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The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush – Part 1

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Book Review – “Injured Parties: Solving The Murder Of Dr Helen Davidson”


Recently I was in touch with crime author Monica Weller after reading an article about her in the national press about the project she had undertaken, writing a book about a 50 year old still unsolved murder. The case itself is not widely known in the annals of unsolved British crimes, it is not a cause celebre such as the Wallace case of the 1930’s, or the Hammersmith Nudes murders of the 1960’s. It is a brutal murder of a middle aged and widely respected general practitioner, Dr Helen Davidson, in woodland near her Buckinghamshire home in late 1966. The article caught my eye as Dr Davidson was battered to death and mutilated whilst out walking her dog, and it is a case that I was aware of and had given consideration to (and ultimately discounted) as being possibly connected with the series of Dog walker killings covered in the articles featured on TTCE a few months back. Nevertheless, it caught my interest and as any book about a relatively unknown UK murder will do this, I contacted Monica via Twitter and asked if I could have a copy for reading and review purposes. I found her very approachable and she readily agreed to this, with a copy being sent to me extremely promptly.

“Injured Parties: Solving The Murder Of Dr Helen Davidson” tells the story of the brutal murder of General Practitioner Dr Helen Davidson, on 09 November 1966 whilst she was out walking her dog in Hodgemoor Woods, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire. It was a very brutal and seemingly motiveless crime, and one that as mentioned above remains unsolved to date. As it is an obscure historical case, and not readily a crime that comes to the front of an enthusiasts mind, I found it refreshing to pick up a book the subject of which piques your interest, yet tells a story the reader will ultimately be unfamiliar with. It is never the intention of TTCE to give away the entire plot points and structure of a book within the review; nor is it the intention to give anything but a fair and unbiased review. The former will not occur here, whilst the latter will.

Monica has, at what must be great personal monetary and time consuming expense, thoroughly researched all angles of what is an obscure case, and it shows in the wealth of detail featured in the book. I have to admit that I was very impressed with the amount of research that has gone into writing “Injured Parties”, and to me, I can think of only a handful of books that are equalled in the amount of detail concerning the subject (true crime books written by Gordon Burn spring to mind). This extends to two things that always impress me with a true crime book (and ensure them a permanent place in my extensive library); a varied range of photographs concerning aspects, places, and people mentioned in the book; and an excellent and assorted Appendix containing reproductions of press cuttings concerning aspects mentioned within, letters to and from the author to persons mentioned within the text, and what impressed me most, a reproduced pathologists report in full. I cannot fault any of this at all, it is an excellent addition.

If I had to pick anything negative concerning the book, it is that in the opinion of TTCE that this is a book that may reach its widest audience with a reader who lives in the locality of the places mentioned within. I know for myself reading about a subject set in a place that I can visualise and know personally will always hold great appeal, and I can imagine this occurring with “Injured Parties”, because of the obscurity of the subject. It is hard to imagine a crime reader who lives in Los Angeles, for example, savouring detail upon detail of a historical murder in rural Buckinghamshire. I can also imagine some readers finding parts of the book repetitive and long winded (for example the chapter concerning Helen Davidson’s early life), but equally can imagine those who savour detail -such as myself – commending this. Yet this is only TTCE’s opinion, and one that I would hope to see proved wrong by “Hidden Parties” becoming as much as a success as the hard work that has clearly been put into writing it deserves.

It is for the reader themselves to make up their own mind as to the validity of the theories presented within “Injured Parties: Solving The Murder Of Dr Helen Davidson” – I enjoyed it and respect and commend the research, although perhaps the natural investigative nature within me would still need more convincing to agree with what the title denotes. Nevertheless, as with everything opinions differ from reader to reader, and TTCE recommends the best way is to reserve judgement before reading this well- researched book. It will stay on my shelf for sure.

For further info:

WordPress – Monica Weller

Facebook – Injured Parties


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.

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.

Bruce Lee fire (1)
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.

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.

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.


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”

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?

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.

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.

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


In Memoriam

To all of those who have lost their lives in or have been affected by today’s attack in Westminster – the sympathies of TTCE are there with you.


Terrorism will NEVER triumph – we must all stand strong.


The True Crime Enthusiast

The Murder of “Artistic Joan”

The first 72 hours of any murder investigation are always the most critical, as is within this time period that the minds and accounts of any witnesses are the freshest. A killer has more chance of being captured the closer it is to the time the crime occurred, the chances of obtaining decent quality forensic evidence may degrade or may even be destroyed if left any longer than this, and there is generally a better chance of successful detection of a crime if every angle that can possibly be covered by an investigating team is covered and this time period utilised to its full. Of course, not every crime is discovered mere minutes or hours after it has been committed. When a crime isn’t even discovered until past the “golden 72” hours – it’s cold before an investigation can even begin, and can lead to a puzzling case that can confound detectives and remain unsolved for many years to come. One such case is a murder that has puzzled detectives in Nottingham for more than forty years.

The Nottingham district of Wollaton Park during the later years of the Second World War was much like many parts of the United Kingdom at that time – there was a surplus of American soldiers there ready to romance the local girls. Joan Smith was one such girl, a 16 year old local girl who was swept off her feet in the summer of 1944 by a handsome G.I from 508 Airborne called Clarence Maschek. Romance blossomed before Clarence set off for the Normandy landings, and Joan played the faithful sweetheart waiting back at home for her G.I to return. Clarence was injured during the invasion, and returned to Nottingham as the proud recipient of a Purple Heart medal, ready to claim Joan as his bride. In the summer of 1945, the couple were married at Shakespeare Street Registry Office in Nottingham and decided to return to Clarence’s home country for their new life, settling in South Dakota where they lived happily for a number of years.

However, after some years the marriage broke down, and Joan returned to Britain alone and settled back in Nottingham. By the summer of 1976, she was 48 years old and living alone in a bedsit in Douglas Road in the Lenton district of Nottingham. The area at the time had a high number of bedsits, with a high turnover of tenants, and Joan became well known throughout the local area. She was described as being “an artistic type” and dressing flamboyantly, wearing cloaks and large floppy hats to visit the pubs and clubs of the area. This made “Artistic Joan” a familiar sight, but when Joan hadn’t been seen for several days over the hot summer of 1976, friends were concerned. She hadn’t been seen since the afternoon of 10th July, a Saturday, and by Tuesday 13th July 1976, the same friends went around to Joan’s flat to check on her wellbeing. Perhaps Joan was ill or had had an accident? What they found horrified them, and led to the start of a baffling mystery that has remained unsolved for more than 40 years.

At 8:45pm on Tuesday 13th July 1976, Joan’s body was found in her blood-soaked flat. She had been brutally battered to death and had clearly been dead for some time before she had been discovered. Police were called, and a murder investigation was launched, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Readwin of Nottinghamshire CID. From the start, it was apparent that Joan had been battered to death with a heavy blunt instrument, which was possibly her own guitar as traces of her blood and damage to it were found. She was thought to have been killed between sometime late in the evening of the Saturday, and early on the Sunday morning before she was found. The subsequent post mortem revealed that Joan had indeed died as the result of head wounds caused by a severe beating with a blunt edged object. There was no reported evidence of Joan having been the victim of a sexual assault.

Although subsequent house to house enquiries brought about the general consensus that Joan was a lady who generally kept to herself and wasn’t a troublemaker, there were tales of several “mystery callers” to her ground floor flat. There were tales of Joan often wandering around, coming and going in the dark, and according to neighbours, Joan enjoyed a busy social life.

“A lot of people would come and go at all hours of the day and night. There always seemed to be parties or goings-on in the flat.” – neighbours of Joan

Was the killer one of these mystery callers? Detectives struggled to find a definite motive for her murder. Joan was not found to have any obvious enemies and was not known to be in any sort of romantic relationship. Nor was she known to be involved in anything illicit and untoward. With the reports of a sizeable volume of frequent callers to Joan’s flat, detectives had a massive pool of potential suspects to trawl through. Though the majority of them were traced and eliminated from enquiries, a few weeks after Joan’s murder detectives eventually found themselves left with two persons of interest that they have never been able to trace.

The first was a man who had been seen by several people in the company of Joan, and police had a detailed enough description of him to issue an artist’s impression to the press. He was described as being in his 20’s, tall and slim, long haired and with a wispy moustache and reddened cheeks. He was described as being “scruffy” but good mannered and polite, and knowledgeable about classical music and ballet – which he would often chat to Joan about. The artists impression is depicted below:



Who was this man? Despite the widespread publicity and appeal, he never came forward and was never identified.

The second person that police wished to trace was another man who had been seen walking with Joan early one morning, a few days before she was murdered. A young officer who bore a striking resemblance to the man took part in a reconstruction of Joan’s last known movements, but this man never came forward and was never found either.

Reconstruction of the second man seen with Joan.

Six weeks into the murder hunt, Chief Supt Readwin and his team thought that they had the breakthrough they were looking for when a man walked into Canning Circus police station and confessed to the murder. He walked in and calmly announced:

“Lock me up – I’ve killed Joan”

However, any elation that the conscience of Joan’s killer had got the better of them soon evaporated. After a number of hours of intensive questioning by Readwin and his team, the man – who has never publicly been named – was found to be one of the number of attention seeking people who confess to crimes they haven’t committed. He was found to be nothing but a hoaxer, trying to deliberately get himself jailed and instead found himself charged with wasting police time. The investigating team were back to square one, but Readwin found time to shatter the misconception of a quick arrest always being the primary aim of a murder investigation when subsequently interviewed by the press.

“Our over-riding duty is to protect life and establish the truth… not just get a confession. Murders aren’t usually solved by stunning strokes of detection. It’s organisation, a professional system, that counts, especially in difficult jobs like this one.” – Detective Chief Superintendent Roy Readwin (speaking in 1976)

Following this, the murder investigation stalled, and began to wind down. The file on Joan’s murder eventually contained thousands of witness statements and the results of enquiries – all of which were fruitless. More than 100 detectives had exhausted every potential lead that they had, even making enquiries abroad stretching from New York to New Zealand. Nothing to progress the enquiry further was found. As many of the callers to Joan’s flat as could possibly be traced were traced – and eliminated. The reconstruction and artists impressions had produced nothing, and although it was reported that police had evidence from the scene, it has never been revealed publicly what this evidence exactly is, except that it is only known to the police and the killer. The three day head start that Joan’s killer had on detectives weighed heavily on the enquiry, as more than one officer believed that in these three days, the killer may have started a new life thousands of miles away from Nottingham. Police may have been looking for a killer that was already thousands of miles away. Although the murder file has never been officially closed, the case has been cold for many years now.

This is a case that relatively little information about is readily available for research, with very little available to learn about Joan – for example it is not known the extent of her remaining family, whether she was employed or not – I was unable even to obtain a picture of Joan. What is available is scant, and leaves frustrating gaps that if were filled may help paint a picture of the psychology of Joan’s killer. Because what is known raises more questions and possibilities than it provides definitive answers, as it stands much of any profile can only be surmised or speculated.

What would the likely motive be in this case? Revenge seems unlikely – an intensive police investigation revealed no known enemies of Joan, or anyone with a reason to wish her dead. Was it then a robbery gone wrong, or a sex crime? Unfortunately, there is scant detail here to be able to rule either out, but both are possibilities. It is not known if anything had been taken from Joan’s bedsit, or there were any signs of ransacking at the scene, but there is no mention of any sexual assault either. Again, this is hypothesis only, but a robber comes to rob and a rapist comes to rape. I believe that there would have been mention of signs of either given to the press as important appeal points, so both of these would seem unlikely.

It seems more likely that Joan was killed as a result of an argument and that this was not a pre meditated killing – perhaps she had refused sex or money to someone, and a subsequent argument led to murder? If the murder weapon was Joan’s guitar – as police thought likely – then this supports the spur of the moment killing theory even more, because using as an unlikely murder weapon as a guitar would mean that Joan was battered to death with the first thing to hand. It is more likely that with a pre-meditated murder, the killer would have brought a weapon to the scene with them, possibly a method of restraint also. There is no report of Joan having been restrained at all.

As there was no reported signs of forced entry to her flat, the theory police worked on was that Joan knew and had invited her killer in. This is likely, but not definite. The summer of 1976 was a record breaking heatwave, so it is possible that someone gained access through a window that Joan may have left open to let air into her flat. It was a ground floor flat so would have been easily accessible. This would more support the burglar/sex killer theory, but as already stated the lack of information available makes this impossible to ascertain. No sounds of a struggle or screams were reported heard so pinpointing an exact time of death is difficult, and so many people were reported as coming and going from Joan’s flat over time that anyone seen in the vicinity around the time she was estimated to have died may have been forgotten and overlooked by any witnesses.

It is impossible to paint a physical description of Joan’s killer, and any physical description would now be rendered useless anyway, as nearly 41 years have passed and features would have changed, people would have aged. There is also the possibility that her killer may now himself be dead. It should not be taken as definite that either the man in the reconstruction or the man in the artists impression was Joan’s killer – these were simply important persons of interest that were never traced. One or both of the persons appealed for may by now also even be dead.

