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Babes in the Wood

Crime Files
Babes in the Wood

A tragic mystery

The bodies of two children are discovered by a man walking his dog in the woods. On the evening of 17 June 1970 the police cordon off the shallow graves in Epping Forest, Essex. The area is so overgrown that it’s difficult to walk upright and sunlight barely penetrates. Forensic investigators and a Home Office pathologist begin their work. Lighting is brought in as the last of the light goes. The badly decomposed bodies are huddled together under bracken and twigs:“Susan had got her arm around Gary’s body. They looked like they were cuddling up for warmth.” Chief Superintendent Leonard Read It’s not clear if they’d innocently sought cover in the undergrowth, or if their covering was a crude and criminal attempt to conceal.


Eleven weeks before, 11-year-old Susan Blatchford and 12-year-old Gary Hanlon had gone missing. The Metropolitan Police had placed ‘Missing Children’ posters with Gary and Susan’s photos. Detectives assigned to tracking them down are now called to the woods. Further searches by police dogs locate clothing and a plimsoll. The bodies are confirmed as Susan Blatchford and Gary Hanlon.


They’d last been seen playing together six miles away near their homes in Enfield, North London. At about half four in the afternoon of 31 March 1970 Susan had knocked on Gary’s door. She asked if Gary could come out and play. Gary, football under his arm, asked his mum if it was ok. Beryl said he could as long as he played by the side of the house. His favourite dinner of lamb chops and roast potatoes was nearly ready - so if he played next to the house, Beryl would be able to hear the ball banging about and know that he was nearby - but when she checked on him, he and Susan were gone. She would never see him again.

The tomboyish Susan was into playing football and climbing trees and was a perfect playmate for Gary. Looking older and taller than the small for his age Gary, it would be difficult at a distance to know if she was his big sister or bigger best mate. Susan had originally noticed Gary’s older brother Frank but had clicked better with Gary.They’d made friends only a few months before. An hour after Gary and Susan had run off to play the two were seen walking through a field. That was their last sighting. That night the temperature fell below freezing. The next day it snowed. Gary’s parents Frank Hanlon, a painter and decorator, and his wife, Beryl, sat waiting all night for their son to return. Susan’s parents, Lionel Blatchford, a lab assistant, and his wife did the same.

That year, 24 children under the age of 14 had gone missing in London. Most are found within 24 hours. When Gary and Susan aren’t, Scotland Yard is called.


Fresh from helping send down the Krays, Scotland Yard’s top criminal investigator, Chief Inspector Leonard Read takes charge. Over 500 police interview nearly 15,000 people, searching over 4,000 homes, garages and sheds. Within three weeks they’ve followed up more than 200 sightings. Divers investigate the surrounding rivers, reservoirs and canals. Even the barges and boats that use them are followed up and inspected. Half of London’s police dogs scour 5,000 acres. And up above, a first for the police according to Chief Inspector Read, a helicopter does an aerial investigation. And, after this massive deployment of resources, the police have nothing.

The children appear to have vanished without trace. Many believe they’d run away together. But Read believes that as they were new friends to each other, they were unlikely to have taken such a drastic step: “...we never went to bed for the whole twelve weeks. We just sat in the front room and I kept the fire going and the light on.” Beryl Hanlon.

17th JUNE 1970

Then less than two miles from Gary’s home, 78 days after he’d last been seen, his and Susan’s body are discovered. Their parents are bereft. Beryl can hardly leave her room for weeks and barely eats. The press publicise the story as one of misadventure, a tragic accident. Fleet Street suggests two ‘babes in the wood’ had simply played and strayed too far from home. This simplified account is virtually pure speculation. But it’s presented as definitive. Chief Inspector Read now knows the family well, and knows that Gary was afraid of the dark. There is no way Gary would have sought shelter somewhere that was pitch black. But few, even in the police, suspect foul play. And despite recent headline cases like the Moors Murders in 1965, cases of children being killed by a stranger were, and are, small in number.“On average, and this is a figure that’s remained stable since the 1970s, six children a year are abducted and murdered by a stranger...we are dealing with a very rare phenomenon.” David Wilson, Author and criminologist.

