“There have...been some severely disturbed individuals who can only be described as serial killer ‘wannabes’... Harold Schechter, The Serial Killer Files.
Aged 16, Colin committed his first crime. To run away to London, he stole £4. He was caught, issued with a ‘fit person order’ and sent to Finchton Manor School in Kent. A fee-paying ‘free expression’ school, Finchton only accepted boys who had both intelligence and emotional problems. Colin’s fees were paid by the local County Council as part of the care order.
Again, Colin was teased and bullied. In revenge, he set fire to one of the boys’ belongings. Colin later said he had recurring nightmares of fire and had a lifelong fascination with flames.
Despite no charges, Colin was sent away from Finchton Manor. He immediately ran away to London.
Homeless and penniless, Colin soon resorted to robbery. At 17, he was caught and sentenced to spend time at Hollesly Bay, a borstal. These were notorious British reform schools that were infamous for their brutal and austere regimes. Despite this, Hollesly offered therapy and vocational training. Colin hated it. He again ran away.
Caught, he served the remainder of his sentence in the far stricter borstals of Rochester and Grendon.
In 1972, Colin was 18, and free.
He met his first girlfriend, but this wasn’t a happy time:
'I was entering what I call the lost period, common to those who suffer from psychopathy. …In between custodial periods, a lot of the 70s were a blur. I spent my time detached and wondering.'
In December 1975, Colin, now 21, was found guilty of two counts of burglary, stealing a car and damage to property. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. On his release in November 1976, Colin went to live in Swindon. He met his second girlfriend. She was a West Indian woman, five years his senior and the mother of four children. He lost his virginity with her. They lived together for a few months and planned to marry.
THE GENTLE GIANT?
But in 1977, Ireland was found guilty of ‘demanding with menace’ and sentenced to a further 18 months in prison. In 1980, he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for robbery in 1980. In 1981, he was done for ‘attempted deception’. The same year he met Virginia Zammit at a lecture on ‘Survivalism’. She was 36, nine years his senior, had a daughter of five and was confined to a wheelchair after a motor vehicle accident paralysed her at just 24.
The couple were happily married in 1982. Colin adored his wife and stepdaughter. The family lived in estate housing in Holloway and Colin was known to the locals as ‘The Gentle Giant’. But in 1985, Colin was sentenced for six months, this time for ‘going equipped to cheat’. When Virginia found Colin had cheated on her as well, they divorced in 1987.
During this period, Colin unskilled and untrained supported himself through various jobs. These include being a restaurant chef, a volunteer fireman and a bouncer at various bars including a gay nightclub. The lanky, malnourished target of bullying had become a burly, big bloke quite capable of handling himself and others.
In 1989, Colin entered the Devonshire pub of landlady Janet Young:
'He stood in the doorway and the whole conversation in the pub just stopped and everybody turned and looked at him.'
Janet lived with her two children above the pub. Within the week, Colin moved in with them. Within three months, they were married. One night he threw her out of their bedroom. She took refuge in another. He entered. He smashed the light bulb. In the darkness, he moved from corner to corner. As he circled her, he taunted her saying;
'I’m over here, I’m over here.'
'What (control freaks) normally do is put enough fear into their partners that the partners don’t want to upset them...they control them that way. The fear of violence is often more powerful than the actual violence.' Mike Berr, Forensic Psychologist and Police Profiler of Colin Ireland.
When not working, Colin went off to Dartmoor fancying himself as a ‘survivalist’:
'He was gonna go all night and catch a rabbit and all this sort of thing. But actually he wasn’t very good at it and he always came home for his tea.' Janet Young
After one Easter, when Janet was away, Colin cleared out her house and, knowing her PIN number, her bank account – this would be how he stole and financed himself when he became a serial killer.
Colin left Janet broke. She couldn’t even pay her bus fare home. Her and her children were forced into a homeless hostel. She never heard from him again.
Colin next popped up in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. He worked at a homeless shelter whilst being homeless himself. The manager there remembered him for his homophobia. Only once did Colin reveal himself. The manager and Colin were dealing with a repeatedly troublesome client. Colin suggested getting rid of him. When the manager jokingly asked how Colin would do that, Colin replied in all seriousness, he would force snooker balls down the man’s throat.
When other staff made complaints about Colin touching female colleagues, he was let go.
His next job involved breaking up wooden pallets. Depressed, disillusioned and down and out, Colin made a New Year’s resolution for 1993 that would cost five innocent men their lives.