished his responsibility for his actions to a “massive degree”, and Erskine’s QC, Mr Edward Fitzgerald, told the judges that Erskine was suffering from a chronic, incurable condition which would require life-long treatment and that the basis on which Erskine would ever be released, if possible, will be when detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public.

Giving the reasons for quashing the murder convictions, Lord Judge said:

“This is a straightforward case. It is overwhelmingly clear that, at the time when the appellant appeared at trial, there was unequivocal contemporaneous evidence that his mental responsibility for his actions at the time of the killing was substantially impaired. We are satisfied that the convictions for murder were unsafe.”

The judges imposed a hospital order in Erskine’s case, with Lord Judge saying that, in the “interests of public safety”, the order was for an indefinite period. He was returned to Broadmoor hospital, where he had spent many years already, but Erskine’s risk status was downgraded in 2016, and he was moved to Thornford Park Hospital in Thatcham, Berkshire, which is a medium secure hospital unit. It is thought that Erskine’s release may be approved in just a few years, and he may be back on the streets again…..

Why Erskine made the jump from prolific burglar to serial killer has never been fully established, and it would be too convenient to lay responsibility for his crimes at the door of schizophrenia – the vast majority of people with schizophrenia never go on to commit such atrocities as Erskine did. The accounts from his schooling show that he had a tendency towards violence, and perhaps this just grew and grew within him until he could no longer control it – and then found that he liked it?

Has this been successfully treated then, and is Erskine by now safe to be allowed back on the streets?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Stockwell Strangler – Part 1

“Obviously he is a desperate man and needs help” – Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson (speaking in 1986)

Stockwell is a district in inner South London, situated in the London borough of Lambeth. It was for a time considered to be one of the poorer areas of London, but it has undergone a bit of an overhaul in recent years, and as it is in proximity to Central London and as a result has excellent transport links, it’s now and up and coming area. It does have its brushes with infamy in its history – most recently for example, Stockwell Underground Station was the scene of the high-profile wrongful killing of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 by armed officers of the London Metropolitan Police. He was wrongfully killed after being mistakenly thought to be a suspect in the attempted bombings of 21st July 2005 – the attacks that followed the horrific London bombings of 7/7.

But this killing is not the first high-profile crime to have put Stockwell on the map. A lesser known and often forgotten killer stalked the districts of South London over the summer of 1986, a killer who preyed on one of the most vulnerable groups of society, the elderly. Over a 17-week period of sickening crime, the killer was to claim the lives of at least seven pensioners in the most horrific and brutal fashion.

Seventy-eight year old retired schoolteacher Nancy Emms was typical of so many old people throughout not just London, but throughout the UK as a whole.

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Nancy Emms

She was a reclusive spinster who lived alone, sadly in near squalid conditions, in a run-down basement flat in West Hill Road, in the South West London suburb of Wandsworth. Nancy suffered from mild dementia, and as a result her home was often in near squalid conditions, so she had a council organised home help who would come in a couple of times each week to help clean up her flat, and cook a few meals for her. On the morning of 09 April 1986, the home help called in to visit Nancy for one of her weekly visits, but found Nancy lying dead in bed. There seemed to be nothing untoward, Nancy was found laid in bed with the covers tucked under her chin, and it seemed as though Nancy had passed away peacefully in her sleep some days earlier as is so often common with the elderly. The authorities and a doctor were called to the scene, and upon examination of her body, the doctor signed a death certificate to say that Nancy had indeed died of natural causes. And that was nearly that – the death duties were being discussed and a cremation was being planned and discussed there and then, when the home help noticed that Nancy’s portable TV set was missing from the cluttered flat.

This made alarm bells ring, as though it had suddenly occurred that this might not be as clear-cut a death as first thought, and could possibly have had more sinister overtones. Police were called to the scene, and a post-mortem was ordered to be carried out on Nancy. When the post-mortem was performed, it was to discover that these suspicions were right.

Nancy was found to have severe bruising to her upper and lower body, finger marks around her throat, cracked ribs – and had been sexually assaulted, as traces of semen were found on her body. In the opinion of the pathologist, Nancy had been attacked whilst asleep. Her killer had knelt on her chest, causing the cracked ribs and severe bruising, then clamped his left hand over her mouth and throttled her with his right hand. When sure she was dead, the killer had then turned her over, sexually assaulted her, then re-arranged the body almost tenderly and left her tucked up, looking almost at peace.

So police were dealing with a case of murder here – and it looked at first like a burglary gone wrong. There was no sign of forced entry to the flat, but a bedroom window was ajar. Nancy was known to have often slept with a window left open if it was hot, and as the spring and summer of 1986 brought with it a mini heat wave to the UK – the killer had had ample chance to gain access to her flat. But if it was a burglary – then what was the need to sexually assault and kill an elderly woman also? Nancy would not have been able to put up any sort of resistance against an intruder – what kind of monster does that on top of a burglary?

If the killer hadn’t taken something as obvious as Nancy’s television from the cluttered flat, then it is likely he would have gotten away with murder as Nancy’s death would have been deemed due to natural causes. Because he had drawn attention to his crime by doing so, forensic scientists were at the scene to examine it and whilst doing so found their first, albeit small clue. A short head hair, deemed later to have come from a male with Afro-Caribbean heritage, was found in Nancy’s bedding. The post-mortem also found a sample of the killer’s semen on her body. With no other leads available, remember in 1986 DNA and offender profiling were in their infancy in the UK, police began trawling through lists of burglars and sex offenders known to operate within the South London area to try to identify a list of potential suspects.

They were still trawling and working through the lists, when two months later and a couple of miles away, a second elderly lady was discovered dead.

Warwick House is a block of low-rise flats located on The Overton Road Estate in Stockwell, and it was just a few miles away from Nancy Emms basement flat. It was here on 09 June 1986, that the body of 67-year-old widow Janet Cockett was found in her flat on the first floor.

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Janet Cockett

The two women were polar opposites – whereas Nancy had been a spinster and was a near recluse, Janet had been married three times and had four children from her previous marriages. She was a relatively recent widow, but was still an active pensioner who loved spending time with her family, was outgoing and who was even the chairperson of her local tenant’s group. Like Nancy, Janet was found lying in bed, and a cursory glance would have said that she too had died peacefully in her sleep. She too lay tucked up in bed with her bedclothes pulled under her chin.

But a longer look around showed that this wasn’t the case. Janet was found to be naked in her bed; with the nightdress that she normally wore found ripped from her body and on a chair near the bed – yet the killer had taken the time to fold it carefully before placing it there. She too was found to have been strangled with bare hands in the same way Nancy Emms had suffered – although unlike Nancy, Janet had not been sexually assaulted.

There was another odd feature to this crime scene. On a mantelpiece in Janet’s bedroom, several family photographs that adorned it had been placed either face down, or had been turned towards the wall. Was the killer ashamed of what he had done, and could not stand what he felt to be accusing eyes watching him as he committed his horrific crime? Again, a forensic examination bore more fruit. It seemed that Janet’s killer had taken absolutely no care or mindset to conceal his identity, as a palm print was found on the bathroom window, and another partial one on a flowerpot on the mantelpiece. A search of palm print records of offenders that police held on file for a match to these prints began immediately.

So two elderly ladies had been killed in a near identical fashion, two months and only a few miles apart. At the time, each investigation was run separately from different police stations, although detectives investigating both cases did exchange information with one another as cursory. It was decided at that stage, however, that there was nothing concrete to link both crimes. Five miles of metropolitan London separated both crime scenes, with a population of over one million people in those five miles. It seems to me quite unbelievable that they weren’t immediately linked – five miles in London is only a mere few stops on the Underground after all. And within that distance, regardless of however many people there were, it seemed really unlikely that there were two killers, working independently with no knowledge of each other, targeting the same choice of victim and killing in an identical manner.

Just over two weeks after Janet’s murder, however, Police were forced to rethink this possibility of the crimes not being committed by the same person. The man who became known as The Stockwell Strangler attacked again – but this time, his victim was to survive, and to give police their first description and insight into the mind of the killer.

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Fred Prentice – the Strangler’s surviving victim

Fred Prentice was a retired 73-year-old pensioner who lived in an old people’s home called Bradmead, on Cedars Road, Clapham. At about 3:00 in the morning of the 27th June 1986, he was awoken from his sleep by the sound of footsteps in the passage outside his room in the home. Sitting up, he saw a shadow cross the frosted glass of his door. The unlocked door opened, and a stranger, a young man dressed all in dark clothing, entered the room. As frail Mr Prentice fumbled to turn on his bedside light, the young man put his finger to his lips to indicate “hush”, and then ran and jumped upon Mr Prentice before he could shout out. He then gripped the old man’s throat and began to squeeze his windpipe in a powerful grip – but then relaxed it. In a horrific and chilling act, the attacker seemed to be playing with his victim as though it was a game, as he repeated this terrifying action four times. All the while, he had a deranged grin on his face and kept hissing just one word, over and over

“KILL…..KILL….KILL.”

Although he was unable to cry out, Mr Prentice struggled wildly, and using his last remaining strength managed to hit a panic button situated on the wall above his bed. As he did so, the attacker threw Mr Prentice against the wall, and was then off the bed and out of the room in a flash. By the time a warden came into the room to respond to the panic alarm just about a minute later, the man had gone. He was found to have gained access through a window in the complex that had been left open because of the sweltering heat.

Fred Prentice was later to describe his horrific and frightening ordeal. He said:

“I was absolutely terrified, but there was nothing I could do. He was sitting on my chest with his fingers clutching at my neck – I thought I was a goner. I kept pleading with him to let me go and take whatever he wanted and leave. But he took nothing, and took no notice of me. It was a nightmare. He then chucked my head against a wall and ran off. The blow almost knocked me unconscious, and I slumped to the floor too petrified to move. I suppose he thought he must have killed me, because he ran out leaving me for dead. I was too frightened even to watch him go. I shall always have his face in my memory, his terrible grin. He ruined my life”

Had the killer of Nancy and Janet struck again, just two and a half weeks after he had last attacked?

Detectives investigating the attempted murder of Fred Prentice considered if this was linked to the two earlier murders, but were puzzled in the change of preference of victim – would a killer attack both women and men? In this case, however, detectives had from Mr Prentice a description of the man they were hunting, albeit a bit of an understandably vague one. He was described as being young, in his late teens to mid 20’s, dark-haired, and suntanned. They theorised that he was an already experienced burglar – but one that had for some reason turned his back on burglary as a priority and to focus more upon committing murder instead. From the way he had toyed with Mr Prentice, he clearly enjoyed killing and needed to be caught and stopped before he committed more carnage.

And any remaining doubts that detectives had that a serial killer was operating around South London were dispelled the very next night – when the Strangler struck not once, but twice in the same night.

It was again at an old people’s home, this time in the council run Somerville Hastings House in Stockwell Park Crescent. In the early hours of the 28th June 1986, the bodies of 84-year-old Valentine Gleim, a former British Army officer, and 94-year-old Polish born Zbrigniev Stabrava were found in their adjoining rooms at the home. Both men had been strangled by a killer who had again used his bare hands, and Valentine Gleim had also been sexually assaulted. Shortly before the bodies were discovered, night duty staff at the home had become suspicious when at about 4:00am they heard the unmistakable sound of someone using an electric razor, and had actually seen the shadow of the intruder creeping about through the corridors. They had armed themselves with sticks and had contacted police, but the man had vanished by the time they arrived. He had gained access once again through an open window, and chillingly, had taken the time to have a wash and a shave after committing double murder – as a freshly used flannel was found in a basin in the en-suite bathroom of Mr Stabrava, as was a plugged in electric razor. The description given of the man staff had seen matched the description given by Mr Prentice.

By this time, the deranged killer had claimed four victims over an eleven week period, and police had finally been forced to conclude that London had another serial killer operating within it. This intensified efforts to catch him, and dozens of plain clothed police officers were placed to carry out night-time covert surveillance at dozens of old people’s homes throughout South London. The killer must have learned of this, because he struck again just over a week after the double murder in the Sommerville Hastings home – but this time, he struck away from the Stockwell area.

This time, the Strangler crossed the River Thames and went to the Greater London home of 82-year-old widower William Carmen.

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William Carmen

Here, he broke in to his flat at Sybil Thorndike House on Islington’s Marquess estate in the early hours sometime between the 6th and the 9th July. This was another low-rise block and so entering the flat proved no problem for the experienced burglar who had now turned experienced killer. Mr Carmen, who lived alone, was found dead in his bed on the morning of 9th July – with his body arranged as was the killer’s Modus Operandi. He had been strangled in the now familiar fashion, had also been sexually assaulted, and this time there were clear signs of robbery. Some £400-500 that Mr Carmen had saved and had hidden in the flat had been taken, and the place had been ransacked – although police still believed that robbery had by now become a secondary motive.

Three days after Mr Carmen was found, on 12th July and back over the south side of the Thames, another elderly man was found dead. 75-year-old widower Trevor Thomas was found dead in his bath at his home in Barton Court, Jeffreys Road, Clapham. He had been dead for some time, possibly for a number of weeks. As a result, much of the forensic evidence found with the body was so deteriorated that it was beyond usable.  It was impossible to determine whether he had been strangled or sexually assaulted, and so for this reason, Mr Thomas was not initially included in the Strangler’s list of victims – but police were 90 per cent certain that they were looking at the sixth victim of The Stockwell Strangler.

They had no such doubts just eight days later, when the body of 74-year-old William Downes was discovered at his home on the Overton Estate – the scene of the Strangler’s second murder, that of Janet Cockett.

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William Downes

Mr Downes was a reclusive pensioner who lived alone and who rarely left the small studio flat that he lived in, in a block known as Hollies House, which was again a low-rise block of flats of the type that the Strangler favoured. On the morning of the 20th July 1986, Mr Downes son found him dead in bed, having been strangled and assaulted in the now canonical Stockwell Strangler fashion. Mr Downes son was later to say that he had warned his father about the dangers posed by the killer on the loose, saying:

“I told him, I warned him to keep his door and windows locked, especially at night, but it was hot and I think he left just one slightly open to let some air in”

Sadly, it was this slightly ajar window that was all the chance that the Stockwell Strangler needed.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson of the Metropolitan Police had by been now placed in overall charge of the case, and in late July he held a media conference which was packed by journalists and television reporters – who by this time had been linking the murders as being part of a series and had coined the moniker “The Stockwell Strangler”. Here, DCS Thompson told the packed out room all that police knew about the killer that they were hunting.

All but two of the murders had taken place in the Stockwell district, and all of the murders had taken place in the early hours of the morning. The killer favoured low-rise housing or blocks of flats as they were easier to enter, and police believed he picked out properties where it was apparent that elderly people lived – for example, properties that had clearly visible railings attached to the outer wall. The description gleaned from the Strangler’s surviving victim Fred Prentice and the staff at the Somerville Hastings House, was of a young-looking white male with short dark hair and a sun-tanned face, who had a terrible, frightening grin. They believed that the killer was local to or was familiar with the Stockwell area as he seemed to know his way around the network of estates and residential areas. They theorised that the Strangler could possibly have been someone who, if employed, whose employment gave them regular access to old people’s homes, such as a postman or milkman, and he was using his employment to pick out potential targets. The theory was that the man they were hunting was an experienced burglar, although one who was quite careless and showed little forensic awareness, as he had left trace evidence and palm prints at a number of the murder sites. They also recognized that the killer was mentally unstable and sexually disturbed, with the consensus being that he was a gerontophile. They knew he was extremely dangerous and that he needed to be stopped quickly. A police psychologist had been brought in to try to profile the killer, to try to determine the reason for the killer’s choice of victim, and to see whether the way the victims were found was the killer attempting to cover his tracks and disguise his murders as natural deaths, or perhaps part of some bizarre psychological ritual that was important to him.

Pensioners in South London were left terrified at this time, as the national newspapers had gone big on the story by now – after all, murder is sensational and makes news and sells papers, and many old folk who lived alone in South London were left in fear that they could be the next victim of the killer. Their fear was built up by descriptions of the actions in the sensational press stories of the Stockwell Strangler, and how he was a “faceless monster” that was stalking the elderly. A particularly chilling artist’s impression often accompanied these stories, made chilling because of its vagueness. But this press coverage didn’t just serve to frighten pensioners – it also at least got the knowledge across that there was a killer out there. The Metropolitan police issued extra warnings to the elderly to be extra vigilant and to keep their windows and doors fastened at night, and for people who had elderly neighbours and family members living alone to check up on them regularly. The charity Help the Aged set up a special telephone link for elderly people to contact who were left in fear by the spate of killings, police patrols were stepped up throughout the area, and teams of plainclothes detectives continued to man the established nightly observation points, hoping to catch the Strangler in the act. Meanwhile, the search of police records for a match to the killer’s palm print continued.

Recovered from the scene of the previous murder, that of Mr Downes, police were able to again find the killer’s palm prints. They had been left on a garden gate and on the kitchen wall of Mr Downes studio flat. They proved to be an exact match with the palm print that had been removed from the home of Janet Cockett, the Strangler’s second victim that had been killed weeks earlier on the same estate. But a match still hadn’t been found. The reason why? Well, back in 1986, fingerprint records were in the transitional stage of being computerised from those held as physical copies. So although hundreds of thousands of fingerprint records had already been transferred to computer disk, the work of transferring palm prints had not even begun yet! So this meant that the matching prints that detectives had from the two murder scenes had to be checked manually against records held on file by a small team, and it must have been a very daunting task because they had no less than four million files to work through. But they had managed to narrow the pool down to a manageable size by concentrating on known South London burglars and petty criminals, and surely, a match would be found soon. The pressure on the team was immense, because there was no way to know exactly when the Strangler would strike again – and they needed that match before he did.

But sadly, a match came just too late to prevent the Strangler from claiming what would turn out to be his final victim.

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Florence Tisdall – the Strangler’s final victim

Eighty year old Florence Tisdall lived alone in a ground floor flat in an apartment block at Ranelagh Gardens, Hurlingham, close to the River Thames in Putney Bridge which had been her home for sixty years and all of her adult life. Florence was partly deaf and blind, and could only move around with the aid of a walking frame so she wasn’t able to get about much. Like many old ladies, Florence loved cats and they were her company, and aside from the three of her own that she had, she would regularly entertain and feed the various neighbourhood stray cats for some more company in her life. She would regularly leave a window open for them to come and go as they pleased.

On the day of the 23 July 1986, Florence had managed a rare trip out to have her hair done especially for the occasion of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York, which was being broadcast on television that day. A staunch Royalist, she had watched the wedding on television whilst having a glass of sherry in celebration. Afterwards, it was another hot night, and as usual, Florence had left a window open to let her cats come and go and some fresh air in before retiring to bed quite early in the evening.

The Strangler, finding his way in, took his final victim. But this time, he struck earlier in the evening than he usually had.

Florence was found the next day by the apartment block caretaker Terry Bristow who often looked in on her, lying in her bed in the all too familiar pose. She had been savagely sexually assaulted, she had the signature bruising to the throat – and also had two broken ribs where the Strangler had knelt upon her chest whilst strangling her. A post-mortem determined that she had been killed less than 12 hours earlier, which meant that the Strangler had struck at an earlier time of night than he usually had – when people may have even been around. Yet tragically, even if defenceless Florence had managed to cry out, her screams would have been drowned out by the noise coming from a disco that was happening in celebration of the Royal Wedding that evening in the Eight Bells pub opposite her home.

The death of such a defencless pensioner particularly shocked police and the public, and the Metropolitan police came under fire due to their perceived failure to capture the Strangler. Yet suddenly, the breakthrough that police needed came. Detectives pouring through the thousands of prints on file for a match to the palm prints that the Strangler had left at two of the crime scenes found a match in police files – and the Strangler suddenly had a face, and a name…..

 

To be continued…..

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“The Maniac In The Marigolds”

“I have committed an irrevocable act. I have taken the life of an innocent child. Oh God, I have wanted to tell you all night” – Peter Pickering to police

Thursday 13 July 1972 was almost the start of the summer holidays for the pupils of Wombwell High School, in the small South Yorkshire town of Wombwell, near Barnsley. It should have been a glorious time where children and teenagers of the area could let their hair down and enjoy over a month of free time, like all children do between school years. Instead, the summer holidays, and indeed the area still to this day, will always be marked by how the community was shocked by the vicious sex killing of a popular and hardworking schoolgirl, Shirley Ann Boldy.

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Shirley Ann Boldy

Shirley was 14 in 1972, living with her parents Norman and Edna in a respectable semi-detached house in Wombwell’s Hemingfield Road. She was described as being “an attractive, slim built, blonde haired girl”, who was popular and who had many friends. Shirley also had a boyfriend, 14-year-old Ian Morris, who she had been seeing for about two months. She was Norman and Edna’s youngest child, with her elder brother Simon away studying at Cambridge University for a degree in Spanish. Reflecting her brother’s academic success, Shirley was a bright and hardworking student who was regularly top of her class. Her end of term report for 1972 read:

“Always gives her best. Shirley should do well next year” 

Shirley was sadly never to get another school report.

Thursday 13 July 1972 was nearly the end of the school year, and as was her normal routine, Shirley had set off home for lunch after finishing morning lessons at school, walking home with Ian before they parted ways and he went off to his own home on Hough Lane. The journey to and from school each day would habitually be made with Ian and other friends and classmates, but that day the usual group of friends she walked with had stayed behind in school for lunch, and Ian was off for the afternoon. Shirley had lunch at home as usual, and then left to return to school at about 12:45pm.

When Shirley hadn’t arrived home by about 5pm, her parents thought that she had remained behind in school to attend an end of term concert. However, a telephone call to the school found that this wasn’t the case, and her father reported her to the police as missing. A massive intense search was undertaken, one that involved tracker dogs and that spread to the nearby districts of Marr, High Melton and Pilley Hill.  It was just twelve hours after she had been reported missing, early in the morning of 14th July 1972, that Shirley’s body was found in Pilley Woods. She had been brutally raped, throttled, and stabbed to death.

But police already had Shirley’s killer in custody – he had been arrested late the previous evening, and had led police to her body.

At about 3:00pm the previous day, two hours after Shirley had kissed her mother goodbye for what was unknowingly the last time, three men were doing groundwork in a remote area near the small village of Barnburgh, about 7 miles away from Wombwell. The three men saw a white mini van reverse into a gap in the Cliffside, and at first thought it may be a courting couple, as the spot was popular with them. When the men got nearer to the van, they saw a disturbing site through the rear window. A teenaged girl lay in the back, naked from the waist down but still wearing white socks and sandals. A wild-eyed man, wearing yellow marigold gloves, was moving about in the van and he held a large kitchen knife. The men heard a scream and saw the girl’s legs kicking and shaking. Trying to intervene, one of the workmen thumped on the roof of the van and another threw a log at it, but the wild-eyed man managed to drive off at high-speed, almost hitting them. They did manage to record the number plate of the vehicle and went to report what they had witnessed to police. At 8:35pm that evening, the van was traced and the man in possession of the van was arrested by police in Wombwell. He confessed to Shirley’s murder in the early hours, and led police to the site he had dumped her body at early the following morning.

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Peter Pickering

 

The man’s name was Peter Joseph William Pickering, a 34-year-old unemployed convicted sex offender who had an appalling record of previous offending, and who had already previously served prison sentences for rape, attempted rape, indecent assault, and causing grievous bodily harm. He had been free just five months after being released from this latest nine-year prison sentence that he had been serving since being arrested for these sex attacks in Doncaster and Scarborough in 1966. Upon his release, Pickering had returned to live with his mother, whom he shared a relationship described as “intense”, in a large semi-detached house in Wombwell. Prior to his arrest in 1966, he had passed himself off as a theatrical agent, using the ruse of offering a chance at stardom to be able to approach vulnerable teenage girls. Conversely, for someone responsible for such horrific crimes, Pickering was described as being “softly spoken”, and even described himself as a peace-loving Buddhist. On his right arm, a tattoo read, “Fear God and Honour the Queen”.

Pickering appeared at Doncaster West Riding court on Saturday 15th July 1972, charged with the murder of Shirley Ann Boldy, and was remanded in custody for a week.

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He wept continuously throughout the four-minute hearing court, and again appeared before magistrates a week later, where details of what Pickering had told police a week before were revealed. The prosecuting solicitor, Stuart Robertson, told magistrates that after confessing to Shirley’s murder, Pickering had taken police on a tour, going to the site in Pilley Woods where he had dumped Shirley’s body, the spot where he had abducted her near her home in Hemingfield; a spot near Howell Wood, Billingley, where he had stripped and brutally raped Shirley, and finally to the spot at Barnburgh Cliffs where he had killed Shirley – and where his van had been seen by the three workmen.  Pickering was remanded in custody awaiting trial for murder, and the solicitor acting for him, Mr Ralph Cunliffe, said that Pickering had no objections about being kept in custody, adding:

“This man is ill and is being kept in a prison hospital. He has no complaint about his treatment”

Pickering appeared at Sheffield Crown Court in December 1972, where he pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Shirley Ann Boldy by means of diminished responsibility. Lead counsellor for the prosecution, Mr Barry Mortimer QC, told the presiding judge Mr Justice Mackenna:

“The facts of the case are quite the worst and most appalling I have ever had to do with and I dare say they will come high in that way with your Lordship. They were sub-human acts that could only be described as the acts of a monster”

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Christened by the press as the “Maniac in The Marigolds”, the court heard how Pickering had been driving around in his van, when he had spotted Shirley, dressed in her blue and white school dress, walking across a field on her way back to school. He had forced her into the van, tied her hands with twine, and then driven the terrified girl 7 miles away to Howell Wood. There, he had stripped her and savagely raped her, then continued driving around aimlessly for more than an hour. During this drive, he decided to kill Shirley to silence the only witness to the crime, and drove to the remote spot at Barnburgh Cliffs to do this. He attempted to manually strangle Shirley, before untying her hands and using the twine to do so. Finally, he stabbed her in the heart with a kitchen knife, but was spotted doing so – which led to police tracing him and to his arrest.

