SOME DISTURBING BRITISH UNSOLVED MURDERS AND MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES
Posted March 13, 2015on:
In drawing up this list I decided to limit myself only to cases since 1945. I have listed here some of the highly disturbing cases which have intrigued me for years now, and some which have only recently appeared in the news. Some of these investigations are very much still ongoing. Will add more information – and correct any mistakes – as and when I can.
Date: 5 November 1979
Location: King’s Cross Station, London
On 5 November – Bonfire Night – 1979 15-year-old Martin Allen was returning home to where his parents lived, in a cottage in the grounds of the Australian High Commission in London, where his father worked as a chauffeur. Martin was planning to go and see his older brother, Bob, but he needed to pop home and collect some money first. At 3:50 PM he bid farewell to some school-friends at King’s Cross Station, and, carrying his school-books, headed off in the direction of the Piccadilly Underground line. That was to be the last he would be seen. Publicity for Martin’s disappearance led to a witness saying he had seen a boy matching his description at Gloucester Road tube station. The boy was in the company of a 30-ish fair-haired man, who had his arm round Martin’s shoulder. The boy matching Martin’s description appeared to be distressed, and the man was telling Martin not to run when they got out at Earl’s Court. The recent developments over a paedophile ring operating at Elm Guest House, plus the finding of a paedophile keeping a shrine to Martin in his home, has led to fresh interest in Martin’s disappearance. In spite of that though the case was officially closed in January 2013. Very recently, in November 2014, Martin’s older brother Kevin (now 51), told Mirror newspaper that he had told a senior policeman that he suspected a top-level cover-up. He was then promptly told “Stop talking like that, you might get hurt”.
ADNAN ABDUL HAMEED AL-SANE
Date: December 1993
Adnan Al-Sane was a Kuwaiti banker who came to a grisly and inexplicable end in the early 1990s. Adnan came from a wealthy family, who reputedly had links to the Kuwaiti royal family, and was able to retire at the age of 38 in 1986. He then moved to London, and dabbled in stocks and shares as an interest. He was also a keen gambler, and frequently visited casino’s. He lived alone in a flat in Maida Vale. On the night of 14 December 1993, he dined with a business acquaintance at the Brittania Hotel in Grosvenor Square, London. At midnight he took a taxi home, and that was the last time anyone saw him alive. On the 16th December his naked (apart from a pair of underpants) and partially-burned headless body was found beneath a railway arch near Piccadilly station in Manchester. The head was found a few weeks later, on 27 January, by Roy Jones, who was out walking his dog in a school playing-field in Cheslyn Hay, near Cannock, Staffordshire, 75 miles away from Manchester. It is thought that the head may have been tossed from a passing car on the nearby motorway. Detectives thought that the killer had gone to great lengths to remove the man’s identity, hacking away at his face with a machete. The head was re-constructed using clay, and Adnan was finally identified by a rare metal alloy used in dental-work. It is also thought that he swallowed a tooth during the attack. Police were baffled as to how he came to be the victim of such a vicious attack, in spite of wild speculation about big money feuds back in Kuwait, and illicit arms deals. Six box-files, relating to Adnan’s stocks and shares, were found missing from his flat after his death. In October 2011 the Independent reported that a business associate of Mr Al-Sane’s had been seriously wounded in a gun-attack in Paddington, London. This is all sounds like the murky world of big money, but there are many baffling aspects to the case. Such as why Manchester? Adnan Al-Sane reputedly had no connections with that city. Why go to such savage lengths to try and hide his identity? Detective Superintendent Bernard Rees told the Independent: “It is bizarre and mystifying. A financial motive is the only one I can think of at the moment, unless someone tells us something to the contrary”.
Date: 29 October 1974
Location: near Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire
On Tuesday 29 October 1974, 39-year-old Josephine Backshall left her home in Maldon, Essex, to meet a man who had answered her newspaper job advertisement. He had offered the attractive housewife an assignment modelling cosmetics. The wife and mother of 3 children had already met the man, when he had photographed her on the front lawn of the family semi. They had since then chatted on the phone, and Josephine had told her husband Mike that he had seemed “a good sort”. Josephine arranged to meet him again at 6:30 on the evening of the 29th. Three days later, on 1 November, she was found dead, dumped in a pond by a remote country road, Bury Green Lane, nr Bishop’s Stortford. She had been strangled, and her hands tied in front of her with cord. There was no sign she had been sexually assaulted. The police established that Josephine and the mystery man had stopped for a drink at the Fountain public house, in Good Easter, at around 10:30 PM. The landlady told police the man had been very tall, his head had touched the beer-mugs hanging over the bar, but she hadn’t seen his face, and it was almost as if he had been trying to avoid anyone getting a close look at him. What had they been doing in the meantime? A post-mortem showed the remains of a Chinese meal in Josephine’s stomach, which suggested they had stopped somewhere to eat. On the surface Josephine’s job advertisement had looked pretty straightforward. She mentioned she had experience in banking, and knew how to type. But police investigating the case said she must have been very naive if she didn’t think that by putting “anything considered” that it wouldn’t be taken as anything sexual. It was added that Mrs Backshall was a devout, church-going woman, and it simply wouldn’t have occurred to her that the advertisement could be misconstrued. In March 2010 BBC News website reported that a 68-year-old pensioner had been arrested on suspicion of Mrs Backshall’s murder, and subsequently released on bail. In October 2014 the police launched a fresh appeal for information on the case.
Date: 11 April 2016
Location: Royston, Hertfordshire
This is a very recent case, but I’m putting it here to try, in my own small way, to keep her on the public radar. Ms Bailey, aged 51, is a successful children’s author, based in Royston, Hertfordshire. On Monday 11 April 2016, she told her partner, Ian Stewart, that she needed some time to herself, and was going to visit their holiday home in Broadstairs, Kent, a place she sometimes used as a writing retreat. She left the house, accompanied by her pet dachshund, Boris. Three walkers spotted her, with Boris, that same afternoon on Royston Heath, nearby. Since then the one and only possible sighting of her was by a truck-driver, who said he saw a woman resembling Helen the following morning, looking bedraggled and “out of place”, walking in the rain down a country road between Baldock and Weston, 10 miles away. There was no sign of her little dog. This sighting is now thought NOT to be Helen. Since then there have been no sightings of her whatsoever. This is in spite of an intensive police investigation, and media appeals for information. Her mobile phone is missing (and presumably switched off), and there has been no activity on her bank account, or social-media accounts. In 2011 Helen lost her husband John, of 22 years, in a drowning accident whilst on holiday in Barbados. She chronicled her grief in a popular blog, which was eventually turned into a book, When Bad Things Happen In Good Bikinis. Close friends report that she was recovering from her grief though, and was in fact now very happy with her current partner. Police haven’t ruled out the possibility that Helen may have “done an Agatha Christie” (a reference to when the crime writer voluntarily disappeared for 10 days in December 1926, and was eventually tracked down to a hotel in Harrogate), and disappeared intentionally. They also say though that there is no sign that Helen made any preparations to disappear. At the moment though, everyone seems thoroughly in the dark as to what has happened to her (and Boris). Helen is described as a slim, attractive woman. She has black hair with grey streaks, and is usually always smartly-dressed. She also has links to Northumberland, where she spent her childhood. UPDATE 17/7/2016: really saddens me to do this update, as I was hoping for an Agatha Christie disappearance-style solution. A body was found in Helen’s back garden, and her partner has been charged.
Date: 24 September 1955
Location: Birkenhead, Merseyside
AKA The PillBox Murder Case. Alice was a 49-year-old prostitute, whose body was found inside an old Wartime pillbox (a concrete structure used by the Home Guard) in the Fender Valley area of Woodchurch, Birkenhead on 24 September 1955. She had been found by a schoolboy, Peter Williams, out picking blackberries, who had thought at first that he had seen the leg of a shop-window mannequin. She had been strangled, and the killer had scrawled “I AM VD” across her in red lipstick. Alice had had a pretty rough life, much of it – it has to be said – of her own making, although she certainly didn’t deserve to end up like that. She had been married at one time, to a husband who by accounts adored her, but Alice had a drink problem. She was more often in pubs than at home, and slept around with other men. She walked out on her husband and young son on Christmas Eve 1943, and from then on lived in various different towns with different men. She was sacked from a housekeeping job in 1954 for petty pilfering, and ended up on the game. Most of her clientele were truck-drivers, and her modus operandi was usually to take them to the pillbox. On her last few days alive she had been seen around the pubs in the area, and on buses, with a younger man (probably in his 30s), who seemed quite well-spoken and well-dressed. A witness who had seen them on one bus said that the mystery man didn’t seem to know the area that well. Two days before her death, she had been seen at 6 o’clock that evening by a groundsman, sharing a bench in Arrow Park with a man, and Alice was overheard to say “I am much older than you are”. Strenuous attempts by the police to trace this man came to nothing. But then, much of Alice’s last few days remain a mystery. Such as the police finding out that she had been staying at St Winifred’s Hotel, Bootle, which was thought normally to have been well out of her means. The case went cold for decades after, but was resurrected again in 2010 when a 19-year-old girl, Aimee Buckley, claimed on an Internet chat-room that the culprit may have been her grandfather (now deceased). He was a violent drunk, and one night had arrived home wearing blood-stained clothes, which he’d ordered his wife to burn. Because Aimee’s grandfather is no longer with us, such a lead can’t really go any further. To the best of my knowledge, this case still qualifies as Unsolved.
Date: 6 June 1991
Location: Greenford, London
There can be few things more unsettling than a person being murdered in a busy place in broad daylight, and then the culprit getting clean away. That’s what happened with the case of Penny Bell. Penny was a 43-year-old wife and mother of two children, and the partner in a successful catering employment agency, based in Kilburn, North London. She also did voluntary work for the Samaritans. On the morning of the 6 June 1991, at 9:40 AM she left the family home in Baker’s Wood, Denham, Buckinghamshire, and told the builders, who were renovating the house, that she was running late for an appointment at 9:50. No one knows what this appointment was all about, as Penny never told anyone who it was with, and there was no mention of it in her diary. Some carpet fabric samples found on the back seat of the car suggest it could have been a business appointment. Two hours later, at noon, Penny’s body was found in the front seat of her car, in a the car-park of Gurnell Leisure Centre in Greenford, London. She had been stabbed and slashed 50 times. Eye-witnesses spoke of seeing her car driving slowly with the hazard lights on (they were still flashing when the car was found). She appeared to be struggling with an unknown male, who was in the passenger seat. One witness spoke of seeing Penny mouthing “help me” through the car-window, but incredibly did nothing about it. Another mystery to the case is that Penny had drawn out £8,500 from the joint bank account she shared with her husband 3 days before her death. The money has never been found. This has led to some speculation that she may have been being blackmailed. The savagery of the attack on her can only speak of someone either consumed with a frenzy of rage, anger and hatred, or certainly off their rocker (to put it bluntly). Had she got mixed up with someone who was mentally unhinged? And how did this person manage to inflict such horrific damage in a car in a busy public car-park in the middle of the day, and then get away scot-free? They must have had copious amounts of blood on them for a start. The murderer seemed to have a number of factors on his side. Not least the reluctance of witnesses to intervene at the time, and some cock-ups in in the investigation, such as the police removing Penny’s fingernails for DNA analysis, and then losing them for 17 years. By the time the fingernails were found the DNA had become contaminated. And what was Penny doing in Greenford anyway, a place which her daughter Lauren has said has no significance for the family? Penny’s death inevitably had a devastating effect on her family. Her husband was gay, and had had a long-term relationship with a man prior to marrying Penny. The police asked if they could release this information to the public, to help the investigation, but it backfired horribly. The resulting media coverage was so “sordid” that the investigation effectively dried up. Penny’s husband collapsed into depression, and told his daughter that he “couldn’t do love” any more.
