A Nation of Killers?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 24 June 2013)
Nationality is not a factor in serial killers.

With typical sensationalist hyperbole, gutter-press tabloid, The “Scottish” Sun on 23 June 2013 carried a story under the headline “National Born Killers”, claiming that the number of serial killers in Scotland is disproportionately high for our population.

In the story Sun reporter Matt Bendoris spoke to criminologist Professor David Wilson, who claims that compared to a nation with the population the size of Norway, Scotland produces more than its fair share of serial killers. Wilson makes the point that Norway has only ever had one recorded serial killer, Arnfinn Nesset, who may have killed as many as 138 patients in hospitals where he worked. The article makes the point that a serial killer is defined as someone who murders three or more people in a period of greater than 30 days. Under this definition neither Thomas Hamilton, who carried out the Dunblane Massacre, nor Anders Beiring Breivik, who carried out the bombings and shootings in Oslo in 2011. You’ll notice however that the article cannot help but mention both.

It is claimed in the article that Scotland’s supposedly high proportion of serial killers may be due to our culture, “One reason could be that Scotland is a very face-to-face culture. It doesn’t take long for you to find out about people. Some people can find that a very controlling culture. So how do you break through those barriers? They need to move away. By and large, our serial killers did not kill in Scotland.” This is nonsense, as I shall illustrate why later.

So in typical smearing style, The Sun went on to list a number of Scots serial killers and their exploits to chill the blood. Well, two can play at that game. There hereby follows a list of just some English serial killers.

Mary Ann Cotton

Mary Ann Cotton was born in Low Moorsley, County Durham in 1832. She went on to murder at least 21 adults between 1852 and 1873, mostly husbands and lovers from whose deaths she profitted financially. She may also have killed up to 13 children, mostly her own whom she murdered purely because they were “in the way”. In 1873 she was convicted and hanged for the murder of her son Charles. Tales of her murders were notorious throughout the north-east of England, where children were warned “Mary Cotton will come and get you.”

There is a cruel chidren’s rhyme from the period about her;

Mary Ann Cotton,
She’s dead and she’s rotten;
She lies in her bed
With eyes wide open.
Sing, sing, oh, what can I sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.
Where, where? Up in the air;
Sellin’ black puddens a penny a pair.
Mary Ann Cotton;
Gone but not forgotten,
In her grave she’s rotten;
Sing, sing, oh, what can we sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string.

Gordon Cummings: the Blackout Ripper

Gordon Cummings, born in York in 1914, used the blackouts in London during World War II to carry out his crimes. Although described as a spree killer because his murders did not exceed 30 days, there can be little doubt he would have continued if not caught, and thereby would have become defined as a serial killer. Wearing his Royal Air Force uniform, Cummings would offer to help women alone to the safety of a bomb shelter. Over the space of six nights, he murdered four women and attempted to kill three others. Almost all were sexually assaulted and three of the corpses mutilated with a tin opener. These attacks confirmed the attacker was left-handed. After being disturbed in one attack, Cummins left his gas mask bag at the scene which was traced back to him. He was hanged for murder on 25 June 1942.

John George Haigh: The Acid Bath Murderer

John George Haigh, born in Stamford, Lincolnshire in 1909, was a conman who turned to murder for financial gain. He killed six people and disposed of the bodies in drums of sulphuric acid in London and Crawley, West Sussex, between 1944 – 1949. He was convicted after a forensic scientists found three human gallstones and a partial denture were found in the sludge in one of the drums. In his confession Haigh claimed to have killed 9 in all. The police have never confirmed the extra three murders. He was hanged on 10 August 1949.

