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The Murder Of Allan Graham

“He just went to the shop, which was perfectly normal for an eleven year old kid, and never came back” – Dennis Baron (Allan’s brother)

Nearly 50 years have now gone by since one of the most infamous unsolved murders in the North-East of England was committed in the winter of 1970. On a bitterly cold January day, an 11-year-old boy disappeared from a street in Newcastle where he had been playing with his friends, and he was not seen again until he was found murdered on farmland just a few miles away the very next morning. Whoever killed him was never caught, and nobody has ever been arrested in connection with his murder. It should be noted that information available concerning the case is rather sparse, and what is available can be contradicting and solicits more questions than provides answers. As usual, TTCE will recount the facts that are known before making any possible analysis that can be made.

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Allan Graham

Allan Graham would have been approaching his 60th birthday this year. He may have married and have raised a family of his own, and he may even have been a grandfather now. But Allan never got that chance, because the 1970’s were just three weeks old when, on the 24th January 1970, he disappeared whilst on an errand visiting a shop in a busy Newcastle street. Reports surfaced, albeit years later, of a man in a van who seemed to know Allan and who drove off with the boy in his van after calling him to get into the vehicle. Allan was never seen alive again, except by his killer.

Like most boys of his age, Allan was football mad and was outgoing and boisterous, being what his half-brother Dennis Baron described as a “lad’s lad”. Although he came from a broken home, living with his mother Mary Wells in Gateshead, Allan was described as being happy and full of life. He had half-brothers some years older than himself that he idolised, and over the weekend of the 23rd to 25th January 1970, Allan and his mother were staying with one of these brothers, Dennis Baron. Dennis was 25 at the time, and lived just four miles away from Allan and his mother, across the River Tyne in the district of Benwell.  Allan regularly visited his brother’s home, and had made many friends in the area.

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The house in Gerald Street where Allan had been staying

Allan was outside playing football with some of these friends that Saturday afternoon, the 24th January 1970, when he was summoned by his mother and told to go and collect some cigarettes from Appleton’s sweetshop and tobacconist, which was located on the end of Gerald Street where Dennis lived. A convenience store stands in the place of Appleton’s now, but the rest of the street has not changed too much since the 1970’s, it remains terraced and well populated. Allan had just 50 yards to travel to the shop, but when he hadn’t returned after 30 minutes his mother was at first cross, thinking the boy had got distracted and had rejoined some type of game along with the other children. Going out to scold him, she was annoyed that Allan was nowhere to be found, and returned back to the house. When hours had passed, during which time darkness had fallen and Allan had not returned for an evening meal, any annoyance was long forgotten and was replaced with alarm. After a fruitless search of the Gerald Street area, and nearby Hodgkin Park, Allan’s worried family reported him missing.

Of course, this was long before the age we now live in, where computers and smart phones are commonplace. Whereas today any missing person appeal can be widespread near instantaneously via social media, and this information is available to read and re-distribute on a wide variety of platforms, a missing person’s appeal in the 1970’s was much more basic. Allan’s family, neighbours and volunteers searched the local area far into the night in a police coordinated operation. A description of Allan was circulated, and police patrols were told to be on the lookout for the missing boy. What began as a missing person enquiry was, however, sadly to take a more sinister and tragic turn just a few hours later.

Callerton Grange Farm stands about 7 miles away from the Benwell district, in a remote location in between the villages of Ponteland and Throckley. A farm worker making an early start at the farm at dawn on the morning of 25th January 1970 made a horrifying discovery. Lying in a water-logged ditch adjacent to Callerton Grange farmland off Stamfordham Road was the body of Allan Graham. He had been strangled. Shaken, the worker abandoned all thoughts of work for that day, and contacted police.

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Detectives investigating Allan’s murder outside Appleton’s sweetshop

What was to be a massive police murder enquiry was launched from that instant. The scene was sealed off, and samples were taken from Allan’s body and the surrounding area. House to house enquiries were made in the Benwell area where Allan had disappeared from, the Throckley area where his body was found, and the Gateshead are where he lived. Allan’s family were questioned extensively, his friends and school friends were spoken to, and his life and background were looked at to try to establish a possible motive.  All known sex offenders within the local area were spoken to, and even a reconstruction of Allan’s last known movements was made just a week after his disappearance, with Allan being played by a policeman’s son.  The reconstruction aired on the day of Allan’s funeral at Gateshead’s Saltwell Cemetery, the 31st January 1970.

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Locals gather as the last known movements of Allan Graham’s life are reconstructed

Police quickly formed the opinion that Allan’s killer knew him, and this wasn’t a stranger abduction. They believed that he was deliberately targeted, and the attack had a mixture of a homosexual and a “vengeance” motive. Believing that the answer to whoever killed him may lay in some overlooked part of Allan’s life or interests, these were examined more closely. Allan’s diary was scrutinised for any clues, and local pigeon breeders were spoken as it was discovered that Allan had a vested interest in pigeons, and knew many of the traders and racers. But all of this led to nothing, no one at the time came forward to say that they knew anything or had seen anything the day of Allan’s disappearance that could help further the investigation. Every possible lead led police to a dead-end.

By July 1970, the investigation was at a complete standstill. No one had been arrested in connection with the murder, and police had no clear suspects despite interviewing hundreds of people and taking thousands of statements. Every lead that police had had been followed up and had lead nowhere, and the investigation remained shelved until 1972, when a separate investigative team reviewed the evidence in a fresh look. This review too proved unsuccessful, and even a £100,000 reward offered in 1974 by the now defunct News Of The World newspaper for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Allan’s killer failed to bring any new information in. Allan’s case joined the annals of UK unsolved murders, and was left subject to periodic reviews for many years.

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Allan’s mother poses with a commemorative portrait of her murdered son. His killer has never been found.

Finally, in 2014, The Newcastle Chronicle newspaper ran a feature over several weeks focusing upon some of the North-East’s infamous unsolved crimes, and Allan’s murder was featured as part of this. It prompted yet another review of the case, by Northumbria Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, and this time, modern policing techniques and advancements in forensic science would be available. But arguably, this served to highlight flaws in the original investigation. Following the newspaper feature, important witnesses who could provide what would have been crucial evidence at the time of the initial investigation came forward with information that, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, was not taken at the time.

Allan’s childhood friend Ken Brown, from Arthur’s Hill, contacted the Newcastle Chronicle following the feature to say that he had been playing with Allan and another friend, Dave Bryson, moments before Allan vanished. Ken was to describe Allan going into Appleton’s shop to get cigarettes, and went on to say:

“When he came out of the shop this van was there on the side of the road. There was a man in the driver’s side with the window open. He shouted, ‘Allan get in here now’ or “Come on Allan, get in here now”, and Allan started to run away. This person in the van definitely knew Allan, and the way he shouted at him sort of upset me. It was like he was getting told off. It was very abrupt. We never saw Allan again after that.”

Ken went on to describe the van as being taller than a car, dark blue in colour and having two rear doors and one on either side. The vehicle had chrome front fittings and bumper, and round headlights. The driver of the vehicle was described as being:

“Aged between 26 and 30, of slim build, and with dark hair, combed back-over with a greasy product like Brylcreem. He was wearing a light blue shirt and a donkey jacket. He spoke with a Geordie accent”.

Dave Bryson tragically died in 2001, but his aging father Matthew also came forward to echo Ken’s story. Matthew remembered Dave telling him he had been playing in the street with Allan the day he disappeared, and heard a man shouting his name from a car or van. Matthew said:

“My son used to knock about with him and he played with him on the street. Our Dave was playing with him that day. He was in the shop with him then they went around the corner together and were kicking a ball about. Then he heard a bloke shout at Allan saying: ‘Come on, get in here’. Then he ran off. I think our Dave was the last one to see him alive.”

According to Ken and Mr Bryson, uniformed police officers spoke to both boys on the day Allan’s body was found, and told them that they would call at their homes to take a formal statement from them with their parents present. For reasons unknown, this never occurred. Mr Bryson too assumed that police did not need to speak to his son when no visit materialised.

“The police knew I had been with Allan that day, but not one person actually came to my house” – Ken Brown.

Allan’s surviving family, his brothers Fred and Dennis Baron, were critical of this and the initial investigation as a whole:

“I don’t understand why no one come forward until now. A week after Allan died the police did a televised reconstruction. He was missing for eight hours before he died. Mum was desperate to find out who did it, and was always very sad and frustrated that Allan wasn’t given justice. I only hope now that the police identify the killer before my time is up. What Ken is saying ties in with what we always thought. I still believe it must have been someone Allan knew as he was a lad’s lad and a little fighter so he would have put up a fight if someone tried to get him into a car.” – Fred Baron (Allan’s brother)

This is a very sad crime, not just because it remains unsolved and for nearly 50 years a family has had to live with the constant reminder that the killer of a son and a brother has escaped justice, but because it seems to highlight a very flawed initial investigation. It seems incredulous that such important witnesses were not spoken to immediately and a formal statement recorded, and a description of both suspect and vehicle issued. Had they been, there is a massive chance that Allan’s killer would have been found.

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Fred Baron, pictured at his brother’s grave.