OLIVE MAY BENNETT
Date: 24 April 1954
Poor old Olive Bennett. Olive was the classic case of the repressed spinster who suddenly decided to kick up her heels, only for it all to end in tragedy. Scottish by birth, and a midwife by profession, Olive had led a decorous life, until in her middle-aged she finally felt it was time to have some fun. Based near Stratford Upon Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, she started drinking in pubs, smoking cigarettes, drawing considerable sums of money out of her Post Office savings account, and cavorting with men. She could be seen in pubs, girlishly announcing that she was getting a bit squiffy, and then returning to the nurse’s home at Tiddington in the early hours of the morning by taxi. She liked to announce to a colleague that she had been with her boyfriend. On Saturday 24 April 1954, the town was busy celebrating the Bard’s 390th birthday. Forty-six-year-old Olive was drinking in the Red Horse Hotel, Bridge Street. She announced to one man that “I’ve had 5 schooners of sherry already. Aren’t I a naughty girl?” At 11:45 PM she was seen, by the night-porter, standing outside the hotel. That was the last time she was seen alive. She wasn’t seen again until the following morning, when her body was found wedged on the river-bank. She had been strangled with a scarf, and her body weighted down with a tombstone from a nearby churchyard. Her false teeth, her spectacles, and one shoe were found in the churchyard. Her hat was found on a nearby tow-path, known as Lover’s Lane. Olive’s diary contained the names of several men friends, but they were all questioned and eliminated from enquiries. In 1962, two sisters, both bus conductresses, contacted the police to say they had been in that self-same churchyard the night Olive was killed, having been picked up by two soldiers. They said that the men had “joked” that their bodies would be weighted down and thrown in the river if they didn’t comply. The women claimed they hadn’t come forward before, because one of them was married, and the other didn’t want her mother to find out. Tragically, the 8 year lapse meant the police had a nigh-on impossible chance of tracing the two men, thought possibly to have been from a nearby Army camp. Olive’s murder remains officially unsolved.
THE BOLNEY TORSO CASE
Date: 11 October 1991
Location: Bolney, West Sussex
Bolney is a very beautiful village in West Sussex, and yet also home to an unexplained murder from nearly 25 years ago. On 11 October 1991 the headless body of a man was found, by a member of the public, on Broxmead Lane*. His head and hands had been removed, and the corpse was dressed in a blue shirt and trousers (thought to belong to someone else). An identikit of him has been established as aged between 30-40, white, about 5ft 6″ – 5ft 8″ tall, circumcised, and with a well-developed upper body. Analysis of his rib bone and toenails is said to suggest that he possibly originates from southern Germany, the French/German border, or countries nearby. He was buried in Haywards Heath cemetery in 1994, his coffin bearing the forlorn words “UNKNOWN MALE”. He was exhumed in 2009, when further tests were made, and then re-buried. The head and hands were never found. In spite of some men being questioned over the death, including some Germans who lived nearby, no one has ever been charged with the murder, and his identity remains unknown. *Broxmead Lane is very long, and although there are houses along it, parts of it can feel very remote and isolated, bordering as it does on woodland.
Date: 16 January 1995
Location: Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
Sometimes of course people can vanish entirely of their own free will. Was that what happened with Angela Bradley, a 34-year-old librarian from Gloucester? Angela had had her share of battles. She had suffered from anorexia, and had spent time in a mental hospital before it was closed down in 1994. From then on she had been living with her parents at Abbeydale, Gloucester, and was engaged to be married. At 7:00 on 16 January 1995, PM Angela drove her fiance back to his house in Brunswick Square. Her car, a white Citroen AX, was later found parked near Mythe Bridge, in Tewkesbury. The keys were still in the ignition, and her spectacles had been left on the dashboard. She has never been seen since. According to one interview her sister, Brenda Gilder, believes Angela may have planned her own disappearance to escape their domineering mother, who had been interfering in Angela’s relationship. Brenda said she had received a message on her answerphone, 2 years after Angela’s disappearance. The message, in Latin, simply said she was alive, but dead to the family. In January 2016, on the 21st anniversary of Angela’s disappearance, the police appealed for any fresh information.
Date: 1 January 1966
In the early hours of New Years Day 1966 19-year-old Alex Cleghorn went out with his two older brothers to do a Hogmany ritual called First-Footing, on Govan Road, Glasgow. From the little information I have seen on this case, it would appear that Alex simply vanished into thin air. No trace of him has ever been found. Apparently the brothers told the Scottish Daily Express in 1972 that they intended to re-trace their steps to see if Alex would reappear. A very odd case this one. It often pops up on lists of inexplicable disappearances, but the lack of information is absolutely baffling. The case has apparently divided Alex’s family. Half believe he vanished. The other half believe he fell into the nearby River Clyde and drowned.
THE COCKLEY CLEY HEADLESS WOMAN
Date: 27 August 1974
Location: Cockley Cley, Norfolk
On 27 August 1974 19-year-old farm-worker Andrew Head was out for a walk in the rural area of Cockley Cley in Norfolk, when he found a body covered by a dust-sheet lying in weeds by the side of the road near Swaffham. “I lifted one corner of the cover over the body”, said Andrew “And that was enough – I could see what it was”. He immediately went home and called the police. The body was of a woman, thought to be aged between 23 and 30 years old. She was of a petite build, and was wearing a pink Marks & Spencer’s nightdress. Her wrists were bound with wire, and she had been decapitated. The body was wrapped in a dust-sheet bearing the logo NCR, for the National Cash Register. Only half-a-dozen of these had ever been issued between 1962 and 1968, and yet it was no help in tracing who this woman was. In spite of an exhaustive police investigation, no clues as to the lady’s identity, or how she came to be in such a terrible state, were ever found. The case was re-opened in 2008, and the body exhumed, but no further progress was made, and she was quietly re-buried in an unmarked grave. There was some attempt to link the case to the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, but that doesn’t seem to have got anywhere either. UPDATE 23/2/2016: Listverse gave details that the woman had recently given birth, had drunk water in Scotland, and had eaten a lot of seafood. There was also the claim that she may have been a Danish prostitute, nicknamed The Duchess, who operated in the Great Yarmouth docks area.
PATRICIA DOCKER (AKA The Bible John Case)
Date: 22 February 1968
Patricia Docker was the first victim of a serial-killer, known to posterity as Bible John, who preyed on women in Glasgow in the late 1960s. On 22 February 1968 the 25-year-old nurse had said goodbye to her parents and gone out dancing at the Barrowland Ballroom. Her body, raped and strangled, was found in a lane behind Carmichael Place the next day, by a man on his way to work. Her clothes and handbag were missing, and were never retrieved. Patricia was followed on 15 August 1969 by 32-year-old JEMIMA MCDONALD, and then on 31 October 1969 by HELEN PUTTOCK, aged 29. All three women had been to the Barrowland Ballroom. The killer’s modus operandi seemed to be pretty similar in each case. He picked up the women at the dance-hall, and then walked or took a taxi with his victim. The women had been menstruating, and he would leave their sanitary towels out on view, on one occasion stuffing it under the victim’s armpit. He took their handbags, thought possibly to be as trophies. One of the things that is truly astonishing about this case is how he went uncaught. By all accounts he gave away a lot of information about himself. Witnesses said he made references to the Old Testament, referred to Barrowlands as “a den of iniquity”, and said he didn’t drink but spent New Year’s Eve praying (hence the moniker Bible John). He also remarked that his brother had scored a hole-in-one playing golf, which led to the police exhaustively tracing anyone on a Scottish golf-course who had recently achieved that. As this was the late 1960s, an era when men tended to sport lots of hair and gaudily-coloured flamboyant clothes, “John”, with his short hair and regimental tie, should have stuck out like a sore thumb. His habit of taking taxi’s, and on one occasion seen clambering on a bus with bruising to his face, suggested someone who didn’t have a car. It was Scotland’s biggest manhunt, and undercover police frequented Barrowland so often that it was joked they could form their own ballroom dancing team. In spite of exhaustive efforts on the part of the cops, and huge public attention, Bible John went uncaught. There have been a number of suspects over the years, including a member of the Scots Guards, John Irvine McKinnes, who committed suicide in 1980, and the killer Peter Tobin, who bore a resemblance to John, and who had lived in Glasgow in the late 1960s. Tobin is currently serving time for killing 3 other women, but has remained tight-lipped about the possibility of him being Bible John. The case officially remains Unsolved.
Date: 1 November 2003
Appalling case, which almost beggars belief at times. Charlene was 14 at the time she disappeared in her home town of Blackpool, in the north-west of England, on 1 November 2003. Early that evening Charlene told her mother she was going to meet friends on Blackpool prom. According to Wikipedia she was last spotted in Abingdon Street, and the back of Clifton Street. Although it is believed that Charlene was killed within hours of her disappearance, her case was treated as a disappearance for over a year. From what I can gather, the police were forced to change it to a murder case after circumstances of her disappearance were “leaked” to the public. It became the biggest investigation ever undertaken by Lancashire police. During investigations it came out that Charlene was one of 60 local under-aged girls who had been groomed by a paedophile ring – centring round 11 Blackpool takeaways – to carry out sex acts. The girls were usually vulnerable, coming from broken homes and care homes. Charlene’s home life was described as “chaotic”. Blackpool has an unhappy reputation for many things, including having a higher than average proportion of sex offenders. Being a seaside place, it’s population is often transitory, and it’s long been a destination for runaway children, who become targets for perverts. In 2007 two men, Iyad Albattikhi and Mohammed Reveshi, were put on trial for her murder. It was alleged that the men – owners of a fast-food shop – had “joked” about chopping up Charlene and putting her into their kebabs. The jury struggled with the case, and it is reputed that they couldn’t understand the men’s accents on covert tape recordings made by the police, in which one of the men spoke about having sex with under-age girls, and putting Charlene into kebabs. The men were released, and heavily compensated. The case raised uncomfortable, highly taboo issues of race and sexual perversion, and one senior police officer told a newspaper that the investigation had been “hampered by political correctness”. Somewhat inevitably, the case became a rallying call for far-right groups determined to exploit it for their own ends. Sadly, the ongoing bitter debates on the issues raised by this case seem to overshadow one simple tragic fact … no trace of Charlene has ever been found to this day. EXTRA: according to a short piece on RationalWiki, The Times reported in November 2013 that Charlene’s sexual abuse had begun at home, and during a hospital examination when she was aged 11, she bore “identified signs of sexual abuse”. Her home had also been visited by men with a history of sexual abuse charges, including a man on bail, who was staying there at the time of her disappearance.
