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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
I was surprised and delighted to be contacted recently by Frank Quinn, the son of one of victims in the Hammersmith Nude Murders case.
This was, of course, the unsolved serial-killer investigation from the 1960s that I cover occasionally on this blog, having first written about it in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper.
Frank is the son of Frances Brown, who was the fifth of six women to be murdered.
The killer, who successfully eluded what was then the biggest police manhunt in history, picked up the women in his car or van, strangled them and left their bodies at public spots around west London. Dubbed Jack the Stripper by newspapers, he removed their clothing and jewellery, and sometimes their teeth, leaving few forensic clues for police.
‘The case has dominated my life,’ Frank told me. He feels it has been shrouded in mystery for too long, and is encouraged now that ‘things are coming out’.
Dark Son: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
The BBC4 documentary,Dark Son, followed up the findings in my book earlier this year. This pointed to convicted child killer Harold Jones as the man who should be considered the number-one suspect.
‘I found it an excellent documentary,’ Frank said when we spoke by phone. ‘It’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time. I never thought in my lifetime I’d ever see it happen.’
He is hoping the Met will make a serious attempt to reopen the case. In particular, he thinks they should look into Jones’s employment and driving records.
It is thought the killer may have used a grey Hillman Husky and that he worked on the Heron Trading Estate, where the bodies were stored before being dumped.