Episode 4 – The Stockwell Strangler (Part 2)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-bwq2p-7836e9

Join The True Crime Enthusiast as this week on the podcast we conclude the disturbing case of The Stockwell Strangler – the evil killer who caused fear and carnage to the elderly throughout South London over the hot summer of 1986…

Facebook – The True Crime Enthusiast

Facebook Discussion Group – The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast Discussion Group

Instagram – truecrimeenthusiast

Twitter – @tc_enthusiast

 

Advertisements

The Ossett “Exorcist” Murder

“You don’t want to see this one son. I’ve seen nothing like it before and I’ve seen a few. It’s the wife. She’s got no…He’s ripped at her son. It’s a right mess in there. There’s not much of her left. You don’t want to see it, eh?” – Police Inspector

This week on TTCE it is my pleasure to bring you the strange and compelling story of the case known as The Ossett “Exorcist” murder. This was the case featured in the premiere episode of The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast – links to which can be found at the end of the blogpost.

In 1974, in a case that shocked the nation, a particularly violent and shocking murder was committed by a peaceful and loving family man, who was overcome either by inner demons, or literal ones.

Ossett is a market town near the city of Wakefield, in the English county of West Yorkshire, and the kind of town that wouldn’t strike most people as the sort of place where a sensational bloody, horrific murders, talk of exorcisms and demonic possession would stem from. But it is in Osset where the sinister story begins.

The Taylor family called the Osset district of Havercroft their home in 1974, and this family consisted of 31-year old Michael Taylor, his wife Christine, their five children, and their family dog. The family and their home was considered mostly a cheerful and happy one by their friends and neighbours, and Michael in particular was described by those who knew him as mild mannered, but a generally kind and loving father and husband.

michael-christine-taylor

It was noted, however, that he was sometimes prone to minor bouts of depression, the cause of which had been due to a severe back injury he had received a number of years before, and which had left him with chronic pain and an inability to find long term employment. Apart from this observation, nothing else seemed to be amiss or unusual in the Taylor household.

At the time, Osset had a highly religious population and most people regularly attending church, but the Taylors had never been particularly devout, mostly skipping church services that were held near where they lived.

In a belief that Michael’s periods of depression could be somehow eased with a spiritual intervention, a friend of Michael’s called Barbara Wardman took it upon herself to introduce  him to a church group called the Christian Fellowship Group, which was led by 21-year-old pastor Marie Robinson.

Whereas Michael had previously been non-religious, he soon began to attend regular meetings of the group, and he became an active member of the congregation. He became well acquainted with their teachings, and quickly fell under the spell of the charismatic Marie Robinson.

Michael began spending what seemed an inappropriate amount of time with Robinson, attending more and more meetings and gatherings of the group, and joining Robinson in congregations where they would use “the power of God” to “exorcise” people of their sins and speak in tongues.

They also began to engage in private rituals, in which both Michael and Robinson would stay up all night making the sign of the cross at each other in order to ward off what they believed was the evil power of the full moon. In fact, it soon became clear to the rest of the congregation that Michael had become rather enamored with Robinson.

Unsurprisingly, Michael’s attitude at home towards his family began to change as a result. He was spending less and less time at home with them, and when he was there he was sullen and irritable, and very argumentative. This was a total character change from the easygoing and peaceful way Michael had once been, and the assumption was that the church group was somehow exerting a negative influence on him. The character change and increasingly bizarre beliefs, erratic behavior, and bad attitude was clear to see to anyone who knew him.

But most notably to Christine Taylor, on whom it was not lost that Michael had an infatuation with Robinson.

During one congregation, Christine suddenly decided to publicly confront Michael about his relationship with Robinson, and openly accused him in front of people of being unfaithful.

Now, if it already didn’t sound bad or strange enough, it was at this point where Michael’s behavior would take a turn for the worse.

Michael is reported to have felt “an evil influence cast a shadow over him”, and then compelled by this force, vented a sudden fury on surprisingly not Christine, but Robinson. He lashed out at her, verbally and physically, to the point that several other churchgoers in the congregation had to physically restrain him, fearing that he would seriously hurt himself or someone else.

Perhaps as a good example of the religious mania that was running through the group, Marie Robinson herself later testified as to what happened when Michael attacked her: She said:

“I suddenly glanced at Mike and his whole features changed. He looked almost bestial. He kept looking at me and there was a really wild look in his eyes. I started screaming at him out of fear. I started speaking in tongues. Mike also screamed at me in tongues… I was on the verge of death and I seemed to come to my senses. I knew that only the name of Jesus would save me and I just started saying over and over again ‘Jesus’. When Chris (Christine) heard me calling on the name of Jesus she started saying it too, and I believe firmly that it was only by calling on His name that I was not killed”

Michael would claim later to have had no memory of this incident.

Surprisingly, despite this frightening violent outburst, the following day Michael was to receive full forgiveness and a church absolution from Robinson for what had happened. But none of the rest of the congregation could forget the outburst, and Michael was closely watched following this episode.

It soon became apparent that his deteriorating, out of character behavior seemed to now be permanent, and was in fact getting worse as time went on, with his sanity clearly slipping. The seriousness and frightening condition that Michael was in was so severe that several local ministers became involved, and came to the realization that Michael might be under the influence of demonic forces. Finally,  the local vicar came to the controversial conclusion that an exorcism should be performed on Michael.

Two ministers, by the names of Father Peter Vincent and the Rev. Raymond Smith were brought in to carry it out, and the exorcism was set to happen for midnight on the 5th of October, 1974, at St. Thames Church in Barnsley. That night, in front of the congregation of the Christian Fellowship Group, the two ministers began the harrowing ritual, which would prove to last throughout the night and well into the next morning.

As soon as the exorcism had started, Michael went into uncontrollable convulsions and fits, and bouts of scratching, spitting, and biting, requiring him to be forcefully tied to the floor. Over the next 8 hours, Michael was subjected to all sorts of indignities, such as having crucifixes shoved into his mouth and being doused with holy water. All throughout, Michael was growling and snapping at anyone who came near him. The priests in charge of the exorcism claimed that the ceremony had managed to ascertain that there were about 40 demons inhabiting Michael’s body, representing such traits as incest, bestiality, blasphemy, lewdness, heresy, masochism, and carnal knowledge. As one can imagine, these alleged demons did not go easily from Michael, each one having to be reportedly dragged out kicking and screaming. After 8 hours of this, by 8 AM on October 6th 1974, the priests carrying out the exorcism could no longer continue through exhaustion.

Strangely, it was decided that the exorcism would have to be finished at a later time, although the priests claimed that three demons, those of insanity, anger, and murder, were still stubbornly possessing Michael and had not been successfully removed yet.

Apparently, the congregation who had been present for the exorcism agreed in part, for one witness to the terrifying events, a minister’s wife named Margaret Smith, was to claim later that she had received a warning in her mind from what she believed to be God, saying that the demon of murder was going to escape from Michael and kill Christine. She pleaded with the two priests to complete the exorcism, but they dismissed her warnings and instead told Michael and Christine to go home to rest and prepare for the next and final part of the exorcism, which was to be performed the following day.

Now, whether there were really demons still infesting Michael Taylor’s body or not, or whether he had succumbed to a full on psychosis and had been tipped over the edge by the events of that night, what would follow that day was nothing short of pure evil and insanity.

It was about 09:45 the next morning, October 7th, and not two hours after Michael and Christine had been sent home to rest up to prepare for the next part of the exorcism, that a police patrol car passing through the normally quiet streets of Osset came upon a shocking and un-nerving sight.

Coming around a corner, the officer in the car, PC Ian Walker, was confronted by the sight of a man stumbling around in the middle of the street, naked, and covered head to toe in blood. His body was slicked with it. Stopping the car and approaching the man, PC Walker saw the man curl into the foetal position, and heard him ranting and screaming over and over:

“IT IS THE BLOOD OF SATAN”

Unsurprisingly, this had attracted a crowd of onlookers, some of which knew the disturbed man.

It was Michael Taylor.

The police officers who had approached the man immediately called for an ambulance, fearing that Michael had hurt himself or someone else, and tried his best to talk to and calm Michael, who was still screaming and senseless, ranting only about Satan. He continued screaming as the ambulance from the local hospital arrived and he was placed into it and taken away. The crowd of onlookers who had crowded around the ambulance now told the police that the deranged maniac was Michael Taylor, and gave the officer his address, to which the patrol car then went to.

PC Walker, upon arrival at the Taylor house, was surprised and perhaps apprehensive to find a police car there already, which he later found out had been summoned for by frightened neighbours who had heard a commotion. PC Walker approached the house but was stopped by the sight of his Inspector emerging from the front door, bending over, and vomiting.

“You don’t want to see this one son. I’ve seen nothing like it before and I’ve seen a few. It’s the wife. She’s got no…He’s ripped at her son. It’s a right mess in there. There’s not much of her left. You don’t want to see it, eh?”

Feeling that he had go in, PC Walker stepped into the Taylor house and was to see exactly what his shook his inspector had meant.

The interior of the front room was destroyed, with signs of destruction apparent even from a cursory look. Blood covered every surface of the room, along with flesh, pulp and brain matter, and on the floor of the living room lay the bodies of Christine Taylor and the family pet dog, almost unrecognisable. The blood that had covered Michael Taylor was Christine’s blood. At about 09:30 that morning, in the Taylor family home, Michael had killed his wife Christine, the woman that that he loved and the mother of his children.

michael-christine-taylor

In a maniacal and deranged attack, Michael had stripped off and strangled Christine, and had literally torn off her face. There was no murder weapon involved – He had gouged out her eyes and ripped out her tongue with his bare hands, tearing the rest of her face down to the bone, so much so that she was left unrecognisable. Whilst Christine had died of shock and asphyxiation on her own blood – mercifully quickly – Michael had turned his attentions to the Taylor pet dog, strangling it and literally ripping it limb from limb. He had torn its legs from their sockets, and hair and teeth and eyes from the skull. He then left the house screaming, and was found by PC Walker a short time later.

