An insight into Britain's most infamous female serial killer. Did something cause the Moors Murderer to commit her crimes, or was she born to kill?
The female child sex serial killer
"I hope he loves me, and will marry me some day."
Myra Hindley diary entry about Brady
Myra Hindley was the first child of Nellie and Bob Hindley. Myra was born on 23 July 1942 in Crumpsall, a Manchester suburb with slum elements. Her father was away for her first three years because of the Second World War. He served in the Parachute Regiment in North Africa campaign. So Nellie’s mother lived with Myra and her grandmother helped raise her.
When Bob returned home, grandmother moved out and round the corner. Bob went from being a Para to doing menial labouring work. He started to drink heavily. He also started to beat up his wife. But Myra’s mother gave as good as she got and fought back. Often Myra’s grandmother would have to break the two apart.
After the birth of Myra’s sister, Maureen, it was Myra who was sent to live with her grandmother. Myra was just four years old. One thing her father did teach her was how to fight. And so like her mother, Myra learnt how to defend herself against males her own age. And when she beat a boy in a street fight, her father gave her the attention and approval she craved.
And she used her new found street fighting reputation to protect not only herself, but also her little sister Maureen. It’s thought that in a tragic irony, she also protected one of Maureen’s friends, Pauline Reed. A decade later, Pauline would be the Moors Murderer’s first victim.
Despite her chaotic upbringing, this ‘bold and brash’ girl was considered a sensible, if not exactly scholastic, child. Myra’s capable nature made her a popular babysitter in her teens. She was liked equally by the children and their parents. At 13, she was unremarkable. Her tomboy past didn’t endear her to most boys. They didn’t think her attractive and she was called ‘Square Arse’.
Myra attended communion lessons at the local Catholic church. She liked playing rounders and loved reading. Her favourite authors were Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton. Their escapist novels helped take Myra away from her average working class childhood into a world of adventure. Friends noticed that something about Myra was different:
“She had no empathy for anybody else. If somebody hurt themselves, It wouldn’t upset her.”
Susan Carter, Myra’s school friend
Aged 15, Myra liked to go swimming with one of her few close male friends, Michael Higgins. But on one occasion she didn’t go with him. Michael drowned. Myra was devastated. When his body was laid out, Myra was fascinated. Michael’s mother took the rosary beads from her dead son’s hand, and handed it to Myra. She left school shortly after. She also converted to Roman Catholicism.
She became obsessed by sights from which others would recoil: a decapitated dog by a railway track; a cat torn in half by two dogs; a boy bleeding to death after being crushed by a lorry.
At 17, Myra became engaged to a local boy. Maureen, Myra’s younger sister also had a boyfriend, David Smith. David was a bad boy with both convictions and a reputation for violence. And yet it would be David that would ultimately end the madness of the Moors Murderers.
Myra’s father had since suffered a stroke. But as an invalid he was even more embittered and meaner to Myra’s mother. When Myra discovered his treatment of her mother, she reversed their childhood roles, and proceeded to beat and humiliate her disabled father.
Despite this, Myra considered following in his footsteps by joining the army, or the navy. She even considered escaping to America to work as an au pair. She did work in London. But nothing captivated her.
IMMEDIATE AND FATAL ATTRACTION
In January 1961 the 19-year-old peroxide blonde started work as a shorthand typist secretary in a small chemical firm. It was there that she met Ian Brady. Everything about him was different:
“She once said that he was the only man she’d ever met who had clean fingernails.”
Jean Richie, Author
Myra was instantly smitten. When she walked home that night she looked through the windows of the surrounding suburban streets and saw only banality and boredom.
She eventually called off her engagement to her shocked fiancé.
Brady was the only man for her. Where others saw aloofness, she saw a smouldering romantic intelligence. She was very impressed when Brady read Hitler’s autobiography, the turgid ‘Mein Kampf’, in its original German. But Brady remained seemingly indifferent to her. The only times he showed emotion was when he exploded into sudden rages, often when his bookmaker rang with a bad result. These violent outbursts mirrored her father’s behaviour. This would have been both repulsive to her, but also familiar.
