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The Cannock Chase Murders

Crime Files
The Cannock Chase Murders

"I would describe him as cold, cruel, lustful and just plain wicked." Former detective chief superintendent Pat Molloy, Interviewed on BBC Radio WM, August 2001

Raymond Leslie Morris is born 13 August 1929 in Walsall, Staffordshire. Considered good-looking and intelligent, with an above average IQ of 120, he demonstrates an interest in poetry and photography. He marries in 1951, aged 19, and the couple have two boys. As time passes his wife becomes frightened by his sudden mood swings and icy rages if she dares refuse sudden demands for sex. After eight years, Morris files for divorce on the grounds of her adultery. Even after separating he still demands sex and threatens to withhold maintenance if she refuses. Seven years later, he marries again, taking care to conceal his violent nature from his new wife, Carol. At 21, she is 14 years his junior. After a variety of jobs, he becomes a foreman at an engineering works in Oldbury, West Midlands and lives with Carol in a council flat in Birchills, opposite Walsall police station. It is while living in Regent House, Green Lane in Walsall that his murderous behaviour develops.

The Investigation

“…he had already been interviewed about the Christine Darby murder…” Former Detective Constable Joseph, Birmingham Mail, May 2011

All three murder victims - Margaret, Diane and Christine - lived near the A34, within 17 miles of each other. Cannock Chase is on the A34. Increasingly this geographical link becomes significant in the investigation.The inquiry is led by Sir Stanley Bailey, Staffordshire’s Assistant Chief Constable, and involves 150 officers visiting 39,000 homes, interviewing 80,000 people and trawling some 1.4 million car records. Close to 25,000 vehicles, including every Austin A55 and A60 in the Midlands, are checked.

In 1965, Morris’s brother walks into Cannock police station and states that he believes Raymond was capable of murdering Margaret and Diane, because of his unnatural interest in young girls. His claim is investigated but Morris appears to have alibis for both murders and as a married father of two he is not considered to be a likely suspect for such horrible crimes.

On the night of 4 November 1968 the police receive their breakthrough. At 8.28pm an emergency call is answered by Detective Constable Conrad Joseph. He interviews both Mrs Lane and Margaret Aulton, the intended victim. Their accounts match but unfortunately the registration number that Mrs Lane gives for the car she saw doesn’t match the make and model of the vehicle she describes.

DC Conrad Joseph perseveres with this line of enquiry with his colleague DC Atkins. They wake the local Vehicle Tax Officer to access the vehicle records at the Walsall office. The registration given by the witness is 429 LOP but this isn’t registered to a green and white Ford Corsair. Instead of giving up they painstakingly search through documents one by one, for similar registration numbers. Transposing the numbers 29 to 92 they discover 492 LOP is a matching vehicle and owned by Raymond Morris.

They visit Morris at work and invite him to be interviewed. Morris, remaining calm and co-operative, agrees. Chatting on the way to the station, he mentions he used to own an Austin A55.

An Austin A55 is the type of vehicle linked to Christine Darby’s unsolved murder and this information will prove vital to the investigation.

At Cannock police station Morris is also interviewed by Detective Sergeant John Farrell and Detective Constable James Speight. The witness doesn’t pick him out during an identity parade, later confessing she is too scared. Without a positive identification, Morris is allowed to walk free.

Remaining convinced of Morris’s guilt, DCs Joseph and Atkins seek permission from DCI George Read to stay on the case. He agrees and they delve into Morris’s past, looking for information on the vehicles he had owned or had access to through his job and his whereabouts at the time of the girls’ abductions.

DCs Joseph and Atkins are repeatedly told by the incident room at Cannock that Morris has been eliminated as a suspect because he has an alibi, given by his wife. But their investigations uncover evidence that connects Morris to the attack on Julia Taylor and the disappearances of Margaret Reynolds and Diane Tift. It seems he was in the right place, at the right time, in the right kind of car.

