A Community living in fear
One of the first detectives at the Peter Walker murder scene was Martin Finnegan:
“Peter was laying on the bed covered by a duvet which had some teddy bears on top arranged in a 69 position...There was the ligature marks on his wrists and his ankles and there’s no ligatures at the scene...whoever had killed him had taken away the ligatures.”
The police also found Peter’s bank card was missing and that it had been accessed after he died.
But due to Ireland’s efforts, there was little forensic evidence.
Ireland’s phone call to ‘The Sun’ strongly indicated the murder was, if not premeditated, carried out by someone capable of killing again. So Finnegan did a TV appeal.
But police requests to the gay community were not helped by a recent ruling making S&M between consenting adults illegal. Any witnesses could be liable for prosecution. And many in the gay community believed the police to be institutionally and individually homophobic. Raids on gay pubs were said to be performed by officers wearing rubber gloves fearful of catching AIDS.
Ten weeks passed with no police progress. The investigation was effectively shelved.
On 30 May 1993 the police were called to the flat of Christopher Dunn. This time, the police assumed it was a sex game that had accidentally turned fatal.
“The pathologist who examined the body said that he wasn’t quite sure of the cause of death; it could’ve been manual strangulation through a homosexual sex act that’s gone wrong.”
Albert Patrick, Detective Superintendent
Despite Dunn and Walker drinking in the same pub, they weren’t linked because they lived in different parts of London. They were therefore investigated by the police from their respective areas. The Dunn murder barely made a paragraph in the local paper.
So Ireland was free to return to the Coleherne. Again, the victim went willingly to what they thought was a night of sexual gratification.
“I think the gay community are sitting ducks in that respect. The lifestyle lends itself to exploitation. Clearly there is a certain element of trust that needs to go on between consenting people and in this case this trust was betrayed. Possibly Colin saw the people as easy pickings.”
Martin Finnegan, Detective Inspector
The senior investigating officer for Ireland’s third victim was Brian Edwards:
“...the way the body was arranged and laid out it was clearly a little bit unusual and we were a little bit surprised when we contacted the family and found that there was no apparent history of homosexuality.”
Due to the high profile nature of the victim, the murder made headlines. But to protect his family, Bradley’s homosexuality was not revealed. So no immediate links were made between Bradley, and the previous two murders.
The Met police now had three separate murder teams investigating the three murders. But when they realised Bradley had visited the Coleherne, links began to emerge. Like Walker, Bradley had been robbed.
With the Collier crime scene, detectives immediately noticed similarities. And then Detective Superintendent Albert Patrick made a breakthrough. In looking for witnesses he found a serious fight had broken out nearby in the early hours.
...”what would you do if you heard noise at one o’clock in the morning? You’d get out of bed and have a look out the window...and between the glass pane...there was a finger mark facing downwards and that’s the mark that was lifted.”
But this would only prove useful in proving the killer was there. Without a computerised database, they couldn’t link that fingerprint to Ireland’s previous more minor crimes.
Brian Edwards noticed similarities in their cases and contacted Albert Patrick about Collier. And Martin Finnegan was aware of links between the Collier and Walker case. But at the exact time investigating officers were brought together and decided to redo all the forensics, it was found Dunn’s body was being cremated.
Confirmation the four murders were linked was, in fact, made by Ireland himself.
On 12 June, Ireland put in an anonymous phone call. He scolded the police for not connecting the murders as the victims of a serial killer:
“Doesn’t the death of a homosexual man mean anything?”
Three days later, Spiteri’s landlady rang the police to report she’d discovered his body. The police went public. A midnight press conference warned the gay community they were being targeted. It was hoped that if Ireland was in the flat of another potential victim and they were watching the television, that victim might just be saved.
“People became really paranoid; there was this real sense of fear within the community.”
Paul Burston, Author, ‘Queens’ Country’
The police traced Spiteri’s most likely route home from the Coleherne. His train journey home went through Charing Cross station, a station that had just been fitted with one of London’s first CCTV cameras. There was 450 hours of footage to shift through.
“After about ten hours of viewing we got the victim Spiteri with an image in the background and that ended up being Colin Ireland.”
Psychologist Dr Mike Berry was approached by the police to draw up a profile of the killer. He maintained the killer was fuelled by violent fantasies. But each murder was never as good as the fantasy. So he was driven to kill again. He also believed that the killer was not HIV positive and was not committing the murders as an act of revenge. Another psychologist, Dr Jonas Rappeport, agreed. He added his belief that the killer was not himself homosexual, but posing as a gay man in order to attract his victims. He was well organised, probably of large build and physically strong, which made him confident in his ability to overpower his victims. The police gained further advice from criminal psychologists Paul Britton and Dick Walter, as well as ex-FBI Agent and serial killer specialist, Robert Ressler.
On 24 June 1993, the police issued a description of a man who had been seen with Spiteri on the train. The description was of a white male, age 30-40, over 6 feet tall, clean shaven, a full to fattish face, short dark brown hair and dirty, discoloured teeth. They produced an E-Fit (Electronic Facial Identification Technique), a computer-generated likeness.
A week later, on 2 July 1993, police released a picture of the man with Spiteri, taken on the train’s security camera, and he was very similar to the man on the E-Fit. The following day, police received over 40 calls, some of which were from men saying they had seen or talked to the man in the Coleherne pub.
On 19 July 1993, Ireland went to his solicitor. He said he was with Spiteri, that he was on the CCTV but that he had not killed Spiteri. He claimed to have arrived at Spiteri’s flat to find there was another man. Explaining that he didn’t want a threesome, he said he had made his excuses and left.
The police came to Southend and arrested him.
With the Collier fingerprint left on the window ledge, the police were able to charge Ireland with Collier’s murder on 21 July 1993. Two days later, they charged him with Spiteri’s murder.
“...we decided to charge him initially, I think just with the two murders because what he wanted was the notoriety of being a serial killer and we felt with him just being charged with the two murders it would cause him quite a bit of frustration and so that’s what we did and we waited to see how things developed.”
Ireland was remanded in custody. His frustration with being connected with only two murders built.
After returning from magistrate’s court, he said he wanted to confess.
“I am the gay serial killer.”