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Police search the area near Pilley woods

Pickering himself tried to excuse his actions by claiming that he had desperately sought psychiatric help whilst serving time in prison, but this had been refused. He also sought to allocate blame to his mother, saying in court:

“My mother is to blame for all this. She has possessed me, she would never let me have another woman and always tried to destroy any relationship I had with other females”

Pickering described what had driven him, and emphasised his remorse:

“It was my mother I was killing, I could see my mother when I was doing it. They knew I would do this when I left prison, I nearly cured myself and in a short time I would have been cured but something snapped when I saw the girl walking across a field. The biggest feeling I had was not elation, it was just a feeling of destroying my mother. I have mentioned over the years I wanted help, I know I am ill. I feel nothing but remorse for what I have done. I was in an indescribable mood from which I have always been able to hold myself in check. But this time, I felt like exploding”

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The house in Wombwell, now derelict, that Pickering shared with his mother

The devastated family of Shirley Ann Boldy were in court to hear Pickering’s sickening confession, listening as he went on:

“She mentioned something about her mother, and something snapped inside me. I tore the clothes off her. I was out of my mind. The least I can do is keep the girl’s good name. She fought hard and never asked for any of this, she was a pure girl”

Pickering’s defence counsel, Mr Geoffrey Baker QC, described Pickering as suffering from a severe mental illness, telling Mr Justice Mackenna:

“It is my submission that this man is sick. He claims that years of indifference to his illness, the ignoring of his pleas for treatment in prison, refusals of help in the sense of getting medical treatment, also being approached by police every time a child was attacked – all this has caused a complete mental breakdown and so led to this final sick outburst. He instructs me to ask your Lordship, though he realises the chances are small, to consider a period of probation with a condition of residence for twelve months. That residence of course would be in hospital”

The judge concurred, but instead ordered Pickering to be detained in Broadmoor Hospital, Berkshire, committed indefinitely to secure custody. He was eventually moved, firstly to Merseyside’s Ashworth High Security Hospital in 1976, then to Towers Psychiatric Unit in Leicester, and finally to lower security Thornford Park Hospital in Berkshire. Now nearly 80 years old, he remains there to this day.

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Thornford Park Hospital, Berkshire

Surprisingly for such monstrous crimes, the name Peter Pickering will be largely unfamiliar with a student of true crime. There is relatively little information readily available for research concerning his crimes, but he has been back in the press in recent years. In the mid 1990’s he was back in the press when it was reported that he was being allowed escorted trips out to shopping centres in an effort to re-introduce Pickering back into the community, should there come a time that he was deemed “well” enough to be freed – a move that angered people who remembered his crimes. In a wave of protest, more than 8,000 people in Wombwell signed a petition demanding the Pickering never be freed.

And arguably with good reason, because it has emerged that Pickering is a suspect in other unsolved murders stemming from the 1960’s, crimes that were committed in between his periods of imprisonment. He has been arrested on a number of occasions by detectives investigating the unsolved murder of Elsie Frost in Wakefield in October 1965, as well as being looked at as a person of interest in the unsolved murder of Anne Dunwell in Rotherham in May 1964. Both crimes have been covered in previous posts on TTCE and can be found here and here: On 25 August 2017, Pickering was also charged with a rape and abduction in Deepcar in 1972 and is awaiting trial concerning this crime. It is also reported that police have also submitted a file on Pickering to the Crown Prosecution Service to ascertain whether charges can be brought against him concerning the murder of Elsie Frost.

Is Pickering a serious suspect in the murders of both Anne Dunwell and Elsie Frost then? I believe very much so, and I believe that aside from these crimes, he could also be considered a possible suspect in the unsolved murder of Mavis Hudson in Chesterfield in December 1966. Although in the latter case, it is possible that Pickering may have been imprisoned at the time of this offence. Details of the timeline of his imprisonment in the 1960’s are scarce and exact dates and times cannot be pinpointed – although any re-investigation of the Hudson case by police could easily ascertain these dates, and Pickering could subsequently relatively simply be ruled in as a person of interest, or eliminated due to being imprisoned. For those interested in the Hudson case, an account of the murder and original investigation can be found in author Scott Lomax’s informative book “Unsolved Murders In Derbyshire” – a link to which can be found here. An account of the case will be featured on an upcoming blog post on TTCE.

But Pickering is seriously looked at by police as a person of interest in the murders of Anne Dunwell and Elsie Frost. Are these murders connected? Firstly, as is commonplace on TTCE, I in no way attempt to suggest that the following is definitive – it is of course pure hypothesis based upon a comparing and contrasting examination of each case. I am however, convinced that Pickering is responsible for other crimes apart from those he has already served time for before his incarceration for the murder of Shirley Ann Boldy.

Firstly, what suggests that Pickering is a person of interest concerning the murders of Anne Dunwell and Elsie Frost? There is the relatively short geographical distance between each of the crimes – just 33 miles is the furthest between murders. Produced at the following link is a Google map showing the locations of the crimes that Pickering is known to have committed, the 1972 rape and abduction that he awaits trial for, and the locations of the murders of both Anne Dunwell and Elsie Frost.

Map of Pickering Locations/Unsolved Murders

It is of course possible that there are separate killers responsible for each of these unsolved crimes, and of course there are killers who have operated over the length and breadth of the UK, for example Peter Sutcliffe and Peter Tobin. But criminals tend to operate within areas they are comfortable with, they have a “hunting ground”, and the locations marked on the map constitute a relatively short geographical catchment area for more than a single predator to operate within. Pickering is known to have had access to a van, and therefore access to travel to offend.

Each of the victims is an attractive teenage girl, which was known to be Pickering’s victim of preference, and each was attacked in an opportunistic crime when each was alone. In two out of the three murders, a vehicle was used as either the location of the assault, or certainly to transport the victim. The attacks on each were very savage – Anne was raped and strangled, Elsie stabbed. Pickering’s first confirmed victim, Shirley Ann Boldy, was raped, strangled and then stabbed to death. Elsie was not raped or sexually assaulted, but this should in no way detract from her murder having a likely sexual motivation. It is more likely, as previously discussed on TTCE, that Elsie’s killer was disturbed and fled before a sexual assault could take place.

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Mugshots of Pickering taken over the years

Pickering was offending throughout the 1960’s, and to be named as a person of interest in each case it means that he was at large in between periods of imprisonment to be ruled in. In the case of Anne Dunwell, however, police have a DNA profile of her killer. As Pickering has been incarcerated for 45 years now, it is likely that his DNA profile is on the NDNAD and therefore he would be easily eliminated or highlighted as a suspect. However, clerical mistakes in recording an individual’s DNA are made, as highlighted in the case of the Notting Hill rapist, Tony Maclean; also, pioneering work in the field of DNA has revealed the existence of human chimera’s that exist with two sets of DNA in them. It is not reported as to whether Pickering has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of Anne Dunwell – if he was to be, a fresh DNA sample could be taken and compared to the sample taken from her killer and a comparison made using today’s technology.

At the time, Pickering also arguably matched the descriptions given of persons of interest in both the Anne Dunwell and Elsie Frost cases: Look at the description of “Pete” – a person of interest in Anne’s murder:

“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

Look now at the description of a person of interest mentioned in the re-appeal over the Elsie Frost murder.

a man wearing a brown, potentially duffel, type coat with dark hair who was seen on the canal towpath. He was of medium to thin build and in his early 20’s. He was described as carrying a bag by some witnesses, and was possibly of what was described as a scruffy or ‘student type’ appearance.”

Pickering was 26 and 27 years old at the times of each murder, so would be around the right age. His appearance has altered over time from clean-shaven to bearded, and it can be argued that he has at times looked “scruffy”, or like a “student”.

This may seem to be just circumstantial evidence, but the facts remain. Pickering was a known sexual predator who matched descriptions of persons of interest in each unsolved murder; one who targeted the exact same victim type as both Anne and Elsie; one who used a vehicle in attacks, and who was proven to have a combined method of murder from each unsolved case in the murder he was incarcerated for; and one who was operational not just all over the Yorkshire area (and possibly further), but whose known attacks were concentrated within a relatively small geographical area.

Pickering may never face trial for the murders of Anne or Elsie, indeed, he may yet be cleared as a suspect in one or both cases. He has been committed to trial for an abduction and rape in Deepcar in 1972 and is due appear at Leeds Magistrates Court on 19th September 2017. It is not for TTCE to assign guilt to Pickering in any of these cases. But I believe the facts of the matter, however coincidental, point to him being a very strong person of interest in each case, and one police are justified in examining closely.

Has “The Maniac In The Marigolds” claimed more lives? Time will tell.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Death In Dundee – Part 3

I am delighted to bring the Robert Mone trilogy featured this past week on TTCE to a close today. As listeners to the UK True Crime podcast will be aware, the case was the latest collaboration between TTCE and UK True Crime for the debut two-part episode, “A Life Of Violence” (episodes 39-40). If you haven’t already heard this gripping story, please take the time and head over to check them out. And also the other episodes, there are some really great featured cases. Links to the UK True Crime Podcast can be found at the footer of this post. Parts 1 and 2 can also be found in the TTCE archives.

The aftermath of the November 1976 escape from Carstairs was to yet have even more dramatic consequences, for if what hadn’t transpired already wasn’t horror enough – there was yet more horror to come. The name Mone wasn’t quite ready to be forgotten by the general public just yet.

Skip forward now to the very start of 1979, the 4th January. Detective Chief Inspector David Fotheringham of Dundee CID was making a routine paper sift through all the daily crime reports and missing persons reports that are of a routine passed on from the uniformed section that consider them for further action. One caught his eye especially – a report that detailed the disappearance of an elderly Dundee woman, 78-year-old Agnes Waugh, from her home in Kinghorne Road.

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The report detailed how Miss Waugh had not been seen for six days, since she was seen at her home in Gray Memorial House on Kinghorne Road in Dundee’s Hilltown district on the afternoon of the 29th December. Gray Memorial House was at the time a block of flats on one side of an area of Hilltown known as the Law, or was more commonly known locally by the unenviable title of “no man’s land”. The letting regulations there stipulated that the flats in that block could only be rented to females, but the block was pretty open for the time and many people, both savoury and unsavoury, came and went and frequented it. Miss Waugh was well-known throughout the area, and was looked in on by other residents, who were alarmed to find her flat door open and the gas fire in the living room on full, but with no sign of Agnes anywhere. It was bitterly cold and there was snow on the ground. Due to her age, she was quite infirm, and it was thought at first that she may have wandered off and had an accident. But a check of local hospitals proved negative-and she was unlikely to have wandered far anyway.

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Gray Memorial House, Kinghorne Road, Hilltown

DCI Fotheringham ordered a major hunt, sensing that something ominous had happened here. Both uniformed and plainclothes officers swamped the area, and every flat in the block was to be entered and searched, even if that meant forcing entry. One by one the flats were searched, and people were at home in most of the flats. They co-operated with officers, and were only too anxious to help. No sign of Agnes Waugh was found. The only flat that no one appeared to be at home in was one on the ground floor of the block at the rear, with curtains drawn on all windows. Late that afternoon, a detective went and forced the living room window to open the curtains and to gain access, and as soon as he had done so, the familiar nauseating smell emanating from the property told him that there was a body inside there. In the fading light, the policeman could just make out the outline of an arm hanging from a bed recess.

It was only when police entered the scene could they appreciate the full horror of what was before them. Laid out on the bed was the body of a young woman who showed signs of being severely beaten about the face and neck, and who had a stocking and an electric flex knotted tightly around her neck. Across from the bed, at either side of the fireplace in armchairs, were the bodies of two other women. Both were elderly, both again had been beaten about the face and neck, and both had stockings knotted tightly around their necks. Each of these women had also been bound to the chairs by polythene bags tied at their wrists and ankles, and all three women had clearly been dead for several days.

The women were quickly identified as the missing Agnes Waugh, 70-year-old Jane Simpson-who was the occupant of the flat, and the younger woman was identified as 29-year-old Catherine Millar, a newlywed of less than two weeks who was known to frequent the Hilltown area on drinking binges. Catherine was positively identified by her distraught husband, who had reported her missing when she failed to come home on 29th December, just a week after they had married.

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Forensic experts confirmed that Catherine, Agnes and Jane had all been dead for several days, likely since 29th December when both Agnes and Catherine had been seen last. Cause of death was ruled to be strangulation, and a close examination of the bruising to the faces of each woman was to provide a vital piece of evidence, that would also prove later to be quite ironic. Each woman displayed wounds that were consistent with her killer having worn a prominent ring. Forensic scientists managed to make a cast and resin model of the wound imprint that could be used as a comparison if an arrest was made.

One of the largest murder hunts in Dundee police history got underway in the following days, and the press had a field day reporting on the hunt for the “Gray Memorial Strangler”. Everyone who had even the most tenuous connections with each woman was questioned, and every betting shop and public house in the area was visited by detectives. One of the first people to be interviewed was the nephew of Agnes Waugh – Robert Christopher “Sonny” Mone – the father of the (already) infamous Robert Mone Jr, who was by then serving a whole life sentence at Perth Prison.

“Sonny” Mone was a detested figure in his neighbourhood. It has already been stated how he was no stranger to abusing his family, particularly Robert Mone Jr, but his bullying and violent ways were not just kept within the confines of his family. He had a long criminal record that had begun as a small-time housebreaker and petty thug and had moved up to serious assaults. He was quick to violence, especially after drinking, so this was a regular occurrence as “Sonny” was a heavy drinker.

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Robert Christopher “Sonny” Mone

He was a small and slight man, but was a notorious nasty piece of work and didn’t care if he struck men or women. Part of his “tough guy” routine was to swagger about town with his thumbs stuck into the pockets of his trousers, picking fights with anybody – usually as is the style of bullies, with somebody smaller than him. He was also very fond of showing off the tattoos that he was covered in, with the initials IHS tattooed across his chest, which represented In His Service, a reference to the Devil. His pride and joy, however, were the letters TNT emblazoned on his penis. It was all part of his big act to try to pass himself off as a big shot amongst the Dundee criminal element and someone to be feared. Mone Sr also revelled in the notoriety of the unspeakable crimes that his son Robert had committed, and would regularly bend the ear of anybody he came across each night whilst out drinking in the city pubs. He spoke longingly of his pride and affection for his son, whom he referred to as “The Carstairs Killer”, and how much he wanted to be with him in prison. In fact, he had said words to the effect on the afternoon of the 29th December, the day Agnes was last seen.  Sonny had been in the Vennel public house just around the corner from the scene of the triple murder, and had been a troublesome customer, drunk as usual and spoiling for a fight, threatening anybody who complained about his behaviour with violence. Throughout all his drunken ramblings, one message was clear: Mone was boasting that he would become more famous than his son.

Questioned by police concerning his movements that day, Mone admitted readily that he had been in the flat that afternoon with Jane Simpson, and another man, 22-year-old Stewart Hutton, who was known in the local community as “Billy Rebel” and who was a drinking acquaintance of Mone, Jane and Catherine. Mone claimed that the two men had taken a carry out of alcohol to the flat and had a drinking session until mid afternoon, when Mone had then left the flat to get fresh supplies. Hutton, when questioned, told the same story – except that he claimed it was he who had departed the flat to get more supplies of alcohol. In fact, Hutton had never returned to the flat, instead spending the money he had been given to get more alcohol in a betting shop. He claimed that he had a “strange feeling” about the atmosphere in the flat that day, and was not anxious to return, knowing Mone’s character when drinking. Police were able to corroborate Hutton’s story through checks at the betting shop, and he was also satisfactorily alibied for the remainder of the afternoon. Mone Sr was now the prime and obvious suspect – he was admittedly there at the crucial time, was known to be violent to women, and perhaps most importantly – he had boasted that he would be more famous than his son. Had he killed three women in some sick game of “anything you can do, I can do better”?

Mone Sr was questioned at length over several days, and although he never admitted the murders, he never denied them either. Instead, with his typical swagger he hinted that he knew more than he was saying and all he seemed to be concerned with was to talk about his infamous son. But even this came across as less of concern and fatherly love, and more of to bolster his own status as a hard man. He told one police officer:

“I don’t care for the fucking jungle outside no more. All I live for is to be in there with him. If I was there, I would see he gets everything that’s going – pills, booze, anything, the lot.”

Whilst he was being interviewed, detectives looked to see if he wore a ring with a prominent face, but he never did. But they still believed that they had their killer in front of them. And then they had a breakthrough. Enquiries revealed that Mone did indeed have a prominent ring, a silver band with a large jade stone. It had, ironically, belonged to his son – who had gifted it to his father when he was sent to Perth prison after the Carstairs breakout, as he was prohibited from wearing it after being transferred there. If detectives could find the ring, they could try to match it with the indentations on the victim’s faces. A search warrant detailing the description of the ring and its importance as evidence in the case was issued, and Mone’s house, his sister’s house, and even his estranged wife’s house in Glasgow were searched looking for it. However, it wasn’t found. During all this activity, Mone Sr went about his routine apparently unconcerned – he even took a trip to Perth Prison to visit his son who he was so obsessed with.

Although the evidence against Mone Sr was thin at best, an agreement between the police, the Dundee Procurator Fiscal and the Crown Counsel in Edinburgh was made that there was a borderline case. It was two weeks after the discovery of the murders, on 18th January 1979, that Crown prosecutors agreed an arrest warrant for Robert Christopher Mone Sr. It was decided that the public interest was so great, that an attempt had to be made to convict the prime suspect. The warrant was issued – and Mone Sr was arrested later that afternoon in the street near his home in Glen Prosen Terrace. When arrested, Mone was wearing the very ring that police had searched so long for.

In June 1979, Robert Christopher Mone Sr stood trial at the High Court in Dundee, charged with the murders of Agnes Waugh, Jane Simpson, and Catherine Millar, to which he pleaded not guilty. The lynchpin of the prosecution evidence was the ring that had been passed from killer son to father. The cast of the wound imprints that had been made at the time forensic scientists examined the bodies had been compared with the ring Mone had been wearing when arrested, and were found to match near perfectly. Crucially, traces of blood group A – the same as belonging to Agnes and Catherine were found on it also. And if this wasn’t persuasive enough, one of the trial witnesses was to produce a sensational moment that proved to be damning. Mone’s daughter, 15-year-old Rose-Ann, told the court that her father had loaned her the ring the previous year after she had expressed admiration for it, but had asked for it back after a short time. When asked why, she replied through tears:

“My dad said it was useful in a fight”.

It took just seventy-five minutes for a jury to decide Mone Sr’s guilt in the crimes he was accused of, and Mone was typically aggressive and cocky to the end. Passing the mandatory life sentence to him, Lord Robertson told the unflinching, unemotional Mone:

“You have been convicted of what I can only describe as a terrible crime. In view of the enormity of the crime, I shall make a recommendation that you serve a minimum of fifteen years”.

Mone replied; “Would you mind back dating it?”.

Cocky and aggressive to the last, he then struggled with the police constable taking him down to the cells, assaulting him and shouting “Get your hands off me”.

Sent to Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen, Mone was never to be with the son that he claimed alternately to love and miss, and then to want to gain one upmanship on. His prison life mirrored pretty much his outside life, as he was as detested inside prison as much as he had been outside. He intimidated the younger and smaller inmates with his physical fitness and bullying, regularly showing off by hanging by his feet from a beam ten feet above a concrete floor with his arms folded, and preying on those weaker than himself to satisfy his perverted sexual appetite. In 1983, just three and a half years into his life sentence, Robert Christopher Mone Sr was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate – who butchered him with two knives in an echo of the bloodshed his son had been a part of several years before. No one was particularly shocked that such a nasty piece of work met such a violent end, and even fewer people really cared. The inmate who killed him even described him as:

“Probably the most obnoxious person in the country”

With Robert Mone Sr dead, having arguably paid the ultimate price for his crimes, what happened to the other two main players in this entire drama, Thomas Mcculloch, and the person at the epicentre of it all, Robert Francis Mone Jr?

In 2002, new laws under the European Convention on Human Rights meant that the whole life sentences that were issued to Mone and Mcculloch in 1977 could be reviewed. Mone had the punishment element of his sentence set at twenty-five years, and Mcculloch’s was set at thirty years, and so both would have become eligible for possible parole by that time. By 2005, Mcculloch was still incarcerated, but was studying for a law degree and had become a trained counsellor helping other inmates with their personal issues. His prisoner category status was downgraded, and moves to begin preparing him for release were put into place. He was moved to HMP Castle Huntly, an open prison, and was allowed regular trips out, more than 100 unsupervised visits in total. He even managed to begin a relationship with a 48-year-old divorcee, Susan Perrie.  But public feeling about the horrific crimes he had committed still runs high, and an attempt for a release into the community in 2010 stalled when attempts to rehouse him in Dumbarton were abandoned when locals threatened to lynch him after finding out the identity of their potential new resident. He was however, eventually released on life licence in 2011, going on to marry Susan Perrie and settling down to a new life in Dundee – much to the disgust of the families of his victims, opposition from senior government figures, and several scenes of angry public protest. The son of Nursing Officer Neil McClellan, who Mone and Mcculloch had butchered during their breakout from Carstairs echoed public opinion and the thoughts of the victim’s families: He said:

“Life should be life. He was sentenced to die in jail and I don’t see why that should have changed. He gets another chance, but there’s three people in the cemetery who won’t get that chance because of what they did”

Robert Mone Jr – the person who is at the centre of all the horror that has been described here, is still incarcerated to this day. He has become Scotland’s longest-serving prisoner, despite at one time looking like a release was on the cards for him. In fact, preparations for his release were being made from HMP Glenochil in 2011, even to the extent that he was allowed out on several day releases. But authorities held off on plans for his release after concerns were raised about his behaviour, and the possibility that he was using such releases to make outside preparations for yet another prison escape. It is fair to say that Mone has been involved in several incidents over the many years that he has been incarcerated now that would suggest that the distinction of being Scotland’s longest serving prisoner is a deserved moniker, with him still periodically appearing in the news even to this day. In 1981, his name was amongst those involved in a destructive rooftop protest at Perth Prison, and in 1995 Mone had six months added onto his life sentence for attacking a fellow prisoner with boiling water. He still maintains hope that he will be paroled and released on life licence, more so now that his partner in crime Mcculloch has now been freed. Mone has even changed his name to James Smith now as he believes that release is imminent for him, and reports of the inroads he is making from prison to convince a parole board that he is rehabilitated and ready to rejoin society are widespread.

But there are many who believe that Mone is still as evil to this day, and that life should mean life in his case. Extracts from letters to a penfriend were made public, in which he discusses his plans upon release – but never once mentions any regret or sorrow for the victims of his crimes, in fact even boasting of how up to 540 people were left traumatized b his crimes, and sickeningly awarding his victims points for their anguish. In 2015 Mone even went so far as to describe in his own words the events of the escape from Carstairs in 1976, in a series of letters to journalist David Leslie, which give a detailed recollection of the events of the Carstairs escape from Mone’s own perspective. These letters made it into a book entitled “Carstairs: Hospital For Horrors”, which is a highly recommended read and quite a unique insight not only into the workings of a high security hospital, but for a unique pov of events from the perpetrator’s perspective, as opposed to just a researched comprehensive account. But even in these letters, Mone is quick to pin the blame almost entirely upon Mcculloch, and paints a picture of himself being an accomplice only under duress. The name Robert Mone still to this day, nearly 50 years after he committed the horrific murder that introduced his name to the annals of infamy, creates widespread public fury and anger. Many believe that he will never be safe to be released, and even more believe that he deserves to languish in prison until the day he dies, paying for his horrific crimes. In 2007, one of the schoolgirls that Mone held at gunpoint the day that he murdered Nanette, Anne D’Arcy, spoke out about that afternoon, and her opinion of Mone. In an interview with a Scottish newspaper, she said:

“His face has always haunted me. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of him. The memory of him pressing the gun to my head flashes through my mind. He fired the gun, I heard him pull the trigger. I found out later the pin missed, and it didn’t fire a bullet. He didn’t think how he was destroying the lives of 14-year-old girls, he didn’t care. He should never, ever be released – it’s in him to kill again”.

Former nursing officer at Carstairs, the officer who found the mutilated bodies of Neil McLennan and Ian Simpson, John Hughes, said of Mone and Mcculloch:

“Mone is still feeding off the past. He remembers every tiny detail of that day. He gets pleasure from it. I haven’t forgotten that day because I was left traumatized. But Mone and McCulloch are like a couple of vultures feeding off the carcass of 1976. They will never change, ever. You cannot rehabilitate these people to go back among human beings. People like them cannot be cured’

The son of nursing officer Neil McClellan, murdered by Mone and Mcculloch in the Carstairs escape in 1976, gave his opinion of Mone. He said:

“I have lived with the consequences of what happened since 1976. It has completely altered the life my mother and I would have had. Mone is telling the story that he has been led along and that he was not the main player in this and is still inside. He has got to convince the parole board that he is safe to be released and that he is remorseful. But he is only sorry that he got caught”

Should Mone ever be released? Or does he still present as much of a danger to the public as he has for nearly 50 years?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

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Death In Dundee – Part 2

As part of the second TTCE Trilogy, I am thrilled to deliver the second part of the latest guest piece TTCE has written for the fantastic UK True Crime Podcast. Please take the time to check out the episodes 39 and 40, entitled “A Life Of Violence” (parts 1 and 2 respectively), as well as all of the other great featured episodes. Links to the UKTC Podcast can be found at the footer of this blog post.

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Carstairs Hospital

It’s now November 1976, Carstairs Hospital. Robert Mone has been here almost nine years now. He now looks a far cry from the clean-shaven baby-faced ex soldier who was sent there many years before. He is by now 28 years old, has long fair hair and is stockily built, and where he once shunned and rejected any form of learning, he has by now settled down to studying – gaining three A levels and developing a vested interest in the law. He had even started a long-distance law degree with the University of London and would, by his own accounts, spend hours poring over law books in his room on Carstairs’ Tweed Ward – which at the time was considered the “trustee” ward. He still by his own account tended to feel a loner and not a mixer, but was involved in a capacity for writing features for the Carstairs’ hospital magazine The State Observer.  He was later to use this as a means for a more nefarious purpose. Mone is also involved with the hospital’s drama group, a project that had been implemented by a new doctor to the ward, John Gotea-Loweg. Under his new doctor’s direction, Mone had also written a one-act play as a contribution that was celebrated by a BBC Scotland Arts Festival, and had become a “peer tutor”, helping educationally challenged patients prepare for the O levels that they could undertake as part of the Carstairs education programme. By all accounts, Mone was responding well to treatment and would be preparing to move towards being in a different, lower security facility. Reading this list, it certainly seems this is the resume of a model patient, and that a move would be on the cards.

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Robert Mone pictured in 1976

But Mone’s one negative trait was an obsession with a fellow patient two years younger than himself, called Thomas McCulloch. McCulloch was a violent and weapon obsessed drink and drug user who had been sent to Carstairs in 1970 following a bizarre episode where he attempted to murder two staff at a hotel he had just eaten at – in an argument over a bread roll! One of his victims had to have major reconstructive facial surgery after being shot in the face, and another never worked again after receiving a gun blast to the shoulder. Following a 30-minute siege, similar to the one Mone himself had been responsible for, McCulloch was overpowered and arrested. Found unfit to plead due to his mental state, he was sent to Carstairs without limit of time. Soon after meeting, McCulloch and Mone had become inseparable, and a deep friendship soon graduated to a homosexual relationship. McCulloch, although the younger man, was clearly the dominant one in the relationship, and was considered as being sly and manipulative by fellow patients and nursing staff alike.