It was described as being the most horrific crime scene that any police officer who had attended it was ever to see

Michael was taken into police custody from the hospital, and when interviewed some hours later – when he was deemed rational to talk, he was asked to try to explain what had happened: He told Detective Inspector Brian Smith about the exorcism that had occurred only hours before, saying:

“It was a long night. They danced around me and burned my cross because that was tainted with the evil. They had me in the church all night. Look at my hands. I was banging on the floor. The power was in me. I couldn’t get rid of it and neither could they. They were too late. I was compelled by a force within me to destroy everything living within the house”

Although Michael claimed he could remember nothing of the actual murder, claiming to deeply love his wife, when asked by DI Smith how he felt, Michael replied:

“Released. I am released. It is done. The evil in her has been destroyed.”

Although he appeared to have no motive for his actions, Michael Taylor was charged with the murder of Christine Taylor and was remanded to Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire to await trial. Whilst on remand, Michael was reported to have spent most of the time in silence or sleeping. Perhaps some part of him never wanted to face what had happened, and how five children had in the space of a single day lost a mother – and a father.

The crime was a sensation – horror such as this belongs in fiction and should not happen anywhere, let alone in a sleepy Yorkshire market town. It created a media frenzy, and the bloody crime, coupled with the background of exorcisms and alleged demonic possession drew huge amounts of interest to Michael Taylor’s upcoming trial.

Michael Taylor’s trial for the murder of his wife Christine began in March 1975, and upon it commencing, the jury were advised by the barrister for the prosecution, Mr Geoffrey Baker QC, that the evidence they were about to hear:

“will make it difficult to believe that you are not back in the Middle Ages”

Neither prosecution nor defence denied at the trial that Michael Taylor had severe mental issues. Michael himself testified, again claiming that he had no recollection of the actual killing, that he had deeply loved his wife and had been under the control of evil supernatural forces, and that he had suspected that Christine had also been possessed by demons. He offered no other explanation.

The lynchpin of his defence was the discrediting of the Christian Fellowship group, and the Anglican and Methodist priests who had carried out the exorcism. Mr Ognall QC, for the defence, claimed that the Christian Fellowship Prayer Group was actually more of a fanatical cult, and had managed to influence Michael by using potent mind control and indoctrination, feeding his already existing mental issues. At one point, he  described the group as:

 “Neurotics, feeding neurosis, to a neurotic”

Blame was also apportioned to the exorcism itself. The prosecution claimed that the ritual had taken its toll on an already mentally disturbed man, and coupled with the warped religious ideals and beliefs that the Prayer Group had instilled in him, these negative influences had pushed Michael over the edge into a realm of madness and murder. Mr. Ognall made an impassioned personal statement during the trial that illustrated just how much responsibility the church was viewed to have held in the horrific crime, saying:

“I am aware that it is generally regarded as improper for an advocate to express any personal feeling or opinion about the case in which he is engaged. I am afraid I find it quite impossible to observe such constraints in this case. Let those who truly are responsible for this killing stand up. We submit that Taylor is a mere cipher. The real guilt lies elsewhere. Religion is the key. Those who have been referred to in evidence, and those clerics in particular, should be with him in spirit now in this building and each day he is incarcerated in Broadmoor, and not least on the day he must endure the bitter reunion with his five motherless children.”

The jury found Michael Taylor not guilty of the murder of his wife by reason of insanity. Deemed to be both clinically and legally insane, he was sent to Broadmoor Secure Hospital, where he would remain for 2 years, followed by another 2 year sentence at Bradford Royal Infirmary before being released back into the world, apparently cured.

The aftermath of the trial was a public outcry over the use of exorcisms within the church, and indeed this became the last recorded exorcism to be carried out by the Anglican Church. But they defended themselves to the full. Throughout the trial, and in the years following it, the chief Anglican priest who had been in charge of Michael’s exorcism, Father Peter Vincent, continued to insist that Michael Taylor had indeed been inhabited by demons, and that the Osset case had indeed been an authentic case of demonic possession. Father Vincent’s career in the Church was unaffected following the case, and even he seemed to be, almost having little consideration for a family destroyed and the horror of what had happened. He would only simply say:

“God will bring good out of this in His own way”

It was only Peter Vincent’s partner in exorcism, the Reverend Raymond Smith, that seemed to admit that the situation had not been handled well and that the “exorcism” had indeed failed. He was quoted as saying:

 “If people come to me in trouble of any kind, I will try to help. I would give such comfort as I could, but I am only an ordinary human being, with human failings”.

What then, became of the main player in this horrific story? After his release from hospital, it is reported that Michael Taylor went back to live in Osset, although one can only wonder at the relationship he would have had back there after such horror. How would his relationship with his children have been – if there even was any type of relationship? How does a person even begin to start again after such horror?

Michael would continue to display odd behavior and to suffer bouts of depression, as well as making a total of four suicide attempts over the following years, still haunted by his actions that October morning. These involved cutting his wrists and jumping from a bridge, in which he badly injured his back and legs. Surprisingly for such a sensational and chilling crime, he dropped out of the news and the public eye for many years.

But Michael Taylor would enter the news again in July 2005, when he was arrested for sexually harassing and having inappropriate conduct with an underage girl. During his court hearing on these charges, Taylor was said to have told police that it was all his fault, and then said:

“Am I going to Broadmoor for murdering my wife?”

Taylor had spent a week in custody over the sexual assaults, and during this incarceration the psychiatric problems that had existed in 1975 had manifested themselves once again. Upon being bailed, however, they had disappeared. His previous charges from thirty years before were deemed to have no bearing on the current case, and he was deemed to have a low to medium risk of re-offending. This led him to a relatively light sentence of a 3-year stint of community service, but with a condition of psychiatric treatment.

The case of Michael Taylor and the Osset Exorcist Murder raises many questions for debate.

Could someone who had committed such a horrific crime and was found insane really be well enough to rejoin society within four years? Is evil an outside force that can infect a person, or does it always lurk within? It perhaps ventures into the realms of the supernatural, but what if there really are such things as demons that can possess a person and drive them to commit heinous or violent acts that that person would normally never commit? Or is it just simply a form of psychosis?

Many people connected with the Osset murder will have debated these points long and hard over the years they have had to remember and think about it. Five children, who undoubtedly have families of their own now, lost a mother in a horrific way that they will never forget. How do you even begin to rebuild your lives following such horrific events? Michael Taylor himself has been so tortured by not being able to understand his actions that he has attempted suicide four times. Members of the jury and the court who sat through the trial will never forget what must have been some of the most horrific crime scene photographs ever shown in a court, and disturbing and frightening accounts that they were to hear. But perhaps the effect that the case was to have on people is best summed up by an account given by PC Ian Walker, when interviewed about the case as one of the officers on the scene years after his retirement. He said:

“Of all the incidents in which I was involved in 30 years of Police work, nothing affected me like this one. The stupidity and futility of it all, the complete and utter waste of life and destruction of a family, not to mention the death and other traumas, are far beyond anything else I have ever come across. Obviously my wife asked questions but there are some things that you do not take home, and this was one of them. However, within the next 24-48 hours the news hit the national newspapers and the TV news bulletins. You just bury it and get on with your life as best you can. Before this event I was agnostic… and now I was an atheist.”

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Links to the case covered on The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast:

Podbean

iTunes

Soundcloud

Stitcher Radio

Otto Radio – The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast

 

Who Murdered Alan Wood?

“Why do that to such a gentle man? If they had wanted his money, he would have given it to them” – Sylvia Allett (Alan’s sister)

The rural hamlet of Lound, in the county of Lincolnshire, UK, should be unremarkable from many other English villages the length and breadth of the country. The Domesday Book even depicts Lound as consisting of nothing more than “18 households, 2 mills and a church”. And Lound would have stayed that way, had it not found itself to be the setting of one of the most brutal and horrific murders that not only Lincolnshire Police have ever seen, but within British criminal history also. A murder that still to this day remains unsolved.

Lound was, in 2009, the home of 50-year-old self-employed gardener, Alan Wood, who lived in Manor House, a small bungalow on a rural road just off the A1621. A link to a Google Map image of Alan’s bungalow circa 2009 can be found here

image_update_11cea7a89139cc64_1332334437_9j-4aaqsk

Alan Wood

Alan was popular and well liked, and was considered by his family and friends as being laid back in nature, but a kind-hearted hard worker who enjoyed life’s simple pleasures. The eldest of three children of Jim and Maureen Wood, Alan had been born in Gillingham but had grown up in the village of Careby along with his sisters Janice and Sylvia. Upon leaving school, Alan had gone to work in the printing industry and found a role at Warners Printers in the Lincolnshire town of Bourne. However, after many years working there he was made redundant, and as an avid gardener, Alan decided upon a new direction in life. He had spells of employment at Rassells Nursery in Little Bytham, and later Barnsdale Gardens, before creating his own gardening business, Gardens TLC.  Since 2006, Alan had also began working at the Sainsbury’s store in Bourne as a supplement to his income during the winter months where gardening work was scarce. By all accounts he was just as popular there, and enjoyed working the night shifts.

Alan had been married to his wife, Joanne, since 1992, but the couple had separated after eleven years of marriage. They were still on good terms and very close, however, and stayed in regular touch, even when Joanne had moved to live in Peterborough. Having no children of his own with Joanne, Alan instead devoted himself to his nieces and nephews and loved spending time with them. He was also an avid and accomplished photographer and was known to have done wedding photographs for several of his friends. Aside from photography, Alan’s other passions were cars and motorcycles, and he owned a black Triumph Speed Triple and an “E” type Jaguar. These were his pride and joy.

stream_img

Alan pictured with his wife Joanne

Alan had an active social life, although this seemed to centre around his local pub, The Willoughby Arms in Little Bytham. He was a well-known figure here, enjoying a few pints of lager and especially a packet of mini cheddars, and would always get involved in any events there. Be it a quiz night, a live music event or even a beer festival, Alan could be found there enjoying himself, and would often help out behind the bar or clearing up at such events.

