The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes


By Robin Odell

By Paul Donnelly

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The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes returns with a brand new A-Z compilation of true crime stories, spanning the globe and traversing the centuries. Filled with over a hundred rediscovered cases, it will shed light on advances in crime detection, law enforcement, and forensic science while retelling some of history’s most gruesome and grisly crimes.





In loving memory of Jeremy Beadle, fellow traveller on the criminal highway and much missed friend


Justice Delayed

In some instances, it takes a long time for the wheels of justice to turn in favour of someone wrongly convicted. In the case of Glenn Ford, it took thirty years. That was the amount of time he spent on Death Row in Louisiana, USA, until his release in 2014.

He was convicted of murdering a jeweller in Shreveport in 1984 following an unsatisfactory trial in which everything was stacked against him. Ford was a black man convicted by an all-white jury, defended by an inexperienced, court-appointed attorney and facing questionable witness testimony.

In 2013, an informant provided the authorities with a statement, which exonerated Ford by showing that false testimony as to his involvement had been given at his trial. Released from his ordeal at the age of sixty-four, he appeared to harbour little bitterness; he said simply “It feels good.” A spokesman for the Death Penalty Information Centre commented that the case showed “the fallibility of the death penalty and the risks we take with every death sentence”.

Misguided verdicts are arrived at for a variety of reasons. False testimony is one, as shown in Glenn Ford’s case, and false confession is another. Sean Hodgson made false admissions to murder in 1980 for which he forfeited twenty-seven years of his life in prison.

Once made, a false confession is easy to retract, but convincing the prosecuting authorities can be tricky. In Hodgson’s case, the real murderer, suffering pangs of guilt, owned up. At the time of his release in 2009, it was reckoned that up to 20 per cent of convicted criminals make false admissions.

Another long-running miscarriage of justice involved Stephen Downing who, like Hodgson, spent twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. As a seventeen-year-old suspect in a murder enquiry he made a confession after being subjected to remorseless questioning by the police and without legal representation.

There was considerable public disquiet over the teenager’s fate and the editor of a local newspaper took up Downing’s cause and helped to overturn his conviction. The part played by the media in re-examining questionable legal decisions and securing justice for wronged individuals is considerable. In this, the BBC programme Crimewatch has been a leader, together with both local and national newspapers.

The murder in 1978 of Lynn Siddons remained unsolved for eighteen years and was finally brought to a conclusion by the persistence of the dead girl’s grandmother. A campaigning journalist, Paul Foot, and the Daily Mirror helped her. Between them, they secured a landmark legal ruling, which resulted in the conviction of the murderer.

Having unwittingly secured a place in The Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s worst serial killer, Bruce Lee was ultimately saved from his confessions by an investigation carried out by The Sunday Times. The fires and resultant deaths, which he claimed to have caused, were shown to be the result of an accident and not arson.

Challenging expert testimony is a brave step for the ordinary person to take in contesting a criminal charge. Having been convicted of taking the life of his own child, Kevin Callan used his time in prison to study neuropathology and brain damage. Armed with his newly acquired knowledge, this self-taught expert successfully contested a miscarriage of justice. After four years swotting up medical textbooks in the prison library, Callan regained his freedom in 1995.

Placing too much reliance on circumstantial evidence, while it may lead to successful conviction in the short term, may also have long-term consequences. Such was the case with the identification in 1988 of Eddie Browning as the “M50 Killer”. In law, circumstantial evidence is derived from facts not in dispute from which can be inferred a fact that is at issue.

Such was the case with Browning who was identified by comparison with a likeness drawn up from witnesses’ recollections of a man seen close to the spot where a woman was abducted and murdered. Added to this was a policeman’s memory recall aided by hypnosis. The unsatisfactory nature of this evidence was exposed and justice was served.