What then, can be ascertained about Allan’s murder? Unfortunately, the absence of clear and detailed information available about the crime as a whole makes this difficult. It is therefore important to understand that the following is in no way definitive – it is speculation based upon the known facts of Allan’s murder. Police theory was that Allan’s killer knew him and vice versa – TTCE is inclined to agree with this. The fact that he went missing from an area that he did not live in and was just visiting suggests that someone knew he would be there that weekend. Gerald Street was, as is now, a terraced and heavily populated street with children playing outside. No one reported seeing Allan being snatched, and a stranger abduction in such an area would bring with it a high risk of being seen or foiled. Conversely, unlikely, whereas a streetwise schoolboy would not be alarmed getting into the vehicle of someone known to them. This would not draw direct attention as there would be no scene or struggle.

Allan was found strangled, and police were inclined to believe that the motive was a mixture of sexual and vengeance. Again, the absence of information makes this difficult to ascertain. It is not reported if Allan was found clothed or unclothed, it is not reported if he was strangled manually or with a ligature, or if there was any evidence of an actual or attempted sexual assault, and if his possessions were still on his person – all points if which clarified would help to confirm or deny these theories and could provide important pointers to provide an insight into the psychological makeup of Allan’s killer. It is very likely that the motive was of a sexual nature – an 11-year-old boy is not a lucrative target for robbery. Nor can it have been an argument over a woman both killer and victim were involved with. Vengeance is a possible motive – but what does an 11 year old boy do to warrant being killed in revenge for? TTCE believes that perhaps not vengeance is a motive here, but possibly Allan had witnessed something that his killer wanted kept quiet? Or perhaps Allan had been groomed by his killer, and when propositioned sexually had refused and caused a scene, and his killer had strangled him in a panic? It would be likely that if vengeance was a motive, Allan’s body would have shown signs of being beaten – there is no report of this, which tends to support the theory of a sexually motivated killing. It is equally possible that Allan’s murder was unplanned and was a spur of the moment crime, perhaps even having been killed accidentally during sexual activity gone wrong? But again, due to the lack of clear report of the crime scene, the state of Allan’s body etc makes these theories pure speculation.

It was reported that the ditch in which Allan’s body was found was waterlogged, and that it had rained throughout the night before his body was discovered. This may have removed any workable forensic evidence, although samples were removed from his body and the surrounding area and were retained up until 2016. However, despite DNA tests using the latest advancements in forensic DNA recovery being performed on these surviving samples, obtaining a DNA profile from these has so far proven unsuccessful.

Police believed initially that Allan had been killed around the area of Gerald Street soon after getting into the van. This seems highly unlikely. It would be too risky an area to strangle someone for risk of detection – it is more likely that Allan was killed near to where he was found. The area his body was dumped is open countryside, so the risk of his killer being disturbed or spotted is minimal. It was also under cover of darkness, which added extra cover for the killer. The location suggests a killer very familiar with the local area – perhaps because it is his home turf? There is of course, examples of the predatory travelling sex killer – the names Robert Black and Brian Field spring instantly to mind – and it is of course possible that Allan was the victim of such an individual – but it is impossible to assign guilt to anyone with such a lack of distinct evidence. If this were the case, and Allan was killed by a travelling sexual predator, then it would be more likely that Allan’s body would have been dumped much further away than 7 miles away (Black for example was known to have dumped victims up to hundreds of miles away from the sites of their abduction).

It seems that the best opportunity to catch Allan’s killer was missed, and that this was at the beginning of the initial investigation. If Ken and Mr Bryson can be classed as reliable witnesses (and there is no reason to suggest that they are fabricating or falsely recollecting their accounts), then there were people who had seen Allan’s likely killer well enough to describe him and his vehicle at the time of his disappearance, and this is information that was not acted upon for reasons unknown. It is incredulous to believe that this wasn’t the information which the initial focus of the enquiry stemmed from – it is surely basic and crucial information to find out and this would surely have come out. Yet if this is true and police never followed it up, then questions must also be asked why it took over 40 years for these witnesses to come forward and repeat this information, despite repeated reviews and re-appeals – and a substantial cash reward being offered? If somebody you know is found murdered, and the crime remains unsolved – then you tend to remember details vividly and take a keen interest. Because the information was received after such a large passage of time, it is rendered largely useless now. Any physical description of the driver is now useless. It is unlikely that the vehicle would even still exist – plus there is no record of any registration number.

This largely sums up how frustrating the Allan Graham case is – a series of constant dead ends and missed opportunities. There are no clear suspects or motive, plus very little known definite facts about Allan’s final movements. A lack of such information means that it is impossible to profile Allan’s killer accurately. He may have been a repeat offender or it may have been his first offence. It may have been sexually motivated or may have been vengeance based. He may have continued to offend prolifically, or he may never have offended again, ashamed of what he had done but too cowardly to come forward and admit guilt. He may be in prison, in hospital, or even abroad. Or he may still be walking the streets of the North-East. The passage of time means that if Allan’s killer is still alive, he would be elderly himself now – of course, if he is even still alive.

What lines of enquiry do detectives have at their disposal now, nearly 50 years later?

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Fairlamb, of Northumbria Police Homicide and Major inquiry Team, is leading the review, and said in 2016:

“It was a huge inquiry in 1970. It lasted six or seven months and there were hundreds of people interviewed and thousands of statements taken. But 1970 and 2016 are poles apart in how we investigate. So, we are reviewing what was done then, and what we could do now – it just needs some fresh eyes. We never stop investigating as we could get some new intelligence and we will always look at it. We will be speaking again to any officers who were involved in the original investigation. We are also hoping to speak to other members of the public and Allan’s family again to see if they can recall anything they recall that can help us identify who was responsible for his death.”

Sadly, this came too late for Allan’s mother to see her son’s killer brought to justice, as she passed away in 2001. Allan’s surviving brothers, Fred and Dennis Baron, still hold out hope, however slim, that Allan’s killer can still be found and brought to justice. It seems however, that barring a DNA match or a deathbed confession, whoever killed young Allan Graham will remain as much of a mystery as it has done for the past 47 years.

Anyone with any information concerning Allan’s murder should contact Northumbria police on 101

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Death of the Coventry “Dancing Queen”

“She was found reclining in a chair and was obviously dead from the most apparent glance” – Professor James Webster (examining pathologist)                            

The city of Coventry is the 12th largest city in the United Kingdom, and apart from being known as the place where, in history, Lady Godiva rode naked through the city on horseback to protest against high taxes being levied on the city folk, it is also well known for the mass destruction inflicted upon it during bombing by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Indeed, following the most intense bombing campaign of the war on 14 November 1940, so much of the city was destroyed and so much destruction reigned, that Joseph Goebbels coined the phrase “coventried”, which was used by himself afterwards whenever describing similar levels of destruction to other targets. After the war, the city was restored and many families who had lived through began to rebuild their lives. The Mogano family, who lived in the Coventry district of Radford, were one such family.

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Penelope and Carlo Mogano

The Mogano family consisted of 46 year old Carlo Mogano, his 45 year old wife Penelope, and their two sons. Although of Italian heritage, Carlo and Penelope had met on the Isle of Wight, where both had been born and brought up. They had married in the 1930’s, and had moved up to Coventry, where Carlo worked in the Daimler factory. Carlo and Penelope were separated for a while when the house that they lived in was destroyed during the bombings of the Second World War. As a result, Penelope and the two children returned to live in their home town of Ryde on the Isle Of Wight, returning to live in Coventry at a new house following the close of the Second World War.  By 1951, the Mogano family had settled in a house at number 7 Holland Road, Radford, and life adopted a “make do and mend” pattern, as was commonplace back then. Carlo had risen to the position of production manager at the Daimler factory by 1951, with Penelope a full time housewife and mother. The couple were respected and thought of highly amongst friends and neighbours, with their interests centering around family life, their garden, and the old style ballroom dancing – of which the Mogano’s were very enthusiastic about and a scene they were heavily involved with.

Monday 18th January 1954 was a bitterly cold winter’s day, and as usual Carlo and Adrian, the Mogano’s youngest son, had come home from work and school respectively for lunch. Penelope had made their lunch, and had planned to visit the couple’s friends, Mr and Mrs Sydney Worrell, to take afternoon tea with them at 3:00pm. Both Carlo and Adrian left the house to return to work and school at 1:45pm. Adrian was late returning home that day, as he had been asked by his mother to collect laundry on his way home from school, but when he did return at 4:50pm, he found both the front and back doors locked. With no answer after repeated knocking, Adrian waited on the doorstep, thinking his mother had been held up at the Worrell’s house. When Carlo arrived home from work an hour later and Adrian was still on the doorstep freezing, father and son were both perplexed, then concerned, and entered the house.

Entering the house, nothing seemed to be in disarray. The kitchen was clean and tidy and all of the crockery had been washed and put away, although there were no signs of any preparation for the families evening meal. The lounge was tidy, with all brasses polished and the fire cleaned out and swept, ready for that evening. When Carlo went through to the dining room, however, he made a horrific discovery. Slumped in a chair, almost unrecognisable, was the body of his wife. Blood covered the entire room, the walls ran with it and the ceiling, floor and easy chair she was slumped in were saturated with it. Penelope had been savagely, almost maniacally, been battered to death – so viciously had she been attacked that the majority of her head had been caved in. Her face had also been horrifically mutilated. A bloodstained 12inch carving knife lay across Penelope’s lap. Shaken and grief stricken, Carlo ushered his son out of the house and called the police.