MAUREEN ANN DUTTON
Date: 20 December 1961
A truly bizarre case from Liverpool in 1961, which has gone unsolved for over 50 years. Maureen was the 27-year-old wife of ICI research chemist, Brian Dutton (33). They lived at No.14 Thingwall Lane, Knotty Ash, with their two small children. Maureen had only recently given birth to her second child, Andrew, a couple of weeks before. On the night of Wednesday 20 December 1961 Liverpool was being plagued by thick freezing fog. Maureen had originally planned to leave the baby with her mother-in-law, Elsie, so that she could take 2-year-old David out to see the Christmas crib at Childwall Parish Church. Unfortunately the fog put paid to Elsie coming over to take up babysitting duties, so the young mother stayed at home. At 6:10 PM Brian returned home from work, and found toddler David, very upset, in the living-room, standing near the body of his mother, who was lying brutally stabbed to death on the floor. The baby was also screaming in a Moses basket. It is thought that the killer was a visitor whom Maureen had admitted to the house. A strong suspicion was that it was somebody posing as a doctor or a health worker, coming to check up on the baby. There has been some scepticism as to why she let this person in, but people were a lot more trusting back in those days. There wasn’t the demand to see solid identification that there is (quite rightly) now. If someone turned up claiming to be a doctor, nurse or social-worker, it’s quite likely a young mother like Maureen might have taken them at their word. (Whilst writing this I was reminded of the Phantom Social-Worker scare from the early 1990s). The murder must have happened between 1PM (when Elsie spoke to Maureen on the telephone), and 6PM when Brian came home. When he returned he found the remains of his family’s lunch, cold and untouched, on the table. A huge police investigation was launched, and soon the public were reporting sightings of people who had been seen acting oddly. One was a woman who had got aboard a bus, muttering that she had done something terrible, and needed to get away from the city. Neighbours spoke of seeing an unknown young man in a leather jacket, loitering uneasily in the street. (On one chat-forum I found somebody claimed that this man had telephoned Radio Merseyside 40 years later, to say he had been the man in the leather jacket. He was loitering in the street because his delivery-van had broken down. He had been afraid to come forward, due to the fierce and dubious reputation of one of the leading detectives on the case). A bizarre theory that detectives on the case entertained was that Maureen had been ritually slain by a Polynesian death cult! The fact that she had been killed around the time of the Winter Solstice, and at the Full Moon, added to this theory. To be honest, it’s probably as good a theory as any, as the lack of any clear motive for this crime is very peculiar.
Date (car found abandoned): 17 February 1995
Location: Severn Bridge
It’s always unsettling when anyone disappears completely without trace. Somehow it just doesn’t feel possible, and yet sadly it is. Richey Edwards was 27 at the time of his disappearance, so I guess that means he belongs to the notorious 27 Club. He was lyricist and guitarist with cult Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers. Richey had spoken frankly and openly about his battles with depression, which often resulted in self-harm, involving cutting himself and stubbing out cigarettes on his body. He had also been admitted to the Priory hospital for psychiatric treatment. At the beginning of 1995 the band were due to fly to the US for a promotional tour. On 31 January Richey and band frontman, James Dean Bradfield, had checked into the London Embassy Hotel on the Bayswater Road ahead of their flight. The following morning Richey had checked out of the hotel at 7 AM, got into his car, and drove back to his flat in Cardiff, Wales. James Dean Bradfield alerted the hotel staff to Richey’s disappearance. His room was found cleared of his belongings, save for a few items, and a 3-word note saying “I love you”. In the fortnight before his disappearance, he had been withdrawing £200 a day from his bank account. A missing person report was filed with the Metropolitan Police on 2 February. An appeal was put out for Richey to contact them. Over the next couple of weeks there would be sightings of Richey in Newport passport office and Newport bus station. On 7 February it was claimed that a taxi driver had collected Richey from the King’s Hotel in Newport, and had driven him round some of his old childhood haunts in the Valleys. The journey ended at the Severn View service station, and the passenger paid the £68 fare in cash. His car, a Vauxhall Cavalier, was found abandoned in the car-park of a service station near the Severn Bridge on 17 February. The car appeared to have been lived in, and included photographs of his family scattered about amongst the burger wrappers. The car battery was flat. The Severn Bridge was a known suicide hotspot, and so naturally it was assumed that Richey had taken his own life, something which has been disputed by people close to him, who quote him as saying that he would never do such a thing. He was quoted in 1994 as saying “that does not enter my mind. And it never has done in terms of an attempt”. Although Richey’s disappearance seems pre-planned, the complete absence of a suicide note feels strange. By all accounts Richey was devoted to his family, and it feels out of character that he would want them to live in perpetual limbo, leaving them with no idea what had happened to him. On 23 November 2008 Richey was legally declared “presumed dead”. The Manics stayed together, but for several years after his disappearance, had continued to pay Richey’s share of the band’s royalties into a special bank account. Although there have been unconfirmed sightings of him in India and the Canary Islands, no subsequent trace of Richey, dead or alive, has ever been found.
APRIL FABB AND GENETTE TATE
Date: 8 April 1969
Location: Metton, Norfolk
I have put the two girls together, because their cases, although several years apart, bear some striking resemblances. At lunchtime – 1:40 PM – on Tuesday 8 April 1969 April Fabb, aged 13, left her home in the village of Metton, Norfolk, to deliver a packet of cigarettes to her brother-in-law. She was seen cycling along the road towards Roughton just after 2 PM, and then, only a few minutes later, at 2: 15 PM, her bicycle was found lying in a field by two Ordnance Survey workers. No trace of April has ever been found since. Ex Detective Chief Spt Morson was quoted as saying it was “a complete mystery how a girl can disappear in a few minutes on an open country road”.
Date: 19 August 1978
Location: Aylesbeare, Devon
On Saturday 19 August 1978, 13-year-old Genette Tate was out doing her paper-round in Aylesbeare, Devon. She had agreed to stand in at the last minute as a favour, as the young lad whose stint it was had been taken ill. She was chatting to a couple of friends, Maggie Heavey and Tracey Pratt, on a quiet country road, and then cycled off round a corner where, barely a few minutes later, her bicycle was found abandoned, the newspapers spilling out of the saddlebag. The girls thought Genette had nipped behind the hedge for a wee, and decided to sneak up on her as a practical joke, but found no trace of their friend. In 2008 Maggie Heavey spoke publicly for the first time about her friend’s vanishing. She said Genette’s disappearance changed her life. She went from being a happy, outgoing child to someone angry and withdrawn. Because she was one of the last people to see Genette, she was bullied at school and called a “murderer”. She said the police interviewed her so many times, sometimes calling at her house as much as 3 times a day, that her mother finally lost patience and asked them to leave. Attempts in recent years to link convicted serial-killer Robert Black to both disappearances have proved elusive, with lack of any solid evidence forthcoming, although petrol receipts show that he was in the area, delivering to Exeter Airport. He was also driving a red van, and a red van had been seen in the area. It has never been traced.
One of the most baffling aspects of the case is that Maggie and Tracey, who had been sitting reading on the verge, after Genette cycled off, never heard anything. If a serial-killer like Black, who worked as a van-driver, had stopped a vehicle to abduct Genette, surely they would have heard it? A strange vehicle in a quiet country lane was a noticeable event in those days. There are also unsavoury rumours that Genette had been sexually abused by her father, John Tate, and that Aylesbeare was rife with abuse in the late 1970s. This muddies the waters even further. I feel an affinity with Genette. She was only a few months younger than me, and sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever find out what happened to her. EXTRA: Genette’s case gets more peculiar the more one delves into it. Quite by chance, I stumbled upon a blog called genetteinvestigation, which includes the comment that local policemen, asked to investigate her disappearance, were “frightened of the witchcraft element”. The blog also quotes a social-worker, who had tried to investigate child-abuse in the Aylesbeare area in the 1970s, and said “it wasn’t the lack of evidence that was our problem. It was getting the police to prosecute … because the people involved were, sometimes, policemen and lawyers”.
Doing more browsing Online, I came across a book review for the memoirs of a self-styled psychic detective, Robert Cracknell, who said that Genette’s mother, Violet, had told him that John Tate had sexually abused both Genette and her 9-year-old step-sister. Tate confessed all this to the police, and sold his story to a Sunday newspaper in May 1980. The prolific author Colin Wilson, who wrote about Cracknell in his book Psychic Detectives, said that Tate wasn’t prosecuted as it was felt that the family had already suffered enough in the public glare (!). Incidentally, Wilson was reputed to have known Tate a few years earlier, when they were neighbours in Cornwall. Small world. In 1974, Wilson had written a novel called The Schoolgirl Murder Case. I haven’t read it, but from some blurb on GoodReads I gather that it has overtones of Black Magic. (Apparently Wilson also helped to ghost-write Tate’s autobiography, in which Tate put over a tale of Happy Families). EXTRA2: having now been to Aylesbeare, I am even more baffled than ever. The country lanes running through and around the village are pretty quiet even these days, let alone what they would have been like in the late 1970s, before the nearby duel carriageway was built. The rural roads are fairly typical of the West Country, being narrow and bordered on both sides by high hedges. The idea of some rogue stranger suddenly, on the off-chance, doing a quick grab of Genette and heading off again, completely undetected, feels bizarre.
Update: January 2016 – child-killer Robert Black died in prison, of a heart-attack. He refused to confess anything about the Genette Tate case. According to the Mail Online it was days before he was due to be charged with Genette’s murder.
