On 7 October 1965, Ian Brady was arrested for murder. Police officers had no idea of the sheer scale of his crimes at this point, nor that Myra Hindley was his faithful partner in depravity. Some days later, she too was caged, and the couple were abruptly enshrined in our public consciousness as the Moors Murderers. But the exact role of Hindley in the crimes has always been hotly debated. While the killings were undeniably the product of Brady's twisted philosophy, could it be argued that Myra Hindley was somehow morally worse?
Wickedness and Womanhood
Myra Hindley has always attracted a deeper, more primal revulsion than Brady, and other male serial killers. Her notorious black and white mugshot, showing the peroxide blonde gazing out with hard, unfeeling eyes, has become an iconic symbol of evil, filled with grim and mythic power – the portrait of a modern Medusa. And like Medusa, Myra had something that distinguished her from most other figures of evil: she was a woman.
Female murderers are rare. Let alone ones who seem prey on random children, and seem to relish in the act of killing for its own sake, rather than because of some inner trauma of their own. As such, Myra represents a perversion of womanhood, grossly subverting cultural stereotypes about women being the gentler, more caring gender. As Karen Boyle writes in the book Media and Violence, "The greater repugnance felt towards Hindley than towards Brady arose from the conviction that women have a natural instinct to protect and nurture children."
And, as journalist Jean Rafferty puts it, "Women are supposed to be mothers, nurturers, and a woman like Hindley, who flouted these so-called biological imperatives, is viewed as unnatural."
This reason alone, the reason of her gender, can explain some of the special, visceral, emotional disgust the public have always for Hindley, compared to the more simple hate for Brady. But there are other factors too.
Mad vs Bad
During her incarceration, Hindley herself said she was more "culpable" than Brady because she "knew the difference between right and wrong". This is the mad vs bad argument. Brady could be seen as beyond help – a probable psychopath who was obsessed with a nihilistic view of the world, and who took inspiration from Nietzschean ideals of a "superman" above the petty morality of society. He would later dismiss the brutal, sexualised slayings of children as a mere "existentialist exercise", displaying not a drop of remorse.
Hindley, on the other hand, was for a long time painted as a mere minion – a lovestruck girl whose mind was slowly poisoned by the monstrous and manipulative Brady. Hindley herself talked about the "fatal attraction" she felt towards Brady, and how he coaxed her along the darkest possible path.
Yet, it's for this very reason that Hindley could be regarded as "worse". As writer Helen Birch puts it, Hindley didn't have the "decency to go mad". The very fact that she was originally "normal" before Brady came along meant that, as academic Tom Clark says, "Her image was one of a bad killer of children, rather than a mad one, and this double deviancy led to the continued hostility towards her."
The "truth" about Myra Hindley
A woman who betrayed her gender. A good person who willingly went bad, rather than simply being born that way. These are the two most enduring reasons why Hindley has such a uniquely toxic place in the national consciousness. But, if we are to believe later revelations from Ian Brady himself, Hindley was even worse than the tabloids and society believed.
Dr Alan Keightley, a teacher who exchanged hundreds of letters with Brady, and became the murderer's unlikely confidante. Brady completely rubbished Hindley's claims that she was a passive accomplice. "Myra was surprisingly in tune with me from the very beginning," Brady told Dr Keightley, author of Ian Brady: The Untold Story of the Moors Murders.
"She was as ruthless as I was," Brady emphasised. For example, Hindley had claimed she wasn't present when Brady sexually assaulted and killed their first victim, Pauline Reade. But, according to Brady, Hindley wasn't just there – she actually enjoyed stripping her, and tried to kill Pauline herself. Brady recounted that Hindley's "expression was taunting and pitiless" as their victim struggled and begged for help.
Brady told the sceptical Dr Keightley that he had "no reason to lie", which is true enough. Brady had always accepted his imprisonment, and had nothing to gain from talking about his crimes. But Hindley had made repeated attempts to win parole, and had a vested interest in trying to downplay her role in the killings and paint herself as one of Brady's victims in her own right.
"She tried to please the mob,’ Brady later said, "whereas I spat in their faces." Her efforts came to nothing. Myra Hindley died in prison, hated beyond measure for the evil she represented.