Even the character of Joan’s killer can only be surmised at. This could be a violent psychopath, or it could be someone normally mild mannered who killed in a moment of madness? It is possible that this is a person who has a history of violent offending – battering someone to death would suggest a person with a history of violence, perhaps even someone who has killed before. If this was the case, a possibly linked case in my opinion that should be considered is one covered by The True Crime Enthusiast some weeks ago, the murder of nurse Susan Donaghue in Bristol in August 1976. The post concerning Susan’s murder can be found here, and it is up to the reader to speculate on any link.

But of course, the possibility remains that her murder could have been the result of a moment of madness by someone normally mild mannered and law abiding. How many times has this been seen in the court system, people seeing red and killing someone in the heat of the moment? If this was the case, I believe that remorse would have got the better of the person and he would have come forward – or possibly even committed suicide shortly after because of the enormity of what he had done.

It is stated that police have evidence known only to themselves and Joan’s killer – but it is not known exactly what form this evidence takes. Fingerprints? Blood or semen? If it is hair or fluid of some kind, then it may be possible to extract some form of DNA fingerprint with the technology available today. It is unreported if this has been done or not – but even if it has, the status of Joan’s murder as unsolved would mean that any potential DNA match is not on the National DNA database. Perhaps this dead end sums up the entire enquiry into Joan Maschek’s murder – a case that seems to lead to dead ends at every turn. However, Nottinghamshire Police periodically review the case, and remain optimistic that Joan’s killer may one day face justice.

“Nottinghamshire Police never gives up on unsolved murders and will regularly revisit and review these cases to see how new evidence and information could help to bring the perpetrators to justice. We believe Joan’s killer may still be out there and would encourage anyone with information about her murder to come forward.” – Detective Inspector Hayley Williams, Nottinghamshire  Police

Anyone with information on Joan’s murder should call Nottinghamshire Police on 101.


The True Crime Enthusiast



Death of the Millionaire Farmer

Chapel Amble is a tiny village in the Cornwall civil parish of St Kew that has its earliest mention in the Domesday book, with the name of the village being a derivation from the Cornish word Amaleglos, meaning “Church on the River Amble”. Picturesque and affluent, it is sparsely populated and contains very little except for houses, a tiny shop, a post office and a local pub. It is the kind of village where nothing ever seems to happen, that is, until April 2002 when Chapel Amble found itself at the centre of a brutal and as yet unsolved murder mystery. It was depicted at the time of the murder as “like an Agatha Christie setting”, and  the murder “worthy of the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot himself”. Yet there is nothing romantic about the crime, nor is it from the pages of a mystery thriller.

Les Bate

The victim was an elderly farmer, 71 year old widower Les Bate. He was a well known figure in the area, described by those who knew him as a “true Cornish character”, and was a self made millionaire, owning four farms and several hundred acres of land. Les had amassed his fortune through sheer hard work, with local legend claiming that he had obtained the finance for his first farm by shooting rabbits. It was claimed he had averaged shooting between 80,000 to 100,000 rabbits a year, which were then sold and shipped off to all parts of the country. With a hard work ethic such as this, and being an astute businessman taking advantages of various subsidies that were available to him, this had made his fortune. He was considered by many as ostentatious, “flashy” even, often making a show of having a wallet full of money and wearing excess amounts of chunky gold jewellery.

The Maltsters Arms – the last place Les was seen alive

Les liked to enjoy a drink at night, and was a regular at the Maltsters Arms pub in Chapel Amble. He was there almost nightly, where he would enjoy a few pints of lager and tell a few stories, have a laugh and a joke and take advantage of a pub bet such as arm wrestling or even high japes such as swallowing live fish! He would invariably leave the pub at closing time, and drive his red Land Rover Discovery the two miles home from the pub to his home, Tregilders Farm.

Tregilders Farm

Although Les was well known, this does not mean to suggest that he was liked by all who knew him. There is evidence to suggest that many people did not like him strongly due to the type of man he was. Local rumours were rife that he had in the past evicted farm tenants unfairly, purely because he took a dislike to them. He was known to be forthright in his political opinions and would often hold court in the local pub, entertaining locals with his opinions and colourful tales of a lifetime spent in farming. He was considered by many as cantankerous, and thought nothing of airing his exact views to people, regardless of the risk of offending anyone. Indeed, before he was murdered Les had only recently become a regular at the Maltsters Arms as he had been barred from his previous local, the St Kew Inn, for being abusive to the staff and customers there.

On the night he died, Friday 12th April 2002, Les had as usual been at the Maltsters Arms. That evening, there were about 30 people in the establishment, mostly locals but a couple of faces that were unknown to the regulars. Les had been his usual self, holding court with stories and joking about, and had several times that evening made a show of flashing his wallet about. That evening, he had shown off the fact that he was carrying about £1,000 in cash, as well as a cheque for £11,000 and had ignored the advice of several people to stop flashing his cash about. Les had left the pub after closing time that evening, and driven his usual route home. All through the next day, Les’ daughter who lived in Australia had tried to contact him by telephone but to no avail. Concerned that Les was perhaps ill or injured, she eventually contacted her brother Martin, Les’s son, who lived nearby to Chapel Amble, to go and check on their father to ensure everything was alright. Martin went around to his father’s farm at 11:30am on Sunday 14th April, and found Les lying face down in a pool of blood inside the house near to the back door. He was clearly dead. Shaken, Martin raised the alarm and police attended.

Because there was no weapon present at the scene, or any evidence of a forced entry to the farm, it was at first thought that Les had died as the result of a drunken fall. A post mortem carried out proved inconclusive as to the cause of death, but some days later (nearly two weeks) a second more exhaustive one was carried out because of this. This second post mortem found evidence that Les had suffered a brutal beating, as internal injuries were found, several broken bones, and severe head injuries. How these were missed at the initial post mortem has never been satisfactorily explained. Here, police now had evidence that they were dealing with a murder, one that the killer had a near fortnights head start to escape detection from. With news that a murderer was potentially living in their midst, many locals had their own suspicions about who was responsible, local gossip and theories were rife, and a shadow of fear fell over the small community.

“This has been a terrible shock. If the police are right, this was carried out by someone we all know – perhaps someone who comes into this Post Office every day.” Barry Cuff, Chapel Amble postmaster

The murder hunt began, with 50 officers working around the clock to try to solve the first recorded violent crime in the village since 1373. A forensic examination of Tregilders Farm was undertaken, lanes and hedgerows surrounding the house were searched for a discarded murder weapon, and police began interviewing locals. Those who knew Les and customers who frequented the Maltsters Arms and the St Kew Inn were interviewed, and every customer that could be traced who had used these premises was questioned, fingerprinted and DNA tested. Establishing Les’ last known movements, police heard customers at the Maltsters Arms tell of Les flashing around his cash and the cheque on the night he was murdered, and of course, these were missing along with his wallet. The wallet or cheque have never been found. Police strongly believed from the outset of the hunt that the motive was robbery, and that there was a local angle to the crime:

“This has all the hallmarks of somebody who knew that Les would be returning and was probably waiting for him to come home and then attack him. People knew he often used to carry significant amounts of cash with him. My view is that there is definitely a local angle to this. We are keeping an open mind, but all the indications are that this was carried out by a person or persons who knew him.” – Detective Superintendent Chris Boarland (SIO)

Crimes in such a small locale as Chapel Amble would be expected to be solved sooner rather than later, but by the time Les funeral was held in September 2002, police were still no nearer to catching his killer. Over 900 statements had been taken, and a sizeable number of enquiries followed up, but to no avail. Police did however, have one clue. Traces of DNA belonging to someone other than Les were found on items of the outer clothing he was wearing when he died. But a match wasn’t forthcoming – locals were tested against it, and detectives even visited the shop in the nearby town of Wadebridge where the clothing had been bought in order to compare and eliminate the DNA of the staff who worked there against the sample. All were ruled out, and to this day a match has never been found on the National DNA database. The suspect list drew a blank also. Although it was known that not everybody liked Les, police could never find evidence to pinpoint anyone who disliked him enough to want him dead.

It seems that robbery was indeed a very likely motive for Les’ murder. In October 2001, Tregilders Farm had suffered a burglary whilst Les was out. Some valuable paintings, and a safe containing over £47,000 in cash had been taken from the farm. Had those responsible returned? It is very likely that those responsible are local to, or at least familiar with, the Chapel Amble area. It is almost definite that they knew Les, and his movements and habits. These are local killers, for I believe that more than one person is responsible. Although Les was not a fit youngster, he was still stocky and powerful for a 71 year old and was the type of person who would definitely “have a go” against any intruder. In fact, since his burglary in October 2001, Les had taken to sleeping with a loaded shotgun next to him, and had been heard telling several patrons of the Maltsters Arms that he had no qualms about using it against an intruder. Had someone overheard this and thought that there was more safety to rob Les in numbers? It is perhaps for this reason that Les was killed, as the result of a struggle.

Who then, are likely suspects in this crime? I believe that those responsible are the perpetrators of, or are at least well known to,  those responsible for the October 2001 burglary at Les’ farm. The chances of two separate, unconnected incidents of robbery in such a short space of time in such a localised area are highly improbable. Theorising that everyone in the locality has been subject to a mass DNA screening, and if the theory that Les was either followed home or someone was laid in wait for him, then the main suspects have to be the people in the Maltsters Arms that Friday evening who were unknown to the locals. They could have been watching Les, saw him leave, and then relayed a message to someone laying in wait at Tregilders Farm for him. There are plenty of places around the farm for a person, or even a vehicle, to remain out of sight. Plus it is in quite an isolated location, so any risk of being sighted is minimal. Les would have been taken by surprise as he entered through his side door – by someone who knew him and his movements.

This is a perplexing crime, and one that should have been successfully detected swiftly. Perhaps the two week delay in discovering that it actually WAS a crime was an omen of a flawed and foundering investigation that was to come. It stands to reason that in such a rural, small community, locals will have their own suspicions about those responsible – and said suspicions must have come to the attention of police. Indeed, several people were arrested over the course of the enquiry, some with criminal records and one who was known to have been an enemy of Les. Yet no one was or has ever been charged – and a DNA match for traces left by the killer has so far not been found. Les family still live in hope that one day, either through someone’s conscience getting the better of them, or a DNA match being found, that his killer will be brought to justice. His daughter Kathy echoed as such in an interview with the Devon Western Morning News in 2012:

“I am fairly confident that one day I will get a call. I am less optimistic that I was previously and we are now ten years on, but we do live with that expectation. I have said all along that the person that has done this is being protected by a wife or girlfriend or someone close to them. I know after ten years it is not really likely that they will come forward but I would still like to appeal to that person’s decency.” – Kathy Arnold (Les’ daughter)

The True Crime Enthusiast

UK True Crime Podcast – The Bogus Gasman

Here’s a link to the guest piece that I’ve written this week for a good friend of The True Crime Enthusiast. Please take time out to check his excellent Podcast and Blog out, UK True Crime. The link can be found below:

UK True Crime

It’s filled with interesting cases, articles and talking points, and is very informative and enjoyable. The collaboration between UK True Crime and The True Crime Enthusiast can be found below:

UK True Crime Episode 16 – The Bogus Gasman

The True Crime Enthusiast

The murder of “Brandy Dan”

“The attack on Daniel can only be described as despicable. At the time that his flat was set  on fire he was still alive – he must have suffered a painful and extremely frightening death. Someone out there knows what happened and I don’t know how they can live with this well-liked man’s death on their conscience.” – Detective Superintendent Ian Foster (Senior Investigating Officer speaking in 2008)

If where you live has a local pub and you are a regular visitor there, the chances are that you will know a certain character in that pub. They are a staple of such establishments, and most have them- larger than life people, unique and perhaps known by a nickname. The former “Funny’s Bar”, on Chorley Old Road, Bolton was one of these such places to have one – Daniel Mcfadden, or “Brandy Dan” as he was known to his friends. “Funny’s Bar” has long gone today, knocked down and replaced with a small supermarket and different establishments. And “Brandy Dan” has gone too – gone because he was horrifically murdered one evening in June 1998.

Danny Mcfadden

Daniel Mcfadden was Irish born, hailing from a rural town in County Donegal where he was born in 1933. He had left Ireland at a young age and moved across the Irish Sea, settling in Glasgow for many years before moving down to Bolton in the mid 1980’s to be near his younger brother Charles and his family. Danny had never married and had very little family, only Charles and an elderly sister who still lived in Ireland. He had spent his entire working life as a labourer working in the construction industry, driving cranes up and down the country. But by 1998 Danny had long since retired and was living in a second floor council flat in the Mere Gardens district of Halliwell, Bolton.

