The Moors Murders
Created | Updated Sep 22, 2008
The Moors murders shocked the public like few other crimes of modern times. The case is fixed in the memory of anyone old enough to remember the terrible search on Saddleworth Moor, as police officers with spades looked for the graves of missing children.
- BBC News correspondent Peter Gould.
Ian Brady1 and his girlfriend Myra Hindley (1942 - 2002) tortured and killed five children. The slayings became known as the 'Moors Murders', because the bodies of four of the victims had been buried on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester.
The case has been a subject of fascination for some people, it has also been the subject of art, music and many books. It continues to stir feelings four decades later2.
The simple truth seems to be that in most cases of folie à deux, neither partner would be capable of murder if it were not for the stimulus of the other. Some strange chemical reaction seems to occur, like a mixture of nitric acid and glycerine that makes (explosive) nitroglycerine.
- Criminologist Colin Wilson.
Brady and Hindley were convicted of the murders of Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans. Brady was also convicted of the murder of John Kilbride with Hindley found guilty of being an accessory.
After a 15-day trial at Chester Assizes, both were jailed for life3 on 6 May, 1966. They escaped the death penalty as it had been abolished as a form of punishment just four weeks before their arrest.
In 1987, the pair confessed to two more murders - those of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett. Both were taken separately to Saddleworth Moor to try to find the remains of the victims, but only one body was recovered. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided a prosecution of those two cases would not be in the public interest.
Glasgow-born Brady was a quiet, brooding, stock clerk at Millwards Merchandisers in Manchester. Brady was interested in the doctrine of the Nazis and was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche4 and the Marquis de Sade. In 1961 Brady's firm hired a new secretary, Myra Hindley, who immediately took a shine to Brady's dark good looks. Within a year they were lovers.
Brady was harbouring a sadomasochistic sexual appetite and Hindley readily submitted, the pair often took pornographic photographs of each other. Photographs were recovered later which showed Hindley in apparently innocent poses on Saddleworth Moor, but they actually marked the graves of some of their victims.
After the trial verdict, Brady accepted his guilt. He was declared insane in 1985 and has been receiving treatment in Broadmoor Hospital, the UK's first purpose-built asylum for the criminally insane. Eventually he wrote a book entitled The Gates of Janus5, which allegedly gives an insight into the mind of a serial killer, although it is not an autobiography. He is legally barred from receiving any profits from the book, which was published abroad. Brady says his only wish is to be allowed to die, and since he went on hunger strike in 1999, staff at Ashworth Hospital in Liverpool have force-fed him through a tube.
Hindley's Description of Brady
The strength of my love for Ian Brady was part of the reason I allowed myself to be pushed into murder. He had such a powerful personality, such overwhelming charisma. If he'd told me the moon was made of green cheese or that the sun rose in the west I would have believed him.
- Myra Hindley (in a letter to a BBC producer).
Hindley was born in Crumpsall, Manchester, in 1942. She had strong religious convictions and loved animals and children. As a teenager she was in demand as a babysitter. After she became involved with Brady, she was a willing participant in the kidnappings and eventual deaths of the five children, supposedly to 'please' her lover. After their arrest, Hindley stated that she played little part in the killings, having been manipulated and controlled by Brady.
Although in separate prisons, the pair continued their affair by exchanging love letters and seeking permission to marry, but this was refused. Then, in 1973, Hindley severed all contact with Brady. During her time in Highpoint Prison in Suffolk she became a devout Roman Catholic and reportedly showed remorse for her victims. She took an Open University course and obtained a degree in humanities.
The late Lord Longford befriended Hindley and started campaigning for parole on her behalf. By 1986 Hindley realised she was never going to be released unless she admitted her guilt, so she changed tack and started co-operating with the authorities. Eventually, after several false leads, a body was found on Saddleworth Moor, that of Pauline Reade, the first victim.
Successive Home Secretaries had ruled that in Hindley's case 'life should mean life'. After her initial 30-year sentence had expired in 1996, Hindley campaigned for release from prison. In 1998, Appeal Court judges upheld the decision by the former Home Secretary Jack Straw that Hindley should stay in prison until she died. She took her case to the House of Lords in 2000, but five Law Lords ruled unanimously that Mr Straw's decision had been lawful and justified, and her request for freedom was denied.
The police mugshot of Myra Hindley became an iconic image of evil. Controversial artist Marcus Harvey (born 1963) created a 13ft by 10½ft monochrome portrait of Hindley using stencilled childrens' handprints. When 'Myra' was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in September 1997, four members of the Academy resigned in disgust. The portrait was vandalised by egg-throwers and ink-splatterers. Later it was displayed behind glass at the Saatchi Gallery, County Hall, South Bank, London, alongside other controversial works of art like Damien Hurst's mutilated animal carcasses exhibited in formaldehyde, and Tracey Emin's unmade bed.
Myra Hindley, dubbed by the tabloid press 'the most hated woman in Britain', died in hospital from a combination of bronchial pneumonia and hypertension, on 15 November, 2002. Local undertakers refused to take care of Hindley's body so a funeral director from 200 miles away had to be brought in. She was cremated in a private funeral outside of normal working hours, with 12 friends in attendance.
