For more than a quarter of a century, Widnes mum Lorraine Rigby has had to live with memories of a sight that will haunt her to her dying day, one that left her family shattered. In August 1991, when Lorraine was just 19 years old and pregnant with her first child, she had the tragic and haunting task of identifying her mother’s body. Her mother, 42 year old single mother Veronica Anderson, had been brutally murdered in a horrific and as yet, unsolved crime.
“I’m still angry about it, I used to have nightmares because I had to identify her. I was 19 and pregnant. That was quite horrifying because my mum wasn’t married so there was no-one else to do it. My brother was only seven. It was hard sitting a seven-year-old down and telling him his mum isn’t coming back. That was the hardest thing of all. It affected the whole family.” – Veronica’s daughter Lorraine Rigby
Veronica was known to family and friends as Vera, and was a mother of two, a son and daughter. She was described as a devoted and loving mother, and was eagerly awaiting becoming a grandmother for the first time as her 19 year old daughter Lorraine was pregnant with her first child. The family lived in Hadfield Close in the town of Widnes, Cheshire, and on Saturday August 24 1991, Veronica was at home watching television. Lorraine was out that evening and her 7 year old son Neil was in bed.
What may sound like a run of the mill Saturday night was to be the final night of Veronica Anderson’s life.
What has been established is that Veronica received a telephone call sometime that evening, although the identity of the caller has never been ascertained. Whoever it was and whatever they had to say, it was cause enough for Veronica to need to contact a neighbour and ask them to babysit Neil while Veronica popped out for ten minutes. This was at 10:10pm that evening. Veronica dropped Neil off at the neighbour’s house, then drove off in her Ford Cortina car, registration number PCX 38X, saying that she would be back in ten minutes. That was the last time she was seen alive by anybody who knew her.
The Old Tannery Complex in nearby Penketh, Warrington, is now an urbanised area, but back in 1991 it still consisted of old derelict buildings and wasteland left over from when the area was a thriving tanning works. Because the buildings were set back off the road, the area had become the type of place used by courting couples for privacy, and also as a haven for soft drug users. As a result of this constant activity, police patrols to the area were quite frequent. That Saturday night was no exception, and a patrol car passed by there at 10:45pm and noticed no cars there.
At 03:18 in the early hours of Sunday August 25, Veronica’s Ford Cortina was found parked up at the Old Tannery Complex, and Veronica was found dead inside, heavily blood-stained and slumped over the steering wheel. She had been murdered by having had her throat cut, and the subsequent post mortem also showed signs of strangulation. Veronica was found fully clothed, and although there were signs of a struggle, there were no apparent signs of robbery or of a sexual attack – this was later confirmed by the post mortem. No murder weapon was found at the scene, but found nearby was a single blood-stained cotton glove, and a length of sash cord – similar to the type used to tie back curtains.
News of the brutal murder shocked and scared the communities of Warrington and Widnes, and locals were especially anxious to help in the police investigation. Nobody was anxious to have such a savage murderer on the loose, and public response to the police investigation was very encouraging. Some 6,500 statements were taken from people throughout the massive enquiry, but these ultimately led nowhere. No apparent motive could be found for Veronica’s murder. No forensic evidence from the killer was reportedly found in Veronica’s car. No witnesses came forward to say they had seen or heard any screams or sounds of a struggle at the murder scene within the crucial time window. Tracing the origin of the glove found at the scene, and the sash cord, proved fruitless. But the enquiry did produce one possible sighting that was of interest to detectives.
Witnesses came forward to say that on the evening Veronica was murdered, at about 10:30pm, a woman strongly matching her description was seen in the company of a man at the Crown and Cushion pub on Warrington Road, Penketh. This pub was located very near to Veronica’s house, no more than a 10 minute drive away. It is also very close to where her body was discovered at the complex on Tannery Lane. Was this Veronica and her killer?
The man she was with was described as being Caucasian, aged mid 30’s to early 40’s, having short cut mousy coloured hair, and having a neatly trimmed mousy coloured moustache. He was described as being of slim build with a thin face, appearing almost sunken at the temples. When seen with the woman who was possibly Veronica, he was wearing a fawn coloured jacket. An artist’s impression of the man was released to the public and is reproduced below:
Detectives also appealed to the public as to the origins of the blood-stained glove found at the murder scene. The glove was a natural coloured industrial type cotton glove labelled with the manufacturer’s name, “Minette”, on the bottom corner. Forensic examination of the glove confirmed that it had been worn by the killer, and that it had come into contact with Veronica. Police believe that her killer dropped this glove by mistake when leaving the scene. Tracing its origins was ultimately unsuccessful however, as was the appeal to trace the origin of the sash cord. Both were commonplace items widely available, and these lines of enquiry soon drew a blank when they could not be connected to anyone. It is not reported if Veronica was strangled manually or with a ligature – therefore it is worth bearing in mind that the sash cord found at the scene may have been a piece of rubbish left there innocently, and was unconnected with Veronica’s murder.