Danny was a well known regular in many of Bolton’s pubs, and his usual practice was to visit a variety of them throughout the day, where he would find company and quiet reflection. He would spend part of the afternoon drinking, before returning home late in the afternoon and then going out again in the evening. By all accounts, he was a popular and well- liked man who didn’t seem to have any known enemies. On the day he died, June 17th 1998, Danny had left home at about 10:30am, and was seen about thirty minutes later sat on a bench in Newport Street in Bolton Town centre. He is believed to have visited several pubs around Bolton town centre that day, and police were able to confirm that that afternoon he was definitely seen in The Victory Arms and Funny’s Bar on Chorley Old Road. He is believed to have left Funny’s Bar alone, and returned to his flat at about 4:30pm that afternoon.

Danny is known to have returned to Funny’s Bar later on that evening, and was confirmed as being sat alone in there, enjoying his favourite tipple – a double brandy and half pint of bitter – at 10:20pm. He left after last orders that evening, and was seen near the Mornington Road/Chorley Old Road junction at about 11:30pm walking towards his home. Did he go straight home though? There was a possible but unconfirmed sighting of Danny outside the Morrisons supermarket at the bottom end of Chorley Old Road at 1:00am. If this was him, what was he doing?

If this was Danny, he must have returned home soon after this sighting and been murdered.

A neighbour who lived across from Danny’s council flat in Mere Gardens contacted the emergency services at about 3:30am after being woken by the sound of an explosion. Looking out of the window, he could see a blaze coming from Danny’s flat, and fire crews attended the scene, arriving at 3:37am. They doused the scene with water and when safe to do so, went in to investigate. The flat had been completely gutted,and when firefighters went into the bedroom, they discovered the body of Danny Mcfadden under a pile of furniture and clothing amongst the smouldering debris. The fire had built up until the windows exploded, and the subsequent rush of oxygen mixed with toxic fumes from the smouldering furnishings had caused an explosion. Danny hadn’t stood a chance.

The subsequent post mortem examination revealed that Danny had ultimately died as a result of inhaling smoke and toxic fumes caused by the fire – but a murder hunt began when the post mortem revealed that he also had a severely fractured skull, a fractured right cheek, and a broken jaw. He had been brutally battered, and three “D” shaped lacerations on his head led detectives to believe that the most likely weapon was a hammer. Following the assault, his killers had then placed a mattress, clothing and furnishings on top of the 5″8, 8 stone pensioner, who was still alive despite his injuries, and callously started the fire, leaving Danny to die a horrible, frightening death.

Detectives hunting the killer from the murder incident room at Castle Street police station in Bolton theorised that Danny had been followed home from the pub by his killer or killers. They had watched him go into his second floor flat, then waited to make their move. As no evidence of a forced entry was found, they suspected that Danny had either let his killer in or left the door ajar accidentally. Because the combination of the fire and its extinguishment  had gutted the property, it was impossible to determine if it had been ransacked or if anything had been taken. House to house enquiries revealed very little – nobody had been seen entering or leaving the property, and the first anybody knew anything had happened was when the fire brigade were contacted following the explosion.

The crime struck fear and sadness into the close knit community where Danny had lived. Many of the people living in that area were pensioners themselves, and the thought that a brutal killer was walking the streets so familiar to them made them feel scared in their own homes. Danny’s next door neighbour, 59 year old Anne Haslam, summed up local feeling when interviewed by the Bolton Evening News shortly after the murder.

“I can’t take all this in. I just keep thinking over and over again about what happened on the other side of my wall. It’s a nightmare. I’ve got to get out because I can’t sleep and I won’t answer the door at night” – Anne Haslem (Danny’s next door neighbour).

Mrs Haslam had not seen or heard anything the night Danny was murdered, and was left so afraid that his killers may return that she was granted a move from the home she had lived in for eight years by a sympathetic Bolton Council.

Mere Gardens, Halliwell in 2014

Throughout the investigation, dozens of detectives worked thousands of man hours in an attempt to find Danny’s killer. More than 3,000 people were interviewed over the course of the investigation, and numerous lines of enquiry were followed, but ultimately detectives had very little to go on. The combination of the fire itself and the extinguishing of it had not only gutted the crime scene, but had also destroyed any potential forensic evidence that could have been obtained from Danny’s killers. A number of items were removed from the crime scene for forensic examination, but DNA testing at that time was not technologically advanced enough to produce any conclusive results. Nor has it to date been able to shed any new information as to the identity of Danny’s killers. No murder weapon has ever been found, and although eleven people were arrested in connection with Danny’s murder over the course of the investigation, no one has ever been charged with his murder.

What was the motive behind such a horrific crime? Detectives have never been able to confirm what the motive was, but local rumours abounded that Danny was believed to be a wealthy man, although his surviving family strongly denied this. There were tales of Danny having spoken about coming into a lot of money just before he died, relating to shares in a farm in Ireland that Danny and his sister had joint ownership of. But this was a falsehood – although Danny had had shares of a farm, the truth was that in the mid 1980’s Danny had had his share of the farm transferred into solely his sister’s name as he was unable to afford any payments relating to the upkeep of the farm. He had not made any money from the transfer, and actually had very little money. Did someone mistakenly believe that Danny had a substantial amount of money stashed at his home? It seems likely that this was the case. The crime was appealed on Crimewatch UK, and an anonymous caller spoke to one of the detectives in the studio, telling him:

“You do know he had hundreds of thousands of pounds stashed in his flat, don’t you?”

Detectives believe that Danny was deliberately targeted for this reason, and his killers had every intention of murdering him. But why the need to set a fire? At the inquest into Danny’s murder in 1999, Home Office pathologist Dr William Lawlor suggested that the fire was set deliberately to remove any traces of the killers from the scene. This seems likely, but the chilling possibility also exists that setting the fire was a sadistic act of inflicting pain and terror upon Danny, and was done with the intention of destroying and defiling him further.

It is very likely that someone today will know, or at least suspect, the identity of Danny’s killers. This is not a first time crime, as has been stated on various other cases covered on TTCE, this is a level of offending that is risen to, not started at. This is someone with a history of offending and likely an experienced burglar, with a history of violent offending or bullying and perhaps drug use. It is also likely that Danny was known to his killer(s), and vice versa. The killer(s), for it is likely that this was the work of more than one people, will therefore be local to the area. Mere Gardens is a haphazard housing estate built on a network of footpaths and an offender would likely strike in an area familiar to them to allow maximum potential for egress.

It is unlikely to have been a spur of the moment crime – for example a drunken argument between Danny and another person that someone has taken offence to and escalated. This would be a lot more heat of the moment, and I believe that a crime fuelled by any such motive would have taken place as Danny was making his way home on the street and would have been witnessed. There is no suggestion that Danny was involved in anything untoward or illicit, indeed, people who knew him testified as to his gentle and kind nature, and how he was “a perfect gentleman”, always ready to buy someone a drink. So this likely rules out a revenge or grudge attack, and this possibility would have been ruled out early on in the investigation.

It is more likely that robbery was the motive here, and that there is some truth to the notion that Danny’s killers believed him to have a substantial sum of money in the house. The killers came armed and is likely that they always intended to murder Danny – an eight stone pensioner would not put up much resistance to one or more intruders. A possible reason for the decision to kill him is that the killers were known well to him – perhaps regulars from one of the pubs that he frequented – and by leaving him alive, he would have been able to identify them. I believe strongly that the fire was set to remove any forensic evidence from the scene – perhaps the killer or killers left fingerprints during the assault, or perhaps one of them was injured during it and left bloodstains. Remove the scene, remove the evidence.

It is likely that police spoke to Danny’s killer or killers during the course of the investigation.  It seems that a person capable of such violence and brutality as was used here would stand out, and as mentioned, police made eleven arrests over the course of investigating Danny’s murder but no one was ever charged. I believe that a prime suspect, very likely the killer, would have been amongst this eleven, but escaped justice due to a lack of conclusive evidence to bring a murder charge. The case has never been closed and has been re-appealed numerous times over the years, but to no avail. However, over passage of time loyalties people once had may change, or people may overcome a fear of retribution that they had that prevented them from coming forward at the time, and may provide police with evidence that helps bring Danny’s killer to justice. Until that time, his remaining family are left questioning the senselessness of such a cowardly, despicable crime, and await “Brandy Dan” getting the justice that he deserves.

“You can understand the fire – they were probably trying to burn the evidence. You can understand that, but why do it in the first place? Danny never said an angry word in his life. He probably expected to live to old age but that didn’t happen. Somebody saw to that.” – Charles Mcfadden

Anyone with information concerning Danny’s murder is asked to call the Major Incident Team on 0161 856 5860 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.


The True Crime Enthusiast

Podcast Review -UK True Crime

So for my second podcast review, the focus this time is UK True Crime. This was actually the first podcast I started listening to (I came late to the world of podcasts) but it’s fair to say I was pretty much impressed from the off. When I ventured into listening to podcasts, I started pretty much the only way you can: Choose what you enjoy, and search for that! Now, as readers to my blog will know, I am a true crime buff – and I focus solely on cases from the UK. So it stands to reason that you can guess what I would search for – and I found UK True Crime.

Quite a fledgling podcast (its been running since November 2016), UK True Crime is hosted every Tuesday by a very cheery sounding bloke called Adam. Each episode is of varying length and focuses on a single case a week, with cases covering not just grisly murder of the week, but also other topics such as fraud schemes and police corruption. This helps it stand out from a murder of the week podcast. Not that I have anything against those of course, but diversity is always good. Each episode is presented in a very personable, down to earth manner, and cases are very well researched and factually correct.

Where I’ve been impressed is in the choice of cases Adam chooses for each episode. I know myself that my interest lies predominantly in the more obscure, forgotten and unknown cases, and I class myself as very well read on British crime. So it was very refreshing to look back through the list of episodes and there be only one or two names I was familiar with (and again, these are not your Wests, your Sutcliffe’s etc). I listened, I enjoyed, and i have to commend Adam for his choices of cases to cover. Not only are they interesting, but the more obscure take that much more research (I know, believe me) and this to me shows a real dedication and enthusiasm for the subject. It also helps in his pleasant delivery, and I like the personal touch – I’d prefer to listen to someone a bit colourful and with opinion than a machine spewing facts and stats.

Not content with just a pretty awesome podcast, UK True Crime has an informative blog available too. The posts in this, although few, raise good talking points and invite discussion, such as “Can True Crime Ever Be Glamorous?”. There is also an interesting feature on the failings of the UK system concerning young offenders here too (the first part in a series i believe). Well worth a read, and definitely worth a sign up to the newsletter.

I’ve got nothing bad whatsoever to say about UK True Crime – as readers will know i am honest and unbiased in any reviews i give, and i am unabashed if i may be mistaken for being sycophantic here. I’m not – it just really is this good. In fact, i was so impressed with what i have listened to and read that i made contact with Adam. I find him very approachable and happy to work with others interested in the field, of which i have been more than happy to do so. Watch this space…..

The UK True Crime podcast is available on the usual platforms (itunes etc), but links to the Blog, the newsletter and all podcast episodes can be found by following the link below.

UK True Crime

It takes time, effort and dedication to make this work, and Adam clearly puts in an abundance here. The hard work here deserves to be successful. I sincerely hope that it is. Check it out – I’m sure you will agree.


The True Crime Enthusiast


The “Knotty Ash” Murder

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

Maureen Dutton with sons David and Andrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press coverage of the “Knotty Ash” murder

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

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

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

The Dutton family, pictured following Maureen’s murder.

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

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


The True Crime Enthusiast


“The Beast of Jersey”

One of the masks worn by the “Beast of Jersey”

When one tends to picture the Channel island of Jersey, the first things off the top of the head used to be that it was the setting for the 1980’s TV series “Bergerac”; of Jersey cows, or how the island was German occupied during the Second World War. More recently, however, it may be the horrific allegations of physical and sexual child abuse that stretch back for many years, and that concern a former children’s home on the island, Haut de la Garenne. These allegations have led to Jersey police recording claims of abuse from more than 100 people who have recounted tales of physical and sexual assaults they had suffered both at the home, and at the hands of people connected with the home. Even famous names, such as notorious paedophile Jimmy Saville and the late actor Wilfred Brambell have been posthumously accused of attacks on people there in decades gone by. The allegations in this ongoing enquiry are horrific enough, but are not the first such evil to have blighted the island of Jersey.

The reign of terror began for islanders in 1957. In November, a 29 year old nurse waiting for a bus in the Monte a L’abbe area was attacked by a man wearing some kind of covering over his face and affecting an “Irish” accent, and was dragged into a field and sexually assaulted. She was quite severely injured and left with wounds that needed many stitches. The following year, in March, a 20 year old woman walking home from a bus stop was attacked in the parish of Trinity and had a rope put around her neck. She too – in what was to become a signature of the attacker – was dragged into a field and raped. Then in July that year, a 31 year old woman, again walking home from a bus stop, was attacked in what was by now the signature fashion of the offender. Rope around the neck, dragged into a field, raped or indecently assaulted. The same happened to a young girl walking home in the parish of Grouville in August 1959, and to a 28 year old woman attacked in the parish of St Martin’s in October 1959. The latter, although indecently assaulted by the man, was able to fight him off quickly enough for him to flee startled. The former was not so lucky.

