How do detectives go about the painstaking, piece-by-piece process of catching vicious killers? What is the impact on relatives, friends and whole communities?
Murdertown explores these questions as host Katherine Kelly visits towns and cities across the UK to chronicle how infamous cases were finally solved.
In Grimsby, the focus is on the dark story of Adam Vincent, a talented artist who embarked on a catastrophic trajectory of drugs and violence when he fell in with local gangsters. A grisly discovery by birdwatchers in 2011 alerted cops to his fate, in a case that sent shockwaves through Grimsby.
But what other comparable crimes have struck the region over the years?
The tragic rage of Richard Hicks
The village of Healing, just a few miles outside Grimsby, is a quiet and unassuming place. But it was here that, back in 2004, a man committed acts of such savagery that police officers could barely believe it had happened. His name was Richard Hicks, a pub chef described by one local person as a ‘jolly, happy father’ who treated his older daughters – four-year-old Phoebe and two-year-old Emma – as princesses, and doted on new baby Lily.
‘Richard’s eyes lit up when he talked about his daughters,’ said a regular at the pub Hicks worked at. ‘He turned into a big kid himself when they came to visit him.’
But behind the friendly façade lay a violent and possessive personality. Until recently, he and his partner Joanne Catley, the mother of the three girls, had run a pub together in a nearby village, and it was here that he’d physically assaulted her, with police being called on more than one occasion.
On arriving at her home, officers were met by a nightmarish sight
‘His violence had caused them to break up,’ a local witness later remembered. ‘She had moved out, left the pub and started a new life. He was working as a chef in another restaurant but could not come to terms with her leaving.’
A former employee of Joanne Catley also confirmed she had taken out a restraining order on her jealous, estranged ex. When she eventually decided enough was enough and the relationship was over, something must have just switched in Hicks’ mind.
One night in early 2004, Hicks’ car was found parked near the Humber Bridge. Inside was his infant daughter Lily, crying in the back seat. Police were called, and the car was identified as belonging to Joanne Catley. On arriving at her home, officers were met by a nightmarish sight. Joanne was dead, having been stabbed dozens of times by Richard Hicks, who had then turned on his own beloved daughters Phoebe and Emma, slaying them in a frenzy.
His body was later found under the bridge, where had thrown himself after this explosion of violence, having apparently been unable to turn the knife on his baby daughter. It was the one shred of mercy he’d shown on a day of carnage.
Who killed Alan Wood?
Awful as the Richard Hicks event was, it was at least an open-and-shut case of a jealous brute going berserk, with no lingering questions to confuse and frustrate detectives. But there was no such closure to be had with the 2009 murder of Alan Wood, whose death was one of the most startling in Lincolnshire history.
Living alone in a rural bungalow, Alan Wood was a well-liked 50-year-old with a passion for vintage cars and gardening. As well as running his own gardening business, he also worked occasionally at a supermarket and was a familiar face at his local pub.
It was at that pub that he was last seen alive by other villagers. A few days later, a friend turned up at his home to find a scene from a horror film: Alan had been bound with tape and assaulted so viciously with a knife that it was clear his assailants had literally tried to cut his head off.
The motive appeared to be simple robbery, with at least two men binding and torturing Alan to get the PIN number of his bank cards. Those cards were used several times in the aftermath of the crime, and a wealth of clues were available to police – including a full DNA profile of one of the murderers found at the scene, as well as CCTV footage of someone dubbed ‘ATM Man’, draped in a striped scarf and with a distinctive physical feature: one of his legs was longer than the other.
Maddeningly, the CCTV footage has not led the police to the killers, and the DNA evidence has no matched up with anyone on the national database. Despite the dogged efforts of detectives, the people who slaughtered Alan Wood for the sake of a few hundred pounds are still out there.
Murder by meat
One of the most curious killings to take place in Lincolnshire occurred in 1934, following a relationship breakdown which would be almost amusing if it didn’t have such a grim end. The protagonists were Arthur and Ethel Major, a couple whose mutual contempt had cartoonish echoes of Roald Dahl’s The Twits.
Arthur and Ethel took turns to undercut and annoy each other. Arthur once put an ad in his local newspaper to denounce his wife for running up vast debts. Ethel retaliated by writing anonymous letters to the police claiming Arthur was a drunk driver. Arthur then started to store his food separately from his wife, saying he no longer wanted to share his lunches and dinners with his despised spouse.
Yet it was dinner that did for Arthur, when – despite his ‘no sharing’ rule – he sat down for a meal with Ethel. On the table was a meal of corner beef with bread and butter, which immediately made Arthur feel unwell.
He started suffering violent fits and eventually died from a seizure which doctors initially put down to epilepsy. Then, in a mysterious twist, a letter was sent to the police, simply signed ‘Fairplay’, implicating Ethel as a poisoner. The letter pointed the police to the neighbour’s dog, who’d died after devouring some of Arthur’s corned beef.
A post-mortem proved he had indeed been dosed with strychnine, and Ethel was charged with the crime. However, there was much public sympathy for the murderer, who claimed she’d lived in terror of her tyrannical husband. Even the jury which found her guilty recommended mercy be shown to Ethel, while a petition was sent to the Prime Minister asking for a reprieve.
In spire of all this, Ethel was hanged just before Christmas, 1934. The identity of ‘Fairplay’, whose letter doomed Ethel, remains unknown.