So here we have a picture of a kind-hearted man, a popular and well liked man who was a hard worker and would always help anyone out. This makes what was to follow in October 2009 all the more difficult to pinpoint a motive for.

Early in the morning of Saturday 24th October 2009, a friend and co-worker of Alan’s arrived at his Manor House for a visit. However, the friend was dismayed and perhaps a bit disturbed to find both the front and back door wide open, and no response from calling out for Alan. Feeling apprehensive, the friend contacted Alan’s landlord, who arrived at the property to investigate further, and together the two entered the bungalow.

What they found was later described as being the most horrific crime scene ever witnessed in Lincolnshire police history.

Going into the living room, Alan’s body was found lying face down on the blood drenched floor. He had been dead for some time, and lay in a congealed pool of blood. His hands were bound with Sellotape, and there were massive wounds to his head that had been inflicted with a bladed object, where he had been stabbed repeatedly. Alan had been killed by having his throat cut, but perhaps most horrifically, it was determined that an attempt had been made to cut off his head. The house showed no signs of ransacking, and indeed, just Alan’s bank cards were found to be missing from the property.

image_update_310b9ebdef714675_1332334473_9j-4aaqsk

Manor House crime scene

The resulting police investigation, Operation Magnesium, was massive, and Alan’s life and last known movements were looked at to try to establish a motive, a time and date of death and hopefully, a suspect. But straight away, detectives hit a brick wall. No neighbours had reported hearing any sounds of a struggle or screams, and no clear motive was available. Alan had no known enemies or had had any known disagreements with anyone. He did not associate with any known elements of the criminal fraternity, and was not known to be involved in anything illegal or illicit.

It was established that Alan had last been seen alive on Wednesday 21st October 2009, where he was confirmed by CCTV as shopping in the Morrison’s supermarket in nearby Stamford that afternoon. He was also confirmed as to having visited his local pub, The Willoughby Arms, on his way back from here. He shared a drink and a conversation with bar staff and left at about 6:30pm. This was the last time Alan was seen alive, except for by his killer(s), so detectives had an unaccounted window of about 65 hours from Alan last being seen alive to his body being discovered. But forensic scientists examining the scene, plus a search of local CCTV and bank transactions, managed to produce a wealth of evidence that was to help pinpoint a likely time of death and point towards a local offender. Undisputable forensic evidence from the killer was also found at the scene.

What was the wealth of evidence found? This took the form of a footprint left at the scene by a size 8 Converse Mark LE Red trainer, and fragments of a bus ticket from a local Bourne transport company, Delaine, which was found stuck to the Sellotape used to bind Alan’s hands. But most crucially, a full male DNA profile from someone other than Alan was found from bloodstaining at the scene – had the killer injured or cut himself whilst attacking Alan, or had Alan caused an injury to his killer by attempting to fight him off? Unfortunately, to date no match for the sample has been found on the NDNAD in the UK, as well as an international search being made on at least 47 different databases.

Detectives believed that the likely scenario was that Alan was attacked sometime on the Thursday evening, having been disturbed from relaxing in bed reading by the sounds of a disturbance at his front door. He was then overpowered by at least one but more likely two men, who dragged him through to the living room and managed to restrain him by Sellotaping his hands. It was believed that Alan was then tortured in order for the killer(s) to gain his PIN number for his bank cards, being stabbed in the head and eye when he refused. It was believed possible that Alan may have been tortured over a period of time, with his killer returning to inflict more torture when given the wrong PIN. Alan was finally killed by having his throat slit, and then for no other discernible reason bar sheer blood lust, his killer(s) then attempted to cut off his head.

The reason that detectives were so certain that it was Thursday that Alan was attacked was that it was found that his cash cards had been used a number of times over the unaccounted last hours of Alan’s life. Eleven attempts in total were made, with only two being successful, in nearby Bourne and Stamford. CCTV was gleaned from several of these attempts which show a figure (definitely not Alan) with his features hidden using the cashpoint in West St, Bourne, at 9:00pm on the Thursday evening.

_51466184_bourne_cctv

Who was “ATM Man”?

A witness also came forward to say that she had seen two men using a cashpoint in Sainsbury’s (the same store where Alan worked) at about 9:30pm the same evening.  The CCTV was scrutinised and enhanced to provide these images of Alan’s suspected killer(s), and a photofit of one of the men seen at the Sainsbury’s cashpoint is also shown here:

3275571

Photofit of suspect using Sainsbury’s cashpoint

“ATM Man” was described as being 5”9 to 5”11, of medium to slim build and possibly walking with a limp – which expert analysis of the CCTV revealed may be because the killer has one leg slightly longer than the other. He was described as dressing “smart casually” and wore what appears to be a distinct striped scarf. He was also a smoker as confirmed by undisclosed CCTV footage, and believed to have strong local knowledge due to being aware of the CCTV within the area and taking precautions to avoid recognition when being caught on it. The Delaine bus ticket also suggests a killer who is local, or with local knowledge.

_48000099_boune1

“ATM Man” is again caught on CCTV following an attempt to gain cash.

Footage of “ATM Man”

It would appear from this that robbery was the prime motive here, but detectives could not rule out a more personal reason for such a horrific murder. Several possibilities were suggested, including Alan having fallen foul of someone when doing some gardening work in a prison years before. It was also suggested that Alan was a casual user of sex workers, and the motive for his murder perhaps had a root in some connection with the vice world. This has never been confirmed as being the case, however. But perhaps the most intriguing, and indeed, plausible theory, was that this was a case of mistaken identity. Was Alan mistaken for someone else, or did someone mistakenly believe that he was wealthier than he actually was?

The case has received massive publicity over the years, and has been featured on Crimewatch U.K twice as an appeal. It received massive local press and interest, and appeal posters in a multitude of languages were displayed far and wide in an attempt to gain possible information that may be held within the migrant community. The CBS Reality investigative series, Donal MacIntyre Unsolved, has also covered the case in 2015. Sainsbury’s offered a reward totalling £60,000, and a website was even established by Lincolnshire police – although as of 2017, this website is now defunct. A link to it is however available through the following archive link 

Just four people have been arrested in connection with Alan’s murder over the course of the enquiry, and each has been released without further charge. It seems remarkable that despite the wealth of forensic evidence, good CCTV, and the crowning jewel of the DNA profile from the scene, that the crime remains unsolved to this day. The investigation is of course still open, but barring any new information or a familial DNA profile match, it remains upon the “Active with regular reviews” pile.

What then can be said about the killer(s)? As is commonplace on TTCE, I in no way offer the following as definitive, these are purely observations and hypothesis. To begin, I feel it very likely that there is more than one person involved in this crime. Alan was a physical worker and was relatively young, he would have likely been able to put up a struggle against a single attacker unless immediately incapacitated at the front door. Burglaries are also normally committed by offenders in pairs at least. I also believe it possible that once the PIN number was obtained from Alan through torture, one of the offenders went to the nearest cashpoint to ascertain that the number was correct, whilst the other guarded Alan and ensured he could not raise the alarm. It would be too high risk for a single killer to have tortured a person, leave him alone to ascertain he was being correct, and then return to inflict more torture if he wasn’t. More likely is the scenario that one offender tortured Alan whilst in mobile phone contact with the other one attempting to use the cash cards, and Alan was killed soon after the correct PIN number had been ascertained.  The level of violence used may have been in a rage because Alan had mistakenly or deliberately given the killers the wrong PIN number.

Out of the theories presented as possible motives, I do not believe it likely that it is because Alan was a user of sex workers. This theory has been deemed unlikely by his family, friends and colleagues and no evidence has been found to suggest that the suggestion is even correct. Also, how many people are users? Why target Alan specifically? Unlikely. The same goes for the theory that Alan had somehow fallen afoul of someone whilst doing gardening work in a prison some years before. Nothing has been found to suggest that this has root in truth. I believe that Alan would have known if he had an enemy, and that he would have confided this knowledge in his family or friends.

The most likely scenario, I believe, is that Alan was targeted deliberately – but in a case of mistaken identity. It was found that Alan bore a strong resemblance to a manager at the Sainsbury’s store where he worked. Perhaps his killers had seen him, and mistakenly followed Alan home at a previous time, mistaking him for the manager. Alan’s Jaguar car may have supported the killer’s theory, and given the impression that he was a wealthy man. A friend of Alan’s, Ella Jenkins, agreed with this:

“It was his pride and joy and it looked fabulous, but was only probably worth about £500. I saw the manager at the funeral, he was the same build and the same colouring – it was kind of at first glance it was Alan, but he didn’t have glasses. My gut feeling is that they thought he had money, or that they thought he had the keys to the store”

Was this the reason for the levels of violence? Alan repeatedly denying he had keys to the store – because he was telling the truth and this repeated denial angered his killers?

What else then can be ascertained about Alan’s killers? I believe it very likely that the killers either live or have lived in the local area, or have very strong connections or familiarity with it. The cash machines used were within a relatively small geographical area, and there is also the evidence of the local bus ticket found attached to the Sellotape binding Alan’s hands. Plus the area in which Alan lived is a rural area and someone familiar with the area would know of a quiet way to access and egress the scene. This was possibly on foot, or a car was left nearby. I believe the killers were at the time in their late teens to mid 20’s – the overkill and amount of violence used shows an immaturity, and possibly in a drink or drug fuelled rage. “ATM Man” also appears to have the gait and dress of someone within this age range.

