Unsolved Homicides 2012

The following cases of murder and manslaughter for 2012 remain unsolved. Can you help?

One of those victims was Pamela Wheeler, a 76 year-old widow found dead at her home in Thamesmead, south London, after a suspected burglary.

In total there are 11 victims where nobody has been charged by police or detained overseas on a warrant. This number is highly likely to decrease as investigations continue.

Contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

This post is updated when cases change status (last update January 30, 2013)

Domestic Violence part 2

Last month we looked in detail at the issue of domestic violence homicides in London by looking at the cases for 2011. In part two, we compare the figures for previous years.

So what are the trends in ‘DV’ homicides in London over the last five years?

In brief, over 2008 to 2011:

  • The proportion of DV cases increased from around 11 per cent to 13 per cent.
  • The number of DV cases remains relatively constant each year
  • The percentage of female victims fluctuates over time but is usually around 20 to 22 per cent

However the preliminary figures for 2012 (subject to change) are 19 female victims out of 93 total, or 20.4 per cent, of which 10 appear to be DV cases, or 10.8 per cent).

Obviously dealing with such a short time frame and relatively small numbers makes the identification of any real trends difficult. However, it seems that the decrease in homicide over the last five years does not really apply to female victims or domestic violence.


Year 2008 2009 2010 2011
Total victims 145 131 123 117
Female victims 32 23 30 26
Percentage Female 22.1 17.6 24.4 22.2
DV (both sexes) 16 14 15 15
Percentage DV 11 10.7 12.2 12.8

Note: For the category ‘Domestic Violence’ we have included all cases that involve men or women being killed by their partners or ex-partners. Some cases involve little or no history of violence and a small number of others are often described as ‘mercy killings.’

The full case listings are below (click on name to read summary in new window).

2008: Total number of ‘domestic violence’ cases: 16 (out of total 145 homicides, or 11.0 per cent)

Yvonne Barlow, 44, stabbed to death by her partner.

Emma Forrester, 34, stabbed to death by her husband.

Michael O’Brien, 43, stabbed to death by his girlfriend.

Graham Boyne, 41, stabbed to death by his wife.

Arsema Dawit, 15, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend.

Samantha Boyden, 36, stabbed to death by her partner.

Abiodun Ilumoka, 40, stabbed to death by her partner.

Rahmona Ahmedin, 23, stabbed to death by her partner.

Ashley Reynolds, 23, thrown to her death by her partner.

Jusna Sabit, 36, battered to death by her husband.

Dina Sharpe, 39, battered to death by her partner.

Marilyn Leslie, 49, stabbed to death by her partner.

Shireen Khan, 41, strangled by her husband. (He was cleared of murder on the basis he was provoked).

Tara Reeves, 35, stabbed to death by her partner.

Kate Ellerbeck, 46, killed by her husband.

Tatiana Konalova, 47, stabbed to death by her husband.

2009: Total number of ‘domestic violence’ cases:  14 (out of total 131 homicides, or 10.7 per cent)

Lakhvinder Cheema, 39, poisoned by his ex-lover.

Varsha Champaclal, 43, stabbed to death by her husband.

Kulvir Kaur, 22, strangled by her husband.

Gloria Laguna, 48, killed by her husband.

Camille Mathurasingh, 27, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend.

Darryl Phillips, 39, stabbed to death by his lover.

Elif Oruc, 42, stabbed to death by her husband.

Maleha Masud, 15, killed by her ex-boyfriend in a house fire.

Leah Questin, 37, killed by her boyfriend.

Lisa Beverley, 30, was battered to death by her ex-partner.

Olga Pleguezuelos, 35, was stabbed to death by her husband.

Geeta Aulakh, 28, was hacked to death on the orders of her husband.

Aysel Djevdet, 38, strangled by her husband.

Julie McKinley, 40, strangled by her husband.

There is also Natalie Correa, 27, who was battered to death at her home. Her boyfriend was acquitted of murder. Ayodele Akinsiku, 32, was stabbed to death by her brother-in-law.