Forensic investigators justifiably earn praise when, against the odds, they use their knowledge and experience to pinpoint guilt. In the case of DNA, long-unsolved crime cases may be resolved following cold case review procedures. But the process sometimes works in the opposite direction when evidence, and the deductions that can be made from it, are overlooked. In the case of two murder suspects held by the police in 1927, this had irretrievably fatal consequences.

On 31 May 1928, Frederick Guy Browne and William Henry Kennedy were hanged for murdering PC George Gutteridge in a case that captured big headlines at the time. While both men were judged guilty, one of them was almost certainly innocent of the crime, as a re-examination of the evidence decades later showed.

The policeman had been gunned down in an execution-style killing on a rural road in Essex. In an act of utter callousness, he was also shot through both eyes. A stolen car was traced to Browne and Kennedy, men with criminal records for armed robbery, and they became the chief suspects. Kennedy admitted being at the crime scene but sought to absolve himself from any blame by pinning the shooting on Browne.

For his part, Browne denied being present, but his big mistake, and one for which he paid dearly, was to admit ownership of the revolver which would prove to be the murder weapon. Two identical revolvers were found in the suspect’s car and, when questioned by police, Browne unhesitatingly accepted as his, the gun that had been passed to him by Kennedy. There was confusion over the two weapons, which lasted throughout the murder enquiry and subsequent trial.

Using their powers of deduction, the police had it in their grasp to resolve doubts over the two weapons but no resolution emerged. In all probability, Kennedy had carried out the shooting and shifted the blame and the murder weapon onto Browne who had not been present at the crime scene. So, while both were hanged, one was probably innocent, in which case, justice was ill served.

An ill-judged confession combined with possibly falsified evidence led to a conviction which placed Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer, on death row for forty-five years. On 11 September 1968, he was sentenced to hang, having been found guilty of murdering a family of four in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. He repudiated his confession when he faced trial and his appeal against conviction was rejected in 1980.

On 27 March 2014, a further appeal based on new DNA evidence brought Hakamada his freedom. The judges revoked the death sentence and ordered a retrial, allowing the world’s longest-serving prisoner on death row, now aged seventy-eight, to walk free. One of the judges who had sat through the original trial expressed his belief in Hakamada’s innocence.

The omens for the elderly former inmate were good. Records showed that five other death row prisoners had secured a retrial and all had been acquitted. Hakamada’s case highlighted concerns about the way capital punishment is administered in Japan where, currently, more than a hundred people remain under sentence of death.

Justice at Last

On 18 May 1993, Andrew Adams, an aircraft engineer with a promising career, was found guilty of murdering retired school science teacher, Jack Royal, on the evening of 19 March 1990, at his modern, spacious home in Laburnum Grove, Sunniside, Newcastle. Thus began a tangled legal saga that deprived an innocent man of fifteen years of his life.

The case against Adams was that he had conspired with two others to carry out a revenge attack on Royal who was believed to have fatally injured David Thompson in a street fight on 10 January 1987. It was alleged that Adams and John Hands had been persuaded to commit this act at the instigation of the dead man’s sister.

One of many twists in the story was that Mr Royal was posthumously cleared of the murder charge, having been judged to have acted in self-defence. The prosecution of another man accused of killing Royal was unsuccessful, which left Andrew Adams and John Hands to face the music. Hands was acquitted of the murder and the dead man’s sister was absolved of the charge of soliciting murder.

The sequence of events left Adams as the sole defendant to face the murder charge in the Royal case. He steadfastly maintained his innocence and, in the trial that followed, was ill served by his legal team. The main prosecution witness had made a deal with the police whereby he avoided a likely prison sentence for robbery in return for testifying against Adams.

The prosecution case was largely uncontested by Adams’s defence team and, in consequence, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life. After leave of appeal was rejected in 1997, his case was referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which, in turn, referred the whole matter back to the Court of Appeal in 2007. The result was vindication for Adams and the original conviction against him was quashed on 12 January. The outcome was widely acclaimed and legal history was made by the Court’s judgement, which declared that flawed legal representation had deprived Adams of a fair trial. Another unusual aspect of the proceedings was that jurors from the first trial gave evidence in the Appeal Court.

