“Everyone who knew David knew that he loved children.” - Tom McGreavy, David’s father
David Anthony McGreavy was born in Southport in 1951 to Bella and Thomas McGreavy. David was the second eldest of six children.
As David’s father was a sergeant in the Royal Signals, a lot of his childhood was spent moving from one army base to another. This could mean that one year he was being educated in an army school in England, the next, in Germany. But according to McGreavy’s mother, living in Germany was his happiest time. The children picnicked and biked in the woods and even went skiing:
“...the information that we have about McGreavy's childhood is that it was pretty normal.” - Professor David Wilson, Criminologist
McGreavy's mother, Bella, later said she could only remember one childhood incident of concern. The family were living in Cardiff. David stole his mother’s shopping money in order to take a trip to Liverpool. Professor Wilson believes this shows ‘evidence of impulsivity’.In 1967, 15-year-old David McGreavy left school and enlisted in the Royal Navy.
“It was always McGreavy’s lifelong ambition...his father doubted his dedication. But McGreavy was absolutely determined” - Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Criminologist
By the late sixties McGreavy was stationed at Portsmouth Naval base. He joined his first ship, HMS Eagle.
“You talk to his colleagues from his navy days; they will tell you that he was rather an arrogant young man. He always had to have the last word; he had quite a cocky attitude. And that did get him into trouble quite a lot in the navy. He was subject to quite a few disciplinary procedures.” - Dr Elizabeth Yardley
The turning point in David McGreavy’s naval career occurred at RNAS Brawdy in Pembrokeshire.
David worked as a steward in the mess hall. He saw his name written in a Chief Petty Officer’s Book. He thought this indicated a change of job. In a pattern that would repeat itself with fatal consequences, he stopped thinking, and started drinking. Others noted that when he turned up for his watch, he was agitated, and drunk. In a moment of madness, he did something that marked the beginning of the end of his short-lived naval career;
“...He actually broke into an officer’s ward room, and set fire to a bin that had papers in it...he said he did this mistakenly, by accidentally dropping a cigarette end...And he did raise the alarm at 2.30 in the morning...He expected the navy to believe that he was just an innocent eye-witness...they saw beyond that...he was court-martialled.“ - Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Criminologist
David wasn’t found guilty of arson, but of negligence. He was sentenced to 90 days detention. He also underwent psychiatric testing.His commanding officer never revealed the results and his parents were given no explanation for his bizarre behaviour.To this day, that psychiatric report isn’t available for public inspection.But the attempted arson indicated an impulsive individual unable to envisage the consequences of his actions. The boy who had stolen his mother’s money and the man who had tried arson for revenge were one and the same. The only difference was now David had started to drink, and alcohol affected him greatly.
In 1971, David McGreavy was shore based at Portsmouth dockyard after a tour of the Far East on the HMS Eagle. He started a relationship with a woman called Mary. From January to April they exchanged two letters a week. David’s letters became longer and longer.
“...eventually in April 1971 he meets Mary for the very first time. And one week later at a social event in Birmingham he proposes to her. He hasn't actually really known this girl at all but within one week of meeting her he's proposing marriage.” - Professor David Wilson, Criminologist
After the engagement, David saw Mary for two long weekends in June and July. After, his letter writing increased in length and intensity. But David’s mother disapproved of her son’s relationship:
“...Mary suffered from quite significant health problems. She had some issues with her spine and she was often in quite a lot of discomfort...if this condition wasn’t treated, it could one day lead to her being paralysed. (But) David’s mother thought that Mary was a bit of a hypochondriac, (that) she was exaggerating;...but David was absolutely besotted with Mary...so his mother’s words went unheeded.” - Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Criminologist
David always thought he knew best and wouldn’t listen to either parent.By August 1971 David’s naval career was over.He was dismissed. He turned up at his parents’ house one day looking very defeated, dropped his bags on the floor, and said, “I’m out.”The end of his childhood dreams devastated David.David went from job to job. He worked as a chef and as a labourer. He was sacked from both. His attitude, arrogance and affection for alcohol were often to blame.
