Murder by the Sea: The Mochries

I learned a chilling term while researching my contribution to tonight’s episode of Murder by the Sea – the ‘Family Annihilator’.

It’s hard not be saddened, perplexed, annoyed that a man can rationalise the act of killing his whole family. One newspaper summed what many thought back in 2000 – How could he do it?

To all appearances Robert Mochrie, 49, and his wife, Catherine, 45, lived a comfortable life in Rutland Close, Barry, South Wales. They shared their £250,000 home with their children – Bethan, 10, Luke, 14, Sian, 16, and James, 18 – on a neighbourly suburban estate.

Robert and Catherine had been married for 23 years and were, so most people thought, a loving couple.

Barry & District News headline about the Mochrie murders
A headline that sums up most people’s instinctive reaction

That was until a good friend of Catherine’s, Debbie Zeraschi, who lived on the estate, became impatient to know why the Mochrie house was so quiet. It was usually bustling with the youngsters coming and going.

Catherine had said nothing to Zeraschi about going away. During 11 days of eerie quiet at the Mochrie’s home, Zeraschi noticed that there was a smell, and the flies.

With the help of a friend, Zeraschi climbed a ladder and looked into Luke’s bedroom. On the bed was a shape.

She called the police.

One of the many appalling aspects of this case was how difficult it must have been for the officers who answered that call. No amount of training could have readied them.

Leaving a note for the milkman

Robert Mochie, a former civil servant turned businessman, had gone around his darkened home and bludgeoned his wife and children to death.

An indication of how detached from rationality he had become soon became apparent to detectives. Mochrie spent the next 24 hours getting everything in order.

He cancelled Bethan’s lifts to school. He left a note for the milkman – ‘No milk until Friday.’

He put the cat and dog out. He cleaned up the blood, even though he had no intention of hiding his crime. CONTINUED

Murder by the Sea: Miles Giffard

I found one of the most interesting, but dismaying, cases in the new series of Murder by the Sea to be that of Miles Giffard.

Giffard murdered his parents, Charles, 53, and Elizabeth, 56, at the family home in St Austell in 1952. Miles Giffard was 26 and something of a puzzle.

Miles Giffard told his girlfriend he had done ‘something frightful’

He had played cricket for Cornwall and attended Rugby public school. However, that was virtually the pinnacle of his achievements. He had trained to be a solicitor (his father was a solicitor and clerk of the court in St Austell), but this had come to nothing.

He ended up selling ice cream but was described at his trial as an ‘unemployed clerk’. To his father he was a sponger and something of a failure.

Charles cut his son’s allowance and refused to let him marry until he got a job. He had received a legacy of £750 but had squandered this.

Giffard’s life in turmoil

He had a girlfriend, Gabriel Vallance, 19, whom he met him in London. Events leading up to the murders coincided with a visit he made to her.

Gabriel sent him home to Cornwall to get fresh clothes, so dismayed was she by his shabby appearance. However, Giffard was so down at heel he could not then break free of his father.

He wrote to Gabriel to say ‘the old man’ had refused to let him return to London. His father, Giffard wrote, had rationed him to one pint of beer and 20 cigarettes a day – and no pubs.

‘Short of doing him in, I see no future at all,’ Giffard wrote.

Giffard senior was insisting Miles get a job and be independent. At some point while he was stuck at home, his father refused to let him use the family car.

After murders, Giffard takes his girlfriend to a Chaplin film

Miles drank all afternoon at home. When his parents returned home that evening, he confronted his father in the garage with a metal pipe and beat him to death. He attacked his mother at the house.

The Giffards were pillars of the community and lived in a grand house, Carrickowl, by the cliffs. Miles Giffard took their bodies to the cliff edge in a wheelbarrow and threw them off. CONTD…

Harold Shipman, UK’s most prolific serial killer

Talking about the Hammersmith murders of 1964-65 and my book The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper on Shaun Attwood’s show last week, I was suddenly asked about Harold Shipman.

Shaun has a lot of followers in the US, so I was attempting to outline who the chilling Shipman was. This came up because I wrote about a fascinating BBC documentary on the case for the Mirror’s We Love TV magazine last year.

Here is the article on that shocking case and my earlier post about the documentary it was previewing. Part of the reason I was a hesitant to encapsulate this disturbing case on Shaun’s show was simply finding the words to convey the enormity of Shipman’s crimes.

Shipman watched his dying mother

He was born into a working class family in Nottingham in 1946. He apparently became interested in medicine as he watched his mother be given morphine injections to ease her pain.

It is thought by some this experience may have haunted him and influenced his later obsession with ending the lives of his own patients.

He killed his first victim, Eva Lyons, in March 1971 just before she turned 71. The patients he killed, most were women, were injected with diamorphine.

Suspicions about the kindly doctor

Masquerading as the caring local doctor, he murdered at least 250 patients over 23 years.