The idea that two children could have been simultaneously targeted, kidnapped and killed seemed unlikely:

“Paedophiles tend to be inadequate people, lacking in confidence and it is actually very unusual for them to attempt abductions.” Colin Wilson, Author and criminologist

The Aftermath

“(Susan) is my unforgettable girl, a special baby...when she was born she had the (umbilical) cord round her neck three or four times...I believe that that baby in heaven chooses to come to you. And she chose me knowing what was going to happen to her eventually.”Susan’s mother, Muriel Blatchford“Gary’s death has destroyed my family.”Gary’s mother, Beryl HanlonOn 28 March 2000, Ronald Jebson was charged with the murders of Susan Blatchford and Gary Hanlon at Brent Magistrates Court.On 9 May at the Old Bailey, the 61-year-old white haired and bearded Jebson pleaded guilty. His defence said in mitigation that Jebson was on drink and drugs at the time of the offences. They added that Jebson had now confessed because he didn’t want to take his crimes to his grave.Detective Donnelly believes that Jebson didn’t confess to clear his conscience. He did it to build his status in prison. He called him a ‘highly dangerous, fixated, sadistic paedophile’ and added;“If he got out, he could never be trusted, I believe he would kill.”Jebson received two life sentences. As with his confession, he showed no emotion on receiving his sentence.

Thirty years after he destroyed their lives, Gary and Susan’s relatives saw some sort of justice.The mothers of his victims, Beryl, 66, and Muriel 79, implored the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to make sure Jebson dies in jail. They hoped that because Straw had already ensured this with the child-killing Myra Hindley, he might do the same for them.Also present in court was the now retired Inspector Read. He felt vindicated for his decades of suspicion. He kissed Gary’s mother on the cheek and said;“We was right wasn’t we Beryl”Jebson, a paedophile serial killer, had wrecked the lives of at least half a dozen families.To this day, when there is a ring on the doorbell or from the phone, just for a moment, Beryl wonders if it is her Gary?“I’ve forgiven him for what he’s done to me, because when he passes life, he’ll have a lot more than me to contend with...but I judge myself. I can’t help it.If I could take my whole insides out, give them a damn good wash, and put them back, I’d be fine, but I can’t do that.”Michaela OdwellIt is likely that Jebson will die behind bars.Some believe he has other crimes, including killings, for which he should confess.

END NOTEPredators like Jebson are mercifully exceptional. The press are not alone in focusing a lot of attention on the relatively rare phenomenon of ‘stranger-danger.’In fact, sadly, the majority of child killing and abuse is perpetrated by the children’s parents or immediate circle.The age group of children most likely to be murdered is below the age of twelve months.

The Trial


ROSEMARY’S TRIALIn 1974 at St Albans Crown Court, Mr Justice Kenneth Jones recommends Jebson serve at least 20 years.“The mind recoils from the horror and enmity of the offences committed.”Mr Justice JonesThe judge makes it clear that he can find no mitigating factors. There is nothing to either excuse or explain his actions. He is simply dangerous

BABES TRIALAlready serving a life sentence, the 61-year-old Jebson goes to Old Bailey. On Tuesday, Jebsen admits to the killings in the Old Bailey. His confession is watched by the still grieving mothers of his victims. Gary’s mother had never believed the explanation that her son’s death may have been accidental.Also present is Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read involved in the murder inquiry. He kisses Gary’s mother on the cheek and says, ‘we were right wasn’t we Beryl.”In May 2000 Jebson is sentenced to two life sentences for their abduction and murders.“What they went through before they died does not bear thinking about...You are a truly wicked and perverted man.”Judge David StokesMr John Evison had to defend Jebson. He states that Jebson’s only explanation for his crimes is that Jebson was at the time ‘drinking a lot’ and ‘taking drugs, many drugs’.Three decades after their children’s deaths, their parents finally know how they died.“Jebson should never be allowed the opportunity of freedom again.”Norman Brennan, Victims of Crime Trust