Date: 17 June 2008
Mary Ferns was an elderly lady who vanished without trace on her way to do some shopping in Edinburgh in 2008. On the morning of 17 June at 9:30 AM Mary (aged 88) told her husband she was going out to buy some new tights. She put on her brown jacket, collected her bag and her distinctive floral-patterned walking-stick, and left their house in Livingston, West Lothian, Scotland. She was never to return. Mrs Ferns must have presumably caught the bus into Edinburgh, about 15 miles away, because the very last sighting of her was in Princes Street, where she was captured on CCTV walking along, clutching her shopping-bag to her. The footage shows her looking relaxed and in good spirits. Mrs Ferns was shown walking along Princes Street, then past the Balmoral Hotel, where she completely slipped off the radar, and has never been seen since. After spending an anxious afternoon phoning round family and friends, her husband reported her missing to the police early that evening. Human remains were found at the edge of the river Almond, at Craigshill, Livingston in 2010, which were thought could have been Mary, but they turned out to be that of a man, James Adams, who had disappeared 15 years earlier. Mrs Fern’s disappearance continues to perplex. A local detective sergeant has been quoted as saying “the thing that’s worrying me is there’s no evidence at all. There’s just no trace of her”.
Date: 9 October 1965
Location: Wakefield, West Yorkshire
One Saturday afternoon in the autumn of 1965 a 14-year-old schoolgirl was stabbed to death in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The case remains unsolved to this day, in spite of exhaustive police and media attention. On 9 October 1965 Elsie had gone to join her schoolfriends at a sailing club at Milifield Lagoon, a filled-in gravel pit. After an afternoon at the Lagoon, Elsie decided to walk home a different route from her friends, because she had new shoes on and didn’t want to get them muddy. It is thought that she was last seen at 3:55 PM, when she helped her sailing-tutor and her school-mates to pack the boats away. Sometime between 4:00 and 4:15 PM (originally it was thought to have been between 4:20 and 4:30) she was attacked as she entered a tunnel beneath the railway embankment. Elsie was attacked from behind, and stabbed 5 times. She tried to ward off her attacker, and managed to crawl through the tunnel and to the bottom of a flight of steps cut into the embankment. She was found by a man, Thomas Brown, out with his children walking the family dog. The motive for the attack on Elsie was a mystery. She hadn’t been sexually assaulted, yet the savagery of the blows suggested someone who was filled with a frenzy of hate. The police carried out an intense investigation, interviewing thousands of witnesses, and taking 1200 signed statements. One man, Bernard Spencer, who had been a witness at the Inquest as he had been in the area at the time, was arrested, and spent 2 months in prison. He was released without charge through lack of evidence. The false accusation had such a profound effect on Spencer, that for years afterwards he meticulously logged all his movements in notebooks. There have been plenty of theories in the British press over the years as to who could have been the culprit. A bearded hitch-hiker seen in the area, and the well-dressed driver of an Austin Cambridge seen parked nearby, have never been traced. On the BBC News website it was suggested that Elsie had unwittingly disturbed two men engaged in a homosexual act. One of the men panicked (homosexuality wasn’t de-criminalised in the UK until 1967) and went after Elsie with a knife. In the spring of 2015 the Daily Mail ran an article suggesting that Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, could have been responsible. He was 19 at the time of Elsie’s death, and lived only 25 miles away in Bingley. One of his earliest victims (who thankfully survived) was a 14-year-old girl, whom he had attacked in a country lane. If it was Sutcliffe though, surely there would be no reason to still keep so much of this case as under-wraps as it still is? It would be straightforward, and Sutcliffe is banged up for life anyway. Some conspiracy theorists have also suggested serial paedophile Jimmy Savile, who lived a short drive away. But there is no evidence he ever went after anyone with a knife, and if it was him, then, as with Sutcliffe, surely there would no reason to cover it up now. West Yorkshire Police did a full review of the case in 2013, and decided that there wasn’t any new evidence to re-open the case. Meanwhile, Elsie’s file remains firmly closed at the National Archives until – a staggering – 2060. UPDATE 2/10/2015: In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of this case, BBCNews reported that there were fresh investigations ongoing, including trying to trace a man – thought to be a butcher or an abattoir worker – who had been seen on a butcher’s-style bike in the area on that day. UPDATE 8/1/2016: the police announced that they had received 100 new lines of inquiry into this case, and that a new suspect had emerged, of a young man, in his early 20s, brown-haired, wearing a duffel-coat, who had been seen in the area at the time. UPDATE 27/9/2016: It was reported on BBCNews website that a 78-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of Elsie’s murder.
Date: 14 September 2007
Location: King’s Cross Station
We keep being told that Britain is the CCTV capital of the world, and yet people still vanish inexplicably, as will be seen from others on this list. One case in point is that of missing schoolboy Andrew Gosden, who was caught on CCTV walking out of King’s Cross Station in 2007, and hasn’t been seen since. Andrew was 14-years-old, a quiet lad and a gifted mathematician, who was into Goth music. Then one morning, 14 September 2007, he returned home after his parents had gone to work, and changed out of his school uniform. He was seen walking along Littlemoor Lane, Balby, Doncaster, at 8:30 AM. He brought a railway ticket at Doncaster station, and insisted on it being one-way, even though the lady on the desk told him that a return would be cheaper. He left Doncaster at 9:35 AM, and arrived at King’s Cross at 11:20 AM. Andrew was tall, with light brown hair, wearing prescription glasses. The last CCTV footage of him showed him wearing black jeans, and a t-shirt with the band Slipknot on it. Shortly before his disappearance he had emptied his bank account of £200, but took no change of clothes or any of his personal belongings with him. And that was it, the CCTV footage was the last anyone had seen of him. His bank account hasn’t been touched since, and he left no note for his parents. A year on from his disappearance a man called at Leominster Police Station in Hertfordshire, claiming he had information about Andrew. But when an officer went to answer the door, the man had gone. There are websites dedicated to this young man, who would now be nearly 22 years-old. Understandably, Andrew’s disappearance has had a devastating affect on his family. His father tried to hang himself a few years ago, and was saved at the last minute by the vicar – who had a key – letting himself into the house.
Date: 8 June 1996
Melanie Hall was 25 at the time of her disappearance in June 1996. She had gone out clubbing with her boyfriend, Philip Kaulbaum, and another couple, to Cadillacs nightclub in Bath on the 8th of June. Melanie worked as a Clerical Officer at a hospital in Bath, where she had met Philip, who was a doctor there. The pair had been dating for about 3 weeks. It is said that Philip left the club, upset, after he’d seen Melanie dancing with another man. Melanie was last seen sitting on a stool at the edge of the dance-floor, at about 1 o’clock on the morning of the 9th. Her family reported her missing on the 11th. Extensive police-work, a £10,000 reward, and an appeal on Crimewatch and Crimestoppers were to no avail. No trace of Melanie was found, and she was declared legally dead in 2004. And then, 5 years later, on 5 October 2009, human remains in five black bin-liners were found by a motorway worker cleaning up on a slip road at Junction 14 on the M5 motorway in south Gloucestershire. A ring was identified by her family as belonging to Melane. Her clothes were missing. A couple of days later, dental records identified that it was her. It was established that she had been hit on the head, incurring injuries to the skull, cheekbone and jaw, and had been tied up with thin blue rope. Subsequent arrests have been made in connection with Melanie’s death. One man who confessed was released after undergoing psychiatric tests. The last information I could find on this case was from November 2014, when a 44-year-old man had been released due to insufficient evidence. UPDATE: 8/6/2016 It was revealed on BBCNews website that police may have made a breakthrough with DNA extracted from an item found near Melanie’s remains. This could bring them closer to the killer. At the end of June it was reported that a 45-year-old had been arrested, questioned for 48 hours, and subsequently released on bail.
Date: 25 February 2014
Location: Perranporth, Cornwall
At high tide, 2PM, on 25 February 2014 the naked body of a man was found washed ashore at Perranporth in Cornwall. He was wearing only socks and one shoe, and – bizarrely – had a set of headphones and a rolled-up sock stuffed into his mouth. His jacket, wallet, and a photograph of himself aged 2, were found nearby. How on earth this poor man came to this sad end is still a complete and utter mystery. Alan was 64-years-old. He lived alone in Wadebridge, Cornwall, and was described by family as a gentle, mild-mannered man, who had a love of minerals, mining and surfing. The only possible clue that he had intended to take his own life was his purchase of ankle weights, which suggested he intended to drown himself, but these weights were never found. The day before, he had set off by bus from Wadebridge, arriving at Truro bus station at 6:14 PM. He then walked to the public toilets, and was last seen at 6:36PM on Boscawen Street, Truro. There was also CCTV footage of him at Beach Road, Perranporth, at 10:27 PM. Inexplicably, he had set off wearing a different jacket to the one which was found near him. Some of his clothing, and his bank and credit cards were missing. Police were anxious to talk to various people Alan was seen talking to at Truro bus station, but no one was forthcoming. To add to the general eeriness of this case, it was reported that Alan’s body had sustained “multiple injuries which police couldn’t explain”. I have read some speculation that Mr Jeal was gay, that Perranporth beach is a cottaging area, and that this may have simply been a kinky sex game which went horribly wrong. To be honest, I have no idea, I’m merely passing that one on. In September 2014 the police announced that they were winding down the case, due to a complete absence of any further information.
Date: 20 November 2015
Rory, a 29-year-old waiter from Skipton, North Yorkshire, disappeared whilst on a night out in the city of York in November 2015. He had booked in to stay at a Travelodge in Piccadilly. He knew York well, and it was a place he loved to visit. He had arrived on Thursday evening, the 19th November, with a male friend whom he had known for a long time. At 11:30 PM on 19 November, he had been having a drink in the pub next door to the hotel, where he had met up with a father and son who were also staying there. At midnight he returned to the Travelodge with them, but then 15 minutes later he left to go to another pub, presumably with his old friend. That was the last time his friend saw him. Rory left the pub – alone – after 15 minutes. At first his friend thought he had simply gone to the toilet, and wasn’t aware he had left the building. Why Rory suddenly left without telling anyone is not known, but it wasn’t to return to the hotel, as there is no CCTV footage of him returning there. The last sightings of him were caught, walking alone, on CCTV at 12:39 AM on 20 November in Tower Street, and then, crossing a bridge over the river, in the City Mills area at 12:47 AM. He hasn’t been seen from that moment on. Extensive searches of the city’s bars and clubs, and two rivers have yielded no results, but the river searches were hampered by the severe flooding which hit the area last winter. In March 2016 a fresh search was made by police and volunteers from Bolton Mountain Rescue Team, after funds were raised by Rory’s friends. The search took in not only York, but down to Goole in Derbyshire, with volunteers combing the river banks. No trace of Rory has yet to be found. This is a case which is very much ongoing, and there is a social-media campaign under the heading #FindRory. Rory, by all accounts a popular young man with a gentle character, is described as slim, with light brown hair.