Hindley poured out her intense feelings for Brady in her diary for over a year. Myra took out a book of poetry by Wordsworth. Finally, Brady noticed her.
At the December Christmas party, the couple danced together. When he walked her home, he tried to kiss her. He bruised her with his teeth. It was obvious that he had never kissed anyone before.
When on their first date he took her to the film ‘The Nuremburg Trials’ she knew she would never be bored again. She eagerly followed his suggested reading list. The Catholic girl devoured the works of Nietzche, the philosopher who berated Christianity for smothering humanity’s potential with its belief in good and evil. When Brady told Myra there was no God, she stopped going to Church. As she became a woman, he encouraged her to read the works of the sexual sadist, the Marquis De Sade.
Brady was her first lover. He bit and beat her as he took her virginity:
“Myra... was able to enter into this world partly because of her childhood because she saw in Brady a mirror image of her father. So her father had beaten her from a young age, Ian...beat her during sex. Her childhood had in sense prepared her to enter this world.”
Duncan Staff, journalist who inherited all Myra’s papers
Myra was soon moulding herself in Brady’s image. Whatever his fantasy, she would indulge him. She posed for pornographic pictures. When Brady told her that the ‘supreme pleasure’ was the rape and murder of another, she was ready to believe him.
The couple got drunk on wine, a flashy drink for a working class couple. They often picnicked on the Saddleworth Moor near Oldham. Myra looked happy in the many photos Brady took of her. To the casual observer, she seemed normal:
“I thought she was a smashing girl. A bit hard, but any promises she made, she always kept.”
But family and friends noticed the cumulative effect that Brady had on her. To them, she became increasingly surly, secretive and submissive. When Brady tested her by pretending to plan a bank robbery, she never questioned him. In 1963 she learnt to drive in order to be his getaway driver. She also purchased two guns. Brady knew she was ready to do whatever he asked. And her new driving skills would be useful for what he had in mind.
In Myra’s account, there was one last action that pushed her from acting out fantasies, however sick, into committing real life atrocities.
She awoke one morning to find herself drugged, raped and bitten. Ian had taken her grandmother’s sleeping tablets, drugged Myra and then abused her. He also photographed her during the process. Myra was now so brutalised and brainwashed that what followed would no longer be abhorrent.
“He is cruel and selfish, and I love him.”
Hindley diary entry
“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.”
Brady on Hindley
Hindley was the camouflage Brady needed to kill. Children and teenagers instinctively trusted a woman. Without her, Brady might not have been able to rape and murder in the way he did. One survivor claimed that it was simply an offer of bread and jam by a Hindley that persuaded him to follow the couple to their home. Once inside, however, the boy realised something was wrong and exited through a window. Hindley’s years of babysitting and childminding meant she could reassure and entice children in a way few adults could.
WILLING PARTNER IN CRIME
On the night of 12 July 1963, 16-year-old Pauline Reade became their first victim. Her parents had bought her brand new white stilettos for the local dance. She never danced in them. Instead, she met Hindley.
Pauline should have been with three girlfriends but their parents had stopped them going on learning that alcohol would be available at the dance. Hindley targeted the teenager believing there’d be less fuss than over a missing child; some might believe Pauline had run off with a bloke. Also, as Hindley had looked after Pauline as a child, she would be less suspicious of her former protector.
Hindley first said she’d give Pauline a lift to the dance. Once in the car, Hindley asked her to help her find a glove she’d lost on the Moors saying it was a present from Brady and he’d be mad if she’d lost it.
Hindley then drove her up to Saddleworth Moor, in the Pennines. Brady followed on his motorbike. According to Hindley, she remained in the car as Brady went off with Pauline.
Over the next 20 minutes, Pauline was raped, beaten, stabbed and virtually decapitated. Hindley helped bury the body and her stilettos:
“...many, many, many years later, those white stilettos were found, and inside them you could still see the gold writing of the manufacturer, because they were so new – that’s heartbreaking.”
Jean Richie, Author
A massive search took place to find some trace of the vanished Pauline. Police and public alike found nothing. Suspicion inevitably fell on her family, friends and neighbours.