John Christie

John Reginald Halliday Christie, born in Halifax in 1899, killed at least 8 women, and one baby girl, at his home in 10 Rillington Place, London between 1943 – 1953, including his wife, Ethel Christie. Christie was a necrophiliac who had sex with or masturbated over the bodies after strangling them. Some of his victims were pregnant women looking for illegal abortions. Pretending to administer anaesthetic, Christie would gas his victims then strangle them. One of these was his tenant Beryl Evans. He convinced her husband, Timothy Evans, that he would be blamed so he fled home to Wales before turning himself in. During this time Christie murdered the Evans’ 13 month old daughter, Geraldine. Timothy Evans was convicted of Geraldine’s murder, partially based on evidence given by Christie, for which he was hanged on 9 March 1950. After Christie made himself homeless, a new tenant at 10 Rillington Place uncovered a hidden cupboard with a body in it. The police search which followed revealed a charnel house of bodies. There was even a human femur being used to keep a shed door closed. Christie was apprehended, tried, convicted and hanged on 15 July 1953. Further investigations cleared the late Timothy Evans of any part in killing his wife and child and he was given a posthumous pardon on 18 October 1966. This mistake in hanging an innocent man contributed to the abolition of capital punishment in the UK.

Myra Hindley

The Sun article makes mention of “Moors Murderer” Scotsman Ian Brady, but skirts over his accomplice and lover, Myra Hindley. Myra Hindley was born in Manchester in 1938 and along with Ian Brady carried out the sadistic paedophile murders of at least 5 children (there may have been many more), both boys and girls, between 1963 – 1965 in Manchester and buried their bodies on Saddleworth Moor. They were convicted based on tapes they had recorded of the murders. They were both incarcerated for life in psychiatric units. Hindley, once described as “The most hated woman in England”, died in prison in 2002. In papers found in her cell, in one document she stated that she was worse than Brady, as she knew the difference between right and wrong.

Donald Neilson: The Black Panther

Born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Donald Neilson began a career of murder in 1971 after killing three people during raids on post offices. Loving the notoriety in the press, Neilson glorified in the name the press had given him, “The Black Panther”. In 1975 he kidnapped 17 year old Lesley Whittle and held her for ransom. The girl was bound and forced to stand on a ledge in a drainage shaft with wire around her neck. It is not clear if Neilson pushed her or if she slipped. Police bungles in delivering the ransom had delayed them finding her and she may simply have become tired. Convicted of the murder of Lesley Whittle, Neilson was sentenced to a Whole Life Tariff. He died in Norwich University Hospital after being transferred from Norwich Prison with breathing difficulties in 2011.

Peter Sutcliffe: The Yorkshire Ripper

Born in Bingley, Yorkshire, in 1946, Peter Sutcliffe became a notorious killer of prostitutes from 1975 to 1980. As he killed prostitutes – or women he took to be prostitutes – he was dubbed “The Yorkshire Ripper” by the press. He killed at least 13 women in towns in Yorkshire and attempted to murder 7 others. There may be other victims he has never confessed to killing. When captured in 1981, he eventually confessed to being the Yorkshire Ripper and claimed the “voice of God” had told him to kill prostitutes. A strip search uncovered that he was wearing a v-neck sweater below his trousers, with his legs in the arms and the v-neck exposing his genitals. The elbows were padded to allow him to kneel as he masturbated over the dead bodies of his victims. He was jailed for life in 1981, with the judge recommending he serve at least 30 years. In 2010 Sutcliffe was declared fit to be released into society. Home Secretary Jack Straw said that it was a parole board matter but that all the evidence he had seen convinced him Peter Sutcliffe should never be freed. The parole board subsequently turned Sutcliffe’s application down. He appealed this but his appeal was turned down in 2011. He remains in Broadmoor State Hospital and is planning to take his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Fred and Rosemary West