Detectives noticed several recurring themes throughout each description of the attacker given by each victim, and when pooled this led them to believe that they were all committed by the same man. Each victim agreed that the man was aged about early to mid 40’s; was about 5″6 tall, and affected an “Irish” accent. Some of the victims described the attacker as wearing a rope or a cord around his waist, and he often restrained the victim by tying their hands together. All of them described the attacker as smelling “musty”. Coupled together with the pattern of placing a rope around the victim’s neck and using the location of a field for the assault, detectives suspected a serial attacker, who became known as the “Beast of Jersey”.

In 1960, the attacker added  sinister twists to his modus operandi; he attacked indoors, he also changed his preference of victim – and the attacks increased in both frequency and ferocity. In the early hours of Valentine’s day 1960, a 12 year old boy asleep at home in the region of Grands Vaux was awoken by a man who had climbed through his bedroom window. The boy had a rope placed around his neck, and was then led outside and indecently assaulted. Then the following month, a 25 year old woman walking to a bus stop in St Brelade was offered a lift in a Rover car by a man claiming to be a doctor on his way “to pick up his wife”. She accepted, and during the journey noticed him wearing a cap and duffle coat and gloves, but could not make out his features due to the darkness. He drove the car into a field and overpowered the woman, punching her, threatening to kill her and tying her hands behind her head. She was then dragged out into the field and raped, then placed back into the car and driven away. However, she managed to escape from the vehicle and scream for help, but the attacker managed to get away.

In March 1960, a 43 year old mother and 14 year old daughter in a fairly isolated cottage in the St Martin parish underwent a horrific experience. The mother was awoken at about 12:30am by the telephone ringing downstairs. She went down to answer it, but when she lifted the receiver heard nothing but a click and then the dialling tone. She went back to bed but was awakened about an hour later by a sound downstairs. She started downstairs to investigate, but as she reached the bottom of the staircase the lights abruptly went out and she heard someone in the living room moving about. In the dark, she made for the telephone to call for the police – but the phone lines had been wrenched out. Then, she was confronted by the figure of a man who grabbed her and demanded money. He was very rough with her and threatened to kill her, but left the woman immediately when he heard the daughter coming down to investigate the commotion. The woman took the chance to flee and raise the alarm at a nearby farmhouse, and upon returning to the cottage found her daughter – she was still alive but had been horrifically raped in the now familiar signature. In April, a 14 year old girl in La Roque awoke in her bedroom to find a man wearing a strange looking mask, though he took off when the child screamed. And in July of that year, an 8 year old boy was abducted from his home by a man wearing a raincoat who indecently assaulted him, then led him home and left him on the doorstep. The attacks stopped for the rest of the year, but began again in February 1961. There was an attack on a 12 year old boy in the Mont Cochon area in the now familiar fashion; an attack on an 11 year old boy in the parish of St Saviour in March of the same year, and a brutal rape of an 11 year old girl in St Martin’s in April.

By now the “Beast of Jersey” had been at large for over three years, and the Jersey police investigations had got no nearer to catching him. Feeling pressure from the press and the scared public, Jersey police had summoned help from Scotland Yard. It came in the form of a celebrated member of Scotland Yard’s murder squad, Detective Superintendent Jack Mannings. One of his first actions was to appeal to all islanders to “turn detective”, and the press were issued with a verbal identikit of the “Beast”.

This went as follows: “The Beast” always struck at night, and up to that point had only struck on moonlit week-ends between the hours of 10pm to 3am. He appeared to have an intimate knowledge of the Island, particularly the eastern areas. He was described as being about 40 to 45 years old, about 5″6 tall, with a moustache and of medium build. He was usually described as wearing a low, thigh length jacket or raincoat which gave off a distinct “musty” smell, a peaked cap and gloves. His face was always covered, either with a facemask or a scarf covering the lower part of it. He carried a torch with him during the attacks, and his methods followed a distinct pattern: his victims were selected carefully, and the usual method of entry was a bedroom window. Once inside, the man  was fast and silent, and usually blindfolded and tied up the victim’s hands. In each case a rope was placed around the victims necks, and they were then taken to a nearby field and suffered a sexual assault, then returned home. The assailant spoke lots during the attacks, with a voice that was described as “soft”, in an “Irish” accent. He had mentioned at various times a wife, a dead mother who had died of drink, that he had killed before, and often made a point of saying that he had dropped either his cigarettes or his lighter. Jersey is not a large island, indeed is only less than 46 square miles in total, and it stands to reason that someone would have known or at least suspected someone who matched at least part this description. Every possible man was looked at, all men with a criminal record were questioned and interviewed. But “The Beast” was still not found.

The intervention of Scotland Yard was effective in that there were no more attacks for two years – “The Beast” had gone to ground. But in April 1963 he returned, attacking a 9 year old boy in St Saviour in his familiar MO. Another attack in St Saviour in November 1963 on an 11 year old boy followed, then he went to ground again. But he was back in 1964, attacking a 10 year old girl in Trinity parish in July. An attack on a 16 year old boy followed  in August 1964 in Grouville parish, and then “The Beast” again went to ground. There were no more attacks for two years, and the hunt died down.

In 1966, Jersey police received a strange letter from an author claiming to be the “Beast Of Jersey”. It is reproduced as follows (SIC)

My Dear Sir,

                I think that it is just the time to tell you that you are just wasting your time, as every time I have done wat I always intended to do and remember it will not stop at this, but I will be fair to you and give you a chance. I have never had much out of this life but I intend to get everything I can now…..I have always wanted to do the perfect crime. I have done this, but this time let the moon shine very britte in September because this time it must be perfect, not one but two. I am not a maniac by a long shot but I like to play with you people. You will hear from me before September and I will give you all the clues. Just to see if you can catch me.

                                                                                                Yours very sincerely

                                                                                                                Wait and See

Was the author The Beast? It seemed likely, because there was a savage rape on a 15 year old girl in Trinity parish in August 1966 – as the letter had promised. The attack mirrored the previous ones, the method and description was of signature of “The Beast” but this time there was a new detail to the attack. Strange long scratches, regularly spaced and always parallel, were found on the victim’s torso for the first time in the series. Following this attack, there then remained the longest lull in the series, for there were no more reported attacks for the remainder of the decade.

But he was back in August 1970, when a 13 year old boy was awakened at his home in Vallee Des Vaux by a torch shining in his face. The Beast  made the boy get out of bed and took him to a field at the rear of the house. He then placed his raincoat on the ground, made the boy remove his pyjamas, and then indecently assaulted him. The boy then was returned home and raised the alarm the following morning at 8am, having been threatened by the assailant to remain quiet “because if you don’t someone will harm your mother and father”. The boy was very distressed and dishevelled, and offered a description of what had happened that was now all too common. This time, the assailant had “black spiky hair” and a terrifying mask on. The boy also had the same scratches on his face and body as found on the victim in the 1966 attack. Again, the majority of the island was interviewed (nearly 30,000 people in all were spoken to in the hunt for the Beast) but he wasn’t caught.

Police didn’t know at the time, but the man who had terrorised Jersey for so long had less than a year of freedom left.

The night of 10th July 1971 had started as a routine nightshift for Jersey police officers John Riseborough and Tom Mcginn, out on mobile patrol duties focused around the St Helier area. At 11:45pm, they had pulled up at some traffic lights when a small Morris 1100 saloon car shot past them at high speed, jumping the lights and driving in a very erratic manner. The officers immediately gave pursuit in their car, and chased the Morris at high speeds for a number of miles. During the pursuit, the Morris car sideswiped several vehicles, drove on the wrong side of the road, and even drove down footpaths at high speed in an attempt to shake off the police. Finally, the Morris crashed through a hedge and came to rest in the middle of a tomato field. The two police officers, who wrote off their own patrol car as a result of the pursuit, gave chase to the fleeing driver of the Morris on foot and managed to catch him after one of the officers got him in a low rugby tackle. The driver struggled wildly, but was ultimately arrested and taken back to police headquarters.

A mannequin depicts the attire worn by the “Beast of Jersey”

It was only when they got the suspect back to the police station did they fully appreciate just how much of a normal arrest that this hadn’t been, when in the light of the police station they saw clearly how the man looked and how he was dressed.  The man was wearing an old raincoat, one that smelled musty as struck both the officers. The raincoat had 1″ nails protruding from both shoulders and the lapels of the coat, and he was wearing cloth bands around each wrist that again had protruding 1″ nails. He was wearing old trousers tucked into socks, carpet slippers, and woollen gloves. A strange sight as you can imagine, but when the suspect emptied the pockets of the coat – it got even stranger. Removed from the raincoat was a torch with black tape covering the front to provide only a narrow shaft of light; two lengths of sash cord; a peaked woollen cap; several empty cigarette packets; rolls of adhesive tape, and a black wig with stiff spiky hair. With mounting suspicion that they had at last found the “Beast of Jersey”, the suspicion became overwhelming when they removed the final item from the raincoat. It was a homemade, horrific facemask.

Edward John Louis Paisnel – the “Beast of Jersey” unmasked.

The man was Edward John Louis Paisnel, a native Jerseyman who came from an affluent family. He was 46 years old, and was a building contractor well known throughout the island, married with a daughter and two step-children. The only skirt with a criminal record he had was when he served a month’s imprisonment during the German occupation of the island in the Second World War for stealing food to distribute to starving families. His wife, Joan, had run a foster home for children called La Preference, and met Paisnel when he helped out as a handyman there. The children knew him as “Uncle Ted”, who always had sweets and gifts for them, played with them and dressed up as Santa Claus every year to distribute presents to the children at the home. Paisnel had married Joan in 1959, but the marriage was punctuated with frequent rows, until shortly after the birth of the couple’s daughter when they lived as man and wife in name alone. Following the separation, Paisnel built an annexe onto the house where the couple lived, consisting of an office and a large sitting room and took himself to live there. He was considered overall as a kind and considerate man who was good with children, but one who had never let go of the roaming spirit that he had had since childhood, keeping irregular hours and often going out fishing or for walks at night. Sexually, his wife considered him to be normal and if anything to have had a very low sex drive, although at the time of his arrest Paisnel had at least one mistress.

When questioned about his strange apparel and asked to explain his actions on the night he was arrested, Paisnel gave strange answers. He said he had been on his way to an orgy and had borrowed the car to get there to avoid anyone seeing him and identifying him on the way there. The nails in the clothing, he said, were as a defence against anyone using martial arts to attack him. He refused to say anything about the mask and wig, but it was noticed that he had adhesive tape marks on his face that matched tape inside the mask, meaning he had clearly worn it at some point that night. He was locked up for the night, and police set out to search his home, by now quietly convinced that they had the “Beast of Jersey” under arrest. What they found there astounded them . In Paisnel’s bedroom was found a locked “secret” room that he had built. Opening it, it immediately struck police that it smelt musty. Inside the room hung several items of old clothing including a blue tracksuit and an old fawn raincoat, home -made wigs and hats, and false eyebrows . There was a camera hanging on a hook and several photographs of various houses. There was also several items of black magic paraphernalia, a home -made altar, a sizeable library about the occult and black magic rituals, and a very large curved wooden sword hanging on the wall. There was no doubting in police minds now – the “Beast of Jersey” had been caught.

A police officer demonstrates the horror of the facemask worn by Paisnel to inflict terror.

Paisnel was eventually charged on 13 counts including rape, indecent assault and sodomy against 6 victims, with all but one being a minor. His trial in November 1971 revealed an obsession with black magic and with one of the most evil men in history, Gilles de Rais, and how Paisnel had claimed himself to be a distant descendent of him. Perhaps the crimes of Paisnel were in some way an attempt to emulate the actions of Gilles de Rais himself, and only stopped short of murder. Paisnel had never explained what motivated him to go out and commit the terrifying and savage attacks that he did, indeed, when questioned about anything he gave evasive and babbling answers and descended into talk of curses, covens and hints at black magic involvement. Otherwise, he just point blank refused to answer any questions or told police to “prove it”.

Press coverage of the trial – note the nails sticking up through the coat

There was no question of an insanity defence – it was revealed just how cunning Paisnel was and how pre planned his attacks were. He photographed houses that he had earmarked as targets to attack children – sometimes years in advance. This explained how he knew exactly which room to go to and how not to disturb the occupants, and also how to access and egress the property. Paisnel then kept these photographs as trophies of his crimes. He affected an Irish accent whilst committing attacks, dropped cigarette packets and gave random misleading details about himself to his victims. In reality, these were all red herrings to lead police away from his trail – he was a native of Jersey, and was a non smoker. He was proud of his crimes and boastful, having wrote the letter to police (which was confirmed as being in his handwriting by Paisnel’s wife). The mask was designed not only to disguise him, but to inflict terror on his victims also. The nails in the raincoat were placed in such positions as to injure someone grabbing him – they were designed to help him get away if possibly interrupted. Definitely bad, but in no way mad. It also emerged that Paisnel had been one of just thirteen men on the island who had refused to give any fingerprints during the search for the Beast, as was the right of a Jersey resident at that time.