The years following the investigation saw detectives follow up many different lines of enquiry, even travelling to Europe on occasions to follow potential lines of enquiry. But each of these enquiries led to nothing. The case was appealed on Crimewatch UK and extensively in the local press, but to no avail. A £30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Veronica’s killer was raised by Crimestoppers and offered. It has never been claimed, despite numerous renewed appeals over the years. The latest appeal was just last year (2016).
More than 25 years have now passed, but Lorraine still remains hopeful that her mother’s killer (or killers, for Lorraine believes it possible more than one person was involved) will be brought to justice. It is shown clearly even now, more than a quarter of a century later, just how painful the fact that her mother’s murder is still unsolved is:
“I would like for them [the murderers] to come forward. It would be good if they did. As time goes on I think there’s more than one person that knows about it. Just through the injuries my mum had, it’s hard to imagine it was just one person. It’s hard because I’ve got young kids now, I’ve got a three and a six-year-old, and even they ask about my mum. Obviously we have got pictures and they ask things about nana Vera. We say she’s up in the sky and they ask if they can go to see her. They don’t really understand but it’s nice that they ask about her” – Lorraine Rigby (speaking in 2016)
This is a very sad crime, and a frustrating one as there are so many dead ends from what would appear to be such promising lines of enquiry. As with any murder enquiry, the victim’s life is always scrutinised in an attempt to establish any possible motive or suspects. Detectives scrutinised Veronica’s, but have never found any motive as to why anyone would want to kill Veronica. The consensus from her family and friends was of her being “a caring, loving person who was not into drugs and had no money”. No obvious enemies were found, or suspects in her murder identified. She was not found to be involved in any illegal activity, an illicit affair, or indeed any romantic relationships. I do not believe that the possibility that she may have been in a relationship should be discounted, however. Perhaps they were just well hidden, or a secret?
The telephone call Veronica received on the night she was murdered was important enough for her to have to go out, having to get her son out of bed and arranging care for him with a neighbour. One press report has her saying she needed to go and meet her brother, and this may be what she told the neighbour looking after Neil. This was obviously untrue, her family would have been interviewed at great length and this would be a fact that would have been firmly established early in the investigation had it been true. This may just be a mistake in the press reporting then, or it may have been an excuse made by Veronica hiding her true motive for heading out that night. Did she have something to hide, perhaps a secret (perhaps illicit) relationship? It seems more likely that it was an impromptu meeting that she was going on and not a “date” – she left the television on, left her purse at home, and even went out in flip flops. If Veronica had pre-arranged to meet someone – surely she would have pre-arranged a babysitter for Neil, and gone out dressed and made up for a night out? All this seems to suggest Veronica planned to return home after only being away a short time. But frustratingly, the caller has never been identified.
Was then, Veronica the woman seen in the Crown and Cushion pub just 20 minutes later? The distance between her house and the pub, especially if she was driving, certainly makes it possible. Again, this would seem a promising line of enquiry – but press reports are scant in the detail. It is not reported if the couple appeared intimate (i.e touching hands), were they arguing or laughing and joking, what they were drinking, who exactly it was that saw them, when the couple left etc. It should also taken into account that the witness reporting the sighting may have been intoxicated at the time of the sighting, and the bombardment of publicity in the aftermath of Veronica’s murder has somehow distorted who the witness has seen.
It should also not be taken as fact that this was definitely Veronica and her killer, because it may of course not have been. However, repeated appeals over the years for both the woman and the man depicted in the artist’s impression to come forward have been unsuccessful, no one has ever yet come forward to identify themselves as the couple and so rule themselves out of the enquiry. It is highly possible that this was Veronica and her killer having a drink, but it is difficult to see where this line of enquiry can now lead after so many years. The artists impression of the man has also become less of a line of enquiry due to the passage of time, due to the person ageing, features changing, and of course the very realistic possibility that the person depicted is now dead or living elsewhere. But it of course may still be able to jog someone’s memory even now.