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Thomas McCulloch

By 1976, the two had a plan to escape from Carstairs underway, and McCulloch and Mone spent six months preparing for it. The drama group was a bit of a godsend – because it provided them with a good cover that they needed. McCulloch, who had been a painter and decorator before he had been incarcerated at Carstairs, involved himself with the drama group alongside with Mone. Expressing no official interest in performing, McCulloch instead offered to use his creative skills to help with the set and props. This afforded him a cover and time to fashion a deadly arsenal of weaponry and to collect items that would be useful for their escape. The cunning pair managed to ingeniously conceal all the items they had collected and fashioned behind a false wall they had created in a cupboard in the west wing. By the end of November 1976, the pair had managed to create two wire garrottes, a hand axe, several sharp knives, and a short sword. McCulloch had also managed to create a lengthy rope ladder out of sashes of cord and wooden struts, and they had stolen false beards, moustaches and bits of uniform from the drama group. The pair had spent months creating forged identity cards, McCulloch’s being a faked Building Industry of Scotland Apprentice Scheme Inspector’s card, with his picture but in the name of Shaun Collins; and Mone’s a photographic identity card showing the name “Thomas Hunt”. They had also amassed a torch, two homemade nurses’ hats, and £25 in cash that they had managed to amass through visitors and theft from other inmates. At 6:00pm on 30th November 1976, the pair were ready to make their break.

The drama group had just finished reading extracts from what was to be their next production, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, and as the rest of the group filtered back to the ward, Mone and McCulloch hung back. McCulloch pulled on a homemade belt that carried three knives, and the home-made hand axe. Mone had knives concealed in his shirt and trousers, and by all accounts believed that the weapons the pair had would be enough of a visual deterrent without being needing to be used.

Events were to prove otherwise.

Shortly after 6:00pm, Mone and McCulloch entered a large store cum safe-cupboard in the Carstairs social club, where their supervising nursing officer, Neil Maclellan, was talking to another patient, Ian Simpson. The four men were the last ones in the social club. Mone then threw paint stripper into the eyes of Simpson, whilst McCulloch did the same to Maclellan. The plan was, by Mone’s own account, to use the paint stripper to incapacitate any resistance, and the victims would then be bound, gagged and locked in the store cupboard, thus allowing the remainder of the escape to proceed unhindered. But both Simpson and Maclellan fought back powerfully, causing McCulloch to attack Simpson from behind with the axe. He struck him so hard that parts of Simpson’s skull were later found entwined in Mone’s heavily bloodstained clothing. McCulloch then turned his attentions to officer Maclellan, slashing at him with one of the home-made knives and shouting to Mone:

“Get the fucking keys”

Mone managed to find the keys, which had been dropped in the struggle, but whilst doing so, noticed Simpson stirring and reaching for one of the home-made knives that had been dropped in the struggle. Noticing a pitchfork that had clattered to the floor in the struggle, Mone picked it up and stabbed Simpson in the chest with it, leaving the implement sticking out. The next part of the escape did go as planned, as Mone used the keys to gain access to the nursing office, and managed to cut the internal and external telephone lines. But as the pair were about to don the disguises and uniforms that were integral to the escape, McCulloch claimed he was going back to get the drama room door keys. This, by his own account, surprised Mone as the doors were already open. It transpired that McCulloch was going back to satisfy his blood lust – because he went back and using a larger axe that he had found and was by now in possession of, and smashed in the heads of both the already nearly dead Simpson and Officer Maclellan. He only stopped when the devastation was so complete that it was apparent at a cursory glance to anybody that both men were clearly dead. The deranged McCulloch even sliced off both of Simpson’s ears and scalped him, before returning to the waiting Mone. The badly mutilated corpses would not be discovered for nearly another hour, and the nursing officer who found the bodies, John Hughes, was to describe the scene years later in graphic detail. He said:

“I found Neil and knew in my heart he was dead as soon as I walked in that room. I bent over Neil and I didn’t recognise him. I felt a drip on the back of my neck and put my hand to my head. It was Neil’s blood dripping off the ceiling. They had hit him so hard with the axe, his blood had sprayed everywhere. His face was blown up with the pressure of the axe and was smothered in blood and fluid. All I could see was bone. The back of his scalp was open wide where they had used a fireman’s axe to slice open his head. I didn’t recognise him. He didn’t have his glasses on. They were broken and on the ground. Then I saw the little tin he used to keep his cigarettes he rolled himself. They had cut the back of his belt to take his keys and dropped his tin. That was when it hit me.”

By that time, the pair had managed to get outside and used their well constructed rope ladder to scale the outer barbed wire fence, and in the darkness, had found themselves on one of the main roads within the greater hospital precincts. It was time for the execution of the next integral part of the escape plan.  Whilst Mone lay down in the middle of the road, posed like an accident victim, McCulloch stood waving his torch to signal a car to stop. Soon enough, and still without their escape being discovered, a dark Volvo car stopped. The driver was a man named Robert McCallum, who stopped his vehicle and got out to give assistance to what he believed had been a serious accident. It is very likely, bearing in mind what had just transpired minutes before, that those steps that McCallum took towards the prone figure lying in the middle of the road would have been his last ever taken, if it wasn’t for yet another twist in the events of that evening. Mone and McCulloch would have undoubtedly overpowered him, probably killed him, and took off in his car. But before they could, by chance at that very moment a police patrol car was passing the scene, and stopped to give assistance. It stopped, and the two constables in the vehicle, PC John Gilles and PC George Taylor, got out and approached the three men.

Mone jumped up, and he and McCulloch launched a ferocious attack on the two policemen, Mone armed with the smaller axe and a knife, and McCulloch the large axe. Whilst the escapees grappled with the policemen, McCallum fled in his car, stopping and alerting a gatekeeper to the horrific attack that was occurring just a short distance away. PC Gilles sustained serious injuries, but was ultimately to survive the onslaught. PC Taylor was not so lucky. He managed to stagger a short distance away from the scene despite having horrific head and chest injuries, but was to die of his wounds. In the space of less than 40 minutes, Mone and McCulloch had hacked to death three people, and tried to kill four. This time, McCulloch did not wait to inflict more mutilation upon his victims and instead, the crazed pair sped off in the stolen police car, trying to make as much distance as possible between themselves and the hospital.

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The murdered men: From left to right; Ian Simpson; PC George Taylor; Neil Maclellan

The car sped south, with McCulloch driving erratically as it had been many years since he had last driven a motor vehicle. Meanwhile, Mone tried in vain to operate the police radio in the vehicle to try to find out how much (if any) the authorities knew of their whereabouts now that the alarm had been raised. Mone himself was later to claim, perhaps through bravado, that he was trying to give false information over the radio to try to confuse police hunting for them. It may have been due to this distraction, the icy road conditions, the erratic driving, or perhaps a combination of all – but ten miles down the road from Carstairs hospital, the vehicle skidded off the road, plowed into an embankment, and was totalled. Mone actually went through the windscreen, and lay unconscious for a short time.

He came to to hear McCulloch shouting “Help me with the prisoner” to two men in a van who had stopped to give assistance, William Lennon and Jack Mcalroy. When they approached, Mone and McCulloch then brutally stabbed both men several times, causing severe injuries, and bundled both into the back of their own van and sped off. But in what was a recurring theme, once more McCulloch’s poor driving skills thwarted the escapees getting clear. Once clear of the area, McCulloch had driven into a field near Roberton after seeing what he wrongly believed were the lights of a police roadblock ahead. The van became stuck in mud and Mone and McCulloch were forced to continue on foot, Mone stopping to be violently sick and collapsing several times from a concussion he had received in the earlier crash. Leaving their two captives badly injured, but alive, in the back of the van, Mone and McCulloch made their way on foot in the direction of some lights that they saw coming from a nearby farmhouse. On their way, they had to wade across a river, and Mone collapsed whilst crossing. McCulloch had managed to cross without difficulty, and hesitated from the bank, looking back at Mone as if deciding to help him, or leave him to drown, before stretching out the shaft of the axe for Mone to grab where he then pulled him to the safety of the riverbank. It later came to light that McCulloch would have equally have killed Mone there and then as opposed to helping him out.

The terrifying scenario that next took place was as follows: Mone and McCulloch, heavily bloodstained, soaked to the skin, and still in possession of several dangerous weapons, reached the door of the isolated Town Foot Farm farmhouse and battered on it. When the door was opened, the two escapees burst in, McCulloch struggling with the homeowner in the hallway whilst Mone made his way to the living room, where the Craig family (including four children) had been watching a St Andrew’s Day Scottish music programme. Mone wrenched the telephone from the wall and then demanded the keys to the family vehicle. Fortunately for the Craig’s’, Mone and McCulloch showed no inclination to offer further violence or threats towards them, because once they had the keys the pair fled in the car, an Austin – the third vehicle they had used that night despite still being less than twenty-five miles from the hospital that they had escaped from.

By this time, police from all over Lanarkshire and the Borders were hunting the pair, as the alarm had been raised by the gatekeeper at Carstairs. The bodies of Ian Simpson and Neil Maclennan had by this time been discovered, PC’s Gilles and Taylor had been rushed to hospital, where PC Taylor sadly died, and the van containing the badly wounded Jack Lennon and Jack Mcalroy had been discovered after the farmer whose car the pair had taken had raised the alarm. A description of the vehicle that the pair were now travelling in had been circulated, and officers on the A74 sighted the stolen vehicle being driven south at high-speed. A high-speed pursuit followed, with police vehicles pursuing the car all the way to the Scotland/England border – and then beyond.

It was just north of Carlisle where a police vehicle that was packed with armed officers from Cumbrian police rammed the getaway vehicle in an attempt to stop it, rendering the police vehicle immobile, but causing McCulloch to lose control of a vehicle for the second time that evening. The Austin crashed into a roundabout a few hundred yards away, just missing another vehicle and causing it to stop. McCulloch and Mone were out of the wrecked vehicle and ordered the shaken driver of the car that they had narrowly missed to get out. He did so, but had the presence of mind to grab the ignition keys as he did. Before the pair could take off in their fourth vehicle of the evening, several armed police arrived and surrounded the vehicle. Mone was dragged out struggling, still wielding a knife that a police officer received injuries to his hand from when he grabbed the blade in his hand, holding it firmly whilst he restrained Mone. McCulloch was taken down by two armed officers – still in possession of his fireman’s axe.

The pair were taken into custody at Carlisle before being returned to Lanark, and one of the bloodiest nights in Scottish criminal history had come to an end. The three Cumbrian officers who captured the pair were to later receive the Queens Gallantry Medal for bravery whilst doing so.

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The home-made weapons and escape kit Mone and McCulloch created.

In February 1977, three months following the night of carnage in which three people had died so horribly, and another three were nearly killed; Mone and McCulloch appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh. McCulloch admitted killing patient Ian Simpson, Nursing Officer Neil McClellan, and PC George Taylor. Mone admitted the murder of PC Taylor. The presiding judge, Lord Dunpark, claimed that the murders that the pair had committed and admitted to were the “most deliberately brutal murders he had ever dealt with” and made legal history by ordering them to remain incarcerated until the day the both were to die, saying:

“I will recommend that you are not to be released from prison unless and until the authorities are satisfied, if ever, that you have ceased to be a danger to the public at large”

This was the first time that natural life sentences had ever been handed down in Scotland. The preceding three months since their recapture had seen both men undergo psychiatric evaluations, and according to reports given to Lord Dunpark at the time of the hearing – controversially, both men were found to be sane at the time of the attacks. It raised many questions about Carstairs. Why should either of these men have ever been there at all, if they were sane?

Questions were asked about security failings at Carstairs, like how had two patients managed to obtain so many supplies to facilitate and assist in an escape, and how they could fashion and conceal so many dangerous weapons. Neither man was ever to return to the State Hospital at Carstairs, McCulloch instead being sent to Peterhead Prison, unpopular with prisoners due to its remoteness; and Mone being sent to Perth Prison. Both men were classed as category A prisoners, the highest risk that there is.

And the aftermath of the escape was to yet have even more dramatic consequences, and if what has already been told wasn’t horror enough – there was more horror to come. The name Mone wasn’t quite ready to be forgotten by the general public just yet….

 

To be continued.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

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UK True Crime

Death In Dundee – Part 1

This week on TTCE, I am delighted to release part by part the latest collaboration between TTCE and the UK True Crime Podcast, for the latest 2 part episode of this great podcast, Episode 39 – A Life Of Violence. Full links to part 1 of this podcast case can be found at the footnote of this post – please take the time to check out this, and all of the other episodes featured so far.

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Carstairs Hospital

Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton are all familiar names, not just to a student of true crime, but for anyone who picks up a newspaper. Some of the most infamous criminals who have committed some of the UK’s most infamous crimes either reside or have resided within their walls, for example The Yorkshire Ripper, The Hull Arsonist Bruce Lee and the killer nurse Beverly Allitt are names familiar with the “Big 3” secure hospitals that cover England and Wales. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, the main psychiatric care facility is the State Hospital located near the village of Carstairs in South Lanarkshire, more commonly known as Carstairs Hospital. It provides care and treatment for patients requiring high security hospital detention, with around 700 staff accommodating around 140 patients.  A new security wing is being built at the site now at a cost of £60m, and as with other secure hospitals, Carstairs has a deafening alarm system that is based on a World War 2 air raid siren. Should a patient escape, a deafening two-tone alarm that reaches as far as neighbouring villages and towns will sound. On the third Thursday of each month, the alarm and all clear siren is tested, and locals living near have become accustomed to the three 30 second blasts that signal the all clear. The need for a warning alarm is bolstered from the memory of actions, more than forty years ago now, from the most infamous patient that has resided to date at Carstairs hospital, Robert Francis Mone. The name Mone is infamous throughout Scottish criminal history – it will forever relate to eight brutal and bloody deaths in total, a bloody and infamous escape from a high secure unit, and a macabre case of “one upmanship” between a father and son.

Robert Francis Mone, convicted murderer
Robert Francis Mone

Robert Francis Mone Jr was born in Dundee in June 1948. A child of above average intelligence, Mone was a lonely introvert who didn’t find it easy to make friends, and thus found relationships awkward. He had a few girlfriends through adolescence, but none of these relationships lasted more than a few weeks. His family life did nothing to aid in this, as his mother deserted the family when Robert was very young. He was regularly beaten by his drunken and bullying father Robert “Sonny” Mone Sr, and from the age of twelve was sexually abused by a middle-aged neighbour. Mone’s schooling record was appalling, where despite his intelligence he massively underachieved. At St John’s RC Secondary School, where Mone attended for three years from 1959, he was assessed as “virtually unteachable”, with one teacher going so far as to say “it was like having a live hand grenade in the classroom”. Mone hated the school, and was eventually expelled in 1962. A period in an approved school in London followed, after which an increasingly disturbed Mone decided to have one last attempt to do something worthwhile with his life, and enlisted in the Army at age 18.

Mone enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, and was soon posted to Germany with his unit. Whilst in Germany, Mone began to drink heavily as was the culture within the armed services at the time. By his own account, he was also ostracised by the rest of his unit when he was asked to sign statements that would have resulted in the court-martial and discharge of two soldiers of superior rank, and agreed to do so believing that he was doing the right thing. As a result, he was shunned by the rest of his unit in distrust, and was on more than one occasion physically threatened with harm. It is known that Mone at this time filled in an application to be able to carry a personal firearm, as was a serviceman’s right at the time – but discontinued when he found out that any weapon would have to be kept in an armoury under lock and key. Mone claimed that this was for his own protection, but subsequent events would cast doubt on this. When the unit was being sent to Libya in late October 1967, Mone was told that instead of travelling with them, he was being sent back to the UK to undergo further training before attachment to a different unit. Angry at the way he perceived he had been treated and let down by the Army, by the time he arrived back in London Mone had no intentions of returning to the Army. Upon arrival, he made a beeline for a gunsmiths just off Praed Street, where he bought a single barreled 12 gauge Spanish made shotgun, and then went AWOL.

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Mone pictured mid-October 1967

Mone turned up back in Dundee in the last week of October, where he descended into a cycle of heavy drinking, often having a bottle of vodka at breakfast time. His days would be spent between visiting cinemas and cafes, where he would while away the time between the pubs being open. He spent some of the time staying at his grandmother’s house, after a furious drunken row with his abusive father – in which Mone JR threatened him at gunpoint – caused him to leave his parent’s house. The rest of the week was spent sleeping rough. Mone had also visited several doctors’ surgeries throughout Dundee that week, claiming to feel severe depression. As a result, he managed to attain a substantial quantity of prescription medication, albeit mostly painkillers.

On Halloween 1967, Mone checked into the former Mather’s Hotel in Dundee’s Whitehall Crescent, and after spending a while drinking alone in his meagre room, decided to attempt suicide by overdosing on the medication he had managed to amass. It was perhaps unsurprising that Mone, who had a history of being an underachiever and was in his own view a complete failure, even managed to do this wrong – instead just making himself violently ill. The attempt bungled, Mone carried on on his spiral of heavy drinking, brooding, and getting angrier. By the next morning, 01 November, Mone had sufficiently recovered enough to find himself in Dundee’s White Horse Inn, on Harefield Road opposite St Johns RC Secondary School – the place that Mone had been expelled from only a few years before, the place that he hated because of the disciplinarians he perceived were there. According to Mone, he came to the decision that afternoon to get a taxi back to the hotel, gather his things, and return to the Army to face whatever punishment may be coming his way. He stepped out of the pub on that cold, miserable afternoon, and then got soaked to the skin looking around for a taxi. It was then that he stopped and stared at the lights of St Johns school opposite. His rage built when he thought of how much he had hated the place and been unhappy there, and coupled with his bitterness at how he perceived that the Army had treated him, the alcohol he had consumed, and his ever-present anger and depression, all meant that Mone was a short fuse. When no taxi was to be found, this was the trigger to him exploding.

Mone dejectedly walked back to the Mathers Hotel, and returned to St John’s School a short time later dressed in his Gordon Highlander’s Private uniform. He also carried with him his shotgun. Mone suddenly ran across the road and burst into the school, not knowing where he was going but making his way to the top floor of an annexe. The first classroom he entered was empty, but the second was the needlework room – and this had a class in it. Thirteen girls were listening intently to teacher Nanette Hanson, when their afternoon needlework lesson was interrupted by a stranger with a gun. Nanette was Yorkshire born and was relatively new to the school, having only moved up to Scotland just six months before in the spring of 1967 following her marriage to her husband Guy, a carpet designer in a local factory. In that short time, she had become well liked by staff and pupils alike at the school, perhaps due to being the relatively young age of twenty-six and to her dedication to her job.

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Nanette Hanson

But that afternoon, Nanette was confronted with something unexpected, unbelievable and completely out of the norm. A stranger dressed as a soldier had walked into her classroom carrying a shotgun under his arm. The room was silent, then after a few seconds one of the pupils laughed, thinking that someone was playing some sort of bizarre joke. It wasn’t. Mone responded to this laughter by firing into a glass door, injuring another teacher who tried to intervene and, admitting years later, feeling powerful for the first time in his life. He then began to shout and swear at the frightened and screaming girls, ordering themselves to use their sewing tables to barricade the door to the room. He then sat on the teacher’s desk issuing instructions. Mone took ammunition from his pockets and lined it up on the desk, telling the frightened pupils that he would blow their heads off. He then asked each person their age, and when Nanette replied that she was 26, Mone replied:

“You’re just a pensioner”

He then wrenched her glasses off her face and crushed them underneath his boot. When the scared pupils cried too loudly, the shotgun was placed to their heads to silence them through fear. Ordering everyone into a small changing room annexe of the classroom, a wild-eyed Mone strode about, gloating that he had come to the school to gain revenge that day for his expulsion some years before – and especially against one of the Marist Brothers that Mone believed had been the worst disciplinarian during his time there. Throughout all of this, Nanette remained calm, speaking softly to the young man with the gun and trying to reason with him to let the pupils go, and just to keep her as a hostage before anyone else was hurt.

Within minutes of the shot, police had converged on the school as a state of emergency had been declared at St John’s School after the teacher who had been injured when the glass door had been blasted out had sounded the alarm. Whilst the other thousand plus pupils were evacuated from the school, three police officers approached the upper floor corridor – but were shot at by a deranged Mone, who shouted that he would turn the gun on the hostages. Leading a 14-year-old girl to the door with the gun to her head, an increasingly aggressive Mone showed the police that he was serious in his threats. Back in the classroom, Mone called three of the girls out into the classroom, where he sexually molested two of them. The other, he sexually assaulted, threatening to blow her head off if she didn’t comply.

“I will count to three, and shoot you if you’ve not taken them down” – Robert Mone to victim

One of the other girls was then inexplicably released. Mone then claimed that the only person he would talk to was an old girlfriend, Marion Young, who he had met four years previously at a youth club. Police quickly found Marion, who was training to be a student nurse, and she agreed to negotiate with Mone without hesitation. Just seventy-five minutes after Mone had entered the school, Marion was face to face talking to the young man she now hardly recognised. Mone had eagerly awaited her arrival, washing his face and hair in one of the classroom sinks and then sat singing to himself whilst police conveyed her to the school. When she arrived, Mone’s first words to her were:

“You thought you were being a brave little girl? How did you know I wouldn’t blow your head off?”

Bravely, both Marion and Nanette then spent the next few minutes talking gently to Mone, trying to defuse the situation and to convince him that the hostages needed to be released. He seemed almost disinterested, and Nanette went and led the girl pupils to the door, where they were let into the corridor and once clear, all ran faster than they ever had before to safety. Nanette was not allowed to leave with them however, with Mone saying:

“Not you – you’re not going. I want you here”

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Frightened pupils just after being released by Mone

Mone then placed the shotgun down onto the desk, and asked for a cigarette from Nanette. When Marion attempted to pick up the shotgun, thinking Mone was distracted, he knocked her to the floor. He then began ranting and aiming the weapon at different parts of the room and each of his captives in turn, all the while asking:

“Do you think I can do it? Do you want to be a saint?”

Mone then instructed Nanette to ensure all the curtains in the room were tightly closed, fearful that a police sniper may have him in his sights. As Nanette shut the last curtain that remained open in the room, Mone took aim and shot her in the back from a distance of just seven feet, watching fascinated as she slowly dropped to the floor. Although not killed outright, Nanette’s injuries were massive. Her spinal cord had been near destroyed, and had she lived, would have been confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Despite the efforts of Marion using her nursing skills to try to save her life, Nanette looked close to death. She pleaded with Mone to allow Nanette to be taken to hospital, and Mone told her dismissively that she could do what she wanted. Police outside in the corridor made the decision to allow ambulance men in after hearing Marion call for help, and they were allowed in without any conditions. Indeed, Mone seemed to have lost interest in the entire situation by this time. He sat quietly on the desk with the shotgun on the floor at his feet, alternately singing and laughing in a world of his own as an unconscious Nanette was stretchered out of the classroom and to the Dundee Royal Infirmary. Mone didn’t even seem to notice when she was taken and offered no resistance when police burst in and handcuffed him. He didn’t even seem to care.

The pupils who had been held hostage were all taken to Dundee Royal Infirmary for an examination, and fortunately, aside from shock and a few minor cuts and scrapes, all were otherwise physically unharmed. Sadly, they were to learn that their teacher, who had bravely tried to protect them all and who had remained calm and collected throughout the siege, had died at the same hospital whilst they were still there. Nanette had never regained consciousness, and had died with her grieving husband Guy at her bedside. Tragically, it was also revealed later that Nanette had been in the early stages of pregnancy with her first child when Mone had shot her dead. Mone was taken from the school to a secure facility, where he spent the next couple of months being examined by psychiatrists. It was abundantly clear that Mone did not care what happened to him from that point onwards. Psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia that had developed insidiously over a couple of years, and reported that Mone was thus insane and unfit to plead. On 23rd January 1968, in a hearing that lasted just 18 minutes in total, Robert Francis Mone Jr appeared at the High Court in Dundee and was ordered to be detained without limit of time at Carstairs Hospital by Mr Justice Lord Thomson. Mone simply smiled as he looked up and responded:

“Good for you”.

The two young women who had ensured the safe release of the pupils of St John’s School were commended with a Queen’s honour, with Marion Young being awarded the George Medal, and Nanette Hanson posthumously receiving the Albert Medal for extraordinary bravery. At a packed funeral attended by more than 300 mourners, tribute was paid to Nanette as “a heroine, a martyr who died for those children”. It is touching and perhaps fitting that from the day Nanette died she was ensured to never be forgotten, as still to this day, 1st November is marked at St John’s High School with a special mass in memoriam to Nanette. Meanwhile, the young man who had caused such devastation and trauma, that was a different story. Those involved in the classroom that day, after a while learnt to live with the memories and trauma of what had happened, and pushed the name Mone to the back of their minds as much as possible.

And for a few years, in the back of people’s minds is where Robert Mone stayed. In fact, it was more than eight years before the name Robert Mone exploded into the forefront of people’s minds again.

To be continued…..

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

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The Notting Hill Rapist

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A police officer displays the kit used by the Notting Hill Rapist

In the 1980’s, the West London district of Notting Hill was just beginning its transformation from a rundown area to the fashionable, affluent area it is now known as, immortalised in the very successful 1999 film of the same name. It has been forever associated with art and “alternative” cultures since it was first established in the 1820’s, but beginning in 1982, Notting Hill found itself having the unsavoury distinction of being the hunting ground of a vicious and prolific sex attacker, a man who became known as the Notting Hill Rapist.

Late at night on 12 August 1982, a female solicitor who had been out with friends for the evening arrived home to the house she lived alone in, in Clarendon Road. She let herself in through her front door, and turned on the light. It didn’t work. Before she could do anything, she was grabbed by the throat from behind and was warned by a man’s rough sounding voice not to scream. The woman was dragged further down the hallway, and her attacker began to indecently assault her. Terrified but with a survival instinct kicking in, she kicked the man as hard as she could between the legs. In pain, the would be attacker swore at her then fled from the premises.

Detectives investigating the incident believed that the most likely scenario was that the woman had arrived home and had interrupted a burglar, a theory given credence due to the fact that Clarendon Road is one of the wealthier streets in the district. But nothing had been stolen, and would a burglar really commit an opportunistic sexual assault instead? It had been too dark for the victim to be able to give any sort of description, and routine enquiries were made but the trail went nowhere.

Then in November, a second incident made police consider the fact that the incident in August wasn’t just a burglary gone wrong. On Wednesday 10 November, a 45-year-old woman was getting ready for bed in her home on Elgin Crescent – which was just 100 yards away from the scene of the August attack and another up-market area. As she was locking up, a masked intruder jumped at her from the darkness of her kitchen. Restraining the terrified woman at knifepoint, the intruder marched her through her house and pushed her onto her bed. He then gagged her and attempted to rape her, but inexplicably stopped after a brief struggle and fled. Again, the frightened woman wasn’t able to give any sort of description; apart from it was a stocky male, strong, and who wore a black mask that she thought was a balaclava.