Police who arrived on the scene found no signs of any ransacking of the property, and nothing appeared to have been stolen. Whilst the body of Penelope Mogano was taken away for a post-mortem, the house was sealed and a forensic examination of the scene began. House to house enquiries got underway, an incident room was set up, and Carlo Mogano was taken into Coventry Police Headquarters for questioning – as the obvious suspect. After a ten hour interview, he was released the following morning – with police satisfied that he was not responsible for the savage murder of his wife. Carlo remained dignified and mystified as to who would want to kill Penelope, and why, and offered police as much assistance as he possibly could.

“There were no secrets between my wife and myself, and she had no particular dance partner other than me. As far as I know she hadn’t an enemy in the world. I think it was impossible that she knew her attacker” – Carlo Mogano

Shaken by such a brutal crime and believing that they were hunting “a maniac”, the Chief Constable of Coventry Police, Edward Pendleton, was quick to summon the assistance of Scotland Yard detectives. Detective Superintendent John Edmunds and Detective Sergeant Ted Williams were subsequently despatched to Coventry to assist and advise on the investigation. Whilst the Mogano’s life and background was looked at in an attempt to establish a motive and/or any suspects, detectives awaited the results of the post mortem.

The post-mortem report on Penelope Mogano was disturbing, and gives a hint as to the exact horror and brutality of the murder. Extracts from the final report are as follows:

“Obviously she had very grave injuries, she was fully clothed and had injuries of more than three types. The total number of injuries was 25. The first were defensive or protective injuries to her hands which she had held up to protect herself. The second type were severe facial mutilations made with an instrument such as a knife and focused around the mouth. This not only severed the lips but served to cut the tongue in half also. The third group of injuries were the most serious and were inflicted by a blunt instrument, most likely a hammer. So great was the damage that she had no floor to the base of the skull. This had caused considerable damage to the brain, and she was almost bled white. This had been a healthy woman, and the cause of death was shock due to multiple injuries, including gross skull fracture and lacerations to the brain” – Professor James Webster (conducting pathologist)

The pathologist reported that there were no signs of any sexual assault, and with no signs of robbery or ransacking, why had Penelope been targeted and killed in such a brutal, horrific way?

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One of the final photographs of Penelope Mogano

The time of death was estimated at being no later than 4:00pm, but Penelope had never arrived at the Worrell’s house for 3:00pm as expected. She was alive when Carlo and Adrian left the house at about 1:45pm, so this gave police a window of just over an hour, during which it was believed Penelope had met her brutal death. Evidence supporting this timeframe was found in the house also. On the bed in the main bedroom, a clean and laundered dress was laid out. When Penelope was found, she was wearing “house clothes covered by an apron”. Her husband was insistent that Penelope, who took pride in her appearance and dress, would never have gone visiting dressed in such a way, nor would she have invited in any caller dressed in such a manner. The scene almost suggested that Penelope was preparing to change clothes to keep her afternoon tea appointment when the killer struck. Yet there was no sign of a break in, and the killer had locked both doors when leaving – so it appeared that Penelope invited her killer in. This left police with three theories: Penelope had been killed by a stranger posing as an official of some kind; Penelope had been killed by a person that she knew well, or Penelope had been killed by a couple, again people that she knew.

Police investigation into Penelope’s life found nothing that would stand out and mark her for someone wanting her dead. The Mogano’s were the height of respectability, and there was no evidence found of either Penelope or Carlo having an affair. Enquiries revealed that the couple’s social life focused mainly around old time ballroom dancing, where they were active members of Radford’s Savoy Ballroom. From the beginning of the enquiry, police focused upon this, believing the key to unlocking the murder would be found in this line of enquiry.  Perhaps a jealous dance partner? All members of the dancing club were spoken to but this advanced the enquiry no further, apart from police learning one thing. In September 1953, Penelope had made steps to change her lifestyle. The Mogano’s had previously been involved in fostering children, and at that time had a foster child living with them. Without any warning, and for reasons that are unclear, Penelope had withdrawn all involvement with the foster services and the child had returned to the children’s home. She had also resigned from the Radford Townswomen’s Guild, of which she had been an active member, giving the reason that she was exhausted from the regular dances she and Carlo attended, and needed to rest in the afternoons. But from December 1953, she had been seen on several occasions leaving the house in the afternoons with a pair of dancing shoes wrapped in brown paper. Carlo, when asked about his wife’s movements, was unaware of these excursions, and was unable to explain where Penelope had been going. Nor could any of her close friends, who were equally mystified. Had she been taking secret lessons from a dance partner or instructor? Despite a widespread appeal, no-one came forward to say that they had been instructing or dancing with Penelope during this time. Where had she been going?

Holland Road 2014

Police searched the house in its entirety, and a thorough search of all open areas and gardens of Radford was conducted for the murder weapon, considered to have been a 2lb rounded head hammer. Drains were examined, ponds were dredged and Radford common was fingertip searched for the item, but it was never found. They did however manage to recover partial fingerprints from the crime scene, but this trail went cold when none of the partial prints were found to match any fingerprints that were held on police files. All local traders and delivery persons in the area were spoken to and eliminated. A check of all known violent local offenders was made, but one by one all of these were ruled out as suspects. Feeling that the person who committed the murder must have done so in a frenzy and with “maniacal force”, police even made checks with all mental hospitals in the county to ensure that a patient had not gone missing on the day of the murder – but this again drew a blank, as no one was reported as being unaccounted for. Police even took the then unprecedented step of compiling a questionnaire that was distributed to more than 1,500 homes in the Radford area. Simple, to the point and effective, it is reproduced here:

  1. Who are regular callers and what is the reason for them calling? Give date and time
  2. Other callers. Give date and time.
  3. Who called on January 18th? Time.
  4. Do you know Mrs Mogano?
  5. Did you see her on January 18th?
  6. Have you seen her with anyone other than her family?
  7. Who calls at 7 Holland Road regularly?
  8. Have you seen a car near 7 Holland Road?
  9. Are you interested in Old-Time dancing?
  10. Are you a member of the Townswomen’s Guild?
  11. Where were you between 2pm and 5pm on January 18th?
  12. Any other information?

It produced very little information. Nobody reported having heard any screams or shouting coming from 7 Holland Road at the crucial time, and nobody had been seen running from the Mogano house in bloodstained clothing. All people who were spoken to could provide alibi’s for the day of the murder. But the questionnaire and house to house enquiries did produce descriptions of two people that police wished to trace.

Reports came in of a man who had called at at least 20 houses in the Radford area on the pretence of being an electrical inspector. He had managed to con his way into several houses, always ones occupied by lone housewives, on the pretence that he needed to check points and switches for sources that may be causing reported electrical interference. Once inside, he would make what some classed as improper, others directly sexual, advances towards these women. He was described as being aged 25 to 30 years old, 5″2 to 5″6 tall, having thick wavy black hair, a full and rosy complexion, having a “nice, musical laugh”, and speaking with a London accent. He was said to be wearing a dirty, dark blue overcoat and a red plaid shirt, with no tie or hat. Reports of this man came in from all over the county, all stating that he had made improper suggestions and advances. Sightings of a person matching this description were reported as being in one of the pubs close to Holland Road, and intriguingly, lurking near bushes near the Savoy Ballroom in Radford. But perhaps most crucially, the man was reported as having called at the home of a housewife at 1:30pm on the day of Penelope’s murder – at a house just 180 yards away from number 7 Holland Road….

The other person police wished to trace was a man who was seen exiting a telephone box in nearby Heathcote Street, just 300 yards away from Holland Road, on the afternoon of the murder. At about 3:30pm, a witness saw a man leaving the kiosk with a makeshift bandage wrapped around his right hand. The bandage was heavily bloodstained. The man waited for a number of minutes after exiting the kiosk, so the witness, who was sat in a parked car nearby, was able to get a good look at him. He was described as being in his mid 20’s, about 5″6 tall, having dark hair and a sallow complexion, and wearing a black overcoat. After a number of minutes, the witness recalled him running off in the direction of nearby Keresley. What was likely the same man was spotted hitchhiking nearby about 30 minutes later by another witness. Some bloodstains were found in the kiosk, albeit more than a week after the murder, but could never be positively identified as being Penelope’s blood. Despite both witnesses trawling through several logbooks of criminal mug shots that police held on file, neither witness could identify the man they had seen.

Neither this man, nor the “bogus electrical inspector” were ever traced or identified.

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Press release following the funeral of Penelope Mogano

By the end of February 1954, the enquiry had stalled. Residents of the area were left scared in their own homes, chilled that someone the police described as “a maniac” was still at large. The questionnaire had only produced a few leads, all of which had been investigated but lead to dead ends. 25,000 statements had been taken and each one gave a solid alibi for the person concerned. No murder weapon had been found, and police were still trying to work out a possible motive for Penelope’s death. It led police to issue a statement saying that they believed the killer had been spoken to already, and that somebody was shielding him or her out of misguided loyalty or affection, out of fear, or perhaps out of guilt? When every lead available to investigating officers had been examined as fully as possible and had still not advanced the enquiry, it was eventually wound down. Although the file has never been closed, it was eventually classed some time later as an unsolved murder and was effectively left on file.