The Confession

Detective: How would you entice the child into the car then?...Jebson: ‘Excuse me, little Miss, don’t I know you?’“Don’t think so.”What’s your name?“Barbara...Mary...Carol...Susan...” ...whatever.‘Oh, your so and so’s little girl. I know you. Do you want a lift?’“Yes please.”As we’re driving away...’Do you want some sweets?’“Oh yes please” you go into shop with her and pick her up sweeties.Detective: Yeah.Jebson: You come out. She has already been paid.Detective: Right...Payment in advance. Is that what you’re saying?Jebson: Yeah. Payment in advance....Ron Jebson describes his method and justification for child rape in a police interviewJebson seems able to give seeringly honest and factually accurate statements in one breath, and then fantastical imaginings in the next. Some believe it is one of his many coping mechanisms for the horrors he’s committed.He and detectives will get through many, many cigarettes before Jebson gives them the truth.And he seems to enjoy discussing his previous crimes against children:“We’d never had anybody who’d been so explicit and who was obviously out to shock and make us complicit in his world. And to see if we got some pleasure, perversely out of what he was telling us.”Detective Chief Inspector Declan DonnellyWhat Jebson didn’t know was the police had a criminal psychologist aiding them. He said that Jebson would only confess if they went through Jebson’s layers of fantasies. When Jebson tells them of his recurring dream, the psychologist says that Rosemary’s face is a cover for other attacks.But detectives have to be very careful. Whenever they hint to Jebson that he may be responsible for the double murders of Susan and Gary, he reacts angrily. At one point, he rips off the microphone attached to him for recording and demands to go back to his cell.What lets them delve further is by talking about the shelters and hides that Jebson had built in the woodlands as a child. These were fundamental fantasy features for Jebson. Once back on safe ground with the detectives, he would talk for ages and in great detail about building them. He expertly talks about which branches to use, willow, and how to tie them to the ground to make an arch:Detective: When you’re in the hide, are you that little boy again?Jebson: I’m that little boy again.Jebson reveals a split personality. There is ‘little Ron’ and ‘big Ron’:Detective: The Enfield kids have got ‘little Ron’s hallmarks all over them.”Jebson: It still ain’t ‘little Ron’.Detective: I don’t want ‘Big Ron’ to interfere with ‘Little Ron’here...c’mon...In August 1998, with no new evidence, the case is being wound down. Then on Monday 24 August Jebson calls Edmonton Police Station. He says he wants to confess.During the four hour confession, Donnelly says Jebson is “virtually emotionless” as he recounts the killings:“I am an animal. I will screw any little girl. I don’t care who she is or whose daughter she is.”It is unlikely that Jebson has the sort of conscience to instigate his confession. Otherwise, he would have been unable to commit his offences repeatedly. Some have suggested Jebson was trying to impress what he counted as his peers, his fellow imprisoned paedophiles:“...there’s a hierarchy amongst the sex offenders. I slightly get the impression that he was trying to impress those other predatory paedophiles about the extent of his offending behaviour.”David Wilson, criminologist and former prisoner governorJebson states that he knelt on Susan’s chest when he strangled her. Susan’s body has been exhumed and subjected to further tests – Gary’s has been cremated - Forensic examination confirms her stomach was crushed and that the bleeding in her ribs was caused by blunt trauma. This is consistent with Jebson’s confession.For some, the truth is even more painful than the not knowing:“He had sex with him and strangled him whilst he was having sex with him. That, that, that was his sort of thing. That’s what he did to children. For me it’s been worse since I actually knew. I knew he’d been murdered. But I couldn’t cope with knowing that he’d been touched by somebody.”Beryl HanlonDonnelly takes Jebson back to the copse where Susan and Gary had been found. At the edge of the copse, at the site of his killing, he details his crimes:“I came up, up here, and I parked the car...I saw this open gateway...we went across these fields and saw this copse. Inside the copse my aggressive nature started showing. Susan didn’t want to play. Nor did Gary. Gary sat there not knowing what to do. So I had Susan’s jeans down and unders. I was sitting on her stomach...middle of nowhere, no one can hear their screams. After I finished with Susan, Gary said he wants to go home and I said you’re going nowhere and he went for me so I hit him. I then raped him. I stayed there having me fun...until 2, 3 o’clock in the morning...They were both dead...i put them close together...and left...I was a bad evil Ron that night.”But ‘bad evil Ron’ Jebson was too scared to actually enter the copse again.He is superstitious.He believes that the spirits of Susan and Gary are in there waiting for him.