Paisnel arrives at court during his trial.

On 29th November 1971, it took just 38 minutes for a guilty verdict to be reached against Paisnel on all charges, and he was taken away to await sentencing. He stood in the same court two weeks later, and stood impassive as he was sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for his monstrous crimes. He was then taken away to Winchester prison to begin his sentence. Paisnel appealed his conviction and sentence in September 1972, but his appeal was unsuccessful and he was returned to prison to serve out his sentence. He was released in 1991 after being a model prisoner and returned to Jersey, albeit briefly. However, local feeling was still so strong by islanders who remembered Paisnel’s reign of terror, and he eventually was hounded out and moved to the Isle of Wight, where he died of a heart attack in 1994.

Since his death, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Paisnel was involved in child abuse concerned with the notorious Haut de la Garenne children’s home. Papers that were released during the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry revealed him to be a regular visitor there, and had previously heard evidence that he prowled the halls and rooms of The La Preference home, which was run by his mother in law and Joan, during the 1960’s in his terrifying mask. A former resident of the home in the 1960’s, known only as “Mr D” gave evidence saying that Paisnel had on numerous occasions crept into the home at night through the windows dressed in a raincoat and gloves, and that he had used chloroform to drug children and remove them from beds to abuse in his signature fashion.

“One night I was asleep and I felt a presence in there and it was Paisnel stood staring at me. He had some kind of mask on him. The Paisnel’s house was so eerie. When we were doing the outer building you would see cats strung up and you would actually see him strangling cats. I just couldn’t stay there any longer. I always sensed that Paisnel was evil – you just sensed that something pure evil was going on in that place” – “Mr D”

However, despite any allegations made against Paisnel in relation to abuse at Haut de la Garenne, he was not included in the initial enquiry looking at historic sexual abuse at the home, Operation Rectangle.
The police file stated that was “no firm evidence to hand in the investigation that Paisnel was responsible for any abuse that falls within the parameters of the investigation”.

Yet it would appear likely that Paisnel had committed many more crimes than he was charged with and tried for. The attacks that led to the charges Paisnel was tried and imprisoned for are the ones that have been detailed here, and who knows just how many more unrecognised victims of this monster are out there. Yes, Paisnel is long dead now, but the memory of the terror of the “Beast of Jersey” will never be forgotten. Not by police who searched for him for more than a decade, not by long-time residents of Jersey, and certainly not by his victims.


The True Crime Enthusiast

Who killed the Bristol Night Nurse?

Susan Donoghue

The Bristol suburb of Sneyd Park originates from the Victorian age, and still contains many Edwardian and Victorian villas lining its edges. For many years it has been considered a very affluent area, it is home to many wealthy people who enjoy the quiet, upmarket community. But forty years ago, the community was rocked by a horrific murder that remains one of the UK’s most infamous crimes, and one that is unsolved to this day. However, due to advances in forensic science, today Avon and Somerset police are a crucial step closer in bringing the killer to justice.

The summer of 1976 was the hottest summer since records began, and is so embedded in the national psyche that it is still regularly used as a benchmark for comparison whenever the United Kingdom has any subsequent heatwaves. But for the family of Susan Donghue, 1976 is remembered for a different reason altogether. That year, a mother, sister and fiancée was taken from them, when Susan was brutally murdered in her own home, in her own bed.

Susan was one of 13 children, and had been born in 1932 in the Fintona area of County Tyrone, Ireland. She had grown up with her family in the town of Lisnacrieve and had attended the Loreto Grammar School in Omagh, where her ambition throughout her schooldays had been to work in nursing. She had trained as a nurse in Belfast, and had worked there for a period before moving to UK mainland and working in a hospital in the Kent area. She eventually married a man named Cornelius Donoghue in the 1950’s and the couple moved to the Channel Islands, settling in Jersey. The marriage produced a son, John, in 1958, but ultimately was not a happy marriage and it broke down in the mid 1960’s. Susan then relocated to Bristol, where three of her brothers lived. She found employment as a night sister at the psychiatric hospital Brentry, in North Bristol, and met a new man. Slightly older that her, Dennis Foote was a carpenter who worked at the same hospital as Susan, teaching carpentry to some of the patients. He was immediately attracted to the 5″2, well built dark haired nurse with the soft Irish twang, and with their combined interest in hospital work, they became friends and soon after became a couple. By all accounts the couple were very happy, as at the time of her death they were engaged and hoping to marry around Christmas time 1976. They did not yet live together, with Dennis sharing a home with his younger brother and Susan having a ground floor bedsit flat in the Sneyd Park area of Downleaze. At the time Downleaze was a street heavily populated with bedsits, and the occupants tended to be transient and ever changing.  Dennis was renovating his house ready for them to live in as a couple, and his younger brother had recently moved out to pave way for the couple living together. Happy times.

The ground floor flat (with open window) where Susan Donoghue lived

So by all accounts, the night of 04/05 August 1976 should have been a normal night for Susan. She should have been on a night shift at Brentry hospital that evening, but wasn’t feeling too well. So she had telephoned the hospital to tell them that she wouldn’t be going in that evening, and a friend had come around to visit her. Suffering with a heavy cold, Susan had seen her friend off at about 12:15am and then settled down, trying to sleep her cold off in the hot August evening. When Dennis arrived at Brentry Hospital for work early on the morning of 05 August, he was told that Susan had not made it into work the night before as she was ill. Remember, this is long before the days of everyone having a mobile phone, being able to text messaging etc. Not even everybody had a telephone in their house at this time, so as Dennis hadn’t heard from Susan he decided to go around to her flat to make sure she was ok.

What Dennis discovered when he arrived there at 07:15am that morning led to him having to be heavily sedated the next day. It left his life in ruins. Dennis let himself into Susan’s ground floor flat and discovered Susan’s body lying in her bed in the bedroom/sitting room. She was clearly dead, and had been brutally battered to death, with the killer inflicting severe head injuries upon her. The room was heavily bloodstained. Shaken and distraught, Dennis immediately summoned police.

A team of detectives, led by Detective Superintendent John Robinson of Avon and Somerset Police, arrived to set up an incident room and launched immediate house to house enquiries in the locality of Susan’s flat. Surmising that Susan’s killer must have been heavily bloodstained due to the frenzied attack, a team of police searched the area surrounding the house and nearby streets and gardens for any bloodstained clothing that the killer may have dumped whilst fleeing from the scene. Nothing was found. Meanwhile, Home Office pathologist Dr Bill Kennard was summoned from Salisbury to examine the body in situ. Scenes of crime officers worked around him, photographing the scene and examining surfaces for forensic evidence. From the initial appearance of the scene of the crime, it appeared that Susan had been attacked as she slept and that the killer had battered her to death with a heavy blunt instrument. There was evidence of the room having been ransacked, although it was unclear exactly what, if anything, had been taken. A bloodstained Bristol Docks police truncheon was found at the scene and this was later confirmed to have been the murder weapon. Also found at the scene were a heavily bloodstained pair of man’s driving gloves, a tobacco box, and a footprint on the inside window sill of the adjacent room to where Susan was found. The window was found half open. Forensic examination of the items found at the scene later confirmed that the blood covering them had come from Susan, and a later post mortem also concluded that Susan had been sexually assaulted either before or after the attack, as the presence of human semen was found. The post mortem also determined that Susan’s killer had struck her over the head at least seven times.

Footprint discovered on the windowsill in Susan Donoghue’s flat.

Whilst house to house enquiries got underway, Susan’s colleagues and friends and family were spoken to at the same time in an attempt to build up a picture of Susan’s life. Everyone who knew her, her neighbours who lived in the houses and bedsits that made up Downleaze, even the patients in the hospital where she worked were spoken to to try to paint a picture of Susan. Had she any enemies, or was she involved in anything untoward or illicit? Ultimately, nothing was found to suggest any of these possibilities – it transpired that Susan was a quiet woman who seemed to keep her personal life quite private and to not socialise too much with her work colleagues. But the overall impression from talking to people who knew her was that she was well liked and very popular with her colleagues. A colleague of hers paid tribute to her in an interview with the Bristol Evening Post the day after Susan was murdered:

“She was a jolly sort of person who always had a big smile on her face. Susan worked on the opposite shift to me. She never pushed herself to the front of things but was “one of the girls” definitely. We are all very  sad at her death, it was the only talking point in the hospital last night, especially among those who worked with her on her last shift on Tuesday” – Mr John Camilleri (colleague of Susan’s)

Detectives examine the point of entry of the killer

House to house enquiries revealed very little, no one in the area had heard any screams or sounds of a struggle that evening, and no one had been seen leaving the vicinity of Susan’s flat. In fact, only one witness was found who seemed to have heard anything out of the ordinary – and that witness happened to be a three year old black spaniel dog called Jet. Jet’s owner, Gareth Jones, lived in a flat opposite the house where Susan was murdered, and in the early hours of 05 August, jet had woken his owners with his yapping and crying. Because this was so out of the norm for the dog, Mr Jones got up and took Jet out on its lead, thinking it needed to go out. Instead, Jet headed straight for the vicinity of Susan’s flat. The dog was extremely agitated and would not settle for some time afterwards – had the dog heard something?

The items recovered from the scene that had been left by the killer also yielded no results. No forensic evidence from the killer was able to be gleaned from any of them. The gloves were old and grubby, and were of the old driving type that were string backed with pigskin palms and cuffs. The gloves recovered at the scene are pictured here:

Bloodstained gloves recovered from the scene
The gloves as they were found at the crime scene

The Police truncheon, inscribed “Bristol Docks”is also pictured here. It is a brutal weapon to use, and all the more chilling when it is known that the killer brought it with him specifically for no other reason but to use for violence. Detectives made many enquiries as to its origins, but what would seem a promising lead ultimately led nowhere

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For more than 12 months, a team of 80 detectives investigated many possible leads and undertook countless enquiries. Several men were arrested over the course of the enquiry, but all were released without charge and later eliminated completely from the investigation. A total of 4,000 statements were taken and 7,000 people were interviewed, but these ultimately led to nothing. Several people who had been seen in the area were unable to be traced and have never came forward, including a slim built man who was seen pushing a bike along nearby Julian Road at about 12:30am; a motorcyclist wearing a white helmet who passed by at around the same time, and a mysterious “man in dark glasses” who was seen near the local church at the time of Susan’s funeral. Two months later, another man – possibly the same person – was seen examining wreath and flower inscriptions at Susan’s grave. Who was he? Detectives exhausted every line of enquiry they had available to them; all petty housebreakers and sex offenders that were known to Avon and Somerset police were tracked down, questioned and ultimately cleared. The police truncheon proved a fruitless lead, as did the commonplace driving gloves left behind at the crime scene. The tobacco tin also led to a dead end, as did the footprint left on the windowsill. When all these  lines of enquiry had been exhausted, and as time progressed, the manpower investigating Susan’s murder was scaled down as other crimes that required investigating caught up. Sadly, crime does not stand still. It must have been frustrating for police on the enquiry – to have a murder weapon, the killer’s semen, the gloves that he wore – and yet to not have a single suspect or witness. With no new information forthcoming, the enquiry remained inactive for many years.

Tobacco tin recovered at the scene of the crime

In the years following Susan’s murder, forensic science had advanced greatly, culminating in the discovery in 1984 of DNA profiling, and in 1995 the investigation into Susan’s murder was reviewed as a cold case. The DNA from the semen sample discovered at the scene of the crime was placed on the National DNA database – but there was no hit. It was again reviewed for matches in both 1997 and 1998, but again with no results. In both of the the latter reviews, a mass screening of suspects from the original investigation was undertaken along with renewed Crimestoppers appeals, but these again drew a blank. By 2005, the DNA profile was able to be upgraded due to advances in technology, and some familial DNA screening was undertaken both in 2005 and again in 2009 – but the offence still frustratingly remained undetected. By the 40th anniversary of Susan’s murder in 2016 – a new cold case team was examining the crime, led by Detective Chief Inspector Julie Mckay of Avon and Somerset Police.