It is easy to sympathize with the police here. With the psychological profiling, HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) computer system that collates all information concerning an investigation so that it is available at a keystroke, and advancements in DNA and forensic science that are investigative tools of today so commonplace, it is easy to overlook the fact that 63 years ago, none of this existed and police had to rely on the “knocking on doors” methods. Due to the lengthy passage of time since Penelope’s murder, the chance of a successful detection of her killer is now minimal bordering upon impossible. The killer would likely themselves be very elderly now, if not dead. Physical descriptions are moot now, and it is unknown if any of the items removed from the crime scene were retained for the possibility of DNA testing using the technology of today. Because it is impossible to ascertain the sex or indeed, number of the killer(s), or a clear motive, it is only the killers psychology that can be examined. Although no fingerprints on file matched ones taken from the Mogano dining room, TTCE believes that this was not the killer(s) first offence – this is a level of violence that is reached. It is easy to dismiss such brutality as “the work of a madman”, but this is unlikely. Although fingerprints were left at the scene, the killer showed enough awareness to be able to be admitted to the house without drawing any attention to themselves or suspicion. They brought and removed a weapon with them, they were also able to leave without being seen, suggesting a focused and organised killer, one likely very familiar with the Radford area, but not necessarily living there at the time. The killer(s) possibly owned or had access to a car also, unique at that time.

What then, was the motive for such a savage killing? Police considered and ruled out several different theories. It was not considered to have been for financial gain, or as part of a robbery gone wrong. Nothing was taken, the house wasn’t ransacked, and a robbery gone wrong would unlikely involve two different weapons. Although the mutilation and violence used is specific and prolific, and suggests someone who hated Penelope, ergo someone that knew her, it is difficult to believe that this as a reason would not have come to light with such an exhaustive in-depth police investigation. No concrete evidence was found to suggest that anyone bore her a grudge, but two bizarre incidents came to light that made police think that the Mogano’s DID have an enemy, perhaps one that stemmed from the dancing circles they were involved in. Just three nights before the murder, the home of Sidney Worrell -who lived nearby to the Mogano’s on Bassett Road and who was a leading figure in the dancing circles the Mogano’s belonged to -suffered an arson attack when person(s) unknown started a fire, using petrol, in his downstairs pantry through an open window. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was hurt, however. Coupled to this was the fact that three months before Penelope was murdered, person(s) unknown placed petrol soaked rags underneath the bonnet of the Mogano’s car and set it alight. The car was not damaged too severely.

Were the two incidents connected, and was it somehow tied in with the dancing circles? It seems unlikely to have been some sort of grudge concerning dancing – as said before, any grudge or falling out would surely have been noticed by other club members and would have come to light during police enquiries. It is more likely that the two incidents of attempted arson were malicious pranks committed by youngsters out of devilment. Serious, determined arson aimed at a specific target would have been successfully carried out and brutal savage murder is a massive jump. It cannot be said definitively if it was a personal attack – although the severe mutilation and use of more than one weapon would suggest that the killer had targeted Penelope specifically. Police at the time of the initial investigation considered the possibility that the killer was a woman, or part of a couple. There are several aspects of the crime that suggest either as a possibility. Penelope may have allowed a female that she knew into her house because she didn’t recognise her as a threat. This woman may then have carried out the assault – most likely a hammer attack first that would have incapacitated Penelope and rendered her unconscious – then carried out the mutilation and cleaned up, perhaps hiding any bloodstained clothing with an overcoat when leaving. Or it could have been a couple, again that Penelope knew, and the couple could have wielded a weapon each? It is unlikely that anyone in 1954 seeing a couple leaving the murder scene would have associated them with murder. It did not happen – couples did not kill. It took the deeds of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley a decade later to make people aware that indeed, couples DO kill. Of course, with the lack of definitive evidence available concerning the Penelope Mogano case, this must all remain speculation.

Purely because Penelope had not been raped or interfered with, TTCE does not believe that the motive for the killing being sexual should be discounted purely for these reasons. TTCE had a very interesting conversation with retired police officer and published true crime author Chris Clark concerning the case. Chris is the author of the definitive book concerning other crimes committed by Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe (Chris’ book is reviewed here) and is very approachable and deeply knowledgeable concerning cold cases. Chris offered the opinion during our discussion that a possible suspect in Penelope’s murder is infamous Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. The crimes of Manuel are well documented enough that recapping them here serves no purpose, but Manuel, who was hanged in 1958, is long suspected to have committed other murders across the UK. He was very familiar with the Coventry area, at one time living there, and was a known sex offender and deviant who was known to use a knife and blunt instruments as weapons. It is entirely possible that a sexual deviant killed Penelope, gaining sexual gratification from inflicting pain and seeing fear, and Manuel would certainly fit this criteria. It is possible that the killer gained arousal and masturbated from seeing the destruction inflicted. Possible, but unfortunately can never be proven. However, TTCE recognises the credibility of Manuel as a suspect very highly.

Whoever did kill Penelope Mogano, and why, remains today as much of a mystery as it did from that fateful day in 1954. Carlo Mogano lived for another 32 years afterwards, never knowing who had killed his wife right up until his death in March 1986. No one has ever come forward to confess to the murder, and no serious suspects have ever been publicly named, nor anyone ever charged in connection with the crime. Frustrating as every line of enquiry seemingly lead to a dead end, it seems that sadly due to the passage of time, coupled with the absence of any clear evidence pointing to any suspects, the murder of Penelope Mogano may forever remain in the annals of UK unsolved murders.

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Savage Murder Of “Dr K”

“She would have been knocked unconscious. Then her killer poured something over the body and set fire to it to kill her. It’s a horrific murder and we are concerned because we are not getting the help from the public which we need.” – Det Supt David Speake (Senior investigating officer, speaking in 1986)

One of the biggest ever murder hunts in the history of West Midlands Police began 31 years ago, and involved the brutal and bizarre slaying of a well-respected Birmingham general practitioner, 53-year-old Polish born Dr Danuta Kaczmarska. It is a savage crime that remains unsolved to this very day, despite a massive enquiry at the time and subsequent re-appeals over the years.

Coniston Close as it appears today

Coniston Close in the Hall Green area of Birmingham has been a middle-class area for many years, filled with spacious houses, several of them being three storeys. It is a quiet residential street, and in 1986, Dr Danuta Kaczmarska owned one of these houses. Danuta was unmarried and lived alone, and was a general practitioner running a thriving surgery in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham with over 4,000 patients on its books. Polish born, Danuta had begun practising medicine in Birmingham in 1971 and by 1985 had built up such a large surgery through her professionalism, caring nature, and impeccable medical record. Danuta, or “Dr K” as she was known to patients and surgery staff, was popular, well-liked and respected.

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The new year of 1986 was just three weeks old when firefighters were called to Danuta’s home on Coniston Close on the afternoon of January 22nd 1986. Concerned neighbours had contacted them after witnessing smoke drifting into their homes sourcing from Danuta’s house. Firefighters who made a forced entry discovered a macabre and disturbing site. Danuta was found in the kitchen of her home. Clearly dead, her body had been set alight and was severely burnt, almost beyond recognition. The kitchen was in a state of disarray and was smoke damaged, but not so much so that firefighters could see that it was severely bloodstained. Danuta’s burns were so severe that a positive identification had to be made through a dental record comparison. She had also been gagged with a tea towel, and left lying on the floor

As a murder enquiry was launched from an incident room at Sparkhill Police Station, the post-mortem on Danuta Kaczmarska was carried out. Cause of death was determined as being from at least seven blows to the head, which had fractured her skull in several places and had probably been carried out by a killer using a heavy blunt weapon that was most likely an axe. She had been gagged with a kitchen tea towel to stifle any screams, and her body then set on fire – although it has never been revealed what accelerant was used to cause this. The murder enquiry got under way with extensive house to house enquiries, a detailed examination of Dr Kaczmarska’s life, relationships and work, and a detailed forensic examination of the scene carried out. But the enquiry was to raise more questions than provide any possible motives or solutions.

For the level of obvious violence in such a savage and horrific murder, surprisingly no one in the vicinity was reported as having heard any screams or sounds of a struggle. No one had been seen entering or leaving the house, and there was no evidence of a break in – suggesting that the killer was either known to Dr K personally, or it was someone who she had allowed access to the house and had no reason to suspect, perhaps posing as a bogus official. The killer had also locked both doors when leaving the scene, and taken the key away – a duplicate key was never found. Also, nothing appeared to have been taken, no cash or valuables were missing. The rest of the house was clean and tidy and showed no signs of any ransacking, plus Dr K’s handbag was found in the kitchen untouched. Bizarrely, two empty champagne flutes were also found in the kitchen – and they had been recently used. There was no bottle found at the scene, but the cork and foil from a champagne bottle were found in the kitchen. Had the killer taken it away when leaving, possibly because it had fingerprints on it?

Police from the outset of the enquiry suspected that Dr Kaczmarska was not targeted at random, and that her killer was someone known to her or who knew of her. However, this was a list of enormous proportions due to the 4,000 patients from her surgery, on top of her family, friends and acquaintances. This theory was supported by information provided by her sister Irena, who spoke to Danuta on the evening of the 21st January and was told by Danuta not to phone back the next day because she had a visitor coming in the afternoon. Who was this visitor? Although unmarried and what could be classed as a “spinster”, the more police looked at her personal life, the more it became apparent that Dr Kaczmarska had almost led a double life.