With nothing else in his life, David focused on the one good thing in his life; his fiancée, Mary. He planned to marry her during the Christmas period of 1971. Despite being jobless and broke, he started to fantasise about having a big, traditional, and therefore expensive, wedding.
“Mary would have settled for something less – she would have settled for a registry office ceremony. But David was quite determined that they were going to have this big church wedding - and I think it all became quite real at this point – this young man who wants to marry her, who’s obsessed with having this big wedding - and she actually called it off on New Year’s Eve of 1971.” - Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Criminologist
By January 1972, David was living with his parents in the Midlands. He’d been discharged from the Royal Navy, and his fiancé had left him.The 20-year-old David had no work, and no money.
But instead of being grateful for the roof over his head, he sat and sulked;
“...he's effectively doing nothing in his parents' house. He won't do any household chores. Obviously, he can't contribute to the rent. He's not really looking for work...eventually his parents throw him out of the house.” - Professor David Wilson, Criminologist
David moved in with an old school friend, Clive Ralph.Clive lived with his pregnant wife Elsie. The couple already had two children, three-year-old Paul and 20-month-old Dawn and they lived not far from where David’s parents lived. The area was fast changing but still retained the sense of community with which Elsie had grown up;
“We lived in a cul-de-sac, there was about ten houses in this cul-de-sac and there was children in every houses and it was one of those places where everybody left their door open for anybody to come in and out. And everybody looked after everybody.” - Elsie Urry, children’s mother
Dorothy Elsie Clay had married Clive Ralph, five years her senior, in September 1968 when she was just sixteen. Pregnant with her first child, Paul, it wasn’t long before the second child, Dawn, arrived in 1971.Clive worked hard to provide for his growing family.
“He worked for his father, lorry driving...David came to live with us because he had had an argument with his parents or something… And that's how it all started.” - Elsie Urry
David’s arrival meant that when in September 1972, Elsie gave birth to Samantha, there were six people living in just one, small, two-bedroom house.
“(David) shared the bedroom with Paul. Samantha was only little so she was still in a little cradle cot. And then Dawn had another bed with us. As the time was going on we were going to look for a bigger place anyway...but it didn’t get to that part.” - Elsie Urry
With Clive regularly away for work, David would act as an extra pair of hands, helping out with childcare. He paid six pounds a week towards the rent and even cooked the occasional meal on a Sunday.
Neighbours remember him as ‘a bit of a know it all’ but otherwise, harmless.This, however, all changed when David drank.
"He was well-known in the local nick and they pulled him in once or twice...the classic case was, he’s walking down one of the main streets in the middle of the road, walking the white lines...to prove he wasn’t drunk...it upset his dad...because his dad lived not far away.....and he told him to keep off the booze.” - Tony Bishop, Court Reporter
But David didn’t listen.
And in a moment of drunken madness, he would forever shame his family, and destroy another.