“The passage of time since a murder is no longer an obstacle in securing justice for these victims. The technology used in DNA forensics has come a long way since Susan was murdered and we now have a full DNA profile of the man who sexually abused and murdered her. I am convinced that someone out there has information on what happened that August night in 1976. I would appeal directly to them, or the killer himself, to come forward now and bring an end to the 40 years of heartache Susan’s family and friends have had to endure” – Detective Chief Inspector Julie Mckay (Avon and Somerset Cold Case Unit)

What then, is known about the killer? It is known that it was a male, working alone. It is unlikely to have been his first or last crime, so many points about the crime suggest someone who has offended before. This is a level of crime that is built up to – an offender does not set out to commit a brutal sex murder – and manage to escape detection for 40 years –  as his first offence. He is likely to have a background as a housebreaker – he affected entry without being seen or heard. He came prepared to commit a crime and showed some level of forensic awareness –  he wore gloves and did not leave any prints, even after leaving the gloves at the scene. He was prepared to and did use extreme violence, so I would expect the offender to have come to the attention of police before for violent offences.  It is likely that this offender had a certain level of organisation about him – he was in control of the situation, was able to rape and murder without disturbing any neighbours, and managed both access and egress quietly and without leaving any traces. Even the gloves, although left at the scene, were placed carefully onto a chair. Yet there are traces of this being a disorganized killer – he left gloves, the murder weapon, tobacco, a footprint and semen at the scene.

No one was witnessed fleeing the scene, so a physical description of the killer is unavailable and indeed, would be unreliable now after 40 years.  It is possible that the offender had killed before, as there is a very similar murder that occurred in Nottingham just three weeks before Susan’s, and this case will be covered on TTCE at a later date. And it is possible that the offender killed again after Susan’s murder, though police have never officially linked any other crimes to Susan’s murder. It very unlikely that the offender will have ceased offending after this, or indeed that this is his only killing. There was nothing found to suggest that Susan was deliberately targeted as a victim, indeed, police have long favoured the theory that this was a petty housebreaker who took advantage of an open window that was visible from the pavement, and attacked Susan in an opportunistic crime.  The way that the house was set back somewhat from the road tends to support this theory, it does appear a favourable location for a burglar. A burglar who came to rob, but took the opportunity to rape instead? Det Supt John Robinson said at the time:

“My favourite theory is perhaps we’ve got a petty housebreaker. There is evidence that entry was effected through that window, and there is evidence of ransacking in her bedroom. Anyone going through the bedroom door would think that he was in the lounge because from the doorway he would have seen a three-piece suite. He could not have been blamed for, thinking that the room was unoccupied. When if Mrs Donoghue woke up probably her first reaction was that it was her boyfriend. ‘The intruder was a pretty cool customer because after he had hit her he sexually assaulted her” – Det Supt John Robinson (speaking in 1976)

Due to the passage of time since Susan’s murder, there exists the very real possibility that the offender himself is now dead. Sadly, this seems likely – he certainly hasn’t been arrested for any crimes since the inception of the National DNA database, and offenders of this magnitude will more than likely have offended again. But of course, this may not be the case – he may be infirm and in hospital, or may now live abroad if still alive. But detectives do today have the crucial evidence of his full DNA profile, and although familial DNA searches have to date been unsuccessful, the Cold Case team led by DCI Mckay are fully committed and will not give up on finding the identity of Susan’s killer. There exists the very real possibility that a match may be entered upon the National DNA database tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, and he will be found when the DNA profile is next reviewed. It may ultimately prove too late to bring Susan’s killer to punishment for his crime, but if his identity is known then perhaps Susan’s family can get some level of closure after so many years. It still, unsurprisingly, weighs very heavily upon them:

“Susan was brutally murdered. “They thought maybe it was someone in the hospital where she worked, but they never got anybody. Like thousands of other people, even in our own country here, I’ve never given up hope. But years and years have passed and they didn’t get anyone, and you wonder if the person they were looking for has passed away themselves. They have made great strides in technology, so maybe they will get somebody. That is about all I can hope for. It would help bring some closure for me.” – Seamus McGeary (Susan’s brother)

Anyone with information concerning Susan’s murder should call 101 and ask for Operation Radar.

Information can also be left anonymously with Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


The True Crime Enthusiast



Death in Highgate Woods

Michael Williams

Michael Williams would likely be a grandfather if he was alive today. He would have happily long since retired, and would have spent his remaining years in the company of his family, enjoying life and watching his grandchildren play and grow up. But Michael never got the chance to do this, because one hot summer’s evening in August 1988, Michael was murdered. His killer has never been caught, so to this day Michael’s murder remains on the sadly ever growing list of unsolved murders in the United Kingdom. It is a murder that raises many questions and presents differing possibilities as to the motive.

Michael was London born and bred, and had spent his life living in the London district of Highgate. He had married at age 25, and he and his wife welcomed a daughter into the world in 1986, when Michael was 41. The family were churchgoing and by all accounts were happy, with Michael being especially devoted to his daughter. He always loved and enjoyed spending time with her, and at the time of his death Michael had been flexi working to assist his wife in taking care of her.

Michael, his wife and baby daughter

Michael was employed as a civil servant working for the Home Office at Horseferry House, Pimlico, where he had worked for many years assisting in programming computer systems, one of them being the Police National Computer. At the time of his death, which occurred over the August Bank Holiday weekend in 1988, Michael had spent that whole week up to the Friday staying late in work trying to clear a backlog before the office closed for the bank Holiday weekend. At 6pm that evening, Michael’s wife called him at his office to see what time he would be home that evening, to which Michael replied about 8:15pm. However, after his wife had rung off, one of Michael’s colleagues said that everyone from the office was going to a local pub for a few drinks and asked him to join them. After a moment’s hesitation, Michael agreed.

Michael and his colleagues had gone to the Pavier’s Arms pub in Pimlico, a place that he frequently went with his work colleagues. By all accounts the evening was a good one, with everybody from the office enjoying themselves and letting their hair down after a long stressful week. When one of Michael’s colleagues asked him if he wanted another drink, Michael glanced at his watch. It was 11:15pm, long after he told his wife that he would be home. Making his excuses, Michael said goodnight to his co workers and left to get his tube train home on the London Underground, along with one of his colleagues. A few minutes later, Michael and his colleague got onto the Underground tube train at Pimlico, and headed back towards home on the Victoria Line. By the time it reached 11:35pm, the train arrived at Victoria station and Michael’s friend left him to change trains.

He was the last person who knew Michael to see him alive.

What occurred next remains open to speculation. Michael’s usual route home was to continue along the Victoria Line to either Warren Street or Euston, where he would change trains and get on the Northern Line to head to Highgate. He did not live very far from Highgate station, and his walk home would have taken him past the outskirts of Highgate Wood. If the trains were running on time, he would have changed trains at about 11:45pm and would have arrived at Highgate just before midnight, and then had to walk the short distance home. However, it is not known for definite if Michael adhered to his usual route home that evening, because a ticket collector at East Finchley tube station saw and spoke to a man that was possibly Michael at about 12:30am that Saturday morning. East Finchley is one further stop on from Highgate. Was this Michael, and if so, why had he gone the extra stop? Had he slept through his stop, or had he deliberately gone a stop further?

The main gates to Highgate Wood are opened around about 7:00am each morning by a park attendant, but there are several paths and roads that skirt the park, which is frequented by runners, dog walkers and people in general at all times of the day and the night. At night, it has become notorious as a meeting place for homosexual activity. At 7:40am, a woman out walking her dog noticed a shape on the side of an access road that skirts the main gates to the woods. Getting closer, she discovered Michael’s body. He had been robbed of all of the possessions he had on him, and a later post mortem determined that he had been killed by a single, violent blow to the throat.

So after police had determined Michael’s last known movements, there was an unaccounted for period of 8 hours between the last definitive sighting of Michael alive, and his body being found. Subsequent witness appeals determined further that his body must have been left at the spot it was found at some time between 06:55am and 07:40am. The park keeper who opened the gates that morning at 06:55am did not notice Michael’s body lying on the path, nor did several other people who were using the path that time of the morning. Yet it was there at 07:40am. Had it been dumped from a car? Several people who that morning had travelled past the spot that Michael’s body was found at came forward to help police with enquiries, and one witness revealed details of a strange man he had encountered early that Saturday morning, very close to the spot where Michael’s body had been found.

The witness was out walking his dog just after 6:00 am that morning, and passed the exact spot where Michael’s body was found. He saw nothing there. Continuing his walk and just around the corner, a mere few yards further on, the witness had an unsettling encounter with a man that police have never yet been able to trace.  The witness, who had a large German Shepherd dog, rounded the corner and saw a man ahead of him standing rigidly upright against a lamppost in very close proximity to the gates to the woods. The dog bounded up to the man and jumped up at him barking – but the man did not flinch. He remained statue like, not even blinking or saying a word. When the dog walker went to get his dog onto a lead, the man said nothing but just stood rigidly staring directly ahead. The dog walker later described him as being as though he was in a trance. Feeling unnerved by the man’s strange behaviour, the dog walker made off away down the path. When he looked back after a going a bit of a distance, the man was still stood there. Nobody else reported seeing this strange man early that morning however, and he wasn’t there when the gates adjacent to the lamppost were opened nearly an hour later at 06:55am. An artist’s impression of the man was circulated and is shown below, but despite widespread appeals this man has never come forward or been traced.

An artist’s impression of the strange man seen by Highgate woods.

Frustratingly, another seemingly promising lead was to came to nothing. On the Sunday, the day after Michael’s body was found, his credit card was used to pay for a meal that evening at the New Argen Tandoori Restaurant located on Friern Barnet Road, Southgate. This is a district of London not too many miles from Highgate. However, by the time police had discovered that it was Michael’s card that had been used, the trail had long gone cold. Staff at the restaurant could not remember any details about how many people the meal was for, or a description of the person who had used the card to pay and who had forged Michael’s signature. Also, in 1988 CCTV was not as commonplace as it is nowadays. It was a lead that ultimately led nowhere.

Michael’s forged signature – who’s handwriting was this?

The police investigation struggled, and just a few weeks after his death Michael’s final movements were reconstructed on a Crimewatch UK televised appeal in November 1988. The appeal reconstructed up to where he was last seen alive by his friend, included the strange man seen by the lamppost and detailed Michael’s credit card being used at the restaurant. Out of about 140 calls that police received following the reconstruction, there were only three that seemed promising. Someone naming themselves only as “Paul” rang to say that they knew the identity of the strange man stood against the lamppost, although the caller rang off. It has never been established if this call was genuine or not. Another call was received from someone claiming that it had been they who had used Michael’s credit card to pay at the restaurant, after having found it and not realised its significance. It is not reported where they had found the card, but if the person calling was valid and genuine then they were obviously cleared of any involvement in Michael’s murder as it is still officially unsolved. However, the most promising call of the evening came from a security guard who reported having seen a man he was convinced was Michael leaving East Finchley tube station in the company of another man at 12:30am on the Saturday morning. This would tie in with the sighting by the ticket collector at the same time of the man who was possibly Michael  that police were already aware of.

So what was the motive for Michael’s murder? He was not found to have had any known enemies, seemed happy at home and in work, and was a devoted family man. So this leaves a couple of possibilities. Was it a simple random mugging that got out of hand? When his body was found, all of the property Michael had had on his person was missing. This consisted of his wallet and credit cards, a computer manual, his Home Office pass card, a signet ring with his initials on, and a distinctive Rolex watch that had been made specifically for Michael some years before. Apart from the credit card transaction, none of this property has ever been found discarded or traced. But this doesn’t explain why there was a need to kill him? Plenty of people are mugged at night, but not all are killed. Police considered the method that Michael had been killed quite distinctive also, and at one time followed a line of enquiry that Michael’s killer was a karate expert. Karate experts who were consulted claimed that being able to strike such a precise blow with enough force to kill with that blow would have taken years of karate experience. It also suggests that Michael’s killer was physically fit and powerfully built. It is a very distinct method of killing someone and suggests a killing fuelled by anger and one a bit more personal, whereas it is my opinion that a robber would be armed, possibly with a knife.

A replica of Michael’s distinctive Rolex watch

Another possible motive was that it was a homosexual encounter that somehow went wrong, and police took this as a very serious line of enquiry. It is known that Michael was bisexual, and had had relationships with both men and women in the past. At the time, as they are now, Highgate woods were a notorious spot for people seeking random homosexual encounters. Did Michael pick someone up on his way home, or attempt to? This is a very real possibility. There are two independent witnesses that came forward to say that they had seen a man matching Michael’s description at East Finchley tube station at about 12:30am that Saturday – with one of them claiming that this man had been in the company of another man. Was this Michael? His home life and work life were scrutinised as part of the police investigation, but there is no suggestion that Michael was leading a double life, and that he was anything but faithful to his wife. But it is of course a possibility, and is a line of enquiry that police have never been able to rule out due to the location where Michael’s body was found being a notorious haunt for homosexual activity.

Michael had told his wife he would be home at about 8:00pm, but had made no real effort to get home and had indeed gone for a few drinks on a whim. There is also no record as to how intoxicated Michael was when he left to go home – had he drunkenly approached someone for sex? There is no record of any sign of Michael having been engaged in sexual activity before his death, and he was found fully clothed, so if he hadn’t there is another possibility. Perhaps Michael could have been killed in a homophobic attack? Had he mistakenly or drunkenly approached another man expecting or soliciting a homosexual encounter, only to be attacked by someone with a hatred of homosexuality who was angry and disgusted at being approached in this way? This would explain the rage and force behind the attack. Police gave serious consideration to this theory, and appealed for anyone else who had been the victim of “gay-bashing” in the area to come forward. But these enquiries proved fruitless.