The Accusation


“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”Hamlet, William ShakespeareIn prison, Ronald Jebson has a recurring dream.There is a little slim blonde girl, Nicola, laughing and clapping on a swing.He is beside this ‘precious little China doll’. He puts his arm round her and asks if she wants to come with him. “No” she says.Next thing he knows, they’re walking down a “lovely floral path”. They come to a house in a paradise.It is paradise because it is the perfect child in the perfect location.And when it comes to bedtime, there is no resistance. The child wants the sex.And so Jebson is able to perform. And afterwards, the child’s face becomes like a galaxy of stars.The face of the child is his last murder victim, Rosemary Papper.“ of the most common things that a predatory paedophile will say to me is that actually the child came onto him, as opposed to the other way around. That the child was interested in sex, not the predatory paedophile. These are called techniques of neutralisation. These are ways in which the paedophile can explain away his sexual interest in a child by actually saying, it wasn’t him that was interested sexually, but the child that was interested.”David Wilson, Criminologist 

‘MONSTER’It’s May 1996. In Wakefield High Security Prison, 58-year-old Jebson is serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 20 years for the murder of eight-year-old Rosemary Papper.Jebson, a paedophile killer, confides to a prison officer that he knows the identity of another child killer.He accuses Robert and Maureen Papper, the parents of the girl Jebson had killed, of being the murderers of the ‘Babes in the Woods’ children, Susan Blatchford and Gary Hanlon.Jebson had used the Papper family as an alibi for the killings of Susan and Gary; he had killed their Rosemary; and now Jebson hoped to torture them further.Detective Inspector Declan Donnelly’s assigned to the case.For the next two and a half years, he’ll investigate the sex crimes of man who calls himself a ‘monster’.Detectives soon realise Jebson is after his own twisted revenge. Jebson states that Bob and Maureen had used his car to commit the double murder. He says that after 22 years his conscience got the better of him and he needs to tell the truth.The detectives had to bring in the still grieving father. They had to interview Robert Papper under caution and DNA test him. They then told him the name of his accuser:“Jebson killed my daughter: Destroyed my first marriage; destroyed my second marriage; accused me of murder of the ‘Babes in the Wood.’ He couldn’t make that stick. So, he went back to allegations about me interfering with my other two daughters...what he’s done to my life, you can’t put words to.”Robert PapperSo the police interview Robert’s family from his first marriage, his friends and old neighbours. Not one person supports Jebson’s accusation of Robert being a child abuser.The police return to their prime suspect.

The Investigation

Connecting the dots

On 4 April 1970, four days after Susan and Gary disappear, police arrest Ronald Jebson.But the arrest is for the indecent assault of a boy in Nottingham.The police twice interview Jebson about Susan and Gary. Jebson lives locally to them, and has just been released for sexually assaulting a six-year-old girl.But he was in no way a prime suspect:“What you also have to bear in mind; this was one person out of possibly hundreds that were suspects at the time. There was no technology that you have now, to put things into a computer, to what I would say, to join up the dots. What you were working on was...a card would have cards with, ‘there’s a vehicle seen there’...’There’s a witness who’s been interviewed there.’... There’s something we must follow up’, and this is on another card.”Detective Chief Inspector Declan DonnellyIn much the same way that the Yorkshire Ripper investigation was overwhelmed with information, the hunt for Jebson was hindered, not helped by the sheer volume of paperwork.And Jebson denies any involvement. His alibi is that he was down the job centre and then back with the Papper family. The police move on.On 17 June, the bodies of Susan and Gary are found in woodland. The exact spot where they’re found had been searched two months before on the 9 April by three officers and their dogs. This was just ten days after they’d disappeared. Vital forensic evidence has been lost in the intervening period. The bodies have since been attacked by animals and insects. It’s now impossible to determine if they’ve been sexually assaulted.

nspector Read is furious - these mistakes will in time lead to a fundamental change in training methods for police dogs - that is of no use to Read.The autopsies confirm that the extent of decomposition means they must have died soon after going missing. This fits with the explanation of them dying from exposure on their first night.Inspector Read believes that a criminal act has been perpetrated. But he has precious few facts to support his theory.The inquest in September ends with an open verdict. Forensic science isn’t advanced enough to determine whether the children died naturally or at the hands of another. The coroner states that though some of Susan’s underclothes (her bra, pants and tights) were missing, they could have been taken by an animal in the woods.Her mother Muriel knows different:“The only animal that could remove Susan’s bra, pants, and tights is a human animal.”