Fred West, born in the village of Much Marcle, Herefordshire in 1941, and his wife Rosemary, born in Barnstaple, Devon in 1953, were a sexually-perverted couple who killed at least 11 young women and girls, including their own daughter, Heather, in various locations in England but mostly at their homes in 25 Midland Road and later 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester, between 1973 and 1987. The couple shared paedophilic and sadistic psyches and their seven children were routinely sexually abused and raped by Fred, Rosemary’s father Bill Letts (who also routinely had sex with his daughter with Fred’s full knowledge) and other male visitors to their home. Outside of the home, the couple would lure young girls into their van, which had a mattress in the back, torture them and then stab or strangle them either in the van but more commonly after taking them back to their house first. Fred West was a builder and disposed of the bodies under patios. Some of the women were prostitutes, most were not. In Happy Like Murderers, crime author Gordon Burn states that Fred West maintained the 1987 murder of his daughter Heather was accidental after she threatened him that she would give the rest of the kids LSD, take them to a high building and convince them they could fly. He strangled Heather, he claimed, in a fit of rage. Fred West raped one of his daughters in May 1992 and she told friends at school. One girl told her mother who phoned the police. Raids followed at 25 Cromwell Place and the West children were placed in care. Social workers were concerned about conflicting stories over Heather’s disappearance and when one of the other children quipped about Heather being “under the patio” further search warrants were obtained on 24 February 1994. The following day, having excavated the patio, police found human remains and Fred West was arrested. He confessed, retracted and re-confessed many times, trying to keep Rosemary West out of it. She was eventually arrested in April 1994. Fred West hanged himself while on remand in his prison cell in Winson Green Prison on 1 January 1995. Rosemary West was convicted on 10 counts of murder on 22 November 1995 and was recommended to serve at least 25 years. In July 1997 Home Secretary Jack Straw revoked that sentence and instead imposed a Whole Life Tariff, meaning she will never leave jail. She has consistently claimed to be innocent and is currently incarcerated in HM Prison Bronzefield. Fred West was rumoured to have killed a girl near his home when he was a teenager and he had boasted to one of his early victims he had “killed hundreds”, and that there bodies “will never be found”. Given that a great many victims of sexual assault at the hands of Fred and Rosemary West did not come forward until they were arrested, there is every possibility that they killed many, many more.

Beverley Allitt

Beverley Allitt was born in an undisclosed area of England in 1968. She was fully trained as a State Enrolled Nurse and worked at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, Lincolnshire, where she killed four children, attempted to murder three others and caused grievous bodily harm to a further six over 59 days between February and April 1991. She gave overdoses of insulin to two children and injected an air bubble into the bloodstream of a third. It is unclear how she caused death in the fourth or how she made the other children ill. Beverley Allitt was subsequently convicted of the attempted murder and grievous bodily harm on Friday 28 May 1993, she was sentenced to serve 13 life sentences. The defence had asked she be detained at least 40 years, which on appeal was reduced to 30 years. A sufferer of Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy – where the sufferer causes illness in others to draw attention to themselves – Beverley Allitt is incarcerated in Rampton Secure Hospital.

Colin Ireland: The Gay Slayer

Born in Dartford, Kent, 1954, Colin Ireland lived in Southend, Essex in 1993 and in that year picked up 5 gay men in the Colherne Pub in London and subsequently murdered them in their own homes. The gay men who frequented the Colherne would wear colour-coded handkerchiefs to indicate they were gay and what sort of sex they enjoyed. Ireland picked out those who liked to play submissive roles in sado-masochistic sex, so they would be willing to be tied up before he murdered them. One of his victims was Perry Bradley III, son of Texas Democrat Party fundraiser, Perry Bradley Jr. Ireland claimed to be heterosexual and only picked the men up to rob them. The first part of this may be true and psychologists suspect Colin Ireland of being deeply homophobic. Wanting to be an infamous serial killer, after his fourth murder – and killing the cat of his fourth victim – Ireland phoned police and asked why they had not linked the four murders. He was convicted on five counts of murder on 20 December 1993 and given life sentences for each. Two days later the Home Secretary placed the Whole Life Tariff on Colin Ireland.