I believe that they knew of Alan, but did not know him personally – everyone he knew and worked with would have been spoken to and eliminated. I believe that the bungalow in which he lived had been visited or watched by the killers prior to the murder, in order to ascertain the best point of entry and exit, and to make sure there wasn’t a fierce dog or alarm system. The lack of a DNA match to the unknown bloodstaining found at the crime scene on the NDNAD is a puzzling aspect also. For someone to have used such levels of violence and to be cold-blooded, it boggles the mind that such a person hasn’t come to the attention of police before for previous serious offences, and therefore have a DNA sample on the NDNAD. They may not have killed before (and this could also explain the savage amount of violence used – because this was a first time kill) but it was certainly a person comfortable with violence and brutality. I believe that the killers were experienced thieves – this is certainly not a first time offence, and is possible that the killers may originate from the travelling community, and therefore may have escaped detection for previous crimes by moving around the country.

The crime itself shows signs of both organised and disorganised killers. Organised in that the killers managed to gain access to the house without any commotion being heard. They left no fingerprints and no murder weapon was ever found. They managed to leave the scene without drawing attention to themselves at all. When spotted on CCTV (which nowadays is practically impossible to avoid) the killers took steps to conceal their identity. Yet they carelessly left vital forensic evidence such as a footprint from a traceable shoe, a local bus ticket, and most importantly, a sample of the killers blood at the scene. They also had no way of knowing exactly when Alan’s body would be found and the alarm raised, yet still risked being captured on and possibly identified from CCTV by using the cards eleven times in the days following the murder – all for the sake of a maximum few hundred pounds that they could have gained from the only two successful transactions out of these.

To date, more than 20,000 people have been spoken to over the course of the enquiry. Manor House was kept as a crime scene for two years following the murder, before being eventually demolished. Television appeals have been made, and the murder has been the subject of both sensationalist and amateur documentaries, links to which can be found as a footnote. There is also an ongoing appeal to trace a Polish national, Pawel Wrzyszcz, a car washer who worked at a local car wash that Alan was known to have frequented with his Jaguar. Police are keen to stress that he is not a suspect in the murder, but may hold vital information. Precisely why Wrzyszcz is such a person of interest in the case is unclear.

As the eighth anniversary of Alan’s death approaches, his family and friends understandably find it a hard time. But Lincolnshire Police are keen to stress to them, and the public, that they havent and will never give up the hunt for Alan’s killers. The enquiry is still ongoing, but it seems that barring a match for the unknown blood sample appearing on the NDNAD from either the killer or a familial match, Alan’s killers will escape detection and this horrific and tragic crime will go unpunished.

But Alan is not forgotten. In the years following the crime, Alan’s family and friends created a memorial garden at his local, The Willoughby Arms, and gather there on the anniversary of his murder to remember him. A pint of lager is placed on the bar, along with a bag of Mini Cheddars. The garden has a touching tribute of a sundial that is inscribed with the following:

‘Sadly missed by all his friends and family, I’m going after this one …’ referring to words Alan often used before leaving the pub.

Anyone having information concerning the murder of Alan Wood should contact Lincolnshire Police on 101, quoting Operation Magnesium, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

Links:

Operation Magnesium Press Pack

Crimewatch U.K Reconstruction Jan 2010

 

Episode 1 – The Ossett “Exorcist” Murder

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-mg3ye-74cbfb

Welcome to the premiere episode of The True Crime Enthusiast Podcast……Join Paul, the host, as we look at a bizarre and shocking case from the UK from the mid 1970’s, involving religious mania, alleged demonic possession, exorcism – an an unbelieveably shocking and ghastly crime.

The Murder Of Elsie Frost

“It struck me as being cold, isolated, desolate, everything about a nasty place. She shouldn’t have died there; nobody should.”- Colin Frost (Elsie’s brother)

Shortly after lunchtime on the afternoon of Saturday 9th October 1965, 14-year-old schoolgirl Elsie Frost left her home in Manor Haigh Road, Lupset, Wakefield, to go sailing at a nearby lake, the Horbury Sand Quarry or the Millfield Lagoon, as it was known locally. By all accounts, Elsie Frost was a happy, fun-loving teenager, the middle child of railway worker Arthur and Edith Frost, and was growing up in a close-knit, loving family who did a lot together. Pretty and dark-haired, Elsie was a prefect at Snapethorpe High School in Wakefield, a hard-working pupil who  had dreams of becoming a teacher and had just been chosen to be the next head girl at her school.

new_k_14_77969511_elsie-frost-14-year-old-wakefield-schoolgirl-murdered--in-1965-see-ross-parry-copy-rpycold-mr_wf4aw1s

Elsie Frost

She was respectable and well-liked, and had no known boyfriends. Along with some of her other friends, Elsie was a keen and regular sailor and that Saturday, Elsie had been asked to help supervise a group of younger children who were learning how to sail. It was a cold October afternoon, and Elsie dressed in a white blouse and yellow sweater, a printed cotton skirt and red quilted anorak – her favourite outfit. Putting her sailing clothes in a duffel bag and saying goodbye to her family, she put on her brand new pair of shoes and set off down to the lake.

It was the last time her family were ever to see her alive.

At 4:15pm that afternoon, local father Thomas Brown was out for an afternoon walk with his young children and dog. The family were heading on a path that skirted the River Calder and a passed by a canal, with a tunnel leading underneath some railway lines. The area was known locally as “The ABC Tunnel”, due to the 26 stone steps that led down to it from the embankment.

_85855494_elsiesteps

The ABC Tunnel and ABC Steps in 1965

Upon approaching the tunnel, the family made a horrifying discovery. Thomas Brown was later to tell the inquest:

“When we got to within five or 10 yards of the bottom of the steps, I saw a girl lain there, whom I now know to be Elsie Frost. She was lying with her left arm on the second step and her head was lying on her left arm and her right arm was above her head on the next step. She was crouched up in an awkward position with her legs underneath her body in a kneeling type of position but more on her left hand side. I went up to her and asked her what was wrong and got my hands under her armpits and picked her up. When I spoke to her I did not get any reply. I did not realise she was as badly injured as she was. At this time, my son was at the top of the banking. I tried to persuade the children to go home but they wouldn’t.”

Within minutes, others had appeared on the scene, and whilst they waited with Elsie’s body Mr Brown ran to call for an ambulance and the police. They included lock-keeper Ralph Brewster and John Blackburn, Elsie’s sailing instructor from the lagoon, and as would be established at the inquest, the last person to see her alive. Also present was a 19-year-old amateur photographer who had been taking photographs of the river Calder. Upon arriving, police cordoned off the scene for examination, and removed Elsie’s body to Wakefield Public Mortuary where a post-mortem examination was undertaken. A search of the area for a possible murder weapon got underway, and the standard police house to house enquiries began.

_85732940_police_abcstairs_cut

Police searching the scene of the crime

The post-mortem examination found that Elsie had been stabbed five times — twice in the back, twice in the head, and once through the hand as she tried to shield herself from her killer— with the fatal blow piercing her heart. She had not been sexually assaulted, and the pathologist concluded that she was still a virgin at the time of her death. Her cause of death was given as ‘shock and haemorrhage due to multiple stab wounds’. Seven hours after she had left home that afternoon, her father had to visit Wakefield Public Mortuary to identify her body. The Frost family was left shocked and stunned, and reeling from what had happened – so much so that Elsie’s parents both needed sedation. Whilst the family tried to come to terms with what had happened, the massive manhunt for Elsie’s killer continued. Even Scotland Yard was to lend support and officers.

Elsie-Frost

Police divers search a nearby river

Piecing together Elsie’s final known movements, it was established that Elsie had chosen to walk home a different way to the rest of her friends, and had taken the route that led along the towpath and through the 30ft ABC Tunnel, to avoid scuffing and dirtying her new shoes. It appeared that the attack had happened as Elsie walked through the ABC Tunnel, where she was savagely attacked from behind. Despite her grave injuries, Elsie had managed to stumble through the tunnel to the bottom of the steps, where she collapsed and died just minutes before being found by Thomas Brown and his children. A trail of blood leading from the place where Elsie was stabbed to the bottom of the ABC Steps confirmed this.

The hunt for Elsie’s killer was heavily publicised in the national press in the weeks following the murder, with fear and suspicion cast especially across the community of Lupset, uneasy with the thought of having a brutal killer in their midst. Children who could once play free now found themselves kept an eye on and curfewed, and such activities as Scouts or Brownies extra supervised. Police had gone door to door questioning every man who lived in the area, with some 12,000 in all spoken to, and a reconstruction of Elsie’s last known movements had been made.

newspaper_w_new_77969508_newspaper-clipping-from-1965-repoting-on-elsie-frost-see-ross-parry-copy-rpycold-detectives-mr_5zo9d8v

Local press at the time of the murder

Aside from the thousands of people in the locality who were interviewed, and thousands of witness statements taken during the manhunt, police did have other clues to go on. Many people seen near the ABC Steps that day were traced and spoken to, but were ultimately eliminated from the enquiry. A tan coloured 12in leather knife-sheath with a stag’s head motif had been found tossed over a wall near to the murder scene, but a knife that matched it was either missed or never found, despite a large number of knives being taken and tested as a potential murder weapon. The murder weapon has never been found. Several people also reported seeing a bearded hitchhiker in a nearby road, and a well dressed driver of an Austin Cambridge car that was parked near the scene. Neither of these men were ever traced. The film from the young amateur photographer’s camera had also been examined in case the pictures provided any clues – but this again drew a blank.

The former MP for Wakefield from 1987-2005, David Hinchcliffe, was a 16-year-old youth in the area at the time, and was one of those interviewed. Years later, he described local feeling at the time:

‘The police came to my house, and they came to my friends’ houses. We were asked where we were on the day in question. I was watching Wakefield Trinity Rugby League team play at their Belle Vue Ground. There were six or seven thousand people there and I was with friends so I had an alibi. I had to produce a sheath knife. It sounds strange now, but most boys at that time would carry a sheath knife. You carved wood with it. You used it for making spears and as part of play. They did a lot of questioning of people in our area. A lot of work was put into talking to people about where they were when this murder occurred.’