2010: Total number of ‘domestic violence’ cases: 15 (out of total 123 homicides, or 12.2 per cent of total)

Maria Colaco, 50, battered to death by her partner.

Maria Coelho, 37, battered and suffocated by her partner.

Carmen Stanescu, 30, stabbed to death by her partner.

Czarina Baker, 21, strangled by her partner.

Donna Drepaul, 50, set on fire by her partner.

Sandra Voicehovska, 47, stabbed to death by her partner.

Svetlana Zolotovska, 40, stabbed to death by her estranged husband. Her mother was also killed.

Amanda Beresford, 36, set on fire by her partner.

Ghada Habib, 55, battered to death by her ex-husband.

Beata Slomiana, 33, suffocated by her ex-partner.

Indra Tharmananthan, 70, strangled by her mentally ill partner.

Jacqueline Barrett, 34, battered and strangled by her partner.

Joan Mungall, 69, smothered by her husband in what was described as a mercy killing.

Winifred Crowther, 83, stabbed to death by her husband.

Joan Chopping, 84, killed by her husband.

See the previous blog for the list of 2011 cases

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is said to account for 40 per cent of all female homicide victims in England and Wales. The other frequently reported statistic is that two women are killed by a male partner or ex-partner every week (from the Home Office analysis carried out in relation to the financial year 2003/4).

Amina Adan was beaten and stabbed to death by her partner Zakaria Mohamed in November 2011.

But how does this compare to London? We decided to look at the homicide cases in the capital during 2011 to see how they compare to the quoted statistics.

In summary, 26 out of out of the 117 homicide victims (22.2 per cent) in our database for last year were female. Fourteen of those 26 (57.7 per cent) were women killed by their husband, partner or ex-partner. In six of the 14 cases there was a definite history of domestic violence in the relationship, and in a seventh the suspect was on bail as a result of a previous incident.

Two of the 14 are commonly referred to as ‘murder-suicides’ where the killer committed suicide before they could be arrested.

Here is a list of the victims we’ve identified (click the link to read the case summary):

January 1: Jitka Nahodilova, 27, stabbed to death by her partner, who committed suicide.

February 2: Lorna Smith, 45, stabbed / suffocated by her ex-boyfriend.

April 20: Zandra Maxwell-Nelson, 24, stabbed to death by her estranged husband.

April 26: Lucinda Port, 29, stabbed to death by her partner, who committed suicide. Previous involvement of police.

June 20: Sarwat Malik, 60, stabbed to death by her husband.

July 5: Mumtahina Jannat, 29, strangled by her husband. History of domestic violence.

September 12: Sashana Roberts, 24, stabbed to death by her ex-partner. History of domestic violence.

September 26: Charito Cruz, 37, battered to death by her partner (suspect awaiting trial)

October 8: Gaynor Brockwell, 46, strangled by her husband.

November 11: Amina Adan, 32, beaten and stabbed to death by her partner. History of domestic violence.

November 19: Carmel Charles, 20, stabbed to death, believed to be domestic (the suspect is awaiting trial).

December 20: Jasmin Chowdhury, 33, beaten to death by her husband. History of domestic violence.

December 23: Desirie Thomas, 35, stabbed to death by her husband. History of domestic violence.

December 25: Ruby Love, 23, strangled by her partner and dumped in a canal. History of domestic violence.

But not every case is clear cut – for example Fiza Asif, 27, was murdered by her brother-in-law on January 4. Her husband was charged with murder but was acquitted.

Only one case out of 117 involves a male victim being killed by their female partner: Winston Sinclair, 73, fatally stabbed by his wife on January 16. 

Additionally there is the case of Mohammed Zillur-Rahman, stabbed to death by his stepson – who claimed the victim was violent towards him and his mother.

In one or two other cases the nature of the relationship between victim and killer is unclear (see for example Siobahn Kelly).

We have not included cases of homicide involving relatives, even though they occurred in a domestic setting.

In our next blog we will look at the cases for 2008, 2009 and 2010 and see how they compare.

