John Sweeney

Crime Files

"I'm just an Animal

"I'm just a manimal, twisted and confused, very dysfunctional"John Sweeney talking about himself in his poetry. Guardian Online, 4 April 2011"The family’s hope for the future is that John Sweeney will never be allowed free to carry out such crimes again."DCI Paul Webb reads a statement on behalf of Melissa Halstead's family, BBC News Online, 4 April 2011

John Patrick Sweeney is born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, in 1956. He spends most of his early life with his mother in Skelmersdale where he trains as a carpenter and joiner.After travelling around Europe he marries Anne Bramley. They divorce in 1979 but remarry two years later and have two children.Sweeney’s life of crime begins early and is centred on his troubled relationships with the women in his life. He may have started with low-level offences, but the seriousness of his crimes quickly escalates.In 1982, he is bound over to keep the peace by magistrates in Ormskirk, Merseyside, after his wife complains to police that she had been threatened by him. Within a few years he would progress to torture, assault and ritualised murder.

Sweeney meets photographer and former fashion model Melissa Halstead in 1985 and the two begin an on/off relationship, characterised by their mutual use of drugs and Sweeney’s violence and unpredictable behaviour.Sweeney - who now describes the relationship as 'love-hate' – is arrested by police three times following her complaints of domestic violence. He is once heard shouting at Melissa,“Who do you think you are? I'm the one who says what you can and can't do.”Melissa’s dismembered and mutilated body, missing her head and hands, is found in a bag floating on a canal in Rotterdam on 3 May 1990. It is not until 2008 when her remains are identified using the latest advances in DNA testing, that the police can finally charge Sweeney with Melissa’s murder.In 1994, Sweeney tortures ex-girlfriend, Delia Balmer, trying to scalp her with an axe. This serious assault comes shortly after Sweeney is released on police bail for putting a gun to her head and threatening to kill her.Sweeney, now wanted for attempted murder, goes on the run in Europe, not returning to London until 2000. He then starts a relationship with mother-of-three, Paula Fields. It is a chaotic relationship and after her children are taken into care, Paula begins using crack cocaine and working as a prostitute. Her family report her missing in 2001 and shortly after her dismembered remains are found in Regent's Canal. As with Melissa, Paula’s body is missing her head and hands.It would take years for police to make the link between Sweeney and the horrific murders of these two women. Despite the murderer’s efforts to remove all evidence of the crimes, his private collection of drawings and poetry would hold a confession of the untold horrors Sweeney bought to women for over 30 years all across Europe.

Timeline

1958 John Sweeney is born in Merseyside1976 Sweeney marries Anne BramleyMid 1980’s After getting divorced Sweeney moves to London and meets Melissa Halstead1990 Melissa moves to Amsterdam. Sweeney follows her1990 Melissa Halstead is murdered. Her dismembered body is later found in a Rotterdam canal1990 Sweeney moves back to London

1994 Sweeney goes on the run after trying to kill ex-girlfriend Delia Balmer2000 Sweeney returns to London. He starts a relationship with Paula FieldsJan 2001 Paula Fields reported missing2001 Sweeney is arrested for attack on Delia BalmerFeb 2001 Paula Fields’ dismembered body is discovered in Regent's Canal, London2008 Melissa Halstead’s remain are identifiedApril 2011 Sweeney receives a life tariff for the murders of Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead

The Aftermath

More victims?

"And as he contemplates a life behind bars, I can assure him (Sweeney) that this investigation will continue as we seek to identify and trace other potential victims in the UK, Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, who may have suffered a similar fate to that of Melissa and Paula."Detective Chief Inspector Howard Groves, Metropolitan Police statement, 5 April 2011In addition to the devastation of the families of Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields, police suspect there are other victims who have yet to be identified.Within the artwork used to link Sweeney to the murder of the two women over three decades and in two countries, police believe there are images of other girlfriends of Sweeney who could also be victims of his.

Two of these women went missing during a six-year spell that Sweeney spent on the run from the police — a period during which he murdered Miss Fields.The first is a Brazilian woman, called Irani, who frequented pubs and restaurants in Highbury and Holloway Road in north London in 1996 or 1997. Officers believe she worked in kitchens as a cleaner.The second woman is thought to be a Colombian, called Maria, who was living and working in, or just frequenting, pubs and restaurants in the Finsbury Park and Holloway Road in 1997 and 1998.A third woman officers are trying to trace is a British woman, called Sue, from Derbyshire. She lived in the North London area and was believed to be aged in her late-20s or early-30s in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Officers believe she was attending a nursing college and went to Switzerland to work.

