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The Crossbow Cannibal

Crime Files
The Crossbow Cannibal

"Hatred Bound Tightly in Flesh"Stephen Griffiths’s MySpace entry describing himself

Stephen Shaun Griffiths is born on Christmas Eve in 1969, in West Yorkshire. He’s the eldest of the three children of telephonist, Moira Dewhirst, and frozen food salesman, Stephen Griffiths. Their marriage soon breaks up and the children stay with Moira in her council house. (She’ll later be convicted of benefit fraud and many have speculated her behaviour may partly explain Stephen’s hatred of women). But Stephen’s father works hard to send his 13 year old son to a fee paying school.

THE CRIMINAL STUDENTAs a teenager, Stephen regularly shoplifts. When a supermarket manager tries to stop him, Stephen attacks with a knife. Aged just 17, he’s sentenced to three years’ youth custody. He tells probation officers he fantasises about serial killing.During this time, he loses contact with his family.In 1989, he’s convicted of possessing an offensive weapon: an air pistol. He uses it to shoot birds which he then dissects.The next year, he receives two year prison sentence for affray after holding a knife to the throat of a young girl. But because he’s said not to possess signs of psychotic illness, or a treatable mental disorder, he can’t be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.Stephen develops a fear of penetration and every night places cotton wool in his ears so that insects can’t enter. He never works, surviving on benefits and grants. But he does go on to secure a degree gaining a First in psychology. And he’ll begin a PHD. His doctorate thesis is on the history of homicide.

"There may be an element, although this is difficult to prove, that he is in a sense...educating himself better about the phenomenon that he was going to engage in practically...Was he studying some of these books to understand how to avoid capture, how to dispose of bodies, how police would conduct an investigation?"

David Wilson – Professor of Criminology

Stephen buys books on serial killing online. (He will later purchase crossbow bolts).Many of the books focus on Jack the Ripper, the Moors Murder and his idol, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. During the 70 and 80s, Sutcliffe killed 13 women, many of them prostitutes.

At 27 Stephen moves into a one bedroom flat in a block of housing association flats in Holmfield Court, Bradford, West Yorkshire. It’s on the edge of Bradford’s red-light district.Around two dozen prostitutes walk the nearby Thornton Road. Stephen will target three of them.


But at first Stephen doesn’t use prostitutes. In 1998, he starts a two year relationship. When he finally invites his girlfriend into his flat, she finds every surface, even the carpet, covered in plastic.She senses something is very, very wrong. She makes her excuses and leaves, and soon also exits the relationship. Stephen then has an abusive relationship with another woman who manages to escape him in 2001. However, he harasses her for years, spraying ‘slag’ on her wall when she’s away on holiday and leaving threatening messages on her voicemail. In one he laughs maniacally and states:

"I’m not going to go away. So I guess you’d better."

He then buys two lizards, sometimes taking them for walks on dog leads into town. A neighbour, Rachel Farrington, agrees to come into his flat to see his ‘pets’. She describes his flat as like entering a maze. Stephen shows her how he feeds live rats to his pets. She watches as a lizard bites one in half. Enraptured, Stephen observes, "That’s nature for you."

Billy Parkin, a former friend, remembers even seeing Stephen eat a small live baby rat, and washing it down with a glass of water.

Stephen creates an online pseudonym for himself called ‘Ven Pariah’. David Wilson speculates that the ‘Ven’ was a shortening of either his first name, ‘Stephen’, or perhaps the word ‘venerable’. A ‘pariah’ is defined as ‘a social outcast’.Ven Pariah posts the following on MySpace the night before he kills Suzanne Blamires.

"What will this pseudo-human do, one wonders. Poor Stephen, pretended to be me, but he was only the wrapping. He knew towards the end, that I supplied the inner core of iron. Hatred Bound Tightly in Flesh. At very long last, the time has come to act out."

This entry echoes Thomas Harris’s psychopath in Red Dragon, the infamous novel that introduces Hannibal Lecter.

"I'm the great Red Dragon... I am not a man...You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. To me, you are a slug in the sun...Before me, you rightly tremble. But, fear is not what you owe me. You owe me awe."

