I watched a TV programme the other week called, Brady and Hindley: Possession, which rehashed the basics of what became known as the moors murders and themselves, as the Moors Murderers.
It reminded me that all cities have a dark past, like an embarrassing relative that they can do nothing about. Brady and Hindley supply by far, Manchester’s most vile past. In the mid 60’s they abducted five children, killed them and buried the bodies on Saddleworth Moor, overlooking Manchester. (Hence the nomenclature). In some cases, evidence of sexual assault was apparent. It is also very poignant for me, for I was of the age of some of the victims then and, like so many people, could have passed Brady on the streets of Manchester for all I knew.
In those days, if not literally, to all intents and purposes, it was a different world. The term serial killer, was still to enter normal use, the only telephones were on street corners in phone boxes, (unless you were very rich) and children could go to the fair on their own, the corner shop for errands, play out until it went dark – yes and sometimes beyond nightfall. There was still an innocence in the air but these murders, brought upon a society so recently hardened by war, brought the toughest policemen up short, made them blink with the ferocity of what took place.
In the end, a small slice of luck, a chink in the armour of Brady’s carapace, led to an arrest early one morning and from then, the story slowly unfolded before a disbelieving nation. Over a period of two years, Pauline Reade, John Kilbride, Lesley Ann Downey, and Keith Bennett, were abducted from their familiar streets, taken to the moors, killed and buried. Edward Evans, killed in Hattersley, after Brady and Hindley were rehoused, as part of the slum clearances of Gorton, proved to be the couples’ undoing, when Brady involved a young acquaintance called David Smith, who, seeing the body, broke down, went to the police, and ‘shopped’ Brady.
This, in itself, would have achieved nothing for the earlier victims, had not the police retrieved a suitcase from a left luggage office, which contained amongst other items, tape recordings of the abuse of the victims and most importantly, a photograph album. Here, Brady had lodged, snap after snap of himself and Hindley on the moors. It was only after painstaking police work, that it dawned on them that the couple were not looking shyly away from the camera, but were standing on their victim’s graves, looking down at where they were buried.
Experts were brought in, distinctive skylines in the photos were identified, exact positioning exercises took place and digging began. Even so, it was not a straightforward exercise; peat can move, the moors area is a huge expanse of high wilderness, thrashed by strong winds and bad weather. Eventually, however, the moors gave up their victims. Peat is a remarkable preservative and even without the sophisticated forensics available today, items of clothing were still readily recognisable. Brady and Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment and the children finally laid to rest in peace.
Keith Bennett has never been recovered.
Despite confessing to the murder and being taken to the moors, Brady has never identified the place where Keith rests; whether this is by accident or design, no one is quite sure.
And as with everything else in life, things change. Nowadays, Froxmer Street where Pauline Reade was abducted, contains not houses, but decaying factories. Central Station, where Edward Evans was lured away, is now the GMex exhibition centre and Wardle Brook Avenue, Hattersley? Well, the avenue is still there, but no. 16, the end house, has been pulled down. The reason commonly reported is that Manchester Council, could not find anyone to live in the house afterwards, but my recollection from the time is the exact opposite; that the council were inundated with people wanting to live in it and it was pulled down to end a gruesome and harrowing episode.
Myra Hindley died in prison. Brady lives on, paradoxically, kept alive now after an attempted hunger strike. Only Brady and the spirit of Keith Bennett remain, aside from a few siblings of the victims. Keith’s mum died a couple of years ago, broken hearted that her son never received a decent burial. The TV programme tried to suggest that keeping Keith’s burial place a secret was Brady’s last triumph over a society that he reviled and yet, nearly 50 years on, they search for Keith still.
Led by a professor of forensics, teams of volunteers attempt to recreate the police work that yielded so much success all those years ago. Scrutinising photos, lining up skylines, prodding the soil and using ‘body dogs’ to test whether human remains lie in the soft peat of the moors.
In many respects is a race against time, for it would be a final slap in the face for Brady if Keith’s body were to be recovered before his own death and without his help; a final triumph of good over extreme evil.
The best book I have read on this subject is “Beyond Belief” by Emlyn Williams, an eminent journalist who used his skills to combine facts with a connecting narrative to build a complete picture of Brady and Hindley’s vile activities.
But what of the photo documentary aspects? Well, Gorton, by necessity has changed out of all recognition. The reason that Brady, Hindley and thousands of others were moved to Hattersley, the scene of their last murder, was the low grade housing stock in which they lived were, in effect, slums. Rows of terraced house with outdoor toilets and many with no bathrooms were a hangover from the pre-war years.
Of the houses lived in by Brady, who moved around a lot at that time, none remain. Perhaps the city, in its own way, is trying to eradicate every trace of the atrocities.
This is Froxmer St; the houses gone, factories remain in their place.
- Family’s plea as moors murderer gets appeal chance: Let’s put a stop to the Ian Brady ‘pantomime’ (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- Moors Murderer Myra Hindley’s letter to mother of one of her victims revealed (thisismoney.co.uk)
- ‘I bawled my eyes out’: Star of new Moors Murderers series reveals the trauma of playing Myra Hindley (dailymail.co.uk)