Police discovered that in contrast to the respectable GP that was well liked and respected by her patients and colleagues, by night she frequented many pubs and bars in some of Birmingham’s seedier areas, socializing with drug addicts, the gay community and the petty criminal element. She was also discovered to be a regular user of contact magazines – the kind used to meet people for a mixture of company and sex. Indeed, for all her professional and confident demeanour, Danuta was described by one police officer who was on the investigating team as being:

“A very emotionally insecure and vulnerable woman who sought love and affection”

Although Dr Kaczmarska was described perhaps too sensationally as a “Jekyll and Hyde” character, was the killer someone from this “Hyde” aspect of her life?

The murder investigation at the time was one of the biggest in the history of the West Midland’s Serious Crime Squad. A surplus of 150 police officers interviewed all of Dr Kaczmarska’s patients, many colleagues, and friends the length and breadth of the country, with more than 6,000 people being spoken to in total. Well publicised newspaper and media appeals were made, appeal posters were published and distributed, and police staged a reconstruction in an attempt to jog any potential witnesses’ memories, with a policewoman re-enacting the last positive sighting of Dr Kaczmarska – walking home from the Hall Green Waitrose supermarket on the afternoon of her death. A televised reconstruction was also featured on BBC’s Crimewatch UK programme, and Danuta’s friends and family offered a substantial £5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer. It all led to nothing – despite extensive enquiries and an impassioned appeal to the social circles in which Dr Kaczmarska moved for information, no clear motive for Danuta’s murder has ever been identified. No murder weapon has ever been discovered either.

A former lover and colleague of Dr Kaczmarska, her ex surgery partner Dr Salim Naiada, was arrested and questioned as a possible suspect in her death during the investigation. However, he was eventually ruled out of the enquiry and released without any charges. Also during the investigation, a strange parallel with Danuta’s death was revealed. Nearly four years before her horrific death, in 1982, there was another bizarre death at Dr Kaczmarska’s house. Again involving fire. A long-term close friend of Dr Kaczmarska’s, 40-year-old London solicitor Thomas Gleeson, was found burned beyond recognition in a bedroom, his body being so badly charred that it was near destroyed. Identification was only tentatively made from some shirt buttons and part of a shoe that survived the blaze. A March 1982 inquest ruled that the cause of death was smoke inhalation and a verdict of death by misadventure was recorded. However, as with Dr Kaczmarska’s murder – information available on both cases is so frustratingly minimal that the accuracy of this cannot be ascertained.  It is easy to jump to the conclusion that there must be a connection – the odds of such a bizarre, violent death occurring twice, years apart, IN THE SAME HOUSE and not being connected surely stretch credulity – but police investigated any connection and found no evidence for this, despite the almost incalculable odds. It was another example of the many dead ends that just six months after the murder forced the police incident room to close. Senior investigating officer, Det Supt David Speake said at the time:

“It’s a case which has all the ingredients of an Agatha Christie thriller. We are extremely frustrated. The killer is a cool, calculated, person who covered up all traces and probably believes it is the perfect murder. It has been rather like looking for a ghost who went to the house and then disappeared afterwards. Apparently, nobody saw him or her enter or leave. But we shall never close the file on this case.”

The crime has been re-appealed on numerous occasions over the years, and detectives do remain ever hopeful of a successful resolution due to forensic advancements, or new information forthcoming. Perhaps a conscience will finally get the better of someone and they will come forward with a name or even a confession, or another piece of crucial information will come to light that will help bring Dr Kaczmarska’s killer to justice. But this has not yet happened. What then, is known about the killer? As stated above, information available on this crime is extremely scarce, although it is one that TTCE has been aware of for a considerable period. Due to the scarcity of information available, it is extremely difficult to ascertain anything about Dr Kaczmarska’s killer, instead only being able to make an educated guess.

Dr Kaczmarska’s life was examined in detail by investigating officers, and any immediate suspects were ruled out. But it remains likely that she knew her killer, perhaps from one of the bars she frequented or through one of the contact magazines she had used. Someone who never willingly came forward. As nobody was seen entering or leaving the house, it is impossible to say definitively if the killer was male or female, and no physical description would be available. It is more than likely to have been a male due to the level of violence used, however. A male capable of extreme violence and cruelty almost to the point that one would believe bordered on the maniacal – yet who could think coolly, behave calmly, and who showed levels of forensic awareness. Police found no fingerprints, bloodstains or DNA evidence left by the killer at the scene. The murder weapon and possibly a champagne bottle with fingerprints upon it were removed, and TTCE believes that Dr Kaczmarska’s body was set on fire to remove any forensic evidence possibly left by the killer. The killer was also to restrain and silence Dr Kaczmarska efficiently and without drawing attention, and to then exit without being noticed after the murder. This would also have been within a very short timeframe from leaving the scene due to discovery of the crime – a fire does not have a delay on it! These are aspects to the crime and levels that suggest this was an organised and experienced offender, and this was certainly not a first offence.

What is the motive here? There was nothing reported as being taken, no cash or valuables stolen – yet Dr Kaczmarska was financially well off (her estate after her death was valued at more than £200,000 – a substantial amount in 1986). It does not seem to be for monetary gain or for a simple purpose of robbery. Dr Kaczmarska was not reported as having been raped or sexually assaulted, so a sex crime is unlikely to be a motive also. Indeed, the level of violence involved in the killing suggests that the murder was more of a personal motive and pre-meditated – Dr Kaczmarska’s killer came armed with an axe and possibly an accelerant. The use of fire would also support this motive – surplus to removing any forensic traces, it could have been used to disfigure or defile Dr Kaczmarska further, which would suggest someone with a grudge. It is not reported if Dr Kaczmarska had had sex or not on the day she died – but champagne would suggest a romantic meeting. Was it an argument with a lover she had, or was she perhaps involved in an affair? Was it a casual sexual encounter that she had arranged, or was it possibly someone who had met her through the clandestine circles she socialized in who hoped to take advantage of her status as a medical practitioner as a source of access to drugs? Again, these were all theories that were pursued as lines of enquiry, but that ultimately led nowhere. More questions and theories than answers.

Piecing together what little is known about the case, it appears that Dr Kaczmarska’s killer was a male known to her, possibly a lover or casual sexual partner and certainly someone who she felt comfortable enough with that he knew her home address and she was comfortable enough to be alone in her home with. It is likely that this was a person with a history of offending and violence, but who could appear outwardly “normal”. It is chilling to consider that this person came armed with an axe to commit murder, and was possibly a drug user or someone with a mental illness – although this would not be so debilitating that the person required full-time care. The possibility remains that the killer himself is now dead, or if still alive would be at least middle-aged today. He may now be in prison for another offence, perhaps is hospitalised, or may live abroad or in another part of the country. It is possible that this man had killed before and possibly went on to kill again, with possibly connected cases being the 1985 murders of Violet Milsom in Bristol, and Constance Aris in Cheltenham (both of which have been covered on blog posts on TTCE in the past). Of course, this is mere speculation on the part of TTCE and it is down to the reader to decide the validity of this speculation based on a review of each individual case. Links to each can be found below:

Who Was The Cheltenham Axe Murderer?

Death Of A Kindly Pensioner

It is likely that after such a lengthy passage of time, any advancement in the detection of Dr Kaczmarska’s killer will be because of a forensic breakthrough, which may in turn lead to a DNA database or a familial DNA match. This of course depends on the quality and indeed existence of any items retained from the crime scene that may provide said samples – with the champagne flutes springing to mind as the likely source. Barring that or a confession forthcoming, it is unlikely that the offender will ever face justice. This is a tragic case, and one with as tragic a postscript. Her father, who at the turn of 1986 was already gravely ill with cancer, died just six days after Danuta was murdered. Perhaps the murder of Dr Kaczmarska had caused her father to lose the will to live also? Danuta’s remaining family continue even today to live in torment with the knowledge that her killer has never been brought to justice. Her sister Irena, interviewed by the Birmingham Mail some years after the murder, said:

“I dread the day someone is found because I feel I will probably have to go to court. At the same time, I want the killer to be found. I was knocked for six when it happened. On the night before she died, she phoned me. There was a cooking programme on the television which I wanted to watch and she phoned me in the middle of it. I said I’d call her back and she said don’t call in the afternoon because she had someone coming. I was to call her the day after. Because I was in a hurry to watch the programme I cut the conversation short. That was her killer she was meeting.” 

I’d always had a premonition my sister would die tragically.”

 

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Welcome To The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 3

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Edgar Pearce, the “Mardi Gra” Bomber

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

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

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

Items Recovered from 12 Cambridge Road North:

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                                   – Edgar Pearce (“Mardi Gra”)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pearce’s workbench in the “bomb factory”

A neighbour, William Branson recalled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronald was jointly charged with nine of these offences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Welcome To The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 2

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Eltham High Street after one of Mardi Gra’s attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mardi Gra is caught on police surveillance video using the cashpoint

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

 

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Mardi Gra and accomplice 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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The moment of Mardi Gra’s capture

 

Mardi Gra had been caught.