As the case is nearly 30 years undetected now, the passage of time significantly decreases the possibility of anyone being arrested and charged with Michael’s murder. There is relatively little information available to research Michael’s murder, and the gaps in information concerning Michael’s movements on the night also frustrate and hinder any chance of successful detection of this crime. Because of these said gaps, all that is left is to speculate about a possible sequence of events based on what is known. It is that eight hour gap between Michael last being seen alive for definite, and his body being found, that crucially needs to be filled in because it raises so many questions. Firstly, where and when exactly was he killed has never been established. I believe it quite unlikely that Michael was killed where his body was found. There was quite a passage of people using the woods early that Saturday morning that didn’t see his body, and no attempt was made to hide his body. If he had been killed there some hours before, surely his body would have been found earlier than it was? I believe it more likely that his body was dumped from a car hurriedly that morning. Carrying a body would massively increase a risk of detection to the killer, whereas a quick escape could be made by using a car. So where had he been killed? If he was killed elsewhere, I believe the homosexual encounter gone wrong theory is more likely. A mugger would not abduct a victim, for what purpose would they? Had Michael then got into a car with someone, perhaps someone he knew, for the purpose of a sexual encounter? Was he killed in a car, or in a premises?

I also believe that too much emphasis should not be given to the man stood against the lamppost as being the killer. Although this is strange behaviour, and this man was obviously a crucial person of interest that police needed to trace and eliminate, there is nothing to suggest he was Michael’s killer. He may just have been someone with mental health issues, or under the influence of drugs who was in the area at the time. I do not think that Michael’s murder was pre-planned. I believe that he was killed following a heated argument or as part of a scuffle on the spur of the moment. The absence of a weapon supports this.

Of course, this is all hypothesis based upon the scant information available, and the questions that said information raises. It is unclear as to the definite motive for why Michael Williams was killed. Police have no suspects, and no reported forensic evidence recovered from Michael’s body to obtain a DNA sample from for comparison should a suspect arise. There is also the possibility that Michael’s killer is now dead themselves, is in prison for another crime, is in hospital or has moved to another part of the country or even abroad. Ultimately, every lead police have had and received in this case has been exhausted and has led to a dead end, and it will only be with fresh information now from somebody that Michael’s killer will ever likely face justice. This may be in the form of a confession from somebody, perhaps the killer whose guilt has got the better of them, or someone who has long held suspicion or knowledge of the identity of the killer coming forward now that loyalties have changed or long held fear has gone. Until then, Michael’s family will remain with the speculation as to who was responsible for making a wife a widow and a young girl fatherless.


The True Crime Enthusiast

Who Was The HallBottom Street Hammer Killer?

Frieda Hunter and Joe Gallagher

Hallbottom Street, in the Greater Manchester town of Hyde is situated in the picturesque area of the base of the Pennines. It hasn’t changed too much since the 1970’s, when it was part rural lane part mix of council housing and stone cottages. But in 1979, this picturesque road was blighted by being the scene of a horrific double murder. A young couple were bludgeoned to death in their own home in what a senior detective investigating described as “one of the most vicious killings I have ever come across”. It is a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

The victims were 30 year old part time taxi driver Joe Gallagher, and his girlfriend of two years, 20 year old barmaid Frieda Hunter. The couple had lived together for about a year in their semi- detached council property, no 3 Hallbottom Street, Hyde. Frieda and Joe were described as being a devoted couple, very outgoing and involved in the popular and predominant biker community of the 1970’s. Joe was from the Wythenshawe area of Manchester, and was described as being academically outstanding, doing well enough in studies to have a promising career as a laboratory technician. Perhaps there was some essence of nomad in Joe, for he left his promising laboratory career and signed up for the Army, leaving home and spending three years as a serving soldier. It is not documented as to whether Joe had a remarkable Army career or not, but when he left after serving three years he adapted a totally contrasting “hippy” kind of lifestyle, a world away from the regimented routine of Army life. He lived for a time in a commune near Glastonbury, and then moved further north to Birmingham. Here, Joe was briefly married to a woman who bore him a son. But the marriage did not last, although it is unclear as to whether at the time of his death Joe was divorced or still married. The couple split up and Joe found himself embroiled in the biker culture and heavy rock scene of 1970’s Britain. He rode a Triumph Tiger motorcycle and found a job as a roadie for a band. It also about this time that Joe began to use cannabis, which was commonplace in the biker culture of the 1970’s.

The pub where Frieda worked, The Queen’s Hotel

Frieda Hunter was 10 years Joe’s junior, and had moved down to the Hyde area from her native Scotland to study a creative arts course at the local Polytechnic college. She hadn’t enjoyed the course and decided to drop out, but as she had made a lot of friends and also enjoyed the biker culture and the music scene, Frieda had decided to stay in the area. Frieda and Joe met and began a relationship in the late 1970’s, and eventually the couple moved in together to 3 Hallbottom Street. In mid- February 1979, Frieda had started working as a barmaid at the Queen’s Hotel in Hyde, and on Saturday 24th February had worked a busy shift. Joe had collected her from work after closing time that evening as was their routine, and the couple had gone home.

It was the last time both Frieda and Joe were seen alive, except by their killer.

The couple’s home, 3 Hallbottom Street, Hyde, pictured in 1979

By Wednesday 28th February 1979, a friend of Joe’s and fellow taxi-driver was concerned that he hadn’t been able to reach him for several days. He had called at the house on two occasions since the Saturday evening, with no reply, and his concern was grave enough that when there was no answer on the Wednesday, he decided to force his way into the property. His concern was heightened when he found the rear kitchen window already broken, and upon entering he discovered something horrific. Joe and Frieda were found in their upstairs bedroom. They were lying together in their blood-soaked bed, each of them having received at least 14 blows each to the head and face. The couple had been battered to death in an attack so severe that their heads had been effectively destroyed. When found, the body of Joe was laid across Frieda as if he had tried in vain to protect her from an attack. The later post mortems were to determine that the likely murder weapon had been a large and heavy hammer, and that Joe and Frieda had been killed possibly up to three days before they were found.

The broken kitchen window to the rear of the property

A murder enquiry was immediately launched, but house to house enquiries soon established that no sound of a struggle or screams coming from the house had been heard at any time between the Saturday and the Wednesday. No suspicious activity had been noticed by any of the couple’s neighbours or residents of Hallbottom Street throughout this period, and there were no obvious or immediate suspects. Investigating officers appealed for witnesses who had noticed anybody in the area that was heavily blood-stained, which the killer would surely have been due to the ferocity of the attack. But no one came forward to report seeing anyone who had been. A mass search for a murder weapon was undertaken, with specialist search teams searching ponds, drains and rubbish tips in the area. But this was to no avail; no murder weapon was or has ever been found.

A possible motive for the savage killing was also elusive. Neither Joe nor Frieda was found to have had any disagreements or arguments with anybody, and neither was found to have anybody who bore them a long standing grudge. They were described by all who knew them as being devoted to each other, and no evidence was found that suggested that either of them had been having an affair. Detectives reasoned at first that the couple had been murdered during the course of a robbery that had gone wrong. Supporting this theory was the fact that an empty wage packet of Joe’s was found on the floor of the couple’s bedroom, and Frieda’s purse was found to be empty. But nothing else was found to be missing, and a simple robbery would not explain the horrific level of violence used.

“From the ferocity of the attack, this was personal – facial and all head, that’s where the injuries were inflicted. Yes there was an empty wage packet, an empty purse, but it was clear the person had gone upstairs, killed them, come back out, and gone.” – Det Sgt Julie Adams, GMP Cold Case Unit

It was this ferocity, this complete overkill that led detectives to believe that the motive for the couple’s violent deaths was very much more of a personal motive, and answers may perhaps actually lay in the lifestyle that the couple had and the circles that they moved in. Their lifestyle was scrutinised and the murder enquiry soon focused solely upon this, with police becoming convinced that the key to solving Joe and Frieda’s murders lay within the biker community. It was established that Joe and Frieda had many friends who were members of the Dragon’s North West chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Many of these were involved in criminal activity and there were more than a few unsavoury characters within this society.

But this was to prove a mammoth task. Joe and Frieda had many friends and acquaintances that shared their passion for biking and rock music, and during the course of the enquiry detectives were to carry out nearly 2,000 interviews spanning the length and breadth of Britain. What became apparent throughout the course of these interviews was that, like many fellow members of the biker community in the 1970’s, Joe and Frieda were both regular cannabis users. It was said more than once that Joe himself was a known cannabis dealer. Joe’s family claim that they knew he used cannabis, but that it was to ease chronic pain he suffered following a series of operations upon a facial disfigurement that he had had since birth. It has never been established whether he dealt in cannabis or was just a user.

Was the murder then drug related? It was certainly a working theory, but this does not explain the level of violence used – or why Frieda was killed also? In fact, the press jumped on the drug angle and this led to Joe’s family feeling that because he was a cannabis user, the press highlighted this part of his character rather than focus overall upon the kind of man that he was. They believe that this led to a lack of public sympathy due to how drug use was viewed as unsavoury and was frowned upon, and even made potential important witnesses not come forward or want to get involved. Joe’s family described how their whole family suffered following this:

“The Press were extremely unkind to us. They needed a story and said he smoked cannabis – it was something they came back to. That was just a tiny little part of Joe. People my mother had known for years ignored her in the street, and parents at my school demanded that I was expelled because they reckoned my brother was a drug addict. It got really nasty.” – Margaret Linnane (Joe’s sister)


Press clippings from the time of the original murder investigation

But ultimately, this line of enquiry like all others in the case drew a blank. The theory that the murders were drug related remained exactly that, just a theory. Throughout the course of the enquiry, several suspects were interviewed and eliminated, and no one was ever charged in connection with the brutal double murder. It has been reviewed periodically over the years, and the Greater Manchester Police Cold Case Unit is keen to stress that the murder file remains open. They are optimistic that there is still someone out there who has information that could help solve the murder of Frieda Hunter and Joe Gallagher, and that due to the passage of time and the public having more open mindedness nowadays about cannabis use and non-conventional lifestyles, this person or persons may now come forward and give vital information.

There is relatively little information available for research about this case bar what has been presented here, and what is available poses many questions. Did the killer or killers bring the murder weapon with them, or was it something they used as a weapon that was to hand? Who was struck first, was it Joe or Frieda? Who was the intended target – was it Joe, Frieda, or was it both? I do not think that the killer was invited in – I believe it likely that the couple were battered to death in bed whilst asleep. No screams or sounds of struggle were reported at any time, so this would seem likely. There is no mention of any signs of an attack in another room, and why would a killer do so but then move the couple to the bedroom? This does then suggest someone having forced entry – but someone I believe was known to the couple. Someone who knew their movements and knew that they would be home at the time. Perhaps someone who had followed them home after Joe had picked Frieda up from the Queen’s Hotel, and waited for the opportunity to break in and attack. This suggests a planned attack, not a random burglary gone wrong. I also do not believe that it should be discounted that the motive for the murder was jealousy, perhaps committed by a jealous suitor. With the absence of any witnesses having seen anyone fleeing the scene, it is even impossible to determine whether the killer was male or female. To overpower a couple would normally suggest a strong male – unless they were attacked whilst asleep. The level of overkill suggests a crime of passion, a moment of madness.

Of course, this is all speculation. There is no physical description of any suspects, there is no report of any forensic evidence being left behind by the killer, and there is no definitive motive. There is not even any way to determine which of the couple, or if it was the both of them, was the intended target? It is very likely that the answer did lie within the circles that the couple moved in, but detectives could never find the answer in these circles. It is likely that someone still knows or suspects who is responsible for the murders, but perhaps fear of reprisal has prevented them from coming forward for all these years. Joe and Frieda do not deserve this.

 “The couple’s way of life may not have appealed altogether to those with more conventional backgrounds, but they were perfectly harmless and innocent people who worked honestly for a living and had a stable relationship.” – Coroner Peter Revington (speaking at inquest)

Anyone with information can contact GMP’s Cold Case Unit on 0161 856 0320 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


The True Crime Enthusiast




The Murder of Veronica Anderson

For more than a quarter of a century, Widnes mum Lorraine Rigby has had to live with memories of a sight that will haunt her to her dying day, one that left her family shattered. In August 1991, when Lorraine was just 19 years old and pregnant with her first child, she had the tragic and haunting task of identifying her mother’s body. Her mother, 42 year old single mother Veronica Anderson, had been brutally murdered in a horrific and as yet, unsolved crime.