Note: Earlier this week the Metropolitan Police launched an operation targeting ‘domestic abusers‘.

The Jack the Stripper Files: Closed until 2050

The police report which might shed light on the unsolved murders carried out by ‘Jack the Stripper’ in London in the 1960s is currently locked away in the National Archives, marked not to be opened until 2050.

If you were wondering why this is necessary nearly 50 years after the killings, then a recent Freedom of Information request reveals the reasons for the decision:

  • Releasing the document might impair a future ‘cold case investigation’ into the murders.
  • It could cause distress to families of the victims
  • It might cause damage or distress to a ‘third party’

Another interesting point is the policy that details of any investigation into an unsolved crime should remain confidential until the ‘hypothetical suspect’ reaches the age of 85 (assuming he or she is at least 16 at the time of the offence). This explains why the date of 2050 is chosen in the Jack the Stripper case, as the report is dated September 1965.

Links to a summary of the Jack the Stripper case and the police report held at the National Archives.

The full response is:

Disclosure of the information contained within this record would demonstrate how the police go about investigating serious crime, in this instance a series of murders of prostitutes in West London during the mid 1960s.

The police service is accountable to the public it serves and it is in the common interest that information that demonstrates how it performs across the range of its duties is made available. However, this comes with the following caveats; such disclosures of information must not impede the police from discharging their lawful duties to detect and prevent crime, and identify, apprehend and bring offenders to justice; nor should disclosure infringe the rights of individuals.

Disclosure of information, especially that relating to issues of public safety, could act to reassure the public and engender a sense confidence in the police, which would be in the public interest. However, this record contains information relating to the investigation of a series of murders that remain unsolved.  This record also contains information, which, if put into the public domain, could cause substantial distress to the immediate, surviving families of the victims.

The information contained in this record is directly relevant to the investigation of a series of murders as yet unsolved.  As such the Metropolitan Police Service would desire that the details of the investigation remain confidential until any hypothetical suspect reaches the age of 85 years, after which point, in common with CPS policy, a prosecution is unlikely to be pursued.  This closure period would be based on an assumption that the suspect(s) would have been at least 16 years old at the material time.  The rationale for this is that there remains a possibility that these murders could still be investigated and that a suspect could be identified, charged, brought to trial and convicted.

It is not possible to identify particular information that might be released into the public domain without the risk of compromising any future police actions; information that appears innocuous may have significance to an experienced investigator that is not immediately obvious to the lay reader; or may assume a new significance in the light of newly discovered evidence or developments in forensic or investigative techniques.  The evolution of new scientific techniques, especially the technology of DNA, means that cases hitherto considered unsolvable, are being examined afresh.  Increasingly police services throughout the country are setting up ‘cold case’ teams to review their case files on unsolved murders; in some instances these unsolved murders date back to the 1940s.
The premature release of this record into the public domain might, therefore, be detrimental to any future investigation and subsequent prosecution. Such an outcome would not be in the public interest.

This record comprises of a report that links together a series of prostitute murders in West London in 1960s.  The report contains information a graphic and disturbing nature the disclosure of which is likely to cause substantial distress to the victims’ surviving, immediate families to the point where their welfare could be significantly harmed.  Such an outcome would not be in the public interest.

A section 40 (2) exemption also applies to some of the information contained in this document. Section 40 (2) exempts personal information about a ‘third party’ (someone other than the requester), if revealing it would breach the terms of the Data Protection Act (DPA) 1998. The DPA prevents personal information from release if it would be unfair or at odds with the reason why it was collected, or where the subject had officially served notice that releasing it would cause them damage or distress.

In this document the exemption applies because it contains discussion of personal information relating to the deceased’s family and aspects of their own private lives. The individuals concerned would have no reasonable expectation that this information would be released into the public domain during their lifetimes, and to do so could cause them a considerable level of distress.

Researching Old Murders

As well as covering every new murder in London, we are also trying to expand the database backwards in time to the 19th Century. How do we go about it?

Some cases are so famous that vast amounts of information can be found easily online or in countless books, blogs and newspaper articles (Jack the Ripper, for example).

