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The 5 most notorious killers from Somerset

Bubble & Squeak Key Art
Image: Bubble & Squeak Murder: The Killing of David Jackson

Nestled snugly in the south west of England, you’ll find the very pretty county of Somerset. Home to approximately half a million people and just two fairly small cities (and a handful of average-sized towns), it’s not exactly the biggest or most headline-grabbing of England’s counties.

Yet, while it may not have the the land mass, population, or esteem of a Yorkshire, Lancashire, or even its south west neighbours such as Cornwall or Devon, it’s still a beautiful and fascinating place. It is, however, also something of a dark place. As so many places are, once you dig around into their more macabre sides.

These are some of Somerset’s most notorious murderers:

1. Penny Jackson

In February 2021, a row over bubble and squeak was ended rather abruptly when 66-year-old Penny Jackson repeatedly thrust a knife into the chest of her 78-year-old husband, David.

Her family, the jury and the judge didn’t seem to buy it, but Mrs. Jackson claimed to have a reason for her brutal actions. She alleged that David was violent and controlling and that the murder was a result of her snapping after years of endless abuse.

She called the emergency services after stabbing him, telling the 999 call handler: ‘I've killed my husband, or tried to, because I've had enough. He's bleeding to death with any luck.’ She can then be heard plunging the knife into David a final time as he cries out in pain.

Just eight months later, Penny Jackson was found guilty at Bristol Crown Court and sentenced to life in prison. She will have to serve a minimum of eighteen years in prison for her crime.

2. Noreen O’Connor

In 1954, the village of Luxton came to grim national attention when a nurse, Miss Noreen O'Connor, suffered a severe psychotic episode and 'plucked the eyes out of' an elderly woman in her care, Friederika Alwine Maria Buls.

O'Connor, who freely admitted having carried out the gruesome crime, was tried for murder and found guilty. However, rather crucially, she was also deemed to be insane and was sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison.

When questioned about her motives, Noreen serenely told police that it wasn't Mrs. Buls' eyes that she was plucking out, but 'her evil'.

3. Martin Corns

In Taunton in February 2018, the callous Martin Corns murdered his Boots co-worker Heather Jordan because he was increasingly obsessed with her and wouldn't accept that his feelings weren’t reciprocated.

More than 2,000 texts and phone calls were made to Ms. Jordan in the lead-up to her vicious strangling. With every day that he stalked his victim, Corns' possessiveness and jealousy grew. Soon, his preoccupation with Heather, coupled with her growing unease about - and dislike of - him, tipped Corns into extreme and unforgivable violence.

By snatching her purse and scattering some of its contents around, he attempted to make the murder appear like a botched robbery. This ruse wasn’t hugely convincing though, given that Corns was the main suspect and a love letter that he had written to his victim was discovered torn up all over her body. The killer wasn’t exactly covering his tracks.

At Exeter Crown Court, Corns was found guilty and handed down a prison sentence of at least seventeen years.

4. Christopher Hampton

For three decades, the killer of seventeen-year-old Melanie Road had got away with murder. However, the past caught up to Christopher Hampton in 2014. His daughter was arrested after committing a minor affray offence and her DNA was entered into the police’s database. It immediately flagged up as matching DNA left at the crime scene in Bath back in 1984 and it didn’t take police long to determine that Hampton was responsible.

30 years previous, Hampton had cruelly attacked, sexually assaulted and stabbed Melanie 26 times. Her body was found by a milkman and his young son on their rounds back in June 1984. She was openly left just a few yards from her home to be easily discovered.

After being contacted, Hampton willingly submitted to DNA tests and admitted to killing Ms. Road. He was given a life sentence and informed that he would have to serve a minimum of 22 years in prison.

5. Vincent Tabak

After a short spell of being missing, Bristol resident and architect Joanne Yeates was found in Failand, Somerset on Christmas Day 2010. She had been strangled to death.

Joanna’s disappearance had made local and national news, but it was only with the discovery of her body that the story blew up. Eventually, police, Joanna’s family and the rest of the country found out that her killer was a neighbour of hers, a 32-year-old Dutch man named Vincent Tabak.

Police became suspicious of Tabak when they interviewed him and he asked an unusual amount of in-depth questions about the forensic evidence attached to the case. This put him further on their radar, but while Tabak could have been subtler, he was right to be concerned. It turned out that the DNA evidence linked him to the crime. He was arrested in October 2011 and jailed for life, for a minimum of 20 years, after no-one believed his story that she suffocated accidentally as he stifled her screams after a misunderstanding.

Joanna’s murder was undeniably tragic, but perhaps the story’s most controversial and memorable chapter concerns a man called Christopher Jefferies.

As Joanna’s landlord, Christopher was interviewed as a matter of course. An eccentric man with balding and unruly dyed hair, he was soon vilified by the press. They presented him as Joanna’s killer, with no evidence. Such was the widespread and scandalous nature of the defamation, that Mr. Jefferies would go on to win libel cases against eight separate newspapers, taking substantial amounts in damages from each of them.