by Bob Couttie
Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in England, in 1955. The last man to be executed is a coin toss between Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans who were simultaneously dispatched on 13 August 1964. But for a quirk of timing it would have been Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the Moors Murderers.
From July 1963 to October 1965 Ian Brady sexually assaulted and murdered four children with the help of his girlfriend Myra Hindley and buried their bodies on the desolate Saddleworth Moors near Manchester. They were finally caught after Brady involved Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, in the killing of 17-years old Edward Evans. Smith went to the police who searched Brady’s house and found evidence of two of the earlier killings. In 1987 Hindley confessed to two further killings, that of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett.
First to die was Pauline Reade. On July 12, 1963 Hindley lured the 16-year old friend of her younger sister into her van while Brady followed on a motorbike. Hindley told the girl that she wanted help finding a glove lost on Saddleworth Moor. As they arrived at the moor, Brady pulled up on his motorcycle and went with Pauline to supposedly look for the ‘lost glove’ while Hindley waited in the van.
Pauline was sexually assaulted and her throat was cut. Together, Brady and Hindley buried the body.
Four months later Hindley picked up 12-year old John Kilbride in a hired car. While pretending to drive him home Hindley again used the excuse of looking for a lost glove on the moors. Again, Hindley waited in the car while Brady lead the boy off, sexually assaulted him and strangled him with a piece of string after trying to slit his throat.
The third victim was 12 year old Keith Bennett. Brady and Hindley’s MO was the same: Keith was lured into Hindley’s vehicle and taken to the moors under the pretext of looking for a lost glove. Again Brady sexually assaulted the boy and strangled him.
The body has yet to be found.
Victim number four was Lesley Anne Downey, 10 years old. They abducted her from a fairground. At the house of Brady and Hindley Lesley was photographed naked, tortured, raped and killed.
In what may or may not have been their final victim, in October 1965 Brady and Hindley lured 17 year old Edward Evans to their home where Brady repeatedly hit him with an axe before strangling him with electrical chord. Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, was recruited to help dispose of the body but Smith reported the incident to the police.
From then on the Brady-Hindley murders began to unravel. The tape of the Lesley Anne Downey torture and the photograph of Hindley at Kilbride’s grave surfaced.
It was the month after the arrest of Brady and Hindley that the death penalty was abolished in England.
After a two-week trial at Chester Assizes Brady and Hindley were found guilty of three murders: John Kilbride, Lesley Anne Downey and Edward Evans and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In the early 1980s Brady admitted to two more murders, those of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett.
The sentencing judge considered Brady “wicked beyond belief” but considered Hindley could be reformed once she was removed from Brady’s influence. The possibility of a reformed Myra Hindley caught the attention of some serious people such as David Astor, editor of the liberal Sunday newspaper The Observer, Lord Longford and the Reverend Peter Timms, a Methodist minister who had once been a prison governor who came to believe that Hindley had reformed and urged her release.
Was she really a woman misled by a ruthlessly wicked man or was she a full partner in a monstrous folie a deux?
Before meeting Hindley when both worked for a chemical company, Brady was a small-time criminal whose biggest ambition was to be a bank robber. He had an interest in Nazi atrocities and the works of the Marquis de Sade. There is some evidence that he and Hindley were into sadomasochism. Yet thousands share these same tastes without becoming murderers.
In his book, Gates of Janus, Brady writes: “In childhood years I was not the stereotypical ‘loner’ so beloved by the popular media. Friends formed around me eagerly in the school playground, listening to me talk, and I took it as natural. Apparently, I had a descriptive talent and contagious enthusiasm. All harmless, adventurous stuff, no devious intent. No sense of superiority.”
What finally pushed him across the line may have been Myra Hindley’s chameleon-lie ability to be whatever others wanted her to be, an ability that reinforced the beliefs of those whom she wanted to influence.
Hindley’s background was little different to those of any other working-class Manchester girl. Her ex-paratrooper father liked his drink and was a hard man who wanted his daughter to be hard. When she was hit by a boy as a youngster he told her to go back and beat up the boy, threatening to use his belt on her if she did not. She beat the boy and got her first taste of power but her real talents lay elsewhere.
They both worked at a local chemical company. Hindley became infatuated with Brady, the first man she’d met who had clean fingernails. At first he ignored her, probably deliberately, until finally inviting her out to see a movie – Judgment at Nuremburg (Some account suggest the movie was King of Kings).
The journey to the horror of the Moors had begun.
They largely isolated themselves from co-workers and others in their social circle. Hindley bought a gun for a planned bank robbery and Brady would read from accounts of Nazi atrocities as she cleaned it. They started to lose the essential contact with reality that mixing with others might have brought them.
Hindley dyed her hair blonde and took to wearing makeup and clothes that made her appear more like the Aryan ideal woman of Nazi mythology. In that isolation, with Hindley mirroring and not countering him, Brady came to believe that he was no longer bound by the mores and norms of society.
In the 1960s, the idea that a young woman who might wish to have children one day should murder youngsters seemed only plausible if she had come under the influence of Brady. It was comforting to believe, that removed from his influence, she would be reformed. In due course she became a cause celebre among those who wanted desperately to show that no matter how terrible a crime the criminal was capable of being reformed and returned to society.
She became a devout Catholic, took up tapestry and badminton and took an Open University course in Humanities, middle class pursuits that made her a better fit to the mindset of the reformists who became convinced that she had reformed and should be released.
To prison authorities she became the ideal prisoner and was put in charge of the kitchens.
To a former nun who became a prison guard, Patricia Cairns, she became a lover, one whom Cairns would help escape and the two would run away to South America as missionaries. The scheme was uncovered when wax and soap copies of prison keys were discovered.
Janie Jones, a fellow prisoner, saw another side of Hindley: “(She) could ‘be whatever people wanted her to be. Even then, I noticed two sides to her. One was temperamental: she’d throw a tantrum, shout and perform, and they’d just lock her in her cell where she’d sit and sulk. The other side was very gentle and kind, and this is what made it so difficult to come to any conclusions about the woman’.
Dr. Tom Clark, who studied prison papers about Hindley released in 2008, says: “”You’re expecting something evil, almost as if you are touching evil, but what you find is someone who is very well caught up in the prison administrative system and is actually quite tedious… She uses the system to achieve all sorts of things, whether it’s being able to make her own cups of tea or asking the home secretary about her tariff date.”
Was she a victim of Brady’s force of personality? Dr Clark suggests not: “Hindley did not “do anything that she didn’t want to do. She is very resilient and very forthright in her own mind… I have no doubt that she knew what she was getting involved in.”
Hindley died in prison aged 60 in 2002 and was cremated.
Ian Brady, meanwhile, has been declared insane and is kept under high security at Ashworth Hospital. He wants to die and is on hunger strike. Currently he is being fed by tube and consistently appeals to be returned to prison and allowed to die, a luxury he has not been granted.
But for a quirk of timing he might have achieved that ambition at the end of an executioner’s rope nearly 40 years ago.
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