When life means life – The Dore Massacre

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Arthur Hutchinson

One of the most notorious and brutal killers in British criminal history is Arthur Hutchinson. Now approaching 76 years old, he has spent the past 32 years of his life caged for the horrific murders of three members of a wealthy Sheffield family. Solicitor Basil Laitner, his wife Avril, and their son Richard all met a bloody end at the hands of Hutchinson. He also brutally repeatedly raped their youngest daughter, 18 year old Nicola. If that wasn’t horrific enough, Hutchinson had slaughtered the family on what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives. On the day they died, the Laitner family had celebrated the wedding of their eldest daughter.

Arthur Hutchinson, or “The Fox” as he came to be known (and somewhat largely self styled) was born in Hartlepool in 1941. Raised on the outskirts of Hartlepool’s sprawling Owton Manor estate, Hutchinson came from a family of 6 children, and from a young age developed a taste from extreme violence. Aged just seven years old, he seriously stabbed one of his sisters with a pair of scissors. This was followed by several incidents of bullying and assaults on younger children, and by 11 years of age, Hutchinson was facing his first appearance before a juvenile court, on a charge of indecent assault. What followed was a pattern of petty crime and a further 19 appearances before a court – including four times for having sex with underage girls.

At age 18, Hutchinson married a neighbour, Margaret Dover, who was pregnant with his child. He proved himself to be a serial adulterer that would openly brag about his conquests with women, of which he seemed to be strangely attractive to. He was also extremely violent and suffered mood swings, so much so that the slightest provocation could turn him into a raging monster. This marriage lasted for 3 years, after which the couple separated. Hutchinson was then imprisoned throughout the early 1960’s for having sex with an underage girl, and then met his second wife, Hannelore, at a Christmas party in 1968. The courtship was swift and the couple were married just 5 months later. But this marriage proved to be the same as his previous marriage, with the violence and philandering ever present.

Hutchinson’s life and activities throughout the 1970’s are poorly documented. It is known that from 1971 onwards, Hutchinson was convicted of a number of sexual assaults. He also served more than 5 years in prison for firearms offences and for attempting to shoot dead his half brother, Dino Reardon. He had not long been released from this sentence when he again found himself in custody, this time on charges of theft, burglary, and for a brutal rape. By now, it was 1983. Hutchinson was however, never to face trial for these crimes. On 23 September 1983 he was at Selby Magistrates Court in North Yorkshire to appear in front of the magistrate in connection with the offences he was charged with. It was then that the cunning mind of Hutchinson put into action the plan that he had been formulating. Whilst there he asked to go to the toilet, and was released from handcuffs to do so. Instead of going, he sprinted upstairs and entered Court No 1, which was closed for redecoration that day. Passing a startled decorator, he climbed onto the press bench and dived headfirst through a window. Hutchinson severely cut his knee on the glass as he did so, and landed on a barbed wire fence below. Managing to work his way free, he managed to escape and lose himself in the crowds of Selby.

Skip forward now to nearly a month later. Dore is an affluent village in South Yorkshire, loved by locals and tourists alike, and nearly 50 miles from Selby. Late in the evening of October 22, 1983, respected and wealthy solicitor Basil Laitner, 59, and his doctor wife, Avril, 55, were winding down after a busy but very happy day. A huge marquee had been erected in the garden of the Laitner’s £150,000 home in Dore Road, where more than 250 guests had helped celebrate the Laitner’s eldest  daughter Suzanne’s wedding to Glaswegian optician Ivor Wolfe just a few hours earlier. Along with their son Richard and younger daughter Nicola, Basil and Avril had made a start at clearing up after the celebrations, and were preparing to settle down for the night after their busy day of jubilation.

Just before midnight, however, the Laitner’s had another, more unwelcome guest: Arthur Hutchinson.

Hutchinson, for reasons never clearly explained, had found himself in Dore. He was unshaven, filthy, and still being troubled by the severe wound he had received whilst escaping. He had entered the Laitner house through a faulty patio door, possibly with the intention to commit an armed robbery. His doing so heralded some of the most shocking crimes in British criminal history.

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Basil Laitner
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From left, Suzanne, Richard and Avril Laitner

The slaughter began with Richard Laitner. The 28 year old, who had harboured dreams of becoming a doctor, had been attacked in his upstairs bedroom. He had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest and neck, and was left half on and half off his bed. Hearing the commotion, Basil Laitner had got up to investigate and had been attacked at the top of the stairs. He had been stabbed three times, and his body slumped down the stairs. The most frenzied attack was directed at Avril Laitner however, who was stabbed twenty-six times in her downstairs bedroom. She had put up a struggle for her life, and had defence wounds to the palms of her hands and fingers that were so deep that they exposed the bone. Not satisfied with such carnage, Hutchinson then returned upstairs and turned his attentions towards the younger daughter, Nicola.