 

 

 

 

 

To be continued

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

“Welcome to The Mardi Gra Experience” – Part 1

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

WELCOME TO THE MARDI GRA EXPERIENCE

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

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

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One of the initial six “Mardi Gra” packages

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

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

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

Just two days later, that was to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A police replica of one of Mardi Gra’s devices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing. Mardi Gra had gone to ground again.

 

To be continued.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who was “The Beast of Whitworth Park”?

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

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

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Whitworth Park as it appears today

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

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

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Elsa Hannaway

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

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

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The now defunct Big western pub in Moss Side

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

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

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

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

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Press release following the murder

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

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

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

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

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Is this the face of Elsa’s killer?

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

This man was never traced, and never came forward.

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

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

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Joann Hannaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who was “The Grantham Strangler”?

“The motive was not one of burglary or theft. The only motive was to go to the house and sexually assault and kill Julie,” –  Det Chief Insp Graham White (Lincolnshire Police, leading the hunt in 1994)

Grantham is a large market town to the west of the A1 in the English county of Lincolnshire. Intensely populated, it is a town of note. It is famed as the birthplace of many historical figures that will be familiar to the reader, for example the first female UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Isaac Newton, serial killer Beverley Allitt, and former Worlds Strongest man Geoff Capes. It is also famed for being the first place outside of the city of London to recruit and train women police officers, and the site where the Mallard broke the world speed record for steam locomotives on 03rd July 1938. But Grantham does have a dark cloud in its history, for in 1994 it was the site of one of the most perplexing murders in British criminal history, a crime that remains unsolved to this day.

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Julie Pacey

Monday 26th September 1994 should have been an ordinary day in the lives of the Pacey family from Grantham. The Pacey family consisted of 39 year old self employed plumber Andrew, his 38 year old wife Julie, and their two children Helen, 14; and Matthew, 11. The family lived in a respectable four bedroom house on Grantham’s Longcliffe Road, a built up, well populated affluent area, with well kept houses and gardens. The Pacey’s were by all accounts a happy family, popular and outgoing, and well liked with lots of friends. Both Andrew and Julie were from the Grantham area born and bred, and still had the majority of their families living close by. They had been childhood sweethearts and had been married for 18 years. The summer holidays had not long ended, and even by 26th September 1994 it was still warm and sunny. Andrew had left home early that morning to undertake a plumbing job at a housing development on the other side of Grantham, and the Pacey children had both left to go to the local secondary school where they were pupils. Julie did not have a full time job, as she had been a homemaker whilst her children were young. However, now they were growing she had elected to work part time in a job that could fit around the children being in school. She worked part time as a helper at the day nursery located in the St Peter and Paul nursery on Trent Road, meaning that she could always be home in time for her children getting back from school. Most days, Julie minded the daughter of a neighbour after school also because the girls’ mother had to work. Every day in fact, except a Monday.

At 4:15pm that Monday, Helen Pacey arrived home and after walking through the door, called out to her mother as was her usual custom. No answer. Helen called again to no answer, and after ascertaining that her mother’s car was in the driveway and that she was not downstairs or in the back garden, went upstairs to look. Trying to push open the bathroom door, Helen was met with resistance. It took considerable force, but the young girl finally managed to prise the door open and discovered her mother laid out behind the door. Thinking her mother had taken ill and collapsed, Helen tried frantically to wake her and revive her, and when this failed dialled 999. Paramedics arrived and fought in vain to revive Julie, but to no use. It was only when the polo neck of the black sweater that Julie was wearing moved down did paramedics see an ugly looking ligature mark around her neck, and they realised that she had been strangled.

This had now become a murder enquiry.

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Police guard Julie Pacey’s home as investigators move in

“There were no signs of a break-in so we have to assume that the killer either walked in or Julie let him in. Probably Julie was surprised in the bathroom, yet nothing in the bathroom or the bedroom was disturbed. There were no bruises on her body and no other marks except where the ligature had been. This man probably opened the front door, walked up the stairs, strangled his victim and left.” – DCI Graham White

The scene was preserved as best as possible, and police were contacted immediately. Upon their arrival, the context of the scene could be taken in fully – a scene that may have been misinterpreted by Helen. Julie was lying face down on her bathroom floor, with her tights and underwear around her knees. She had been viciously sexually assaulted. However, there were no signs of a struggle and barring the ligature mark around her throat, Julie showed no signs of being beaten or having been involved in a struggle. Her upper clothing was undisturbed and her long, well manicured fingernails were undamaged.  Scene of crime officers could find no evidence of any break in to the property – the windows were all closed and the back door was locked from the inside. The front door was open, but Helen could not remember for sure if she had opened the door with her own key, or it was already unlocked. There was no signs of any ransacking to the house, indeed, it was as spotlessly tidy as it usually was. Julie’s handbag and purse lay untouched on her bed, and the only things seemingly out of place were a half drunk cup of coffee on the bedside table, and an empty chocolate bar wrapper which was found on the floor beside the bed. What was missing, however, was a very distinct watch that Julie wore that had been bought from a Paris holiday just two months before. It was an expensive Luc Desroches watch, of which there was not another one like it in the UK.

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An identical watch to the one taken from Julie

The murder hunt, led by Detective Chief Inspector Graham White, began with house to house enquiries in Longcliffe Road and the surrounding estates, and a fingertip search of the house, gardens and surrounding areas was undertaken for a possible disposed murder weapon. Whilst this was ongoing, other officers began looking into Julies life and background. In the majority of murder hunts, investigating officers tend to begin with by examining the victims background and life working outwards, attempting to find anything that can point to a possible motive for murder. Usually something will be found that will provide a tangible lead to the killer. But an examination of Julie’s background revealed nothing – she was a devoted wife and mother, loved by her family and massively liked by her friends and neighbours. Enquiries revealed nothing to suggest that Julie was involved in an extra marital affair, or had anyone wishing her harm. Andrew Pacey was ruled out as a suspect in his wife’s murder almost immediately – it is common for a close family member to be considered a suspect in a murder investigation, but Andrew had a solid, corroborated alibi for the time Julie was murdered. Neighbours reported seeing or hearing nothing out of the ordinary. The Pacey home was situated next to a patch of undeveloped scrubland popular with dog walkers at the time, but no one was found who had seen or heard any disturbance, screams or sounds of a struggle.

“You would have thought someone would have seen him arrive or leave or just hanging about – but no one saw anything” – DCI Graham White

Retracing Julie’s steps on that fateful Monday, detectives found that she had gone to the nursery to assist as usual that day at 10:00am, and had left there at around 2:00pm. Julie’s parents, Keith and Joy Wilkinson lived just a scant two miles away and Julie had decided to drive and visit them briefly, which they confirmed. She did not however stay long, because witnesses were found who knew Julie and saw her window shopping in Grantham town centre at about 2:30pm that day. She was also seen by neighbours parking her Audi in the driveway of the Pacey home at about 2:45pm. But there was suggestion that Julie may have made another short trip out after this –  a witness who knew Julie came forward to say they were adamant that they had seen her driving back towards her home at 3:10pm that Monday. Had Julie made a further trip out that day? Where she went on this final journey has never been ascertained. She then returned home, and this must have been shortly before she was murdered – there is a window of just over an hour from Julie last being seen alive to her body being discovered. There was evidence to suggest that Julie had come in from work as usual – her turquoise nursery overall was found hanging in its usual place on the back of the bedroom door. She had made a cup of coffee and eaten a chocolate bar – the evidence of this was found in the bedroom and the wrapper matched other bars found in the kitchen cupboard. Julie then either began retouching her make up or removing it – make up items including nail polish remover were found on the bed alongside her handbag. It must have been just then that Julie either let in her killer, or he let himself in and attacked her, most likely in the bathroom. She was then savagely raped and strangled with a ligature – believed to be something like an electrical cable or a flex that the killer took away from the scene with him. The murder weapon has never been found.

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Who was “Overalls Man”?

Enquiries did lead detectives to a man they wished to eliminate, a man who has never been traced and who remains the chief suspect in Julie’s murder. A woman named Mrs Mair Thomas was getting into a taxi just a short distance from Julie’s house up Longcliffe Road at 3:10pm that Monday afternoon. A man stepped out into the road directly behind the taxi, causing a passing car to brake sharply. The driver of this passing car was Julie, and Mrs Thomas saw her wave in apology to the man and then continue driving, before indicating into her driveway just a hundred yards further down. The man had been walking away from the direction of Julie’s house, but following the near miss then turned and retraced his steps. He was described as being stockily built, mid forties and wearing blue overalls and a checked shirt, with very prominent, extremely red cheeks in what would be described as “ruddy faced, with an outdoor complexion”. Who was this man?

Police sat up and listened when Julie’s children recounted a tale of an encounter that their mother had told them that she had had on the Friday before she was murdered which tallied with this sighting. Around 3:30pm that Friday afternoon, Julie had been alone in her house and was vacuuming upstairs when the doorbell rang. Expecting that it was the neighbours daughter that she minded after school, Julie shouted down for her to enter. Instead, she found a scruffy man standing in the hallway. He asked her for directions to another road on the estate and then left, passing the neighbours daughter as he was leaving. This man matched the description of “Overalls Man” exactly, even down to the vivid red cheeks – which was corroborated by the neighbours daughter also.