One of those questioned was the boyfriend of Hindley’s sister, 15-year-old David Smith. An ex-boyfriend of Pauline’s, and living only two doors away from her, he was an obvious suspect. He also had a history of violence. When he was 11 he was involved in a stabbing. He’d also punched a head teacher in the face. David was eventually discounted from the investigation. It would not be the last time he would be accused of crimes committed by Brady and Hindley.
As the police investigation went cold, Brady cooled his relationship with Hindley. She had expected the murder to lock them together. Instead, Brady explored his homosexual side. The distraught Hindley found comfort in the arms, of all people, a policeman, Norman Sutton. When Brady discovered the profession of her new lover, he was amused.
Hindley had multiple occasions to tell her police lover what Brady had done and stop any future killings. She didn’t.
When Brady asked Hindley round to listen to a music record, she dutifully went. He drew her back in by saying he wanted to kill again.
This time Hindley would be better prepared. She lined the boot of their car with polythene to save cleaning. She packed a shovel, a serrated knife, and a cord. She also bought a black wig to cover her conspicuous blonde hair.
Four months after Pauline, 12-year-old John Kilbride disappeared. He’d last been seen around the market in Ashton-Under-Lyne. John used to earn pocket money helping stallholders there. Hindley used to buy her nylons there.
On 23 November 1963, as it became dark, Hindley asked John if he wanted a lift. He was never seen again.
And again, a major search for a missing child was carried out and again no trace was found. And again, suspicion fell on family and friends. At one time, the police investigated whether John’s father was behind his son’s disappearance.
On Tuesday 16 June 1964, 12-year-old Keith Bennett disappeared whilst on the way to his grandmother’s house. As her house was only a mile away, he’d walk it alone. His bespectacled smiling face would come to be inextricably linked with the Moors Murders. But that day, his NHS glasses were broken.
His disappearance wasn’t noted until the next day, and a massive police search revealed no clues. Hindley had in fact lured him into her car with a request for assistance in loading some boxes. They’d then rendezvoused with Brady on Saddleworth Moor. Hindley said that Brady took Keith to a gully next to a stream. Over the next half hour, he raped, tortured and strangled the 12-year-old boy. They both buried his body there.
But Brady, the wannabe master-criminal intent on committing the perfect murder, was taking more and more trophies from his kills. This need to relive the murders through photos and objects would ultimately be the killer’s downfall.
In September 1964, Hindley and her grandmother were allocated a new house, 16 Wardle Brook Avenue. Brady moved in with them.
On the afternoon of Boxing Day, 1964, ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey disappeared on the way from a local fairground in Manchester. Photos of her show a smiling girl with huge dark hair tied back with the style of hair-band fashionable then. Hindley and Brady took their own sick photos of her in her last moments. They also then took photos of each other over her buried body. Their photos were in effect grave markers.
Later Hindley would confess in great detail to the other murders. But with Lesley, Hindley was evasive. This is because Brady tape recorded the girl’s final moments. Lesley tried to stop the pair torturing her to death by calling them ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. Hindley can be clearly and coldly heard telling her to shut up. With 13 minutes of Lesley’s final moments caught on tape, Hindley couldn’t pretend she wasn’t there.
She later said that she was running a bath, in order to remove any fibres from Lesley, when Brady strangled her. Brady stated it was Hindley that did the strangling and that she used a cord to do it. And he added that for some time afterwards, Hindley would like to go out in public and play with the cord as if she was flaunting her secret.
When Lesley’s family realised she was gone, there was again a huge police effort. It was bolstered by countless volunteers. But again it unearthed no clues as to her whereabouts:
“I didn’t think anyone would harm her. Because she wasn’t a child that would cheek anybody to be of harm.”
Anne, mother of Lesley Ann Downey
There seemed nothing to connect the disappearances of John Kilbride and Lesley Downey. They were different sexes and the locations were five miles apart. And there was nothing to connect the last two with the missing Pauline Reade or Keith Bennett.
7 October 1965 proved the turning point for the police. Myra Hindley’s 17-year-old brother-in-law, David Smith, arrived at Hyde Police station with a horrific tale of violence.