They were not fatally ill and would not have known what he was doing. Undertakers in Hyde, Greater Manchester, were suspicious about the number of local deaths.

The neighbouring surgery, as I mentioned to Shaun, also were disturbed to note that the death rate at Shipman’s surgery was 10 times higher than theirs.

In my chat with Shaun I also talk about footage online of the arrogant narcissist ignoring detectives after his capture. You can view it here.

He was found dead in his Wakefield jail cell in 2004. The 57-year-old had hanged himself.

Murder by the Sea: Danny Dyke

Danny Dyke was leading a double life. To mates and colleagues in the Swansea area he was an osteopath.

A former rugby player for Rosslyn Park and Eastbourne before knee injuries cut his playing prospects short, he’d also had a spell as a physio for Neath and Aberavon rugby clubs.

However, as revealed in CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea, he wanted more. This led to his developing a dangerous sideline – that of a drug dealer with a sophisticated network.

To anyone who looked he seemed to have it all for a time. This was the early 1990s. Rugby union was on the verge of going professional and Dyke had plenty of rugby contacts.

Grim headlines at the time of the Danny Dyke murder trial

Osteopath’s dangerous double life

So he had his day job, but on the quiet was providing anabolic steroids to rugby players and clubbers. But he also had a lifestyle that was beyond the means of the average physio.

He had developed contacts in London who could supply him with the drugs he distributed in south Wales. The problem was that sooner or later he was going to do business with some seriously nasty criminals.

One London man who knew the scene said Dyke was a nice fella who had no muscle behind him.

Murder by the Sea returns – series 6

CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea returns for a sixth series on Tuesday (7 Sept, 10pm), with further engrossing accounts of notorious cases.

I’ve been fascinated to be involved in several previous series and filmed contributions to five cases in the upcoming collection, although the research can be grim at times.

Nell Darby presents Murder by the Sea
Nell Darby presents Murder by the Sea

However, the cases I was invited to talk about covered an intriguing range, from 1952 up to more modern murders. They include the case of a ‘family annihilator’ in south Wales, a gang murder and the shocking case of an extremely dangerous man released from hospital on conditional discharge.

Cruel husbands

When Monster Films first asked me to be part of the series in 2018, I was bemused by premise, which seemed a little random.

Having since looked into quite a few cases for the producers, I now appreciate what a strong idea the seaside angle is. A rich variety of lifestyles and people are found in coastal communities.

People retire there, or raise families or pass through on holiday. Murder has wreaked havoc on unfortunate members of all these groups.

Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper on YouTube

Just wanted to flag an interview I’ve done about The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper for Crime Country, a new YouTube channel.

It’s been launched by Nick Barksdale. He also runs the hugely popular Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages channel on YouTube, which has 109,000 subscribers.

We chat for around 45 minutes about the case of the West London serial killer who eluded Scotland Yard’s biggest ever manhunt in 1964-65. We talk about why the investigation failed and what makes Harold Jones the number-one suspect for the crimes.

Check out Crime Country here.

Dark Land: Hunting the Killers

Coming to BBC iPlayer this evening is this new four-part series. It uses contemporary experts to reinvestigate notorious cold cases to unearth possible clues to the killers’ identities.

I am a contributor to one of the films, which explores the murder of showgirl Mamie Shotton, who went missing in 1920. Her body was found 41 years later in a cave on the Gower coastline.

The ‘dark land’ referred to here is Wales because all the crimes occurred there. The first case is the murder of Maureen Mulcahy at Port Talbot in 1976.

Suspicion fell on bigamist George Shotton

The other two are the murders of six-year-old Carol Ann Stephens in Cardiff in 1959 and Muriel Drinkwater, aged 12, in Swansea in 1946.

Mamie Stuarts body was not found until 1961

The Mamie Shotton case is one I researched for an episode of Murder by the Sea on CBS Reality, and it is intriguing. Suspicion fell on her husband, George, a marine surveyor who was 13 years older than his wife.

George Shotton was also a bigamist. When Mamie disappeared from their home in Swansea, her husband had another home nearby where he was also living with his first wife and their son.

The absence of Mamie’s body for several decades meant that police ended up only being able to charge George Shotton with bigamy. When she was discovered, by some pot-holers in 1961, not far from where George Shotton lived, he had already died.

Links beween Shotton and another notorious case?

Dark Land, however, speculates about his possible links to another notorious crime that occurred in the 1930s. Shotton was known to travel around, was arrogant and violent. The programme, hosted by author Dr Nell Darby and produced by Monster Films, looks at how he may have been responsible for more than one horrific crime.

The other crime, which caused a sensation in Britain in 1934, was the first Brighton Trunk Murder. This was the discovery of a torso in a trunk found in left luggage at Brighton railway station.

A day of filming on Brighton Pier

The victim was around 25 years old and found to be pregnant. Neither she nor her killer were ever identified.

For the programme I trawled through the archive at The Keep, Brighton, reviewing the police reports, before being filmed in Brighton.