The Crimes

“…I am not responsible for the murder of Christine Darby…” Raymond Morris, Sunday Mercury, 17 April 2011

On 1 December 1964 in Leamore, a man believed to be Morris pretends to be an uncle of nine-year-old Julia Taylor and persuades her to get into his car. She is sexually assaulted, strangled and left for dead in Bloxwich Lane. A passing cyclist saves her from freezing to death.

On 8 September 1965, six-year-old Margaret Reynolds is travelling to school in Aston, Birmingham. She vanishes on the way. Within hours, two thousand people are searching for her. Their search is in vain.

On 30 December 1965, five-year-old Diane Tift says goodbye to her brother, Terrence, and walks to her grandmother’s house on nearby Chapel Street, Bloxwich. She never arrives.

On 12 January 1966, the body of a young girl is discovered by a workman, in a Cannock Chase ditch at Mansty Gully. Police are called and when the body is lifted out, another is discovered underneath. They have found Margaret Reynolds and Diane Tift.

On 14 August 1966, ten-year-old Jane Taylor goes missing during a bicycle ride near Cannock Chase. Her body is never found. Morris is widely considered to be guilty of her disappearance.In October 1966, Morris is brought in by police, accused of taking two girls to his home, putting them in separate rooms and undressing them. During their interviews, neither girl is able to accurately corroborate the other's testimony and so no charges are brought.

On 19 August 1967, seven-year-old Christine Ann Darby is playing near her Camden Street home in Caldmore. Her friend, Nicholas Baldry, is asked by a man with a local accent in a grey car for directions to Karmer Green - the local pronunciation for Caldmore Green. This same man then approaches Christine and persuades her to get into his car. Nicholas is the last person to see her alive.A grey car is later seen on Cannock Chase and reported to be an Austin A55 or A60. Search parties are launched and three days later, a soldier finds Christine’s naked body under bracken at Parr’s Warren, just one mile from where Margaret and Diane’s bodies were found. She has been raped and suffocated.

On 4 November 1968, ten-year-old Margaret Aulton is building a bonfire for Guy Fawkes Night on waste ground in Bridgeman Street. Raymond Morris pulls up beside her in his green and white Ford Corsair and tells her to get in, saying he has fireworks for her. She refuses but Morris is insistent and too strong to resist. Mrs Lane, a young housewife, happens upon the scene and shouts at Morris to stop. Morris jumps back into his car and flees. Mrs Lane makes a mental note of his registration number and calls the police.

The Arrest

“Go and arrest him” Detective Superintendent Ian Forbes from Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad 14 November 1968, (Birmingham Mail, 4 May 2011)

DCs Joseph and Atkins produce a nine page report detailing their findings and on 14 November they hand it to the officers leading the investigation. Less than two hours later Detective Superintendent Ian Forbes tells them to arrest Morris. They do so early the next morning.

A warrant is obtained to search Morris’s home and indecent photographs of a five-year-old girl are discovered. The photographs, taken in August 1965, are found to be of Carol Morris’s five-year-old niece.

Detective Forbes puts it to Morris that he is not telling the truth regarding the death of Christine Darby, that he did in fact murder the little girl. Morris remains ‘cool, calm and collected’ during the interviews until he is told his wife has retracted her alibi for him. Upon hearing this Morris becomes upset and puts his head in his hands, saying, ‘Oh God. She wouldn’t…’. He is shaking his head, in a mixture of disbelief and the knowledge that he is in serious trouble.

On 16 November 1968, Morris is taken to Cannock court and formally charged with the murder of Christine Darby. He is also charged with two counts of indecent assault on Carol’s niece and the attempted abduction of Margaret Aulton.

The Trial

“That’s him! That’s the man who did it to me!” Surviving victim Julia Taylor shouting about Raymond Morris at this trial (Alan Hayhurst, Staffordshire Murders)

In February 1969, Raymond Morris, once considered to be a respectable husband and father, is in court standing trial for the murder of a child. He pleads not guilty to the murder of Christine Darby and the attempted abduction of ten-year-old Margaret Aulton. He pleads guilty to indecent assault against his wife’s five-year-old niece.