Many people had fought tirelessly to help Andrew Adams’s cause, not least his solicitor, Ben Rose, who worked for years pro bono. Adams expressed his gratitude to all who had maintained faith in his innocence during the fifteen years he spent in prison. He expressed no bitterness and made the point that the murderer of Jack Royal was still at liberty.

Not the M50 Killer

There were scenes of jubilation at Shrewsbury Crown Court when 36-year-old Eddie Browning was convicted of murdering Marie Wilks in 1988. The “M50 Killer”, as he was called, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Five years later, it was Browning’s turn to cheer when the Court of Appeal cleared him of murder and quashed his conviction.

This turn of events resulted from irregularities in the evidence produced at the murder trial, which began on 3 October 1989. In June the previous year, 22-year-old Marie Wilks, who was seven months’ pregnant, was driving home along the M50 motorway when her Morris Marina Coupé overheated. She pulled onto the hard shoulder 700 yards from emergency phone 2076B and telephoned for assistance. When the police arrived, they found the emergency call box telephone receiver dangling from its connection and no sign of Marie Wilks. Two days later, a search team found her body where it had been dumped in undergrowth three miles further along the motorway. She had been fatally stabbed.

An alert was put out for the M50 Killer and a likeness was circulated, drawn up from witnesses’ descriptions of a man seen standing on the hard shoulder close to the spot where Marie was abducted. Enquiries led to Eddie Browning, a former soldier who worked at a nightclub in South Wales. He was charged with murder on 29 June 1988, and, seventeen months later on 10 November 1989, convicted of killing Marie Wilks.

Browning’s first appeal against the sentence was rejected in May 1991 but he gained a hearing with his second appeal in April 1994. The outcome hinged on allegations that the police had withheld evidence from the defence at the Shrewsbury trial.

Several witnesses driving on the motorway on Saturday, 18 June 1988, claimed to have seen a silver-grey car on the hard shoulder near the spot where Marie Wilks had stopped. One of the witnesses was Peter Clarke, an off-duty West Mercia Police inspector who did not stop and later could not remember the make, model or registration of the car.

As enquiries were pursued, the inspector saw a psychiatrist who used hypnosis to help his memory recall. By this means, he came up with a car registration number and a brief description. This counselling session was recorded on video but was not disclosed at Browning’s trial. When the inspector gave evidence, no mention was made of the hypnosis session.

When the Home Secretary was made aware of this development, the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal. It was shown that the police inspector had not described the car he saw as a hatchback, which was the type driven by Browning, and the registration number he recalled was totally different, with the exception of the letter “C”.

Giving judgement, Lord Taylor said the original prosecution case depended entirely on circumstantial evidence. Neither Browning nor his car could be identified at the scene and there was no forensic evidence linking him to the victim. Withholding the police inspector’s evidence obtained under hypnosis amounted to an irregularity, which the judge decided merited the quashing of the original murder conviction.

On 14 May 1994, Eddie Browning walked from the court a free man, saying, “Justice has been done here.” He was later awarded damages, believed to be more than £600,000.

Who Killed Lynn Siddons?

On Monday, 3 April 1978, sixteen-year-old Lynn Siddons went missing from her home, a council house in Sinfin, a working-class suburb of Derby, which she shared with her grandmother, Florence. Lynn had gone shopping but when she had not returned by 10pm her grandmother called the police. After a perfunctory search, the police told Mrs Siddons that Lynn had run away and took no further action. The Siddons family mounted their own search and even persuaded Derby County to appeal to fans for information at their game against Wolverhampton Wanderers on the Saturday. The next day, Lynn’s remains were found by the old Trent and Mersey canal about twenty minutes’ walk away. The girl’s body bore forty-three knife wounds and she had been unsuccessfully strangled before drowning in a puddle.