A month later, on 13 December, yet another incident forced police to conclude that they had a serial sex attacker at large. A television researcher who lived just a few doors away from the second victim, in Elgin Crescent, was asleep in bed after having had an early night due to illness. It was around midnight when she was awoken by a masked man who was attempting to rape her, and after committing a serious assault upon her, the masked attacker fled. Again, no description was available, but in this instance, the intruder had taken money and bizarrely, two knives had been taken also. One of them was a very unique letter opener in the form of a mini Samurai sword. Two days later, the knives were to be found in a bizarre incident.

The intruder had returned to the scene of the first attack, to the first victim. She had returned home to find that her attacker had been back to her flat, had ransacked it, and performed a bizarre ritual with an oversized teddy bear that the woman had in her bedroom. The stuffed animal had been bound and gagged with strips of a bed sheet and left in a prominent position on her bed. Two knives had been left placed upon her pillow – one of these was the letter opener that had been taken in the attack two days before. That was enough for the frightened woman, and she moved house.

An undercover team was formed to try to catch the attacker – but police did not have much to go on. They believed he was local to the area and knew it well, and that he was at the very least an experienced burglar, due to the expertise that the man had shown in managing to enter his victim’s homes silently and efficiently. What they did not know, was why this burglar had now become a serial sex offender also. Whilst a check on known burglars local to the Notting Hill area began, undercover teams staked out the area at night-time, and an increased police presence hit the streets.

Despite these efforts, the attacker struck again just two weeks later. In the most vicious attack so far, a Middle Eastern woman was attacked in her flat in nearby Ladbroke Grove. Like the first victim, she was ambushed as she came home by the attacker, who lay in wait for her. She was viciously beaten and had a sharp knife forced into her mouth when she struggled, with her attacker threatening to mutilate and kill her constantly throughout the assault. The victim was stripped, gagged and bound with bath towels, and then had an obscene sex act performed upon her. Then the attacker fled. This was the last attack for three months.

The attacks had been prominent and regular, and with a gap of so long, detectives hunting the attacker considered that he may have gone to ground. Perhaps he had been imprisoned for another crime, perhaps he had moved, and perhaps he had even died. Their fears that the attacker had not gone away were realised when on 22 April 1983, the attacker returned with a vengeance. In chilling echoes of the first and fourth attacks, a 22-year-old woman was ambushed in her flat on Lansdowne Road when she returned from a night out. This time, the attacker committed a full rape for the first time. Press who had been following the attacks christened the attacker “The Notting Hill Rapist”. Women in the area now lived in mortal fear, and security firms did a thriving trade in secure door locks and burglar alarms. But after the fifth attack, the attacks again stopped.

But the search for the rapist continued, and detectives looked at what they knew about the man they were hunting. He was stocky and strong, and sounded a native Londoner. He usually wore a dark track suit and training shoes, and was masked in a balaclava. He wasn’t afraid to use violence, and was sexually perverted. Although the man they were hunting was almost certainly an experienced local burglar, he was not forensically aware. Semen samples had been taken from the rapist victims, and although DNA testing was on the near horizon, it wasn’t available at that time. But a broad comparison of matching blood groups could be made, and as suspects and local burglars were questioned and interviewed, some who fitted the general description of what detectives had to go on were asked to give blood samples. This allowed those who didn’t match the rapist’s blood group, identified as group “zero (0)” to be eliminated from the enquiry. More and more months passed with no attacks, and by January 1984, the enquiry was wound down. It was possible that the rapist was dead or had moved away, but detectives believed that the most likely reason for the cessation in attacks was that the rapist had been imprisoned for another crime.

There were no further attacks for more than three years – then in May 1987, the Notting Hill Rapist returned.

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Press reports on the return of The Notting Hill Rapist

If the attacks in 1982 and 83 were distant in the memories of Notting Hill residents, they were reminded in the most horrific fashion on 04 May 1987. Like the MO in the attacks from years before, a solicitor was attacked as she returned home to her Lansdowne Road flat – where the last attack had taken place years before. The woman tried to halt the attack by saying that she had the AIDS virus, but chillingly, her attacker said:

“I have too, I’ll take the chance”.

Holding her at knifepoint, the rapist stripped his victim, tied and gagged her, then brutally raped her. As with the other attacks, there wasn’t much of a description – stocky, strong, violent, London accent. Nothing appeared to have been taken from the flat – and police did find one vital clue that they could add to the profile of the rapist. They managed to glean an imprint of a size 9 training shoe from a work surface in the flat, underneath a window where the rapist had entered through.

The rapist struck next on 28 July 1987, in his favoured hunting ground of Elgin Crescent. A 34-year-old woman had just ended her relationship with her boyfriend, and after a heated row had asked him to leave. Minutes after he had left, the rapist burst into her home and savagely attacked her. He threatened her with a knife in his now trademark pattern, and then tied her up with scarves and a leather belt. As he was raping her, and between threats of violence, the rapist asked her if the reason she had finished with her boyfriend is because he wasn’t very good at sex. He had been listening at a rear window the whole time.

By this time, Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Hutchison was in charge of the hunt for the Notting Hill Rapist, and decided to adopt a strategy of posting plain clothes officers at strategic positions in gardens and parks around the Elgin Crescent/Lansdowne Road areas. It was believed that the rapist was a burglar and prowler local to the area who would spend his nights when not attacking, prowling about and spying on women. It was hoped that a plain clothes unit would be in the right place at the right time – and be able to catch their man. This strategy almost worked twice.

Perhaps the increased police presence had scared the rapist off, as there had been another lull in attacks, but In December 1987, a resident of flats near Lansdowne Road saw a man crouching in the shrubbery at the rear of the block. The alarm was raised, and a nearby plain clothes policeman rushed into the communal gardens and caught the prowler making a run for it. As the man scaled a wall, the pursuing officer managed to grab hold of his leg – but the man broke free and managed to escape, running through gardens and across a children’s play area. Two months later, on 16 February 1988, the same man was again disturbed at midnight in gardens at the rear of Ladbroke Crescent, but again managed to avoid the police blanket and escape.

Many high-profile manhunts have been resolved not through brilliant detective work, but through the shrewd hunches or opportunism of beat constables. A notable example is the capture of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper; or the arrest of John Reginald Halliday Christie when he was being sought over the discovery of bodies at 10 Rillington Place. The Notting Hill Rapist was to be brought to justice due to a hunch of a beat constable, PC Graham Hamilton.

PC Hamilton’s beat area had for many years been the Notting Hill area, and he knew most of the local criminal fraternity through previous dealings. He had a hunch that the rapist detectives were searching for was a 37-year-old local petty housebreaker and violent thug named Tony Maclean, who lived a flat on the Clarendon estate. The Clarendon estate was just a few hundred yards from the scenes of the sex attacks, and Maclean matched the general description given by the victims. He was a strong fitness fanatic, keen on bodybuilding and weight training, and was prone to violence – having several convictions. Also, Maclean’s timeline seemed to fit around the sex attacks. When the attacks had ceased in 1983, it corresponded exactly with a prison sentence of four years that Maclean had started for a brutal attack on a youth with a baseball bat. He had been freed in 1987 – around the time that the attacks began again. Further checks revealed that Maclean had been interviewed as a matter of routine by detectives in 1983, and had voluntarily provided a blood sample. PC Hamilton decided to voice his suspicions to DCS Hutchison.

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Tony Maclean

It was known that the rapist’s blood was in the “zero (0)” secretor category – and it was here that the theory of Maclean as a suspect fell down. When his blood group was checked, the computer screen showed that he was an “O” secretor, an entirely different blood from the Notting Hill Rapist. Furthermore, Home Office files showed Maclean as being released from prison in June 1987 – making it impossible for him to have attacked a woman in May 1987. Maclean was seemingly in the clear. This did not sit quite right with PC Hamilton, who felt sure of his suspicions and would not let the matter drop. Deciding to take Maclean in for further questioning, PC Hamilton called at his flat but Maclean was not home, so the officer left him a note asking him to attend Notting Hill police station. Although under no obligation, Maclean did attend the police station a few days later, in February 1988.

During the interview, Maclean answered everything put to him in a cocky manner and denied everything, even going so far as to show PC Hamilton his penis to prove that he couldn’t be a rapist. Maclean’s penis was badly scarred from a childhood accident after he fell onto broken glass, and as he showed it to PC Hamilton, he exclaimed:

“This is why I ain’t no rapist”.

Despite this, and despite what the computers said, PC Hamilton was more convinced than ever that the man sat across from him was the Notting Hill Rapist. At the cessation of the interview and before leaving, Maclean provided yet another blood sample.

It was a few days later that PC Hamilton got confirmation that his suspicions weren’t unfounded. Forensic examiners contacted him and informed him that the sample Maclean had provided showed he was a “zero (0)” secretor – which matched the rapist. PC Hamilton telephoned and asked them to double-check to confirm, which they did – Maclean was a “zero (0)” secretor. What had happened was as follows: The computer operator when entering details of Maclean’s blood onto the computer had mistakenly typed the letter “O” instead of a “zero (0)”. A simple typing error had had massive consequences. A check with the Home Office to confirm Maclean’s prison release dates revealed yet another clerical error – Maclean had actually been released in January 1987, but a typist had typed JUN instead of JAN. Bolstered by this, a warrant was issued, and Tony Maclean was arrested at his home on 01 March 1988.

Maclean appeared at the Old Bailey in April 1989 charged with a string of offences, totalling three rapes, two attempted rapes, burglary with intent to rape, and robbery. He pleaded not guilty to all counts, meaning that the victims would be forced to undergo cross-examination. The jury heard emotional and sickening accounts from several of the women who had been attacked, and their powerful testimonies left a marked impression on the jury. But it was the miracles of forensic science that provided the most powerful evidence. By 1989, DNA testing was accepted as conclusive evidence by British courts, and Professor Alec Jeffries himself, known as the man who had pioneered and perfected the art of DNA Profiling, testified at Maclean’s trial. He testified that Maclean’s blood sample showed an identical match with semen taken from his victims – and that the chances of the semen belonging to anyone but Maclean were in the region of three million to one.

Maclean was found guilty on all counts, and remained impassive and emotionless when he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, plus a further 12 years for attempted rape, indecent assaults, and burglary. City of London Recorder Sir James Miskin, QC, told him:

“You are a total menace to women, and these three rapes were absolutely foul”.

Following Maclean’s conviction, the two of his victim’s who had testified in court hugged each other, weeping. DCS Hutchison, who led the hunt for him, said:

“I’m absolutely delighted this sex maniac has been taken off the streets. While casing places, he saw the girls and realised how easy it would be for him to rape them. When we kept watch, we found girls undressing in front of their windows. Maclean would have seen the same and he was tempted”

The full M.O of Maclean’s crimes was established at his trial. A fitness fanatic, he would go out jogging and run the half mile from his flat to his hunting grounds, at first casing basement and ground floor properties to burgle, but then turning to rape. The below map shows the proximity of Maclean’s home and the site of the attacks:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=13ac8xMKGL–KLHBdjfvrbvIH0-g&usp=sharing

He would sometimes watch a property for days at a time and see women undressing. When he had learned his intended victim’s routine, he would return days later and break in just before the victim was due home. He would then unscrew the hall light, and wait in the darkness for his victim to come home. Gloved, masked and always armed with a knife and strips of cloth to gag and restrain the victim, Maclean would then rape or indecently assault them, and then flee into the local area he knew intimately.

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Newspapers detail the conviction of Tony Maclean

 

Psychologists claim that Maclean’s desire to rape stemmed from feelings of sexual inadequacy – even though he was a married father of two children. It transpired that Maclean had found sexual relationships with women difficult throughout his life due to the damage to his penis caused in his childhood accident. In an attempt to prove his masculinity, more to himself than anyone, Maclean took up bodybuilding and weight training – a common trait amongst sex killers and rapists. Maclean had targeted professional, wealthy women because in his view, they were out of his league and represented a lifestyle that he could never hope to be a part of. Hatred and jealousy drove him to attack and rape. His attacks were brutal and escalated in this, and whilst the physical harm varied, the psychological cruelty and terror that he inflicted upon his victims was always paramount. Police were in no doubt that Maclean would have gravitated to murder if he hadn’t been stopped when he was.

“Maclean was a twisted pervert who enjoyed terrorising and humiliating young women. He picked on well to do professional types because they made him feel inferior. He is a very dangerous man. I am sure that if we had not caught him when we did, he would have moved on to murder in a very short space of time” – Detective Chief Superintendent James Hutchison

Much praise was heaped upon PC Hamilton for his pursuit of Maclean, and the hunch that he wouldn’t give up on. If not for his hunch, and even more so for following this said hunch in the face of what may have seemed conflicting evidence, a dangerous rapist may still have been stalking the streets to this day – he might even have become a dangerous killer.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

The Gatwick Blackmailer

“Everybody that I came across, I started thinking that they were the person who had sent me the letter. I used to look at their handwriting to see if it matched the letter. I was accusing everybody…Everybody” – X

This week’s TTCE contains explicit descriptions of sadism and language that the reader may find disturbing or offensive. I make apologies for that, but it is necessary to reproduce here for the context of the post.

Airport security nowadays has undergone such a change since the end of the Second World War that most UK airports now have their own police forces and stations. Aside from todays pre-dominate operational requirement and necessity of an armed police response to deal with any threats to security and well-being, police at airports may also deal with more minor and mundane tasks, such as investigating instances of baggage theft, cases of air rage or the usual day to day trivialities police officers face. But at the end of November 1997, the CID at Britain’s second largest international airport, Gatwick, in south-east England, were faced with something out of the ordinary.

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Gatwick Airport

An attractive blonde stewardess in her mid-thirties arrived at Gatwick Airport police station in a state of clear distress, and placed on a desk the following letter that she had received whilst at work. The name of the recipient has been left out here, but the letter is reproduced:

DEAR X

YOU DON’T KNOW ME BUT I KNOW YOU QUITE WELL. I’M UNEMPLOYED, BUT MAKE A LITTLE DELIVERING THINGS IN MY VAN. I’VE NOT HAD A GIRLFRIEND FOR FIVE YEARS. I HAVE DECIDED I’M HAVING YOU. YOU MUST DO THE FOLLOWING. GO TO A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDIO, DRESSED IN YOUR FULL UNIFORM, INCLUDING GLOVES, HANDBAG, STOCKINGS, SUSPENDERS AND HIGH HEELS – BROWN. I WANT 40 PICTURES IN GLOSS COLOUR, 10 BY 8, SO I CAN SEE YOUR TITS, WITH YOUR SKIRT ON BUT PULLED UP – NO KNICKERS, CLEAR VIEWS BETWEEN YOUR LEGS. SEE DIAGRAMS.

IF YOU DON’T COMPLY, NEXT YEAR AT SOME STAGE WHEN IT IS SAFE FOR ME, I WILL THROW CONCENTRATED SULPHURIC ACID IN YOUR FACE. I WILL NOT STAY AROUND TO WATCH YOUR FLESH MELT OFF. I WILL GET YOU, NO QUESTION. NO MORE CHANCES NO MORE WARNINGS. YOU CAN’T HIDE, AND IF THE PICTURES ARENT THERE BY DECEMBER 12, THAT’S IT. IF I CAN’T SEE YOU, NO ONE ELSE WOULD EVER WANT TO ONCE I’VE DONE MY JOB NEXT YEAR. DO YOURS AND YOU WONT NEED TO LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER ALL YEAR. BY THE WAY, YOU WILL PROBABLY BE BLINDED TOO, UNLESS YOU ARE LUCKY.

This horrifying message also contained with it disgusting and explicit hand drawn sketches of the poses that the author wanted the woman to adopt in the photographs, as well as detailed instruction about how to specifically package the pictures and where to leave them – the location being a ditch by a sign on a minor road near Gatwick Airport.

As one can imagine, this letter frightened the woman beyond belief – if anyone has ever received an anonymous threatening letter, then they will know just how much they can unsettle and frighten. Detectives started an investigation, and although the letter was postmarked 20 miles away in Kingston Upon Thames, they theorised that the author was someone who was employed at the airport in some way. They discreetly began looking at the woman’s male colleagues for a possible suspect, and subjected the letter and envelope to forensic examination for fingerprints or traces of DNA. All fingerprints found on the letter and envelope were ran through fingerprint databases, but no match was found on file. There was no obvious suspect found either. Needless to say, the frightened woman did not comply with the writer’s demands, and the deadline of December 12th passed without incident. The same woman then received another letter on 12 February 1998, written in the same handwriting and in the format of capital letters, simply saying:

YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR NOW, NOTHING WILL HAPPEN

Speculating that the author had gotten wind of the police investigation and had backed off, there was little more that detectives could do – except wait to see if the author wrote again. For nearly a year, there were no further developments.

Then, just after Christmas 1998, a second frightened woman came into Gatwick Airport police station with another disturbing and disgusting letter. It had again been posted in Kingston Upon Thames, and the recipient was again a blonde woman in her early 30’s, who worked on the ticket reservation staff at the airport. This time, the author of the letter had switched to referring to himself in the plural. Again, the name of the recipient has been removed here:

WE NEED YOUR UNIFORM FOR A FILM. IF YOU DON’T SUPPLY IT WE WILL TAKE IT. WE WILL FIND OUT A BIT ABOUT YOU, AND THEN WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT AND YOU ARE OFF GUARD, WE WILL TAKE IT. EVEN IF YOU ARE WEARING IT. WE WILL ALSO TAKE ONE OF YOUR FINGERS FOR MAKING THINGS DIFFICULT FOR US. DON’T BE A CUNT, X, MAKE LIFE EASY FOR ALL OF US. YOU KNOW EVERYTHING CAN BE FORGOT

The letter also contained the same detailed drop off instructions and location as the previous letter. The recipient of the second letter also did not comply with these demands, and although the first inquiry was again looked at, there was no arrest and it did not advance the investigation further. There was no follow up letter this time, and things again went quiet.

Then in April 1999, the letter writer was back. The third recipient was a colleague of the first recipient, and was the now familiar pattern again of a blonde woman in her early 30’s. This time, the letter had been posted at Gatwick itself, and the writer had drawn up a list of “forfeits” for the recipient. He again wanted her uniform, and it was again to be left in the same spot as before. As with the previous letters, the demands were ignored, and a follow up letter a month later contained the threat that the writer would place an obscene picture of the recipient online. The recipient, like the first victim, had been photographed for the airline’s promotional literature, and the writer threatened to graft her picture onto an image of a woman masturbating with a wine bottle. It would then be placed on a website with a message for people to telephone her airline asking for the “cabin crew performance manager”, and to detail which obscene and degrading acts they wished for her to perform.

The fourth and what turned out to be the final recipient of “The Gatwick Blackmailer” also worked for the same airline that victims 1 and 3 worked for – but this time was brown haired and only 22 years of age. The letter had also been sent just a day after the follow up letter to the third victim, which alarmed police. This man was becoming bolder and was stepping up his attacks. He was also becoming more perverted. The letter to the 4th victim again talked of a forfeit system, but as what was becoming a common pattern with the author, used a slightly different approach from the previous letters:

I WAS ON YOUR FLIGHT ONCE AND I MANAGED TO FIND OUT WHO YOU WERE. I WAITED FOR DAYS OUTSIDE THE CAR PARKS TO GET A FEW PICTURES OF YOU. I THOUGHT YOU SAW ME – DID YOU? I THINK ABOUT YOU ALL THE TIME, AS I DON’T HAVE TOO LONG TO LIVE. I’VE SOLD MY HOUSE, GIVEN UP MY JOB AND DECIDED TO GO OUT, FULFILLING EVERY FANTASY I’VE HAD AND DOING WHATEVER I WANT. ALL IN ALL I’M YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE. BEFORE I DIE I WILL THROW ACID OVER YOU. IT’S SO STRONG NOBODY WILL EVER RECOGNIZE YOU AGAIN. HERE IS TASK ONE. WRITE ME A LETTER. DESCRIBE YOUR BREASTS AND HOW YOU MASTURBATE.

The letter also contained a threat that non-compliance would result in a picture of her being posted online with her face grafted onto that of a woman with a frog in her vagina. This would be accompanied by an invitation to call a number and to ask for private shows of the victim with a manner of objects inserted into her vagina and anus.

The 4th victim was so traumatised by this letter, that after reporting it, she quit her job and moved away from the area. Gatwick Police now had 4 victims of what was undoubtedly the same man, but the investigation was at a standstill. When using an offender profiler was suggested, the officer heading the enquiry, Detective Inspector Steve Johns, opted to try it. On 23rd June 1999, DI Johns, DC John Ashbey, and crime analyst Samantha Thompson travelled up to Leicester University to meet their National Crime Faculty recommended criminal profiler, Dr Julian Boon. Dr Boon was a psychology lecturer who was a veteran of more than 400 criminal profiles the length and breadth of the country.

It was fortuitous that they were seeing Dr Boon. As he read out the content of the first letter received, Dr Boon exclaimed that he recognised the content as being an exact replica of that of an offender he had seen before. Dr Boon then described a case he had worked on in Sutton, South London, in mid-1998, where a 17-year-old shop worker had received a threatening letter telling her to dress as an air stewardess and have pornographic pictures of herself taken. This victim had received much more vicious and intimidating content in the letters to her, describing how he would damage her over a prolonged period of time, and going into explicit detail about crushing her nipples and removing teeth one by one. What convinced Boon that this writer was the same offender as the Gatwick Blackmailer were the similarities between each case – a high sadistic content, drawings contained with each letter detailing how the victim should pose for example, a specific instruction of how to package the content and where to drop the package off, as well as a requirement for 40 copies of each picture.

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Dr Julian Boon

Boon then considered the profile of the offender. The offender was likely male, in the older age bracket, and was unlikely to be married with children – or even in a conventional relationship. He was likely a loner, computer literate and technologically minded, with an interest in machinery. There was a possibility that the offender may have some form of disfigurement – as acid and disfiguring featured strongly in his letters. He agreed with the police that the writer would work at the airport, as the lure of being around his particular fetish would be too difficult to resist. It may be a low-level job, but that did not mean the offender was unintelligent. He considered the offender to be heavily into “anal sadism”, who would gain thrills from the humiliation and degradation of the victim. He estimated that the offender would be heavily into pornography – particularly relating to air hostesses as this was his bent, likely having clothing or paraphernalia related to that of air hostesses at his home. There was also the likelihood that the offender had written many more such letters to other victims, which may have been dismissed and to not have been reported. The fact that he had contacted three of the four victims twice gave the opinion that the author was a writer rather than a doer; none of the threats contained in the letters had ever been carried out, the offender gained his kicks from purely writing the letters, with every word giving him deep satisfaction. He would also find it irresistible to visit the drop off location described in the letters.

“He will be getting off on constructing that letter. Every line is just causing him to drip mentally with sexual elation” – Dr Julian Boon

Detectives from Gatwick then liaised with the investigating officers who had worked on the Sutton case, and what they learned made them convinced that Dr Boon was correct in his theory that the offender would visit the drop off location. The drop off location detailed in the Sutton letters had been surveilled by officers on the enquiry for two days covering one of the dates detailed by the author in one of the letters. No package had been left of course, but no one had turned up either. When the operation had been stood down, officers had left an empty bag and envelope at the scene to see the results. Shortly afterwards, the Sutton victim had received a letter asking her if she was trying to trick him with empty bags. It was clear that the offender had visited the scene at some point, even though the surveillance had failed to spot him.

Encouraged by this, DI Johns opted to put into action a round the clock surveillance operation upon the drop off location in the country lane near the airport that had been specified in many of the letters. A bag of clothing was deposited at the scene, a concealed video camera was installed that could observe the location, and two teams of officers hid a short distance either side of the location. On a Monday morning in mid July 1999, the operation began. Would the offender take the bait?

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A blurred still from the footage of Downer collecting the bag that had been left by the police surveillance team

For nearly three full days, police sat in wait but with nothing happening. But then, at nearly 11:00pm on 14th July 1999, the bag was collected. A car was observed stopping, and when the camera footage was later examined, the vehicles headlights were seen to illuminate the scene. A person’s silhouette could then be seen exiting the vehicle, going right to the bag and then returning to the vehicle before driving off the way the way that had approached from. The driver was stopped a short distance from the scene – and the bag was found on the front seat of the car. He was arrested and brought into custody at Gatwick, where he was interviewed in the presence of a solicitor. The explanation the driver gave for being at the scene was described by DC Ashbey:

“His explanation was that he had been working on his house all day long and decided to go for a walk some time after ten o clock that evening. He parked his car nearby in a country lane, walked across a couple of fields and then stumbled across this bag which he believed was rubbish or possibly a dead animal, because he’d found a dead badger stuffed in a black bag like that once before. So, because he liked the countryside and didn’t want to see rubbish lying about, he returned to his car, drove back to the scene, and put the supposed bag on the front seat so he could dispose of it at his home address” – Detective Constable John Ashbey

The man arrested at the scene was Keith Downer, a 40-year-old British Airways engineer who lived near Redhill in Surrey, and who worked on the B Shift short haul line maintenance at Gatwick Airport. Downer was bailed following his interview, but allowed officers to take his fingerprints before he left the station. Within a few days, Downer’s fingerprints were found to be a match to outstanding fingerprints on two of the blackmail letters. He was re-arrested and exercised his right not to comment when this evidence was put to him. Coupled with being in possession of the bag of clothing left as bait, and the unlikely explanation Downer had given for being in the lane at the time, it was enough to charge him. Five months later, when the case came before Chichester Crown Court in December 1999, Downer pleaded guilty to eight counts of blackmail – including the Sutton offence. He was sentenced to eight years in prison, which however was halved to four years at a Court Of Appeal hearing in autumn 2000. Downer’s victims were understandably extremely upset by this.

Downer’s family, partner, friends and work colleagues were all shocked beyond belief when they heard of his complicity in the offences. He was of average height, dark brown hair and described as “reasonably good looking”, who was divorced but had a regular girlfriend. He had a good, well paid job, had no previous convictions or police record, and was considered a pleasant, normal, hard-working person by those who knew him. This went against many of the points that Dr Boon made in his profile of the offender. Yet Downer matched several points of the profile. He did have a sexual fetish for air stewardesses, he did work at the airport and was of the older end of the offending scale. He also lived alone. And he also had visited the drop scene – as predicted. No stewardess uniform or paraphernalia was found at Downer’s house – but both Dr Boon and police remained convinced that there was a stash hidden somewhere – just at a location they didn’t know.

When interviewed for a television documentary series that featured the case not long after Downer’s conviction, Dr Julian Boon admitted that he had made a mistake in 3 areas of the profile – the offender’s appearance, work status and relationship with a woman. Boon went on to explain that the reason he had missed this was that because Downer had been what is known as “staging” – the offender had deliberately presented himself as something other than what he actually was. In the Gatwick Blackmailer case, this was not to obscure the identity of the offender as would be the common reason – but more to increase the level of terror and discomfort for the victims. Boon outlined the need to research Downer’s life, to look at his upbringing and relationships, particularly his previous sex life, to try to pinpoint exactly where and when the extreme sadism that was Downer’s sexual proclivity stemmed from. Boon remained convinced that Downer was more of “a writer than a doer”, and that this bent would never change. It just remained to be seen if Downer would be able to keep them under control upon release from prison.