Prison Life for a triple child murderer
Elsie, the mother of Samantha, Dawn and Paul, took an overdose six months after their murders;“...I tried to commit suicide...I was on such a high dosage of sedation from the doctors to try and get me through this thing...my husband come to me one day and he just said he couldn't cope with it anymore and he was putting in for a divorce.”Elsie Urry, Children’s MotherIn prison, McGreavy becomes one of the country’s most notorious and long serving prisoners. At one time he challenged Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer, to a fight to prove that he was the most notorious of the pair.PREDATOR TO PRISONER TO PREYIn prison the molesters and murderers of children are often persecuted and frequently physically attacked.David McGreavy was no exception.“McGreavy’s time in prison has been very much up and down, and that’s hinged on the extent to which his fellow prisoners are aware of the crimes that he’s carried out. When they have been aware of them, he’s had a rather unpleasant time, being subject to everything from mild threats of violence to full-on serious physical assaults. This has led to him spending much of his time in segregation, or in vulnerable prisoners’ units.“Dr Elizabeth Yardley, CriminologistIn 1975 he is seriously assaulted by fellow prisoners. Three years later he is threatened with violence.In 1991 his cell is fouled by other inmates. Just four days later he goes into closed conditions.In 1994 he is transferred to category D open conditions. But his transfer to Leyhill Prison in South Gloucestershire broke down after press reports meant prisoners learnt of his past crimes.In 1995 several prisoners try to attack him in an open prison. They’re prevented.In 1996 McGreavy is again the victim of a serious assault.In 2006 McGreavy, now 54, prepared for parole. He stayed in a bail hostel in Liverpool. It transpired that he had been allowed to walk around Liverpool unsupervised in preparation for his release from Ford Prison in Arundel, West Sussex. Local papers started publishing his photo. It showed his long locks of hair were long gone. The balding, bespectacled face that stared down the camera lens now looked haunted. McGreavy once again became headline news. He was sent back to prison.“...an interesting theme in the post-Leveson era...someone in the prison service or the police service...or the Home Office, tipped off the press about this, who photographed McGreavy wandering the streets in Liverpool.”Paul Connew, Media Commentator & Ex Editor Sunday MirrorThe Home Office said it was normal procedure to let lifers out temporarily.The idea of his release galvanised the local community. The then MP for Worcester, Mike Foster, called for McGreavy to be barred from ever returning to the city:“These were indescribable acts of brutality that still sicken...My gut instinct is that this man should spend the rest of his life in prison.”“...they'd seen him in an internet café and when I got to hear that I went straight to Sir George Young the MP and spoke to him about it and I said to him, ‘They're supposed to keep me informed of any movement like that of him.’Elsie Urry, Children’s Mother
In April 2007, McGreavy’s latest bid for parole was refused. Elsie was still in disbelief he was even allowed to apply for freedom;“This man took three children’s lives. He should have got the electric chair...If he was released, I’d be waiting outside with a gun.”PRISONER MThen the Parole Board recommended McGreavy for open conditions. Not everyone agreed.In 2009, McGreavy underwent his seventh review hearing. His legal team challenged the then Secretary of State’s refusal to recommend their client be transferred to open prison.McGreavy was told he must remain under closed prison conditions but the judge imposed a ban on naming McGreavy to protect him from other prisoners.He could only be referred to as prisoner M.McGreavy, therefore, joined a notorious set of human beings. Such anonymity is more usually applied to released prisoners such as the murderers of toddler James Bulger. People like Maxine Carr, the former partner of Ian Huntley who killed Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, have been granted lifelong anonymity.THE RIGHT TO LIFEDavid McGreavy’s legal team had used four sections of the Human Rights Act to keep his identity secret:Article 2 - the right to life.Article 3 - the right to protection from ill-treatment.Article 5 - the right to liberty and security.Article 8 - the right to privacy and a family life.Quincy Whitaker, McGreavy’s lawyer, insisted that if fellow prison inmates learned of his identity through the media, there was ‘a serious likelihood of a serious attack’.For some, such an attack would be justice.“He doesn’t deserve human rights, he’s not even human...I think about what he did every minute of every day because he took my life away. I can’t go to family parties any more, I can’t celebrate anything...I can’t and will never move on. For what he did to my three children and me he deserves the same treatment that they got - death.”Elsie Urry, Children’s MotherIn January 2013 McGreavy applied to be transferred to an open prison and was refused. With his anonymity in place the press were unable to report this.“...this order lasted for 4 years. It was challenged in 2013 by a group of media organisations, and the Secretary of State as well, who said, we have principles of open justice. We have freedom of expression of the press...we have the principle of open justice, that justice shouldn’t just be done, but it should be seen to be done.”Dr Elizabeth Yardley, Criminologist
