I always find it hard to believe that people can actually, remorselessly kill each other. At times I can see why someone could do it, but this is mostly in fiction. If you’re an avid crime reader, when you’re deep into a great novel, you can understand a character’s motives. It’s a skill of the writer to draw you in and help you visualise a character and truly feel what he/she is going through. Sympathy is harder though in real life, when a story is spread across a newspaper cover and screaming to the world what has happened. When you see on TV the news of a murderer being whisked away in a police van, with the hungry press flashing at the blackened windows; it’s almost impossible to be sympathetic. Here are fifteen British real-life killers that I have no sympathy for.
Beverley Allitt was a paediatric nurse who suffered from a psychological illness. Over a two month period in 1991 in the children’s ward at the Grantham and Kesteven Hospital, a series of mysterious, illness, injuries and deaths took place. Two years later, Allitt was convicted at Nottingham Crown Court of murdering four children, attempted murder of a further three, and grievous bodily harm to six children. A large air bubble was found in one dead child, and she had administered insulin to at least a further two, but the remaining causes of death are still unestablished. She was given thirteen life sentences.
John Childs was known as the most prolific hit man in the UK. He was convicted for a series of contract killings, though none of the bodies have been found. He confessed to the murders in June 1979 after being arrested for a series of bank robberies and was sent into solitary confinement. And in 1980, Childs claimed he burned the bodies of his six victims at his east London flat. He was issued with a whole life tariff in 1983.
John Christie (known to his family as Reg) was and English serial killer active during the 1940s and 50s. He was a landlord who killed at least eight people, including his wife, and sexually interfered with their corpses. Three of his victims were found in alcove in his kitchen at 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill; two further were discovered in the garden, and his is wife’s body was found under the floorboards in the lounge. He was hanged in 1949.
Mary Ann Cotton poisoned her stepson and likely three of her four husbands, in order to claim from their insurance policies. It is believed that she could have murdered more than 20 victims, using arsenic which causes terrible gastric pain and rapid decline of health, leading to death. She tried hard to scale the social ladder but was eventually caught when her child’s post mortem revealed arsenic as the cause of death. Her trial began in March 1873 and she was hanged at Durham County Gaol in March 1873. However she died by strangulation caused by the rope being rigged too short (possibly deliberately), and not from her neck breaking.
Ken Erskine was known as the ‘Stockwell Strangler’ and murdered seven elderly people in 1986, breaking into their homes in London and strangling them; most often they were sexually assaulted too. Erskine was arrested in July 1986 at a social security office. He was identified in a line-up by 74-year-old Fred Prentice, who claimed Erskine tried to strangle him in his bed a month before. He was jailed for 40 years in 1988, and since been found to be suffering from mental disorder and sent to Broadmoor and unlikely to be released before 2028.
John Haigh was known elaborately as the Acid Bath Vampire, because he claimed to have drunk the blood of his six victims, and actually claimed to have killed nine. After befriending them, he battered or shot them and then used concentrated sulphuric acid to destroy their corpses, before forging papers in order to sell the victims’ possessions. Although he tried to plead insanity, Haigh was led to the gallows and hanged in August 1949.
Colin Ireland was a British serial killer known as the Gay Slayer after he terrorised London’s gay community, torturing and killing five homosexuals. He had already committed various crimes by the age of 16 and served time in borstals. He had been married twice and said that he only pretended to be gay to befriend his victims, which he lured into a sexual restraining game, before killing them. He was jailed for life in 1993 and died in 2012, aged 57.
The Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, were two of Britain’s most demonised figures. Between 1963 and 1965, their attacks on five small children, whom they disposed of on Saddleworth Moor, scandalised the nation and continue to cause outrage. They confessed in 1966 to killing three children and then another two in 1987. Hindley died from pneumonia and heart disease in 2002, aged 60. Brady died in 2017 aged 79, after he was declared criminally insane in 1985 and confined to a high-security hospital. He had made it clear that he never wished to be released.
Dennis Nilsen disposed of body parts in local sewers, in 1983. He confessed calmly to the murders when a drains engineer followed up complaints of a bad odour, which turned out to be putrid human flesh. Police were called in and found that Dennis Nilsen had killed 16 young men by inviting them to his flat in Muswell Hill, before strangling them. When they questioned the killer, he showed the police more body parts, including two severed heads he had yet to dispose of. He was convicted of six murders and jailed for life in 1983.
Jack the Ripper was never identified or caught, he killed at least five women around London’s East End area of Whitechapel in 1888. His victims were typically prostitutes whose throats he cut before mutilating them and removing internal organs. His name originated from a letter from someone claiming to be the murderer, which was believed to have been a hoax in an attempt to increase newspaper sales. In criminal case files, the killer was called ‘The Whitechapel Murderer and ‘Leather Apron’.
Dr Harold Shipman was a GP and a prolific serial killer. He was jailed for life in January 2000 for murdering fifteen of his patients. It was concluded in a later report that he had actually killed 250 people over 23 years, mostly elderly women, and had also forged a will. After being sentenced to life imprisonment, with the recommendation that he never be released, he hanged himself in his cell, on 13 January 2004, one day prior to his 58th birthday.
Peter Sutcliffe was known as the infamous Yorkshire Ripper and inspired fear all over the country in the 1970s. He was the subject of one of the largest police manhunts as he victimised prostitutes, saying they had swindled him out of money. But he later claimed he was driven to these 13 murders by messages from God. He was sentenced to no less than 30 years behind bars in 1981.
Rosemary and Fred West abducted, raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered a variety of young women between 1967 and 1987. They buried their victims’ dismembered bodies in the cellar or under their patio in Cromwell Street, Gloucester, which became known as ‘the House of Horrors’. Rosemary was found to have murdered her 8-year-old stepdaughter, Charmaine, in 1971, whilst Fred was found guilty of at least 12 murders.