The “Beauty In The Bikini” Murder

“He is still on the loose. But he has been a very lucky person this guy. He has destroyed my life overall, but he is still free. For people who don’t know me and have never known me, then I can understand where they are coming from. The hard thing is the ones who do know me and still have this lingering doubt that I was involved. That does hurt and does hurt quite badly. I had nothing to do with it.” – Peter Heron

Middleton St George is a small village that lies on the main commuter route to Darlington, a borough in the North-East of England. Relatively small in population, it’s a quiet area only really notable for a few minor points of interest. Just over a mile away is the former RAF station RAF Middleton St George, which is now the minor UK international airport Durham Tees Valley, and historically the village lay on the direct line of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. But in 1990, Middleton St George gained another point of interest, albeit a darker one. It was the scene of a brutal murder that, to this day, no-one has ever been convicted of.

It was a golfing holiday in 1984 that brought them together. Peter Heron, then a 49-year-old company director of a haulage firm, was on a golfing break with friends up in the Isle of Bute, in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde. He was married to his wife of 20 years, Catherine, with whom he had three daughters; Beverley, Ann-Marie and Jacqui, and the business he was company director of was doing very well for itself. Whilst on this break, Peter got talking to attractive Ann Cockburn, a resident of the Isle and herself a mother of 3 and who had been married to a policeman for 15 years, Ralph Cockburn. Peter and Ann hit it off famously after finding out they had a mutual friend back in Darlington, and they stayed in touch, with a clear mutual attraction between both.

Ann Heron

It is unclear exactly when a relationship began between the two, but soon after they had met, Ann visited Darlington to see her friend – and looked Peter up whilst she was there. An affair between the two followed, and both left their respective spouses to set up home together. Soon afterwards, when both were divorced, Peter and Ann married at Yarm Road Methodist Chapel in Darlington, with a luxury reception following at nearby Wynyard Hall. The wealthy couple then set up home in beautiful Aeolian House, a large secluded property set off the busy A67 Darlington to Yarm road, quite near to the village of Middleton St George. After a while, relations between Peter, Ann and their respective children thawed somewhat, and life was good.

Until 3rd August 1990, that was.

That day, Peter had gone off to work at the haulage firm, GE Stiller Transport, as usual. As the couple were quite affluent, Ann did not need to work full-time but instead had a part-time job helping out as a care assistant. That day, she wasn’t working but had instead been shopping to buy a birthday present for an 18th birthday party that she was attending that evening. Peter had come home from work for lunch, as was customary, at about 1:00pm, and Ann was home by then. When he left to return to work just before 2:00pm, Ann decided to take advantage of the sunshine. It was the hottest day of the year, and Ann had decided to sunbathe in the grounds of Aeolian House. She was midway through a book about the paranormal, “The Ghosts Of Flight 401”, and with her collie dog by her side, lay down on a sun lounger to catch some rays.

Peter and Ann’s home, Aeolian House

At about 6pm, with it still warm, Peter arrived home. Ann’s empty sun lounger was at the front of the house, where she had moved it to avoid dust being kicked up by a farmer ploughing a neighbouring field. The radio was still on, Ann’s cigarettes and lighter lay next to it, and a half full glass lay at the side. Finding the door open and the dog outside, Peter called out to Ann to announce that he was home. No answer. Moving through the house, Ann was found in the living room of the house lying face down in a pool of blood, a gaping wound in her neck. Her bikini top was still in place, although the bottoms had been removed. Peter checked to see if Ann had any signs of life, and finding there was none, then rang the police, and a friend, Paul Stiller.

Scenes of crime officers investigate the scene of Ann Heron’s death

Police arrived and made a thorough examination of the scene and grounds of the house. Nothing appeared to have been stolen, and there were no signs of any ransacking or searching the property, indeed, the house was still impeccably tidy. There was no sign of forced entry to the house, and the outdoors showed no signs of disturbance – although Ann’s book and a pair of shoes were found under a tree about 15 metres away from the sun lounger. The post-mortem report concluded that an estimated time of death was about 5:00pm, and that the cause of death was due to shock and massive blood loss from the wound to Ann’s throat. Ann had had her throat slit with an implement that the pathologist estimated could have been a cut throat razor, or a work tool such as a Stanley type knife, but no murder weapon was found at the scene. There was no sign of any sexual assault to Ann, or any signs of her being beaten or involved in a struggle. It seemed as though she had just been killed, then dumped where she lay. It wasn’t a robbery, and it didn’t seem to be a sex crime – was there another motive not immediately apparent?

