Murder by the Sea: David Ellis

The CBS Reality series continued to rake through the dark side of our seaside towns this week. This time it was the sad case of Swansea landlord Alec Warburton, who was murdered by his callous tenant, David Ellis.

Ellis had a number of grubby convictions behind him, including sexual offences against a girl. He was also a liar and seems to have lied about his financial situation to convince Mr Warburton to rent a room to him.

Alec Warburton (left) and his killer, David Ellis

Swansea is a pretty safe community, so what ensued shocked the locals. Ellis plotted to kill Warburton, who was 59, having arranged for the other tenants to forward their rent to him, Ellis.

He then launched a horrendous hammer attack on the unsuspecting landlord. As Home Office pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers says in the programme, there were no defence injuries on Mr Warburton. Ellis’s attack was a cowardly assault from behind.

Ellis fled to Ireland

Ellis was no master criminal. He was captured on CCTV at a Swansea library printing the letter he forged to other tenants requesting the rent. He was also filmed by traffic cameras as he transported Mr Warburton’s body to a quarry in north Wales for disposal.

The Irish police caught him after he fled to Galway on the west coast of Ireland. Oddly enough, he immediately crumpled and confessed to police.

Once again, Murder by the Sea has lined up interesting experts for this edition, with Prof Mike Berry again giving valuable insights into Ellis’s criminality.

Ellis was 41 when he was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years in 2016. His appalling crime was easily uncovered, while Mr Warburton’s loved ones have to live with the grief of his loss for ever.

And for what? After the murder, Ellis probably made off with a few hundred quid.

Murder by the Sea is on CBS Reality on Tuesdays 10pm

Murder by the Sea: Mamie Stuart

The third episode of Murder by the Sea on CBS Reality is about a case that is 100 years old. The murder of Mamie Stuart was all made all the more unhappy because this was a crime in which the killer escaped justice.

Mamie Stuarts body was not found until 1961

Mamie, a 26-year-old chorus dancer, disappeared in 1919. She had married to a man called George Shotton in 1918.

They met soon after Mamie had finished a tour on stage and she had returned home to Sunderland. Shotton, something of a charmer and 13 years older than Mamie, was a marine surveyor. He was in Sunderland on business when he encountered Mamie in 1917.

Marriage turns violent

Once they were married Mamie went to live with Shotton at his home in Swansea. Having led what was probably a precarious but lively existence as a dancer, Mamie soon found domestic life with Shotton a living hell.

Jack the Ripper – The Case Reopened BBC1

Programme Name: Jack the Ripper: The Case Reopened - TX: 04/04/2019 - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: with Anatomage table. Professor David Wilson, Emilia Fox - (C) BBC - Photographer: Hugh Campbell
Professor David Wilson and Emilia Fox (C) BBC

When I was on the last day of filming for BBC4’s Dark Son back in August, the film’s presenter and top criminologist David Wilson was chatting about the Jack the Ripper documentary he had just made with Emilia Fox.

He was talking about how the programme shed new light on the case. Let’s face it, the Ripper industry of books, conventions and fansites can be tawdry. Many new publications are boring and often exploitative.

However, having read David’s A History of British Serial Killing, I knew this new take on the case would be more sober and have something new to say. David said one new aspect of the BBC1documentary was that they had been allowed to run the case files through the Home Office Large Major Enquiry System (HOLMES).

Five or six victims?

It is generally accepted that during the 1888 reign of horrible murders, someone killed five women in Whitechapel. Hallie Rubenhold’s excellent new book The Five is now challenging the orthodoxy that all the victims were prostitutes.

Along with the Silent Witness actor Emilia Fox, David has been able to use HOLMES as the police would do today, to find patterns in a complex series of crimes. In the film they argue there is strong evidence that there were actually six victims. Martha Tabram is cited here as the first one.

They then consult a geographic profiler with this news. Geo-profiling is another modern technique used to analyse a series of crimes to create a pattern. This pattern can then reveal where a perpetrator lives or works.

New pattern of crimes

This is a subject I became interested in when writing The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper and some of my research ended up in February’s documentary Dark Son.

For this new film, they use the fresh geographic pattern of six victims including Tabram to reveal a possible suspect.