DR DAVID KELLY
Date: 17 July 2003
Location: Harrowdown Hill, Oxfordshire
Officially Dr Kelly committed suicide, although there has been enough scepticism and debate over this verdict over the years that I think his death merits inclusion here. On the afternoon of Thursday 17 July 2003 Dr Kelly left his home to go for his habitual walk to a nearby beauty-spot. He never returned. His wife reported him missing late that night, and his body was found the following morning. The unease over his death has haunted the nation ever since. There are numerous books, websites and newspaper articles out there which detail the fate of the UN weapons expert, and frankly can probably do a better job of it than me, so I will simply list here the points that stand out to me as to why this case continues to generate a huge question-mark. 1) the position of the body: the official line is that Dr Kelly was found by police dog-handlers propped against a tree on Harrowdown Hill, Oxfordshire. Yet paramedics who arrived on the scene before 10:00 AM on 18 July reported that the body was lying flat out on the ground, a short distance from the tree. Paramedic David Bartlett recalled that he remembered saying to a police officer “are you sure he hasn’t fallen out of the tree?” 2) absence of fingerprints: the knife with which Dr Kelly was supposed to have slit his left wrist had no fingerprints on it at all, neither did the packets of pills, his mobile phone, or an unopened water bottle nearby. Dr Kelly was not wearing gloves at the time of his death, nor were any gloves found on the scene 3) a police helicopter didn’t detect Dr Kelly’s body earlier. It is thought that the latest time Dr Kelly could have died was 1:15 AM. A police helicopter searched Harrowdown Hill at 2:50 AM, and nothing was detected. 4) the absence of blood: as anyone who has ever accidentally cut their finger will tell you, even a small measure of blood is a messy old thing. Paramedics reported being amazed at how little blood there was on the scene for an incident whereby somebody was supposed to have slashed their wrists, and lost half-a-dozen pints of blood. Senior pathologists have countered this, saying that Kelly’s heart-problem and the overdose would have resulted in less blood. 5) the house search: police and three officers from MI5 visited the Kelly household early on that Friday morning, before Dr Kelly’s death was known. His wife and daughters were asked to go out into the garden whilst the house was searched. The search was so thorough that they even stripped wallpaper off the living-room walls. 6) Operation Mason: Thames Valley Police opened a file on the missing scientist, codenamed Operation Mason. It was opened at 2:30 PM on the afternoon of 17 July, BEFORE Dr Kelly had even left the house to set out on his fateful walk. The police have said that the file was dated retrospectively. 7) Kelly’s own comments: famously Dr Kelly made a throwaway remark a few months before his death, in which he predicted that if Iraq was invaded, he would be “found dead in the woods”. He had also told a New York Times journalist of “many dark actors playing games”. Whatever the truth of what happened that July day, I will never forget a newspaper headline the next day which simply said “SPUN TO DEATH”.
Date: 28 July 1986
Location: Fulham, London
The disappearance of a young estate agent had the nation gripped in 1986. On 28 July 25-year-old Suzy recorded an appointment in her office diary “12:45 Mr Kipper – 37 Shorrolds Road O/S [outside the house]”. Suzy drove off to the appointment in Fulham in her white Ford Fiesta. Mixed reports follow. Some witnesses said they had seen her at about 1 o’clock in the company of a smartly-dressed man (reportedly holding a champagne bottle). Both of them were seen walking away from the house a few minutes later. Others say they saw her arguing with a man there, and then getting into a black BMW. That was the last that was seen of Suzy. Her employer reported her missing at 6:45 PM. Her car was found later that night, just after 10 PM, outside a property for sale in Stevenage Road, a couple of miles away. Her purse was still inside it, (she’d left her handbag back at the office), but the ignition key was missing. In spite of a high-profile search “Mr Kipper” proved elusive, and no trace of Suzy has ever been found. There have been numerous suspects, including the serial-killer Steve Wright, who was convicted of murdering 5 prostitutes in Ipswich, in 2008. Wright had been a steward on the cruise liner QE2 in 1982, at the same time as Suzy had worked as a beautician there, and it is thought that he met Suzy several times after moving to London. Another suspect was John Cannan, a convicted rapist, who had used the nickname “Kipper” whilst in prison. He had been released from prison only 3 days before Suzy’s disappearance. Cannan was subsequently jailed for the rape and murder of Shirley Banks in 1988. Witnesses said Cannan bore a resemblance to a man seen staring through the window of the estate-agents where Suzy worked. Cannan was interviewed by police 3 times in prison, but denied any involvement with Suzy’s disappearance. At the time of her disappearance Suzy spoke of a man who had been pestering her by sending her flowers, and she wanted to meet him to tell him to stop. In September 1986 Suzy’s mother Diana, set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, to offer counselling to friends and relatives of missing people, and to advise young women how to live safely. Suzy was officially declared dead in 1994.
Date: 19 March 2009
The disappearance of 35-year-old Claudia Lawrence has been one of the most high profile missing person cases in Britain in recent years, and in spite of an exhaustive investigation and a substantial reward there is still no clue as to what has happened to her. Claudia had finished her shift as chef at Goodricke College, University of York on the afternoon of 18 March 2009. She was last seen heading to her home at Melrosegate, Heworth, York, where the last verified sighting of her was of her walking to her terraced house at 3:05 PM. That evening she telephoned her parents to make plans for Mother’s Day, and texted a friend at 8:23 PM. She was reported missing early the next morning when she didn’t turn up for work at 6:00 AM. Police believed she had set out for her 2-mile walk to work at 5:15 AM, taking a rucksack containing her chef’s whites. She left her wallet and jewellery at home as she normally did. At around 5:35 AM a passing cyclist saw a woman wearing a blue jacket standing with a man wearing a dark hooded top, on a bridge that was on Claudia’s route. This couple have never been traced. A couple (also never traced) were said to have been seen arguing near the University at 6:10 AM. Another theory is that Claudia was killed on the evening of the 18 March, by a lover who came into her house via the back alley. Claudia was a very keen texter, and the fact that she sent no messages after 8:30 PM is said to bear this out. What contradicts this theory is that when Claudia’s house was searched, it appeared she had had breakfast and brushed her teeth. Her mobile phone – which has never been found – was switched off at 12:10 PM on 19 March. The rucksack containing her chef’s whites has also never been found. Her passport and her bank cards were still at her house. Although Claudia has never been found there was some controversy that North Yorkshire Police quickly changed her case from that of a missing person to a murder case. Her father also expressed anguish that the police seemed to be trying to make out that Claudia had led some kind of double life, with relationships unknown to her family. North Yorkshire Police called Claudia’s private life “mysterious and complex”, citing several relationships with married men. An anonymous friend said that Claudia was “reckless” and “easily led” where lovers were concerned. In a radio interview in 2009, Claudia’s mother, Joan, said detectives had wasted valuable time in the crucial first 72 hours of the young woman’s disappearance by focussing on her private life. I’m not a detective, but the trouble is, I can see that they would need to look fully into her private life, however uncomfortable it may be for the victim’s family. And to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, how many parents would know EVERYTHING about the lives of offspring aged 30-something? On the sixth anniversary of Claudia’s disappearance, in 2015, police released CCTV footage of a man loitering suspiciously near her house on the evening of her disappearance, and again the following morning. One YouTube clip I’ve seen shows a man walking briskly away, only to stop and wait until someone else has walked past on a road nearby, which can suggest he didn’t want to be seen by anyone. Four men, aged in their 50s, were arrested in connection with Claudia’s disappearance, they were later released due to lack of evidence, and a frustrating lack of co-operation from witnesses. One detective said that “this case could still be solved if only people were honest with us”. Joan Lawrence has said she believes Claudia is still alive, and is being held somewhere against her will. She has urged people to keep searching for her missing daughter. “I can’t bear to think my daughter will be forgotten about and suddenly no one will look for her any more. It leaves me terrified”. UPDATE 27/9/2016: A retired detective has suggested that Claudia’s disappearance might be linked to Swindon taxi-driver Christopher Halliwell, who has recently been given a whole-life prison term for the murders of Sian O’Callaghan and Becky Godden. Former Det Supt Steve Fulcher – who brought Halliwell to justice – believes it fits Halliwell’s ‘modus operandi’ of abducting women walking alone late at night or early in the morning. He says he may also be linked to the murder of Melanie Hall (see above).
“THE MAN ON THE MOORS”
Date: 11 December 2015
Location: Saddleworth Moors, Lancashire
Technically, this is neither a murder (as far as we know) or a disappearance case, but I have included it here because it is very mysterious, and so far the identity of this poor man, or why he came to be on the moors, remains completely unknown. At 2 PM on 11 December 2015 an elderly man walked into the Clarence pub, in Greenfield, Lancashire. He was described as about 6ft tall, white, slim, with receding grey hair, blue eyes, and a large nose, which may possibly be broken. He was aged about 65-75. He wore a jacket, shirt, sweater, corduroy trousers and slip-on shoes. He asked the landlord for directions to the top of the mountain. The landlord replied that there wasn’t enough time for him to get to the top and back that day, but the man just thanked him, and asked him again for the directions. The landlord gave them, and the man set off. It was the depths of Winter, and he was ill-dressed for such an expedition. His body was found 21 hours later. Detective Sergeant John Coleman described him as looking as if “he had sat down and had taken the conscious decision to lie backwards”. He had died from strychnine poisoning. There was nothing on him to give any clue as to his identity, other than railway tickets, plus £130 in £10 notes. It was established from the tickets that he had set off from Ealing Broadway at 9:04 AM, where he purchased a single ticket. At 9:50 AM he arrived at Euston, where he curiously bought return tickets. He was caught on CCTV at Manchester Piccadilly at 12:07 PM, where he seemed to wander about aimlessly visiting the shops and the amusement arcade (he didn’t play any of the machines). There is no knowledge of what he did between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM, when he arrived at the pub. Attempts to track down his identity have proved elusive. Although he started his journey in Ealing, no one there seems to know who he is. Police have reported that Ealing Broadway is not an obvious place for either a Londoner or a tourist to get to Euston. His clothes were British (Marks and Spencer), although his shoes were Swiss. On examination he was found to have incurred a significant injury to his leg, possibly before 2013, which had resulted in a metal plate being put in. The metal plate was made in Pakistan, and the medicine bottle in which he had kept the fatal dose, had English and Urdu writing on it. In spite of a high-profile media campaign in recent months, no one has come forward with any idea as to who the man was, or why he travelled across the country to die in such a forbidding and isolated spot. Saddleworth Moor is synonymous with the appalling Brady and Hindley murders of the 1960s, and the man’s body was located close to where the victims were buried. Was this just coincidence? Who knows. In the meantime the man’s body rests in a hospital morgue, waiting for someone to claim him so he can finally be laid to rest.