The Trials

JUSTICE

"These were terrible, wicked crimes…The mutilation of the bodies is a serious aggravating feature of the murders. This defendant is controlling in his relationships with women and, chillingly, that control extends to deciding whether they should live or die."Mr Justice Saunders, sentencing Sweeney for the murders of Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields, 26 April 2011After his arrest in 2001, Sweeney is tried and found guilty at the Old Bailey for firearms offences and for the attempted murder of former girlfriend, Delia Balmer. He shows no emotion as he is led from the court after he is handed four life sentences.The journey back to the Old Bailey to stand trial for the murders of his girlfriends Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields would take another ten years. He is described by police as “one of the most dangerous men in Britain”.Sweeney denies two counts of murder and disposing of the body of Paula Fields.At the trial, the prosecutor Brian Altman QC, says the evidence reveals Sweeney’s obsessive and violent hatred of women and a pre-occupation with dismemberment.

The jury hear directly from those who knew Sweeney. When asked about her sister, Melissa Halstead, Chance O'Hara tells them via video link from California,“She told me if she ever went missing, that John Sweeney would have killed her.”Chillingly, Melissa also predicted Sweeney would dispose of her body and it would never be found.During the trial, Sweeney claims the police had ‘sexed up’ the evidence.The killer described his artwork in court as ‘nonsense’ and said he had spent the 1980s and 1990s taking drugs including LSD and cannabis.Sweeney’s defence did not convince the jury who find him guilty of both murders. The judge sentences him to a whole life tariff.

The Arrest

Gotcha

"He was actually making for his carpentry box, and inside he had a revolver. There was a struggle and officers overpowered him. He would not have been taken alive if he had known we were on to him."Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay, BBC News Online, 4 April, 2011As a violent and dangerous criminal, Sweeney is arrested by police a number of times.The breakthrough comes in March 2001, when police arrest Sweeney for the attempted murder of Delia Balmer while he is at work on a building site near the Old Bailey. He is surrounded by armed officers before he can reach for a knife hidden in his waistband. In his work locker, police find a loaded 9mm Luger pistol.At his home police find weapons including sawn-off shotguns, a machete and a garrotte made with bamboo and wire. There is also a holdall with a ‘killer’s kitbag’ of a saw, bow knife, Stanley knife, axe head, orange rubber gloves and rolls of tape.Detectives also discover a huge haul of artwork: violent and macabre in its nature, including over 300 drawings and poems showing him chopping up bodies and name checking his victims: Melissa, Delia and Paula, amongst others. On the back of one of his wood carvings, surrounded by kisses are the words: “inspired by and dedicated especially to Delia. May you die in pain.”

The Investigation

Artistic styleings that gave him away

Police investigating the dismembered bodies of two young women are presented with a particular gruesome challenge; the bodies were missing their heads and hands, making identification an almost insurmountable problem. It would take years of detective work in the UK and the Netherlands, forensic advances and the discovery of Sweeney’s macabre confessional artwork to establish the truth.Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay from the Metropolitan police had led a successful investigation against Sweeney for the attacks in 1994 against his ex-girlfriend, Delia Balmer. Delia had survived the murderous attack in London but lost a finger and suffered horrendous scars to her chest.When Sweeney is arrested in 2001 for his attack on Delia Balmer, police discover gruesome artwork that links him to the murders of Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields. Detectives begin to build their case against Sweeney.

It is a remarkably tough investigation: no forensics, no confession, and no witnesses. However, police are convinced that the court would be persuaded that Sweeney’s artwork can be viewed as a confession of sorts.With Sweeney refusing to co-operate with the police, his artwork and poems tell the police all he isn’t saying about his crimes. He had drawn a picture of Melissa, naked, headless and handless with the ankles and wrists bound.One painting featured Miss Halstead’s gravestone – but Sweeney had covered it with correction fluid. Once investigators treat it with ultra-violet light, it reveals the inscription: ‘RIP Melissa Halsted born on 12th December 56’ (sic). The word ‘died’ is followed by a dash.There was one significant feature the Fields and Halstead cases had in common: both women had been in a relationship with Sweeney at the time they went missing.