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How the Moors Murderers were caught

Black and white picture taken from Buckstones Ridge, UK part of the Marsden Moor Estate looking over Saddleworth Moor
Buckstones Ridge, UK part of the Marsden Moor Estate looking over Saddleworth Moor | Image:

Few serial killer couples evoke as much repulsion and horror as Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who were known as the 'Moors Murderers'. Between 1963 and 1964, this couple snatched children and teenagers off the streets, sexually assaulted them, murdered them and then buried them on the bleak Saddleworth Moor in North West England. Their sadistic crimes shocked the nation to its very core and the details are so horrific that they still resonate over five decades later.

Their first victim was 16-year-old Pauline Reade, who vanished on the way to a disco near her home in Gorton, Manchester, on the 12th of July, 1963. It would take two decades for her parents to uncover what had happened to her. Her body was found buried on Saddleworth Moor after a three-month search in 1987.

Four months after Pauline was abducted and murdered, Brady and Hindley took another victim: 12-year-old John Kilbride. He was lured to Saddleworth Moor where he was sexually assaulted and then murdered. His grave was unearthed in 1965; Brady had taken a photograph of Hindley standing on the edge of his grave which aided in the search.

There was a short respite until June of 1964 when the sadistic couple took 12-year-old Keith Bennett as their third victim. He was abducted as he left his home in Chorlton-on-Medlock. Despite a 50-year campaign, Keith’s mother went to the grave without ever finding the body of her son. Following the arrests of Brady and Hindley, they both took trips to Saddleworth Moor to try and remember where they had buried Keith’s body but were unsuccessful.

The youngest victim was 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey. She was abducted from a fairground on Boxing Day of 1964 and forced to pose for explicit photographs before being strangled. Bradley and Hindley had audio recorded her final moments on earth and during their murder trial, the grim tape reduced even the most seasoned police officers to tears. 'For its 16 minutes, the people in the courtroom sat still and silent,' reported the Telegraph. Lesley’s body was the first to be discovered on Saddleworth Moor; her arm was protruding from the ground. The final victim was 17-year-old Edward Evans.

Edward had been lured to the couple’s home. Myra’s brother-in-law, 17-year-old David Smith, had also been lured to the couple’s home at the same time on a false pretext. He was forced to watch as Brady attacked Edward with an axe, smothered him with a cushion and then strangled him with an electrical cable. Following the murder, Brady quipped that it was the 'messiest yet.'

The final murder would crack the case wide open. David was married to Myra’s sister, Maureen Hindley, in August of 1964. Her family didn’t approve of the marriage because of David’s 'bad-boy' image and persona. David had been the victim of a troubled upbringing and his life had been marred by violence. His teenage mother vanished when he was less than a year old and his father handed him over to his own parents to look after.

When he was just 11-years-old, he appeared in court after wounding another boy with a knife during a fight. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled from school for punching the headmaster. He moved to All Saints’ School where he attacked another student with a cricket bat. He was then taken to Rose Hill remand school. Growing up, he modelled himself on James Dean and had been charged with several petty crimes.

Brady and Hindley had anticipated that David could become an accomplice in their grisly crimes. Over the years, Brady had attempted to deprave the teenager and had been trying to groom him as a partner-in-crime. They had taken him on wine-fuelled expeditions to Saddleworth Moor and spoken about torture and Nazism. In fact, in October of 1965, a drunk Brady had bragged to David that he had committed several murders but according to David, he believed that the conversations were nothing more than drunken rambles. 'There was no indication whatsoever… He was a slightly eccentric friend. That’s all,' he later explained.

Unbeknownst to Brady and Hindley, however, David, was horrified by what he had witnessed. Fearing for his own life, he assisted Brady in carrying Edward’s body into the spare bedroom and once out of the sight of the couple, he sprinted for home. When he arrived back home in a flustered state, he woke up his wife and informed her of what had just transpired at Brady and Hindley’s home. He armed himself with a screwdriver and kitchen knife out of fear that Brady would come for him next. At 6AM, he hurried to a phone box near his home and called 999. He described the murder of Edward in great detail to police:'

When I ran in, I just stood inside the living room and I saw a young lad. He was lying with his head and shoulders on the couch and his legs were on the floor. He was facing upwards. Ian was standing over him, facing him, with his legs on either side of the young lad’s legs. The lad was still screaming… Ian had a hatchet in his hand… he was holding it above his head and he hit the lad on the left side of his head with the hatchet. I heard the blow, it was a terrible hard blow, it sounded horrible.'

When police arrived at Brady and Hindley’ home to search the property and question them, they quickly unravelled all of the gruesome evidence of their crimes. In the spare bedroom upstairs, they found the lifeless and bloodied body of Edward, trussed up in a plastic bag. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against the couple were a number of suitcases that Brady and Hindley had locked in a locker at a Manchester train station. Stuffed inside the suitcases were pornographic photographs of Lesley as well as the audio recording of her murder. In a notebook written in Brady’s handwriting, they also found the name 'John Kilbride' scribbled down as well as handwritten plans on how to dispose of Edward’s body on Saddleworth Moor.

Following their arrests, both Brady and Hindley sought to implicate David in all five of the murders. David always denied any involvement and professed that he was an innocent bystander to the final murder. Senior officers working on the case would reach the conclusion that David was not an active participant in any of the murders. As Detective Chief Inspector Joe Mousney said: 'But for the squeamishness of David Smith, whatever one may think of him, there might have been more bodies – never found – on Saddleworth Moor.' According to another detective, David should have received a medal for coming forward.

During the trial, David was a chief prosecution witness but his connection to the brutal murders tormented him for the rest of his life and he gained a reputation as the 'third moors murderer.' The murders had evoked such a public outrage and a number of people were desperate to place the blame on somebody that they could get their hands on. Graffiti reading 'Child Killers Live Here' appeared on the side of his block of flats and taunts and abuse were hurled at him on the street. When he and Maureen moved, the harassment followed wherever they went.

In 1969, David was sent to prison after turning a knife on somebody who had physically attacked him. While behind bars, Maureen left David. Years later, David would find himself embroiled in a legal battle when he was charged and then acquitted of murdering his own father who he given a glass of milk laced with barbiturates as he was in hospital dying of cancer. Eventually, Hindley would confess that David wasn’t involved and referred to their claims as 'a pack of lies.' David Smith passed away on the 5th of May, 2012 after relocating to Ireland and running a bed-and-breakfast with his second wife, Mary.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were found guilty of the murders of John Kilbride, Lesley Ann Downey, and Edward Evans and sentenced to life in prison on the 6th of May, 1966. In 1985, the investigation into the couple was reopened and they both confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett. Hindley died in prison at the age of 60 in 2002 and Brady died in prison at the age of 79 in 2017. For decades, Brady suggested that he knew where Keith’s body had been buried but despite an exhaustive search, Keith has never been found. His mother, Winnie Johnson, passed away in 2012 without ever finding the body of her son. Following her death, a family statement read: 'Winnie fought tirelessly for decades to find Keith and give him a Christian burial. Although this was not possible during her lifetime, we, her family, intend to continue this fight now for her and for Keith.'

Read more:

The Moors Murders: Crime File