Does this mean it’s case closed for David and Emilia? I doubt it. But when there is so much nonsense and prurience circulating about this sad and tragic series of deaths, it should be intriguing to see a more measured and forensic approach being taken to this elusive case.

Jack the Ripper – The Case Reopened BBC1, Thursday 4 April, 9pm

The Yorkshire Ripper Files

I remember as a student being woken by the radio alarm to news that police had finally arrested the Yorkshire Ripper – after long six years of hunting him.

Milgarth Police Station, Leeds. By Mtaylor848

That was 1981. Big news. The murderer had spread fear across the North of England with his cowardly, obscene hammer attacks on women.

The media had started by loyally reporting police efforts to catch the culprit, but this switched to doubts and criticism. Politicians turned on the police. The Reclaim the Night campaign was launched in Leeds in 1977 by women angry that police were telling them to stay home at night.

Film-maker Liza Williams

A new three-part BBC4 documentary, The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, revisits these events. It evokes well the horror and tragedy of the time

The opening episode begins with the murder of mother-of-four Wilma McCann in 1975. Her son Robert, then just a little boy, recalls going to look for her with his siblings early in the morning.

The series, made by film-maker Liza Williams, places the victims at the heart of its account. She meets survivors of Peter Sutcliffe’s attacks as well as other relatives.

Sutcliffe interviewed nine times

It’s an atmospheric documentary, a thought-provoking look at an investigation that went badly wrong.

As far as I can see in episode one there are no great surprises. The bias and disbelief shown by police towards some of the victims, the fact that Sutcliffe eluded serious suspicion despite being interviewed nine times, and the blunders are fairly well known.

However, with it use of archive footage and telling interviews, the series is a powerful depiction of a case that changed the way police investigations are conducted for good. It also makes the point strongly that societal prejudices helped Sutcliffe to evade justice for so long.

He killed at least 13 women and attacked eight others. I say ‘at least’ because some observers suspect he killed more than that.

The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story BBC4 Tuesday 26 March

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

Aside

I started watching the Netflix true-crime series, but decided to switch to John Grisham’s book to better absorb these events. The author says in the series that you could not write this story as fiction because no one would believe it.

John Grisham's The Innocent Man
John Grisham’s shocking true-crime account

It’s a really shocking tale of a vicious miscarriage of justice. It involves a rotten police investigation, lamentable courtroom failures and a prosecutor apparently hellbent on enacting his own prejudices.

The town you probably want to avoid in Oklahoma where these events occurred was Ada. The case was the murder of waitress Debra Carter in 1982. Former hometown baseball hero Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz are the two innocents railroaded to jail. Williamson ended up on death row while Fritz got life.

Grisham can’t maintain authorial dispassion while relaying this events, his prose occasionally dripping with sarcasm at the callousness and malignancy of the authorities.

As Fritz states in these pages, ‘When you don’t have any money to defend yourself, you’re at the mercy of the judicial system. Once in the system, it’s almost impossible to get out, even if you’re innocent.’

A powerful book full of villains and wonderful ordinary people fighting for justice. Sadly, Williamson and Fritz lost more than they could ever get back – and the true killer roamed free for years.

Dark Son on BBC4

Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer on BBC4
Re-enactment from Dark Son

This intriguing documentary is now scheduled for next Tuesday (12 Feb) at 9pm on BBC4.

Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is a 90-minute look into one of the most appalling and unsolved serial killer cases in British history.

In 1964-65 a kerb-crawler murdered six women in west London. He left their naked bodies in the River Thames or various outdoor secluded spots. Scotland Yard mounted its biggest ever manhunt but could uncover no strong suspects.

The killer stopped his murder campaign in February 1965. The public and media largely forgot the crimes.

As described elsewhere on this blog, the producers at Monster Films have pulled together a team of experts to reinvestigate the case. Child murderer Harold Jones is the prime suspect the police overlooked, the film argues.

Will the Met re-investigate the case?

I’ve heard that senior Scotland Yard figures have seen the film and been in touch with the producers. The Met could sanction a new review of the crimes and Jones’s possible connection.

This could be vital. While the programme’s experts, including criminologists and former detectives, have done a fine job in delving into the past, the police can access old records that are out of bounds.

These include witness statements, and old employment and driving records. It is unlikely there will be conclusive proof condemning Jones, a very devious character, but a powerful circumstantial case could emerge.