Downer is long released from prison now. Has he managed to keep his fantasies under control – or has he started writing letters again….?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“The Phantom Of The Forest” – Part 1

Readers in the United Kingdom will undoubtedly be familiar with the July 2010 Northumbria police armed manhunt for Raoul Moat, a 37-year-old Newcastle Upon Tyne man who had shot three people just two days after being released from Durham Prison. Moat shot his ex partner Samantha Stobbart, her new boyfriend Chris Brown, and PC David Rathband, with a sawn off shotgun. Brown was killed, Stobbart was severely wounded, and PC Rathband was left permanently blinded by his injuries. Moat was then on the run for six days before being cornered in the Northumberland town of Rothbury, six days throughout which the nation was gripped with the constant reports of a crazed gunman at large, and watching the manhunt for Moat unfold on television. Moat was eventually to take his own life during a standoff with police when he was cornered near a riverbank in the town. The hunt for Moat received massive publicity and was the largest manhunt of its kind in modern times. Yet it has a precursor, albeit 28 years before, almost to the day, in 1982. This manhunt too involved an armed shooter at large, who shot 5 people over a period of 17 days before taking his own life. Three of those shot by the gunman were killed, including two serving police officers. Even a police dog was shot during the rampage and manhunt for a criminal who rapidly became the most wanted man in Britain, and earned the moniker, “The Phantom Of The Forest”.

The trail of terror began early in the morning of Thursday 17th June 1982, at the beauty spot of Norwood Edge, a country park situated near the B6541 Otley-Blubberhouses Road, near the market town of Otley in the county of West Yorkshire. PC David Ian Haigh, a 29-year-old West Yorkshire Police officer, had started a day shift at 06:00am that day, and one of his first tasks was to check the daily crime reports in order to follow-up any outstanding actions passed on by the off going night-shift. One such task was the serving of a court summons for suspected poaching to a man who was reported to be living rough in a van in the Norwood Edge area. PC Haigh made this his first port of call that day, and should have been back on patrol relatively quickly after such a simple task. But when PC Haigh had not responded to several radio messages given that morning, a separate patrol was sent to search for the officer, thinking he may be having vehicle trouble or having had an accident.

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PC David Haigh
What the patrol found was to launch what was at the time one of the biggest manhunts of British criminal history, for a man who would become the most wanted man in Britain and was known as “The Phantom Of The Forest”.

At 08:00am, PC Haigh was found in the Warren picnic site at the Norwood Edge country park, by a police patrol searching for him. He lay dead beside the open door of his own police patrol car, a bullet hole from a .22 calibre bullet visible in his forehead. Just out of reach of his outstretched dead hand was his clipboard, which provided police with their first clue. On it, PC Haigh had written:

CLIVE JONES. DOB: 18:10:44 LEEDS NFA. KYF 326P

The registration number was quickly traced as belonging to a metallic green Citroen car that had been sold for a cash sale of £475 in Kingsbury, London, in January 1982. “Clive Jones” was the person who had sold the vehicle, but he was able to provide an alibi for the time of PC Haigh’s murder as he lived in London and was there at the time. He described selling the car to:

“A dark-haired, well dressed northerner who gave his name as R.D Carlisle, and that he had just come back off working on the oil rigs”

A witness was quickly found who had reported seeing a green metallic Citroen parked at the Warren picnic site at 06:35am on the morning of PC Haigh’s shooting, with a dishevelled man and unshaven man with dark hair who was fast asleep in the driver’s seat.

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Artist’s impression of the man seen in the green Citroen car
The poacher that PC Haigh had gone there to serve the summons to was quickly found and eliminated from the enquiry, and a search for the car was undertaken and descriptions telexed to all forces, with attempts made to trace its movements before the 17th June. As the killer had remembered the name of the man he had bought the car from and given it as a false name, it meant that he had had the car since buying it – and therefore it was likely that someone would know him or at the very least remember the car.  However, two days later, on Saturday 19th June, the green Citroen was found abandoned in a cornfield near the village of Ledsham, Leeds, 27 miles from the scene of PC Haigh’s murder.

Early the following morning, the 20th June 1982 and 53 miles away in the village of Torksey, Lincolnshire, 75-year-old widow Freda Jackson heard an intruder in her home, a remote bungalow on the outskirts of the village. She got up out of bed to investigate, and was confronted by an armed gunman, who she was later to describe as:

About 35 to 40, slim with dark straggly hair, who looked and smelled unkempt, and who spoke with a “northern” accent

The intruder tied Mrs Jackson up, gagged her, and robbed her of £4.50 and an amount of food before leaving through the back door. Unable to raise the alarm, Mrs Jackson remained tied up until 08:00am, when a bread delivery man on his rounds heard her calls for help, and alerted police. Mrs Jackson was shaken, but otherwise unharmed.

On Wednesday 23 June, in the village of Girton, near Newark and less than 9 miles from Torksey, another house was broken into by the same man. The house belonged to 52-year-old electrician George Luckett and his wife Sylvia.

 

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George Luckett

Again armed, the gunman had broken into the house and after subduing the couple, had tied them together by the elbows. He told the couple that he needed their car, and then went outside to check the amount of petrol in the vehicle. Returning inside the house and finding that the Luckett’s had managed to slip their bonds, the gunman then shot both George and Sylvia in the head in cold blood. George was shot first and killed instantly, but Sylvia survived and managed to make it to a neighbouring house to raise the alarm. She was, however, left with permanent brain damage from the shooting and was unable to recollect the incident clearly. Following the shooting, the gunman fled in the Luckett’s car, a brown Rover registration number VAU 875S, having robbed them of a paltry sum of money and food.

At this time, North Yorkshire police were implementing a new computerised indexing database system that could be used force wide, having learned the costly mistakes of badly indexed and non collated information from the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry just a few years previously. This system, a precursor to the modern-day HOLMES system now used as an investigative tool by police, had a powerful search facility. Because of the relatively close-knit geography of the three crimes, information indicated that they could be linked and information from each enquiry was fed into it. Because the crimes spanned three different counties, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire, the three different forces liaised with each other, and the incident room covering each crime was equipped with a visual display unit that connected via telephone line to the North Yorkshire database, allowing each force to search it. The crimes were officially linked the next day, the 24th June, when ballistics testing proved that the same weapon that had been used to kill PC Haigh had also been used at the scene of the Luckett’s shootings. Police now knew that they were looking for a cold-blooded double murder, but didn’t have anything further to go on, apart from the description given by Mrs Jackson of the man who had broken into her house and robbed her. The description that matched the man who had been seen asleep in the green Citroen.

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Newspaper reports of the shootings of George and Sylvia Luckett
The same day that the three incidents were linked, there was a further incident, this time back in North Yorkshire and it served to highlight just how ruthless and dangerous the man who by now had hundreds of police hunting for him was. Dalby Forest is a large forest situated just 8 miles from Scarborough, compromised of more than 50 square miles of thick trees, dense undergrowth, and bracken. A North Yorkshire Police dog handler, PC Kenneth Oliver, was on a van patrol covering the area when he came across a man who was parked up in a brown Rover car, registration number CYG 344T. Remembering the circulated reports of the Luckett’s stolen vehicle, and being suspicious of the man sat in the vehicle; PC Oliver readied his dog and approached the vehicle. When he was just four feet away from the driver’s window, PC Oliver saw a handgun pointed at him and a shot was fired, hitting him in the face but not seriously injuring him. Retreating, PC Oliver was then shot twice more as the gunman got out of the car, but each bullet only grazed his head and arm respectively. He managed to release his dog and sent it to attack the gunman – who promptly shot the dog, but again only causing a minor wound. This gave PC Oliver the valuable time to get to the safety of a nearby property and to raise the alarm. The gunman disabled the police radio in the van and then drove it a short distance into the forest, before returning to the Rover car and torching it. He then disappeared into the depths of Dalby Forest.

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A typical path through Dalby Forest that shows how thick and remote it is. Hundreds of police searched the area for the elusive “Phantom Of The Forest”
Armed police arrived on the scene rapidly and a search started, but light was fading fast and it had to be abandoned. The forest was surrounded as best as possible throughout the night by armed police, and a massive search began in the morning. It was to continue throughout the weekend of the 25th to 27th June 1982, with hundreds of police officers involved in the search of Dalby Forest for the gunman, who by now had received the moniker “The Phantom Of The Forest” from the press who were reporting on the hunt for him. Local gamekeeper and forestry commission workers who knew the area well assisted in the search, and all campers and holidaymakers were evacuated from the area. Local residents were warned, with some even leaving their homes out of fear. All roads leading out of the forest were manned with police roadblocks, and the forest was blanketed as best as possible in a strong cordon.

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One of the police roadblocks surrounding the Dalby Forest area following the shooting of PC Oliver
A real sense of fear hung over the area – there was a crazed double murderer on the loose, who only by good fortune had not killed four people. It was imperative that he was found and captured before there was any more bloodshed, but police had an exceptional quarry. The killings had covered such a wide area, and “The Phantom” – who was by now Britain’s most wanted man – had managed to avoid capture and slip stealthily through all police cordons. He had shown such skill at evading capture, going to ground and avoiding detection in the areas that police were searching that more than one police officer only half jokingly suggested that he was somehow charmed. Darkness and appalling weather had been on the side of a quarry that could obviously move stealthily and survive living rough.

“The Phantom Of The Forest” was to kill again on the 28th June 1982, and this time his victim again was a serving policeman. Police Sergeant David Thomas Winter and PC Michael Woods were carrying out routine vehicle checks on the A64 road near the village of Old Malton, about 20 miles away from the scene of PC Oliver’s shooting and the focus of the manhunt. Well aware of the manhunt that was concentrated just a few miles away, both officers were increasingly vigilant that day. When a call was received reporting a suspicious looking man, described as being “like a tramp” near a public house on the outskirts of Old Malton, the officers decided to investigate, all the time bearing in mind that this might just be the elusive “Phantom”. Sure enough, the two officers arrived at the location and nearby saw a man matching the description that had been given. He wore a blue woollen hat, khaki jacket, was dirty and dishevelled, unshaven, and had a long walking stick in his right hand and a blue plastic shopping bag in his other. Sgt Winter got out of the car to approach the man, and as he did so, the man pulled a gun from his clothing and began shooting at the officer. Sgt Winter turned and fled up a nearby alley and over a low stone wall, but the gunman followed the officer and shot him three times at point-blank range. Two bullets entered Sgt Winter’s body, whilst one entered his neck. He was killed instantly. The gunman then fled, again into the depths of a nearby forest, whilst PC Woods raised the alarm through the police radio in the vehicle.

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Police Sergeant David Winter. 
Knowing “The Phantom” had struck again, the area was again immediately surrounded by police, many of them armed, and a thorough search of the area was undertaken. All houses, shops and business premises were searched thoroughly, the villages of Malton and Old Malton were sealed and road blocked, and the mass focus and police presence moved the twenty or so miles down to the Old Malton police station, where the Task Force Headquarters were to operate from. But again, “The Phantom” evaded capture, as a torrential downpour hindered the police dog search as they were unable to pick up a scent. By the following day, over 600 officers were involved in hunting for “The Phantom” – with one in six of them armed and each officer involved in the hunt wearing protective body armour. Police helicopters were used; even an RAF Reconnaissance unit with thermal imaging and infra-red cameras was drafted into the hunt. 139 “sightings” of the wanted man were investigated, but each one proved unsuccessful, he was still nowhere to be found. Police established beyond doubt that “The Phantom” had struck again as ballistic testing matched the bullets taken from Sgt Winter’s body to those linked to the previous shootings. “The Phantom” was now a triple murderer, who was prepared to kill in cold blood – who had a hatred of police, and who seemed to be hunting them as much as they were hunting him.

But by this time, in fact just a few hours before the murder of Sgt Winter, police had finally discovered the identity of the gunman they were looking for, Britain’s most wanted man. “The Phantom Of The Forest” now had a name, and a face that could be issued to the public on wanted posters. Police knew his identity – but he still had to be found and stopped.

 

To be continued

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Welcome To The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 3

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Edgar Pearce, the “Mardi Gra” Bomber

It transpired that the arrested men were brothers Ronald and Edgar Pearce, both of whom lived in Chiswick, West London. The two men were taken off to separate police stations for questioning, and individual teams were despatched to both of the men’s houses to begin a search for evidence. Nothing of importance or relevance, bar a stun gun, was found at Ronald Pearce’s house. Edgar Pearce’s house, however, was a different story.

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A police search officer carefully examines a Sainsbury’s bag removed from Pearce’s rear garden

Armed and explosive specialist officers entered Edgar Pearce’s address, number 12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick, cautiously. After making an initial sweep of the place to ensure that there were no booby traps or rigged incendiary devices, once it was declared safe a thorough more in-depth search began. The entire house was carefully and methodically catalogued and searched, along with the gardens and greenhouse of the property and a rented lock-up garage that was identified as belonging to Edgar Pearce. The official Metropolitan Police inventory of the items removed from Pearce’s house make for chilling reading, and make the reader appreciate just how dangerous and dedicated Pearce, who had confessed almost immediately to being Mardi Gra, actually was. The list of items removed is as follows:

Items Recovered from 12 Cambridge Road North:

  • Two fully constructed, functioning pipe bombs
  • Four pipe bombs in partial stage of construction
  • One fully loaded shotgun device on stand
  • Baseboard to make at least 15 more shotgun devices
  • 272 twelve-gauge cartridges
  • Two Crossbows
  • 12 home-made crossbow bolts
  • One stun gun, disguised with a false aerial and calculator face to look like a mobile phone
  • One loaded revolver complete with 10 modified cartridges
  • 28 brass shell casings and 81 bullet tops awaiting assembly
  • 50 rounds of.762 ammunition
  • Six butane gas cylinder bombs ready constructed
  • Tubing and adhesive
  • 12 Clockwork timers
  • 39 empty video cassette boxes
  • 25 spring-bolt mechanisms ready constructed
  • A large number of 12v batteries
  • Huge selection of tools and materials necessary to construct further devices
  • A large amount of stationery and adhesives similar/identical to ones attached to previous devices

Searching police were in no doubt that any further distributed devices would have resulted in the death of an innocent, and the relief that Mardi Gra had been taken off the streets was felt throughout the Metropolitan Police

Whilst Ronald Pearce maintained a “no comment” stance throughout his many hours of questioning, Edgar Pearce was the polar opposite. He told the police chapter and verse about the planning and execution of his crimes, how he selected his targets and how he chose his devices, often in a rambling disjointed manner as though he was speaking as he thought of things. He seemed proud and very co-operative, but what was common throughout, however, was that Pearce refused to accept that he intended to hurt people. He was defensive and quick to mitigate himself whenever the potential harm or threat that his devices posed was alluded to – it was everybody’s fault bar his. The following is an example taken from Pearce’s first interview with police, where, knowing he had been caught red-handed, he early on admitted to being the Mardi Gra bomber:

“I chose the original six branches due to the access being possible without video surveillance. Those devices sent through the post were just picked out of the phone book. I don’t recall those details except West London. I don’t know why except I had a Yellow Pages. I got the idea for the devices from another TV programme. This involved spring loaded cartridges. If you look at the original ones, they were a slight extension of that idea. I have handled guns but I was able to work out the construction for myself. It was very simplistic…I knew this would end up like a firework and not much force would result. I didn’t have any intention to injure anyone.

I tested the devices at home. No damage was caused. I primed the cartridge to test the alignment. I didn’t detonate a live cartridge. Regarding people opening the mail which I sent, I suppose I wanted the damage to be as minimal as possible. Six branches received devices with a demand letter. I didn’t think the response was valid. It was an extortion attempt. I didn’t pursue it then because they invited me to meet up and collect a bag of money. I didn’t want to do this as I had already suggested a credit card plan which has never changed. Ten cards required International access. I originally asked for it to go in a video magazine. I was looking for a low circulation so that the inserts could be put in”

                                                                                                   – Edgar Pearce (“Mardi Gra”)

What on earth occurs in a person’s life to drive them to such actions? Who was Edgar Pearce, and why had he become “Mardi Gra”?

Edgar Eugene Pearce came into the world on 07 August 1937, the middle child of Edgar and Constance Pearce. Edgar was a bright child who showed exceptional aptitude in school, and at age eleven was sent to Nelson House, an Oxford prep school. Although fees were expensive there and the cost of sending Edgar there put large financial strain upon the family, they felt it worthwhile as he was their hopes for the Pearce family name to be known outside the working class community in East London that they lived in. But just three years later, Pearce had to leave as his family could no longer afford to send him here. Regardless, he gained a respectable education from the Norlington Boys Road School he then attended, and went on to study advertising at Charing Cross Polytechnic upon leaving.

In 1961 at age 24, Pearce married a girl four years his junior, Maureen Fitzgerald. By all accounts the couple were happy, Pearce was doing well in his chosen career of advertising, and the couple had moved to a pleasant house in East Sheen, South-West London. But by 1971, Pearce had grown bored with life as an advertising executive, and he and Maureen emigrated to South Africa. A year later, Maureen gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Nicola. But the move to South Africa wasn’t the new life Pearce had expected it to be. He grew to hate the apartheid system and was also worried by the political situation that threatened to flare up, as the black majority became ever more vocal in their demands for equal rights, and the minority white government waged a war of oppression against them. Finally, by 1976, the Pearce family returned to the UK.

In a new venture, Pearce decided to completely re-invent himself. Ever a keen cook, he and Maureen bought a small bistro in Hayling Island, Hampshire, called Jeanne’s Cuisine. But this venture was not a success – Pearce displayed talents that nobody there wanted or welcomed, and custom soon died away, with many people put off by Pearce’s “fancy” cooking. Nobody wanted the exotic dishes he prepared, and as a result, in what was to become a lifelong pattern, Pearce began to behave erratically and to drink heavily. He was reported as dressing like the stereotypical French onion seller, and at least on one occasion was said to have fired a loaded shotgun into the ceiling of the restaurant during a rare evening when the restaurant was full of customers. By the early 1980’s, the bank that had been funnelling money into the bistro to keep it afloat had refused lending any more, and when Maureen was diagnosed with cancer in 1982, Pearce was forced to sell the business.

The bank that had refused his pleas for a financial lifeline was Barclays.

The family moved back to London following this failure, and were allocated a council property at 12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick. Maureen was to make a recovery from her cancer, and Pearce re-invented himself yet again, this time as a property developer. He was not a success at this either, although he managed to scrape together a meagre living. But the heavy drinking and the brooding about his many failures in life continued, and by 1992 Maureen could stand it no longer. She left the house and Pearce, and the couple separated after thirty years of marriage. Although separated, they remained on friendly terms and saw each other regularly, right up to his arrest. It transpired later that Pearce would often post devices on his way to visit Maureen – who lived in south east London. A loner with few if any friends, Pearce instead spent his time between visiting his brother Ronald, his estranged wife Maureen, his local pub, or brooding in front of the television.

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12 Cambridge Road North, Chiswick – the lair of the Mardi Gra Bomber

To support himself, Pearce began to illegally sublet the upstairs rooms in his council property. He lived solely in the ground floor front room, and having tenants earned Pearce between £600 to £750 per month, taking care of his rent, groceries and most importantly, funded his drinking. This was already at staggering levels, with Pearce drinking numerous bottles of red wine each day, topped up with daytimes spent in the pub or at least a dozen cans of cheap, strong lager. He would also regularly take trips to France in his car and would arrive back with the vehicle so laden with boxes of red wine that the axles were in danger of giving way. Box after box was then stacked up in the hall. This cycle of destructive heavy drinking continued, until in August 1992, Pearce was found collapsed in the street and suffered a fit in the ambulance taking him to hospital. He suffered a further fit once he had been admitted, and doctors told him that he had developed epilepsy and suffered brain damage as a result of these fits, plus his lifestyle. It was also suspected that he had suffered a mild stroke that had caused his fall. After surgery to repair a severely broken shoulder that he had received in his fall, Pearce was released from hospital a changed man. But not changed for the better.

He recovered physically to an extent from his injuries, but his behaviour became increasingly stranger. Pearce began to obsessively shop – with his choice of supermarket being Sainsbury’s, which he was described as being obsessive over. His cupboards and fridge were stocked full with Sainsbury’s groceries and cleaning products – yet the house was often in a state of near squalor. His tenants began to notice that Pearce would rise each day at 6am, cook a full roast dinner of exotic foods such as beef, lamb, venison and quail for breakfast, all the while washed down with red wine. He would inevitably be drunk at any time of the day, lived in near squalor, and was often lecherous and abusive to some of his female tenants. He also behaved abusively to his neighbours, and was generally disliked by the majority of people, who he considered himself a cut above. One neighbour was later to tell how Pearce deliberately flooded her flat on one occasion, gave her teenage son a live bullet, and placed piles of shotgun cartridges on her doorstep. Her husband was later to assault Pearce for this, leaving him needing hospital treatment for a fractured jaw. After his arrest, several of Pearce’s tenants were later to testify to his bizarre behaviour and cold hearted nature:

“To him, everyone was worthless, almost beneath him. He was the type of man who wouldn’t bat an eyelid if one of his explosions wiped out an entire family. He was as cold as a reptile, totally and utterly concerned about the welfare of anyone else. But he surpassed even himself when talking about his brother in law John, who was dying of stomach cancer. He said, “That man’s always whinging. Why doesn’t he just get on with it?” – Graham Hirst (Pearce’s former lodger)

By 1994, this downward spiral had continued and Pearce was still brooding away in his ground floor room. He was still suffering pain from the shoulder that he had badly broken two years before, and was topping himself up with copious amounts of painkillers and alcohol, and lived constantly in front of the television. Then one day, he saw a documentary about a man named Rodney Witchelo. Witchelo is infamous throughout the annals of UK crime as being the Heinz Baby food blackmailer – who in the 1980’s contaminated several jars of pet and baby food with razor blades and caustic soda and replaced them on supermarket shelves in an attempt to extort money from the manufacturer, Heinz. Witchelo was caught and imprisoned for 17 years in 1990 for his crimes as he was captured when he attempted to physically recover the money that he had so desperately craved. This made Pearce sit up and take notice in fascination, and a plan began to formulate in his mind about how he could strike back at the society that he considered had dealt him a bad hand. He believed he could do better than Witchelo, that his time for greatness had arrived. The “Reservoir Dogs” style calling card stemmed from Pearce’s advertising background – and the name “Mardi Gra” was chosen because it is the French translation of “Fat Tuesday”, and it had been a Tuesday when Pearce had formulated the idea for his extortion campaign.

This then, was the genesis of the Mardi Gra bomber.

Pearce admitted that he had tinkered with clocks and their working parts to experiment if the workings could be used in a device. An experienced and capable handyman despite his alcoholism, Pearce constructed each of the devices at home by himself – the majority in a greenhouse in his back garden. He was often seen in there for hours on end, quite late into the night.

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Pearce’s workbench in the “bomb factory”

A neighbour, William Branson recalled:

“We would often see him sitting in his greenhouse late at night. I just presumed he wanted to get away from it all, and maybe had a TV in there or something.”
Each type of device was tested on a remote plot of land nearby during Mardi Gra’s periods of inactivity. Each down period was Pearce refining his strategy, constantly practising with different devices and testing them to seek improvements. He was patient and cautious – but no less determined and focused upon his campaign. It was practices like this that convinced police that this was in no way a PR exercise or a “joke” that went too far – as was later claimed – and that Pearce had a calculating rather than confused mind. For example, Pearce was to admit that he had deliberately targeted his local pub, the Crown and Anchor in Chiswick, because he rightly suspected that the press were withholding news of his campaign and he wanted to ensure his devices were being successfully delivered. By sending a device there and then going into the pub for a drink afterwards, he could check as to whether his devices were being successfully delivered by thinking that if so, the bomb would be the predominant if not sole topic of conversation in the pub amongst staff and customers.  He was not wrong.

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Pearce’s local pub, the target of a Mardi Gra attack

News of the Pearce brother’s arrests had leaked to the media within 24 hours and 12 Cambridge Road North was soon under siege from reporters. A factual, but extremely brief statement was issued by Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve confirming nothing more than the brother’s names and ages, and a scant few details of the operation that had led to their arrest. The press was left to research the brothers lives for their headlines and articles, whilst the following day both Edgar and Ronald were charged on the following counts:

  1. Conspiracy to blackmail Barclays Bank
  2. Conspiracy to blackmail Sainsbury’s
  3. Conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life

At 10:00am on the morning of Friday 30th April 1998, the Pearce brothers appeared in a 30-minute hearing at Horseferry Road Magistrates Court in central London. Both brothers were remanded in custody awaiting trial, and for nearly a year were held on remand as Category A prisoners, Edgar at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London and Ronald at HMP High Down in Surrey. During this time, they made several interim court appearances where a total of twenty charges relating to the Mardi Gra campaign were listed against them. A trial date was set to begin at the Old Bailey on February 5th 1999, where the brothers were expected to enter a guilty plea. Edgar was expected to put forward the mitigating circumstances of diminished responsibility due to a result of his 1992 collapse and subsequent epilepsy/suspected stroke. By the time the morning of 5th February arrived, the Pearce brothers were facing a total of twenty charges. Edgar faced all twenty charges:

  • nine charges of blackmail against Sainsbury’s and Barclays Bank
  • three charges of causing Actual Bodily Harm
  • one charge of wounding with intent
  • one charge of causing an explosion
  • one charge of intending to cause an explosion
  • one charge of possessing explosives
  • two charges of illegally possessing prohibited weapons
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to commit blackmail
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to endanger life

Ronald was jointly charged with nine of these offences:

  • four charges of blackmail against Sainsbury’s
  • one charge of causing Actual Bodily Harm
  • one charge of illegally possessing an “improvised explosive device” with intent to endanger life
  • one charge of wounding with intent
  • one charge of possessing a prohibited weapon
  • one charge of possessing explosives

When each charge was read out, however, a “Not Guilty” plea was entered by both brothers. A trial date was set then for April 7th 1999.

On April 7th 1999, when each charge was again read out to Edgar Pearce, he pleaded “Guilty” to each. Ronald Pearce pleaded guilty to possession of a stun gun – but not guilty to the remaining charges he faced. Edgar had steadfast refused to discuss the extent of Ronald’s involvement, and after lengthy consideration, no evidence was offered on the remaining charges against him, although one charge of conspiracy to blackmail Sainsbury’s was ordered to lie on file. Ronald was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment for possession of the stun gun, but as he had served this already on remand, was from that moment a free man. He was released, and Edgar was returned to HMP Belmarsh to await sentencing.