The estate bordering Longcliffe Road was having lots of building and renovation work done at the time, and detectives believed at first that this man was one of the many builders and workmen on the estate. Enquiries were made, but soon drew a blank. He had not called at any other houses in the area, nor was he part of any of the workmen working on the estate. But he was seen around Grantham, however. What was likely the same man was also seen in a park in Grantham town over the weekend before Julie’s murder, and he was also seen in a shop in the town centre the day after Julie’s murder. In the shop, he stood out by having an aggressive attitude and standing too close to the shop assistant.

This man has never been traced.

The crime was reconstructed and appealed on Crimewatch UK, compromising what was known about Julie’s movements on the day she was murdered, and including the encounter with “Overalls Man” on the previous Friday. Although several calls were received with people offering different information, it never led to the identity of “Overalls Man” being discovered, or any information that could point detectives closer to identifying Julie’s killer. Although never closed, the investigation remained at a standstill for many years, albeit with regular reviews. But by mid 2015, DNA Technology had advanced to such a point that detectives were now able to obtain a full DNA profile of the killer from samples removed from the bathroom in 1994. Unfortunately, this profile did not match any samples held on record on the National DNA database. But undeterred, armed with this police decided to issue a fresh appeal, again using Crimewatch. The original reconstruction was shown as part of a re-appeal on the programme in July 2015, and several people rang in giving the name of a 53 year old man called Steve Watson as matching the description of “Overalls Man”. Police visited Steve Watson and questioned him, and took a DNA sample from him.

Steve Watson was the actor who had played “Overalls Man” in the original 1994 Crimewatch UK reconstruction. His DNA sample did not match, and he was released without any charge.

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Steve Watson – Left in 1994 as he appeared in the Crimewatch UK reconstruction; and right, as he was in 2015

What then, can be said about Julie’s killer? It seems very likely that Julie was a deliberate target – she was a very attractive slim blonde woman, and would have turned heads. It is also likely that this was a focused sexually motivated killing rather than an opportunistic rape on top of a robbery. Sex for the sake of sex could have been obtained with any victim – for example a dog walker or a schoolgirl walking home. This was a sex killing in a suburban home in the middle of the afternoon – it is a high risk locale and time of offence – and to go to such risk suggests that there is a very specific target. TTCE believes it was Julie. It was a very premeditated crime and showed signs of organisation – the killer managed to commit murder in a suburban home in the middle of the day without being seen or heard. He brought and removed the ligature used to strangle Julie, he managed to assault and restrain her unheard, and was able to access and egress the scene without any witnesses. Yet he left a DNA sample at the scene – it is not reported as to the source of the DNA (blood, saliva, semen), and took massive risks to attack and murder Julie in her own home. TTCE believes that this man has somehow been missed in the initial investigation, there is a link here somewhere, however small.

TTCE believes it possible that the person who murdered Julie had possibly stalked her, or in the very least watched the house over a period of days to learn her movements. It is unlikely to be weeks because this would likely have been noted in such a closely knit neighbourhood. This theory is strengthened by the fact that at any other day except a Monday, Julie’s neighbours daughter would have been at the house at any time after 3:15pm. Coincidence? Or forward planning? TTCE also thinks that the Friday visitor is the killer and this was either a trial run to see if he could gain access under a ruse, or he was planning to rape and kill Julie there and then and his nerve went. If this scenario is likely then this person would have spent the weekend mentally preparing for his next opportunity, which would have been Monday. It is also possible that the overalls were a form of disguise to blend in and camouflage himself amongst the other workmen and builders working nearby.

It is very likely that “Overalls Man” is the killer of Julie Pacey. He is certainly the prime suspect, and it stretches credulity that anyone who innocently went to ask for directions would not have come forward to eliminate themselves. Nor is it likely that the person could not have seen any publicity about the crime and failed to come forward because of this. And would someone really stop and ask for directions at a house, rather than stop someone on the street? Or why not call at a shop to ask? No, it is likely that Julie was the definite target. It is also likely that Julie’s watch was taken as a trophy by the killer. It was expensive and unique, yet has never shown up anywhere since her murder. No other jewellery was taken, nor any signs of ransacking or anything of value stolen, supporting the theory of the watch being a memento. It is unlikely that this is the only crime ever committed by this man – it showed a certain level of organisation and was executed well enough to suggest that this person has offended before. Indeed, this man likely has a history of sexual offending, possibly voyeurism, rape or indecent assault.

Because of the passage of time, any physical description of this man will now be largely rendered moot. He will have aged, his appearance may have changed drastically – he may even be dead. Yet, as shown with police being led to the door of Steve Watson – that description still triggers people’s memories even after so many years. It is unlikely that this man has never offended again after Julie’s murder – perhaps he has become more polished and refined, he just has never yet been caught. He certainly hasn’t been arrested for any offences from 1995 onwards. And unless he commits another crime and is caught, or a match with the DNA sample police have of Julie’s killer is made through a familial DNA match, he will likely remain free. Police are not giving up though, nor are Julie’s family – a husband who has had to grieve for more than two decades, and a son and daughter who have grown into adulthood themselves now without having their mum there.

Anyone having any information concerning the murder of Julie Pacey should contact Lincolnshire Police using the 101 number, or alternatively Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who is the “M25 Animal Killer”?

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Volunteers display a reward poster for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the offender

As expressed last week on Twitter, this week finds a bit of a different blog post from TTCE. Different, but no less shocking or important. It differs because to begin with, it is arguably the most widely publicised case TTCE has featured to date. It is also very current, indeed, it’s consideration as a serial case only having its genesis in October 2015. And the victimology differs from anything featured on TTCE to date, because the victims in this case are household pets – mainly cats, although wild animals have been targeted as well.

SNARL (South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty) are a South Norwood, London,  based animal charity that came to fruition in 2014 after the founders, Boudicca Rising and Anthony Jenkins had spent many years unofficially rescuing and finding homes for animals in need. For such a localised charity, SNARL has, however, found itself propelled into national attention in the past couple of years. It is SNARL themselves who, partly to their locale and partly to the passion and commitment of the founders, that are leading the hunt for a deeply disturbed individual who has been brutally slaughtering animals in the most horrific of ways. The press have christened the offender “The Croydon Cat Ripper”, but as the offender has escalated in his offending, perhaps a more fitting moniker and one that is preferred as more factually accurate by SNARL is the “M25 Animal killer”. The majority of the attacks, more than 200 in number, have taken place within a catchment area of here. But attacks attributed to this offender have been reported as far north as Manchester and as far south as Brighton and Portsmouth. The offender shows no signs of abating, and chillingly, seems to be becoming bolder and more prolific in his slaughter. This individual needs to be caught and prosecuted as soon as possible, before animals are not enough for him to kill and the offender progresses to a human target.

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Tony Jenkins and Boudicca Rising, founders of SNARL and the leaders of the hunt for the offender

Boudicca was happy to be contacted by TTCE earlier this week, and was very informative when asked to explain the modus operandi of the offender, how SNARL deals with cases reported to them, and the actions that should be taken in the event that someone should find a carcass, or witness someone acting in a suspicious manner with an animal. She also provided a very useful and comprehensive chronology of the offences so far.

SNARL began investigating in October 2015, but it is possible that the offender began slaughtering animals long before, perhaps as far back as 2008. Unfortunately, many of the carcasses before SNARL began investigating may have been disposed of, with the mutilations being mistaken for the work of other animals. There are far too many cases to list individually here, but a general modus operandi of the offender is as follows.

Typically, the offender will target cats – this has been the bulk of the victims, but rabbits, foxes and birds have also been targeted. All of the animals are striking looking and are in a good condition, in that they clearly are a loved and cared for pet. Not many stray Toms are targeted here. The cats are then enticed – often using raw chicken (which has been found in the stomachs of many of the feline victims by autopsying vets) – and are then killed by blunt force trauma. This was thought to be as a result of being run over at first, but is also possible that the animals are either thrown against a wall, clubbed or “knee dropped”, which kills or paralyses them. The animals are then horrifically mutilated, often beheaded and de-tailed. Sometimes a combination of both, sometimes one or the other, sometimes the animals are cut in half, sometimes the limbs or paws are removed. The bodies are then left on display where they will provide maximum shock effect – this has been in close proximity to schools, in the owners gardens or on their driveways, even underneath their bedroom windows. In many of the cases, the heads and tails are never found. Often, the offender will return to the dump site days or even weeks later, to deposit body parts to further shock. The bodies are always significantly posed as well. The offender is believed to use a sharp bladed weapon for the mutilations, which are very precise. Typically, the offender is specific in the mutilation, which according to Boudicca makes it able for SNARL to be able to recognise the offenders handiwork. Sadly, they have become quite polished at this by now. They have been able to link at least 180 slaughtered cats, and 40 foxes and fox cubs as the work of this killer.