Date: September 1973
Brian was a 10-year-old boy who was playing in Ormeau Park, south Belfast, on a Sunday morning in September 1973. His family were alerted that something was very wrong when he failed to return home for his Sunday lunch. A week later his mutilated torso and an arm were retrieved from the river Lagan, in a sack. Three years later, in 1976, his elder brother, William, was arrested by the RUC and questioned about Brian’s death. William, who was 6 years older than Brian, initially confessed but later retracted it, saying “the statement was coerced out of me”. William has since changed his name by Deed Poll to try and escape this notoriety, and said in a recent interview that he wished the real culprit could be found, so that his reputation could finally be cleared. The police believed Black Magic was associated with Brian’s death, but also didn’t rule out other possibilities. (Although it has been said that the British secret service deliberately put out the Black Magic rumours to instil fear into the community). In the early 1980s Brian’s fate was also linked with the Kincora Boys Home child abuse scandal in east Belfast. In 2003 the police re-opened the case, urging members of the public who had also been in the park at the time to come forward. On the 40th anniversary of Brian’s death, in 2013, William further insisted on his innocence, but said he accepted that he would always be seen as the chief suspect.
Date: 24 September 2016
Location: Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Corrie McKeague is a 23-year-old Scottish airman, from Dunfermline, Fife, stationed at RAF Honington. No trace of him has been found since he vanished during the early hours of Saturday 24 September 2016. On the Friday night of the 23rd Corrie had gone for a night out in Bury St Edmunds. In the early hours of Saturday morning (the 24th) he separated with friends after leaving Flex nightclub. He went to pick up some food from Pizza Mamma Mia, on St Andrews Street North, a place he had regularly used. He was reputed to be in good spirits there, playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with a stranger. CCTV caught him passing The Grapes pub on Brentgovel Street at around 1:20 AM. He then spent a couple of hours napping in the doorway of an electrical store. At 3:08 AM he replied to a message from a friend on a phone, forwarding an image to them. He got up from the doorway, and the last confirmed sighting of him was at 3:24 AM on CCTV, when he headed down a pathway towards Cornhill Walk, to a refuse collection area behind a Greggs shop. He was never seen leaving this area. The police searched a bin lorry in the area at the time for Corrie’s phone, but nothing was found. They traced the phone from Bury to the Barton Mills area, Mildenhall, up to 4:30 AM, travelling at a speed only possible by vehicle. The phone hasn’t been used from that time onwards. A retired senior officer has expressed confusion as to what Corrie was doing heading to the bin collection area, and why he has never been seen emerging from it. In spite of exhaustive police inquiries, public donations, volunteer search-parties, and public appeals by his mother, Nicola Urquhart, no trace of Corrie has been found. Initially, there was concern that he may have been abducted by terrorists, as there had been an alleged attempt at another RAF base back in July, but as Mrs Urquhart has pointed out, terrorists or kidnappers would be issuing ransom demands, or at least be wanting it known publicly what they had done. It simply doesn’t make sense for them to have a total blanket silence like this. This is very much an ongoing investigation. Anyone with information has been asked to call the police incident room on 01473 782019, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Date: 29 July 1981
Location: Putney, London
Eight-year-old Vishal was abducted on 29 July 1981, as he walked home after he and his family had gone to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in London. Vishal had walked ahead of his family slightly, as they returned home to their house in Putney, and disappeared. He wasn’t seen again for several months when, in February 1982, part of his dismembered body was found in West Sussex woodland. The case has recently come under the spotlight again when Vishal’s father Vishambar, a retired magistrate, told the Guardian newspaper in November 2014 that a few months after his son’s death he had been contacted on the telephone by an anonymous male prostitute, who informed him Vishal had been abducted by “highly placed paedophiles” linked to the notorious Elm Guest House, near Barnes Common. Vishal had disappeared less than a mile from the guest house. Mr Mehrotra said he had recorded the conversation and taken it to the police, who “pooh-poohed” it, and refused to investigate any further. In May 2015 Mirror newspaper reported that paedophile Sidney Cooke, now aged 88, and currently serving two life-terms, may be linked to the case. Cooke was a fairground worker at the time, and there is believed to have been at a fair in the vicinity where Vishal disappeared. Cooke is alleged to have procured young boys for Establishment figures.
Date: 21 November 2013
Location: Southend area, Essex
The remains of Angela Millington were discovered by ramblers washed up on a salt marsh on Foulness Island, Essex, on 21 June 2014. Angela, from Southend – aged 33 – was described by police as having led a “chaotic” lifestyle, and had known periods of homelessness. She was last seen alive on 21 November 2013 when she had visited a housing officer in Westcliff, although a police officer was said to have seen her in the Porters Grange area of Southend on 6 January 2014. No money had been drawn out of her bank account since 21 November, and her mobile phone had also not been used since the end of November. Her clothes and belongings were all missing. It is thought that she may have entered at the seafront and her body swept onto the island by tidal waters. Foulness Island is used as a weapons testing site by the Ministry of Defence, who control access to the island, although parts of it are accessible to the public. In May 2016 police reported that a mask of strong, adhesive tape had been found near her body. Det Chief Insp Simon Werrett said it was not known if the mask was put on her face before or after her death. A £10,000 reward has been offered for information leading to her killer.
Date: March 1987
Location: Sydenham, London
Daniel Morgan was a 37-year-old private investigator, who was found with an axe embedded in his skull in a pub car-park in Sydenham, London, in March 1987. Although a watch was missing, his wallet, and a large sum of money was still in his jacket. A note he had been seen scribbling earlier had been torn from his trouser pocket. In the months prior to his death it is said that Daniel had become increasingly uneasy about the way his business parter, Jonathan Rees, had hired local CID officers to moonlight for their firm, Southern Investigations (something which was strictly against police regulations). Rees wanted to have Daniel framed (or worse, killed) by his bent copper friends. Daniel in turn had threatened to blow the whistle on their antics, and was said to have been investigating allegations of drug-related police corruption in south London. A month before his death Daniel’s home had been burgled, and he had voiced concerns about leaving his family there, because he had to go off on a job to Malta. Five days before his death he had confided in his elderly neighbour: “you will never guess what I found out today. All police are bastards”. During the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal in 2011 it was said that Jonathan Rees had earned £150,000 a year from the NOTW for supplying them with illegally obtained information about people in the public eye. Daniel’s brother Alastair has campaigned tirelessly for the truth about Daniel’s death, and is said to have met “stubborn obstruction and worse” at the highest levels of the Metropolitan Police.
Date: 3 November 2002
Location: Chesil Beach, Dorset
“Mr Seagull” was the name given to an unknown man who was found washed up on Chesil Beach, Dorset, on 3 November 2002. He was said to be white, possibly of south-east Asian origin, dark haired, aged 30-50, and 6ft tall. He had curvature of the spine, scarring on his top lip, and a broken nose. He was thought to have been died about 2 weeks before he was found on the beach. Due to his distinctive physical features, authorities expressed surprise that nobody came forward to identity him. To the best of my knowledge, his identity still remains a mystery to this day.
Date: 30 December 1957
Location: Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire
Known as “The Deep Freeze Murder” the death of Anne Noblett has some very odd aspects to it. On 30 December 1957, 17-year-old Anne Noblett had been to a dancing-class at Lourdes Hall, Harpenden. Afterwards she caught a bus, and just before 6 PM, got off at Cherry Tree Corner, Marshall’s Heath, near Wheathampstead. From there it was only a quarter-of-a-mile walk up a quiet lane to her home. Shirley Edwards, another local girl, saw Anne as she went past on her scooter. Anne wasn’t to be seen again until a month later, when her body was discovered in Rose Grove Wood, 7 miles away. Anne had been suffocated, and as some of her clothes had been removed, probably sexually assaulted. It appeared in fact as though Anne’s clothes had been removed and then re-dressed. Some of the buttons on her underclothes had been done up the wrong way, not a mistake Anne would have made. Her spectacles had also been replaced on her face. Anne’s purse contained 30 shillings, which hadn’t been hers. Everyone who knew Anne regarded her as a sweet, quiet girl. The idea that she would willingly get in a car with a complete stranger was very unlikely. She either knew her abductor, or she was taken by force. What was especially baffling about this case was why it had taken so long to find Anne’s body. The woods had been extensively searched by police and sniffer dogs on New Year’s Eve, and since then dog-walkers and game-keepers had been there, although admittedly in the depths of Winter, the woods probably wouldn’t have seen as many visitors as the rest of the year. The frozen state of Anne’s corpse was also mind-boggling. It had been an exceptionally mild Winter, and the only conclusion that could be drawn was that Anne’s body had been kept in a deep freeze prior to being dumped.
Date: 1 January 2002
Location: Hamble, Hampshire
Daniel Nolan was a young man who went missing whilst out fishing in the early hours of New Years Day 2002. His disappearance has remained a mystery ever since. Dan was 14 when he went night-fishing with friends in his home village of Hamble, Hampshire. His pals though found it too cold, and decided to pack up and go home. Dan decided to stay on. The last sighting of him was at 11:45 PM, when some friends spoke to him outside a pub in the village square. Dan told them he was going back to the pontoon to pick up his fishing-tackle. He was a good swimmer, and a Sea Scout, with a keen interest in fishing and yachting, he had also completed a life-saving course, so water must have been something he was confident in. He had also just passed his entrance exam to the Royal Navy Officers Training School, so he had everything to live for. No trace of him was found for 2 years, in spite of an extensive air, land and sea search, plus a substantial £50,000 reward for any information about his disappearance. Then, in May 2003, a foot, encased in two pairs of socks and a training shoe, was found washed up on a beach in Swanage, Dorset, 40 miles away. It was later identified as belonging to Daniel, and was thought to have become separated from him naturally in the water. The police have concluded that Daniel fell into the water and drowned. Daniel’s mother has refuted that, saying that the waterfront where he had been fishing was enclosed and sheltered. I have also seen it reported that Daniel’s head-light was found in a field half-a-mile from the water.
THE NUDE IN THE NETTLES
Date: 28 August 1981
Location: Sutton Bank, North Yorkshire
On 28 August 1981 Yorkshire police received a call from an anonymous man, telling them that “near Sawton Moor House you will find a decomposed body”. Intriguingly, he refused to give them his name “for National Security reasons”. The police found the body at Sutton Bank, on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. It was established she had been dead for nearly 2 years. A wax model was made of the woman, who was thought to have been aged about 40, of slim build, with dark-coloured hair cut in a short page-boy style bob. She probably had had 2 or 3 children, and from the state of her teeth had most likely been a heavy smoker, as well as a drinker. In 2012 she was exhumed for DNA testing, but no matches were found. As for the anonymous caller, it is thought he simply had the bad luck to find the body, and was not the culprit, two years after she met her death.
