A Beatle at The Bush

Little while ago @FlipLondonTours tweeted a pic of Paul McCartney filming a scene for A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. He’s seen going into The Bush on Goldhawk Road, London.

The scene was never used in the final film, but the picture gave me a jolt because I wrote about this pub in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper without knowing of this Beatles connection. It was the boozer in which the serial killer’s final victim, Bridie O’Hara, was last seen at closing time on 11 January 1965.

I commented in the book on the juxtaposition of so much Swinging Sixties culture being made in Shepherd’s Bush – Doctor Who at the Beeb round the corner, the Beatles themselves at the Hammersmith Odeon etc – while the area was also the stomping ground for a devious killer.

It’s bizarre to think this photo puts one of most famous 1960s movies on the same premises probably frequented by the killer.

The BBC4 documentary Dark Son even suggested that the man who is a strong suspect as the perpetrator of the crimes, Harold Jones, lived nearby in Aldensley Road.

Shepherd’s Bush was literally a crossroads between the explosion of popular postwar culture and the city’s dark side.

Many thanks to Aidan McManus of @FlipLondonTours for posting the pic.

The Fatal Passion of Alma Rattenbury

A painstakingly researched and totally absorbing account of a once sensational, now forgotten, murder from 1935. Alma Rattenbury and her young lover, George Stoner, 18, faced the hangman in an Old Bailey trial following the murder of her husband, distinguished architect Francis Rattenbury. The case shocked, horrified, electrified the nation and went on to inspire plays and TV dramas.

Francis Rattenbury was a rather ratty old husband, pushing 70, his best years behind him. Alma was a flamboyant 43-year-old, a former musical prodigy, now stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage in a suburb of Bournemouth.

She fell passionately for teenage Stoner when he was taken on as the family’s driver, and all the fevered elements of a drawing-room tragedy were finally in place. In March 1935 Rattenbury had his brains bashed in and the lovers were soon in the dock.

Author Sean O’Connor, who is also a director and producer in TV, radio and film, conjures the mood and prejudices of the era for a superb account of the trial and its heartbreaking aftermath.

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I’ll Be Gone in the Dark TV series

Michelle McNamara, who died in 2016, wrote one of the most fascinating true-crime books of the last 10 years.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark charted her obsession with a case about an unknown perpetrator she called the Golden State Killer. The crimes graduated from burglaries to rapes and then murders.

They were chilling in their sadism, remorselessness and sheer volume.

McNamara was a graduate in creative writing who had an interest in true crime. She ran a website called TrueCrimeDiary and started to explore the crimes of a burglar and attacker known as the East Area Rapist, who operated in the Sacramento area in the late 1970s.

Between 1979 and 1986 there was then a series of murders attributed to the Original Night Stalker. It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA evidence confirmed it was one man committing this multitude of crimes.

Joseph James DeAngelo arrested

McNamara’s mission was to make the case better known and to uncover who had been getting away with these attacks for decades.

She died before she saw a suspect, former police officerJoseph James DeAngelo, aged 74, get arrested in 2018. He is charged with multiple first-degree murders and is awaiting trial.

However, McNamara’s book may have been instrumental in assisting detectives with her suggestion that the DNA should be used to explore the killer’s genealogical background. Perhaps this new HBO true-crime series, which is showing on Sky Atlantic in June, will reveal if her book played a part.

The documentary is directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus. This should be an intriguing account of the case, but also, via McNamara’s own fixation on it, an insight into why so many people are fascinated by true crime.

The Real Prime Suspect series 2

The Real Prime Suspect with Jackie Malton

I watched the opener of Jackie Malton’s latest series last night and thought it was a particularly sensitive and interesting episode.

The case was the heartbreaking kidnap of Muriel McKay from her home in Wimbledon in 1969. It was extraordinary for several reasons.

Muriel was the wife of Alick McKay, a newspaper executive and right-hand man of Rupert Murdoch. In 1969 Murdoch had just begun his move into expanding his newspaper interests into Britain from Australia, having recently bought the News of the World and The Sun.

The bungling kidnappers thought they were abducting Murdoch’s wife, Anna, rather than Muriel McKay, but still demanded £1million in ransom despite their blunder.

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Murder by the Sea: Michael Downes

Anyone who doubts the value of bobbies on the beat in these days of major police cuts should consider the case of Michael Downes in Blackpool in the 1970s and 80s.

Two years after the cruel murder of 64-year-old widow Catherine Weaver in 1978, another woman, Hilda Keefe, 64, spotted an intruder at the Blackpool home she shared with her 87-year-old mother.

