Psycho Killer podcaster goes back to his roots

Simon Ford talking to students at UEA Broadcast HouseIt was my great pleasure to visit the University of East Anglia's media and broadcasting department last Wednesday (24 November 2021). Firstly, I am an alumnus of UEA, having somehow graduated with a degree in history in 1989.

The university's broadcast house, on Colegate in Norwich, has special significance for me. Because, in that same year, it's where I started my career in journalism as a news trainee at Radio Broadland. 

Radio Broadland became Heart (Steve Coogan drew on elements of the story for his 2013 movie Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa). Then, the station was due to be demolished when, in 2020, The University of East Anglia literally saved the studios from the sledgehammer.

Much has changed since 1989. Household names have moved on and some, regrettably, are no longer with us. UEA Broadcast House retains the studios (some of the finest acoustic spaces I've ever used) and the rest of the space has been thoroughly modernised. Where once there were open-reel tape machines and carts ( I feel a blog coming on about 'The Flying Cart Scenario') there are clutter-free desks and touchscreens. Broadland's newsroom was always quick to embrace new technology. My old boss, the magnificently irascible Julian Smith, would approve.

Equally – maybe more so – Jules would approve that little has changed in Studio 3, a.k.a. The Golden Star, on the corner of Colegate and Duke Street.

Enough reminiscing already! I was there to talk about podcasting and the true crime genre. The students were engaged and talkative – just the kind of audience I like – and our hour together flew by.

The students were far too diligent and sensible to visit Studio 3 afterwards, so I make a little pilgrimage with my former colleague Steve 'the Alien' Allen and raised a glass to the bright future that lies ahead for UEA Broadcast House. A phoenix has risen from the ashes.

UEA Broadcast House/Radio Broadland montage

L-R Studio 1 (the radio studio) | Breakout Space, once a smoke-filled newsroom | The Golden Star pub, a.k.a. Studio 3

How A Hell's Angel Helped Me Discover David Bowie

jacques morrell.jpg

While we were making the latest episode of Psycho Killer, I was reminded of my first childhood memory of bikers and motorcycle clubs, after a ‘Hells Angel’ appeared on our street.

It’s not that I remember him personally, or what bike he rode. I don’t remember whether it was a Honda CB400 or Kawasaki KZ400. I don’t even remember whether he was a Blue Angel, a Road Rat or an Outlaw.

What I do remember is that he inadvertently introduced me to the music of David Bowie.

In 1975, Britain’s youth discovered their music in two ways. The standard method was by listening to what the BBC controllers decided we should listen to from the Top 40 singles chart. This was fed to us on BBC1’s Top of The Pops show and also Radio 1’s Sunday afternoon Top 40 Countdown.

The other way we discovered new music was from the older kids on the estate.  They'd have collections of singles they decided weren’t cool anymore, so these would get passed around. Those of us with older siblings were lucky in this regard, as they would have already got to know the music of their brother or sister’s favourite artist.

In my case, my sister had moved on from David Essex and was now listening constantly to Queen. I had left junior school the year before. At the school leavers disco, we had jumped around to Tiger Feet by Mud, a band who hedged their bets by combining teddy-boy rock 'n' roll with a hint of glam rock. The lads at ‘big school’ were now talking about Northern Soul; the girls were into The Bay City Rollers, but I was ready to discover something different.

There was an older girl called Susan who lived on our street. We didn’t see much of her because she had a boyfriend. Not just that, he had a motorbike and a beard. To complement this, he wore dirty jeans and a leather jacket that smelled of trouble. Our initial interest in his motorbike was tempered by talk that he was a nasty piece of work. There was also a rumour he had a shotgun. It was probably our parents who made up the shotgun story, but it was enough for us to keep away.

He must have impressed Susan, though, because one summer evening, when we were all hanging around on the street, Susan emerged with a holdall, and rode off with him into the sunset. I was lucky to have been there to witness it. Eloping with her biker beau meant she had to give up a lot, including any records that weren’t by Black Sabbath.

Before she roared off, Susan handed me something in a carrier bag and said, ‘You can have this’.

I still have it now.

Diamond Dogs by David Bowie raised my appreciation of music to another level. It was an escape, not just from teenage boredom and anxiety; it was an escape from everything. The album created imagery of a future apocalyptic world. It even had a track titled 1984, which then of course was nine years away. Bowie’s words included:

'Someday they won't let you, now you must agree
The times they are a-telling, and the changing isn't free
You've read it in the tea leaves, and the tracks are on TV
Beware the savage jaw, of 1984.'