On Thursday 14th April, Edgar Pearce again stood in front of Mr Justice Hyam in Court Number 1 at the Old Bailey, this time to await his fate. Medical professionals, employed by Pearce’s counsel, had argued that Pearce was guilty based on the grounds of diminished responsibility as a result of a combination of hypertension, heavy alcohol use, a bleed on the brain due to his 1992 collapse, and bizarrely, that the purpose of his action was to see if he could pull off a successful PR campaign!! Mr Justice Hyam was having none of this, however, and found no sort of defence based upon diminished responsibility to have any valid grounds. He believed prison rather than hospitalisation was more suitable and reflected this in summing up, telling Pearce:

“These offences were committed by you in the course of a campaign of extortion. Your apparent intention was to obtain a large amount of money, first from Barclays Bank and then from Sainsbury’s. Your plan was to terrorise the public, particularly staff and customers of Barclays and Sainsbury’s by threats and by the planting of weapons designed to cause physical injury. Some of the devices which you used had the potential to cause death to anyone who was within range. By good fortune alone, these devices did not kill anyone. Your motivations were greed and an insatiable appetite for notoriety. These offences were so serious that only a very substantial custodial sentence can be justified. It is also necessary to impose exemplary sentences to deter others who might be minded to offend as you have done” – Mr Justice Hyam

Pearce received prison sentences totalling 224 years, but as these were set to run concurrently he would only serve the length of the maximum sentence, which was 21 years in total. “Mardi Gra” remained impassive as he was sentenced, having been long expecting it, and he was taken back to HMP Belmarsh to begin his prison sentence. He served many years in obscurity, rarely if ever mentioned in the headlines, then was released. Edgar Pearce is nearly 80 years old now, and although he is no longer in prison, is in very poor health and lives quietly at an undisclosed location. Again alone.

The campaign of the Mardi Gra Bomber had cost dearly. Barclays had had to pay an extra £140,000 in additional security as a result, and Sainsbury’s were an estimated £640,000 down in lost business. Pearce had gained just £1,500 from his whole campaign – and held this for all of 30 minutes. He never got to spend a single penny – and lost more than a decade of his life behind bars for a campaign that though largely unsuccessful, was driven by a determined and cold mind. The detective who led the hunt for Mardi Gra said this after Pearce was sentenced:

“This was a callous, calculating individual who was wholly indifferent to the possibility that the devices might cause death or serious injuries. It is a miracle no one was killed.”- Det Supt Jeff Rees

To this day, police use tactics learned from the Mardi Gra investigation and operation to capture him as part of a training exercise teaching police how to combat any extortion threats that may be received.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Welcome To The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 2

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Eltham High Street after one of Mardi Gra’s attacks

It was to be December 17th 1996 before Mardi Gra surfaced again, and once again with a new tactic. A letter arrived at the Daily Mail offices containing a threat that unless Sainsbury’s acknowledged that he was back and paid the ransom he demanded, Mardi Gra would begin shooting its customers with an improvised crossbow device, an example of which he detailed in the letter. It would be mounted inside a large, reinforced Sainsbury’s bag and would fire through a prepared slit in the side after being activated by a fishing line attached to the trigger. This could be operated in a crowd of people, and Mardi Gra himself could escape with ease and anonymity. There was also a photograph of a lone female shopper enclosed, ominously marked with a label marked “targeted for action”. Police believed that this threat was a bluff however, as it would require Mardi Gra to operate in person at the moment of impact, a world away from the remoteness and safety of his distance and anonymity. As a result, his bluff was called and under request from SO13, the Daily Mail did not publish the photograph as requested. A further letter followed on January 7th 1997, which now contained two photographs, again of lone female shoppers  – and a home-made crossbow bolt. This demand was again ignored – and following this, Mardi Gra again disappeared into the woodwork.

This was to be his longest gap – and also the precursor for his deadliest, but thankfully final phase.

While Mardi Gra had gone to ground, Operation Heath continued in earnest, and the Metropolitan Police utilised two different types of profile in hunting for Mardi Gra. One was a psychological profile delivered by Professor Bill Tafoya, who had been the lead profiler of the FBI’s Unabomber Task Force. Tafoya was to produce a profile that was to prove ultimately very close to the mark. He wrote that the reason for targeting Barclays and Sainsbury’s could have been as simple a reason as having been insulted by a member of staff, buying soiled goods, or having a credit card application refused. He claimed that the bomber would be male, middle-aged, of average intelligence, would have a boring or menial job and would be known as someone who was known to harbour grudges. He would feel “undervalued”, would live in London and would be a loner, although possibly married in the past. Examining the devices sent by Mardi Gra, and in what was a deliberate ploy to draw out a response from him by insulting him, Tafoya suggested that the devices were “unsophisticated”, highlighting his constant use of readily available ammunition and everyday items, and that “if Mardi Gra had the intellectual capacity to make more complex bombs, he would have done so by now”.

The other profile utilised by the Met, and again one that was to prove accurate, was a geographical one. Using the maxim that a criminal strikes within defined routines, or to put it more simply, where you live defines the parameters in which you act, the details of Mardi Gra’s existing 24 attacks were entered into a US prototype profiling software called Orion. It already was clear to investigators that there was an existing clear pattern of attacks, which the majority occurred in the West and the South-East of London. The profile created by the Orion software highlighted a peak over the W4 district of the city, specifically Chiswick. This again was to later prove uncannily accurate. But frustratingly, although it was a focal point, it did not serve to narrow down the field of suspects except to confirm to police that Mardi Gra was local to the West London area.

So the hunt continued – and then Mardi Gra returned after 11 months.

On Saturday November 15th 1997, three branches of Sainsbury’s were targeted in a return to Mardi Gra’s preferred method of device: the video case explosive. Copies of the video case of the film “GRAND CANYON” were left in abandoned bags of groceries in the Sainsbury’s stores in Greenford, West Ealing and South Ruislip. All three were devices of the shotgun cartridge type, designed to fire pellets into the face or body of the person opening them. But, as investigators were becoming used to seeing from Mardi Gra, there were modifications. The barrels had been reinforced and angled, the shot was better packed, and the method of disposal showed a newer, ingenious twist: Mardi Gra had got customers to take the devices into the stores at random. Each video had attached a blue sticker with the following message:

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Mardi Gra placed stickers like these on each of the video case devices

Perhaps realising that by physically leaving items instead of posting them out, Mardi Gra ran the risk of being captured on CCTV. By someone else taking the device into its intended target, Mardi Gra was ensuring that as much distance as possible between capture and himself was placed.

And then Mardi Gra followed with a double attack just ten days later, in yet ANOTHER refinement of his MO. Again the video cassette devices were used, but this time the message on the stickers contained a red dot, with a small sticker claiming:

ANY VIDEO BEARING A RED DOT HAS BEEN CLEARED BY SAINSBURY’S SECURITY STAFF

The first was found on the driveway of an empty house in Chislehurst, Kent, about 500 yards from the local Sainsbury’s. It had exploded itself, and chillingly, had been left opposite a primary school. An hour later, a customer to Sainsbury’s Burnt Ash store in Lee Green handed in a device that had been left outside in a bag of shopping. SO13 quickly arrived and disarmed the device. Eleven days later, on 06 December 1997, a 73-year-old lady named Joan Kane who had caught a bus outside the Sainsbury’s in West Ealing arrived home with her shopping to discover that she had somehow picked up an extra shopping bag. She fished out a Mardi Gra device and began to innocently examine it, and was only saved with the timely intervention of a visiting neighbour, who recognised the danger instantly. Sadly, just 10 weeks later, Joan died very suddenly from an aggressive form of leukaemia. Her last weeks were spent in fear and suffering what must have been horrific flashbacks of how close she had come to serious injury, or even death. Her peace of mind was destroyed and she became a shell of her former self due to her finding the device, a fact that her doctors were in no doubt accelerated her condition.

A few days before Christmas 1997, a change in police strategy had been decided upon, and a decision had been made to pay Mardi Gra, hoping to catch him in the act of receiving his money. Working on the theory that Mardi Gra would next strike again within his chosen ground of West or South-east London, a decision was made to blanket every Sainsbury’s store in each area with covert surveillance, and hope that they would get lucky and catch him planting a device. It was a mammoth task and one that seemed to have a slim chance of succeeding, but hunting him was getting nowhere. They opted to post communication agreeing to his latest demands, which had been £10,000 per day unlimited. Promotional cards, as of the type Mardi Gra had first demanded in his initial communication three years before, were to be made and given away with Exchange & Mart classified advertising magazine. Then, using a PIN number known only to Mardi Gra, a maximum of ten could be used as cash cards. On December 27th 1997, the following message from police appeared in the Daily Telegraph personal column:

Work will be completed and ready for London circulation on Thursday 26th March 1998. This is the earliest possible date. Hope it meets your schedule. G

Mardi Gra ignored this, but responded by planting bombs in Sainsbury’s Chiswick High Road on January 16th 1998, followed by a device left at the beginning of February at what transpired later to have been the same bus stop that Joan Kane had picked up her surplus shopping bag. The former was found and deactivated, the latter exploded, albeit luckily before it had been collected by anyone. A week later, a member of the public who had found a bag of shopping left by a cash point nearby to a Sainsbury’s in Forest Hill, south-east London, had a lucky escape when the bag he had placed onto the passenger seat of his car suddenly detonated as he was driving down the A2. This was followed on March 4th 1998 by another “shotgun” type device that injured a 17-year-old shop worker quite seriously, and was again left at the Forest Hill store.

It transpired that the next attack, the Mardi Gra Bomber’s 36th attack, was to be his final one.

On Eltham High Street, on 17th March 1998, Mardi Gra was finally caught on CCTV planting a device just yards away from the entrance of the Sainsbury’s store. In 9 seconds of black and white footage, a man wearing a striped anorak and flat cap is seen striding across Eltham High Street carrying a black bin bag in his gloved right hand. A still from the footage is shown here:

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Mardi Gra is captured on CCTV for the first time planting a device. It exploded just 5 minutes later.

At 11:59am, Mardi Gra is seen to place the bag against the wall of the Sainsbury’s and alter it, so the barrel of the device inside the bag pointed towards an adjacent bus stop. He then walks off to the left of the camera. Just five minutes pass, during which many pedestrians pass through the projected firing line. The last one just four seconds before the device detonated at 12:04pm. Frustratingly, although this was as close as police had ever come to Mardi Gra – the footage did not show his face. He had not moved his head, even as he had crossed the busy high street. After some decision-making, it was decided not to release this clip to the media. It could make Mardi Gra go to ground again, and although risky, it was thought this a better strategy than release it and make him ditch the recognisable clothing that he wore.

But perhaps because of this, and perhaps the Home Office had finally realised the need to do whatever it took to catch Mardi Gra – regardless of cost – authorisation for what was to become Britain’s biggest ever covert surveillance operation was granted. A special bank account containing £20,000 was opened and the following message was placed in the Daily Telegraph personal column.

Everything on schedule. Arrangements commence 8.am 23.4.98. We agree on new notified number. No change possible. Thank you. The number remains in place until 8.am 30.4.98 for joining. Then only the daily allowance for each of the ten items remains. This allowance is unchangeable because of the system. Any difficulties do not hesitate to write. May be in touch before 23.4.98. G

On 23rd April, the issue of Exchange & Mart containing the “promotional” cards hit the shelves, and the waiting game started. It has, however, never been revealed how this PIN number was passed to Mardi Gra for reasons of operational security. Hundreds of officers watched the areas that the Orion software had identified in West and South-East London, spreading manpower between as many cashpoints in  the area that they could monitor, and Sainsbury’s stores in case Mardi Gra would plant further devices. The cashpoint computers had been pre-programmed to alert a New Scotland Yard control room computer as soon as the secret PIN number was used. They were also programmed to slightly delay any transactions using this PIN number, and by limiting the amount Mardi Gra could withdraw each transaction, it would force him to use cashpoints more often – giving surveillance the chance of getting closer to him. Although Mardi Gra could use universal non-bank specific cash points, if any sort of geographical pattern was noticed then the locations could be actively tracked, and Mardi Gra could be caught.

At 6:14pm on April 28th 1998, the alarm sounded at New Scotland Yard. Mardi Gra had removed money from a cashpoint in Ealing – although the machine used was one of the ones that was not under surveillance. Whilst police waited anxiously to see if Mardi Gra would try again at a different machine, the minutes ticked by. After a number of minutes, the alarm sounded again – this time from a cashpoint just a mile away from the first withdrawal, on the Uxbridge Road in West Ealing. This was one of the points under surveillance – and surveilling officers were soon reporting back that they had a visual on two men who were drawing attention to themselves due to their strange attire and how inconspicuous they were. Officers were ordered to observe the suspects and report back. They began to make a video recording of the two men, stills of which are reproduced here. The footage was later leaked to the BBC Newsnight programme:

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Mardi Gra is caught on police surveillance video using the cashpoint

Both men were wearing identical calf length fawn coloured raincoats, beige trousers, gloves, wigs and dark glasses. One was wearing a checked cap pulled far down across his head, the other a flat white cap. The man in the flat white cap was also carrying an A4 clipboard with a mirror affixed to the back of it.

 

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Mardi Gra and accomplice 

Both men then got into a dark red Vauxhall Senator car and drove off. At 6:39pm, the car – which was being tailed by a second police surveillance team that had arrived – pulled up at the junction of Bridge Street and Whitton High Street, and parked on double yellow lines. Coincidentally, this was almost exactly opposite the business premises that had been the site of Mardi Gra’s 14th attack. Both men got out of the vehicle and made their way to a cashpoint a bit further down the road. The one holding the clipboard lowered it mirror side down onto the machine and began pressing numbers – with every action being relayed by radio to the investigating team monitoring at New Scotland Yard. The pair spent two minutes at the cashpoint – with the computer back at the Yard confirming that this cashpoint was being used at that exact time by the PIN number that had been exclusively passed to Mardi Gra. The pair had removed two withdrawals of £250 each time, and had then turned and walked back towards the car, the man with the clipboard holding it in front of his face as he walked away.

With confirmation given via what he had seen over the computer, and what the surveillance team had told him, Detective Chief Superintendent Jeff Rees gave the order to move in and arrest the pair. With public safety in mind, this was to be done once the pair were in the vehicle. As soon as they were in the car, undercover officers in vehicles screeched to a halt and boxed in the Vauxhall Senator. The doors were ripped open and both men were pulled out and placed face down on the ground. At 6:54pm, both men heard the following:

“You are under arrest for demanding money with menaces, and also for firearms offences”

 

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Whitton High Street – the scene of Mardi Gra’s capture

During the next 30 minutes, both men and the vehicle were thoroughly and meticulously searched. The wigs, glasses and hats were removed to reveal two middle-aged men, both of whom looked embarrassed and crushed that they had been caught. The man in the checked hat gave his name as Ronald Pearce, and had nothing of suspicion on his person barring his odd disguises. The man in the white flat cap, the man who had pressed the buttons at the cashpoint and who was carrying the “anti-surveillance” clipboard, was a different story. In the pockets of his mac, officers found meticulous reconnaissance notes detailing the locations of cash machines that were unobserved by CCTV, and route plans of roads to and from each that were also unobserved by CCTV. There was also found £1,500 in cash, and a lead-lined wallet that contained ten of the promotional cards that had been given away with Exchange & Mart. There was also a scrap of paper with a PIN number on it – the same PIN that was only known to police, and Mardi Gra. When asked his name, he replied, “Edgar Pierce”.

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The moment of Mardi Gra’s capture

 

Mardi Gra had been caught.

 

 

 

 

 

To be continued

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

“Welcome to The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 1

The terror began on December 6th 1994. Six individual parcels, each one about the size of a book and wrapped in blue Christmas wrapping paper with gold stars on it were delivered to six different branches of Barclays Bank in London. The address on each parcel had been carefully typed on an old-fashioned typewriter, cut out and taped to each package, and each package had been sent first class, with the stamp being franked as being sorted at 5:13pm on December 5th. In the bottom left hand corner of each parcel was stuck a photocopied picture of four men wearing black suits and sunglasses, in a scene that looked like a mock up still from the film Reservoir Dogs. On the photocopy was the caption:

WELCOME TO THE MARDI GRA EXPERIENCE

A part-time clerk working at the Hampstead High Street Branch, Bali Hari, recieved burns to her arms and hands when a Christmas present delivered with that morning’s post had exploded as she opened it. Just four minutes later, a few miles away in the Ladbroke Grove branch, a clerk named Martin Grimsdale was temporary deafened when one of the parcels exploded as it was opened. Quick thinking staff raised the alarm and called each branch in an attempt to halt the opening of the morning post. The four other parcels that had been sent were recovered at different branches across West London, and the packages were examined.

The “bombs” were found to have been concealed inside empty double video cases, with a larger photocopy of the “Mardi Gra” logo placed in the sleeve. Clearly home made, they consisted of a spring loaded bolt with a sharp nail fixed to one end. Fastened onto the end of this was a shotgun cartridge that had been primed with firework gunpowder and loosely packed with ball bearings. Because they had been so loosely packed, they had not exploded outwards as the bomber had intended. But a forensic expert who examined them was to later say that if these cartridges had been packed properly, although home made and basic, each device could easily have killed the targets.

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One of the initial six “Mardi Gra” packages

SO13 of the Metropolitan Police were tasked with investigating the bombings, and “Operation Heath” quickly ruled out any links to any mainstream terrorist organisation being involved: the devices were too crude, the target was unlikely, and as one detective on the case later stated,

“The target was wrong, the technology of the device was wrong. It was real kitchen table stuff”

The first line of enquiry to be undertaken by investigators was to try and source the devices components, and to examine the mechanics of how the device had been made. Perhaps the bomber was someone with a mechanical or engineering background – in which case it may make the task of narrowing down the field of suspects easier. Another team concurrently combed Barclays personnel files and customer complaint files, working on the premise that when a commercial organisation is attacked, the most likely culprit is either a disgruntled customer or current or ex member of staff with a grievance. Police had decided that this was the beginning of an extortion campaign, but they had had no word from the bomber about any ideology behind the attacks, or any possible ransom.

Just two days later, that was to change.

On December 8th 1994, a typewritten letter, containing the now infamous logo on its envelope, was received by police. The letter demanded £2,000 per day, 365 days a year, a detailed method of communication back and forth, and how to pay the ransom. Barclays were to produce promotional, dummy looking Barclaycards, and give them away with magazines. But they were actually able to be used as a cashcard. The bomber would have a PIN number that could activate the cards, and this was to be given to him through a coded message in the personal column of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, no later than December 10th. Chillingly, the letter warned:

“In the event of a negative response, all Barclays staff will be regarded as dispensable targets”

The letter was signed Mardine Graham. The “Mardi Gra” bomber had played his opening hand.

As is commonplace with extortion attempts, a strict news blackout was imposed, hoping that lack of knowledge about the hunt for him may make the bomber make a mistake or lull him into a false sense of security. But it was important to try to establish a line of communication with him, so police co-operated and placed this advert in the Daily Express personals column on December 10th.

O.K. MARDINE GRAHAM, sorry was late, I was confused. Please explain. Richard

They heard nothing. Mardi Gra never replied, and had gone to ground. In the absence of any further communication, detectives worked through their enormous list of disgruntled customers, employees and ex employees with grievances, looking for a suspect. But this mammoth task led to nothing. It was to be over five months before Mardi Gra was heard from again.

On May 15th 1995, Barclays Bank head office in Northampton received a second demand letter from Mardi Gra, in which he detailed a new approach to his campaign. Rather than attack banks directly, Mardi Gra had now decided to select random people. There was an added bonus to this, it spread the bombing campaign whilst still tightening the screw on Barclays. It would also massively waste police time as they would be forced to do a detailed check on victims, searching for any link between them, however tenuous. Every device sent was accompanied by some form of reference to Barclays Bank, usually a piece of paper bearing the slogan, “With the Compliments of Barclaycard”

More bombs were then sent, one to an address in Peterborough which arrived on 19th May. The next arrived at a shop in Dymchurch, Kent, on 1st June. On 9th June, the Crown and Anchor pub in Chiswick received a package – the only one of the three to explode, although nobody was seriously hurt. Three more, again sent to random people, were despatched over a two week period following this. The first however, was sent to Barclays head office and consisted of a rifle bullet surrounded by gunpowder and lead pellets, packed inside a plastic bottle. This device was sent deactivated, however, as it did not contain a  firing pin.

This set a pattern that would continue into early 1996. There would be a flurry of activity from Mardi Gra – he would send devices out in succession to random private addresses, with the targets scattered around a wide area with no discernible pattern. He also experimented with different disguises for his bombs – they were sent disguised as rolled up copies of magazines, as hollowed out books, or in his classic wrapped present guise. He would switch tactics from using his favoured parcel type bomb, to then use a crude and homemade anti-personnel nail bomb designed to explode into someone’s face, to then use a briefcase with a helium gas cylinder that had been emptied and refilled with a petrol based gas. He attacked businesses, left devices in telephone boxes, or on the pavement near Barclays premises, and all within wide ranging locations that had no discernible pattern to them. What was common, however, was the “With the Compliments of Barclaycard” message that was placed with each. The bombs, although still crude, started to become bolder and to have more lethal potential, and police were more fearful that ever that someone would be soon be killed by a “Mardi Gra” device.  Following the last gas cylinder device, which exploded outside a Barclays branch in Eltham, Mardi Gra again went quiet for two months.

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A police replica of one of Mardi Gra’s devices

Since the beginning of Mardi Gra’s campaign, police and Barclays senior management had adopted the strategy of a media blackout to prevent mass panic and any possible copycat attacks or threats. In the two months of quiet, the bomber had pondered how best he could exert pressure on Barclays to cave into his demands, and so decided to self-publicise his campaign. On April 3rd 1996, the offices of the Daily Mail newspaper received a long rambling letter from Mardi Gra himself, detailing his demands, the 25 devices that had been planted up to that point – including pictures of a prototype “new” device – and a repeated threat to the welfare of Barclays customers and staff in public, at work or even at home if an acknowledgement was not published within the Mail within a seven day time limit.

This forced the hand of police and Barclays, and they had no choice but to go public. At a packed press conference, Detective Superintendent John Beadle tried to play down the perceived threat. He was to tell the assembled media:

“I must stress that the real threat to the public is low. The fear of crime is much greater than the reality…….My advice is to report anything suspicious to the police, but the public should carry on in their normal daily lives.”

The media response to this was electric. Double page newspaper features and television reports were everywhere, describing Mardi Gra’s devices, their potential for harm and their construction, and the campaign and communication that police and Barclays had received from the bomber to date. The bomber’s motives were examined, and “celebrity” figures such as former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, John Stalker, contributed to sensationalist newspaper articles in which the bomber was profiled and the general public were invited to become armchair detectives to identify “Mardi Gra”.

Just over two weeks after his letter to the Daily Mail, Mardi Gra struck again. On April 20th 1996, a black plastic bin liner containing a device was placed in an alleyway that was adjacent to the Ealing Broadway branch of Barclays in West London. At exactly 3:00pm, it exploded. For the first time since the initial devices had been sent nearly 18 months before, Mardi Gra had caused real harm. Three people who were stood in close proximity to the device were peppered with shotgun pellets that were travelling at over 300 feet per second, and required hospitalisation to tend to their wounds, which although serious were not life threatening. This brought this part of West London to a standstill that day – TTCE remembers this well because as a young RAF serviceman on his way back to camp that day after visiting home for the weekend, he was caught up and delayed for hours whilst travelling through London as a result of this Mardi Gra attack.

When the remnants of the device were examined by forensics, it was discovered that this was the “new” device that Mardi Gra had detailed in his letter to the Daily Mail. It was more an updated version of the classic video case device that Mardi Gra had first used, but now contained a single home- made barrel acting as a compression chamber. This then gave the shot in the Winchester clay pigeon cartridge contained within more force and a better general direction. This was an alarming escalation, and of course the media fed upon this. The newspaper reports and television appeals continued.

Barclays Bank chairman at the time, Andrew Buxton, was interviewed on a BBC news television broadcast just after this latest attack, and he revealed that Barclays were preparing to take the most drastic steps available to protect itself, its staff and customers. He revealed that this would even mean closing branches down if this was deemed a necessary precaution. This revelation was to change the course of the investigation and provide a major hurdle to Operation Heath – because Mardi Gra simply decided to stop again. It was later revealed that he had not simply given up his blackmail campaign – but he had decided to muddy the waters by changing targets. Or rather, focusing also upon an additional one.

In the mid 1990’s as is still the case now, UK High Street supermarkets were locked in a war for custom and profit. The coveted premier spot had been held by Sainsbury’s for many years – but in 1995 they were toppled by an arch-rival and one of the canonical “big four” supermarkets in the UK, Tesco. This made widespread news and was all over the press and television. And somebody took note, because on 10th July 1996, the following letter arrived at the Sainsbury’s head office in Central London:

Welcome to the Mardi Gra Experience……The police will be able to fill in the general details of the deal as we are almost old chums……You have seven days to respond followed by a death or glory outcome. Now there’s a deal that’s a boardroom winner!

The letter went on to explain that Mardi Gra had not called amnesty on his campaign against Barclays – they would be his focus again at some stage. Operation Heath now had the unenviable task of majorly beginning the enquiry again – it had been a daunting enough task looking through the list of possible persons of interest that they had gained from Barclays. Now they had to look again from the beginning of the list to see if any of the people they had already cross- checked had a connection to Sainsbury’s as well as Barclays – all the while bearing in mind that there may be no connection at all, and that Mardi Gra had just chosen two of the most famous UK established names at random to target. Police responded – again using Mardi Gra’s chosen form of communication of the personal columns – but this time using the Daily Mail newspaper. The response is reproduced here:

MARDI GRA We are ready to help and give value. Contact us on the verification number.

Nothing. Mardi Gra had gone to ground again.

 

To be continued.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush – Part 2

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David Lashley – “The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush”

David Lashley had been born on September 30th 1939 in St Lawrence, Barbados. He had left school aged 13 in 1953 and went into apprenticeship as a car sprayer, before transferring to the London factory of the Rootes company that he worked for. Lashley boarded with an aunt who lived in Southall, West London, before meeting a pregnant 19 year old girl called Jean in the early 1960’s. By all accounts, Lashley was a law abiding citizen and was devoted to Jean, and the couple set up home together soon after the birth of her son. But by 1962, the couple had had a daughter, Sandra, and Lashley began to change. He once beat Jean so badly she suffered three broken ribs. Yet he begged her forgiveness, and as a result, the couple got married. A son followed shortly after, and from this point onwards Lashley began to be violent once again. He was obsessive about Jean’s past, and was convinced wrongly of her constant infidelity. His sexual demands became brutal and more frequent, but were unaccompanied with love and tenderness. Beating after beating followed, with Jean being clubbed unconscious with a chair on one occasion.