DAVID PLUNKETT (AKA The Pusher case)
Date: 17 April 2004
In recent years there have been a spate of young men going missing in the north of England, and turning up dead in canals. It would be very easy to dismiss these simply as tragic accidents, misadventure, the sad result of a good night out, but as the case of David Plunkett should show, this is far from straightforward. David, a 21-year-old student from Halifax, went with a friend to Manchester for a dance music event on 17 April 2004. He and his friend had travelled by coach, but had become separated at the event. At 9PM David had texted his girlfriend. At some time after midnight he had been chucked out of the venue for being drunk. David’s friend, Michael, had rung David’s parents, drunk and “making very little sense”, seeming to think David was with them. At 1:30 AM, in the early hours of Sunday 17 April, his mother had called David on his mobile. David seemed out of it, unsure who he was talking to. The call had ended with David screaming and howling. His mother said “a good 7-8 minutes into the call there was suddenly this ghastly screaming. I started crying”. David’s parents reported that what was also odd about the phone call was that there was no background noise at all, just a “total eerie silence”. David’s parents used their landline phone to call 999, so that the police could hear the screams. The police operator could hear the young man’s distress, but the call was not taped because the recorder was not working. The officer who dealt with the call became so appalled by this blunder that she resigned. She later said “every death I see reported in the news I become more and more convinced these are murders and not accidents”. Two weeks later David’s body was pulled from the Ship Canal, in Trafford Park. His mobile phone and glasses were found placed on the path beside the canal.
The similarities between David’s disappearance and that of other young men has led to some speculation in the press and Online that there is a serial-killer on the loose, who has been sometimes been dubbed “The Pusher”. SOUVIK PAL (18) disappeared when he went clubbing on New Year’s Eve 2012. His body was found 22 days later in the Bridgewater Canal. Souvik was seen on CCTV footage being led towards the canal by an unknown man. They were seen crossing a bridge over the water, followed by only one man returning. CHRISTOPHER BRAHNEY (22) went to a Stone Roses concert at Heaton Park in June 2012. He became separated from his friends towards the end of the evening, and also lost his phone. CCTV footage showed him going to retrieve a bag of shoes he had left at Shudehill Metrolink Station, so that he could change into them after the concert. He was then seen walking through the town centre, and down onto a riverside walkway. Ten days later, his body was pulled from the Manchester Ship Canal. Although the post-mortem revealed traces of alcohol and Ecstacy in him, the pathologist said she did not believe that was the cause of his death, and the CCTV footage showed someone walking normally, not under the influence. An open verdict was returned.
In an article in the Independent in January 2015 a psychologist, Professor Craig Jackson, reported that 61 bodies being pulled from Manchester’s waterways in just 6 years, points strongly to a killer being on the loose. UPDATE: 19 January 2016: an article in the Mirror newspaper related how Thomas Sheridan, the author of a book about psychopaths, claimed he walked along the Rochdale Canal tow-path whilst researching the case, and said he was followed by a “tall man wearing a hood”. He believes we may be dealing with a gay serial-killer, like Dennis Nilson, or a man pretending to be gay in order to target victims in Manchester’s Gay Village. The Greater Manchester police continue to insist that there is no evidence that a serial-killer is at large. A late-night Channel 4 documentary on the case seemed to come to no conclusions whatsoever. The Twitter trend ‘The Pusher’ seemed to be evenly divided between those who believe a killer is at large, and those who believe all the deaths are down to misadventure.
Update: 29/2/2016 It was reported in the Manchester Evening News that Sharon Smith believes her brother may possibly have been a victim of the Pusher. ANTHONY SCANLON had drowned in 6 inches of water at a lock on the Ashton Canal in Clayton in 2007. He had been returning home after a few beers at a friend’s house. The police said he may have fallen in due to heavy drinking. Although his keys were found on him, a sum of money – £100 – which he had had on him was missing. Sharon has reportedly said that her brother was frightened of the dark (“scared of his own shadow”), and as such would always insist on taking a taxi when returning home at night, that he would never walk home alone at night. She conducted a door-to-door investigation of her own in the area, and said that one woman claimed to have heard “an altercation between a man and a woman” at midnight, the time Tony Scanlon was said to have drowned. When she asked the woman why she hadn’t informed the police of this, her husband had hustled her back inside.
DR ROSE POLGE
Date: 12 February 2016
Location: Torquay, Devon
I was unsure about including this case as it’s a very recent one, but I know some of us are getting a bit frustrated with what feels like media silence on Rose’s disappearance in the past few weeks. If she suddenly turns up alive and well, it will give me the greatest of pleasure to remove her from this list. In the meantime, here is what we know. Rose, aged 25, is a junior doctor at the Torbay Hospital in south Devon. On Friday 12 February 2016 she inexplicably walked out halfway through her shift. Since then the only traces of her that have been found are her car, discovered parked at Anstey Cove in Torquay at 6PM, and a hooded jacket, which was found on the rocks there by volunteer searchers. A police search and 100 volunteers were unable to find any further traces of her. A colleague described Rose as cheerful and hard-working, but was under strain from working long hours. Rose was a supporter of the Junior Doctors Strike here in Britain, which was an official protest against the long working hours being imposed on them by the Government. According to an article in the Independent Rose left a note in her car referring to the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, although it was not addressed TO him, as was originally reported. Dr Polge is white, 5 ft 2″ in height, with brown eyes, and long dark brown hair. UPDATE 14/4/2016: tragically, Rose’s body was pulled from the water at Portland Bill, Dorset, on 1 April 2016.
HANNAH TAILFORD (AKA the Jack The Stripper/Hammersmith Nudes case)
Date: 2 February 1964
Location: Hammersmith Bridge, London
Hannah Tailford was the first confirmed victim (there had possibly been two earlier ones, in 1959 and 1963) of the unknown serial-killer known to posterity as Jack The Stripper – AKA The Hammersmith Nudes Case – who preyed on young women in London in the early 1960s. Thirty-year-old Hannah was found near Hammersmith Bridge on 2 February 1964. All her clothes were missing, except her stockings, which had been rolled down to her ankles, and her pants, which had been stuffed in her mouth. Her front teeth were missing. Hannah, who originally came from Northumberland, was thought to have been on the periphery of the Profumo Scandal, which had rocked the British establishment the previous year. Hannah had been known to take part in wild parties, and had taken compromising photographs. Hannah, who had been pregnant at the time of her death, may have been trying to blackmail someone. She had been missing for 10 days prior to her death, and had been floating in the water for 2 days. She was followed by IRENE LOCKWOOD, found by the Thames at Chiswick on 9 April. A man, Kenneth Archibald, confessed to Irene’s killing. He later retracted his confession, saying he had been suffering from depression. He soon had a cast-iron alibi, when more murders occurred whilst he was on trial.
A 22-year-old Scottish trapeze artist, HELEN BARTELMY, was found at Brentford on 24 April. As with Hannah, her front teeth were missing. The naked body of MARY FLEMING was found propped outside a garage door in Chiswick on 14 July. Painters working overnight in a building nearby claimed they had heard car doors slamming, and a car reversing out. Glaswegian prostitute MARGARET MCGOWAN (20), had given evidence at the trial of Dr Stephen Ward, the society osteopath at the heart of the Profumo Scandal. She was found dead under a pile of rubbish in a car park in Kensington on 25 November. One of her front teeth had been forced from it’s socket. It was thought she had been dead for a month. The Ripper’s last victim was 28-year-old BRIDGET O’HARA, who was found on 16 February 1965, behind a small workshop by a busy railway line. She had possibly been stored somewhere cool and dry prior to being dumped there. It is believed that the final 6 victims had been choked to death whilst giving oral sex (hence the removal of their teeth presumably). Because some of the victims had been found with paint-marks on them, it was thought they may have been stored in workshops prior to being dumped, exhaustive searches of workshops and garages were carried out. Chief Superintendent John du Rose, who was in charge of the case, suspected an unmarried middle-aged security guard as the culprit. This man had committed suicide shortly after Bridget’s death, leaving a note saying he couldn’t stand the strain any more. The police said they didn’t publicly name him, to spare the feelings of his family. A thorough search of his house though failed to uncover any links between him and the murders. Other suspects have also since been named, including boxing champion Freddie Mills, who committed suicide by shooting himself in his car in Soho, in July 1965, and wild rumours about a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police. Perhaps it’s just me though, but I think the Profumo connection is significant too. Also some of the victims had been involved with the porn movie business, and had known each other. Perhaps the killer was too. The murders apparently inspired Alfred Hitchcock with his final film Frenzy – about a serial-killer called The Necktie Murderer – a few years later.
Date: 14 February 1945
Location: Lower Quinton, Warwickshire
The murder of Charles Walton on Valentine’s Day 1945, in the village of Lower Quinton, Warwickshire, fascinates not just because no one was ever brought to book for his death, but for it’s strident overtones of witchcraft. Walton, a gentle 74-year-old farm-worker, was a bit of a recluse. He lived with his 33-year-old niece Edith, whom he had adopted when she was a little girl, on the death of her mother. Although not terribly sociable by nature, there was no evidence that Walton was deeply disliked, or had any reason to be. He was a loner, but there was evidence he was always ready to help anyone in need, either with practical assistance or financial. On the morning of the 14th Walton set off carrying a pitchfork and a slash hook, to cut his neighbour’s hedges. He often did paid work like this for Farmer Alfred Potter, the neighbour in question. By 6 PM Edith, who had returned home from work, was growing concerned for the whereabouts of her uncle, who had expected to be due home a couple of hours earlier, at 4 PM. Edith alerted a neighbour, Harry Beasley, and they in turn alerted Alfred Potter. The three of them went looking for Walton, and found his body by a hedge, which he had been seen cutting earlier in the day. His throat had been cut with the hook, he had been beaten about the head with his own stick, and the pitchfork rammed into the ground, the prongs on either side of his neck, pinning him to the ground. (Claims that he had had a cross cut into his neck later turned out to be a tall-tale). A fob-watch was missing from his trouser-pocket.
From an early stage it was felt to beyond the province of the local constabulary, and it was decided to bring in Scotland Yard. So the legendary Chief Inspector Robert Fabian (Fabian of the Yard) arrived in the small Warwickshire village. The missing fob-watch spoke of robbery, and because villagers always like to blame strangers for everything, the finger of suspicion alighted on a nearby POW camp, which had some notoriously lax security procedures. An Italian POW was questioned, after somebody claimed to see him washing blood off his hands in a stream. It turned out he had been poaching rabbits, not pitch-forking farm-hands.
There were all sorts of hoary old rustic tales abounding around this case. That dead silence fell in the village pub when Inspector Fabian walked in. That villagers claimed to have been taken sick after talking to him, and blaming it on a curse From Beyond The Grave. And of them hanging a dog from a tree to try and warn him off. That wasn’t the only suspicious dog in the case. Whilst walking on nearby Meon Hill, it is thought that Fabian was spooked by a phantom black hound which is regarded in the area as an omen of doom. It is said that a young plough-hand, called Charles Walton, had seen the hound many years earlier in 1875. That same night he heard that his sister had died. Some argue that there is no evidence that the two Charles Waltons were the same man though, particularly as the Charles Walton we’re concerned with here would have been only 5 years-old at that time, a bit young to be a plough-hand.