The parents of both children believe their children were murdered. After her disappearance, Susan’s dog Blackie constantly claws the floor. Her mother believes something doesn’t fit with the exposure explanation:“I just knew they didn’t go up there and die. What two children would go up and lay in a copse for days on end, hungry, starving, frightened of the dark. You knew damn well it wasn’t right.”But the police aren’t so sure. Double abductions are extremely rare.The one policeman who is certain it was murder is Read. He also believes it unlikely that two children would ignore the electric lights of home clearly visible from the hide where they were found and instead huddle together in the cold and dark. The idea that wild animals would take Susan’s underclothes, but not her overcoat seemed unlikely. So he conducts experiments using 12 pairs of trousers similar to Susan’s to see if an animal could have damaged them in the way they were left. He concludes they were ripped by a rapist fighting a resistant child. But other Scotland Yard detectives ridicule Read and his notions of a double child killer. Some believe he’s got too close to the family. Some say he’s lost perspective.And in a 40 year career, the ‘Babes’ case was the only murder that the Chief Superintendent failed to solve.Nowadays his suspicions would look better founded. The pre-meditated building of a hide would potentially indicate ‘a killing ground’ had been prepared. The embrace of the children could be considered as ‘posing’ by a predator and the missing underwear indicative of trophies taken.But back in 1970, Read has never even heard the word ‘paedophile’. He just knows they didn’t die from the cold. Defiantly, in his final report, Read concludes the cause of death as murder.But he also adds that he doesn’t believe it would be possible to prove it.The date on which the children had gone missing, 31 March was Read’s birthday. For the next thirty years, his every birthday is a grim reminder of his one outstanding case.And worse, because the ‘Babes’ case is never classed as a murder inquiry, none of the physical evidence is protected.So, short of a confession from the killer, it looks unlikely that Read or the victim’s families will ever find answers.

The Crimes

Ronald Jebson?

"Jebson is the classic example of the kind of predatory paedophile who will abduct and murder a child who is not known to him. He is effectively every parent’s worst nightmare.”David Wilson, CriminologistRon Jebson was born Ronald Harper in 1938. He was illegitimate and so when he was adopted, his surname changed to that of his new family, Jebson. The Jebson’s lived in Hatfield, Hertfordshire.Ronald was seen as being ‘a bit odd’ as a child and, as a result, had a quite lonely childhood. One of his few friends was Robert Papper.Robert would come to bitterly regret ever meeting his school mate.Unknown to Robert, in the mid 1950s Ronald Jebson became a child abuser. Jebson indecently assaulted a four-year-old:“...from age fifteen, he’s convicted of indecent exposure, then indecent assault, then sexual assault. So gradually, throughout his teens, throughout his twenties and thirties...the sexual offending that he engages in becomes more and more severe, which is typical of the pattern of predatory paedophiles.”David Wilson