Anyone who can’t wait until Tuesday to see the film can catch it on BBC iPlayer until next Monday.

Murder by the Sea – John Cooper

The trailer for season two of Murder by the Sea

John Cooper was a man with a powerful streak of badness in him. A bully, a psychopath and a vicious killer, he terrorised an area of Pembrokeshire for two decades.

He is the subject of a forthcoming episode of CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea (Tuesday, 29 January, 10pm). As a contributor to the series, I must say Cooper made the biggest impression on me for the heartless, chilling nature of his crimes.

He was jailed for 30 counts of burglary in 1998. By this time, however, he had also committed two double murders.

Murdered two couples

While raiding the country home of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas in 1985 to rob the place, he killed both with a shotgun. He then burned the house down.

Four years later he ambushed holidaying Oxfordshire couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon as they strolled along the coastal path. He bound and terrorised the couple, then shot them both in the face. Cooper took £300 from a cash dispenser using Mr Dixon’s PIN number.

He had a lust for terrorising and abusing people. In 1996 he pulled his shotgun on a group of teenagers walking through fields. He raped one of the girls and assaulted another.

Continue reading

The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

Joseph Wambaugh, former LA cop, has had an interesting writing career, spanning fiction and non-fiction. I’ve read several of his books and just finished this true-crime title from 1973.

It recounts events from 1963 when two LAPD officers stopped a pair of small-time but dangerous characters. Greg Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith pulled a gun and took the policemen, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, hostage.The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

The officers were ordered to drive to an onion field near Bakersfield. Campbell was executed but Hettinger managed to escape. My initial feeling when I started reading was not good. The book is written in the style of Truman Capote’s a ‘non-fiction novel’ In Cold Blood. This style and Capote’s reliability as narrator have since been questioned.

So, in The Onion Field we get the participants’ thoughts and dialogue from throughout their lives, which clearly no author can know. My reaction was that this must be a novel, but the spine said non-fiction.

Continue reading

Dark Son now on BBC iPlayer

Professor David Wilson and former senior detective Jackie Malton uncover new facts about the unsolved Hammersmith Nude Murders from the 1960s

Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is now available to view on BBC iPlayer.

I have been talking about this documentary for a while now. It was almost a year ago that I got involved with filming some sequences for this re-examination of the unsolved Hammersmith Nude Murders.

My involvement was sought because of findings in my book The Hunt for the 60s Ripper. This employed some modern policing theories to understand why Scotland Yard’s biggest ever manhunt failed to unmask the killer of six women in London in 1964-65.

I consulted Dr Kim Rossmo, one of the world’s leading geographic profilers. He produced an analysis and map for my book that revealed two areas of west London where the killer was probably based.

Harold Jones lived in the middle of the murder area

It is this data that is used in Dark Son. One of the problems the original investigation had was that it was thinly spread over 24 square miles of London.

The geo-profile would have allowed detectives to focus resources on two hotspots around Hammersmith and Notting Hill. Had they done so they would have crossed paths with Harry Stevens.

Harold Jones was released from prison in 1941

This man, living in Aldensley Road, Hammersmith, never featured in the original investigation. As Dark Son explains brilliantly, Stevens was actually Harold Jones, a murderer of two children in his youth in 1921.

Continue reading

Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer on BBC

Here’s the trailer for the documentary I’ve been talking about for several months. Dark Son will go out on BBC Wales on 12 January and on BBC4 on 22 January.

The revelations will be ‘astonishing’, according to Professor David Wilson, the leading criminologist who presents the film.

Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
BBC trailer for Dark Son

It is remarkable that since I wrote The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper in 2017 this film has been made exploring fresh angles.

Leading criminologists, former detectives, a genealogist and writers have come together to re-investigate this unsolved, grotesque series of crimes. I was delighted to be asked to take part.

Who murdered six women and left their naked bodies in public places in the Swinging London of 1964-65? This was a huge police hunt and media story that eventually faded from the headlines.

Dark Son should refocus everyone’s attention on this mystery – not least that of the Met. A major theme of the film will look at child murderer Harold Jones.

As a 15-year-old he murdered two little girls in 1921. He served 20 years in jail.

However, detectives investigating the Nude Murders were never aware of the fact that he was living amid the crimes in Hammersmith during this time.

What would Scotland Yard’s detectives have discovered about him if they had known he was there?