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Jeremy Bamber : the White House Farm murders

The idyllic village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex was the setting of one of the worst mass slayings of a family group in the UK on the late-night and morning of the 6th/7th August 1985. Five members of the affluent Bamber family including two young children were shot 25 times at close range at the family home White House Farm. It was a crime that shocked the country. Most shocking of all was the convicted perpetrator, Bamber attended all the funerals playing the role of grieving family member.  The multi-murderer was only arrested after his girlfriend implicated him in the crime which appeared to be motivated over money and the family inheritance.

24-year-old Jeremy Bamber (born Jeremy Paul Marsham), good looking, educated -  the adopted son of magistrate Nevill and churchwarden June Bamber - denied killing his strict parents and his 28-year-old stepsister Sheila Caffell, along with her six-year-old twins Daniel and Nicholas Caffell. Thirty-four years later he still maintains his innocence. 

Massacre

On the day of the brutal murders, Bamber blamed his dead sister Sheila (nicknamed Bambi) who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was taking medication. Bamber, arriving at the horrific murder scene with the police made a point of informing them that Sheila was a ‘nut’ and had experience handling her father’s rifle. Previous to the dreadful events the Bamber family had been fraught with tension and arguments over the years; mother June’s religious convictions had alienated both Jeremy and the beautiful aspiring model Sheila as they grew older. 

Shortly after the discovery of all slain bodies in the house, the initial view was that Sheila, suffering from acute paranoia exploded in a psychotic episode and shot and killed her domineering parents and then her own innocent children before committing suicide with the same rifle. Jeremy was depicted in the press as the grieving, devastated survivor who blamed his sister’s acute paranoia on the murders. 

From victim to villain

Events quickly took a side turn after Bamber’s girlfriend unexpectedly implicated him in the crime. Further evidence from the scene of the crime suggested that the young heir to the family fortune was the real prime suspect. Forensics showed that his older sister Shelia was shot twice, contradicting the claim that she had committed suicide after killing her family. Later a silencer was discovered in a different part of the house which police believed Bamber had used during the killing spree.

 It was also thought unlikely that a frail young woman, heavily medicated could have fought and wounded her 6ft father in his bedroom, later battering him to death in the kitchen as he apparently reached for a phone in an attempt to raise the alarm. After Bamber’s arrest, he presented an unsympathetic character to the public and court during his trial. His good looks had the effect of enhancing an air of arrogance and a somewhat indifferent personality. Despite his defence team suggesting the silencer was planted, he was found guilty. 

The jury found him responsible for the massacre by a 10-2 majority resulting in a life-tariff of 25 years which in 1994 was changed to life without parole. Since his incarceration in 1986 at HM Prison Wakefield, Bamber has appealed three times for his original conviction to be overturned or to receive a reduced sentence. The last failed attempt was in 2012. He has also brought two unsuccessful lawsuits against the family estate after having been cut out of his grandmother’s will. Over the years Bamber’s supporters and his defence team claim that he has never been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness associated with known psychotic killers and that he also passed a lie detector in 2007, proving his innocence. 

Lie Detector & Pathology

If Jeremy Bamber was able to pass a lie detector, what are the possibilities that an alleged killer or someone accused of a serious crime could hoodwink such ‘infallible’ technology? As some medical opinions suggest that Bamber does not demonstrate obvious signs of psychiatric illnesses, are there other personality disorders linked to sociopathic behaviour that can lead to violence and murder and where such people can pass lie detectors?   

If Jeremy Bamber was able to pass a lie detector, what are the possibilities that an alleged killer or someone accused of a serious crime could hoodwink such ‘infallible’ technology? As some medical opinions suggest that Bamber does not demonstrate obvious signs of psychiatric illnesses, are there other personality disorders linked to sociopathic behaviour that can lead to violence and murder and where such people can pass lie detectors?   

According to psychiatrist Dr Scott Carroll of the Ayni Neuroscience Institute in New Mexico, some ‘pathological liars’ are ‘functionally delusional,’ meaning they believe their own lies and can pass a lie detector test. ‘This is called being “micro-psychotic” to distinguish such people from those who have schizophrenia and are severely delusional’ says Carroll, adding ‘most people who are micro-psychotic have “Boderline Personality Disorder” and actually believe what they are saying. Even if they are caught in the lie, they can re-write their memories to believe a new lie on the spot’.