Many others are mostly forgotten, for a variety of reasons. But even then there is still plenty of information which can be dug up without a vast amount of effort. To illustrate this we looked at an unusual case of cyanide poisoning dating back to 1968.

The search began with an email from a visitor to the site:

Can anyone help me find out case and details of Murder of barmaid in Beehive Public House St Johns Road, Battersea London SW11. The barmaid was named Helen Enright commonly called Eilleen. A customer poisoned her with cyanide. this happened about 40 years ago.

At the time there was nothing in the Google search results for a Helen or Eileen Enright in connection with the Beehive pub in Battersea. The breakthrough came with a search on the Times Archive of newspaper reports between 1785 and 1985.

This revealed that there was a report of a murder case involving an Eileen Pooley at the Beehive pub in the Times of September 6, 1968.

Now we have full names for both the victim and defendant we could start searching other online newspaper archives such as the British Newspaper Archive, or the The British Library‘s online collection of newspapers from the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries (also available to search at the London Metropolitan Archives and other institutions). Users of the British Library can also access the online archives of the Daily Express and Daily Mirror.

The British Library Newspaper archive at Colindale also has copies of nearly every newspaper ever printed (both the actual paper and on microfilm) which can be examined by anyone with a reader’s ticket.

Another vital source of information (at least for cases dating to prior to 1913) is the Proceedings of the Old Bailey website, which often contains a fascinating amount of information including the evidence given by witnesses.

But for our case, which took place in 1968, the best place to look is at the National Archives in Kew. A search of their online catalogue for Eileen Pooley or Clifton Stofile reveals two files of interest:

1) The case papers of the Director of Public Prosecutions at DPP 2/4566 – unfortunately this file is closed until 2052 because it ‘contains sensitive personal information which would substantially distress or endanger a living person or his or her descendants.’

2) The records of the Central Criminal Court at CRIM 1/4966. This contains the statements of the witnesses and Clifton Stofile himself, together with a plan of the Beehive and photographs of the scene. It even contains an unsettling picture of the victim lying dead in the morgue (not reproduced here for obvious reasons).

All of this information was pulled together for our story Guinness and Cyanide: The tragic death of Eileen Pooley. What was the result of the trial? Read and find out.

Talking to Killers

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.’

The mind of a killer is a very complex and dangerous thing. Know the ins and outs of the mind with a forensic psychology online masters.

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?

Donald Neilson
Donald Neilson

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!

Tracie Andrews
Tracie Andrews

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?

Andrew Evans
Andrew Evans (via www.innocent.org.uk)

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.

Homicide in England and Wales 1898 to 2012

The latest crime figures for England and Wales confirm the drop in the murder rate is continuing. In the financial year 2011/12 there were 550 homicides initially recorded by police, compared to 638 in 2010/11. (Homicide being murder, manslaughter and infanticide)

Now put that into context with a look at the last 50 years, which shows that we are rapidly returning to levels last seen in the 1960s. (Note that the spike of 1047 in 2002/03 included the 172 victims attributed to Harold Shipman).

If you examine the 100 years between 1898 and 1997 you can see how homicide remained pretty steady (apart from spikes in 1942 and 1945) until the 1960s, when it shot upwards.

Whereas the population of England and Wales has grown steadily over the last two hundred years (there was no census data for 1941).

But what caused that rapid growth in homicides from the 1960s onwards? Was it the state of the economy, the new ‘permissive society’, a breakdown of ‘family values’, or the effect of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine? Or a complicated combination of these factors (and others, such as the way the data is recorded)? And why has that trend reversed? Heavier sentences? Better policing?

It has been suggested that the recent decrease is down to a sustained fall in the level of domestic violence, given that around two-thirds of murders are carried out by partners, former partners or family members. There now seems to be less tolerance of violence in society, perhaps driven by media coverage of crime.

Statistics from the ONS, Crime in England and Wales (released 19 July 2012), and Population estimates 2011 Census (released 16 July 2012).