Ultimately, all who were spoken to were eliminated from the enquiry. As is standard, even members of Elsie’s family were repeatedly spoken to and asked to provide their movements on the day of the murder. Elsie’s former brother-in-law was one of those questioned, and was to describe it years later:

“We were put under a lot of pressure, where were we at what times, when we had last seen Elsie. It wasn’t just that they asked you once. They would come back a week later and ask you all over again but with a slightly different phraseology to try to catch you out. They interviewed everyone. Before the questioning, everyone was pointing fingers at each other. My wife trusted me. I think she accepted the fact that I was going to be questioned because everyone was. The police had a job to do.”

The inquest into Elsie’s death was held in January 1966 and many people gave evidence. One of these was John Blackburn, the teacher who was in charge of the school sailing club, and the last person to see Elsie. He told the inquest:

“I beckoned to Elsie and took her out in a boat to give her some instruction, as she had previously got into difficulties when navigating one of the boats. I was out with Elsie Frost in the boat until about five minutes to four. She then helped me to pack away the boats before leaving”

_85859295_elsiefrost1965socoshot3

Horbury Lagoon in 1965

By the time the inquest was held, there was still no definitive motive for the killing, although many motives had been suggested and examined. The evidence pointed to an opportunistic crime, a random attack. Yet the savagery of the wounds Elsie received suggested an attack that was deeply personal and committed by someone filled with anger and hatred. A possible secret boyfriend who killed her after a row was suggested, and perhaps more intriguingly and credibly, it was suggested that Elsie could have been murdered to silence her after stumbling upon two men indulging in homosexual activity whist she was walking home (homosexuality was unlawful in the UK until 1967). Whilst a clear motive could never be established, the coroner’s jury did believe that it could name the culprit. The role of the inquest at that time could actually accuse a named person of murder, rather than just the role it plays nowadays which is to establish certain facts and a cause of death. Newspapers the following day reported: “Elsie: Man accused of murder”

The accused was 33-year-old Ian Spencer, a former railway fireman and labourer who had actually given evidence and appeared at the inquest as a witness. Spencer had been in the area of the murder on that Saturday afternoon, but had insisted that he had been home at least 45 minutes before the murder occurred. Simpson’s wife, mother-in-law, and a family friend could all confirm this – but were never called by the coroner to speak at the inquest. The finger of suspicion was pointed at Simpson when subsequent inquest witnesses contradicted his story, and claimed that they thought they had seen him close to the area where Elsie’s body was found at around the crucial time. The jury decided unanimously that the cause of death was murder and “that there is a prima facie case against Ian Bernard Spencer”. Basically, Spencer was being accused of the crime, and was committed to face trial. Ian Spencer spent more than two months in custody before being cleared at a magistrates court. It was here that it was concluded there was no case to answer, and the jury were instructed to find Spencer, “not guilty”. He was released, but his wrongful arrest and the subsequent case of mud sticking was to forever blight him. Police were to visit Spencer in the following years whenever another murder occurred to ascertain his movements, leading him to feel the need to document his exact movements at all times for alibi in a series of notebooks. Simpson documented dates, times, places he had been – and even the exact mileage of his car. This practice continued for many years, long into his retirement, only stopping when a series of strokes led Simpson to be taken into a residential care home. He remains there to this day. When interviewed about his accusation by a local newspaper many years after the murder, Spencer’s family said:

This has followed him all his life and we want him to be left alone. I understand that Elsie’s family want closure but we do not want his name dragged up every time. He is not a murderer. He was never convicted of anything. He is one of the softest, kindest people I know but he has had to live with this most of his life. It is not fair. He is an old man and deserves to have his last years in peace. Our family deserves to put it behind us as he never did anything and was cleared.’

But back in 1966, when Simpson was cleared, police were forced to admit that they were back at square one with their investigation.

It is not just Ian Simpson who has suffered painfully as a result of Elsie’s murder. Her family never really recovered from her death – her father couldn’t even ever bring himself to discuss the murder, or to even view photographs of Elsie. Both of her parents are now dead – her mother Edith in 1988, and her father Arthur in 2003 – but her brother and sister are still alive, and have pushed for the investigation into Elsie’s murder to be re-opened in an effort to gain some closure for the family and justice for Elsie. They have of course never forgotten their sister, nor has the local community. On the 50th anniversary of Elsie’s death, St George’s church in Lupset was packed with more than 100 mourners, and the touching tribute of 14 doves were released in Elsie’s memory – a dove for each year of her life.

Finally, her murder was the subject of an investigative BBC Radio 4 programme in 2015, which resulted in an encouraging amount of new information being received. This helped re-open the investigation that year, and the possible theories concerning Elsie’s murder were reviewed in context with the new information. The programme makes for interesting listening, and links to the full programme covering the case can be found here: Who Killed Elsie Frost?

A line of appeal focused upon in the 2015 re-investigation is the identity of a man who was seen cycling near to the murder scene around the time Elsie was killed. This man was described as:

A white male, 25 to 30 years old and riding a black bike with a basket on the front and wearing a white lab type coat possibly of the style then worn by someone who could have been a delivery boy, butcher or abattoir worker.

There was also a line of enquiry to try to establish the identity of a man seen near the murder scene at around the crucial time that day. He was described by Detective Chief Inspector Elizabeth Belton:

“A common description of a person of interest which has come from some of the calls has been of a man wearing a brown, potentially duffel, type coat with dark hair who was seen on the canal towpath.He was of medium to thin build and in his early 20’s. He was described as carrying a bag by some witnesses, and was possibly of what was described as a scruffy or ‘student type’ appearance.”

_87559909_duffellcomp

Who was the man in the duffel coat?

Similar theories that were examined 50 years previously were also re-examined, including the “mystery boyfriend” theory. But there is still no evidence to support this.
And a further blow to the investigation comes with the reports that police have never retained Elsie’s bloodstained clothing – they were either destroyed or returned to her grieving family, and so there is nothing that a possible workable DNA sample of her killer can be obtained from, even though technology now exists that would make this possible. Most of the original files from the 1965 investigation have now also been destroyed. And perhaps most frustratingly, the file on Elsie’s murder has been closed at the National Archives until 2060 – for reasons that are at best, unclear. The latest hurdle in a crime in which so many details remain unexplained.

What can be the motive for Elsie’s killing? I believe that this was a crime committed in either a rage, or out of fear – that explains the savagery of the killing. It is likely, or would at least be expected, that a boyfriend would have been known by someone, if not by Elsie’s family then at least by one of her friends – and I consequently do not believe this is a serious line of enquiry, although understand the need to investigate it as an avenue. It is more likely that Elsie was chosen at random by a sex offender in the area at the time. The absence of rape or attempted sexual assault should not discount a sexual motive to this murder – it is more likely that the killer had to flee. Several reports were commonplace of men “flashing”, exposing themselves to women and girls for sexual kicks – did someone expose themselves to Elsie and then pursue the frightened girl, killing her to save themselves being caught and identified? Was this possibly the man in the duffel coat? The theory of Elsie having disturbed two men indulging in homosexual behaviour is also of course possible.

Several theories abound, and there is much more in-depth research concerning the case than is recapped here. During my own research for the TTCE post I came across several theories presented – from responsibility for the crime being laid at the feet of notorious names from the annals of British crime, such as Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady, and even Jimmy Saville; to reported cover-ups concerning the investigation by the West Yorkshire Police. There is much information available for the reader to delve into and form their own conclusion, and the crime is still examined today by many the armchair detective. A recommended site can be found at : http://www.whokilledelsiefrost.com/

Frustratingly, it is also unclear as to why so much emphasis was given to Ian Spencer as being a suspect in the murder. One could be led to strongly suspect that Spencer was the unfortunate victim of a case of having a suspect in the frame, with police choosing to fit evidence around the suspect in mind? Indeed, it is fortunate that a higher authority decided to see sense and that there was no case to answer concerning Spencer’s guilt – otherwise the annals of victims of miscarriages of justice would have had another name added to their lists, along with the Stephen Downing’s and the Stefan Kiszko’s of this world.

body-666807

The ABC Steps as they appear today

In 2016, a 78-year-old man was arrested in Berkshire in connection with Elsie’s murder and released on police bail, however was subsequently re-arrested in March 2017. It is reported that a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration in charging him with Elsie’s murder. However, there is no further report available as to the status of this. Reports also account that this man is being looked at by South Yorkshire Police as a possible suspect in the unsolved murder of Anne Dunwell in May 1964, which was previously recounted on TTCE, and a link to which can be found here: The man arrested is an already convicted murderer and sex offender, and on 25 August 2017 he was charged with a rape and abduction in Deepcar in 1972. Next week on TTCE his crimes will be focused upon, and an examination as to his possible culpability in the murders of both Anne and Elsie will be discussed.

 

Is it possible, that the killer of Elsie Frost may still face justice for her murder…?

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who Was The South Yorkshire Strangler?

“We have a beast at large who has killed once, and will possibly try to kill again” – Detective Chief Superintendent Clifford Lodge (speaking in 1964)

Maltby, Wakefield, May 1964. 13-year-old Anne Dunwell had been visiting her aunt in Bramley, just a few miles outside Rotherham, South Yorkshire, with whom she had been planning to stay for a few days. Anne lived with her grandparents in the nearby village of Whiston, and on the evening of Wednesday 6th May 1964 she had decided to return to their home in Sandringham Avenue to keep her grandmother company, as her grandfather was working a night shift. At 9:15pm, she left the friends that she had been with that evening, and made her way to the bus stop opposite the Ball Inn, Bramley, to catch the 9:29pm bus that would take her back home to Whiston.

_74654510_annedunwell

Anne Dunwell

Anne never caught that bus, and she never made it back to Whiston.