Hutchinson flashed a torch in the petrified girl’s face, and told her that if she screamed she would be killed. He then savagely raped the traumatised girl at knifepoint, before walking her downstairs to where the marquee was still stood. On the way down, the girl was made to walk past the body of her father, through a pool of his blood. Once in the marquee, she was made to sit on a chair and handcuffed. Whilst here, she was raped again and forced to listen to Hutchinson boasting about how he had killed everyone in the entire house. After being blindfolded, she had to listen as Hutchinson ate and drank from leftover food from the wedding buffet. Nicola was then taken back upstairs to her bedroom and raped for a third time. As dawn broke, Hutchinson left the weeping girl bound hand and foot, after callously telling her to take care and not to suffocate herself. Her foot was caked in her father’s blood, and her nightdress was stained with her mother’s blood, from Hutchinson’s blood-stained hands. Why Hutchinson chose to leave the girl alive has never been revealed, or explained.

Two workmen who had come to the house to dismantle the wedding marquee discovered the scene of carnage the early the next morning. A murder investigation was quickly launched, with Detective Chief Inspector Mick Burdis leading the hunt for the killer. The most crucial evidence had to come from Nicola, the only eyewitness to the massacre. But after suffering the trauma of losing nearly her entire family in such horrific circumstances, and coupled with the multiple rapes, Nicola was in a state of near total psychological collapse. However, just three days later, Nicola was able to provide information and a description of the killer to a police sketch artist.

The sketch that was produced shows a thin featured man with curly hair and a slightly bent, protruding nose. So police had a likeness of the man they were searching for, and they were also to find a wealth of forensic evidence from the scene. There was a bloodstain on one of Nicola’s bed sheets that had come from the killer, left there as he raped Nicola. Nicola also informed police that whilst in the marquee, the killer had taken a bite from some cheese and had swigged from a bottle of champagne leftover from the day’s celebrations. So police were able to recover a sample of the killer’s blood, a palm print from the champagne bottle, and a dental impression from the piece of cheese. These would form important items of forensic evidence that would be used to help secure a conviction – but would only be of use if detectives had a suspect. Then a colleague from North Yorkshire police provided the breakthrough. He contacted DI Burdis and informed him that the sketch was a likeness for the escaped prisoner Arthur Hutchinson. When Hutchinson’s prints were compared to the palm print gleaned from the champagne bottle, there was an exact match. Detectives now knew the identity of the man they were looking for, and a picture of the wanted man was released to the nation. The hunt was on.

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The WANTED picture of Arthur Hutchinson issued to the nation

Where were police to start? The manhunt, at the time, was the biggest that Britain had seen since the hunt for Peter Sutcliffe. But by now, Hutchinson had crossed the county border and was on the run. Immediately after leaving the Laitner house, Hutchinson had calmly hailed a taxi to nearby Worksop. Rather than go to ground, Hutchinson apparently moved around in disguise, staying in guesthouses and pubs throughout the North. He is believed to have travelled cross country, from place to place including Barnsley, Nottinghamshire, Manchester, York, and Scarborough. When he couldn’t manage a place to stay for the night, he indulged his love and passion for the countryside and slept rough in dens and shelters. Hutchinson foraged food from people’s allotments, and even ate dandelions to survive.

 “This man is on the run and we believe he is quite clearly capable of killing if cornered.”– Sgt Tom Walton, North Yorkshire Police

Hutchinson had escalated overnight to being Britain’s most wanted man, but instead of hiding, he seemed to revel in the notoriety. Believing himself to be a cunning survival expert, he styled himself “The Fox”, and wrote a mocking letter to the press that even started, “I, the Fox…” In the letter, he goaded the police hunting him, denied the Dore crimes and warned the media to stop reporting on the nationwide hunt for him.  But Hutchinson was not satisfied with just writing letters. He then rang the offices of the Yorkshire Post newspaper, and spoke to a journalist there. In this conversation, Hutchinson boasted of his survival expertise, and attempted to portray himself as some kind of criminal mastermind. He claimed to have been in and out of the search areas on numerous occasions, and that he had avoided detection by being a master of disguise. He also claimed that he was too smart to be caught, and that he would never willingly give himself up. A sample of Hutchinson’s voice from this conversation was played on Radio Sheffield.

“I sleep by day, and I travel at night. So I’m not going to give myself up” – Arthur Hutchinson to a Yorkshire Post reporter.