Going back to Tony Hobson: The Psycho Biker, I get a tingle when I think his killing spree started that same year: 1975. I don’t know any more about the biker who took Susan on a stairway to heaven, but Hobson, with the devil in him, rode his biker gang along a highway to hell.

Or, to quote the lyrical genius, David Bowie: 'This Ain’t Rock ‘N’ Roll — This Is Genocide!'

Danyal Hussein: Capital Punishment Isn't The Answer

Jacques MorrellI have the greatest respect for Bob Taylor, but I disagree with his call for a return of capital punishment. 

Our revulsion and anger that a fellow human being like Danyal Hussein can do such a senseless crime, is natural. It doesn’t surprise me that in polls about crime and punishment, the majority of respondents wish for harsher punishments and for extreme murder cases, they support the death penalty.

The argument for it stems from us wishing for two things, revenge on behalf of the victim and not having any sympathy for the offender. It’s a natural reaction but for me, it lacks depth. Who are we to make decisions on behalf of those directly affected by crimes? How will we get to understand these extreme cases by snuffing out the perpetrator, using an ‘eye for an eye attitude?

Some say that capital punishment provides a deterrent.  This view can be rejected quite easily. In most of the cases we have looked at, the killers were unable to control their emotions. They had been consumed by a fantasy that they couldn’t control. Without opening up the psychiatric aspects of the individual, their thought processes were completely irrational. The last thing on their mind was how the courts might deal with them.

Some say that rehabilitation is not possible for some murderers. How do we know? People do change. On the flip side, the relatives of victims can also change their attitude towards the convicted killer. Over time, the initial anger and hatred towards the killer can subside. Some even seek to confront and speak to them. We have seen this in terrorism cases. That would never be possible if they had been executed. If capital punishment returns and the expectation is for a death sentence, where is the line drawn?

Sure, Danyal Hussein and Wayne Couzens are as guilty as they come (and their convictions are sound) but what about those cases where the evidence is weaker? Miscarriages of justice will still happen, regardless of the advances in evidential opportunities.

Remember those cases in the 1950s, before capital punishment was abolished? Timothy Evans, hanged at Pentonville jail, after being wrongly convicted, allowing the real killer John Christie to kill three further times. Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain for shooting her lover, the racing driver David Blakely, who had subjected her to violence and psychological abuse. Derek Bentley, a 19-year-old who was epileptic and had learning difficulties. Convicted and hanged for uttering the infamous and ambiguous words ‘let him have it’ when a police officer challenged his armed accomplice to hand over the weapon.

In more recent times, forensic evidence is sometimes stretched to the limit, where the conviction is not that secure. Remember Amanda Knox? The American student was convicted of murdering fellow student Meredith Kercher on the basis of a minuscule amount of DNA found on a knife at the scene of the crime. Remember Barry George? The oddball loner was convicted of killing the TV presenter Jill Dando, on the basis of a tiny amount of firearms residue in his pocket. Imagine if they had both been executed for those crimes.

My view is that humanity is in a better place when the state does not execute a small number of people, just to satisfy our need to ‘dehumanise’ convicted murderers.

Jacques Morrell writes and presents Psycho Killer: The Podcast.

In Search Of the Hammersmith Nudes Murderer With Jacques Morrell

This is a true story that inspired a generation of crime fiction writers. Over a period of years in the 1950s and 1960s, a serial killer stalked the west London district of Hammersmith. The bodies of his victims, all women, were found either naked or partly clothed. As the number of murders increased, the bodies were left in more and more prominent positions, as if to taunt the detectives hunting the so-called Hammersmith Nudes Murderer.

Listen to our podcast The Hammersmith Nude Murders where all will be revealed.

The Tuxford Lockup

The year is 1823. George IV is King of England. The stagecoach and the turnpike are the fastest ways of getting from A to B. And there is an epidemic of lawlessness — highway robbery.

Dick Turpin was the best-known highwayman but there were plenty of others who tried their hand at holding up the stage and robbing the wealthy passengers. Armed with cudgels and pitchforks, they were usually no match for the stagecoach guard with his blunderbuss (literally riding shotgun) and the driver armed with a brace of pistols.

Once apprehended, the villains would be taken somewhere like the Tuxford lockup to await trial and – inevitably if found guilty – the hangman.

A photo-montage of the Tuxford lockup, a square, brick building with a tiled roof and a plaque with the date 1823

Tuxford is a market town on the Great North Road, originally the Roman road to York called Ermine Street. I'm sure the lockup would have served as a drunk tank on market days as well as housing those more serious offenders – highwaymen, footpads and murderers on the run. There's a pillory on the green beside the lockup where a variety of transgressors would have been humiliated in public As if a black eye and a hangover weren't enough!