By 2013, McGreavy had been in jail for forty years, twice his original sentence.On 22 May, his anonymity order was lifted. As soon as fellow prisoners knew his identity, his cell was trashed and his bed was urinated on. Human excrement was smeared on his walls.McGreavy currently lives in closed conditions in a vulnerable prisoners’ unit:“We still don’t know why he committed those murders and so, for me, my feelings towards McGreavy are; this is a man who would still pose a risk to other children should he be released back into the community. We know of no reason why he behaved in this way. And because we know of no reason as to why he behaved in that way, it would be impossible to treat him, to change his behaviour. I don't know if he's expressed remorse, I don't know if he now realises the gravity of the offences that he committed. I wouldn’t want to be part of the process that ever took the risk of three other children dying.”Professor David Wilson, CriminologistIn failing to explain his motives for his actions publicly, and in trying to remain anonymous, McGreavy had probably ensured he would indeed die in jail.However, there may come a time when some believe he has served his time. And then, like other notorious child killers like Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, McGreavy will be given anonymity:“...we may never know what happens next and what the future holds for the Monster of Worcester...David McGreavy.”Fred Dinenage
Planned or Spontaneous
“...this was supposedly carried out in a drunken rage. You’d expect the method to be the same for each of them. But the fact that he used different methods suggests that he had time in between each of the killings to consider what he was going to do next. And that implies some kind of pre-meditation in this case.”Dr Elizabeth Yardley, CriminologistOn Monday 16 April 1973, David McGreavy made a 10 minute appearance at Worcester Magistrates Court. He was charged with the murders of the three Ralph children.The public gallery was packed with people, many of them women. This was most unusual for a court hearing at that time:“...there were women with prams outside the court, and I think if they could have got at him, they would have lynched him.”Tony Bishop, Court Reporter
McGreavy appeared in court ten times for remand hearings. He was granted legal aid.On Thursday June 28 1973, nine weeks after the killings, he appeared at Worcester Magistrates court.“He looked very down...He looked at the public gallery occasionally...I think he was obviously resigned to his fate...there was a definite atmosphere there. The police were pretty anxious that he wasn’t in court for too long. They shepherded him out quickly – they didn’t bring him in till the last minute, till the magistrates were ready, and they took him out straight away.”Tony BishopSome of the injuries McGreavy inflicted were so horrific, the prosecution didn’t detail them. But with no defence plea, no motive and with not even a plea of diminished responsibility, the hearing lasted just eight minutes:“In some ways, it was quite surreal, because...a murder of this horrific nature was one where you might have expected a lengthy hearing. You might have expected a lot of material to come out in the cross-examination of the accused. But, of course, because he pleaded guilty, it was over pretty quickly. And it was a slightly anti-climatic hearing in one respect. You didn’t have the high drama of denials that you’d come across, for example, in the Moors Murder case – it’s not edged on the national psyche in the way that Brady and Hindley are.”Paul Connew, Ex-Editor Sunday MirrorOn Monday 30 July 1973, David McGreavy was sentenced for the murders of Paul, Dawn and Samantha Ralph.In the same year that McGreavy killed, he was tried, sentenced and sent down.Mr Justice Simon, the High Court judge said they were ‘exceptionally horrific crimes.’ He said McGreavy should serve at least twenty years before release was even considered.The only reason McGreavy offered for the killing was that Samantha was crying for her bottle.So sickeningly sadistic and senseless were the crimes that many expected him to die behind bars.But McGreavy was determined not to let that happen...
