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.
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.
Of the six cases featured in the latest Murder by the Sea series, Louisa May Merrifield’s is the one I would most like to research further.
The Blackpool Poisoner was the final episode on CBS Reality’s British series last week, and it is fascinating.
In 1953 Louisa went to work as a housekeeper for a rather cranky old gal called Sarah Ricketts, aged 79. As I point out during the programme, Louisa was something of a dodgy character, having had 20-odd jobs in three years prior to this.
Murder at the bungalow
Louisa and her third husband, Alfred (who was 24 years her senior at 71) moved into Mrs Ricketts two-bed bungalow at 339 Devonshire Road, Blackpool.
The housekeeper got her employer to change her will, leaving her £3,000 bungalow to Louisa and her husband. Soon after Louisa put rat poison in the old lady’s favourite treat – a jar full of jam.
As Murder by the Sea makes, Louisa was greedy and boastful. She made several blunders and was soon arrested.
It is hard not to feel great sympathy for Rhianne Morris, who appeared on this week’s Murder by the Sea.
She was the girlfriend of Barry Rogers, who, with his mother Penelope John, went to jail in 2018 for murdering his grandmother, Betty Guy.
It is clear Rhianne is still haunted by her time with Rogers, who was abusive to her. She would later come to discover that while they were together, Rogers and his mother concocted their callous plot to murder 84-year-old Betty, a former nurse.
Once again Murder by the Sea, presented by the eccentric Geoffrey Wansell, uncovered a dark side to a beautiful coastal area, this time Pembrokeshire.
Matricide is a rare crime. As this episode makes clear, however, for a mother and son to collude in the killing of the mother’s mother is even rarer.
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.
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.
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 →