THE MAN WITH MANY NAMESRonald Jebson was twice rejected by the army. After successfully joining, he was then discharged in 1958. He became a drifter, a drug addict and an alcoholic. He changed his name as often as his address:“So sometimes he’ll use the name Ronald Jebson, other times he’ll use his birth name...Harper; on other occasions he will use a pseudonym, Alan Purchase.Is he married? Is he Christian, is he Jewish? He constantly plays with his identity, as a way, deliberately I think, of covering his tracks...”David WilsonIn 1968 he was jailed for two years for indecently assaulting a six-year-old girl.He told a prison psychiatrist that he was evil and was afraid of himself.“I was a prison governor...until the late 1980s...(With) convicted paedophiles...we did absolutely nothing to overcome their sexual offending history...they were almost walking time-bombs.As soon as they were released from prison in the Sixties and Seventies, they were almost guaranteed to offend again...”David WilsonPREDATORY, AND FREEIt’s 2 March 1970. Ronald Jebson has just been released from Wandsworth prison.He is a 31-year-old predatory paedophile.He is not yet a killer.He moves to Enfield but catches up with and soon moves in with an old school friend from Hatfield, Robert Papper. Robert lives with his wife Maureen and their four children. The Papper’s have little way of knowing they’ve let a monster through their door.On 31 March 1970, Jebson goes to the job centre in Enfield. He then drives around the area. He sights Gary and Susan playing. He stops and talks to them.He employs his usual technique. It works.He persuades Susan and Gary to go into the woods. The children, perhaps confident that each will look after the other, get in.Jebson drives them to Epping Forest. He draws them in by offering them forbidden drink and exotic cannabis. Once the children are intoxicated, he sexually assaults Susan as he strangles her. He then starts on Gary.The boy tries to resist. But Gary is small for his age. And he’s twenty years younger than his attacker. In just seconds, he’s overpowered.Jebson finishes and strangles them both. He conceals their bodies in a hide he’d built earlier. He takes some of Susan’s clothing as trophies.Four days later, Jebson is arrested.But it’s for indecently assaulting an 11-year-old boy in woods near Nottingham.He is sentenced to five years jail. He’s released after three.

ROSEMARY PAPPERNow a convicted paedophile, but with his double child murder unknown, Jebson goes back to stay with Maureen and Robert Papper in their Hatfield home. He conceals his criminal convictions from the couple and their children.One of their children is called Rosemary:“She was blonde, blue eyes – she was a stunner.”Michaela Odwell, Rosemary’s best friendRobert doesn’t suspect Jebson. As he’s never seen Jebson with a woman, he assumes he’s homosexual.But Maureen grows uneasy. She says there’s something about him she just doesn’t trust.When Jebson buys sweets and treats and tries to get close to their eight-year-old Rosemary, Maureen insists Jebson leaves.Jebson doesn’t take it well. Even the neighbours remember his threat;“I will do something you will regret.”On the afternoon of 9 June 1974 Robert goes to collect his daughter from her primary school. He asks the teachers where Rosemary is. He’s told she’s been driven off by ‘Uncle Ron’.Rosemary tries to resist Jebson’s sexual assaults. Despite threatening violence, she doesn’t give in. So he takes her a birdwatcher hide in some woods. He slaps and hits her trying to get her to acquiesce. She won’t. Because she’s not performing to the script in his head, Jebson finds himself impotent.Humiliated, he fills with a murderous rage. He’s now able to rape her.As he does so, he strangles her to death. He later admits he did not find the experience ‘satisfactory.’“I am not getting pleasure. I am just using her as a waste bin.”Ronald Jebson police interview about Rosemary killingAfter she’s dead, he covers her body with straw.It is virtually a carbon copy of Susan’s killing.Not sated, Jebson sets off for Rosemary’s best friend, Michaela Odwell.Jebson had befriended her father for just this reason. He turns up her at the family home claiming his car had broken down. Michaela’s father offers him the sofa for the night.He had blood in the middle of his jumper, and my dad said,‘What happened, Ron?’, and he went,‘Oh, I cut myself’, so my mother put the jumper in to soak.”Michaela OdwellThe next day, eight-year-old Michaela is too ill to go to school. With her mother in the garden, Jebson attacks. But before the 35-year-old can finish her, her mother returns;“He put 10p in my hand, and he said to me;‘If you ever tell anyone what I’ve been doing up here, I will do exactly what I did to Rosemary. I strangled her. I punched her. I hit her, and I raped her. And I’d do the f******* same to you”When Michaela’s father returns, Jebson leaves.Just a few hours later, police arrest Jebson for Rosemary’s murder.It will be many years before the petrified Michaela is able to repeat what Jebson did and said.In 1974 at St Albans Crown Court, Mr Justice Kenneth Jones sentences Jebson to life and recommends he serve at least 20 years:“The mind recoils from the horror and enmity of the offences committed.”The judge makes it clear that he can find no mitigating factors.There is nothing to either excuse or explain Jebson’s actions.He is simply dangerous.