At 7:30am the following morning, a lorry driver travelling to work, Thomas Wilson, made a gruesome discovery whilst driving down Slade Hooton Lane, a winding and remote country lane between the villages of Carr and Slade Hooton. He was later to describe the scene:

“I was driving down the lane when I saw what I thought was a tailor’s dummy with its feet in the hedge and back on the manure heap. I thought it was a practical joke and drove on. When I got to work, I told my brother-in-law what I had seen and to make sure we drove back. We went within two yards of the body, which had a stocking round it’s neck, and noticed that the legs were badly bruised. There were also bruises on the face. The arms seemed as if they had been placed behind the back”

The body was that of a young female, and was naked – except for a pair of stockings wrapped tightly around the neck. It was some hours later revealed to be the body of Anne Dunwell, and a post-mortem was to reveal that she had suffered a savage sexual attack, before ultimately being strangled with her own stockings. No other clothing was found near the body.

A massive police hunt was immediately launched, with a mass widespread search of the surrounding areas being undertaken and enquiries made in the area to establish Anne’s final movements. Within a week hundreds of actions had been completed and thousands of statements taken. Anne’s last known movements were traced, and it was established that she never caught the 9:29pm bus, no one could recall a girl matching her description being on the bus. Someone matching her description was seen near the bus stop at around the crucial time, however. Had she been abducted off the street – or had she got into a car after accepting a lift from her killer? Anne’s family firmly believed that she would never have accepted a lift from a stranger – so police worked on the theory that Anne had either been forcibly snatched from the bus stop, or had begun to walk towards home and had accepted a lift from her killer – who must have been someone she knew.

ulley-country-park-ulley-reservoir-in-ulley-country-park

Ulley Reservoir

Five days into the investigation, the search area moved to Ulley Reservoir, some six miles from where Anne’s body was found. Walkers had found some items of clothing, including a pale blue coat with a Peter Pan type collar, at the water’s edge – and this was soon identified as belonging to Anne. A specialist team of police frogmen from Nottingham searched the reservoir, and were soon to find other items that were identified as having belonged to Anne. This included the distinct wicker basket that she was carrying when last seen alive. It was many years later, thanks to advancements in forensic science, that the clothing was to provide useful evidence and insight into Anne’s killer.

Detectives were also left to sift with a multitude of potential suspects, suspect vehicles, and potentially crucial sightings. After an appeal had been made to “courting couples” who had possibly been in the area of the murder scene at the time, and therefore may have seen something of relevance to come forward, one such couple did. They reported seeing a dark-haired man, sharp featured and about 18-25 years old, and a girl parked in blue saloon car at about 11:00pm in a clearing in Slacks Lane, a lane in close proximity to the bus stop where Anne was last seen. The courting couple remembered the sighting vividly because the couple in the saloon car had been “struggling” – and their car headlights had picked this out as they had passed. The “struggling” couple were never identified or came forward for elimination – was this Anne and her killer?

By the end of May, detectives were no further in their investigation despite having spoken to more than 10,000 people during the enquiry. They did, however, have a suspect that they wished to trace, and an identikit picture was placed in the local press. This man, known as “Pete” was described as being:

“aged between 21 and 27 years of age, of medium build and between 5″5 and 5″6 tall, with a thin, pockmarked face and nose. He had short dark brown hair worn in a wavy, brushed back style, and was clean-shaven”.

The man also drove a dark grey Mini van and was known to offer lifts to young girls – including pupils of Wickersley Secondary Modern. Anne’s school. Several names were given to the incident room as a potential identity for “Pete”, and although these were investigated, no arrests were made and the identity of “Pete” could not be ascertained.

Despite the massive investigation, no arrests were forthcoming, and the enquiry into Anne’s murder was gradually scaled down, until it remained a cold case for many years. However, with the advances in investigative work and forensic science, in 2002 South Yorkshire Police re-opened the enquiry with the full support of Anne’s surviving family. The original statements and actions were looked at, and an appeal about and reconstruction of Anne’s last known movements was shown on Crimewatch U.K. Even after all this time, new witnesses came forward offering information. This included a woman who was 15 at the time of Anne’s murder who went to school with her, and who had seen her on the night she died walking along Bawtry Road in Wickersley, heading towards Whiston at about 9:45pm. This seemed to confirm police suspicions that Anne had never boarded the bus that evening, and had instead begun to walk towards home. She was halfway home when she met her killer.

Also highlighted was a different person of interest, alongside “Pete”, that was also never traced, and who rapidly became the prime suspect in Anne’s murder. A witness who had been spoken to at the time of the original 1964 investigation was re-interviewed about her statement and was now able to provide additional information. The witness had described seeing a girl, likely Anne, walking towards a van parked near The Ball Inn on the evening of Anne’s murder. In addition, this witness now recalled that the driver of the man was wearing “shiny cufflinks”. This became significant because it tallied with other descriptions of a person of interest who was reported in 1964, but one who was never traced.

This man was seen, crucially, in the Ball Inn just a week before Anne was killed, where a barmaid recalled serving him brandy. The witness who gave the description recalled talking at length to the man, who he recalled mentioning that he had worked in Rotherham and Doncaster at times. The Ball Inn held live entertainment on Wednesday evenings at the time, and was consequently full of people who had travelled from the Sheffield and Doncaster areas – yet despite so many people this man stood out and was remembered. The man talked about psychology at length, and gave off the impression that he was well-educated. He was also chain-smoking “Craven A” cigarettes, which he kept in a silver case, and he wore distinctive jewellery. This was a distinctive ring with a blue coloured stone worn on the middle finger of his left hand, a gold wristwatch with round black face and gold roman numerals and hands on a gold expanding bracelet, and cufflinks that were described as having a gold surround, with a red design of a female carrying an open umbrella.

A detailed physical description was given of the man, and he was described as:

 “a male, in his mid 20s and 5ft 7in tall with a slim build and dark eyes. He had short auburn hair and spoke with a soft Scottish accent which police believe could be from the Inverness area. He was wearing a dark green suit, checked shirt, tan shoes, and cufflinks” 

And the man was also driving a small van that may have been grey, green or blue. This matched with several other descriptions of vehicles that police wished to trace and eliminate from their enquiries – including a small grey or light green van that was seen parked on a small track near a disused mill on Green Lane at about 10:15pm on the night of Anne’s murder. A Google Images snapshot of this location is shown below:

Google Maps:

This is just two hundred yards from where Anne’s body was found early the next morning. The driver of the van was never traced.

Surprisingly for such a detailed description, this man was never traced. It seems remarkable that police were aware of “the Scotsman” back in 1964, but could never find him. Perhaps it is worth remembering here, without attempting to sound so critical, that policing was very different back then and it was down to old-fashioned “door knocking”, rather than the tools that today’s investigators have at their disposal. Perhaps it was the poor information management and filing system, with sheer vastness of information, details of sightings of vehicles and persons received that it meant that many such a crucial person was lost in the mix. It would be more than 10 years later when these problems were more tragically highlighted, and again concerning Yorkshire police, with the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.

Perhaps the most important breakthrough in the re-opened enquiry in 2002 was the obtaining of a workable DNA profile from the clothing that had been used to strangle Anne. Forensic scientists were able not only to obtain a DNA sample of the killer from traces of semen found in the knots, but were also able to show that the killer suffered from gonorrhoea. But a match for an existing profile on the NDNAD for the killer has so far proved negative.  Medical confidentiality has frustratingly provided a stumbling block and closed off a possible avenue of investigation for police – as Anne’s killer would have required medical treatment for such a condition.

What can be said about Anne’s killer? Whilst both the “Scotsman” and “Pete” remain important persons of interest that require elimination from the investigation, one must bear in mind that the physical descriptions of each of these persons were made more than fifty years ago. This effectively renders each description as useless now – unless someone can provide solid, reliable evidence that names a person that matched all or many of the aspects of the descriptions, whom they reliably and with reason, have grounds to suspect. Then of course, depending upon if the person is still living (which is only a possibility now due to the passage of time), a simple DNA test would be able to incriminate or exonerate such a person.

It is likely that Anne’s killer was from the Yorkshire area, and was expressly familiar with the areas of Bramley and Whiston. The key locations to the case are all within a relatively small geographic area, and the area where Anne’s body was dumped is remote and suggests a local knowledge, someone either having lived around the area or worked there. The reservoir where her clothes were dumped also suggests this. Of course, as the killer had a vehicle this is not an offender necessarily confined just to these areas, he could have come from further afield. But offenders tend to operate in areas of comfort and familiarity to them. It is likely that the killer of Anne Dunwell had offended before, although he may never have been arrested before. If he had, it would have been most likely for sexual offences, or offences of violence. He is/was certainly a violent man, and likely one that would have experience at approaching young girls, or be practised at enticing young girls into a vehicle. If Anne was last definitively seen halfway home at 9:45pm that evening, then she was taken very close to home from a relatively busy main road. No screams were reported as being heard, meaning that he was either very good at quickly restraining Anne, or was good at being charming and appearing genuine and non-threatening and gave her no cause to be wary. It is of course a sad fact that fifty years ago, young girls were especially less wary about accepting lifts from strangers, but perhaps he wasn’t a stranger – perhaps Anne knew him well enough to accept a lift.

The killer had access to a vehicle, perhaps a car but more than likely a van of some type. A van would offer ample room within the back to commit a rape or a physical assault. Police re-investigating the crime in 2002 released details that would seem to support this. When Anne’s clothing was recovered from Ulley Reservoir, it was of course dirty and covered in silt. But it also contained traced that led detectives to believe that Anne had come into contact with foundry slag or coal dust residue at the time of her death. This was a very house-proud girl who was wearing her brand new, favourite coat that night – she certainly willingly would not have got it dirty. It is possible that she met her death in the back of a vehicle, or perhaps a building, where such materials were kept. Mini vans of similar description and colour were reported frequently around the general area on the night of the murder – including the important sighting of one just 200 yards from where her body was found at around the time she was last seen alive. Plus, the killer required a vehicle to transport Anne’s clothes to where they were found, six miles away.