Harold Shipman: Dr Death

Born in Nottingham in 1946, Harold Shipman was an General Practitioner and one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. He was a respected member of the community and was once interviewed by the Granada Television current affairs programme World in Action on how the mentally ill should be treated in society. Using this veneer of respectability, Shipman killed patients with overdoses of diamorphine between 1977 and 1998. A total of 215 deaths were possibly ascribed to him, a further 45 suspected, but the true figure may never be known. His motives were complex. In some cases he profited financially by having patients change or make wills in his favour, there may have been mercy killings to end the suffering of terminally ill patients, yet some seem to be for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Harold Shipman was found guilty of killing 15 patients on 31 January 2000 and given 15 consecutive life sentences. Home Secretary David Blunkett confirmed the Whole Life Tariff on Shipman, meaning he would never leave prison alive. He hanged himself in his prison cell at Wakefied Prison on 13 January 2004.

Steven Wright: The Suffolk Strangler

Born in Erpingham, Norfolk in 1958, Steven Wright killed five prostitutes in and around Ipswich, Norfolk between 30 October – 10 December 2008. He was convicted on all five murders on 21 February 2009 and given five consecutive life sentences with recommendation for a Whole Life Tariff. Steven Wright once worked on the ship RMS Queen Elizabeth II, alongside Suzy Lamplugh, who subsequently went missing from her London home in July 1986. Suzy Lamplugh’s body has never been found but she was legally pronounced dead in 1994. It is suspected Steven Wright may have been involved in her death. Likewise Cleveland Police have stated they are keeping an open mind to Wright’s possible involvement in the death of Vicky Glass, a heroin addict from Middlesborough who went missing in 2000 and whose naked body was subsequently found in a stream on the North Yorkshire Moors.

Stephen Griffiths: The Crossbow Cannibal

Born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in 1969, Stephen Griffiths boasted that he wanted to go down in history as an infamous serial killer. He killed 3 prostitutes in and around Bradford, Yorkshire, between 22 June 2009 – 21 May 2010 and cut up their bodies. The remains of one victim have never been found. Griffiths already had convictions for violent assault and incredibly police had been watching him, even knowing he had been borrowing library books on dismemberment, for two years before the first murder took place. When arrested in May 2010 and brought before court, he gave his name as “The Crossbow Cannibal”. He was subsequently found guilty of 3 murders and sentenced to a Whole Life Tariff.

So there we have it. A notorious list of English serial killers accounting for at least 304 murders, and most likely a great many more. And that is before we count in spree killings such as the Hungerford Massacre (1987), the Cumbrian Shootings (2010) and the Rothbury Shootings (2010). Am I trying to suggest that being English makes one likely to become a serial killer? Not for one moment. I am merely showing that England has its own terrible record of serial killers, no less shocking than that of Scotland.

And it is no use trying to tie the number of Scottish serial killings to our population, or attempting to tie it to our culture. The vast majority of killings by Scots have taken place south of the border, in England, where the perpetrators had lived for a long time. Therefore, using the logic of the article in The Sun, English culture could equally be justifiably claimed to be responsible. If Professor Wilson and Matt Bendoris wish to tie serial killing to culture however, if one looks above we notice that no fewer than five of them came from Yorkshire. Note particularly that Donald Neilson and Stephen Griffiths were both born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. Given that Dewsbury is a market town with a population of approximately 54,000, one could, like Professor Wilson’s claim for Scotland, claim that for such a small place to produce not one but two notorious serial killers was disproportionately high.

One could, but then one would be playing the “Texas sharpshooter”; firing a gun several times at a barn then painting the target around the highest cluster of hits. By claiming that the number of Scottish serial killers is disproportionately high, that is precisely what The Sun is attempting to do, and the very fact they are doing it is nothing short of anti-Scottish bigotry. Sticking a thistle on a London-based newspaper and calling it Scottish does not make it so. This is just one more reason to boycott that odious gutter rag.

If The Sun or any other newspaper wants to speak about something disproportionate about Scotland, then let them speak about the fact that Scotland, whose population has never got much higher than 5 million, has had an enormous positive impact upon the world. Let them speak of all the great Scottish inventions, innovations and discoveries which have changed the world for the better. Let them speak of how there is not a day goes by when almost everyone around the world does not make use of something Scottish.

Ah but then, all these great Scottish achievements would be British, wouldn’t they?

For masochists, the original article in The Sun can be seen here:


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