Mrs Siddons remembered that Lynn had said that she might visit fourteen-year-old Fitzroy “Roy” Brookes who lived nearby. Within forty-eight hours of the discovery of Lynn’s body, Roy Brookes was arrested and charged with her murder. In a case in which many statements were made and then retracted, Roy said later that his stepfather Michael Brookes had put him up to accepting guilt. He said Michael was always talking about Jack the Ripper and about stabbing women and he said his stepfather had told him to get Lynn on her own down by the canal. He had followed them down there, grabbed Lynn from behind, stabbed her, then stuffed her mouth with mud and water to finish her off and threatened Roy that if he told anyone, he would kill Roy’s mother, too.

After he had given evidence implicating his stepfather, Roy was discharged and acquitted in November 1978. With the police declining to make any move against Michael Brookes, official enquiries into Lynn Siddons’s death ceased. But Lynn’s grandmother determined another course by approaching Paul Foot, a columnist on the Daily Mirror.

Foot was asked to help find the truth and, to that end, the journalist, after exhaustive questioning, wrote a report for his newspaper asking the simple question, “Who Killed Lynn Siddons?” He believed that no one reading the article could believe that anyone other than Michael Brookes had murdered Lynne. The article was published across two pages on 8 April 1981, and the journalist awaited a reaction. There was none, no claim for libel and no response from the police.

Florence Siddons would not give up. With her two daughters, Cynthia and Gail (Lynn’s mother), she determined to prove Michael Brookes had killed her granddaughter.

One Sunday afternoon, Dot, Brookes’s wife, called on Florence Siddons and told her that her husband was at a caravan in Skegness with a sixteen-year-old girl. She had had enough of his behaviour and wanted to talk. That week Mrs Brookes spent four hours with the Siddons’s lawyer. She revealed that the couple’s sex life was punctuated by her husband’s fantasies of stabbing women. She said that one night he had snapped and shouted, “If you must know, I did kill Lynn – and I fucking enjoyed it.”

Florence and her daughters began stalking Michael Brookes, staring at him in the street, painting “murderer” across his front path. When he moved house, they tracked him down and the harassment began again. Florence wrote to politicians and newspapers telling them that Michael Brookes had killed her granddaughter.

Twice she persuaded the police to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but on both occasions the DPP failed to act. Cynthia saw Brookes and Dot in the street and drove her car at them. She was fined £100 for reckless driving.

In 1983, Brookes changed his name to Goodwood and moved to Peterborough. The Siddons women found him in no time and again began their campaign against him. In light of these developments, the police authorized a new enquiry in 1985 but the Director of Public Prosecutions quashed this. Then, in 1989, Jane Deighton, Mrs Siddons’s legal advisor, suggested suing Michael Brookes for assault and battery in the civil court. This move was rejected in 1989 by Mr Justice Schiemann, but that decision was subsequently overturned on appeal and the case came before Mr Justice Rougier, the son of the romance novelist Georgette Heyer, in 1991. This proved to be a turning point. The judge ruled that the Siddons family were entitled to damages from Brookes because he had murdered Lynn. Florence was awarded £27.

Michael Brookes had made several conflicting statements. He confessed privately to his wife that he had killed Lynn and enjoyed it because she was a slut. When the police questioned him he denied murder and claimed his wife was motivated by jealousy because he had left her for another woman.

Finally, in 1996, Brookes was tried for murder and found guilty of the crime he had committed eighteen years previously. Thanks to the persistence of Florence Siddons and the campaigning zeal of Paul Foot and the Daily Mirror, justice was finally achieved.

The “Murder” of Helen Smith

The daughter of a former policeman, Helen Smith failed the exams needed to become a policewoman and so took to nursing instead. She found work at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, before moving to St James’s Hospital – the Jimmy’s of the television series of that name – in Leeds in 1977.