Within the first few months, the intense police investigation had seen more than 7,000 people spoken to, over 4,000 witness statements taken, and surplus of 100,000 man hours spent on hunting Ann’s killer. With everyone spoken to who knew Ann, they all echoed the same: she was attractive, well liked and popular with those who know her. She wasn’t found to have any enemies or people wishing her harm, had no disputes with anybody that were known, nor was any evidence found to suggest that she may have been involved in anything illegal or was having an affair. Ann and Peter were described as happy, comfortably off couple, and were popular and well liked. Peter made a tearful public appeal for anyone having information about the identity of Ann’s murderer to come forward, and offered a £5,000 reward. But public and police sympathy for the widower, whilst initially strong, was soon to turn and to be replaced with suspicion, and even accusation.

Peter Heron makes a public appeal in August 1990

As in most cases of murder, the stranger killer is a rarity and the killer is usually someone known to the victim. As a result, those closest to the victim, for example a spouse or family members or close friends will be looked at as persons of interest first and foremost with a view to eliminating them from the enquiry. Considering a possible case of utoxicide, police looked at Peter Heron as a suspect in his wife’s murder. As both the husband of the victim and the person who found the body, police scrutinised his alibi for the afternoon of the murder. That afternoon, he had been in his office from 2:00pm until 3:00pm, when he had left to attend a meeting with a potential client in the nearby village of Cleveland Bridge until 4:30pm, when he had headed back to the office. He had left the office at 5:00pm and headed home, albeit not via the usual way he would travel, instead driving through Croft and Middleton St George village before arriving home and finding Ann’s body at about 6:00pm. The reason for this departure would be revealed later. His movements seemed to check out, for although he would have been initially arrested as a suspect and questioned, he was released without charge. However, he wasn’t particularly open about his private life when questioned by police, and it emerged that Peter had been having an affair with a barmaid at the golf club that he was a member of, although the affair was ending at the time. His lover was 23 years younger than him, and worked in nearby Croft. This was the reason he had not taken his direct route home – he was trying to see his lover on the way home. When this fact was revealed by a national newspaper, it turned suspicion onto him. He was called “murderer” to his face by passers-by, and even his daughters were nearly involved in a fight in a local nightclub due to someone making accusations against him.

This is a crime that occurred 27 years ago now, and in that time several lines of enquiry have been pursued in the “Beauty In The Bikini” murder, as it was christened by the press. A number of persons of interest that police wished to trace and eliminate as a result of the investigation were identified, however were never traced. A male jogger was spotted near the house at around the time of the murder – he has never come forward despite repeated appeals. Perhaps more crucially, the driver of a blue Ford Sierra car was seen speeding out of the driveway to Aeolian House at the estimated time of the murder. The driver was described as being “early 30’s, extremely suntanned or swarthy looking, with dark hair that was longer on the sides than on top”. The car screeched onto the road and swerved around a Volkswagen that was travelling past Aeolian House, before accelerating away towards Middleton St George. It narrowly missed a collision with the Volkswagen, and the occupants of that vehicle were supported in their sighting by a passing taxi driver, who had to slow down to avoid a collision with the oncoming Sierra. Regrettably, none of the witnesses manage to gain even a part of the vehicle registration number. This driver was never found. Was he the killer?

A still from the Crimewatch UK reconstruction showing the blue Ford Sierra car speeding out of the driveway of Aeolian House

What could have been the same blue car was reported sighted parked in a lay-by near to Aeolian House by another witness, who also provided crucial information years later that suggested Ann may have been out somewhere else on the afternoon of the murder. The witness was driving a HGV past Aeolian House at about 4:15pm that day when he saw Ann, whom he knew, driving towards him and indicating to turn into the driveway of the house. He flashed his lights at her in acknowledgement, and she waved in return. The witness noticed two other people in the vehicle with Ann; a male in the passenger seat who had his hands on the dashboard, and another person in the back seat. The witness was adamant of what he had seen and was convinced that this was Ann, and another person in the cab at the time confirmed the story. Was this Ann, and if so, where had she been and who was in the car with her?

There were a couple of other minor developments over the years concerning the case. In 1994, an anonymous letter arrived at the offices of the Northern Echo newspaper. It simply said:

Hello editor, it’s me. Ann Heron’s killer

Copies were also received by police, and were sent to Peter Heron. The author was never identified. Was this the work of a crank, the killer, or was it sent with a purpose to make out that the killer was still out there?