After the national press coverage and horrors of the recent Moors Murders, there is huge public interest in the case. Hours before the trial begins there is a large queue of people trying to get into the public gallery of the court at Staffordshire Assizes. As the trial begins Judge Ashworth is quoted as telling the jury,“It was a hateful crime of lust and you will shortly have to look at some unpleasant photographs but you are here to judge calmly, dispassionately now whether it can be proved that it is the accused man, Raymond Leslie Morris, who is guilty.”

Many come forward to speak against Morris, including expert witnesses and members of the public. The pathologist from the Home Office, Dr Alan Usher, confirms Christine was killed by suffocation. Joseph Wilson, technical manager at Pirelli Ltd, states the tyre tracks left at Cannock Chase were from a family-sized saloon car, similar to the vehicle Morris drove. Many members of the public testify to having seen a man matching Morris’s description in the area and driving a grey car the day Christine was taken. In particular, prosecuting QC Brian Gibbens, provides two witnesses, Victor Whitehouse and Jean Rawlings, who give detailed accounts of Morris driving his grey Austin A55 through Cannock Chase.

Carol Morris did not originally contradict her husband’s claim that they were shopping together when Christine went missing around 2pm. But after she has seen the pornographic pictures that her husband took of her young niece, she retracts the statement she gave which provided him with an alibi. Instead she states that Morris didn’t come home until 4.30pm, explaining that she had previously provided an alibi because Morris had acted completely normally that day and it seemed impossible he was guilty of such a terrible crime.

From the public gallery, there is a cry from the now teenaged Julia Taylor, the 1964 abducted rape victim who only just survived: “That’s him! That’s the man who did it to me!” She is removed from court but none present can forget what she has said.Morris continues to maintain his innocence but the pressure on him is mounting. He has an emotional breakdown in the dock, as he recounts how Scotland Yard’s Ian Forbes told him “You are on your own now son. Your wife has left you.”

His defence barrister, QC Kenneth Mynett, tells the jury that his client is disgusted with himself about the photographs he took and that if they believe his alibi to be correct he cannot be the man witnessed at 4.15pm on Cannock Chase.

On 18 February 1969 the jury reaches a unanimous guilty verdict. The 300 people crowded in anticipation outside the court hear that Morris is sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum term of 30 years because of the nature his crimes.

Morris shows no emotion as Judge Ashworth says,“There must be many mothers whose hearts will beat more lightly as a result of this verdict.”

The judge praises both the public and press for their help in bringing Morris to justice. While Morris is also widely considered to be guilty of the murders of Diane and Margaret in 1965, as well the attack on Julia Taylor, there is not enough evidence to charge him.


1 December 1964 Nine-year-old Julia Taylor is abducted, raped, strangled and left for dead but saved by a passer by

8 September 1965 Six-year-old Margaret Reynolds goes missing on her way to school

30 December 1965 Five-year-old Diane Tift goes missing on her way to her grandmother's house

12 January 1966 The bodies of Margaret Reynolds and Diane Tift are found at Cannock Chase

14 August 1966 Ten-year-old Jane Taylor disappears near Cannock Chase and is never seen again

19 August 1967 Seven-year-old Christine Darby is lured into a car by a man near with a local accent

22 August 1967 Christine Darby’s body is found on Cannock Chase4

November 1968 A failed attempt to abduct ten-year-old Margaret Aulton is witnessed and police are called

15 November 1968 Carol Morris is shown the pornographic pictures that her husband took of her five-year-old niece and retracts her statement giving him an alibi for the day Chistine Darby was murdered

16 November 1968 Raymond Leslie Morris is charged with the murder of Christine Darby and is remanded in custody

18 February 1969 The seven day trial ends with Morris found guilty of murder. He is sentenced to life imprisonment

August 2010 Morris begins an appeal

November 2010 Morris is granted a judicial review in the case of the murder of Christine Darby. The review is overturned

May 2011 Morris breaks a 40-year silence, claims his innocence and says he may go to the European court of human rights. He later says he will make no further appeal and will probably end his days in prison