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A newspaper article shows just some of the locations as far afield as to where the offender has struck

The majority of attacks have been focused around the south east of the UK, typically the Greater London area – but there have also been confirmed attacks as far afield as Manchester, Birmingham  and Brighton with animals being found with identical wounds to the ones the offender likes to leave. SNARL have also reported an escalation in the offending, both in the mutilation which is becoming more extreme, the number of reported cases, and an increase in the risk taking by the offender. In the words of one of the vets that SNARL has in its employ to autopsy the poor creatures, “the offender is getting better at mutilating”. There have also been cases where the offender has killed the animal in the back of the owner’s garden – and has spent considerable amounts of time at the scene. Whereas it has been difficult to pinpoint a time of death, or a time that the offender favours killing, there have been cases where this has occurred early in the morning, and the bodies have been left in ever increasing public places. This is an offender escalating, becoming bolder and more ferocious.

Many theories have been examined as to why the offender does what he does. Gang initiation rituals and black magic ritual have all been suggested and discounted. No links between any of the pet owners have been discovered, for example delivery drivers from a company that they may have had, or workers doing repair work at their houses that they may have had in common. None have been found to have anybody who disliked them enough to cause such sickening harm and upset. No, it seems that the offender chooses animals at random out of pure sadism. This random choosing seems more likely because often, the animals are placed back not quite at their home – but perhaps on a nearby driveway or across the road from where they lived. This suggests that the offender doesn’t know the owners and chooses animals at random, working on a basis that a cat will never stray far from its home. If they were deliberately targeted, then the remains  would be left at the correct address to cause maximum shock and upset. He chooses cats and wild animals because they are the most readily available. Sadly – what is more natural to do that let a cat have freedom to roam around outside? He has never attacked dogs or horses – at least not to the knowledge of investigators – these are larger, more dangerous animals and ones that are not as readily available to entice and kill as cats are.

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There is now a substantial reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the offender

It has sadly taken great time, cost and effort for SNARL, but they are finally managing to work in conjunction with both the RSPCA and the Metropolitan Police now, and the hunt for this individual has a name now: Operation Takahe. But the hunt is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There is no physical description of the offender, no discernible pattern to the attacks in date or time, no connection between the owners, and often the animals are not discovered until they have been dead for considerable time – ensuring the already near impossible trail is already cold. Several of the animals have also been checked for DNA traces in the possibility that they may have scratched the offender – but this has so far drawn a blank.

So what then, is known about the offender? It should be noted that the following should not be taken as definitive, this is a working hypothesis based upon what can be estimated about the offender, through the offences. Nor are any of the following observations intended to sensationalise the offences. For the same reasons, although there are graphic images available of the offenders work through searching, TTCE does not wish to cause offence and upset for any readers or any of the pet owners involved. Therefore, no images of the kind will be reproduced here.

It is very likely that the offender is male. SNARL believes that this is the case due to the mutilation in some cases requiring considerable strength. TTCE is inclined to agree with this, so for purpose here will refer to “him” using the masculine tense. He is likely to be no older than early to mid 30. Again, this is not definitive but is an educated guess based on the following reasoning. He is likely to be older than teenage because the geography of the attacks suggests that he is very mobile, able to travel and can fund travelling. TTCE has estimated that he is no older than early to mid 30’s, an age range that the investigators tend to favour and estimate the offender to fall into. The level of forensic awareness and organisation of the offences also support the offender being at the older end of the estimated age bracket. He will likely be employed in a manual job and have access to a car, perhaps in the capacity of a courier or delivery driver working alone.

Due to the concentration of the attacks being in the Greater London area, it is likely that the offender lives or has strong connections within this geographical catchment area, particularly Croydon. Offenders operate within an area that they feel comfortable with, at least early on in their offending. The geography of the attacks is widespread enough to suggest that the offender drives a vehicle, and this is supported thus: As the animals are rarely killed where they are found – this offender has to transport the animals somewhere, somehow. It is unlikely that he uses a cat carrier and travels by tube or bus – this would be remembered and would draw attention to him. It is more likely that he entices the animals into a car, where they are then transported somewhere to be killed. This could be a house or dwelling, or could be a lock up garage, shed or pigeon kit.

It is impossible to ascertain any physical description of the offender, as he has never been seen committing the attacks or had a near miss with being discovered. He is forensically aware and very organised in what he does – he has managed to avoid being seen in each case, and shows awareness of any CCTV in the area. It is quite possible that this is an experienced burglar, and one who will have certainly have offended in youth, perhaps by committing arson or criminal damage. He is likely to live alone, be single and a loner and secretive in nature – TTCE believes that these offences are his pride and joy and he would not want to share this with another. A person in a happy relationship with a partner or spouse, with many friends, does not spend the majority of his nights butchering animals. Also, the attacks are so horrific and abhorrent in nature that it is very likely that anyone else knowing the identity of the offender would have an attack of conscience and talked to someone, and this would have come to the attention of authorities. He is likely to have been bullied as a youngster and to have been a bully himself – and feels the need to now assert himself using defenceless creatures that he can completely dominate.

TTCE believes that this offender is a fully fledged sadist, one that is possibly mentally ill. It is easy to dismiss such horror as the workings of an obvious madman, but there is also a large degree of commitment, control and organisation in these offences to suggest that this is a functioning psychopath. He has no problem dealing with death or decomposition, indeed, at some point in his psychological growth one or both of these has had a remarkable and lasting effect on this man. This man enjoys killing and enjoys causing suffering, and it is very possible, indeed likely, that he waits and watches the dump sites from a safe distance because he wants to relish the shock and horror that he has caused upon discovery of the carcass. He may film this, and is likely to have filmed or taken photographs of the mutilations he has carried out – this is a person possibly, indeed likely, sexually dysfunctional who clearly gets his only kicks doing these acts, and wishes to relive the acts over and over. He will also likely keep any press clippings and will follow any reports concerning the case online. Perhaps what is most disturbing is that the heads and tails of the animals are often not found at all – suggesting that the offender keeps them as trophies, most likely in his “kill spot”.

This is a very dangerous offender, and one who needs to be caught and stopped sooner rather than later. The escalation of the offences both in number and ferocity suggest that this is beginning to plateau for him. He has become bolder in his attacks, attacking and killing in owners gardens that he has been prowling in, spending more time there with more risk of discovery, even returning to the scenes that he has dumped bodies at previously to deposit more body parts, often in macabre and sickening poses. All of which is increasing in alarming frequency – when TTCE spoke to Boudicca just five days ago she informed that SNARL had 12 cats that were awaiting autopsy! It is almost as though he needs to keep upping the ante, and if not stopped will eventually move on to bigger prey when cats and foxes just don’t satisfy his bloodlust anymore. Dogs perhaps will be attacked at first, but eventually this won’t be enough and this man will begin to attack human prey.

Boudicca has the following advice/requests for anyone who sees a person acting suspiciously whilst trying to entice an animal, or is seen hurting or maiming an animal in any way:

  • If you see anyone behaving oddly around cats,foxes or birds in the area from Manchester down to the South Coast, please call police via 101 with a full description of the person and what they are doing, and quote Operation Takahe in the call.
  • Where possible get vehicle registration details of the persons vehicle.
  • If possible, take photos or video with a smartphone

If an animal is found in the same geographical area with any of the injuries/mutilations described here, Boudicca requests the following:

  • Stay with the body if possible and contact SNARL immediately
  • Although upsetting, make a record to evidence as much of the scene as possible to establish if the animal has been killed there or just dumped there.
  • Prevent any council or waste services from touching or removing it and anyone from photographing it.
  • SNARL phones are by nature busy so please persevere trying to get through.
  • Advise anyone living in the Greater London area to keep their cats indoors as much as they can and let them out only during the day when they can be supervised.
  • “Please keep your cats in at night. We appreciate this isn’t easy, particularly as the weather gets warmer but you will cut the risk to your cat dramatically if you keep them indoors during the hours of darkness.”

As shown, there is a substantial reward available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of this individual. SNARL is doing a fantastic job in the face of adversity here, and should be commended and fully supported for their continuing good work and commitment to bringing this individual to justice. Full links to their Facebook page and website, along with contact details, can be found here: SNARL Facebook or at SNARL Website

If the offender should read this post, and there is every chance that the narcissist in this individual may come across this blog post whilst searching for any discussion of his exploits, TTCE has the following to say.

“You are a sick, pathetic individual and a coward hiding in anonymity. This does not or will not ever impress, it is evil and bloodlust and has caused nothing but misery and heartache. You need to be stopped, and eventually you will be caught and stopped, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Give this up, give yourself up”

If anyone has any information concerning this case, or should discover an animal that bears any of the hallmarks described here, please do not hesitate to contact SNARL on the numbers provided, or contact police on 101, quoting Operation Takahe.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush – Part 2

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

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

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Jean Lashley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neal Gardener and Dean James

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

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The body lies covered at the spot on Nomansland Common

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

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Detectives examine the body dump site

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

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

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Detective Chief Superintendent Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daniel Reece at his wedding in Durham Prison in 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Beast Of Shepherd’s Bush – Part 1

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Janie Shepherd

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

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

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

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The petrol station that Janie stopped to fill up her Mini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The man’s name was David Lashley.

 

To be continued

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lee revels in his notoriety after being sentenced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lee is pictured on a day release in 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

The Hull Arsonist (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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12 Selby Street, scene of the Hastie fire

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

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

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

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

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Charlie Hastie

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

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Bruce George Peter Lee

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

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

To Sagar’s surprise, Lee replied:

“I didn’t mean to kill them”

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

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

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

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Peter Dinsdale in his teens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

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:

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mashek_01

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.

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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