Andrew Crofts and Mark McCrum spoke entertainingly about their specialism, ghostwriting, at a Society of Authors talk in Piccadilly last week.
They have written a huge variety of autobiographies and memoirs on behalf of people with stories to tell, from pop stars to soldiers to adventurers to victims of abuse. Though it sounds like a job that can be fascinating and occasionally well rewarded, it seems the gold-rush days are over.
Not so long ago, for penning Robbie Williams’ life story you could have got £200,000 up front and royalties that started at £100,000. However, in today’s shrivelled publishing landscape, huge advances and generous royalties are rare.
The two writers also outlined the frustrations of the work. Subjects who decided they don’t like your writing, celebrity egos and the ‘beauty contests’. This is where several writers are paraded before a celeb, who then picks whoever he/she finds least offensive.
Sean Connery and Robbie Williams
However, the upside is that the work can be fascinating. Travelling the world meeting extraordinary people with remarkable experiences to relate clearly beats most office jobs.
Not all the subjects are laudable. Crofts, whose manual on ghostwriting is quoted in Robert Harris’s thriller The Ghost, talked about various dictators and criminals he has ghosted for.
His advice on this is straightforward. You don’t have to like or admire the person. If they interest you, take the work. If not, walk away. Continue reading →
These are the words of Professor Brian J Ford during BBC4’s Murder in Soho: Who Killed Freddie Mills? And the death of Britain’s former boxing hero has certainly attracted rumour, legend and some wacky theories since his apparent suicide in 1965.
I was pleased that this documentary took a fairly sober approach to the case. It is far better than the recent irritating and overlong Ruth Ellis Files on BBC4.
It did not focus much on the outlandish claim that Freddie Mills was the serial killer known as Jack the Stripper or the Hammersmith Nude Killer. However, it does make space for author Michael Litchfield, whose book on the case made such assertions. These are unfounded, as far as I am concerned. Author and former police officer Dick Kirby says succinctly the idea is ‘ludicrous’ during the programme.
Mills: suicide or murder?
The film does make a convincing case that Mills probably did not shoot himself in the eye – a very rare method for a person to use when committing suicide.
Various theories are explored to support the idea that Mills was the victim of criminals. The boxing world and West End nightclub land where Mills was a part-owner of a night spot were heavily linked to the underworld.
Does the programme clear up the puzzle once and for all? I don’t think it makes a conclusive case. But it is a fascinating portrait of a much-loved personality – perhaps Britain’s first celebrity and the David Beckham of his time – who seems to have crossed paths with the wrong people.
Paul Longworth thought he had committed the perfect crime.
He strangled his wife, Tina, with a rope and left her dangling from the banisters. He then left the scene of the crime, their home. He went to Southport Sailing Club, where he was the commodore, to celebrate his 37th birthday party.
Back at home, he left his two young children asleep in their beds, while their dead mother was downstairs. No one at the party suspected he had just committed murder.
On returning home, he called the police, alerted his neighbours to the death and told everyone Tina had committed suicide. At first detectives believed him.
As former detective – and role model for Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison – Jackie Malton says during the next edition of Murder by the Sea, ‘What makes this crime particularly unpleasant and horrific is that he risked that his two children could have got out of bed and found their mother, which would have traumatised them.’
The series, on CBS Reality, has so far dealt with psychopaths and gangsters. This episode is different. It explores a story of domestic abuse, about the darkness behind respectability and the cold-bloodedness of this killer.
Thought he was cleverer than the police
Like the other talking heads on this episode, I found it hard to work out how somebody, even a man in a failing marriage, could have had such a void of feelings inside.
‘He came across as very much an arrogant man, says Professor Mike Berry. ‘He thought he was cleverer than the police, he thought he was going to get away with it.’
To find out why he didn’t, watch Murder by the Sea on CBS Reality (Monday 18 June 10pm, Tuesday 19 June 2am, Sunday 24 June 9pm).
I spent Good Friday working on a documentary being made for CBS Reality called Murder by the Sea. The setting was a chilly boatyard in Cardiff.
The premise of this 12-part series is fascinating. It is about how the seaside has been the setting for a spectrum of homicides down the years.
Coastal towns can be quiet and idyllic, faded and in decline, or well-off and socially conservative. But they are often shaken by shocking crimes.
