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The Moors Murders

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In the second episode of Once Upon A True Crime, best-selling author Mark Billingham revisits the shocking, so-called Moors Murders that took place in Greater Manchester between 1963 and 1965.

The Moors Murders are one of the most well-known cases in the UK and indeed across the world. Menacing images of Brady and Hindley have become synonymous with evil. The pair murdered five children, ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old.

Disturbingly,in his usual controlling manner, Brady, is thought to be collaborating on a book that will be released after his death, in which he reveals there were even more murders. Throughout his time in prison, and later at Ashworth Maximum Security Hospital, he has continued to manipulate and control in any way he can. This is evident in his continued refusal to reveal the location of Keith Bennett’s body. Three bodies were discovered buried on Saddleworth Moor (those of Pauline Reade, John Kilbride and Leslie Ann Downey) and despite extensive searches over the years, Keith has never been found. His Mum, Winnie, never gave up the fight to find Keith, but unfortunately died in 2012 never knowing where Keith was.

It has been 52 years since Keith Bennett was murdered by Brady and Hindley and yet the pain and suffering never leaves the families involved. The loss of a child is devastating, but the loss of a child to murder is incomprehensible, and whilst nothing can make that worse, not having their child’s body to grieve with, and go through the funeral process with, is inexplicable torment. I write this as a mother who can’t even begin to conceive the pain. Thus, it is the last repugnant act a murderer can enact on his/her victim’s family.

Not only is it more emotionally difficult for families to deal with when the body is not found, it is also more challenging for the police investigation. Conviction for murder without a body is now possible but is always more complex to investigate. Police rely on circumstantial evidence and forensic evidence to build the case against the suspect. Forensic developments have eased this difficulty in recent years but the additional trauma for families’ remains. Historically the ‘no body, no murder’ ruling persisted until 1954. This ruling had initially been passed in 1662 following the ‘Campden Wonder’ case – three individuals were hung for the murder of a local official when two years later, the official reappeared. The suspects in the case had confessed following an interrogation which is believed to have involved torture. A similar event occurred in Australia in 2003 when alleged murder victim, Natasha Ryan was found during the trial of the man accused of murdering her.

These cases, although century’s apart point to one crucial factor – without a body forensic evidence is crucial and confession alone is dubious as there can be other motivating factors in confessions. However, due to forensic advancements offenders guilty of horrific murders have now been brought to justice with meticulous police work and sophisticated technology.

Mark Bridger thought that by permanently disposing of April Jones’ body he would evade capture but the evidence surpassed him. In 2001 Essex teenager, Danielle Jones was murdered by her uncle, Stuart Campbell and again her body has never been found. Forensic authorship analysis of text messages sent to Danielle by Campbell, DNA evidence and circumstantial evidence led to a successful prosecution of Campbell. One of the first cases to use DNA evidence without the victim’s body was the murder of Helen McCourt in 1988.

Substantial forensic evidence in the car and home of Ian Simms led to his conviction for Helen’s murder. Scientists also used a new technique to match blood found in Simm’s flat to Helen’s parents.

These successful prosecutions and ever advancing forensic capabilities prove that the ‘no body, no murder’ rule is outdated. Calculating murderers can try and evade capture by enacting the cruellest act imaginable – destroying or hiding bodies forever, but they are increasingly unable to. For families involved they will at least be thankful that the murderers are punished but this will never end their suffering and longing to know where their loved ones are – just like Alan Bennett who still continues to search for his little brother half a century later.

For me, there is a debate to be had here – should Whole Life Tariff’s always be given to murderers who deprive families of their final goodbye?