It is likely that the vehicle sighted at 10:15pm parked just 200 yards away from where Anne’s body was found was the killer’s vehicle. It is a scant few miles from where she was picked up by her killer, and if she had accepted a lift just a short distance from home, only to be taken elsewhere, she would have surely panicked. This would mean that the killer would have had to restrain her immediately or at least after a short time. It was likely that she was raped and strangled shortly after she was taken, and was left at the body site just a short time later. The timings of this would fit perfectly within the 30-minute window of Anne last being seen, if of course it was her sighted walking towards Whiston at 9:45pm, to the vehicle being sighted parked on Green Lane.

Did the killer of Anne also strike again, again in Yorkshire and not too far away, about a year later? In the next post on TTCE, another crime, the unsolved case of a victim of similar age, and a relatively short geographical distance from Anne’s killing, will be examined and possible comparisons made.

More than 50 years have now passed since Anne Dunwell met her killer whilst walking home that Wednesday evening in May 1964, and her killer has never yet been brought to justice. It remains the oldest unsolved murder on the files of South Yorkshire Police. I believe that it was likely a stranger abduction, and that Anne was taken by chance. Someone known to her would have more than likely been highlighted as a suspect, barring sheer fluke or very poor police work. The information was seemingly there at the time of the initial investigation, although in 1964 the benefit of computing and the modern-day HOLMES investigative system were not available. With today’s tools of detection, it would be very likely that Anne’s killer would be identified and would face trial for his crime. Indeed, there exists a DNA profile of Anne’s killer, and several reports exist of varying stages in the investigation. Some reports say that following the re-investigation, the pool of suspects in Anne’s murder had been narrowed down to just two suspects – both of whom were now dead. Other, more recent, reports will claim that an elderly sex killer, who has been securely detained for more than 45 years now, is being looked at as a significant person of interest in Anne’s murder. The crimes of this perpetrator in question will be looked at and recounted in a post on TTCE in the very near future.

For further information concerning Anne’s murder, I thoroughly recommend author Scott C Lomax’s “Unsolved Murders in South Yorkshire” (a review of which has featured on TTCE previously and can be found here:). Within, the author covers Anne’s murder and details both the original investigation, and the re-investigation in great depth, and makes for an informative and well researched read.

This is a horrendous crime, and Anne’s family have suffered greatly over the years because of her callous murder. Her grandmother was to have a nervous breakdown because of it, and Anne’s father’s health gravely declined in the years following his daughter’s murder. Each went to their graves not knowing who was responsible, and it is finally left to Anne’s only surviving relative, her sister Irene Hall, to fight for justice for her sister and to ensure that Anne is not forgotten. Speaking on the 50-year anniversary of Anne’s murder, her sister Irene told how the crime still affects the family:

“We are truly grateful to all of those who have already helped the police, but I appeal to those who, for their own reasons, have kept information to themselves for so long,” says Irene. “Anyone who knows anything about the death of Anne, however small or trivial they think it may be, please contact the police. “It is possible that the person responsible may now be dead but did they admit what they had done? Please if anyone can help us finally get justice for Anne, have the courage to make that call to the police. We can only hope that one day Anne’s murderer will be identified, giving us closure on a 50-year nightmare and allowing Anne to finally be at peace.”

Anyone having any information concerning Anne’s murder should contact police on 101, or through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

Who Was Bath’s Widcombe Hill Killer?

“We found the body in the garage – it was quite a horrendous sight.” Sergeant Bob Allard, Avon and Somerset Police

Nearly 40 years ago, a brutal and seemingly motiveless murder occurred in the quiet suburb of the Widcombe Hill district of Bath, England. The crime is largely unknown, which is surprising considering its savagery, and remains in limbo as a cold case on the files of Avon and Somerset police.

3305-Police-still-search-for-key-to-crack-Beryl

Beryl Culverwell

Fifty-two year old Beryl Culverwell lived with her husband Anthony, 57, in their comfortable detached house, “Woodholme”, in Widcombe Hill, Bath. Anthony was a successful stockbroker, working from offices in St Nicholas Street, Bristol – whilst Beryl busied herself as a charity worker and trustee, working for a long-established voluntary organisation named the Bath Maternity Society. This organisation was established in 1886, and its goal is giving assistance to young married and unmarried mothers, who find themselves in financial difficulty. Beryl’s role involved her visiting young mothers in hospital or at their homes, attempting to help in any way that she could – be that recommending financial help from the society in deserving cases, or simply just as much as offering emotional support and a shoulder to cry on. Beryl also volunteered elsewhere in her busy life, working at the local community centre in Widcombe Hill where she helped out with events, and ferrying senior citizens to and from the community centre. She was highly regarded in her work and volunteering, and was much-loved. Her entire family circle was a happy and close one, Beryl and Anthony had celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in 1978, and their quarter century together had produced two sons and a daughter, who were young adults themselves.

Friday 13th January 1978 was a bitterly cold evening, and Anthony arrived home from work just after six pm that evening to find Woodholme in darkness, although Beryl’s Renault car was parked in its usual spot on the drive. Although unusual for the house to be in darkness at this time, it was not uncommon. Sometimes, throughout the course of her work with the Society, Beryl would visit a young mother living within walking distance of the Culverwell house. Being a caring person, Beryl would often stay and comfort an upset young mother – which was a common occurrence in that line of supporting. Perhaps Beryl was still out at such an appointment.

But whilst Anthony was initially unconcerned when entering the house and calling out for Beryl, but getting no reply, it was when he took stock of the kitchen that he began to become uneasy. There was food shopping strewn across the kitchen table, perishables that should have been put away immediately in the fridge such as bacon and chicken. Beryl’s purse lay on the table next to a half full glass of ginger wine, and something had been left burning in the oven. Anthony turned it off and found it to be a blackened, burned pastry. By now worried, Anthony searched for any messages Beryl may have left for him, and checked room by room throughout the house – perhaps Beryl had taken ill and collapsed, or had had an accident?

A search of the house proved fruitless, and the only possible place left to look in was the large garage, which was reached by a door through the downstairs utility room. This door was, however locked from the house side – so Anthony thought it unlikely that Beryl was in there. But he decided to check anyway – and in doing so was to make a discovery that would shatter the lives of himself and his children.

Turning on the light, Anthony immediately saw Beryl lying on the garage floor in a large pool of blood. He rushed over to try to gain a response, but Beryl was sadly dead, having bled heavily from massive and severe head and body wounds. Nearby to the body, Anthony noticed one of the family kitchen bread knives lay discarded – heavily bloodstained. Beryl’s sheepskin coat also lay nearby. A shocked and distraught Anthony immediately summoned the emergency services, and when they arrived, it was quickly confirmed that Beryl had been savagely clubbed a number of times across the head, and then stabbed in a maniacal attack with a knife taken from her own kitchen.

Examining the scene and trying to piece together the likely events of the day, it appeared that upon getting home after a shopping excursion that day, Beryl poured herself a glass of ginger wine and was about to make some lunch. It was known that she had a 2pm appointment with a young local mother that afternoon – and investigation revealed that she failed to keep this appointment. Was Beryl dead by then? Also at the scene were a pair of secateurs that had been taken from the garage and used to cut the telephone wires in the house, then left in the hall. But aside from this out of place object, there was no sign of any violent struggle in the house itself. There was no bloodstaining apparent, and nothing had been kicked or knocked over in a struggle. It was apparent that Beryl had been killed where she was found – had she disturbed an intruder and fled to the garage, or had an intruder broken in and forced her there, then killed her. And why?

Beryl’s body was taken away from the scene for a post-mortem examination, whilst the murder investigation team, headed by Detective Superintendent John Robinson, began the enquiry. From the onset, police were plagued with questions at every turn. It didn’t seem to be a sex crime – there was no sign or reports of Beryl having been sexually assaulted, nor of her clothing having been interfered with. Nor did the motive appear to be robbery – not only did nothing appear to be missing from the house, but there was also no signs of any ransacking – and Beryl had money both found on her person and in her purse, which was found on the kitchen table. No unexplained fingerprints or forensic evidence left by the killer(s) were found in the house, and apart from the secateurs left in the hallway and the kitchen knife in the garage, nothing else seemed out of place in the main house. Nor had anybody in the vicinity heard any screams or sounds of a struggle.

906147_7555bbc2

Widcombe Hill as it appears today

House to house enquiries in Bath, concentrated within the Widcombe Hill area got under way, road blocks were also set up and passing motorists questioned as to whether they had seen anything or anyone suspicious on the day of the murder, and an appeal was made to local guest house proprietors asking for information about any sudden arrival or departure, in case this person may have been the killer. Known local criminals were looked at and questioned, a mass search of the surrounding areas was undertaken, and hundreds of statements taken from people in the local area. A detailed look at Beryl and her families lives, their friends and work acquaintances was undertaken in an attempt to establish a possible motive – or a suspect.

By Monday 16th January 1978, the inquest into Beryl’s death had been opened and adjourned for further investigation, and full details of the post-mortem were revealed. The pathologist had discovered at least 5 separate blows to Beryl’s skull that had been caused by a heavy, blunt instrument; and 21 separate stab wounds to Beryl’s body inflicted by her own kitchen knife. Cause of death was concluded as being shock, and loss of blood, as a direct result of these wounds. The estimated time of death had been between four and five hours before the body was discovered. This tended to support the police theory that Beryl had been attacked whilst preparing lunch. But police were still unable to pinpoint a clear motive – a thorough examination of Beryl’s life revealed no secret lovers, no one who was known to dislike her, or nobody that had fallen out with her in any way. She was loved or liked by all who knew her, and wasn’t involved in anything illicit or unlawful.

Police had managed to establish a few lines of enquiry at the time of the massive 1978 investigation, but none were to provide any advancement in the search for Beryl’s killer. There were several crucial sightings of a vehicle that police wished to eliminate from the enquiry, a yellow Ford Cortina Mark III that had been sighted parked outside Woodholme at about 2:00pm on the afternoon of the murder. More crucially, the same car containing two men had also been seen turning out of the driveway of Woodholme at about 2:45pm – the witness was certain about this because the car had shot out of the driveway at considerable speed, driving erratically and almost hitting another car as it sped off. Police staged a reconstruction using a similar car in an attempt for further potential witnesses to come forward, but despite this, the vehicle was never traced. Nor was a description of the driver or passenger ever established.