West Yorkshire did not hold enough allure for Helen so she applied and found a job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and on 5 December 1978, she flew out to begin work at the new Bakhsh Hospital.

Five months later, on 19 May 1979, she went to a party held for diver Tim Hayter at the sixth-floor home of Bakhsh’s senior surgeon Richard Arnot and his wife Penny Thornton, at which alcohol was illegally served. Helen Smith was one of eleven guests and she turned up at 9.45pm. At some point between then and early the next morning Helen and another guest, a tugboat captain called Johannes Otten, thirty-five, fell to their deaths. Captain Otten’s corpse was impaled on railings outside the building while Helen’s lay on the marble floor nearby.

The Saudi authorities said that they had fallen while drunk and possibly during sex. The pro-Arab Foreign Office agreed with the conclusion. That was the official story. When Helen’s father, Ron, saw her body in the morgue, however, he was shocked to find there appeared to be no broken bones or anything to suggest that she had fallen any distance let alone from the sixth floor. There was a deep indent in the middle of her forehead, and her right side and inner thighs were badly bruised.

As he was leaving the Bakhsh Hospital the next day Mr Smith was approached by friends of his daughter who told him that she had been murdered. Penny and Richard Arnot were both arrested – she was charged with unlawful intercourse with Tim Hayter and, on 24 March 1980, was sentenced to eighty strokes of the cane. Her husband received a year in prison and thirty lashes.

In June 1980, Helen Smith’s remains were flown back to England and a post-mortem examination was performed on 16 December. Home Office pathologist Dr Michael Green said, “If I was to say Helen Smith’s death was an accident, I would be a liar.”

A second post-mortem investigation found an injury to the left side of the scalp that would have knocked Helen unconscious if not killed her. It seemed that far from death resulting from falling from a great height, Helen Smith was beaten in the face several times, received a potentially fatal blow to the head and had been raped. Ron Smith campaigned for a full inquiry and won his case in 1982 when the Court of Appeal ruled inquests should be held into the deaths of Britons who died abroad in violent or unnatural circumstances once their bodies were returned to the UK. It was this legislation that allowed the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

An inquest into Helen’s death opened in Leeds on 18 November 1982. At 6.47pm on 9 December, the jury returned a majority open verdict. Ron Smith refused to allow his daughter to be buried for thirty years and during that time her remains stayed in storage at Leeds General Infirmary. He was determined that the truth should come out before he died.

During discussions with Jeryl, his ex-wife and Helen’s mother, however, he finally agreed to hold a funeral. Helen was cremated on 9 November 2009, and her ashes scattered on Ilkley Moor. Ron Smith died aged 83 in a Leeds hospital on 15 April 2011, his search for justice for his daughter incomplete.

So Close to Safety

On 21 November 1963 – the day before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald – Kathleen Heathcote, twenty-one, went to visit her fiancé at Selston, six miles from her home in Mansfield, Nottingham. Around 11pm, she was seen at a bus stop about four hundred yards from her front door in Princess Street. Somewhere between the bus stop and the front door she vanished. She was reported missing and the police began making enquiries in her area.

A number of her possessions were found on a piece of waste ground, where she had taken a short cut. A policeman reported having given a lift in his patrol car to a motorist whose own vehicle was stuck in the mud. The man was soon identified as Ronald Evans, a 22-year-old electrician working in a colliery and living in Shirebrook, four miles away. When the police searched his home, they found other items belonging to Kathleen including her house keys. Evans, who was married, confessed to being responsible for her death. He said that he had been drinking that night and saw Kathleen crossing the waste ground.

It was raining but he attacked her, knocking her unconscious, and then raped her. She came round and began moaning, whereupon he dragged her to his car intending, he said, to take her to the nearest hospital. But the car was stuck in the mud and Kathleen continued to moan so he placed her in the boot. He returned to the car the next day and found Kathleen was dead.