The previous night Hindley visited her sister Maureen and husband David. Hindley said to David that she was afraid to walk home alone at night so he agreed to walk her back. When they arrived at 16 Wardle Brook Avenue, she invited him with the promise of some miniature wine bottles.
She gave him some wine and then left. David heard a long, loud scream. Hindley shouted for David to come. David came into their living room to find Brady holding a young man. Brady let him fall to the floor and hit him repeatedly with an axe and then strangled him.
Afterwards, Hindley made them all tea.
She joked with Brady about the look on Evan’s face when Brady first struck him.
Hindley and Brady joked about the mess, and also told David of other victims buried on the Moors. Concealing his horror for fear of meeting a similar fate, David assisted them with the clean up:
“Hindley was projecting herself as a laughing, gay busy housewife, tidying up a normal domestic scene. She normalised what was grossly abnormal...it helped her to distance herself from the reality and horror of what she was engaging with.”
Dr David Holmes, Criminologist and Forensic Profiler
David walked down the street fearful that the killer couple were watching his exit. As soon as he turned the corner, he ran home to tell his wife and alert the police.
David had to tell his story over and over to increasingly senior police. Eventually, convinced by David’s tale, the police arrived at the couple’s home. Police superintendent Bob Talbot dressed as a bakery delivery man in order to fool Hindley into opening the door. Talbot asked Hindley for the key to the room where Evan’s body was believed to be. She reluctantly gave him it.
THE PERFECT MURDER?
Inside the property of Hindley and Brady’s the police find the bloodied body of murder victim, Edward Evans and the murder weapon. They arrested Brady immediately. Hindley supported Brady’s story that that there had been an argument between Brady, Evans and David and that it had got out of hand. The 23-year-old Hindley is brought in for questioning but said she had been horrified by what had happened. With no evidence to charge her, she remained at liberty for four more days. She used the time to go to the company where they worked and dispose of incriminating evidence.
The police were dealing with a unique criminal couple. It was the first time in British history that a woman and a man had together committed serial sex murders on children. It simply didn’t occur to them to suspect her.
KILLER COUPLE CAUGHT
The investigation would probably have gone no further than the death of Evans, if David had not mentioned Brady’s claim that other bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor. The police were all too aware of the unexplained disappearances.
Then police found a document in Hindley’s car describing in detail how Brady had planned to carry out Evan’s murder. When they find a victim’s name in one of Brady’s notebooks, they become convinced David is telling the truth and arrest and charge Hindley.
Police at the time remember she was still the ‘bold and brassy blonde...hard’ and defiant. They take a black and white mugshot photo of her.
It would haunt Hindley for the next five decades.
When the police searched Myra’s home, they came upon a claim check tucked into the spine of her communion prayer book. This ticket linked her to the suitcases the police had found in the left luggage in Manchester Central train station. In them were photographs of Lesley Ann, bound and gagged in Hindley’s bedroom. It also included the tape recordings of the final screams of Lesley Downey begging for her life. Also recorded were the sometimes harsh, sometimes indifferent voices of Hindley and Brady.
When police played Hindley the tape, she sobbed, but not out of remorse:
“I think she realised that it was almost the final nail in her coffin. Because there was no jury ever, ever going to find her not guilty when her voice was on that tape.”
Ian Fairley, Former Detective Chief Superintendent
But Hindley wouldn’t admit it was Lesley. To be certain it was Lesley on the tape, police had to play it to her mother. Because of Hindley’s refusal to help, a mother had to listen to her daughter’s tortured last moments.
Hindley still denied killing Lesley saying that she only adopted a harsh tone because she was worried the neighbours would hear and interfere. But according to Hindley, Lesley was fine when she left their home and any harm came from David, not her.
The evidence linking Brady and Hindley with John Kilbride’s murder was not as strong, but still sufficient to charge them. They were also charged with the murders of Edward Evans and Lesley Ann Downey. Having not been able to find the bodies of the other two victims, despite exhaustive searches, no charges could be brought.
On the afternoon of Saturday 16 October, the police were about to give up searching for the day when a constable found a fragment of something white. He’d found a grave 150 yards from the A635 Barnsley to Manchester road. Ten months after her disappearance, the body of ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey had been found.
