The language is ripe and the cast – including Timothy Spall and Kenneth Cranham – is excellent. The Diamond Wheezers who burgled the underground safe-deposit company in London’s jewellery district in 2015 is a fascinating true-crime story.
While pulling off this shocking theft, the veteran lags are also gasping, collapsing, falling asleep and taking plenty of toilet breaks.
That light-hearted side is excellently done, scripted by Jeff Pope and Terry Winsor. Pope in particular has a strong record in dramatising serious crime stories for TV, including Appropriate Adult, This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper and Mrs Biggs.
Just finished Miles Goslett’s account of the Dr David Kelly affair and it is a disconcerting read.
Dr Kelly was the British scientist and weapons expert who was caught up in the controversy over whether Iraq really had missiles that could threaten Britain with mass destruction in 45 minutes. This claim was used to help justify the West’s attack on the country.
Officials in Tony Blair’s government exposed Dr Kelly as a potential source for the news story that ignited the uproar in 2003. However, there was shock when, having been forced to testify on TV to politicians, Dr Kelly was then found dead in woods near his Oxfordshire home.
The official line from the start was that he had committed suicide. But this is where events became murky, as this riveting book makes clear.
With great skill, journalist Miles Goslett pulls together various strands of complex events. He reveals that what occurred after Dr Kelly was found was carefully managed by the government.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.