The lockup itself is well preserved. The door is made of iron an inch thick. Inside are two cells on either side of a room where the constable kept watch over the inmates. Fresh air and a small amount of daylight come in through four, circular, barred windows.

Make no mistake, compared to the county gaol in Nottingham, these quarters were palatial.  And for convicts who were transported to the colonies, or incarcerated in prison hulks, their brief stay in the Tuxford lockup would provide a tantalising memory of luxury. 

The Tuxford lockup is similar to the place in Southwell where Richard Thomas Parter was held after shooting his mother and father at the family farm in the nearby Nottinghamshire village of Fiskerton. You can discover more about Tom Parker's life and crimes in our podcast, Thomas Parker: Hanged In Public For Shooting His Parents.

Tuxford is well worth a visit. As well as the lockup there are museums including the splendid Museum of the Horse, where you can see a Georgian stagecoach like the ones that used to run up and down the Great North Road. The highway is now called the A1. It bypasses Tuxford on a viaduct so the once-bustling town is undisturbed by heavy traffic.

The church of St Nicholas harks back to the prosperous days of the late middle ages. The old town has an 18th-century character because it was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1702. The damage was so great the reigning monarch Queen Anne authorised a nationwide collection to pay for the work.

Photos of Tuxford including on of the lockup's circular, barred windows; the stocks; the town centre; and St Nicholas' church

Tuxford is relatively undiscovered as a tourist destination. It's a great base for exploring the surrounding counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. So if you're planning a trip to England and you'd like to learn more about crime and punishment, Tuxford is about as authentic and old-school as they come. You might even find one or two members of the Psycho Killer team propping up the bar of the Sun Inn.

An Ordnance Survey map of Tuxford

The Unsolved Stranger Murder Of A Nottingham Pub Landlord

It's almost 60 years since George Wilson was stabbed to death outside the public house he managed in Nottingham, a city known worldwide for its connection to that most notorious of outlaws, Robin Hood.

The pub was called the Fox and Grapes, but it was known to locals as Pretty Windows. One night after closing, George locked up and took his dog for a walk. The next time his wife saw him he was lying in a pool of blood, the victim of a frenzied knife attack. George Wilson's murder remains unsolved.

At the time, following a number of burglaries at public houses, there were rumours of a gangland protection racket. Within ten days, the police had a breakthrough. Two boys were messing around in Polser Brook, a small stream next to a busy road, five miles from the Pretty Windows, when they found a knife.

The police concluded it was the knife used to stab George Wilson. They even published a photograph of it, describing it as a sheath knife and a Bowie knife.

It was not a Bowie knife. It was a military knife, a fighting knife similar to a stiletto. Knives like that are designed for one purpose: killing the enemy. It was not intended for any other task. The Polser Brook knife had certainly not been designed to open army ration cans or ammo cases.

L-R The footpath to Polser Brook | The murder weapon? | Jacques Morrell inspects the dried-up brook

L-R The footpath to Polser Brook | The knife as published in the Nottingham Post | Jacques Morrell inspects the dried-up bed of Polser Brook

The problem was that old army knives were in sheds and attics all over the country. This was not long after World War Two and National Service had also put weapons in the hands of two million young British men. These kinds of knives were all over the place and so were angry young men. Troubled young men, resentful of their childhood during the war years and the grim realities of working-class life. Men just like Arthur Seaton in the novel Saturday Night, Sunday Morning.

The publicity around the knife became a distraction. The public were being told the killer must have headed out of Nottingham on the A52 towards Grantham and Lincolnshire. This speculation increased when newspaper reports mentioned a hitch-hiker. The articles stated that three days after the murder (and six days before the knife was found) a motorist reported picking up a hitch-hiker in the general area of where the knife was found. The local newspaper printed an artist’s impression and speculated that the hitch-hiker was the killer.

The hitch-hiker was an unlikely hitman. In fact, you couldn't get further from a stereotypical gangster. He wore glasses, a college scarf, and had a small crucifix pinned on the lapel of his coat. He chatted about a range of subjects, from chiropody to monasteries – more country parson than grim reaper. An unlikely prime suspect? Judge for yourself by listening to The Pretty Windows: Nottingham's Unsolved Murder Mystery.