“I’m still angry about it, I used to have nightmares because I had to identify her. I was 19 and pregnant. That was quite horrifying because my mum wasn’t married so there was no-one else to do it. My brother was only seven. It was hard sitting a seven-year-old down and telling him his mum isn’t coming back. That was the hardest thing of all. It affected the whole family.” – Veronica’s daughter Lorraine Rigby

Veronica Anderson

Veronica was known to family and friends as Vera, and was a mother of two, a son and daughter. She was described as a devoted and loving mother, and was eagerly awaiting becoming a grandmother for the first time as her 19 year old daughter Lorraine was pregnant with her first child. The family lived in Hadfield Close in the town of Widnes, Cheshire, and on Saturday August 24 1991, Veronica was at home watching television. Lorraine was out that evening and her 7 year old son Neil was in bed.

What may sound like a run of the mill Saturday night was to be the final night of Veronica Anderson’s life.

What has been established is that Veronica received a telephone call sometime that evening, although the identity of the caller has never been ascertained. Whoever it was and whatever they had to say, it was cause enough for Veronica to need to contact a neighbour and ask them to babysit Neil while Veronica popped out for ten minutes. This was at 10:10pm that evening. Veronica dropped Neil off at the neighbour’s house, then drove off in her Ford Cortina car, registration number PCX 38X, saying that she would be back in ten minutes. That was the last time she was seen alive by anybody who knew her.

Veronica’s Ford Cortina

The Old Tannery Complex in nearby Penketh, Warrington, is now an urbanised area, but back in 1991 it still consisted of old derelict buildings and wasteland left over from when the area was a thriving tanning works. Because the buildings were set back off the road, the area had become the type of place used by courting couples for privacy, and also as a haven for soft drug users. As a result of this constant activity, police patrols to the area were quite frequent. That Saturday night was no exception, and a patrol car passed by there at 10:45pm and noticed no cars there.

At 03:18 in the early hours of Sunday August 25, Veronica’s Ford Cortina was found parked up at the Old Tannery Complex, and Veronica was found dead inside, heavily blood-stained and slumped over the steering wheel. She had been murdered by having had her throat cut, and the subsequent post mortem also showed signs of strangulation. Veronica was found fully clothed, and although there were signs of a struggle, there were no apparent signs of robbery or of a sexual attack – this was later confirmed by the post mortem.  No murder weapon was found at the scene, but found nearby was a single blood-stained cotton glove, and a length of sash cord – similar to the type used to tie back curtains.

News of the brutal murder shocked and scared the communities of Warrington and Widnes, and locals were especially anxious to help in the police investigation. Nobody was anxious to have such a savage murderer on the loose, and public response to the police investigation was very encouraging. Some 6,500 statements were taken from people throughout the massive enquiry, but these ultimately led nowhere. No apparent motive could be found for Veronica’s murder. No forensic evidence from the killer was reportedly found in Veronica’s car. No witnesses came forward to say they had seen or heard any screams or sounds of a struggle at the murder scene within the crucial time window. Tracing the origin of the glove found at the scene, and the sash cord, proved fruitless. But the enquiry did produce one possible sighting that was of interest to detectives.

Witnesses came forward to say that on the evening Veronica was murdered, at about 10:30pm, a woman strongly matching her description was seen in the company of a man at the Crown and Cushion pub on Warrington Road, Penketh. This pub was located very near to Veronica’s house, no more than a 10 minute drive away. It is also very close to where her body was discovered at the complex on Tannery Lane. Was this Veronica and her killer?

The Crown and Cushion Pub in Penketh, Warrington, as it appears today

The man she was with was described as being Caucasian, aged mid 30’s to early 40’s, having short cut mousy coloured hair, and having a neatly trimmed mousy coloured moustache. He was described as being of slim build with a thin face, appearing almost sunken at the temples. When seen with the woman who was possibly Veronica, he was wearing a fawn coloured jacket. An artist’s impression of the man was released to the public and is reproduced below:

Who was the man seen at the Crown and Cushion pub?

Detectives also appealed to the public as to the origins of the blood-stained glove found at the murder scene. The glove was a natural coloured industrial type cotton glove labelled with the manufacturer’s name, “Minette”, on the bottom corner. Forensic examination of the glove confirmed that it had been worn by the killer, and that it had come into contact with Veronica. Police believe that her killer dropped this glove by mistake when leaving the scene. Tracing its origins was ultimately unsuccessful however, as was the appeal to trace the origin of the sash cord.  Both were commonplace items widely available, and these lines of enquiry soon drew a blank when they could not be connected to anyone. It is not reported if Veronica was strangled manually or with a ligature – therefore it is worth bearing in mind that the sash cord found at the scene may have been a piece of rubbish left there innocently, and was unconnected with Veronica’s murder.

A glove similar to the one found at the murder scene

The years following the investigation saw detectives follow up many different lines of enquiry, even travelling to Europe on occasions to follow potential lines of enquiry. But each of these enquiries led to nothing. The case was appealed on Crimewatch UK and extensively in the local press, but to no avail. A £30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Veronica’s killer was raised by Crimestoppers and offered. It has never been claimed, despite numerous renewed appeals over the years. The latest appeal was just last year (2016).

More than 25 years have now passed, but Lorraine still remains hopeful that her mother’s killer (or killers, for Lorraine believes it possible more than one person was involved) will be brought to justice. It is shown clearly even now, more than a quarter of a century later, just how painful the fact that her mother’s murder is still unsolved is:

“I would like for them [the murderers] to come forward. It would be good if they did. As time goes on I think there’s more than one person that knows about it. Just through the injuries my mum had, it’s hard to imagine it was just one person. It’s hard because I’ve got young kids now, I’ve got a three and a six-year-old, and even they ask about my mum. Obviously we have got pictures and they ask things about nana Vera. We say she’s up in the sky and they ask if they can go to see her. They don’t really understand but it’s nice that they ask about her” – Lorraine Rigby (speaking in 2016)

This is a very sad crime, and a frustrating one as there are so many dead ends from what would appear to be such promising lines of enquiry. As with any murder enquiry, the victim’s life is always scrutinised in an attempt to establish any possible motive or suspects. Detectives scrutinised Veronica’s, but have never found any motive as to why anyone would want to kill Veronica. The consensus from her family and friends was of her being “a caring, loving person who was not into drugs and had no money”. No obvious enemies were found, or suspects in her murder identified. She was not found to be involved in any illegal activity, an illicit affair, or indeed any romantic relationships. I do not believe that the possibility that she may have been in a relationship should be discounted, however. Perhaps they were just well hidden, or a secret?

The telephone call Veronica received on the night she was murdered was important enough for her to have to go out, having to get her son out of bed and arranging care for him with a neighbour. One press report has her saying she needed to go and meet her brother, and this may be what she told the neighbour looking after Neil. This was obviously untrue, her family would have been interviewed at great length and this would be a fact that would have been firmly established early in the investigation had it been true. This may just be a mistake in the press reporting then, or it may have been an excuse made by Veronica hiding her true motive for heading out that night. Did she have something to hide, perhaps a secret (perhaps illicit) relationship? It seems more likely that it was an impromptu meeting that she was going on and not a “date” – she left the television on, left her purse at home, and even went out in flip flops. If Veronica had pre-arranged to meet someone – surely she would have pre-arranged a babysitter for Neil, and gone out dressed and made up for a night out? All this seems to suggest Veronica planned to return home after only being away a short time. But frustratingly, the caller has never been identified.

Was then, Veronica the woman seen in the Crown and Cushion pub just 20 minutes later? The distance between her house and the pub, especially if she was driving, certainly makes it possible. Again, this would seem a promising line of enquiry – but press reports are scant in the detail. It is not reported if the couple appeared intimate (i.e touching hands), were they arguing or laughing and joking, what they were drinking, who exactly it was that saw them, when the couple left etc. It should also taken into account that the witness reporting the sighting may have been intoxicated at the time of the sighting, and the bombardment of publicity in the aftermath of Veronica’s murder has somehow distorted who the witness has seen.

It should also not be taken as fact that this was definitely Veronica and her killer, because it may of course not have been. However, repeated appeals over the years for both the woman and the man depicted in the artist’s impression to come forward have been unsuccessful, no one has ever yet come forward to identify themselves as the couple and so rule themselves out of the enquiry.  It is highly possible that this was Veronica and her killer having a drink, but it is difficult to see where this line of enquiry can now lead after so many years. The artists impression of the man has also become less of a line of enquiry due to the passage of time, due to the person ageing, features changing, and of course the very realistic possibility that the person depicted is now dead or living elsewhere. But it of course may still be able to jog someone’s memory even now.

Because of the frustrating lack of information available following research about this crime, and the scant details that are available, it is mostly an educated guess that the reader can make about what motivated Veronica’s killer. It seems to have been a very personal murder, committed by someone I believe that was well known to Veronica and who was familiar with the local area. I also believe it very possible that her murder was actually unplanned and committed in the heat of the moment. Firstly, I believe Veronica’s killer was someone well known to her, a strong possibility that it was someone Veronica was in a sexual relationship with, or possibly having an affair with. A secret lover could explain why no one knew about Veronica being in a relationship, because it was illicit and would have caused trouble or shame? This could explain why she would feel the need to rush out of her house at a moment’s notice, possibly to have an impromptu encounter with a lover. This could also explain her possible reason for fabricating the purpose she was going out that Saturday night to her neighbour, and could also explain why Veronica’s car and body were found in a secluded area – perhaps where secret lovers may meet for sex? Here is a hypothetical theory as to the sequence of events, however I must stress that this is no way should  be taken as definitive. It does raise several questions:

Veronica receives an impromptu telephone call from her lover asking to see her – a spur of the moment request and one that supports the theory that it may have been someone that it may not have always been able to see so easily – someone perhaps already married or in a relationship? Seizing the chance, Veronica then hastily arranges care for her son and rushes out in a hurry, fabricating a reason for going out at short notice because this was a secret relationship, perhaps with somebody well known in the local area, again someone who it was not always easy to see? Perhaps she had been asked to meet the lover at a pub nearby – for example the Crown and Cushion? Widnes is a large area, and this pub is far enough away from Veronica’s house that she and a lover may have been away from prying eyes? Perhaps Veronica and whoever she met then went off somewhere private – perhaps for sex or perhaps to talk without being disturbed? I also believe that the location Veronica was found at was one well known to the killer, one that he was familiar with. This suggests somebody from the local area. I also believe the possibility exists that both Veronica and her killer drove to this location in separate cars, and that she was killed where she was found. She was found in the driver’s seat of her car, and I believe that the attack took place within her car. I do not think that her body was placed in this position after death – what would be the possible reason for this?

I do not believe the reason Veronica was killed has its basis in a sexual motive – she was fully clothed, was not raped, and no mention is made of any signs of her having had intercourse that Saturday. I believe a possible, indeed more likely reason is that Veronica was killed in the heat of the moment following an argument, perhaps after a refusal to have sex with someone? Or after her having threatened to spill the beans about an affair like a woman scorned, after pushing to be more than someone’s secret lover? Perhaps in a fit of rage her killer slashed her throat and then strangled her because the slash did not kill her outright, and fear of discovery overtook remorse for their actions? Perhaps she was strangled first and then had her throat slashed? Panicking, the killer then left the scene in their own car, dropping some items in their haste? The fact that it was only a single glove discovered suggests haste and that it was dropped by accident – surely both gloves would have been taken by the killer? No one was reported as being seen hastily running away from the scene during the unaccounted four and a half hour time window, so it would seem likely that the killer arrived and left in their own car. Haste also supports the theory that this was a spur of the moment crime, plus the fact that no attempt was made to hide Veronica’s body, and that she was found very near to where she lived. An argument that spilled into murder?

Of course, this is a hypothesis only, and I am only surmising here based on the available evidence. The exact sequence of events from when she was last seen alive to her body being discovered have never been ascertained, and quite possibly may never be. Instead, there remain many unanswered questions about Veronica’s murder, the majority of which have been highlighted here. The telephone caller that Saturday was never identified – who was it, and what time did they call? The couple in the pub have never been identified – was this Veronica and her killer? There is a five hour window between Veronica last being seen alive and being found dead, with no record of her car being seen anywhere in this window – where was she in this time, and exactly what time was she killed? It may be possible that there were potential witnesses at the time who saw something or someone, but were reluctant to come forward at the time out of fear of reprisal, or misplaced loyalty. It is the absence of these witnesses coming forward and the answers to these questions that help to deny Veronica and her family justice.

However, the enquiry is still open and is reviewed regularly, and with forensic science and the ability to extract DNA samples from items ever advancing, plus identifications through familial DNA matches now available, it is possible that vital clues may yet be gleaned from the items that were seized by police. These items are still retained, for example Veronica’s clothes, the blood stained glove and the sash cord. Until that time however, or a guilty conscience leading to an important new witness or a confession, the investigation will remain at a standstill. Veronica’s family and friends will remain living with the pain that the person who killed a mother, grandmother, sister and friend may still live in the area, walking free, having never yet faced justice for her murder.

Anyone with any information about Veronica’s murder can contact Cheshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.


The True Crime Enthusiast