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Jean Lashley

By 1965, Jean was so frightened for the safety of her children that she placed her illegitimate son into the National Children’s Home, as Lashley had grown to despise the boy. The turning point finally came later that year when Jean became pregnant once more and Lashley dragged her to a backstreet abortionist, who was to bungle the operation. The baby died nine days later, and Lashley ignored the funeral. Jean despised him from that moment onwards, and was largely shocked but relieved when Lashley was arrested and imprisoned for the “Beast of Shepherd’s Bush” attacks – never thinking for a second that he was the rapist in all the tabloids. For years she thought that she had triggered some sort of hatred for blonde, white women in him because like his victims, she was a blonde white woman. Jean divorced him whilst he was in prison and moved away, only enflaming Lashley’s already seething hatred of white women.

Lashley had never been flagged up as a suspect in the July 1976 Chesterton Street attack as there was no record of him having a scar on his cheek, but DCS Mooney felt sure that he had the right man. The attack, and Janie’s abduction, all bore the M.O of the “Beast of Shepherd’s Bush” too strongly, plus Lashley knew the area and lived nearby, and was powerfully built, having spent his previous prison sentence bodybuilding. Officers were assigned to keep surveillance on David Lashley, and they soon reported back that Lashley did, after all, have a scar on his cheek – received from a fight in prison during the sentence he served for the “Beast of Shepherd’s Bush” rapes. Lashley was picked up on 17th February 1977 for questioning about the Chesterton Street attack, and Janie Shepherd’s disappearance.

Lashley was to strongly deny involvement in both crimes, although according to DCS Mooney, Lashley was to confess almost immediately to the July 1976 attack. Lashley himself was to deny that he had. He was placed on an identity parade, where the victim from the Chesterton Street attack picked him out immediately and unequivocally. This was enough for police to charge Lashley with rape and an account of attempted murder, and he was remanded in custody to Brixton prison. Whilst he was in custody, detectives investigating the disappearance of Janie Shepherd were to question him about her disappearance. Lashley claimed to know nothing about Janie’s disappearance and offered an alibi for the night that she disappeared. Lashley claimed that on Friday 4th February, he had travelled to Leicestershire with a female friend, not returning to London until the early evening. He claimed that at 5:30pm he had been doing a respray job on a car in the paint-shop that he was employed at, and that he had returned home at about 7:00pm to watch television. Finally, he had gone to bed at about 9:30pm that evening. Lashley’s female companion and friends corroborated part of this story, but no one was able to confirm that Lashley was in bed when he said that he was.

Meanwhile, while Lashley was on remand awaiting trial for the Chesterton Road attack, the search for Janie continued. The Darlings continued their daily searches throughout the remote countryside of the surrounding counties, and on three consecutive Friday evenings, investigating officers staged a reconstruction of Janie’s last known movements. A policewoman, similar in look and stance to Janie and wearing identical clothes, re-enacted her last known movements. The purpose of these reconstructions was an attempt to trigger a memory of someone – people are creatures of habit and weekly pay was more commonplace in 1977 than nowadays. As the end of the normal working week was a Friday, then it stood to reason that a lot of shoppers may visit their regular supermarket at this time, having been paid, and if so, there may be someone who had noticed someone loitering around, or had seen Janie talking to someone who had not yet been traced. It brought nothing.

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Angela Darling shows the strain whilst on one of the many searches for Janie

By mid-April 1977, Janie had been missing for ten weeks. Her heartbroken parents, as well as Roddy Kincaid-Weeks and Janie’s cousins and friends, had searched fruitlessly for her alongside investigating police. They had developed a good relationship with DCS Mooney and his team, who had sensitively included them in as much of the investigation as he operationally could and had been honest with them in his opinions. Angela and John Darling left to return to Australia on 12th April 1977, convinced that Janie was dead, having been raped and murdered.

It was just six days later, on Monday 18th April 1977, that their convictions were tragically proved correct.

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Neal Gardener and Dean James

Nomansland Common stands just off the B651 road from St Albans to Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire. The area is popular with dog walkers, off road motorcyclists and model aircraft enthusiasts, and is known to locals more commonly by the ominous name of “Devil’s Dyke”. On the 18th April 1977, two schoolboys, Neil Gardiner and Dean James, were taking advantage of the bright and clear weather that day. It was the start of the Easter holidays from school, and the two boys were cycling around the area, racing each other and enjoying scrambling about. All of a sudden, the boys noticed what they thought was a pile of rags, but a closer inspection petrified them and caused them to drop their bikes and flee. When they composed themselves enough, they retrieved their bikes and sped home. It was early evening when Dean James finally mustered up the courage to tell his father that he was convinced he had seen a real dead body whilst cycling that afternoon. Peter James was convinced that his son was no liar, and contacted police. Police who questioned both boys were also convinced that they were sincere, and this was not a prank of any kind. Accompanied by their fathers, the boys took police to the spot where they had seen the “body”. One look by accompanying police was enough to confirm the boys were telling the truth.

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The body lies covered at the spot on Nomansland Common

The body was badly decomposed, and was found fully clothed. It was clothed in jeans, striped socks and a black sweater with bright red polo neck and vivid green cuffs. Gold rings still encased three of the body’s fingers, and around its neck, a thin chain complete with “Woodstock” charm was found.  Suspecting that the body could be the high profile missing Australian girl, as procedure the area was cordoned off and Detective Chief Superintendent Ronald Harvey, head of the Hertfordshire CID was summoned. Preliminary tests were performed, whilst awaiting the arrival of Home Office pathologist Professor James Cameron, and Dr Bernard Sims, a forensic dentist, before the body was removed to St Albans mortuary. DCS Mooney was also contacted, getting the call he long suspected but ever dreaded. Professor Cameron and Dr Sims began a four hour autopsy at 11:15pm that evening, and recorded ligature marks to the feet and upper arms of the body. There was extensive bruising to the upper arms and torso, the left foot, the right thigh and shin, and extensive bruising to the left temple area, although no evidence of a fracture. There were also what may have been finger nail marks to both breasts. Due to the advanced state of decomposition, it was impossible to determine whether a  sexual assault had taken place. The lungs and heart showed evidence of suffocation, coupled with extensive bruising and crushing to the throat. This enabled Professor Cameron to conclude that cause of death was due to strangulation. By the end of the autopsy, Dr Sims had been able to sadly confirm through dental records that the 11 week hunt for Janie Shepherd had come to an end. Tragically, her body had been found a mere three miles from an area searched by Angela and John Darling some weeks previously.

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Detectives examine the body dump site

An inquest opened in St Albans on 22 April 1977, but was adjourned pending further tests on both the body and Janie’s car. Following these, the inquest was re-opened on 24 October 1977 before a jury, where a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown was returned. That same afternoon, Janie’s remains were cremated in a private ceremony at Garston Crematorium, Watford, attended by Angela and John Darling, Roddy Kincaid-Weeks, and a small number of Janie’s close friends.

Of course, long before this – before even Janie’s body had been found, the man who police were convinced was her killer was already behind bars. David Lashley had been convicted at trial of the charges in the 1976 Chesterton Street attack, and had been sentenced to serve eighteen years in prison. Although a dangerous predator was off the streets, it needled Mooney and his team that their prime suspect had not also faced trial for Janie’s murder. There was no evidence, physical or forensic evidence to tie Lashley to Janie’s murder, but Mooney was convinced that he was the man responsible, so much so that Mooney shared his suspicions with John and Angela Darling, and made a promise to them that he would one day bring Janie’s killer to justice. He kept in regular touch with the couple for years, even long after his own retirement.

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Detective Chief Superintendent Mooney

During his imprisonment for the Chesterton Street attack, Lashley had caused no trouble for the authorities over the years, instead spending his time honing his powerful physique in the prison gym. Lashley could, and regularly did, power lift 700 pounds. As a result of being a “model prisoner”, Lashley had earned remission enough for him to be aware that he could be due for release by February 1989. However, by June 1988, and perhaps aware of this fact, Angela Darling had written to the Home Office requesting any fresh information about the now long unsolved murder. It spurred the Home Office to react, and Hertfordshire Police were subsequently served with a recommendation for a cold case review of the Janie Shepherd murder.

A review of every witness statement made in the 1977 investigation was undertaken, and witness who had made them were re-traced and re-interviewed. All agreed to testify in court should the need arise. When the review began, note was taken of Detective Chief Superintendent Mooney’s suspicions about the identity of Janie’s killer, and a serious look was taken at Lashley as the prime suspect. In June 1988 he was still a Category A prisoner, and detectives travelled to Frankland Prison in Durham to talk to prison staff whilst researching Lashley’s character. This visit was to be crucial in the case. Prison staff had made a written record of several conversations that Lashley had had with other prisoners, and the consistent theme throughout all of these – recorded over a number of years – was of his hatred for the police, and for white women. The extent of this hatred can be summed up in a remark Lashley had once said to another prisoner, when the pair were talking about being released:

“When I get out, there are two things I am going to do. First, I am going to get even with the police. Then, I am going to go on a rape and murder campaign against females. If you think Hungerford was bad, just wait and see when I’m free”

Top of his list was Detective Chief Superintendent Mooney and his family, who Lashley had promised to despatch with a machete.

Justice came for Lashley in an unusual way, as he was delivered to the police by another criminal serving time in prison. It testifies to the horrific character of David Lashley that a prisoner was prepared to “grass” on another to keep him from wreaking the havoc he so wanted to. Daniel Reece was a prisoner serving a long sentence for a variety of sexual and theft offences, and had worked with Lashley in the sawmill of a prison they were serving time in together. The two men had a shared interest in bodybuilding, and spent hours training together. Whilst reading a newspaper article about a black male who had received a long sentence for rape, Lashley had said to Reece:

“He should have killed her. If I had killed that bitch who put me in here like I did the other, I wouldn’t be here now”

In detail that was unknown to anybody except police and Janie’s killer himself, Lashley went on to describe the events of the night of Janie’s murder. He claimed to have watched “a nice looking blonde” go into a supermarket in Queensway, and had abducted her on her return to her car. He described the Mini in great detail, even down to the “FOR SALE” sign taped to the back window. Lashley went on to describe how he had forced her into the passenger seat after threatening her with a butchers knife, and mentioned how he had cut the roof of the car to demonstrate its sharpness. They then drove to a dark place in the Ladbroke Grove area of London, where he had ripped her clothes to shreds with the knife and brutally raped her. He told Reece that she had struggled and fought, but was no match for his physical power, and that he had taken great pleasure in forcing her to say how much she was enjoying the assault. The most chilling aspect of the conversation was yet to come, however. Lashley demonstrated to Reece how he had then killed the girl – by holding the back of her neck with his left hand, whilst pushing his giant fist into her throat. She had died after mere seconds. Lashley then re-dressed the body in the clothing found in the red bag, strapped the body into the passenger seat, driven out into the country and dumped the body in some bushes. He had leisurely eaten peanuts and smoked whilst driving. He then described driving back and leaving the car, then taking the groceries to eat but discarding them in gardens around the Elgin Crescent area.

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Daniel Reece at his wedding in Durham Prison in 1995

Taking this into account with Lashley’s comments about his plans upon release, Reece eventually decided to confide in a prison officer about what he had heard. He claimed it was for the safety of white women in the country, and that as evil a monster as Lashley should never be released from custody. When police received this report it was like electricity. Reece had described details that were unknown to the general public, and the pathologists report tallied exactly with Lashley’s account of the killing. It also explained why Janie’s body was dressed in her spare clothes. The files on the “Beast of Shepherd’s Bush” rapes were re-opened and the victims re-interviewed, leaving police more convinced than ever that Lashley was the killer. The similarity and pattern on all the attacks, as well as the Chesterton Street attack, were like a carbon copy of the offender profile of Janie’s killer. All were young white women, all attacked in cars and all were robbed and threatened with broken necks if they screamed. Lashley had been tracked down at the time by his car number plates, and had been separately identified at identification parades by each victim individually.

By November 1988, police were convinced they had enough evidence to prosecute Lashley and had decided to wait for his release in February 1989. But in January 1989, news was leaked to the press that the Janie Shepherd case was being re-opened, and that the prime suspect – a vicious rapist and attempted murderer – was due for imminent release from prison. Lashley had read this in the papers, and was convinced that Reece had “grassed”.  At 7:00am on Monday 7th February, Lashley walked towards the prison gates on the day of his release from the sentence for the Chesterton Street attack. He must have been resigned to his fate, for he said to a prison officer:

“The police are waiting for me, aren’t they?”

He was right. Detectives met him outside the gates and arrested him and charged him with the murder of Janie Shepherd. He had been free all of 30 seconds before he was on his way to St Albans police station. The arrest was widespread in the press, and by the time Lashley appeared for remand at St Albans Magistrate’s court on 10th February, police had gleaned further vital evidence against him. Prison officers at Parkhurst prison came forward to say that another prisoner, Robert Hodgson, had come forward to allege that Lashley had made a similar confession to him whilst both were in Wakefield Prison in 1981. Committal proceedings began at St Albans Magistrates Court in May 1981, and both Reece and Hodgson gave evidence as to what Lashley had told them. As a result of reporting restrictions being lifted, a third prisoner was to come forward stating that Lashley had confessed to the crime. He was committed for trial for Janie’s murder on 02 June 1989.

Lashley’s trial for the murder of Janie Shepherd began on Tuesday 7th February 1990 at St Alban’s Crown Court. He pleaded “not guilty” to the murder, and the trial was to last for three weeks. Chief witness for the prosecution was Daniel Reece, who gave an impressive and comprehensive account of the confession Lashley had told him. It was so detailed and authentic that it contained several details that had not been made public, but were known to investigating officers, and left a strong impression on the jury. There were other minor points of evidence, albeit circumstantial, against Lashley. Chewing gum packets of a type he used were found in the Mini, as well as branded cigarette butts that he smoked. Peanut shells matching those found in Janie Shepherd’s Mini had been found in Lashley’s Vauxhall Victor car. He was very familiar with Nomansland Common, having taken his stepson to play there on many occasions in the 1960’s. DNA technology had come so far by 1990 that semen groups could now be identified, and the semen found in the Mini tested positive for an “A” secretor. David Lashley was an “A” secretor.

Lashley strongly denied his guilt, but could not explain the circumstantial evidence and was no match for how powerful a witness Daniel Reece was. All he could do was offer the same alibi that he had given when first arrested and questioned about Janie’s murder in 1977. This was again corroborated by the woman he had visited Leicester with, and Lashley’s aunt. But ultimately, it was to do no good. On Monday 19th March 1990, a jury who had listened for three weeks to the appalling catalogue of evidence concerning Janie’s rape and murder took just two and a quarter hours to unanimously find David Lashley guilty of Janie Shepherd’s murder. The public gallery erupted in cheers, and Mr Justice Alliott had to call for order in the court to pass sentence. Lashley said nothing, but glared with unbridled hate at the judge, who sentenced Lashley to life imprisonment. Mr Justice Alliott chose his summing up carefully when passing sentence:

“The decision is such that whoever is responsible must have the utmost, careful regard before you are ever allowed your liberty again. In my view, you are such an appalling, dangerous man that the real issue is whether the authorities can ever allow you your liberty in your natural lifetime”

He was then escorted from the dock to begin his life sentence.

Throughout Lashley’s trial, Janie’s mother Angela Shepherd had bravely attended each day, and had even given evidence for the prosecution. Each day, she wore the “Woodstock” charm on a chain that had been found on Janie’s body, and was dignified and left triumphant that justice had finally been served for Janie. It is fitting to conclude with the words that Angela gave to reporters covering the trial after the guilty verdict and sentencing had been passed:

“Justice has been done. We have always prayed that this would happen. I’d do anything to spare other parents the traumas we have experienced. Anyone with a daughter can feel safer now”.

Lashley has never shown any signs of remorse, and continues to serve his life sentence to this day.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush – Part 1

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Janie Shepherd

Australian Janie Shepherd came from an affluent background. The daughter of prosperous, middle class Sydney couple Angela and Anthony Shepherd, for the first few years of her life Janie knew little but happiness and security. But the Shepherd family was to have to endure tragedy, beginning with the death of Janie’s father Anthony from a heart attack when Janie was just 11 years old. Some years later, her mother Angela remarried to a friend of the Shepherd family, wealthy merchant banker John Darling. Janie loved him dearly and John in return treated her like his own daughter. John was successful in business and managed to rise to the position of chairman of British Petroleum in Australia, meaning that the Shepherd family was to travel frequently throughout Europe. For stability, Janie was educated at a private boarding school which she enjoyed, being remembered as a happy, popular and studious pupil with plenty of admirers. Between terms, she enjoyed various holidays with her parents, and it was on one of these holidays in 1973 where she discovered the place she was to love, and to meet the love of her life at: London.

It was also London where the second major tragedy was to strike the Shepherd family, because in 1977 it was in London that Janie was murdered.

In 1977, 24 year old Janie enjoyed what was pretty much the perfect life. She had discovered a love for London whilst on holiday there, and had moved over in 1976 to live. She was attractive, outgoing and had lots of friends. A generous allowance from her stepfather gave her more than enough to live independently on, but Janie was a people person and chose to work, being employed at the Caelt Art Gallery, a small independent gallery in the bustling and culturally mixed area of Westbourne Grove, just off West London’s Notting Hill Gate. It was a job that she enjoyed thoroughly. Janie had not bought a flat of her own in London, instead living in a flat in St John’s Wood with her cousin Camilla and Camilla’s husband Alistair Simpson. This was only intended as a temporary measure, as she was planning to get a place together with the man she had fallen madly in love with, her boyfriend of over a year, merchant banker Roddy Kincaid-Weeks. The couple were very happy, were madly in love, and enjoyed spending lots of time together, and the weekend of the 4th to the 6th February 1977 was to be no different.

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The petrol station that Janie stopped to fill up her Mini

At 8:40pm on the night of Friday 4th February, Janie had planned to pick up a supper of smoked trout, celery and cheese for the pair on her way over to Roddy’s flat, 3 miles away in the Knightbridge area of Lennox Gardens. They were due to spend the weekend together, and Roddy was expecting her for about 9:00pm, but when she hadn’t arrived by 9:30pm he became concerned. Although Friday night traffic in the West London area was severe at the best of times, it should not have taken her so long. His concern turned to worry when at 9:30pm he telephoned  Camilla and Alistair Simpson to see if Janie had left the flat, only to be told that she had left nearly an hour before. He rang back thirty minutes later, and thirty minutes after that, but there was still no word from Janie. Both Roddy and the Simpsons subsequently rang hospitals in the local area to see if a woman matching Janie’s description had been admitted after an accident, but this proved negative. Finally, at 3:15am Janie was reported as a missing person by both Alistair Simpson and Roddy Kincaid-Weeks to St John’s Wood and Chelsea police stations, respectively.

Police realised near enough instantly that Janie was not the type of person to disappear deliberately – she was happy, stable and very in love with her boyfriend. She had no money worries, and there was no question of her being involved in any illegal or immoral activity. It was quite probable, almost from the off, that Janie had come to some harm.  What police were aware of, and were increasingly concerned about, was the possibility that Janie had been kidnapped. They knew that she was from a very wealthy family, and the possibility loomed large that someone, knowing Janie’s family would pay any ransom to get their daughter back, had snatched her and was holding her for ransom.  Bearing this in mind, the search for her got underway and a detailed description of Janie was circulated, down to the clothing and jewellery she was wearing, the possessions she was carrying, and the details of her car.

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The missing person’s poster distributed by police investigating the disappearance of Janie Shepherd.

When she left the flat she shared with Camilla and Alistair, Janie had been wearing jeans and brown Cossack style boots, a dark polo neck sweater with a man’s check shirt over it, and a white cardigan with a reindeer motif on it. She had several items of jewellery, including a large gold bangle, a Russian wedding style ring, and a Gucci wristwatch on a grey leather strap. Around her neck was a thin gold chain, containing a gold charm of the character “Woodstock” from the Charlie Brown cartoon strip. Her handbag contained about £40 in cash, a tapestry that she had been working on, several balls of wool and knitting needles, clean underwear and a change of clothing, consisting of a black sweater with a bright red polo neck, and bright green cuffs. Nothing that would suggest she was going to do anything other than spend a quiet relaxing weekend with her boyfriend.

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A mannequin displays a replica of the clothes Janie was wearing when she was last seen.

Janie’s car was a blue mini with the registration number KGM 300P that she was in the process of trying to sell, so it was clean and shiny inside and out at the time of her disappearance, and had a FOR SALE sign taped to the rear window. A description of Janie and her car was circulated within the hour of her being reported missing, and a check of the Police National Computer was undertaken to ascertain if the Mini had been spotted  anywhere, had been stolen, or had been involved in an accident. But nothing showed up.

After a harrowing three days, with Janie’s loved ones waiting anxiously for any news, there was an ominous breakthrough on Tuesday 8th February 1977. Four days after Janie had last been seen, her Mini was found parked in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill Gate – but there was no sign of Janie with it. This discovery strengthened the fears of investigators that Janie had come to harm, indeed, may never be seen alive again. The car was parked illegally on double yellow lines, and had had two parking tickets posted on it, one dated Monday 7th February at 11:45 am; and one from 12:00 pm the day it was discovered. The state of the car was a far cry from the clean and polished state Janie had set off in it in – it was filthy dirty and had mud spattered all over the bodywork. The interior of the car was in a dishevelled state, and chillingly, two parallel slash marks that had obviously been caused with a large weapon had been made in the sun roof. There were also traces of semen found in the car, cigarette butts, and interestingly, peanut shells. In the back footwell, Janie’s boots and red shoulder bag lay on the floor – but the contents of the bag were nowhere to be found, apart from two receipts – that were to give police their first clue.

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Janie’s car as it was discovered in Elgin Crescent.

One was from the Europa Foods supermarket in Queensway, where Janie had bought the supper intended for her and Roddy. More importantly, the other was from a self service petrol station in Bayswater – which showed that Janie had topped up the 7 gallon petrol tank of the Mini with three gallons of petrol on the night that she disappeared. From this, and by examining the remaining contents of the Mini’s fuel tank, police were able to estimate that the Mini could have travelled up to 75 miles between Janie filling it on the Friday, and its discovery on the Tuesday. But this left police a massive area to search, because it took in several different counties with no sure way of choosing the correct area to begin to search.

But it was a start, and with the investigation being spearheaded by Detective Chief Superintendent Henry Mooney – famous for being the man responsible for the arrest and conviction of the Kray twins – the police enquiry got underway, beginning with a police search starting from that spot. Police officers soon found the groceries Janie had bought that Friday evening discarded in various back gardens in the area nearby to where the Mini was found, which spurred their search further. Helicopters utilising infra red cameras scoured the area looking for Janie, and for the first time in British criminal history, specially trained cadaver dogs were brought in to try and find a body. A direct appeal was made to the public, and posters were distributed showing the now canonical picture of Janie Shepherd, and a picture of the Mini as it had been found in Elgin Crescent.

By Wednesday 9th February, Janie’s mother and stepfather had arrived in London. Both were distraught and willing to assist officers in whatever way that they could. They were able and of course only willing to pay any ransom demand should one arrive from someone who had kidnapped Janie, but all the while dreading more and more that the unthinkable had happened. When no ransom demand had arrived as more and more days passed, the Darlings decided to help in the search themselves. For the next month or so, 65 days in total, each day the Darlings left the flat in the St James area of West London they were staying in, and took themselves off to remote areas in parts of the country that the Mini could have theoretically visited. They explored remote copses, lonely lanes, and hedgerows all over the different neighbouring counties searching for any clue as to the whereabouts of Janie – but they never found her.

Police theorised that whoever had abducted Janie was not a first time offender – this was a practised attack that had been refined over time, and as the car was found only a few streets away from where Janie was last seen, they worked on the theory that the offender was local to, or had good local knowledge of the Notting Hill area. A check on all local sex offenders was performed – and although this was to lead to at least 18 other crimes being detected and solved – it did not instantly lead police to Janie’s abductor. But a further search of unsolved attacks in similar circumstances to Janie’s disappearance did, however, lead to an ominous precursor.

In June 1976, there had been a horrific attack, again on a young woman and again in a car, in Chesterton Street, Kensington. This was a mere half mile from the street where Janie’s car had been found abandoned. In the June 1976 attack, the victim was similar in description to Janie, a young, blonde white woman. The victim had driven home from her boyfriends flat quite late at night, and had just parked up when a black male approached the vehicle, knocked on the driver’s door window and asked her what time it was. As she was glancing at her watch to tell him, he wrenched open the driver’s door, pushed her into the passenger seat and, holding the terrified woman at knifepoint, drove to a railway arch in a nearby back street. Here she was subjected to a horrific, brutal two hour catalogue of rape. Midway through the assault, a woman walked past the vehicle pushing a baby in a pram. To dissuade the victim from calling out for help, the attacker said menacingly:

“Don’t think about shouting for help. I’ll kill you and then I’ll kill that woman and her baby.”

Before fleeing, after claiming that he “hated all white bitches”, the attacker viciously slashed the victim’s left wrist, almost severing her hand. He then ran off into the night. With blood pumping out of the wound, the victim somehow managed to drive home. She was found collapsed on her doorstep by a neighbour, and rushed to hospital, where a blood transfusion was to save her life. Doctors who saved her life claimed that she had lost so much blood that she was mere minutes from death, and that they believed the knife attack was deliberately intended to kill her. Police agreed. When the victim had recovered sufficiently enough to tell police what had happened, she described the rapist as being a powerfully built black male, in his mid 30’s, with a noticeable scar on his face. He had smoked during the assault, and had at several times professed his hatred of white women. He had also forced the victim to profess her enjoyment whilst assaulting her.

It seemed to DCS Mooney that this could have been a carbon copy of what had happened to Janie, a theory strengthened by the fact that the June 1976 attack had so far remained unsolved. He and his team were sure that this attack and Janie’s disappearance were linked, and set about looking at known offenders who could fit the pattern. One name jumped out at the investigators almost immediately, due to his crimes and the modus operandi used in them, making him a strong suspect in both crimes. In 1970, a man had been sentenced to twelve years imprisonment for a series of horrific knifepoint attacks and rapes in the Shepherd’s Bush area of London. The tabloids had christened the attacker, “The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush”, and in four out of the five cases the man had been charged with, the victims had been young white women attacked at knifepoint in their own cars. He had been paroled early in 1976 after coming to the aid of a prison warder during a prison riot.

The man’s name was David Lashley.

 

To be continued

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Hull Arsonist (Part 2)

Bruce Lee seemingly couldn’t stop talking once he had admitted his shocking claim, and what he had to say was almost unbelieveable. To admit to such an amount of damage and a love of fire would be shocking enough. But worse, Lee admitted that nine of his previous fires over the years had caused fatalities, 26 fatalities in total when the victims from each were tallied. Unfazed by what he was recounting, Lee began to set out his accounts of the many fires and deaths he had caused. Apart from the Hastie fire, none of the other fires that Lee confessed to setting had been classed as arson at the time. They were all thought to have been accidental.