Brady's Description of Hindley
Myra Hindley and I once loved each other. We were a unified force, not two conflicting entities. The relationship was not based on the delusional concept of folie à deux, but on a conscious/subconscious emotional and psychological affinity. She regarded periodic homicides as rituals of reciprocal innervation, marriage ceremonies theoretically binding us ever closer. As the records show, before we met my criminal activities had been primarily mercenary. Afterwards, a duality of motivation developed. Existential philosophy melded with the spirituality of death and became predominant. We experimented with the concept of total possibility. Instead of the requisite Lady Macbeth, I got Messalina. Apart our futures would have taken radically divergent courses. Before entering the witness box, I instructed both her counsel and my own to ask me specific questions designed to give the fullest opportunity of providing a cover for Myra. This managed to get her off on one murder charge. I also told her to adopt a distancing strategy when she went into the witness box, admitting to minor crimes whilst denying major. When, upon my advice, she appealed against sentence on the grounds that she should have been tried separately, Lord Chief Justice Parker denied the appeal, stating that, far from being disadvantaged by being tried with me, it had been to her great benefit as all my evidence had been in her favour.
For twenty years I continued to ratify the cover I had given her at the trial whilst, in contrast, she systematically began to fabricate upon it to my detriment. Therefore, when I learned from the Panorama programme this week that she was now claiming I had threatened to kill her if she did not participate in the Moors murders, I considered that the lowest lie of all. The fact that she continued to write several lengthy letters a week to me for seven years after we were imprisoned contradicts this cynical allegation. Perhaps her expedient demonomania now implies that I exercised an evil influence over her for seven years from my prison cell three hundred miles distant?In character she is essentially a chameleon, adopting whatever camouflage will suit and voicing whatever she believes the individual wishes to hear. This subliminal soft-sell lured the innocent and naive. As for the parole board, I advised her to build on three pillars: educational studies, powerful contacts and religion. She did. I myself have never applied for parole and never shall, which is why I can afford the luxury of veracity and free expression.
- Ian Brady (in a letter to Home Secretary Jack Straw).
Pauline Reade, 16, was walking to a dance at a Manchester club in July 1963. Hindley, who was known to Pauline, stopped her car and asked the girl to help her find a glove she'd lost on the Moor, in return for some gramophone records. Brady was lying in wait, having ridden ahead on his motorbike. Pauline was raped, beaten and stabbed, then buried on the Moor. Pauline's remains weren't discovered until 1987.
John Kilbride, 12, the oldest in a family of seven children, was offered a lift home from a market in Ashton-under-Lyne in November 1963. He had been to the cinema with a friend, but they separated when the other boy went to catch a bus home. After Brady was arrested he led police to where John's body was buried.
Keith Bennett, 12, was walking to his grandmother's home in Longsight when he was abducted and murdered in June 1964. In 1987, Hindley tried to assist police by drawing a map showing where she and Brady had buried Keith's body, but they couldn't find it despite repeated attempts. To date Keith's body has never been found.
Lesley Ann Downey was just 10 when she was kidnapped, tortured, then strangled in December 1964. Brady and Hindley tape-recorded Lesley's screams and the pathetic pleadings for her life. Hindley stated during the trial that she played little part in the horrific crime, but her stern voice could clearly be heard on the tape. The recording, which was retrieved from a luggage locker at Manchester Central station, was played to the jury during the trial and was compelling evidence against the pair.
Edward Evans, 17, was being attacked with a hatchet by Brady at Brady and Hindley's home when David Smith interrupted. Smith convinced Brady that he could be trusted to keep quiet, but, fearing for his own life, he told his wife Maureen (Hindley's sister) who persuaded him to tell the police. Edward's mutilated body was found by police the next day, still in the bedroom where Hindley and Brady dumped him. It was October 1965 when the murders were brought to an end, but for the grieving relatives the nightmare was just beginning.
The Other Victims
My family has never got over the killing. It's like a dagger. It digs in and it will still dig in even though she [Hindley] is dead.
- Terry Kilbride, brother of John.
Lesley Ann Downey's mother, Ann West, was required by police to identify her daughter's voice on the infamous tape, to aid Brady and Hindley's convictions. Mrs West suffered nightmares, flashbacks and severe depression ever since hearing how her daughter suffered during her last hours alive. She took anti-depressant medication and sleeping tablets for the rest of her life. Her doctors said that the years of stress had contributed to the cancer which affected her ovaries, breasts, bowel and liver, before finally passing away in 1999.
Keith Bennett's mother Winnie Johnson is the only mother of a victim still living. She actively campaigned against Hindley's applications for parole and release. Mrs Johnson's letters contributed to Hindley assisting the police in 1987. Since Hindley died, Mrs Johnson has written to Brady begging him to tell police where her son's body is buried so she can have some closure, to no avail.
He was a kid you could love, there was no harm to him. He enjoyed life and was very interested in nature. He used to pick up leaves and caterpillars and bring them home, and he collected coins. My son is still up there [Saddleworth Moor] and I just want him back. It is hard to explain, but it is like another world up there. It is so quiet, and I always feel close to Keith. It is comforting. I cry more when I am at home. It is leaving the moors that is hard. I just want to be able to pick him up and take him home. I pray to God that this is the year Keith is found.
- Winnie Johnson, speaking in 2004, the 40th anniversary of her son's disappearance