That weekend following the murder, police believed that they had found a crucial clue with the discovery, half a mile from the Culverwell home, of a bloodstained man’s handkerchief. The location where it was found led police to consider the possibility that it had been dropped by Beryl’s killer when fleeing fled from the rear of the house and across fields, before heading into Bath itself. An appeal was made to dry cleaners within the area, as it was believed that Beryl’s killer would have been heavily bloodstained and police asked for any reports of bloodstained clothes being brought in for cleaning. But before a week had passed this lead had been eliminated from the enquiry. A reliable witness was found that had seen a man with a nosebleed throw the handkerchief away – some days before Beryl’s murder.

Although this was a forensic clue that led nowhere, it is reported that detectives did have another clue, one giving the origin of the weapon used to club Beryl – it was slivers of the butt of a shotgun. Parts of the butt were found in the pools of blood in which Beryl’s body lay, and enough could be gleaned from piecing fragments together to ascertain that the weapon was an old-style model with a Rogers side lock action. A line of enquiry with local gun dealers as to anybody who had approached them asking for repairs to be made to such a gun, however, proved fruitless. Several anonymous telephone calls to police by a person claiming to have found such a weapon in some remote hills in the Bath area were also unable to be traced.

The enquiry eventually was wound down as one line of enquiry petered out after another, and although not closed, it remained officially “active with regular reviews” for many years. In January 2003, on the 25th anniversary of Beryl’s murder, a re-appeal was made however, and the case featured as an appeal on Crimewatch UK. However, it did not generate much new information, perhaps no more than rekindling local interest. By this time, Beryl’s children had families of their own, and her husband Anthony had passed away never knowing who was responsible for the murder of his beloved wife.

This is a savage crime, and one that there is relatively little information readily available to research. I did manage to source a book entitled “Bristol and Bath Whodunnit?” by author David Kidd-Hewitt that covers Beryl’s murder in a chapter, and in using this text for reference for this post I have remained faithful to the author’s findings. However, other sources contain a piece of important information that is not featured within this chapter, and I believe it worth mentioning here because it may affect any profile of Beryl’s killer. A Freedom Of Information request available online concerning undetected homicides in the Avon and Somerset area from 1946 onwards details Beryl’s murder. It contains the following:

13 January 1978 BERYL CULVERWELL 52 YEARS White – North European “WOODHOLME” WIDCOMBE HILL BATH. MRS CULVERWELL WAS FOUND MURDERED IN THE GARAGE OF HER HOME. SHE DIED FROM STAB WOUNDS AND SEVERE HEAD INJURIES. HER BODY HAD BEEN TIED WITH TWINE. UNDETECTED ACTIVE WITH REGULAR REVIEWS

This is the only reference available to Beryl having been found bound with twine.

What then, is the likely profile of Beryl’s killer? Firstly, it must be remembered that so much concerning this case remains unknown, and what scant information there is only serves to raise more questions than provide answers. There is no discernible suspect, and the exact motive remains unclear. It should also be emphasised, as regular readers will be familiar with, that I in no way offer the following as definitive, it is pure hypothesis based upon the available information.

No physical description exists of a suspect in the murder, and due to the large passage of time since the murder any physical description would be useless anyway. I believe that the house was deliberately targeted, and that there was more than one killer. The houses on Widcombe Hill appear large and tend to be detached, and would offer attractive targets for burglary as they suggest affluence and rich pickings. Burglars also tend to operate in pairs, and this is not your classic striped jumper glass cutter masked burglar as depicted so often in film and TV. A likely scenario is that Beryl arrived home after shopping that morning, and began to prepare a lunch for herself. This explains the food in the oven, and the timing can be near definitively confirmed because the ever punctual and reliable Beryl failed to keep an appointment at 2:00pm.

It is possible then that her killer – or killers, because evidence suggests that this was the work of more than one offender – knocked on either the front or back door and burst in when it was answered, or crept in and surprised Beryl in the kitchen at gunpoint. She may or may not have been tied up – if she was, then this would suggest more than one offender – and taken to the garage. Or perhaps she was threatened at gunpoint by one offender, and marched to the garage to secure something to restrain her – perhaps strong twine, that would need a knife to cut? Two offenders would also account for the telephone lines being cut – one does this whilst the other one guards the victim. It must have been done before Beryl was killed – what would be the point of doing so after such a brutal murder? Why were the telephone lines cut anyway? To allow ample time for the offender to escape, or to stop Beryl from contacting help? This seems the only likely reasons to do so. But this also serves then to suggest that Beryl’s murder was unplanned – because if the intention is to not leave someone alive in the house, there serves no purpose in doing this.

It is possible that Beryl tried to flee to the sanctuary of the garage – where she could have locked herself in – but why not scream or try to leave the house, or to alert neighbours? Was she then caught and clubbed into unconsciousness? But why then the need to commit such a ferocious attack –, or did she try to escape from the garage, was clubbed into unconsciousness, and then the offender(s) panicked, stabbed and battered her repeatedly, then fled before anything could be taken? Or did bloodlust take over – or did she even recognise her killer and said so, causing her death? The witness statements detailing the yellow Ford Cortina that contained two men leaving the scene, driving very fast and very erratically, all support the scenario of it being a bungled robbery that led to an unplanned murder. This is also supported by the use of a knife from Beryl’s own kitchen to stab her, and the fact that it was left at the scene. This seems unplanned and disorganised. If the killing was planned, the killer would have likely taken away a murder weapon with them, not left it at the scene. They would have also left the house quietly, without drawing attention to themselves.

But what if the killer(s) HAD gone to the house with the deliberate intention of killing Beryl? I believe this also could be a possible scenario, and it could also be possible that Beryl was killed by someone that she knew. There are reasons to believe that she, or the Culverwells, were known to her killer(s) at least. Consider that Beryl’s car was on the driveway. Would an offender really choose at random a house, however affluent and remote it appeared, if a car was visible in the driveway and it appeared that someone was at home? In the middle of the day? Unlikely – unless you were familiar with the family and recognised which was Beryl’s car and which was Anthony’s. This suggests either someone who had watched the house for a period of time and had learned the family routines – or someone who knew Beryl. If it was someone she knew, this would also the support the reason for the lack of signs of forced entry and the lack of any screams – Beryl may have admitted the killer(s) willingly to the house, not suspecting that she had any reason to fear them?

If this was the case, and her killer was someone she knew, then who was it? Beryl’s life, and the lives of her family, were scrutinised in an attempt to identify a suspect or a motive. Nothing, no-one stood out. Everyone who knew the Culverwell family was spoken to and looked at as potential suspects – friends, neighbours, family and colleagues. All were eliminated from the investigation. There was no obvious motive to be found; no affairs, no dodgy dealings, no long running feud or even crossed words with anyone were found. Was it someone that she had met in the course of her volunteering, perhaps the estranged partner of one of the young mothers that she had counselled – who had taken a grudge against someone they believed had helped their partner to get free from their control? Had this person followed Beryl and gone to her home to confront her that fateful day?

What are the possible motives for the murder then? Sex, robbery, or personal. It is unlikely to be a sex crime – there was no reported rape or indecent assault, and Beryl was found fully clothed. A sex attacker would have left the victim in a state of at least some undress, and would also have committed the sex attack in a more comfortable location rather than a garage. Whilst there is ample precedent of a sex attacker killing the victim, the level of violence is unusual, strangulation would be more likely a method.

I believe that a personal motive would have been identified and that if someone did have a grudge against Beryl, then this would have come to attention during the initial police investigation. It is highly unlikely that if a person feels strongly enough about an individual to not only desire to, but to actually set out to murder them so brutally, that it remains kept entirely to themselves and no one else has an inkling of this. I believe the initial motive here was robbery. Beryl was a trustee of the Maternity Society – did someone believe that there may be large amounts of cash readily available to her – but this graduated to an unplanned murder when Beryl attempted to escape or fought back, and perhaps the killer(s) left in a panic, all thoughts of robbery abandoned. It does not explain the savagery of the crime, however. Bloodlust, or hatred?

I believe it likely that the killer, or killers, of Beryl Culverwell had offended before the murder, but were at the younger end of the offender scale, no older than early to mid 20’s. If it was a shotgun that was used to brutally club Beryl, it suggests to me a younger, less mature offender. An experienced burglar does not take a shotgun to burgle a house – but a younger, less experienced offender may do so, perhaps out of bravado or to fulfill some macho fantasy. I also believe it very likely that the killer(s) have committed other crimes following this killing. It is too savage a crime and too much forensic awareness was shown at the scene for this to be a first-time offender, although this may have been the offender’s first murder.  There is likely to be a history of violence in the offender’s past, and possibly housebreaking or theft. This killer was in the files somewhere. I believe it most likely that there was more than one killer – as stated above, this is supported by the sighting of a  vehicle containing two men driving away. Two people would also possibly explain the different methods of attack – it suggests two persons attacking at once, perhaps in a rage, or perhaps one forcing the other to do so to attain dual culpability. The killer(s) would certainly have been familiar with the area of Widcombe Hill, perhaps living in the local area, or perhaps working there or having been schooled there.

Of course, after so many years that have now passed since Beryl’s murder, the possibility exists now that the offender or offenders are themselves dead now. If they are still alive, they will be middle-aged to elderly themselves. They may have moved away from the area, or be in prison or a hospital. Or they may still live close by, hoping that fortune smiles upon them and that they never face justice for their crime. They have gotten away with murder for nearly 40 years now. The family of Beryl Culverwell deserve that good fortune and justice more than her killer(s).

Anybody with any information concerning Beryl’s murder should contact police using 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

 

The True Crime Enthusiast

 

 

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.

443995

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.

546774

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.

heron1

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.

imgID33843824

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?

imgID34319616

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.”

imgID33843952

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.

imgID34187213

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