By the time November had arrived, the manhunt for Hutchinson had no less intensified – but he still hadn’t been caught. Police had had to follow up over 1500 possible sightings of him, but had an idea of where he would possibly (indeed, likely) end up. Ever since police knew the identity of the man they were looking for, surveillance had been placed upon his mother’s house in Hartlepool. It had been common practice for Hutchinson to gravitate back to his mother’s house whenever he was in times of trouble, and police were counting on this being no exception. As a result, police had tapped her phone and had covert surveillance surrounding the area, waiting for “The Fox” to make his move. They were confident that Hutchinson would try to contact her, or numerous female friends and as a result had placed 24-hour watches on nine homes in the area.

The police hunch proved to be right, as at 4:00am on 04 November, Hutchinson first contacted an unnamed woman before then calling his mother, Louise Reardon, at her home in the Kelso Grove area of Owton Manor. He told his mother he was “coming home”. The call was traced to a nearby phone box, and Hutchinson was not long afterwards sighted heading towards the nearby Brierton Lane area. He remained at large overnight and at first light on 05 November 1983, the manhunt for Hutchinson entered its final stages. More than 400 police officers and dog handlers began combing an eight- mile square area of land that covered the Greatham, Dalton Piercy, Elwick, High Tunstall and Brierton areas of Hartlepool. Throughout all of this, the arrogant nature of Hutchinson could not resist further showing off and taunting police. Suspecting that they would be listening, he again contacted the unnamed woman he had rang before the phone call to his mother. He then proceeded to mock police for not catching him, even going so far as to call them “Boy Scouts”.

Eventually, Hutchinson was spotted at 3:45pm that day in a turnip field near Middle Stotfold Farm, between the A19 and Dalton Piercy back road. Hutchinson was now cornered, but made a final break for freedom before being brought down by a police dog. He was quickly overpowered, and disarmed of the large Bowie type knife he had threatened police with. Not before Hutchinson had managed to stab himself with it, albeit only superficially. Under a massive police guard, he was taken to hospital for treatment on this, and the wound he had received to the knee when he escaped over a month before.

“The Fox” was caught.

“I’m not a murderer. I should’ve stayed down my foxhole, shouldn’t i?” – Hutchinson to arresting officers

After Hutchinson’s arrest, police discovered a cassette tape in a Darlington guest house, one of several places Hutchinson had stayed while he was at large. He had even the audacity to sign himself in the guest book under the name “A.Fox”! Extracts from the tape, published in the media after Hutchinson’s trial and conviction, are as follows and show the extent of Hutchinson’s arrogance:

“Because I was able to get this tape recorder, transistor, I’ve been able to listen to everything that’s been going on. Where they have been waiting for me, where they have been looking for me, so I knew exactly which way to head out of the way from ‘em. Like playing cat and mouse, or should I say fox on the trot.

I’m making no comments on the triple killings. Let the police do what they want. I’m saying nowt. I’m not telling anybody nothing about that business. Mebbes I’m a bit daft in the head like people think I am. Let them think what they want – I am still free, that’s the main fucking thing.

However crackers I might be, I’ve walked past them several times and they haven’t even noticed me. Like I say, I’m a master of disguise(laughs).”

Describing his escape from Selby Magistrate’s Court, Hutchinson says:

“I hurled myself through an upper window, crashing into a barbed wire net, ripping my leg to pieces. I ran four miles barely stopping, then stopped in the bushes for hours then I see the helicopter hunt. So I drag myself into the gutter, crawl along the gutter and forced myself into bramble bushes and stayed there until it got dark”

He then says he spent four nights on the run before going to hospital in Doncaster for treatment to his knee wound:

“Trousers were at this stage covered in blood but I kept on going. I got my treatment, left and walked another three to four miles back into the wilderness. You just have to keep continuing sometimes. I just had to live day by day but I won’t give in. I’ll never give in – even when they shoot me, else finish me off.”

Unsurprisingly, Hutchinson denied killing 3 members of the Laitner family, and repeatedly raping their 18 year old daughter. He was charged on all counts based on the overwhelming evidence suggesting his guilt, and remanded in custody until his trial for these crimes in Durham Crown Court in September 1984. His murder trial is notable as it was the first time in a murder trial in the UK that a police video of the crime scene was shown to the jury. The 7 minute video shook the jury as it gave first hand visual recreation of the slaughter that had happened at the Laitner house.

Hutchinson entered a plea of not guilty on all counts, and denied even being at the house. He changed his story, however, when he realised the extent of the forensic evidence that tied him to being at the Laitner house that fateful night. Hutchinson has a rare blood group that is unique to only one in 50,000 people. A forensic scientist gave compelling evidence that showed the jury that blood of this type – an exact match for Hutchinson’s blood – had been found all over Nicola’s bed sheets. Blood that had come from the knee wound obtained from escaping from Selby Magistrate’s Court. Also, forensic odontologist Dr Geoffrey Craig testified that bite marks found in a piece of cheese from the buffet in the wedding marquee exactly matched Hutchinson’s bite marks, an impression of which was taken after his arrest. And then there was the evidence of Hutchinson’s palm prints being found on a bottle of champagne in the marquee itself. Faced with this evidence, “The Fox” attempted to use some of his cunning.

