The first thought of any writer covering a murder case is naturally the victim and their grieving families. But that is only one half of the story. What of the murderer and his or her parents, children, close friends and relatives?
One man who has built a career on this other side of the coin is Ian Hitchings, a true crime author who claims to have talked to hundreds of convicted killers during his 36 year career.
Although the 1967 prison rules banned journalists from using any material gained by visiting inmates, this is now allowed ‘if their purpose is to assist a prisoner who claims he has been wrongfully convicted.’
Perhaps surprisingly, Ian believes that there is nothing to distinguish between convicted killers and the general public other than the crimes they have committed. He says: ‘We are all human beings who are totally responsible for our own actions, each and every one of us are capable of committing the ultimate crime of murdering another.’
In this interview with murdermap Ian Hitchings gives us an insight into his work:
How do you go about getting an interview?
Initially, I contact the killer directly by letter where we would then exchange brief correspondence. Prior to embarking on interviewing them face to face, I spend hours carefully sifting through literally all the evidence which had been placed before the court and trial transcripts with a fine toothed comb in order to familiarize myself with the possible motive and circumstances surrounding their heinous crime.
Once, I am satisfied I have seen all the relevant documentation only then do I make the necessary arrangements to visit them at their prison so to build up a good rapport, before eventually settling down to put – pen to paper – and take comprehensive notes of their particular version of events surrounding the incident.
Who was the first killer you interviewed?
Its public record this was Donald Neilson, serial killer and armed robber, following three murders committed during robberies of sub-post offices from 1971 to 1974, his last victim was 17 year-old Lesley Whittle, an heiress of Whittle Coaches from Highley, Shropshire, whom he kidnapped. The teenager’s body was later found hanging in an underground drainage system, where Neilson had secured her by the neck with wire in 1975. Neilson was responsible for about 400 burglaries during a 10-year criminal career, the killer was dubbed “The Black Panther” as a result of witness descriptions of his dark clothing and powerful physique. He had been suffering for some years from motor neurone disease, was taken to hospital from HMP Norwich and died on 18 December 2011 after suffering from breathing difficulties.
The first female murderess I had the opportunity to interview was Linda Calvey, a notorious gangster’s moll, jailed for killing her lover Ronnie Cook in 1990. She was commonly known as the “Black Widow” because every man who’s fallen for her has ended up dead or in jail. When Myra Hindley died a few years back, Linda her prison hairdresser, oddly enough assumed the title of the longest-serving female prisoner in the country. Calvey was released from prison in 2008 after spending a 28-year stretch behind bars for murder.
What is your most memorable interview?
This has got to be my numerous interviews I had in 2005, with one of Britain’s most notorious murderess Tracie Andrews, a former model and barmaid, who was convicted at Birmingham Crown Court in 1997 of terrifyingly stabbing to death her beloved fiance Lee Harvey in Alvechurch, Worcestershire. She had originally blamed the murder on a “fat man with staring eyes” in a road-rage attack.
Andrews was a trusted prisoner enabling her to work outside the normal prison surroundings as a driver unbelievably collecting visitors from Guildford Railway Station, ferrying them to and fro in the prison minibus. Little did they know who was at the wheel!
During the course of our many amiable conversations Andrews confided in me that having officially been refused anonymity upon her eventual release, she had changed her name by “Deed Poll” to Tia Carter and was awaiting plastic surgery to correct her bottom jaw from protruding over her top jaw.
This was completely out of the ordinary and I was somewhat taken aback, because astonishingly here I had come face to face with a killer who had been meticulously planning years head in anticipation for when they released.
Don’t get my wrong, all prisoners have pipe dreams which seldom become reality, but when you’ve got a killer whose quite prepared to endure major plastic surgery to change their facial appearance, then that’s something else.
It wasn’t until much later such revelations were leaked to the media by a former discharged female inmate. The fact that the operation was paid for by the NHS was the cause of some controversy.
Andrews was released in July 2011 from Askham Grange open prison, near York, where she has spent the last part of her 14-year term. She is banned from travelling within 25 miles of her victim’s family without supervision.
Have you ever felt in fear for your safety while talking to a convicted killer?
Strangely enough there hasn’t been any real incidents of significance where a killer has ever personally had the audacity to neither threatened or intimidate me.
Obviously, I cannot ignore arguable issues so there will always be a time when we might differ in opinions and should they throw an immature temper tantrum then the killer soon comes to realise whose playpen they are in. Overall, they are generally courteous towards me.
Shamefully the same cannot be said for a small minority of convicted killer’s weirdo campaigners who are proclaiming their innocence and by way of their own irresponsible actions unbelievably subject me to either frightening blackmail threats or find myself bombarded with maliciously insulting emails, whereby I am called every vile name imaginable.