I just couldn't believe what they were telling me.Elsie Urry, Children’s Mother
Police at the scene were said to be left ‘sick and shaken.’ One experienced officer vomited.When Clive and Elsie tried to go home, the police stopped them. They wouldn’t let them back into their home. They took the parents to the police station. At first, the police couldn't rule the parents out as murder suspects. When the police realised Elsie and Clive weren’t responsible they had the task of telling them their children had been murdered.Elsie was just 23 years old when she was told her world, as she knew it, was over. It was too much:“...this is when they'd told us that there had been a murder, that there was an investigation going on. And that's as far as I can really remember properly because there was a doctor there at the time because I went hysterical, which you would, and he gave me an injection, and I don't really… I never ever went back to the house. I wasn't allowed because I was screaming saying that I wanted to go and see my children and...and they said we couldn't do that...I wasn’t allowed to go to the mortuary.”Elsie Urry, Children’s MotherThe police turned their attentions to the only missing member of the household – McGreavy.It didn’t take the police long to locate him. At ten to four in the morning, PC Elliot found McGreavy in nearby Lansdowne Road.He was immediately arrested and apparently said:“What's this all about?”Former Editor of the Sunday Mirror, Paul Connew, covered the story as a young journalist;“At first, he denied it, but then, I think it was several hours after his arrest, he said, “It was me, but it wasn’t me”, and then went on to describe, in quite graphic, but measured detail, what he’d done, but couldn’t really explain why he’d done it.”Paul Connew, Media Commentator & Ex Editor Sunday Mirror
Everyone searched for a motive.“It was suggested by one of the psychiatrists that there may have been a sexual motive behind this, but there was no question...of him having sexually abused the children, either before that night, or during these terrible events.”Paul ConnewOne of the first reporters on the scene was Tony Bishop who had been called by the editor of the Worcester News in the early hours on Saturday 14 April. Memories from that morning still haunt him;“...we saw these horrible railings, and the blood was congealed on the railings.”Three children had been suddenly murdered and mutilated on a sleepy suburban street. But enquiries revealed that few neighbours had heard or seen anything suspect.A couple of guests of nearby neighbours did try and investigate but seeing nothing, they returned home.It was hoped the trial would somehow bring some answers and sense to the senseless killing spree.
The night everything changed
It was me but it was not me.David McGreavy
13 April 1973David begins drinking. He plays darts and cards with a friend in a Vauxhall pub. They have between five and seven pints. The session ends badly when David puts his cigarette out in his friend’s drink. There’s a small altercation between them.Clive comes to take him home. David looks after the children when Clive takes Elsie to and from her bar work. She works just two miles away at the Punchbowl in Ronkswood. When she leaves that night, she has no way of knowing that she will never, ever return.Neither Clive nor Elsie has any reason to be concerned over leaving their 21-year-old lodger in charge of their three children. David’s very good with them and they’d had many happy playtimes together. He’d often bounce Dawn and Samantha on his knees for hours at a time to amuse them:“He seemed just like a normal person really. He used to play with the children, with the elder two, torment them and play with them and things like that, just like any normal person would.”Elsie Urry, Children’s MotherClive likes to pop in for last orders at Elsie’s work and have a quick pint as she finishes up. So by the time he leaves home all the kids are tucked up in bed.
CHILD KILLING SPREEAt some point between quarter 10:15pm and 11:15pm, David, still worse for wear for drink, loses his temper.Samantha, just nine months old, won’t stop crying.So David McGreavy puts his hand over her mouth. Then he strangles her. When she stops breathing, he goes into the bathroom. He takes a razor and uses it on her. He inflicts a compound fracture on her skull.He then strangles Dawn – and cuts her throat with a razor.He strangles Paul with some curtain wire.McGreavy then mutilates their bodies.
“McGreavy...goes into the basement...He finds a pickaxe and with the pickaxe handle, he mutilates the bodies of the children even further. And yet that’s not the end. He then decides to put the bodies of the three children on the railings outside of the house.Now can you imagine that scene?Can you just think of the psychology of a person behaving in that way?...This is not someone who is ashamed of what he has done. He’s showing everybody what he has done. He’s not trying to conceal their bodies by burying them. He is putting their bodies up for display.”Professor David Wilson, CriminologistMcGreavy leaves their impaled bodies on the iron spiked railings of the next door neighbour’s house. He leaves.The police arrive.They cordon off the area. At first they can’t locate the children’s bodies. They then find them. The three siblings are in a row, impaled.“...I’m often asked...how can people kill small children? And...the thing that you’ve got to remember is that the most powerful person in any household is the child; but it’s also the physically weakest. It is the most powerful person in the household because it is the child’s timetable that dictates how that house will operate: the child wakes up, it has to be fed; the child has to have a nappy changed. And so it’s the child’s timetable that dominates how the adults have to behave. And some adults cannot cope with that responsibility. And it’s when the adult who cannot cope with that responsibility is placed in a position of power over a physically weaker human being that sometimes disastrous results happen.”Professor David Wilson