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Inset: Bruce George Peter Lee, and main picture: the scene of one of Lee’s fires.

The first fire set by Lee that was to lead to a fatality was on the 23rd June 1973, when six year old Richard Ellington was suffocated after being overcome by smoke inhalation after Lee had set fire to his family home on Askew Avenue, Hull. Lee knew the boy – he attended the same special school as Lee and they would often be on the same school bus. The cause at the time was thought to have been a faulty gas meter. Lee was to say of this murder:

“When we stopped in bus next morning, they said he’s died in a fire during night. I just sat on bus quiet looking out a window and said nowt…I’ve kept it secret from everybody for years.”

72 year old Bernard Smythe was the next to die, dying in his armchair at home on Glasgow Street on 12th October 1973. A recluse who suffered from gangrene in both legs, Mr Smythe was thought to have knocked over a paraffin heater in his sleep – whereas Lee had in reality squirted paraffin throughout his front room and ignited it. Lee had been walking the streets all night and when he felt the familiar tingling in his fingers, entered Mr Smythe’s house through a broken window. He then set the fire and left through the front door – leaving Mr Smythe to burn to death agonisingly.

Just over two weeks later on 27th October 1973, 34 year old David Brewer was burned alive after Lee set fire to his house on Madeley Street. Again it was thought to have been a paraffin heater knocked over, but Lee was to confess his guilt by giving an example that showed his malicious streak. He had rowed with Brewer some days previously over some pigeons, with Brewer threatening to give Lee “a clout”. Seething about this,  Lee broke into his home late at night and finding Brewer asleep in his armchair, poured paraffin on him and around the room and ignited it. Brewer caught fire and rushed outside screaming, but despite the efforts of neighbours who came to his aid, Brewer died in agony nine days later in hospital.

“He clipped my ear – and he shouldn’t have done that” claimed Lee. Some days later, Lee returned to the house and wrung the necks of every one of Brewer’s pigeons.

It was more than a year later when one of Lee’s fires caused its next fatality. An frail partially blind 82 year old woman, Elizabeth Rokahr, died in a house fire on Rosamund Street, the cause of which was thought to have been her falling asleep whilst smoking in bed. Lee was to say when describing the fire, in an example of his indifference to life:

“I did see someone lying in a bed, but I didn’t know if it was a man or a woman. I didn’t wake ’em up to ask, did I?”

He admitted that he had entered Mrs Rokahr’s house through the unlocked backdoor – kept open for the old lady’s cat to come and go.

The next death was on 3rd June 1976, when 1 year old Andrew Edwards died from smoke inhalation after Lee had set fire to his home on Orchard Park. Andrew’s great grandmother – who was looking after the children that evening – managed to get Andrew’s two siblings to safety but was unable to save him. The elder sibling was later blamed for starting the fire accidentally. Lee followed this death by claiming another child as a victim, setting a fire in the home of the Thacker family on West Dock Avenue on 2nd January 1977. Six month old Katrina Thacker was asleep in her cot in the living room of the family home and her mother and siblings were upstairs. Lee entered the home (it transpired later that he knew the family and had again rowed with them some weeks previously) and started a fire, again using paraffin, in the front room. The cause was thought to have been “shedded sparks” from unburnt fuel in the open fireplace. Three years later, Lee was to prove this theory wrong:

“I just went in through a window one evening. I sprinkled paraffin on some carpet and the couch. The living room, I think it was, and up it went. The little baby died in it and I killed her.”

Lee’s worst fire followed just three days later, on 5th January 1977. Wensley Lodge Residential Home was a council run premises that accommodated elderly men of various ages and of various physical and mental ability. Lee claimed that he had cycled the three miles to the area to ” to just come along here to do a big house, just ride along, any house” and had painstakingly held a can of paraffin on the handlebars of his bicycle as he pedalled. He then claimed he had chosen the big house as it was “nice and quiet”, kicked a window in and started a fire in the bedroom of one of the residents, then left and went to watch the fire from outside. An orderly noticed smoke coming from a first floor corridor and raised the alarm, but the fire spread through the first and second floors, trapping many. Killed in the fire were as follows:

Harold Akester, 95; Victor Consitt, 83; Benjamin Phillips, 83; Arthur Ellwood, 82; William Hoult, 82; William Carter, 80; Percy Sanderson, 77; John Riby, 75; William Beales, 73; Leonard Dennett, 73; Arthur Hardy, 65

Strangely, the cause for this fire was blamed on a blowtorch that a plumber had been using earlier that day in a bedroom directly underneath the room where the fire was found to have started. Experts found no faults with any of the plumber’s equipment and the plumber himself denied any negligence – yet was still blamed. It was only when Lee confessed three years later was the possibility of arson raised. Again, whilst confesing to this fire Lee showed his indifference to human life:

“I could hear like old blokes shouting. Don’t ask me how I know’d they was old blokes, but they was not women and babies. I heard a man’s voice shouting ‘God help me’. It was bloody terrible.  I knew that the fire was killing people. I knew as I walked along blokes was dying in the fire. I’d killed people before in my fires so I wasn’t that bothered like.”

Lee next killed two people in a fire on 27th April 1977, a 7 year old boy named Mark Jordan and a 13 year old disabled girl called Deborah Harper. He squirted paraffin through the letterbox of the house on Belgrave Terrace, igniting a blaze in the living room. Out of 7 people in the house that evening, three adults and four children, five of them managed to make it out to safety. Brave Mark had gone back in in an attempt to help Deborah escape, but both had tragically been overcome by smoke fumes and died. Mark was later recommended for a posthumous bravery award. The cause of this fire was thought to have been one of the adults smoking and falling asleep, but again there was little evidence to support this theory.

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Lee as a teenager, and right, the scene of the Brentwood Villas fire

Brentwood Villas, Reynoldson Street was the next scene of horror, on 6th January 1978. 24 year old Christine Dixon was talking to a neighbour outside when she noticed smoke and flames coming from an upstairs window. Inside were her ill husband and four sons. Christine instinctively ran in to save her family, but only Christine’s husband managed to escape, along with their baby son. Christine was killed in the fire, along with her sons Mark, 5; Steven,4; and Michael, 16 months. The inquest later was to suspect that the elder boys had started the fire themselves with matches and lighter fluid, but this was strongly denied by Mr Dixon.  In his favoured method, Lee had squirted paraffin through the letter box and then set matches to ignite it. He was to claim:

“I had to go to the Bible after that one”

Christine was awarded a posthumous award for bravery, and the baby she had saved was raised by her mother. Lee had wiped out an entire family for the simple reason that he had:

“Tingling in me fingers and a fire in me head”

Following this, Lee’s next fatal fire was his last, which claimed the life of the Hastie children.

Sagar and his team decided to test Lee’s claims. They considered the possibility that Lee may have been a fantasist, but although Lee could not be specific in many dates and times of his fires, he knew exactly where each one had been. A check of his story revealed that there had indeed been fires in the locations he had described. They decided to take him around Hull in a police car, asking him to take them to the locations that he described without any prompting. He could do this each time, and to test how much truth Lee was telling, he was taken to a location where there had been a fire but someone else had already confessed to and been convicted of it. Lee vehemously denied ever setting a fire at the location. Sagar and his team knew then that Lee was indeed telling the truth, and in October 1980 he was charged with twenty six counts of murder, various counts of arson, and two counts of grievous bodily harm in the case of the Fenton fire. Lee was reportedly happy with this, and even when a solicitor advised him to recant his confessions, Lee refused to do so, instead dictating a statement where he again accepted all responsibility for the fires.

After psychiatrists had examined Lee and determined that although he was a pyromaniac, he was fit to plead and he stood trial in Leeds Crown Court in January 1981. Lee pleaded not guilty to 26 charges of murder, but pleaded guilty to 26 counts of manslaughter, 11 counts of arson and the counts of GBH that he was charged with. This was accepted by the crown, with Mr Justice Tudor Evans stating that Lee was “a psychopath and an immediate danger to the public”, and he was ordered to be detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act. He was taken first to Liverpool’s Park Lane Special Hospital, but was then later transferred to Rampton Secure Hospital. He remains incarcerated to this day.

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Lee revels in his notoriety after being sentenced

Following Lee’s conviction, articles in the Sunday Times newspaper raised questions about the validity of some of his claims, even though he had fully admitted his culpability in a convincing manner. It was suggested that police had used Lee’s low intelligence against him and coerced him into confessing to crimes that, because of his disabilities, he could not have had the mobility to have committed. It was also suggested that police had falsified witness statements, something that Ronald Sagar strongly denied and actually successfully sued the Sunday Times newspaper for libel for. The Wensley Lodge fire, in which eleven people had died, was however, concluded to have been accidental following a public enquiry in 1983. Lee’s 11 convictions for manslaughter in this case were quashed as a result – yet he has never ceased to accept his responsibility for the fire.

Following the result of this public enquiry, the question was raised – how much reliance could be given to Lee’s confessions? Apart from the forensic evidence that supported his confession to the Hastie fire, there was little physical evidence apart from Lee’s confessions in each remaining case, and although he was convincing in his accounts of the fires, there were no witnesses who could place him at the scene at the time. There was also the fact that although Lee had used paraffin in all of his fires, only the Hastie fire was suspected from the start as arson. Lee was not a sophisticated arsonist, he would just simple squirt paraffin around and light it. Would experienced fire investigators have missed evidence of arson in each case, it was argued? Yet this may be harsh criticism. The areas in which Lee set his fires were poor areas, where open fires were still commonplace in houses. Smoke alarms were nowhere as commonplace as they are nowadays, and the furniture in said households was often made from cheap, highly flammable material. As a result, house fires were quite common, and it is easy to see how Lee was able to hide his crimes, albeit with some luck also.

It was not in doubt that Lee was a pyromaniac, indeed, he told Ronald Sagar initially just how devoted he was. He loved fires and if there was a fire burning somewhere, Lee would inevitably be there as an onlooker. It is therefore possible that Lee could have learned the dates and locations of the fires he confessed to (which he was indeed vague about the date and chronology of) and elaborated an account of how he caused them. Was it all attention seeking, and Lee did not necessarily set the fires that he confessed to? Yet, even when his defence team appealed against his convictions, Lee remained adamant that he had been the cause of every fire he confessed to, claims which he adheres to to this day. There has always been a lack of publicity concerning this case, perhaps because the convictions were for manslaughter rather than murder; perhaps of Lee’s relative youth and mental health at the time of his conviction; and perhaps that not only was his trial short due to his guilty plea, but because it was overshadowed by the arrest of the Yorkshire Ripper in the same month. Perhaps because of this, Lee is often overlooked in a list of Britain’s most prolific killers.

What then, were Lee’s motives? It can be argued that they were mixed. On  one hand, Lee set fires purely because of his love and fascination for them, and the fact that anyone died in the fires was immaterial – Lee wouldn’t have cared if anyone was in the buildings or not. Yet on the other hand, the victims who died in the fires were all unable to flee – either because they were asleep, infirm or disabled, or physically unable to due to age. Lee had also had clashes with a number of the victims – were they perhaps targeted as a result of a grudge, and had Lee targeted people who he classed as victims like himself? Lee was to admit to Ronald Sagar that he hated people and that “fire is my master”, and that he especially hated people who had a home – because he claimed he had never really had one. Speculation aside, it remains that for whatever reason, Lee confessed to many fires and was almost proud of his handiwork. He evolved as an offender and is a rarity amongst most serial arsonists in that he would actually enter the structure he was setting fire to to set the fire. From carrying a can of petrol around, he evolved and refined his favoured choice of accelerant to paraffin, making sure he was able to carry it around in a container that was easily concealable and safer to himself to use as an accelerant. His favoured method was to create a pool of paraffin, then leave a trail leading away from it and to then make a smaller pool – giving himself time to light it, then get to safety and to be able to observe his handiwork. He was able to avoid detection and suspicion in each case, and although he was considered by people as being an odd loner, tragically he was never considered by anyone as being potentially dangerous. Ronald Sagar was to write a critically acclaimed book about the case upon his retirement, Hull, Hell and Fire, and echoed this:

“He wasn’t seen, because he was a pathetic, insignificant man. It was a dreadful state of affairs. I didn’t show him sympathy, but I feel sorry for him as a human being. Sorry that in this day and age you could have a youngster who no-one cared for, who could be in such a terrible state.”

Lee’s is a name that rarely appears in the press, only appearing twice of note in the years since his incarceration. In 2005 it was reported that he had been allowed to marry another patient in Rampton Hospital, Anne-Marie Davis. He had met her at a disco organised for the residents, and they had developed a relationship of sorts. This news caused uproar amongst the families of Lee’s victims, but they were somewhat appeased when authorities swiftly pointed out that inmates, whilst allowed to marry, are not allowed to consummate their union.

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Lee is pictured on a day release in 2016

What caused arguably more uproar was the report in local and UK national press in July 2016 that Lee had been allowed out on day release, albeit supervised, into the community surrounding the lower security facility in the Home Counties that he had been moved to  in 1996. The Sunday Mirror newspaper reported that Lee had been seen repeatedly out in the community on day release, laughing and joking with staff. His face was pixellated to retain his anonymity, and the picture is reproduced above:

Ronald Sagar, who died a few years ago now, was to say of Lee that he wished one day that he may be freed and allowed to rejoin society, to make good on the pre-trial promise that Lee made him of:

“I’ll never set fire to another house as long as i live”

But it is unlikely Lee will ever be released  to put this to the test. He is now in his 36th year of incarceration, having spent nearly his entire adult life in a secure institution. He is arguably institutionalized now, and there is also the small matter of the magnitude of his monstrous crimes and the feeling that they still provoke to this day. The areas in which Lee started his fires were poor areas of Hull, but strong community spirited areas – and people have never forgotten the horrors that Lee inflicted, unnoticed, during his years of terror. Rosamund Fenton, who was severely injured and suffered a miscarriage in one of Lee’s fires, summed up the feeling when discussing Lee potentially being released:

“I still suffer flashbacks of that night, he ruined me, ruined me for my daughter. She couldn’t even look at me and wouldn’t let me touch her, claiming “You’re not my mummy, where’s my mummy” because i looked so badly burnt. ‘The police always said we’d be kept informed of what was happening with him at every stage, but we’ve heard nothing about this. He’s a danger to society. The thought of him walking about near kids sickens me.

He should never be allowed out”
It remains to be seen whether Lee will, or will not, ever be considered safe to be released.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Hull Arsonist (Part 1)

The name of Peter Sutcliffe will almost be a household name amongst those with an interest in crime and the macabre, and there will be scant few who do not know of the terror that the “Yorkshire Ripper” brought to the North of England during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. When he was finally caught – just two days into the new -year in January 1981, his arrest brought to an end one of the most high profile, horrific and prolific killing sprees in British criminal history. Coverage of Sutcliffe’s arrest, and revelations about his life and confessions dominated the British press at the time – and because they so dominated, another killer who was put away for his crimes just 18 days after Sutcliffe’s arrest went largely un-noticed. It is a worthy case to recount, for the person in question is one of the most unique figures in British criminal history, is arguably as prolific a killer as Sutcliffe, and he too, struck in Yorkshire.

“A FAMILY OF FUCKING RUBBISH, WE ALL HATE YOU. YOU SHOULD ALL LIVE ON AN ISLAND (DEVIL’S ISLAND). BUT IM NOT KIDDING BUT I PROMISED YOU A BOMB AND BY HELL I’M NOT KIDDING. WHY DON’T YOU JUST FLIT WHILE YOU’VE GOT THE CHANCE. IF WE CANT GET YOU OUT NORMALLY THEN WE’LL BASTARD WELL BOMB YOU OUT, AND THAT’S TOO GOOD FOR YOU”

The above missive was a warning scrawled on a piece of cardboard taken from a Cornflakes packet, and it summed up how by 1979, the name “Hastie” was infamous to the residents of Selby Street, in Hull, East Yorkshire. The Hastie family lived at no 12 Selby Street, and consisted of parents Tommy and Edith Hastie, and their seven children – four sons and three daughters. Tommy Hastie was a habitual criminal with a long criminal record, and the entire Hastie family seemed destined to follow in his footsteps, being involved in vandalism and theft and having many run ins with the neighbours throughout the 1970’s. They were commonly known as a “problem family” throughout the local area and were feared and detested in equal measure, as is evident by the anonymous missive that was received by the family in late November 1979. By the beginning of December 1979, Tommy Hastie was in the midst of serving his latest prison sentence for burglary of a local sports club, so Edith and the rest of the Hastie’s were home alone.

On the night of 04 December 1979 all of the Hastie daughters were staying with nearby relatives, leaving just Edith and the four boys – Charlie aged 15; Paul aged 12; Thomas aged 9, and Peter aged 8. It was just approaching midnight and the entire Hastie family were asleep, when someone crept up to the house, poured paraffin over the porch and through the letterbox, and set it alight.

The house was soon an inferno, and although Edith and Thomas Hastie managed to get out to safety, the fire was ultimately to claim the lives of Charlie, Paul and Peter Hastie. All three suffered horrific burns over 75-80 percent of their bodies in the fire, and were all to die over the following few days in the burns unit of Wakefield’s Pinderfields Hospital. Police were summoned when fire service investigators at the scene were able to determine almost instantly that the fire had not been an accident. There were spent matches found on the porch, and an overwhelming smell of paraffin, as well as a pool of paraffin nearby where someone had set a can down. But the resulting murder investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Ronald Sagar, faced an uphill battle from the start. The Hastie family were hated and feared by all in the area, and there seemed to be no shortage of suspects as to who could have wished them harm. Sagar was to comment at the time:

“Never before have I encountered such hatred and dislike for a family”

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12 Selby Street, scene of the Hastie fire

Police focused at first upon the theory that the author of the “devil’s island” note had made good on their threat against the family, and as a result handwriting samples were taken from hundreds of people living in the area. A match was quickly found, but the author was ultimately ruled out. It transpired that the author was a frail old lady who had been constantly terrorised and had property damaged by the Hastie boys. She was a churchgoer, and thought that writing a letter filled with swear words “would be the only type of language they would understand”. She had used cardboard from a Cornflakes packet to save on the cost of a stamp.

The funeral of the Hastie children took place on 4th January 1980, with a procession led down Selby Street. There were many onlookers to the procession, but a distinct lack of mourners and a very apparent lack of sympathy, believing that however extreme, the family had only got what had been deserved. Local television cameras were there to capture the moment when a hysterical Edith Hastie was to shout to the crowd:

“Which one of you fucking murdering bastards did this? It was one of you!”

Six months later, police enquiries had drawn a blank. Almost every different theory and line of enquiry possible had been explored and ruled out, including the theory that Edith or one of the Hastie daughters themselves had started the fire, and the possibility that the real target of the fire was the next door house – which was a known drug den. Ron Sagar and his team were under pressure – the enquiry was going nowhere and manpower needed to be redirected, and after six months the enquiry team were left with just one unexplored line of enquiry. Enquiries about the Hastie boys had revealed rumours that the eldest boy, Charlie, was involved in the local “rent boy” scene, and was said to behave indecently with local homosexual men for money  – perhaps the reason behind the horrific fire stemmed from this?

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Charlie Hastie

Local homosexuals were questioned in an attempt to establish the truth of these rumours, and in June 1980, a local 19 year old labourer who was questioned named Bruce Lee confirmed that not only did he know Charlie Hastie, but he had indeed been involved in “indecent sexual behaviour” with him. When pressed as to what this meant, Lee retorted “you know, mucking about, wanking and that”. Lee was not charged with any offence stemming from these revelations, and was released. After learning that the rumours about Charlie Hastie were true and he was indeed involved in the “rent boy” scene, Sagar decided to adopt a different tack: he decided to bring in known homosexuals for questioning, and accuse each in turn of setting the Selby Street fire, hoping that the real killer would break down and confess. This was a desperate strategy, but it was all that Sagar had left that he could do.

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Bruce George Peter Lee

The nineteenth such of these interviewees that police questioned was Bruce Lee, and Sagar said to him:

“Bruce, I’ll be quite blunt with you. I think that you started that fire at the Hastie family’s house, and that indecency with Charlie is probably the cause of it all somehow”

To Sagar’s surprise, Lee replied:

“I didn’t mean to kill them”

It transpired that Lee knew the Hastie family well, and he claimed that the fire was set “to teach Charlie a lesson”. Charlie, Lee claimed, had been threatening him and extorting money from him after the pair had indulged in mutual masturbation, with Charlie threatening to go to the police because he was after all a minor. Lee also claimed he felt a grudge against the family because he had constantly asked 16 year old Angie Hastie to be his girlfriend – and had been mocked and refused each time. In fact, he was constantly mocked and ridiculed by the Hastie family as a favourite target for bullying.

On 04 December 1979, Lee claimed he had gone to the Hastie house late at night, watching first from the shadows created by the opposite motorway flyover “for a good time until it went real quiet”. He described in detail approaching the door and pouring paraffin through the letterbox, then struggling to light the fire with matches. On the third attempt, he managed to ignite a newspaper and pushed it through the letterbox, then retreated back to the shadows he had been watching from to watch his handiwork. Lee was able to give investigators such correct intimate detail of the scene of the fire, and how it had been ignited, that there was little doubt he was responsible for the fire –  only the arsonist and the investigators themselves knew the exact forensics.

What kind of person, and what must occur in a life to set a person on the road to committing such heinous actions? It suggests a disturbed mind, unhappiness, anger and bitterness at the world, and someone with a very poor and sad life in general. Bruce Lee had all of these. He was born Peter George Dinsdale in Manchester on 31st July 1960, the unwanted child of a prostitute named Doreen and a father that the child never was to meet. Doreen had little if no love for the child, cruelly referring to him as “the freak” because young Peter had been born with epilepsy, a deformed right arm and congenital spastic hemiplegia in his right limbs. Between the ages of six months old and three years old, young Peter was cared for by his maternal grandmother as his mother didn’t want him around.  Even his grandmother tired of him by this time, and the boy spent the rest of his childhood living periodically in various care homes, periodically back with his mother and her common law husband, who Dinsdale got on reasonably well with. He attended a special school until he was 16, but suffered with what are now classed as learning difficulties and left school with no qualifications and an IQ measuring just 68. He was sporadically employed after leaving school, working such menial roles as labouring, assisting at the local Speedway track and at the gate for Hull Kingston Rovers on match days, and at a local pig farm. Co workers at the establishments Lee was employed at remember him as a sad character, quiet and unassuming and often mocked by those who knew him. Yet he never used to stand up for himself, he would just say nothing.

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Peter Dinsdale in his teens

As a result of such a chaotic and sad life, Dinsdale was often penniless, poorly clothed, and had few friends. It was whilst living in the various care homes that he was introduced to homosexuality, which he would partake in, and became involved in the local rent boy scene – where he met Charlie Hastie amongst others. He would often have to resort to sleeping with men just to earn money to eat, but it is possible that this was also as a need for affection in whatever form he could get it. Perhaps what sums up what a tragic figure Lee had become due to his haphazard life was the fact that he was known by all who knew him as “Daft Peter”, and was considered by all who knew him as an odd loner. Odd, but not dangerous. Perhaps in what was an attempt to overcome this and to transform himself, by age 19 he changed his name legally by deed poll to Bruce George Peter Lee, in adoration of the kung-fu star that he idolized. But this was after all, just a name change. He was still the same mocked and ridiculed youth, even with a “tough guy” name, and the impression he gave to people didn’t change. Ronald Sagar was to describe his first impressions of Lee as follows:

“He was…..not a normal young man, he was deformed, his right arm and right leg were deformed, he had a limp, he had a habit of holding his right arm across his chest. He was poorly dressed, he was clearly undernourished, and on first impressions one had to feel sorry for him”

Lee admitted to the detective that he had started hundreds of fires over the years, and that his first fire had been in 1969 when he was aged just 9. He had burnt a shopping centre to the ground, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. He enjoyed the thrill of setting fires, and explained that he favoured paraffin as an accelerant. He would break into premises, or sometimes just squirt paraffin through any gaps or letterboxes he could find. He would then strike a match and retreat to watch his handiwork. He claimed that he would travel around, either on foot or by pushbike, always armed with a washing up liquid bottle of paraffin, and would set fires “when I began to feel a tingling in my fingers”. Lee was able to hide in plain sight amongst the confusion of his fires, and enjoyed being in the crowds of onlookers, watching the emergency services dealing with the destruction he had caused. He admitted to Sagar:

“I like fires I do. I like fires. Fire is my master. I am devoted to fire and despise people”

Following his confession to being responsible for the Hastie fire, Lee was charged with three counts of murder and a count of arson, and remanded to Hull prison awaiting trial. That may have been the end of the investigation, but when the local papers reported that a person had been arrested for the Hastie fire murders, and a picture of Bruce Lee published, it opened a new chapter – and the floodgates.

On the night of 21st June 1979, nearly six months before the Hastie fire, Rosabell Fenton was preparing for bed when she saw a figure of a man stood by her front door. The figure moved away when he became aware that he had been seen. She was convinced it was “Daft Peter”, who she knew and had shouted at earlier that day as he was loitering on her porch acting suspiciously. Thinking no more about it, Rosabell went to bed but was awakened shortly later by neighbours shouting “FIRE”, as her house was ablaze. Rosabell immediately went to the bedroom of her 7 year old daughter to try to get her out to safety, but the fire was too fierce and both mother and daughter had to take shelter in the corner of the sitting room. They were eventually rescued in time, but both Rosabell and her daughter were badly injured in this fire. Rosabell was heavily pregnant at the time, and sadly suffered a miscarriage. She also had to spend eleven months recovering in hospital and had to have plastic surgery. The cause of the fire at the time was blamed on a discarded cigarette dropped by a neighbour who had left the house shortly before Rosabell had gone to bed – but Rosabell remained convinced that this was wrong and that the fire had been deliberately set. More so, she was convinced that it had been set by “Daft Peter”. It was only a year later when a picture of “Bruce Lee” appeared in the local press following developments in the Selby Street fire did she recognise both him and “Daft Peter” as being the same person, and voiced her suspicions to the police.

Detective Sagar visited Lee whilst he was on remand to question him about this fire, and when this was put to him, Lee readily confessed to breaking into the house and setting this fire also, saying:

“I just did it. Someone I knew didn’t like her and, well, I just did it”

Knowing that he was already dealing with a self confessed pyromaniac, Sagar pressed Lee further, asking Lee if there was the possibility that any of the other fires that he had started in the past may have caused injury – or worse, even death. Sagar wasn’t expecting any confessions, but what Lee had to say chilled Sagar to the bone and was the start of a tale so shocking that it was to eventually lead to the name Bruce George Peter Lee being ranked in the Guinness Book of Records as one of Britain’s worst ever multiple killers. Pausing for a long time, Lee replied:

“Yes, you are right. I killed a little baby once”

To be continued.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast