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David McGreavy: The Monster of Worcester

Crime Files


On Friday 13 April 1973 the bodies of three children were found impaled on garden railings in Worcester. The murderer? The family’s lodger and babysitter David McGreavy.

“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

An Impulsive character

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.