Many worry that our fascination with serial killers, real and fictional, combined with the level of sex and violence now seen on our screens, may have a detrimental effect. For them, Stephen Griffiths are their fears made flesh.

"This is someone who was almost a wannabe serial killer. He wanted his 15 minutes in the spotlight."

David Wilson


24 December 1969 Stephen Griffiths is born1989 Griffiths is convicted of possessing an air pistol1991 He is diagnosed by a psychiatrist as a ‘sadistic, schizoid, psychopath’. But he can’t be sectioned1992 He receives a two year prison sentence for affray and possession of an offensive weapon after holding a knife to the throat of a young girl for no apparent reason1993 Griffiths is put on probation for possessing a knife in public and given a suspended prison sentence for possessing two air pistols

January 2009 Griffiths is convicted of harassment22 June 2009 Susan Rushworth, 43, last seen in Manningham, disappears. Her remains are never found26 April 2010 Shelley Armitage, 31, last seen on Rebecca St, disappears28 April 2010 Police establish that at around 1am, Griffiths murders Shelley Armitage21 May 2010 Suzanne Blamires, 36, disappears24 May 2010 Caretaker. Peter Gee, checks CCTV footage. Griffiths is arrested28 May 2010 Stephen Griffiths gives his name to the magistrate as ‘the crossbow cannibal’16 July 2010 Griffiths appears by video link. His trial date is still to be set21 December 2010 Griffiths pleads guilty to all three counts of murder at Leeds Crown Court (The trial is one of the first times that reporters, who are not allowed to take photos or record sound, were allowed to tweet from the courtroom.)22 January 2012 Griffiths is on suicide watch when he attempts to slash his wrists with a smuggled razor blade. He fails in his sixth attempt

The Aftermath


"He was weedy and needy. He was the ultimate epitome of the banality of evil...He was like a nightmarish version of a wannabe X Factor contestant, desperate to grab the attention of the British public...Stephen Griffiths saw murder as his passport to fame."- David WilsonTHE LAWMany, including Wilson, believe the case again highlights the need for reform of Britain’s laws where prostitution is not in itself illegal, but working in a brothel is. So instead of being able to operate in a controlled environment, vulnerable women are forced to work alone on the streets, making them easier targets for the very worst elements in society. It is claimed that in Holland, where prostitution has been decriminalised, there has never been a case of a serial killer targeting them, precisely because they work in the open, and together.Even the women’s groups, who oppose such measures as decriminalisation (believing they legitimise the sexual abuse of women), agree that the present situation is the worst of all worlds.

THE FAMILIESOn 4 August 2010, the remains of Shelley Armitage are laid to rest. So little of her is recovered, a child’s coffin, measuring just two and a half feet, is used."My daughter’s pieces are still missing. What I have got of my daughter, I can’t bury my daughter."- Daryl Armitage, father of Shelley ArmitageThe body of Susan Rushworth can’t be buried as it has never been found."As a family, we have not been able to put our daughter to we want to appeal to this man to tell us what he has done with Susan."- Christine Thompson, mother of Susan Rushworth"People say oh it gets easier with time. I’m not quite convinced that I believe that."- Nicky Blamires, mother of Suzanne BlamiresGriffiths has refused to reveal any further details about the murders.He has never expressed any remorse for taking away three daughters from their families.Now in Wakefield Prison, Griffiths has repeatedly self-harmed, including a ten month hunger strike, and attempted suicide. He is 42 when he makes his sixth attempt. However, none of this should be seen as the actions of a repentant man who is in some way overcome by guilt. They are the only options left to a narcissist who craves attention and wants his name repeated in the papers. And his suicide bids are indeed duly reported and printed by the press.

The Trial


On 28 May 2010 Griffiths goes to Bradford magistrates for his first court appearance. The day before a tabloid had referred to him as the ‘crossbow cannibal’. So when the magistrate asks for his name, Griffiths replies, ‘the crossbow cannibal’. He’s fully aware that all the tabloids will splash this across their front pages. And they do.And when the court asks for his address, he says, ‘Em, here I guess.’On the morning of 21 December 2010 Griffiths, dressed in a grey tracksuit, stands in the dock, for his trial of Leeds Crown Court. He is surrounded by five security guards. The Judge, Mr Justice Openshaw tells the court that the defendant’s mental health has been carefully examined and there’s ‘no question that he was fit to plead.’Each of the families have heard from the police what they suspected had happened to their daughters. Now, they have to endure listening to what he did to the others.

