Once Upon a True Crime Episode 3: The Peter Manuel Murders by Denise Mina

Denise Mina with Peter Manuel
Denise Mina | Once Upon a True Crime

Four of Britain’s best-known crime writers turn detective in a brand-new series Once Upon a True Crime, exclusive to Crime + Investigation. Featuring Peter James, Denise Mina, Mark Billingham, and Douglas Skelton, the show investigates the real-life murders that inspired some of the acclaimed authors’ most famous novels.

In the third episode, which aired on 9th May, Denise Mina guides viewers through the case of one of Scotland’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Manuel, which inspired her novel The Long Drop and the popular ITV drama series In Plain Sight.

Manuel terrorised Glasgow and Lanarkshire during the 1950s in a brutal two-year killing spree.

Nicknamed the ‘Beast of Birkenshaw’ Manuel was convicted in 1958 for the murder of seven people and hanged at Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison for his crimes; the second to last prisoner to die at the Barlinnie gallows before the death penalty was abolished.

While many police officers suspected Manuel of the murders, they were unable to prove his guilt until they searched the house of his last victims Peter, Doris, and Michael Smart, who had been shot dead in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1958. Investigators were able to link banknotes used by Manuel in local pubs to ones Peter Smart had previously withdrawn.

But for crime-writer Denise Mina, the unusual relationship between Manuel and a man named William Watt is the focus of her fascination. Manuel was ultimately convicted of killing Watt’s wife Marion, his daughter Vivienne and Marion’s sister Margaret Brown, but Watt himself was the main suspect for several weeks.

Why then, after Watt’s release from prison, did the two men arrange to spend a night drinking together, in Glasgow? They’d meet again, at the High Court in Glasgow, two years later. But this time Manuel was on trial - for the murder of Watt’s family, and several others.

The third episode of Once Upon a True Crime is now available stream on Crime + Investigation PLAY.