The rumours of witchcraft abounded because of the nature of the killing, using a pitchfork, thought to be from an old ritual for killing a witch. On 15 September 1875 an old lady called Ann Tennant had also been killed by pitchfork in Long Compton. She had been attacked, as she was returning home after buying a loaf of bread, by the local village idiot, James Heywood, who had suddenly stabbed her in the legs and head. Heywood said Ann was a witch, and he intended to wipe out all the witches in the village. He was found guilty but insane, and incarcerated in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, where he died in 1890. Ann is thought to have been a distant relation of Walton’s, but to be honest that wouldn’t be unusual for a small village at that time, where you usually find everybody was related to each other in some way.
The date of Walton’s murder is also of interest. Valentine’s Day was really Candlemas (Imbolc) in the old calendar, one of the leading Pagan dates in the year. Wild rumours abounded that Walton could control the weather, cast a blight on the fields, and kept natterjack toads as familiars. Old rural beliefs held that the weather on Candlemas Day was crucially important, as it could point to how successful the harvest would be months later. The anthropologist Margaret Murray, who wrote some controversial studies of European witchcraft in the 1920s, was sufficiently fascinated by the case to disguise herself as a holidaying artist, and spend a week in Lower Quinton. There is no evidence she was able to solve the case either.
In spite of all this exhaustive attention though, the murder of Charles Walton remains unsolved to this day. There is some compelling theory that Walton was simply the victim of a neighbourly dispute over money, and that Farmer Potter had been paying Walton a pittance for his services, whilst in turn claiming full remuneration for him from the Government. Had Walton got wind of this, and confronted him about it? Potter’s behaviour on the evening Walton was found was odd. He seemed upset, and according to Police Constable Lomasney “he was shivering and complained of being cold”. Inspector Fabian believed Potter was lying about his movements that day, when Potter claimed he had been tending to a sick heifer in a ditch.
Incidentally, the missing fob-watch didn’t appear again until many years later, in 1960, when an out-house was being demolished near Walton’s old house. The fob-watch was found there, with a piece of coloured glass inserted inside, which again is said to have some witchcraft significance to it (although by this stage I think just about anything would have a witchcraft significance to it). Inspector Fabian seemed to constantly change his mind about what he believed the truth to be. He was a natural story-teller and self-publicist, and it has been pointed out that this needs to be taken into account when analysing this bizarre case. Several years after the case, he wrote categorically that Walton’s death was “the ghastly climax of a pagan rite”. Was it? Or did the poor man simply meet his fate at the hands of a greedy, selfish farmer, and the police found themselves up against the closed ranks of a small English village? Jury’s out.
SHANI WARREN (AKA the GEC-Marconi Scientist Deaths)
Date: 17 April 1987
Location: Reading area, Berkshire
Shani Warren was one of 25 people who died in highly suspicious circumstances in the mid-1980s, who all had connections with GEC-Marconi, and who worked on projects connected with the USA’s ‘Star Wars’ defence programme. Most of the victims were scientists. Shani though was a PA for a firm called MicroScope, who were taken over by Marconi less than 4 weeks before her death. On 10 April 1987 DAVID GREENHALGH, a contracts manager at ICL defence division at Winnersh, had jumped 60 feet off a railway bridge on his way to work at Maidenhead. He survived the fall by landing on soft grass, but said he had no idea why he had done it. He died a few hours later in hospital. A few days later, on April 17th, 26-year-old Shani was found dead in about 20″ of water near where Greenhalgh had jumped. She had a noose around her neck, her hands were tied behind her back, her mouth gagged, and her feet bound. She was wearing stiletto heels. It was ruled that she had committed suicide by drowning! On the same day that Shani died GEORGE KOUNTIS (age unknown), a systems analyst at Bristol Polytechnic, was found drowned in his upturned car in the River Mersey, Liverpool.
Bizarre modes of a death were very much a speciality of the GEC-Marconi Scientist Deaths Conspiracy Theory (as it’s sometimes known). To give the names of a few more: In March 1982, computer expert Professor KEITH BOWDEN inexplicably drove off a 3-lane motorway at high speed and ploughed into a railway line, dying instantly.
In 1985 JONATHAN WASH, who worked for a British Telecom department with links to Marconi, was found dead on a pavement outside a hotel in Ivory Coast, west Africa. He was thought to have fallen from his balcony. Prior to his death he had confided to family and friends that he believed he was being watched.
VIMAL DAJIBHAI (aged 24) drove more than 100 miles from his home in Stanmore, Middlesex to a bridge in Bristol, on 5 August 1986, and jumped off. A small puncture wound on his buttocks could not be accounted for. The police said he’d suffered from depression. Family and friends said he hadn’t. The police said he had been drinking. Family and friends said he never touched alcohol. He was found with his trousers round his ankles. Labour MP Douglas Hoyle said “does anyone commit suicide with their trousers down?”
ARSHAD SHARIFF, (26), who lived near Vimal in Stanmore, was working on a system for the detection of submarines by satellite. On 28 October 1986, he also inexplicably drove to Bristol. He checked into a guest-house, using cash from a large wad he had with him. He tied a length of rope around his neck, the other end to a tree, got in his car, and drove off. No mention of the large amount of cash he’d taken with him was made at the inquest into his death. The Coroner at the inquest, Donald Hawkins, said that the body-count piling up in the Marconi case was now “beyond coincidence”.
MARK WISNER, (25), a software engineer for the Ministry of Defence was found dead with a plastic sack over his head, and several feet of cling-film also around his head. He was clothed in a woman’s corset and boots. The coroner deemed it was an accident.
RICHARD PUGH, a computer consultant for Marconi, was found dead with a plastic bag over his head in January 1987.
On 30 March 1987 DAVID SANDS loaded cans of petrol into his car, and drove it at high speed into an abandoned restaurant. It was reported that he had been acting strangely beforehand, suffering from stress.
In January 1988, RUSSELL SMITH (aged 23), a laboratory technician at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire, died as the result of a cliff-fall at Boscastle, Cornwall.
In August 1988 50-year-old ALISTAIR BECKHAM, a software engineer with Plessey Defence Systems, was found dead after being electrocuted in his garden shed. Wires were connected to his body, and a handkerchief was stuffed in his mouth.
On 22 August 1988 PETER FERRY, a 60-year-old retired army brigadier and an Assistant Marketing Director with Marconi, was found electrocuted in his company flat with electrical leads in his mouth.
The final case was in 1991, when MALCOLM PUDDY was hauled, dead, out of a canal near his home. Twenty-four hours beforehand, he had told his bosses at Marconi that he had stumbled upon “something amazing”.
That is just some of the fatalities in this very strange case. Not everyone died though. There is the equally odd case of AVTAR SINGH-GIDA, who worked for the Ministry of Defence on a number of Marconi projects. He disappeared from his home in Loughborough at the beginning of 1987. He was found in Paris 4 months later, saying he had no memory of how he had got there, or what he had been doing.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher flatly refused to order an inquiry into the deaths of these people, and a Ministry of Defence pooh-poohed any idea of foul play, saying such a thing was “straight out of James Bond”. (Well it has been argued that Ian Fleming knew a thing or two) , which brings us to …
Date: August 2010
Location: Pimlico, London
Gareth Williams was a 31-year-old codebreaker for MI6, who was famously found padlocked into a holdall in a bath-tub at a Security Service “safe house” flat in Pimlico, London, in August 2010. By the time the Welsh mathematician’s body was found, he had been missing for 10 days. Inquest and police findings were that Mr Williams had died alone as part of a sex game, or escapology attempt. A number of issues have been raised about Gareth’s death, such as if he locked himself in, why was none of his DNA found on the padlock? Up to 15 DNA traces found in the flat are unaccounted for. Why was the heating turned on in the middle of a warm August? Why was a collection of designer women’s clothing, valued at about £15,000, found in the flat? Was Mr Williams (who was said to have a keen interest in fashion) a secret cross-dresser, or were the clothes deliberately planted there to “muddy” his character? Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past them. More recently, in the Summer of 2015, Gareth’s fate has been in the news again, with rumours that he may have been involved in secrets involving former US President Bill Clinton.
Date: 27 November 1995
Location: Boxhill, Surrey
Again, we have the possibility here of a planned disappearance, in what is a very odd case. Ruth was a 16-year-old schoolgirl from a comfortable middle-class family. Ruth lived with her parents and younger sister in Betchworth, Surrey. She was in the Sixth Form at school, and had a Saturday job at a music store in Dorking. By all accounts she was an intelligent girl with a good sense of humour, and the official photograph of her shows a cheerful looking lass with long dark hair and glasses. Although she was doing well at school, her mother reported that Ruth had been worried about her academic work of late, and had tried to hide her latest school report on her last weekend at home. On Monday 27 November 1995, Ruth was due to travel to school with her sister Jenny (aged 13), but changed her mind at the last moment. Instead, at 11:30 AM, she took a taxi to Dorking, where she ordered a bouquet of flowers to be sent to her mother, but stressed they had to be delivered the following Wednesday. She then went to the public library, where she stayed until 4:00 PM. The last confirmed sighting of her was at 4:30 PM, when a taxi-driver, who had collected her at Dorking station, dropped her off outside the Hand In Hand pub at Boxhill. The driver said that he felt there was something strange about her. As he drove off, he looked behind in his mirror, and said “what was odd was that she just stood there”, meaning that most people immediately walk away the moment the taxi drops them off. Which suggests she may have been expecting to meet someone there, and that it was a convenient rendezvous point. A close friend believed that Ruth may have been planning her disappearance, and certainly it feels that way. There are numerous unanswered questions to this case. Such as did Ruth go into the pub? Was she meeting someone there? Or was it just a convenient place to get out? And what about the flowers? I must admit my first instinct when I heard about the bouquet to her mother was that it was an apology, although it could, of course, have simply been a birthday or anniversary present. There is also the matter of Ruth’s money. A lot of 16-year-olds, even ones with a Saturday job, would struggle to find the funds to get taxi’s everywhere (which certainly aren’t cheap and never have been), and send bouquets of flowers. Almost a year to the day from Ruth’s disappearance, there was an alleged sighting of her in a newsagents, barely 2 miles from Boxhill. CCTV footage shows a girl with short hair who seems to be trying to hide her face from the camera. Again, this is baffling. If (and I should repeat IF) this was Ruth, then it seems odd that she should suddenly, and briefly, reappear in the area. Ruth would be in her mid-30s now, and with the complete absence of any sign of her, there is a hope that she’s still around somewhere.