From Blackpool to Pembrokeshire
Blackpool is a pleasure resort that attracts holidaymakers, but also dodgy types. The high turnover of visitors makes it a transient destination – ideal for criminals or those with predatory designs on unsuspecting strangers.
Quiet resorts can also be exploited by the ruthless. Morecambe is a pleasant seaside town at the foot of the Lake District national park. Birdwatchers and hikers love the area. It was not prepared for a brutal double murder of Tony Marrocco and Paul Sandham that hit the town in 1995.
What is it about the seaside? Do these places have a feeling of anonymity? Or, as Murder by the Sea‘s opening sequence suggests, is it that some people associate them with the ‘end of the line’.
Serial killer John Cooper
So I found myself in a yard full of wooden boats, many antique, all being rebuilt or repaired. I’d been asked to comment on some of the cases being covered. These ranged from the Morecambe murders, committed by Terry Clifton, to a particularly chilling case on the Pembrokeshire coast.
John Cooper committed two double murders with a shotgun. The first was in 1985 when he raided the isolated farmhouse of siblings Richard and Helen Thomas, both in their 50s.
Four years later he ambushed Oxfordshire couple Peter and Gwenda Dixon on the coastal path. He forced Mr Dixon to give him his bank details, and brutally shot the couple. He later took about £300 from his victim’s account.
Life without parole
Cooper was a horrible man. He brutalised his young son, and later tried to implicate him
in his own crimes. He was suspected of having committed around 70 burglaries and sexually attacked two teenage girls when he pounced a group of youths in 1996.
While Cooper thrived on the reckless thrill of terrorising all those around him, he was also calculating and cunning.
He was finally arrested in 2009 and went to jail for life without parole in 2011. Continue reading →
It is almost a year since publication of The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper, but the uncovering of new insights into this unsolved series of murders continues.
The BBC documentary about the London serial killer of at least six women is likely to reveal new information about a possible culprit when it’s broadcast later this year. I was lucky enough to take part in this for a day’s filming in February and heard of several intriguing new areas of inquiry being made.
Now I have been put in touch with a scientist at Queen Mary University of London. He has been doing new research of his own.
Steve Le Comber of Queen Mary University
Steve Le Comber is a mathematical biologist at Queen Mary University, London. He specialises in using geographic profiling to trace sources of disease outbreaks, such as malaria. He has occasionally worked alongside Dr Kim Rossmo, an investigator who helped me with my book.
Kim works on behalf of law enforcement agencies around the world by using his own geographic modelling to pinpoint areas where serial criminals may be based. He conducted an analysis of the Nude Murders for me. These were, of course, committed in west London in 1964-65. Put simply, geographic profilers analyse crime-scene locations using a computer algorithm to calculate where a perpetrator might live or work.
Such a technique was not available in the Sixties to Scotland Yard’s detectives. They were flummoxed by this careful, calculating killer.
Despite the huge difficulties in unmasking the man who got away with the murder of at least six women in 1960s London so long after the event, efforts are still ongoing in 2017 to unravel this chilling mystery.
Since the publication of The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper in July, I’ve been in touch with author Neil Milkins. In his 2011 book Who Was Jack the Stripper? he makes an interesting case for Harold jones, a child sex killer, having been the guilty man.
My own feeling is that the case against Jones is circumstantial. However, in researching my book I did come across one tantalising new connection between Jones and the 1960s investigation.
This has helped to spur Neil into pushing on with more research on the case and assistance in a new documentary,
Harold Jones teenage killer
As a 15 year old, Jones had callously murdered two girls in his home town of Abertillery in the 1920s. He eventually pleaded guilty because he would have turned 16 by the time of his trial and been eligible for hanging.
A ludicrously indulgent prison governor decided to release Jones from prison in 1941, despite his lack of remorse for his crimes.
Thanks to Neil’s research, it seems Jones turned up in west London, where he married and had a daughter. During the height of the manhunt for the Nude Killer, who murdered six prostitutes in 1964-65 and left their unclothed bodies in locations around west London, Jones was living under the noses of detectives.
For my own book, I was lucky enough to interview Dr Kim Rossmo, a leading geographic profiler. He had created a computer program that can analyse data based on a series of crimes, travel routes and other local information to produce geographic hotspots revealing where a perpetrator lives, works or has some connection.
Geo-profile hotspots in west London
He conducted such an analysis for me in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper (Mirror Books). This suggests two hotspots in west London where he thinks the killer may have had a base.