Then, many years later a retired shop-worker came forward and offered information about a sales rep who had visited the card shop she worked at in Newton Aycliffe many years before, who she said claimed that he had killed Ann Heron. The woman, known only as “Sylvia” claimed that the rep had gone into the back to talk to the manageress about a possible order:

“They were gone about ten minutes and he came out first. He looked at me and smiled, although it was more a smirk than a smile. The manageress came behind and she was physically shaking. She was frightened. She said, ‘you’ll never believe what he told me.’ He had told her that he had killed Ann Heron but he was never going to be caught because he was moving to Australia. I don’t know why he said it, although the manageress looked a lot like Ann Heron. She wouldn’t go to the police saying he was probably just ‘playing silly beggars.’ It was only years later that I read about the murder and it really shook me because the description was exactly the same as that of a man seen speeding off in a car from the house. Swarthy, dark, early 30s, it was exactly the same. I know it is just hearsay but I think the police should have at least interviewed me properly.”

Peter Heron in 2015

But perhaps the most significant development in the years since Ann was killed is that fifteen years after the murder, in 2005, Peter Heron was arrested and charged with Ann’s murder. The reason for the arrest? A simple speck of his DNA. It had been taken from Ann’s body at the time of her autopsy, and had been stored as evidence. Through advancements in forensic technology, the sample, which was related to sexual activity, was able after 15 years to produce a genetic fingerprint. It did – that of Peter Heron. He was arrested and charged with Ann’s murder two days later on the basis of this evidence, but ultimately, the CPS opted not to pursue charges against him following a review of the forensic evidence. Peter Heron never went to trial and was freed, but has never got his name cleared as he so wishes. Quite public in his indignation of his treatment at the hands of Durham Police, Mr Heron has given countless interviews to newspapers, and even wrote an open letter to the Chief Constable of Durham Police, a copy of which is attached here

What then, can be ascertained about the crime? This is not a post to point the accusatory finger at anyone, it is to present the known facts concerning the case and to make an analysis and offer hypothesis based on the concrete evidence. There are also many observations that I will make, and they are intended to be just that – hypothesis and observations. Firstly, what was the motive for the murder? It is unlikely to have been robbery – nothing was reported as having been stolen, and there was no ransacking apparent, even though a cursory look at the property would suggest to the onlooker that this was a house of wealth. Police attending the crime scene also testified to the tidiness of the house throughout. And ultimately, burglars do just that – burgle. They will flee if disturbed, and a dog is a deterrent. The removal of Ann’s bikini bottoms would suggest a sexual motive – but there were no signs of Ann being raped or having had consensual sex that afternoon. Also, why would a sex killer not remove the bikini top also? It is not reported as to where the bikini bottoms were found – these would expectedly be in the near vicinity of the body – or had the killer taken them away? There also exists the possibility that the entire scene was staged to make it look like a sex killing or an attack elsewhere – the strange positioning of the shoes and the book, the removal of only bikini bottoms, the lack of a barking dog.

Nor is it abundantly clear as to precisely where Ann was attacked. Her body was found in the living room, but it is suggested that it was placed there. Was she attacked outside? It is reported that she had moved her sun lounger to the front of the house – meaning that she could have been seen by a passer-by. Also, it is reported that her book and shoes were found underneath a tree about 15 metres from the sun lounger – which would look like at least some sort of disturbance had occurred outside? Was there any mass bloodstaining – which would have been apparent at the point of attack – outside in the garden? If not, and Ann was killed where she was found, that suggests that the killer was someone known to Ann. It is unlikely that a woman would admit a stranger to her home whilst she was alone and dressed in just a bikini – self-consciousness would kick in, like the need to put on a robe. And also, would Ann’s dog have attacked a stranger to protect its mistress? There are reports that Ann’s dog could never again trust a stranger following the murder – just how much should be read into this is a matter of opinion.

It has been suggested that perhaps Ann was having an affair, although her family have been steadfast in denying this as a possibility. I believe that it should be considered. Ann and Peter’s life together had started as the result of an affair – and he himself was involved in a secret affair at the time of her death. Both had history of unfaithfulness, and it can be argued that that is a personality trait that is never lost. Was Ann also seeing someone? A secret lover would explain someone being in the house who was familiar with the layout, whom Ann felt comfortable enough to be with dressed in such a state. It would also explain why Ann’s dog was not reported as barking – perhaps because the killer was someone the dog was familiar with? But then, why would a lover kill her? Or was the killer the partner of a lover who killed Ann in a fit of rage after finding out and confronting her about the affair? I believe it also could be a strong possibility that Ann’s murder is connected to Peter’s affair. Did a jealous partner of Peter’s lover perhaps take revenge in the most horrific way? Or was perhaps, someone hired to kill Ann?