Have any of your interviews left you certain that the convicted killer was innocent?
One in particular prominently sticks out like a sore thumb. In the 1980’s I had occasion to visit Andrew Evans at HM Layhill open prison in Gloucestershire. Evans a 17 years-old teenage soldier at the time he was convicted of murdering 14 year-old Judith Roberts. The girl was battered to death near her home in Tamworth, Staffordshire, in 1972.
For more than 20 years, Evans had accepted his guilt after being told that there were no reasonable grounds for an appeal against his conviction.
Nevertheless, Andrew Evans strenuously began a campaign in 1994 to prove his innocence by contacting the organisation Justice. Consequently, he was moved without any reasonable explanation from the open prison to a high-security jail – HMP Long Lartin.
In December 1997, Evans was freed after his conviction was held to be unsafe by the Appeal Court after spending 25 years in prison.
What proportion of the convicted killers you have spoken to maintain their innocence?
The vast majority of convicted killers within our prison system continue to protest their innocence and are in “denial” of the senseless murder which they have ultimately been convicted of committing. Neither do they show one flicker of remorse, genuine or crocodile tears, no matter how horrifyingly gruesome the loss of life would have been. They will always foolishly try their utmost to put on the “I’m innocent” facade as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouth and strut along without a care in the world.
They will strenuously exhaust the criminal appeals process, in an attempt to wriggle of the hook, despite the overwhelming damning evidence which assisted in securing their conviction. Rarely do you find any convicted killer who freely admits their heinous crime at the first opportunity and really shows genuine remorse for their actions.
Can you remember interviewing any London-based murderers in particular?
In recent years, the names of three cold and callous pure evil killers immediately spring to mind: Mark Dixie, Sarah Anderson and Robert Stewart. Whilst Dixie and Anderson need no introduction, Stewart on the other hand is relatively unheard of yet he’s Britain’s most dangerous psychopathic prison killer.
Robert Stewart first made the headlines in relation to the murder of 19 year-old Zahid Mubarek in March 2000 at HM Prison Feltham – more commonly known as Feltham Young Offenders Institution. It was Zahid’s first time in prison serving a sentence for stealing a set of razor blades worth £6, interfering with a motor vehicle and going equipped for theft. These were petty crimes. Stewart had already been suspected of inciting a riot, stabbing another prison, implicated in a murder, planning to take a prison cookery teacher hostage and helping to organise a murder. He committed his first offence at just eight years old and had 18 convictions for 71 offences by the age of 17.
Every prison has its fair share of monsters who we seldom hear about one they have been brought to justice and removed from society. Yet, it’s extremely difficult to bring this particular monster to justice as Stewart carries out his heinous acts from within, where prisoner on prisoner killings, assaults, self-harm and hangings are an everyday occurrence.
He has complete disregard for authority and commands utmost respect from his fellow prisoners. Seldom is he questioned. Only when his rage explodes and he commits such unspeakable crimes does the Prison Service realise they hold this evil monster within their midst.
See Robert Stewart: Portrait of a Prison Killer by Ian Hitchings.
During the course of my interview with Mark Dixie at HMP Long Lartin, I can best describe his whole entire demeanour has a Jekyll and Hyde character. On times, Dixie could certainly be very chatty and friendly – as cool as a cucumber. But, there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever he also had another more sinister extremely manipulative and arrogantly dangerous side to him. This was evident when Dixie took the view that he didn’t want to answer any particular questions I posed to him, strangely, without saying a word he would slouch back in his chair, arms folded and oddly just stare intently at me with his piercing eyes.
Do you speak to the families of the convicted killer? How do they describe the experience of having a loved one in prison?
On average once a month I am contacted by a devastated family member of a convicted killers, as more often than not it’s unbearably hard for them to comprehend or come to terms with what heinous crime their loved one has unbelievably committed.
It’s even more difficult for them when their loved one has created a remarkably convincing entire pack of lies, deliberately deflecting the blame for the heinous crime. A theme to which I often refer – “Oh what a tangled web they weave when they practice to deceive.”
You only need to look at the case of convicted killer Adrian Prout to actually see how manipulatively convincing these killers really are. Having been in total denial of his estranged wife’s disappearance and murder since 2007, and it wasn’t until only after Prout had failed a lie detector test undertaken at HMP Garth, in Lancashire, that he eventually come clean and made a full confession to the police and his fiancee Debbie Garlick. She was convinced Prout was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and had been leading a campaign for his release.
The person who has been killed is not the only victim: the pain of the both families endures, and I am sensitive to this by holding certain responsibilities to heart.