Mindhunter 2

Mindhunter on Netflix

Mindhunter with Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff

It’s that time of the year when we look back and think about the best of…

The best crime series I’ve seen is Mindhunter on Netflix. I mentioned this unusual, clever drama back in an August post. But having now seen the whole thing, I thought it was more original and interesting than any other 2017 series.

It’s set in 1977 during the early days of criminal profiling at the FBI. Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany star as agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. It’s different from mainstream fare in that it is about psychology – what makes psychopaths behave the way they do – rather than the usual fixations with procedure and whodunit.

Interviewing serial killers

Ford and Tench are dealing with serial killers who are already incarcerated. Ford is convinced the FBI should research the mindsets of these killers, because such insight could help to apprehend them. This flies in the face of received wisdom, which is, What’s to understand? They’re all sickos and monsters.

Their boss doesn’t want them talking to convicted killers at all. Meanwhile, Tench believes Ford is too gullible at times to deal with such manipulative figures.

Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit

It’s based on a 1997 book by John Douglas – on whom Thomas Harris modelled Jack Crawford, Hannibal Lecter’s adversary – and Mark Olshaker. Douglas is the man credited with bringing criminal profiling to the FBI. While he is not featured in the series, he is roughly fictionalised as Ford.

Counterbalancing the testosterone on display, Anna Torv plays Wendy Carr, a psychologist. She coolly takes a leading role in attempting to unpick the machinations of killers who hunt humans.

Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader

The series depicts terrifying real killers such as Edmund Kemper (actor Cameron Britton), the so-called Co-ed killer who murdered his grandparents and several young women before surrendering himself. A recurring figure is seen stalking a family and is obviously the awful Bind Torture Kill murderer, Dennis Rader.

The drama comes not through horrific crimes, but in scenes where the FBI men stumble through tense interviews with these calculating, soulless men. Dialogue is king here.

The gradual understanding of the mindscapes of these killers is more intriguing than any Agatha Christie plot. The nascent profiling insights can also reveal something about modern society and alienation.

Later episodes graft on some irritating storylines about Ford’s friction with his girlfriend (Hannah Gross) and his professional waywardness. But overall, it’s an intriguing, intelligent show. And Netflix has already commissioned series two.

Producer David Fincher, whose directing credits include Seven and Zodiac, said season two will move onto 1979-81. Storylines will includes events surrounding the Atlanta child murders.

Nude Murders update

Jack the Stripper murder case in London 1964 -1965. Between six and eight nude bodies were discovered around London and in the River Thames in the unsolved case, also known as the "Hammersmith murders" or "Hammersmith nudes" case. His six confirmed victims, prostitutes Hannah Tailford, Irene Lockwood, Helene Barthelemy, Mary Flemming, Margaret McGowan, and Bridget "Bridie" O'Hara, were all killed by asphyxiation, strangulation or drowning and were all found naked, except with stockings. The two other women prostitutes Elizabeth Figg and Gwyneth Rees had uncertain cases as there were differences with the other women. Both were manually strangled, but both were found naked except for their stockings with their underwear lodged in their throats. Picture shows: CID Chiefs heading the investigation, left to right: Det. Supt. John Du Rose and Det. Supt. Bill Baldock at Shepherds Bush Police Station 25th November 1965.

John du Rose and Bill Baldock, Scotland Yard’s leading detectives in the Nude Murders case © Mirrorpix

The BBC Wales documentary on the 1960 Nude Murders that is currently in production sounds as though it has excellent, thought-provoking experts taking part.

I mentioned in an earlier post that they were filming in Abertillery last month. This little Welsh town was, in the 1920s, the setting of a couple of heartbreaking child murders.

Harold Jones, then aged 15, was convicted of these ghastly crimes and has since become the focus of author Neil Milkins, who suspects he was responsible for the 1960s killings in west London. This is partly down to the fact, unearthed by Neil, that Jones was living in Hammersmith when they occurred. My book, The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper, highlights that Aldensley Road, Jones’s property, was in a hot spot where the killer of at least six women may have lived.

Experts on the Hammersmith Murders

One or two cheapo documentaries have been made about the case in the past. However, the one currently being filmed looks like it will be of a far higher quality.

Among those taking part are Professor David Wilson, who wrote a fascinating book called A History of British Serial Killing. Jackie Malton, former Flying Squad detective  and inspiration for Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison, was also on hand.

Forensic pathologist Professor Bernard Henry Knight and Cheryl Allsop, an academic  researching the science of cold case reviews, added further intellectual wattage.

BBC documentary

Neil told me the Abertillery venue was “full of lawyers, doctors, ex and serving police officers, archivists, Mary Fleming’s daughter and granddaughter, and a niece of Abertillery murder victim Florence Little”. 