Concerning the man seen speeding out of Aeolian House at about 5:00pm – he has never come forward or been traced, despite repeated appeals and even a televised reconstruction on Crimewatch UK in December 1990. It is correct that this is the main person of interest in the crime – he can be placed leaving the scene by several witnesses, and driving off erratically. Yet, he may not be the killer – he may have discovered Ann dead in her home and driven off in a panic, thinking he may be blamed. Was this man the possible secret lover? What is possibly the same car was reported as being seen parked in a lay-by near to Aeolian House – a secret lover may perhaps leave a car nearby to avoid being seen/discovered/out of discretion? Yet, there is no identikit picture available of the driver, despite an available description. The line of enquiry concerning the jogger sighted nearby also led nowhere – yet one would expect this person to live within the local area, jogging is a very territorial pastime. It is hard to believe that one would not have heard about such a high-profile case and not come forward to eliminate themselves. Again, no description is available, and there is no record of any serious examination of this line of enquiry.

The last photograph taken of Ann Heron before her death

Instead, what would be a natural instinct and understandable for people to think, the main focus of suspicion seems to have been pointed at Peter Heron for complicity in his wife’s murder. It must be said that at the time, he was automatically considered a prime suspect, as is always the case with the other party in a spousal homicide. Peter was the last person known to have seen Ann alive, and he found her body. He was involved in an affair at the time, suggesting that all was not well between him and Ann. His bloody fingerprints were found on the telephone in the lounge, on the roof of his car outside, and traces of Ann’s blood was found on his person. Yet, this was explained off by him claiming to have touched her to see if she was still alive upon finding her, and then going outside to lean on the car to compose himself. He did have an alibi of being in a meeting that afternoon, and so has witnesses to corroborate his movements. Yet his movements that afternoon were out of the norm and gave, I believe, ample time to commit the crime between journeys to places that he can definitely be placed at. He was also not forthcoming about the affair – when, if the estimated time of death is correct, he would have had to own up to to provide an alibi. Why did he not, when he must have known it would be in his best interests to? He has acknowledged publicly, but never spoken of the affair, instead choosing to keep his former lover out of any publicity. It has arguably turned much public opinion against him, and created suspicion in the minds of people, and more importantly, the police. His arrest and charge in 2005 show that he was still considered the prime suspect – yet the evidence that formed the basis of the charge, a DNA sample taken from his wife in his own home, stretches credibility of a realistic conviction and instead suggests desperation for a conviction on behalf of the police. Peter Heron and members of the family have given countless interviews to the press concerning his arrest, charge and release, a selection of which are reproduced in the following links, and make for interesting reading. Others can be found online.

Interview with Peter Heron

Interview with Anne Marie Cockburn (Ann’s daughter)

Yet it is my opinion, and perhaps this is the effect of how the media reports, that it comes across as less concerned with catching the killer and gaining justice for Ann, rather more with gaining a public apology for how Peter has been treated and portrayed in the light of what must be understandable suspicions However, he has never been tried or convicted of the crime and like him or loathe him, it is up to the reader to determine for themselves his culpability, if any.

Ann Heron’s killer has never been brought to justice, and it is now nearly 27 years since she was killed in her own home that hot day in August. Aeolian House is now a kennels and cattery, Peter Heron having sold it finally ten years after the murder. The family who now own it claim that they feel a presence, albeit not an unfriendly one, in the house, and often detect a smell of cigarette smoke, which is strange because none of the occupants of the house are smokers.

Aeolian House in August 2016

Ann Heron, however, was a smoker – does she still occupy the place where she spent her final moments of life?


The True Crime Enthusiast


Join the discussion

  • Fascinating stuff and for what its worth I think you are right about decision to charge the husband and the subsequent decision to drop the charges. It all points to the involvement of another – probably a lover although the motive is likely to remain unknown

  • I remember this so well as I am from Middleton st George and passed aeolian House a few times going to darlington and back. I always looked at the house on my way past as well it was lovely. I never saw Ann that day at all each time I past. I remember not long after the police coming to MSG and going door to door and interviewing my family and everyone in the village. It’s such a shame that they have never found the killer. RIP Anne.

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