A geographic profile by Kim Rossmo revealed this area around Hammersmith where the Nude Murderer may have been based
One is around Hammersmith and the other covers Holland Park/Notting Hill.
The significance of this is that Harold Jones – as Neil Milkins has shown – was living in Aldensley Road. This is right in the middle of the Hammersmith hotspot. But Jones never came under suspicion during what was the biggest manhunt in police history up to that time.
What would detectives have discovered about Jones?
Again, this doesn’t prove Jones was the killer. But it does raise the question… What if detectives had been able to narrow their focus to these hotspots?
Instead of being spread so thinly across 24 square miles of west London, they might have realised they had a cold-blooded psycho right in the murder zone.
They could have interviewed and checked out his movements and lifestyle very closely. So, he may or may not be Jack the Stripper… but on the other hand we know nothing at all about him at this time.
I’ve just finished the fascinating I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.
What an amazing coincidence that California police finally nabbed a suspect for the Golden State Killer crimes so soon after its publication. Finding the perpetrator is the subject of McNamara’s book.
Or was it a coincidence?
It looks as if McNamara’s investigation may have inspired the capture of suspect Joseph James DeAngelo. The cops somehow surreptitiously got his DNA from something he threw away and came up with a match.
Joseph James DeAngelo
What is not clear at the moment is how they latched onto DeAngelo, a former cop. However, the book contains a couple of ideas about he could be caught one day.
It has some geographic profiling of where his murders and rapes, carried out between 1976 and 1986, were committed. He was linked to 50 rapes, 12 murders and many burglaries.
The purpose of this kind of profiling is to indicate where a predator may live or work. The geo-research by a detective McNamara was talking to and by Kim Rossmo, the leading geographic profiler (whom I interviewed for The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper), both pinpoint the area around Citrus Heights. This is precisely where DeAngelo lived and was arrested last week.
Using DNA to catch DeAngelo
The use of ancestral DNA to unmask the serial killer was another feature of McNamara’s theories for trapping the GSK. McNamara died in 2016 before finishing the book. However, her researcher, Paul Haynes, and journalist Billy Jensen pieced her notes together to finish it.
I’m just reading I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. It’s a very readable account of her interest, or perhaps obsession, with a serial rapist and murderer call variously the Golden State Killer, the East Area Rapist or the Original Night Stalker.
He committed 12 murders, 45 rapes and 120 burglaries, particularly in a swathe of Sacramento county. Reading McNamara’s account, I have been wondering how the police failed to catch him. The crimes were perpetrated in fairly concentrated areas, suggesting that the homicidal prowler lived locally and knew the area well.
Has the Golden State Killer been caught?
Someone just contacted me with the hot news that California police are about to make an announcement of an arrest. Incredible. The man has been free all this time, apparently living in the Sacramento area.
It would be fascinating to discover who he is, how he evaded law enforcement for so long and what motive he had for his horrible crimes.
Presented by crime author Geoffrey Wansell, the first case looked at is Stephen Akinmurele. It’s an intriguing but chilling story.
Akinmurele is a little known case, because he killed himself before he could be tried. He is Britain’s most prolific young serial killer, having been charged with murdering five elderly people between 1995 and 1998. Some of these were committed in Blackpool.
I’ve seen the opener and will preview it in full shortly.
I do some work as a book editor. This month has seen the publication of a memoir I helped to prepare that was one of the most shocking and disturbing I have ever read.
Playland: Secrets of a Forgotten Scandal is by Anthony Daly. It recounts how as a young man in Ulster of the 1970s he fled the Troubles and came to London.
A book lover, he got a job in Foyles. Then his story took a dark turn.
He was swindled out of his money and found himself in Playland, a notorious games arcade on Piccadilly Circus. Here he was befriended by two men, one posh, one not.
Playland exposes the seedy side of the 1970s
They were charming and concerned about him. Accepting their offer of a meal and a loan, he joins them. However, he is drugged and raped, and then blackmailed into becoming a male prostitute.
He is beaten, abused and forced to gratify high-ranking politicians at sordid parties. It is a brutal and terrifying existence. Daly drowns out the trauma of it by taking all the drugs and drink he can get.
Despite the squalor and cruelty he depicts, the author writes tenderly and evocatively about the period and the lads he befriended on the Dilly. In particular, his friendship with the reckless Damie is painfully moving.