Hutchinson concocted a story that after all, he had in fact been to the house, after being invited the night before by Nicola. He claimed they had met in a pub in Sheffield, and she had invited him to go to the house the next night. He claimed that she had said she would leave the patio door unlocked for him, and that he would find a bottle of champagne waiting for him when he arrived. He went further to say that they had had consensual sexual intercourse, and that he had left and that “others” must have come and killed the rest of the Laitner family. Because he had pleaded not guilty, Nicola was forced to undergo cross examination from Hutchinson’s defence counsel. She proved to be unshakeable, and impressed the jury with her sincerity. Visibly shaking and upset, she denied Hutchinson’s claims steadfastly. She had not invited him to the house, she had not left the patio door open for him, and she had not willingly consented to sex with him. The court heard from Nicola how she had pretended, out of fear for her life, to enjoy the sex with Hutchinson. The jury further learned of Hutchinson’s cunning nature when Nicola told them how he had affected a Scottish accent throughout the entire ordeal. She was an impressive witness, proving to be unshakeable and impressing the jury with her sincerity. With his web of lies in tatters, Hutchinson, reveling in the attention that he was being given, changed tack.

Hutchinson next claimed, quite ludicrously, that a reporter from the Sunday Mirror, Mike Barron, had been the one who committed the murders. He even pointed to him in court, saying “That’s your killer there”. He explained his prints had been on the champagne bottle because he had picked it up to use as a weapon to defend himself against Mr Barron. Hutchinson claimed that the media had had a vendetta against him, and that:

“Every week for the last 10 months, that man there has been going to my mother’s house threatening her. I was frightened for her and wanted to get the truth out. There’s your killer.”- Arthur Hutchinson

He could not clearly, however, explain why Mr Barron had even been at the house at the time. This absurd story did not sway the jury, and they were not out deliberating for long. After just 4 hours deliberation, on 14th September 1984, Hutchinson was found guilty of all three murders of the Laitner family and repeated rapes of 18 year old Nicola Laitner. He showed no emotion as the trial judge, Mr Justice Mcneill, sentenced him to multiple life sentences with a minimum tariff of 18 years to serve. Ten months after he was jailed, Hutchinson failed in an appeal against his conviction. He was left to serve his sentence in Wakefield prison, where he was feared by fellow inmates and described by officers as being “like a bomb about to reach the end of its fuse”.

After his conviction, the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, ruled that Hutchinson’s crimes demanded that his be extended to a whole life tariff, effecting Hutchinson to die in jail. He has consistently challenged this decision, and has appealed several times against it. In 2008, long after serving the minimum term imposed upon him at his trial, Hutchinson went to the High Court to challenge his whole life term. The imposed whole life tariff was reviewed by High Court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat, who ruled that Hutchinson must never be set free. Undeterred, he appealed this decision later the same year in the Court of Appeal. But his bid for freedom was shattered when the court’s three judges ruled that his crimes were so despicable, that life must mean life. All three judges were to describe his case as the most heinous crimes they had ever dealt with.

Hutchinson was again in the news in 2013. He became the first British prisoner to challenge the sentence after a controversial ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in July ruled that whole-life tariffs are a breach of human rights. It was held that there had been a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which relates to inhuman and degrading treatment. This violation was on the basis that whole-life tariffs were not “reducible”. Relying on Article 3, Hutchinson claimed that his whole life sentence amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment” as he has no hope of release. He has, as of writing, not been released after spending 32 years behind bars for his horrific crimes, and is likely to die in prison. He is now 75 years old, and the name Arthur Hutchinson still conjures up revulsion at his crimes whenever it is mentioned. If he was ever successful in appealing his whole life tariff, it could be the gateway for many of Britain’s other most reviled killers to do the same and make bids for freedom. The surviving members of the Dore massacre have long since moved away under new identities, hoping to be free of the media spotlight and to put the tragic event behind them as much as possible. It is fitting to conclude here by showing just how fresh a hell they are put through whenever Hutchinson is mentioned in the press as appealing his sentence.

“Whenever even the name Arthur Hutchinson rears its ugly head, it does nothing but create fear and cause distress to the victims of this heinous crime. Let the Human Rights judiciary members be thrust into our position for just a day, and maybe they would understand this” – spokesman for the surviving Laitner family members

Powerful words.

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

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