Ordnance Survey map showing Polser Brook running under the A52 south of Nottingham

The Stephanie Slater Ransom Drop Bridge

Michael Sams. To quote Detective Chief Superintendent Bob Taylor of West Yorkshire Police: "A one-legged toolmaker from Newark in Nottinghamshire." An unlikely suspect, but Sams was one of those psychopaths who walks among us unnoticed until they pounce. Like a chameleon, he blended in with his surroundings, attracting no attention. His camouflage allowed him to murder, kidnap and extort a £175,000 ransom.

This bridge, near Silkstone Common in South Yorkshire, is where kidnap victim Stephanie Slater's ransom was left. Sams placed a wooden tray on the parapet. When he pulled a rope the bag full of cash came tumbling down. 

The old railway bridge at Silkstone Common, South Yorkshire

Sams will spend the rest of his days behind bars in maximum security. He went down for kidnapping Stephanie – an estate agent from Great Barr in Birmingham – and murdering Leeds teenager Julie Dart. We've dubbed Sams 'The Troll' because he liked lurking under bridges. He buried his stash near another bridge 100 miles away, but the police soon dug it up. Well, most of it, anyway. 

The bridge at Silkstone Common is easy to reach once you know where it is. You won't find any cash there, but on a foggy January night, you might just hear the crack of a twig underfoot. Or a moped putt-putting along the Dove Valley Trail. This is Troll Territory.

The bridge is at East: 428208 North: 403653 on a British Ordnance Survey map. While you're there, pop in your AirPods and listen to our podcast about Michael Sams, Stephanie Slater, and Julie Dart. If that doesn't send a shiver down your spine, nothing will.

OS map coordinates of Silkstone Common bridge

Who Would Shoot Crows With A Hand Cannon?

The country road where Bella Wright came to grief has changed since her death in 1919, but it still follows the route the Romans called the Via Devana. The B582 marks the ridge between the villages of Little Stretton and Great Glen. It’s easy to find the gateway near a public footpath where Bella was found, next to her bicycle.

Jacques and I hunkered down in the field from where, so the story goes, somebody was shooting crows with a service revolver. It was part of an unlikely defence, but it helped acquit the prime suspect, a man called Ronald Light.

Simon and Jacques at Little Stretton | A Webley Mk IV service revolver

The 33-year-old teacher was accused of shooting Bella with a Webley Mk IV after she rejected his amorous advances. This was the kind of handgun issued to British officers during the First World War. In 1919, there’d have been plenty of them in civilian hands. As a second lieutenant, Light’s sidearm would have been a Webley. It fired a hefty 0.5 oz lead bullet at 600 ft/s. 

I wondered why anyone would shoot crows with such a weapon. The stopping power was optimised for trench warfare, not pest control. A shotgun would have been the obvious choice. Even then, only an idiot, or a reckless drunk, would have fired towards the road. And if that’s indeed what happened, the shooter was never traced.

Bella Wright | Bella cycling reconstruction | Bella's gravestone

Rewind to the evening of 5 July 1919. It was dark by the time a local farmer came across Bella’s body. She was a week away from her 22nd birthday. 

The farmer assumed she’d been knocked off her bicycle, but an examination by lantern light in a nearby cottage revealed an entry wound under her left eye and an exit wound in the back of her skull. The .455 calibre bullet was found later, embedded in the road. 

The twists and turns of the subsequent murder enquiry, the court case, and its aftermath are the subjects of The Green Bicycle Murder.

When we’d finished investigating, we visited Bella’s simple grave in a nearby churchyard. She’ll never know what we discovered. Suffice to say, somebody got away with murder. 

Little Stretton maps

On The Trail Of The Black Panther

We didn’t have a colour TV when Lesley Whittle was snatched from her home in Shropshire by Donald Neilson a.k.a. the Black Panther. My memories of those events are in black and white, including the day the kidnapper was caught, a few miles from where we lived.

It was coming up to Christmas 1975. All I could think about was getting a new bike. And not just any bike – a red Raleigh Chopper.

Then the story was on TV about this crazy guy who’d hijacked a police car at gunpoint. Everyone was more interested in that than the school play. Strange, isn’t it, how those memories stick.

View approaching Rainworth on the B6020 from the west

Decades later I met one of the hijacked cops. Stuart Mackenzie was lucky not to have had his head blown off. He was deaf in one ear from when Neilson fired his sawn-off shotgun inside the patrol car. Mackenzie seemed pretty cool about the whole thing.

More time passed and I moved to Rainworth, the mining village where it all happened. The colliery was closed and the Robin Hood Pub that features in our podcasts had turned into a Tesco Express. That's like a 7-11, for my friends in Houston.