Susan Rushworth’s body has still not been found, but her DNA, found in bloodstains on his bathroom wall and in his bedroom link her to Griffiths.It’s revealed that forensics found DNA on the cooker belonging to Shelley Armitage and Susan Rushworth. It is likely that he cooked them before consuming them. It’s reported he told officers that he ate the flesh of Suzanne Blamires raw, adding, ‘that’s part of the magic.’Griffiths shows contempt and utter disdain for the whole proceedings often folding his arms and scowling.The trial lasts just two hours and 20 minutes because he pleads guilty to all charges.The QC of Griffiths tries to argue the system is at fault as his client was diagnosed as psychopathic nearly 20 years before.This mitigating factor doesn’t stop Griffiths being given three life sentences. The judge says he will never be released.

The Investigation

Killer on the rampage

"I don’t have much time for the Human Race"Griffiths during police interviewIt takes the police three days to interview Griffiths despite his initial confession because of his rambling. His confession alludes to his alter ego, Ven Pariah.Griffiths: I, or part of me, is responsible for killing Susan Rushworth, Shelley Armitage and Suzanne Blamires, who I know as Amber...Police: Why did you feel the need to kill her?Griffiths: ...Like I say, you just...sometimes you kill someone to kill yourself or kill part of yourself. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s like deep issues inside of me.He also indicates in an interview that he’s killed six women in total.He appears depressed but is initially helpful with the police. However, he won’t reveal the location of Susan Rushworth’s body.

Then the press obtain the CCTV footage of Griffiths killing Suzanne Blamires, and release it. Seeing her daughter’s last moments made into a spectacle is devastating to her mum.The police are able to build up a detailed picture of what happened to Shelly Armitage partly because, sickeningly, Griffiths records it some of it on his phone.After dragging Shelley back into his flat, he ties her up in the bath. On her back, sprayed in black paint are the words, ‘My Sex Slave’.As he films, he provides his own voiceover:"I am the Ven Pariah, I am the Bloodbath Artist. Here’s a model who is assisting me."He then dismembers her in his bathroom, his self styled slaughterhouse. He uses knives and power tools. He places parts of her in a rucksack and then leaves the flat with it. He catches a train, and is captured on camera at one of the stations. He dumps the rucksack and then is filmed again returning home.Once home, he tries to disinfect surfaces and eradicate all evidence of his kill.A small piece of Shelley’s spine is found in the same stretch of river as Miss Blamires’ remains. In total, the police recover 81 different pieces of Miss Blamires from the river.The police conclude that all of his victims entered the flat of Griffiths willingly, as seen on the footage showing the last moments of Suzanne Blamires. The approximate cost of a gram of heroin is around £50. Street prostitutes can sometimes charge as little as £20 for sex. Their need to fund their addiction makes them easy prey to predators like Griffiths.To further put them at ease, and along with offers of drugs and money, Griffiths tells police that he pretended to the women that he was a photographer. He tells them they will need to lie on the bed with their backsides in the air so he can take ‘portraits’ for a new art gallery exhibition. In fact, he photographs them dead and the photos become part of his trophies collection.Professor of Criminology David Wilson is brought in to advise police on the prosecution approach if Griffiths doesn’t confess at trial.He suggests the reason that Griffiths was so careful in covering up evidence of his first kill, and so brazen with his third, is that to be defined as a serial killer, a person must have killed three times, and over a period of time. As a student of criminology, Griffiths would have been well aware of this.

The Arrest

Catching the Cannibal

Three days after the disappearance of Suzanne Blamires, the caretaker of Holmfield Court reviews the CCTV tapes from the weekend. (He routinely checks them for any evidence of petty crimes in the flats). He’s fast forwarding through the silent footage of the third-floor corridor when he comes across a resident, Stephen Griffiths, leading a woman into his flat.Within minutes, the woman runs out looking like she’s running for her life. Griffiths follows with a crossbow, fires, misses, fires again, and fells her with a bolt to her head. He turns to a nearby CCTV camera and raises his crossbow to it like a winning footballer raises a trophy cup. He drags her lifeless body back by her leg and into his flat. He then returns to the camera with a drinks can which he raises as he ‘toasts’ his triumph while giving the finger.

