Imagine if a number of dead bodies were found in the same location over a short period of time. Imagine if the victims were all of a similar physical type, and that a specific individual was already known to police for his part in a similar incident in the same area. How could it be possible, given this set of circumstances, for none of the local police officers to guess a serial killer was operating under their noses?
Port was playing out his obsessive fetish for sex with unconscious, boyish men
This was the exact scenario that unfolded in Barking in 2014 and 2015, when a bus depot chef called Stephen Port methodically murdered four young men, yet somehow rang so few alarm bells among detectives that he very nearly got away with it. Not only did the detectives not realise a serial killer was in their midst, but they didn’t even think any of the victims had been murdered. How could this have happened, in an age of CCTV footage, DNA analysis and social media breadcrumb trails?
The bizarre beginning
Believe it or not, Port actually served prison time connection with the first man’s death – but not as a murderer.
His victim was Anthony Walgate, a lad who’d moved to London with ambitions of becoming a famous fashion designer. Working as an escort to make ends meet, he was contacted by Stephen Port, who offered him a large lump of cash to meet up in June 2014.
In the early hours of the next morning, someone called for an ambulance to report a boy slumped outside a residential building in Barking, perhaps suffering a seizure. When police and paramedics got there, the “boy” was dead. He was Anthony Walgate, and the person who’d called for an ambulance was, incredibly, Stephen Port himself, who lived in that building. Port initially claimed he’d stumbled across Walgate’s unconscious body when returning from a nightshift, but police soon realised he’d actually hired Walgate as an escort, and arrested Port for perverting the course of justice.
Detectives believed Port’s story that Walgate had overdosed on the drug GHB during their encounter. Mystifyingly, despite taking Port’s computer, police failed to check his online history, which would have revealed his penchant for searching for porn featuring “unconscious boys” and “drugged and raped” men. Those closest to Walgate tried to convince detectives to delve further, to no avail. “They fobbed us off constantly,” one friend later recalled. What nobody realised was that Port, as well as having murdered Walgate, was also by this point a veteran rapist.
A brazen escalation
Port, a habitual user of GHB himself, had already used the drug to incapacitate men he’d lured to his flat. Back in 2012, one teenager he’d met using the gay hook-up app Grindr had been given a glass of wine laced with the drug, and was raped while barely able to process what was happening. There were other victims too. Port was playing out his obsessive fetish for sex with unconscious, boyish men. The killing of Anthony Walgate represented a catastrophic escalation, and it was just the beginning.
While out on bail for perverting the course of justice in the Walgate case, Port murdered two more young men in quick succession. The first, Gabriel Kovari, was found propped up in a graveyard close to Port’s house. His corpse was discovered by a woman walking her dog. Incredibly, the very same dog-walker would find the next victim, Daniel Whitworth, propped up in the very same graveyard just weeks later.
Despite this huge red flag of a coincidence, police again failed to put two and two together. A simple look at Gabriel Kovari’s Facebook page would have yielded a crucial clue which Kovari’s ex-boyfriend actually followed up. He noticed someone called “Jon Luck” was following Kovari, and got in touch to see if this person knew more about what had happened.
In the ensuing chat, “Jon Luck” claimed he’d slept with Kovari, and that the young man had gone to an gay orgy with someone called Dan. Detectives never contacted “Jon Luck”. If they had followed this lead, they would have been led to the door of Stephen Port, who – in a truly twisted move – was posing under this alias to make up a story that shifted the blame for the death of one victim, Gabriel Kovari, onto his other victim Daniel Whitworth.
As part of this plan, he left a fake suicide note on Daniel Whitworth’s corpse, saying that he, Daniel, had accidentally given Gabriel an overdose, and was now taking his own life because he couldn’t live with the guilt. Port’s audacious plan worked. Police believed the letter was genuine.
Justice at last
Sent to jail for lying to police over the death of Anthony Walgate, Port was released after a matter of months and was free to commit yet another murder – this time selecting a man called Jack Taylor, whom he picked up online, and again left propped up at the graveyard. Yet again, police regarded it as an accidental drugs overdose, despite the protestations and suspicions of the victim’s loved ones, who pointed out the links to bodies previously found on the site.
It was only thanks to CCTV footage of Jack Taylor walking with Port on the night of his death that Port was finally connected with the crimes. Described by one detective as “a voracious sexual predator” and “one of the most dangerous individuals I’ve ever encountered”, Port was given a whole-life sentence and will die in jail.
The shambolic nature of the investigation has led to an outcry, particularly in the LGBTQ community, and investigations are now underway against 17 police officers for their actions in catching – or, almost not catching – Stephen Port.