7 Myths about Serial Killers

In 2005 the FBI published a guide to serial murder for investigators which listed seven myths or misconceptions about serial killers. Their examples were all cases from the United States – so we decided to try and match the myths with cases from London’s own history of murder.

1) Myth: Serial killers are all dysfunctional loners.

Many serial killers hide in plain sight within their communities. Serial murderers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed, and appear to be normal members of the community.

George Joseph Smith (Metropolitan Police)

Although George Joseph Smith did not have a regular job he was far from a loner – he actively sought out women to seduce, marry and then steal from. At least seven women fell prey to his charms. Three of them were murdered. Read more about the Brides in the Bath case.

2) Myth: Serial killers are all white males.

Contrary to popular belief, serial killers span all racial groups.

3) Myth: Serial killers are only motivated by sex.

All serial murders are not sexually-based. There are many other motivations for serial murders including anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking.

Peter Bryan

Peter Bryan busts both these myths. He was born in London but his parents were immigrants from Barbados. And by the time he was arrested for his second murder he had developed an appetite not for sex, but for human flesh. Read more about the Peter Bryan case.

4) Myth: All serial murderers travel.

Most serial killers have very defined geographic areas of operation. They conduct their killings within comfort zones that are often defined by an anchor point (e.g. place of residence, employment, or residence of a relative). Serial murderers will, at times, spiral their activities outside of their comfort zone, when their confidence has grown through experience or to avoid detection.

John Reginald Christie

Although a number of London murderers have carried out their crimes across the country (see the case of George Joseph Smith above), one of the most famous examples is John Reginald Christie, who killed at least six women at his home in Rillington Place in Notting Hill. See also Dennis Nilsen, who killed at least 15 teenage boys and men at his homes in Cricklewood and Notting Hill.

5) Myth: Serial killers cannot stop killing.

It has been widely believed that once serial killers start killing, they cannot stop. There are, however, some serial killers who stop murdering altogether before being caught. In these instances, there are events or circumstances in offenders’ lives that inhibit them from pursuing more victims. These can include increased participation in family activities, sexual substitution, and other diversions.

The discovery of a victim in the East End

The world’s most famous serial killer operated in a very small area of east London and was never caught – ‘Jack the Ripper‘. The killings ceased in November 1888, three months after they began. Did ‘Jack’ die or leave the country, or did he simply just stop killing?

6) Myth: All Serial killers are insane or are evil geniuses.

The media has created a number of fictional serial killer “geniuses”, who outsmart law enforcement at every turn. Like other populations, however, serial killers range in intelligence from borderline to above average levels.

The ‘Finchley baby farmers’ Amelia Sach and Annie Walters were neither intelligent nor insane but are thought to have murdered dozens of babies in the early years of the 20th Century.

7) Myth: Serial killers want to get caught.

While most serial killers plan their offenses more thoroughly than other criminals, the learning curve is still very steep. They must select, target, approach, control, and dispose of their victims. As serial killers continue to offend without being captured, they can become empowered, feeling they will never be identified. It is not that serial killers want to get caught; they feel that they can’t get caught.

If serial killers really wanted to be caught then surely we would know the identity of the killer the media dubbed ‘Jack the Stripper.’ Between 1964 and 1965 at least six prostitutes were killed and their nude bodies left around London or dumped in the River Thames.

Sanction Detection Rates

The ‘murder rate’ is one way of measuring the effectiveness of the justice system. Another is the percentage of homicides that are ‘cleared up’ – otherwise known as the Sanction Detection Rate.

This means cases where a suspect has been identified but not necessarily convicted of the crime, perhaps because they have been acquitted on the grounds of self defence. A small number of cases are classed as unresolved, such as the murder of Jill Dando (the suspect was first convicted then acquitted several years later following a retrial).

According to the official definition: ‘A sanctioned detection occurs when (1) a notifiable offence (crime) has been committed and recorded; (2) a suspect has been identified and is aware of the detection; (3) the CPS evidential test is satisfied; (4) the victim has been informed that the offence has been detected, and; (5) the suspect has been charged, reported for summons, or cautioned, been issued With a penalty notice for disorder or the offence has been taken into consideration when an offender is sentenced.’