Scotland Yard worked tirelessly to break the case but luck was against them. All the potential leads came to nothing and the decision to appeal to the public for information backfired when they were inundated with crank calls and useless tips.

‘It is difficult to speak with restraint…’

One extraordinary moment highlights how unlucky detectives were.

A man called Frederick Claridge, 37, was strolling along under the cliff at Black Rock with his friend, Barbara Naides. Incredibly, they found a female human head in a pool of water.

More incredibly, Claridge convinced his friend that they should not report this horrific discovery to the police. His reasoning was that someone had committed suicide and police had discarded the head.

The Chief Inspector notes, with commendable understatement, ‘It is difficult to speak with restraint as to why a normal and intelligent individual should form this view…’

Two young women lost their lives and their families never got any justice or insight into what happened to them. I’m sure Nell Darby will place their stories firmly and sympathetically at the centre of this documentary, but how strongly will George Shotton be implicated in both?

Dark Land: Hunting the Killers on BBC iPlayer

The Shipman Files: A Very British Crime Story

I wrote a feature for the Mirror‘s We Love TV mag this week and wanted to flag up this series.

It’s a three-part look at the appalling Harold Shipman case made by filmmaker Chris Wilson for BBC Two. It is 20 years since this family doctor was exposed as probably the worst serial murderer in modern times, but it’s hard to watch these films and still not be shocked today.

Daily Mirror front page in 2000

This is a serious, well-made series of documentaries, sensitively speaking to relatives of victims, detectives, journalists and others with a connection to the case. Chris Wilson’s aim is to explore how Shipman got away with murdering so many of his patients in plain sight for more than 20 years. His final total of victims is thought to be up to 250.

Wilson’s contention is that because many victims were elderly women they were not valued as members of society and too easily written off when found dead. It was a simple matter for Shipman to give them a dose of diamorphine and write ‘old age’ on their death certificate without raising suspicion.

Shipman the drug addict

Also in Shipman’s favour was the unwarranted level of trust and respect placed in GPs at this time. Earlier in his career Shipman had been revealed to be a drug addict himself, only to be give a second chance to continue his career by the authorities.

Shipman appeared to be a caring family doctor, frequently making housecalls apparently out of the goodness of his heart. These were often cover for his murders.

He was an arrogant, odious murderer of many perfectly healthy and active people. In a telling moment in the final film we see him turning his back on detectives in the interview room, refusing to answer a single question and closing his eyes when shown crime photos.

This is a moving and thought-provoking series in the best tradition of true-crime documentary reporting.

BBC Two, The Shipman Files, Monday 28 Sept to Wednesday 30 Sept, 9pm

Des – ITV’s account of Dennis Nilsen

As the second wave of coronavirus lockdown looms, we all need cheering, so ITV’s three nights devoted to a drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen this week may be approached with trepidation.

Nilsen was found guilty of murdering 15 boys and young men between 1978 and 1983. The case still has the power to dismay us, being a perplexing tale of loneliness and inexplicable horror. Most of the victims were not even missed.

Brian Masters’ classic portrait of serial killer Dennis Nilsen

ITV’s series, starring David Tennant as Nilsen, who was known as Des, is not a lurid recreation of the crimes, however. It comes at the events from an unusual angle, which should make the drama fascinating.

Writer Brian Masters got close to Nilsen while he was behind bars, and this relationship is central to the drama. Masters wrote a classic account of his dealings with Nilsen, Killing for Company, using the killer’s own writings and poems in addition to their interviews to offer psychological insights into the man.

The book starts with a description of Muswell Hill, where Nilsen had been living when he was arrested. It looks at his Scottish background and slowly builds a portrait of this solitary but intelligent civil servant.

Masters also spoke to Nilsen’s mother and leading detectives on the case, and wrote a balanced and rare depiction of a strange, shocking predator.

In the drama, Masters, played by Jason Watkins, is exhilarated to be involved in writing up the case, but he underestimates the impact his new obsession will have on his life. The series considers the ethics of our interest in such figures.

Undoubtedly, these are dark events, but I don’t feel our inclination to watch such series is prurient. Our curiosity to understand how these crimes occur and who commits them is powerful.

But after each episode, I might switch over for some escapism and watch Battlestar Galactica.

Des, ITV, Mon-Wed 9pm

Murder by the Sea’s most fascinating case? You decide…

I hear CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea is gearing up for a fifth series.

This is good news for the many viewers who have become devoted followers of these documentaries, recounting difficult murder cases that have confronted police around UK coastal towns.

Beside the seaside – Geoffrey Wansell

Presented by the flamboyant Geoffrey Wansell, each episode interviews detectives and other experts – including true-crime writers like myself – to review cases ranging from the bizarre to the shocking.

In recent days this blog has been receiving hundreds of hits from viewers who have been watching summer repeats of the series. In response, I would love to hear which episodes you have found most compelling…

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