Later, he goes back and forth in front of its silent gaze dragging bin bags and a rucksack.The camera has captured the last moments of Suzanne Blamires.On Monday at 1pm, the distraught caretaker phones the police.Armed police race to arrest 40 year old Stephen Griffiths. He’s arrested and handcuffed and tells police, ‘I’m Osama bin Laden.’ He will have to wait for the tabloids to come up with his nickname.They search his flat and find two crossbows and bolts along with shelves stacked with books on serial killers. The flat looks like Griffiths had tried to recently eradicate evidence by ripping up carpets and tiles.The next afternoon, a member of the public discovers a woman’s head and other body parts in a rucksack on the banks of the River Aire, five miles north of Griffiths’ flat. The crossbow bolt and knife are still embedded in the head. The head has been skinned.Nearby is a ‘killer’s kitbag’. It contains hacksaws and knives used in the dismemberment of bodies.

The Crimes

Stephen Griffiths starts 2009 with a conviction in January for harassment. He’ll end it as a murderer.SUSAN RUSHWORTHSusan Rushworth is at 43, already a grandmother, a heroin addict, and a prostitute. She’s been selling her body on the streets for the last three years to fund her drug habit.But her life could have been so different. Her brother, Paul, remembers Susan and him having a happy childhood growing up in the country. She married in her early 20s, has children and life is good. And even after they separate, she finds love again, and starts another family. When, however, this relationship breaks down, one of the new men in her life introduces her, aged 35, to heroin.And so her concerned mother, Christine, pays for rehab. It works: But only for a few months. And so begins a cycle of creeping addiction and cleaning out.It’s the day after Father’s Day, Monday 22 June 2009. Susan leaves her mum’s at 1pm. She takes a mobile phone with her saying she’ll be gone for a few hours. She goes to the chemist and picks up her prescription of methadone as part of her latest attempt to break her addiction.But when her mother calls, no one answers the mobile.And Susan, despite her lifestyle, always kept in contact with her mum. Christine rings the police. Missing posters go up and TV appeals are made by Susan’s son. The police interview potential witnesses such as the local drug dealers and men known to use prostitutes. They comb nearby woodland and drain a local lake.But her bank cards haven’t been used since the day she disappeared.Her brother Paul starts his own inquiries and one of the prostitutes he talks to is Shelley Armitage.

SHELLEY ARMITAGEShelley Armitage was a ‘bubbly’ girl who went to Catholic school. Holiday photos taken on a beach show a carefree child. She grows up wanting to be a model that travels the world.Aged 31, she’s a prostitute that walks up and down Thornton Road in Bradford.She first became a heroin addict at just 16.On 26 April 2010, around lunchtime, Shelley bumps into her father and mother out shopping. They chat. It’s the last conversation they’ll ever have with their daughter.When she doesn’t return to her boyfriend, Craig, in the evening, the police are called.Shelley never turns up for her social security payment.The police release CCTV footage of Shelley on the streets of Bradford hoping to jog memories.For the second time in less than 12 months, police and family comb the area for a missing loved one.SUZANNE BLAMIRESSuzanne Blamires is Bradford born and bred. Photos of her childhood and teenage years capture her attractiveness, confidence and cheekiness. She began training as a nurse. But when she starts going to raves, she starts taking recreational drugs. Around 21 years old, she discovers heroin. By 25, she’s starts sex working to pay for it. When her mother, Nicky, confronts her, Suzanne confesses everything. But it doesn’t stop her ‘merry-go-round’ of scoring, sleeping, and selling herself for her next hit. Her street name is ‘Amber’.On 21 May 2010 Nicky drops Suzanne, now aged 36, off at her flat early in the morning. But, unusually, Suzanne never rings her mum that evening. On Saturday, at about 4pm, her boyfriend, Gregg, knocks on Nicky’s door asking if she’s seen Suzanne. Nicky knows instantly something is wrong. The police are called.But ‘Amber’ has met ‘Ven Pariah’.