The Metropolitan Police’s list of homicides for January 2006 to September 2011 (issued in September 2011) revealed that 85.2 per cent of the homicides listed had been ‘detected’. Most are sanction detections but there are a few other detections where the suspect committed suicide after carrying out the killing. This figure can potentially change over time as suspects are charged and put on trial.

Another release under the Freedom of information act breaks down the number of sanction detections made every financial year between 2007/08 and 2010/11.

The Sanction Detection Rate (SDR) is therefore 83 per cent for 2007/08, rising to a consistent 93 to 94 per cent for the following three years.

This is a different kind of measurement because it includes detections of cases that took place in earlier years, and therefore the ‘closure rate’ could potentially be higher than 100 per cent. This sounds absurd (See the debate around the announcement that Washington DC had a 94 per cent closure rate for homicide), but it does give an indication of the effectiveness of homicide investigations. The SDR also does not change over time.

Looking at the UK as a whole, the last set of Home Office statistics gave a sanction detection rate of 86 per cent for 2009/2010 and 83 per cent for 2010/11 (the number of homicides rose from 618 to 642, with the number of sanction detections made over the same period falling from 533 to 530).

Perhaps of more interest is the comparison between the sanction detection rates for homicide and other offences including domestic crime, robbery, burglary, sexual offences, gun crime and knife crime.

Homicide has long been prioritised by the police and the justice system, for obvious reasons. It is investigated centrally by a separate ‘Homicide and Serious Crime Command’ rather than by detectives in the respective borough, and can devote large amounts of manpower and money to analysing CCTV footage, mobile phone data and forensic examination.  There are also far fewer cases to concentrate on compared to other offences – for example in 2009/10, the figures show 117 homicides compared to 51,682 domestic offences, 9,930 sexual offences, 33,479 robberies, 92,807 burglaries, 3,460 offences of gun crime and 12,617 of knife crime.

Clearly, it’s a lot harder to get away with murder.

The Waterloo Bag Mystery

Last month the whole country was baffled and enthralled by the inquest into the suspicious death of GCHQ ‘spy’ Gareth Williams, who was found inside a padlocked bag at his home in Pimlico, south London.

The case has chilling echoes of a murder that took place more than 150 years ago. Known as ‘The Waterloo Bridge Mystery’ or ‘The Thames Carpet Bag Mystery’, it too featured a male body inside a locked bag.

The bag in question was found on an ‘abutment’ of Waterloo Bridge by two young men in a rowing along the Thames early one morning in October 1857. Once opened, it revealed 23 bones and a few scraps of flesh. The head, hands, feet and internal organs were missing.

The Waterloo Bridge Mystery
Drawing of The Waterloo Bridge Mystery from the Illustrated Police News

For the next two weeks, as the story played out in the newspapers of the day, the public were both fascinated and appalled by the gruesome details until eventually the police ground to a halt. The only lead was a sighting of an elderly woman carrying the bag on to the bridge the previous night.

Some even suggested that the whole affair was a grisly hoax perpetrated by anatomical students.

The Waterloo Bridge Mystery was ruled a ‘wilful murder’ just over two weeks after the discovery of the body.

By contrast the Gareth Williams case the inquest took place 21 months after the discovery body and ended with the coroner ruling that there was not enough evidence to sustain a finding of ‘unlawful killing’ (the equivalent to the Victorian verdict of ‘wilful murder’).

Both cases became the talk of their day, the subject of gossip and speculation. But there are also many differences. Gareth Williams was an identifiable person. He had a name, a grieving family, friends and colleagues. He had hobbies and interests. Yet somehow the more we found out, the more mysterious his death became.

The victim of the Waterloo Bridge Mystery was never identified. Despite being described by the Times in 1857 as ‘one of the most horrible murders that has ever stained our criminal annals,’ the case is now all but forgotten.

Read the full details of The Waterloo Bridge Mystery