Some voices from the medical world insist Bamber is neither a psychopath nor has he been diagnosed with the kind of psychiatric illness commonly associated with serial killers. But Bamber was known to have been cruel to animals at the age of ten as revealed in author Carol Ann Lee’s book ‘The Murders at White Farm House’. Such disturbing behaviour, even in childhood, has been linked to sociopathy in adults, where an inability to recognise pain and suffering in other people or animals is a common factor in psychopaths. 

Interestingly, Lee’s interviews with Bamber noted that the reason he thought he was good at tutoring fellow prison inmates in literacy classes was because he was ‘patient and had empathy’ – ironically the least lacking virtues in someone displaying psychopathy or sociopathic tendencies.

Pathological Liars & BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)

Pathological lying and extreme delusional self-belief are traits recognised in countless murderers and serial killers over the decades. Andrew Cunanan, infamous for several brutal murders before shooting and killing Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace in 1997 in Miami is a test case example of Borderline Personality Disorder. 

However, a psychiatric disorder such as BPD does not necessarily relate to violent behaviour. It is generally a mental health condition that affects around one in 150 people in the UK and is, for the most part, identified with ‘split personality’ and not schizophrenia. Even the latter, outside of horror movies and 70s TV thrillers, is rarely associated with violent and dangerous behaviour. But intense, inappropriate anger is one of the most troubling symptoms of borderline personality disorder, in fact so intense that it is often referred to as ‘borderline rage’. Cunanan, who eventually committed suicide at a Miami beach-house while under siege by the armed police is the kind of psychotic killer associated with both BPD and acute pathological lying which enabled him to create a fake persona and convince the unsuspecting of being someone or something he wasn’t. 

Upbringing and emotional Trauma

Psychiatric illnesses and syndromes such as BPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Anti-Social Personality Disorder often have their roots in childhood and early experiences both within and outside the family unit. Dr Scott Carroll explains. ‘Such people have usually had childhoods filled with abuse, neglect, and loss of caregivers and grew up in foster care or an orphanage’.

Pathological liars are usually very insecure individuals raised by very authoritative and strict parents

Serial killer-in-the-making Cunanan was raised in a household where his mother was terrified of her violent, authoritarian husband, a status-obsessed bully who is also believed to have sexually abused the young Cunanan as a child. Creating fake worlds by the traumatised may be one strategy to cope with anxiety, emotional violence and fear as Dr Michele Barton, director of ‘Psychology Life Well’ underlines. ‘Pathological liars are usually very insecure individuals raised by very authoritative and strict parents who were not excepting of that individual as they were. Therefore the [person] had to create a persona that was lovable and acceptable by their parents to avoid punishment, embarrassment, and vulnerability,’ says Barton.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Lie detector results exempting, the one factor Bamber and Cunanan share in common with their pathology is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) or strong narcissistic traits where they compulsively lied just to make themselves appear more glamorous and impressive. Those with NPD often display an exaggerated sense of self-importance and the more clever of them, such as Cunanan, can con others into believing their boastful tales. Before Cunanan’s dramatic death as he was holed up in a Miami beach-house he had at times, lived the lifestyle of a millionaire, socialising with the rich and famous, all on the back of presenting an image of himself that wasn’t factual. Bamber himself created a delusional world for himself, an alternative alter-ego as a ‘playboy’ and a self-belief of being intellectually superior to those around him. Although Bamber’s childhood and social background was different to that of the power-crazed Cunanan, he was brought up in a strict ‘moral’ home environment by disapproving parents and in the case of his mother, June, her religious fervour and puritan mindset was controlling and may have contributed to Bamber’s sister Sheila’s mental breakdown.

Lifers

Bamber remains and is likely to remain indefinitely in prison along with other lifers such as serial killers Rose West, Peter Sutcliffe, Stephen Port, John Duffy and John Childs. Author Carol Anne Lee who interviewed Bamber reveals in her book that from the outset of his arrest he refused to allow police access to his medical records pre-trial and did not want to be assessed, while a psychiatrist engaged by his defence declared that he displayed several classic psychopathic symptoms. Chief among these symptoms was his genuine belief in his own innocence. ‘The psychiatrist believed that Jeremy did kill his family but had suppressed the memory until it was no longer real’. Despite Bamber claiming in October 2019 that he had new evidence relating to a telephone call he made on the night of the murders, proving his innocence, there has been no indication by the Home Office to re-open the case. He is one of 70 prisoners in the UK who have been subject to a whole-life order and is unlikely to be ever released.

By Richard Bevan

Thursday, 3 January, 2019 :30