Then the policeman arrived and offered a lift to the nearest garage. A breakdown truck pulled the car out of the mud and Evans drove home with the body still in the boot. That evening, while his pregnant wife and mother were at the bingo, he drove to Ladybower Reservoir on High Peak, Derbyshire, where he stripped the body and threw it into the water. Evans was charged with murder on 27 November and the next day frogmen began searching for Kathleen’s body.

It was found on 1 December, in the submerged village of Ashopton, which had been flooded in 1943 to build the reservoir. Evans went on trial at the Nottingham Assizes in March 1964. Found guilty, he was sent to prison for life.

He was released in 1975 and moved to Bristol where a number of sex attacks soon began. The local police knew that Evans was a murderer but not that he was a rapist so he was not a suspect. In 1978 a policewoman acting as a decoy was attacked in a dark alley. She fought back, and when help arrived the attacker nicknamed the “Beast of Bristol” was arrested. It was Ronald Evans.

In July 1979, he was tried at Bristol Crown Court and pleaded guilty to four charges of indecent assault against women. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and also ordered to serve out the life sentence imposed on him fifteen years earlier. Once again, he was let out of prison, but in May 2005, thanks to work by the cold case review team, Evans was sentenced to a further ten years for a rape in 1977 and an indecent assault in 1978.

“I’m Going to Get Away With Murder. I’m a Kennedy.”

Michael Skakel’s cousin was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr and, like other members of the family, Skakel lived a comfortable life. On 30 October 1975, Martha Moxley, a blonde fifteen-year-old, and some friends visited the home of Michael Skakel.

The following day, her body was found under some trees at her family home at Belle Haven, Connecticut. Her body was so bloody that Martha’s long blonde hair appeared black. She had been beaten to death with a golf club and stabbed in the throat with the six-iron’s shattered shaft.

Among the suspects were Michael, also fifteen, and his seventeen-year-old brother Thomas who, she wrote in her diary, had hit on her. Martha was popular with boys but her autopsy made clear, however, that she was a virgin. It was claimed the two boys were sent away to avoid the police investigation.

Michael Skakel was sent to a clinic that dealt with mental and alcohol problems. It was later alleged that during a session at the clinic he confessed that he had murdered Martha Moxley. No action was taken. Skakel continued with his life, married, fathered a son and became a professional skier.

In 1978, he was charged with drink driving near the family’s New York ski lodge. Then, remarkably, in January 2000, the police charged Skakel, by now thirty-nine, with the murder of Martha Moxley. Skakel’s lawyer claimed that since he was fifteen at the time of the crime he should be tried as a juvenile – a request that the court refused. At the trial, lawyers argued that there were no eyewitnesses to the crime and no forensic evidence that linked Skakel to Martha Moxley.

Some witnesses claimed that at the rehabilitation clinic Skakel had confessed to the murder on several occasions and that he once said, “I’m going to get away with murder. I’m a Kennedy.” Despite the lack of forensic evidence, Skakel was convicted of murder on 7 June 2002, and sentenced to twenty years to life in prison.


On Sale
Apr 5, 2016
Page Count
512 pages
Running Press

Robin Odell

About the Author

Robin Odell developed an interest in forensic science after training as a laboratory technician and turned to crime writing as a pastime. His first book, Jack the Ripper in Fact & Fiction, published in 1965, is still regarded as an important contribution to the subject. In a writing career spanning over forty years, he has written or co-written eighteen books in the fields of true crime, forensic investigation and criminal history.

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Paul Donnelly

About the Author

Paul Donnelley has written over 20 books including Essex Murders, Assassins and Assassinations, and 501 Most Notorious Crimes. He has worked for several magazines and newspapers including The Sunday Telegraph, The Daily Telegraph, Punch, and, since 2008, Master Detective where he writes ‘Paul Donnelley’s Murder Month,’ a column on criminal history.

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