Because of the frustrating lack of information available following research about this crime, and the scant details that are available, it is mostly an educated guess that the reader can make about what motivated Veronica’s killer. It seems to have been a very personal murder, committed by someone I believe that was well known to Veronica and who was familiar with the local area. I also believe it very possible that her murder was actually unplanned and committed in the heat of the moment. Firstly, I believe Veronica’s killer was someone well known to her, a strong possibility that it was someone Veronica was in a sexual relationship with, or possibly having an affair with. A secret lover could explain why no one knew about Veronica being in a relationship, because it was illicit and would have caused trouble or shame? This could explain why she would feel the need to rush out of her house at a moment’s notice, possibly to have an impromptu encounter with a lover. This could also explain her possible reason for fabricating the purpose she was going out that Saturday night to her neighbour, and could also explain why Veronica’s car and body were found in a secluded area – perhaps where secret lovers may meet for sex? Here is a hypothetical theory as to the sequence of events, however I must stress that this is no way should be taken as definitive. It does raise several questions:
Veronica receives an impromptu telephone call from her lover asking to see her – a spur of the moment request and one that supports the theory that it may have been someone that it may not have always been able to see so easily – someone perhaps already married or in a relationship? Seizing the chance, Veronica then hastily arranges care for her son and rushes out in a hurry, fabricating a reason for going out at short notice because this was a secret relationship, perhaps with somebody well known in the local area, again someone who it was not always easy to see? Perhaps she had been asked to meet the lover at a pub nearby – for example the Crown and Cushion? Widnes is a large area, and this pub is far enough away from Veronica’s house that she and a lover may have been away from prying eyes? Perhaps Veronica and whoever she met then went off somewhere private – perhaps for sex or perhaps to talk without being disturbed? I also believe that the location Veronica was found at was one well known to the killer, one that he was familiar with. This suggests somebody from the local area. I also believe the possibility exists that both Veronica and her killer drove to this location in separate cars, and that she was killed where she was found. She was found in the driver’s seat of her car, and I believe that the attack took place within her car. I do not think that her body was placed in this position after death – what would be the possible reason for this?
I do not believe the reason Veronica was killed has its basis in a sexual motive – she was fully clothed, was not raped, and no mention is made of any signs of her having had intercourse that Saturday. I believe a possible, indeed more likely reason is that Veronica was killed in the heat of the moment following an argument, perhaps after a refusal to have sex with someone? Or after her having threatened to spill the beans about an affair like a woman scorned, after pushing to be more than someone’s secret lover? Perhaps in a fit of rage her killer slashed her throat and then strangled her because the slash did not kill her outright, and fear of discovery overtook remorse for their actions? Perhaps she was strangled first and then had her throat slashed? Panicking, the killer then left the scene in their own car, dropping some items in their haste? The fact that it was only a single glove discovered suggests haste and that it was dropped by accident – surely both gloves would have been taken by the killer? No one was reported as being seen hastily running away from the scene during the unaccounted four and a half hour time window, so it would seem likely that the killer arrived and left in their own car. Haste also supports the theory that this was a spur of the moment crime, plus the fact that no attempt was made to hide Veronica’s body, and that she was found very near to where she lived. An argument that spilled into murder?
Of course, this is a hypothesis only, and I am only surmising here based on the available evidence. The exact sequence of events from when she was last seen alive to her body being discovered have never been ascertained, and quite possibly may never be. Instead, there remain many unanswered questions about Veronica’s murder, the majority of which have been highlighted here. The telephone caller that Saturday was never identified – who was it, and what time did they call? The couple in the pub have never been identified – was this Veronica and her killer? There is a five hour window between Veronica last being seen alive and being found dead, with no record of her car being seen anywhere in this window – where was she in this time, and exactly what time was she killed? It may be possible that there were potential witnesses at the time who saw something or someone, but were reluctant to come forward at the time out of fear of reprisal, or misplaced loyalty. It is the absence of these witnesses coming forward and the answers to these questions that help to deny Veronica and her family justice.
However, the enquiry is still open and is reviewed regularly, and with forensic science and the ability to extract DNA samples from items ever advancing, plus identifications through familial DNA matches now available, it is possible that vital clues may yet be gleaned from the items that were seized by police. These items are still retained, for example Veronica’s clothes, the blood stained glove and the sash cord. Until that time however, or a guilty conscience leading to an important new witness or a confession, the investigation will remain at a standstill. Veronica’s family and friends will remain living with the pain that the person who killed a mother, grandmother, sister and friend may still live in the area, walking free, having never yet faced justice for her murder.
Anyone with any information about Veronica’s murder can contact Cheshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
The True Crime Enthusiast