Amid the fun and beauty of Blackpool, serial killer Michael Downes looked for victims. Photo by Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash

Hilda yelled for help and the intruder fled – leaving behind some washing-line pieces. A local PC called Dave Milner recalled that lengths of washing line were used to secure Catherine Weaver. He took an interest in the case and called on Hilda and her mother regularly.

On one visit Hilda said it was a shame that the man had never been caught. After all, he had been wearing such a distinctive green jacket. She had even seen him herself when was out and about.

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Crime, manhunts and classic pop on Portobello Radio

It was fascinating to chat with Portobello Radio host Aidan McManus last night. He’s a walking encyclopaedia of rock music, local history and unsolved crimes.

He is also a guide for the highly rated FlipsideLondon Tours, which explore London as home to David Bowie, Joe Strummer and the Clash, the punk scene and gangsters. His enthusiasm for music and local history is absolutely infectious.

The 1960s Nude Murders case, which occurred on his Notting Hill manor, is one of his interests. Which was why he got me on his show to talk about the case and how London has changed – check out the broadcast here.

I popped into the Castle on Portobello Road before heading over to meet Aidan. This was formerly the Warwick Castle, which was used a lot by a couple of the killer’s victims at the time, Mary Fleming and Frances Brown.

Prince Buster and The Beatles

In a grim show of gallows humour, no doubt fuelled by a few drinks, several women involved in the sex trade even had a sweepstake in the pub one night on who would be the killer’s next victim.

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The Trial of Christine Keeler


When researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper I came across a book that really shocked me.

This was Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK, written by Geoffrey Robertson QC and published in 2013. It is a slim but angry look at the Profumo Scandal.

This was the 1963 hoo-hah in which Secretary of State for War John Profumo was forced to resign for lying about an affair with a young woman – Christine Keeler. His philandering had apparently also jeopardised national security because Keeler knew Soviet naval attache Yevgeny Ivanov.

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Murder by the Sea new series

I’ve heard CBS Reality’s Murder by the Sea is returning in January (Tuesday 7th 10pm).

For those who haven’t seen it, the premise is that the jolly seaside resort is often the setting for unusual and sometimes frightening homicides.

Why should a place we associate with fun, sun and relaxation suffer such crimes? Having been involved as a talking head in all four series so far, I think several factors are important.

There is the transient nature of holiday resorts. Thousands of pleasure-seekers and workers flock in during the season, meaning many let their guard down and mingle with strangers in search of a good time.

Blackpool and Ilfracombe

One episode was about Stephen Akinmurele, 21, who moved to Blackpool to work as a barman. He murdered three people in their senior years, including his former landlady.

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ITV drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen

ITV has just announced a new three-part drama about murderer Dennis Nilsen.

Called Des – Nilsen’s nickname – it has top-quality talents involved, including David Tennant (a long way from Doctor Who here), Daniel Mays (Line of Duty) and Jason Watkins (The Crown). It is also based on Brian Masters’ landmark book, Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen.

ITV has a decent record of producing serious, sensitive dramas about some of Britain’s most grotesque murderers.

Among them I would place This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, Appropriate Adult (about Fred West) and the recent A Confession (the murder of Sian O’Callaghan).

True-crime controversy

However, there is a fine line to tread with such difficult subjects. True crime is often attacked for being lurid and crass, virtually treating real tragedies and grief as part of a horror genre.

Brian Masters’ book, while it had its critics, was a serious attempt to understand how Nilsen was able to prey on young vulnerable men.

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Top 10 true-crime books

Great research, vivid writing, historical context – the best true crime can give compelling insight into the kind of personalities that commit notorious crimes. In no particular order, here are 10 true-crime books that I particularly admire…

Oswald’s Tale by Norman Mailer 1995

Forget the grassy knoll, mafia hitmen, Castro malcontents, CIA plotters – it was Lee Harvey Oswald what done it. Norman Mailer created a convincing portrait of a pathetic nobody who wanted to make a name for himself. He’d flirted with celebrity by ‘defecting’ to Russia in 1959, marrying a Russian, and attempting to shoot a general. Then, when he heard the President’s motorcade was passing the book depot where he’d just got a job, he reached for his $22 rifle. An unforgettable book.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara 2018

Not many true-crime authors can be said to have solved a historic case. Michelle McNamara, however, may eventually get some credit for the arrest made last year in the Golden State Killer investigation. She was a journalist who wrote here of her obsession with this grotesque series of home rapes and then murders. Sadly, the author died before the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, a former cop suspected or 50 rapes, 13 murders and many burglaries. However, her proposal for the use of ancestral DNA and geographic profiling may have played a part in the police taking a new approach to the unsolved case. An absolutely must-read, genre-busting book.

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