Her parents were called to a room where all her clothes were folded up. They were taken to another room and when the white covering sheet was pulled back. They confirmed it was their daughter.
The police were starting to realise the photos of the couple on the Moors may be more than just filmic memories. They were particularly interested of one with Hindley holding a dog. It was close to where Lesley had been buried. Initially it looks like Hindley is looking at the dog. She wasn’t. She was looking at a grave.
So the police took in the couple’s dog, ‘Puppet’ in order to establish its age and therefore when the photo was taken. But the tests on the dog killed it. Hindley was said to have screamed ‘murderers’ on being told the news.
The police were able to match the pattern of the rocks nearby. They then dug there. The search area was enormous. It stretched for two miles.
Five days after the discovery of Lesley, the police found another body. It was that of 12-year-old John Kilbride. He had been missing almost two years. It was only 400 yards from the Lesley Downey’s grave.
Hindley had posed for a photo on the exact site of Kilbride’s grave.
Hindley and Brady were given the same solicitor. This meant they could meet before their trial. They used the opportunity to exchange coded messages. These weren’t just about their love for each other. They detailed the joy the murders had brought them. The secret messages expanded on their desires to harm children.
By the time their trial began on 19 April 1966, the killer couple were worldwide news.
Hindley’s defence, agreed with Brady, was that she had been bullied into the abductions by him and that she had not carried out any of the murders. She would stick to this story till the day he died.
Hindley and Brady were brought to trial at Chester Assizes on 27 April 1966, where they pleaded "not guilty" to all charges. Media interest was intense, and the pair’s failure to show any remorse served to make public revulsion even greater.
The 13 minute tape of Lesley Downey’s torture with Hindley’s voice clearly audible seems incontrovertible. It was so upsetting that many broke down in tears.
Hindley looked unmoved.
Terence Downey, the dead girl’s father and Patrick Downey, her uncle, attacked the cars that brought the pair to court. The car attacked was in fact a decoy. Brady had already been smuggled out of court.
The prosecution rested on David Smith and Maureen, Hindley’s pregnant sister.
There was evidence produced that Brady had subjected Hindley to threats and violence in order to fulfil his desires.
On 6 May 1966, Hindley was found guilty of the murders of Lesley Ann Downey and Edward Evans, and also for harbouring Brady, in the knowledge that he had killed John Kilbride. She was found not guilty of the killing of John Kilbride.
The 23-year-old Hindley was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.
At the time of the sentencing, the burial sites of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett were still undiscovered.
Hindley would take the location of the last resting place of Keith Bennett to her grave.
“Though I believe Brady is wicked beyond belief without hope of redemption. I cannot feel that the same is necessarily true of Hindley once she is removed from his influence.”
Post trial comments by the judge that sentenced the pair
The death penalty had been abolished just before Hindley’s arrest. Over the following decades of prison, Hindley would come to wish that she had been sentenced to hang.
Brady's hold over Hindley continued for a number of years beyond their trial, and at one stage they requested permission to marry, which was refused. However, in 1970 Hindley severed all contact with Brady and, still protesting her innocence, began a lifelong campaign to regain her freedom.
In 1987, Hindley again became the centre of media attention, with the public release of her full confession, in which she admitted her involvement in all five murders.
The confessions confirmed police suspicions that the remains of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett had been buried somewhere on the moors, and Pauline's body was finally located on 1 July 1987, identified by the party dress she was wearing to the dance on the last night of her life. Bennett’s body was never found.
Her campaign for freedom was dealt its final blow when her application for parole in 1996 resulted in then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, bowing to intense public pressure and ruling that Hindley, as well as Brady, would never be released from prison. She challenged this decision in the High Court, but was unsuccessful. A further appeal to the House of Lords was similarly defeated in March 2000.
Hindley died of respiratory failure, following an earlier heart attack, on 16 November 2002. Winnie Johnson, the mother of victim Keith Bennett, whose body was never found, said: “I have no sympathy for her even in death. The pair of them have made my heart very hard and really I just hope she goes to hell.”