I’ve also been contacted by the documentary’s producers. They told me they are using Jones as the starting point for the film but have not reached any conclusions about what their final angle on the case will be.

It is interesting that this grim series of murders, forgotten for so long, is now attracting serious attention. Will the Beeb’s experts solve it?

Jack the Ripper, Zodiac Killer

I doubt it. As with Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac killer and many others, too much time has elapsed. Sadly, the investigation was dropped with relief in 1965 when the murders ceased.

As the largest ever Scotland Yard manhunt was speedily wound down, the six, possibly eight, murdered prostitutes were forgotten and disappeared from the newspaper headlines.

Would this have been the case if they’d been housewives or nurses instead of prostitutes? It seems unlikely.

And then John du Rose, who had headed the investigation in its final stages, did the victims and their loved ones a disservice by pretending he had known all along who the killer was. Most writers, including me, think this was a dishonest attempt to cover his failure to crack the case despite having hundreds of officers at his disposal.

Why victims were forgotten

The unwanted effect of du Rose’s claim was that it implied the case was closed, when it certainly was not.

It’s no wonder that relatives of Mary Fleming should turn up in Abertillery to see what they could learn from the experts in the BBC documentary. The victims were largely forgotten and du Rose’s claim, and the general antipathy towards prostitutes, meant there was little public or media pressure to ensure the case was actively reviewed in the period immediately after 1965.

Those were the years when leads and suspects could still have been seriously tested.  

Exploring True Crime in Salford

Just wanted to say thank you our hosts at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences at Salford University on Saturday. I was invited along by Ian Cummins to take part in the all-day event on the subject of True Crime: Fiction Is Far More True than Any Journalism. 

The process of writing, why people read crime and various ways writers have explored real crimes were all covered. Ian and his colleagues Marian Foley and Martin King were terrific hosts.

We went for a delightful drink in Manchester the night before – my first time in the city – before meeting at the university in Media City on Saturday, which is a rather strange jumble of modern architecture.

Ripper tours and female psychopaths

Mark Blacklock, author of I'm Jack, about Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer John Humble, was great company.

Caroline Jones gave us a tour of, well, Ripper Tours and what a strange entertainment they are. And Caroline Logan, a consultant forensic clinical psychologist, was really interesting in discussing the subject of female psychopaths in fiction.

Beastly subjects, convivial company. I hope their plans to expand the event in future work out…

Secrets of ghostwriting

Andrew Crofts and Mark McCrum spoke entertainingly about their specialism, ghostwriting, at a Society of Authors talk in Piccadilly last week.

Writing Handbooks: Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

Ghostwriting by Andrew Crofts

They have written a huge variety of autobiographies and memoirs on behalf of people with stories to tell, from pop stars to soldiers to adventurers to victims of abuse. Though it sounds like a job that can be fascinating and occasionally well rewarded, it seems the gold-rush days are over.

Not so long ago, for penning Robbie Williams’ life story you could have got £200,000 up front and royalties that started at £100,000. However, in today’s shrivelled publishing landscape, huge advances and generous royalties are rare.

The two writers also outlined the frustrations of the work. Subjects who decided they don’t like your writing, celebrity egos and the ‘beauty contests’. This is where several writers are paraded before a celeb, who then picks whoever he/she finds least offensive.

Sean Connery and Robbie Williams

However, the upside is that the work can be fascinating. Travelling the world meeting extraordinary people with remarkable experiences to relate clearly beats most office jobs.

Not all the subjects are laudable. Crofts, whose manual on ghostwriting is quoted in Robert Harris’s thriller The Ghost, talked about various dictators and criminals he has ghosted for.

His advice on this is straightforward. You don’t have to like or admire the person. If they interest you, take the work. If not, walk away. Continue reading

Documentary puts Harold Jones on trial for Jack the Stripper crimes

Criime Scene in Acton where the body of Bridget O'Hara was found earlier today 16th February 1965. Pictured: Policeman standing at spot where body was found, in between fence (on left) and brick hut near embankment. Bridget O'Hara was a confirmed victim of serial killer known as 'Jack the Stripper' who was operating in London 1964-1965 and killed 6-8 women prostitutes & dumped their bodies around london or in the River Thames. The serial killer has never been caught.

Crime scene: a policeman on the Acton trading estate where victim Bridie O’Hara was found in 1965 © Mirrorpix

Despite the huge difficulties in unmasking the man who got away with the murder of at least six women in 1960s London so long after the event, efforts are still ongoing in 2017 to unravel this chilling mystery.

Since the publication of The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper in July, I’ve been in touch with author Neil Milkins. In his 2011 book Who Was Jack the Stripper? he makes an interesting case for Harold jones, a child sex killer, having been the guilty man.

My own feeling is that the case against Jones is circumstantial. However, in researching my book I did come across one tantalising new connection between Jones and the 1960s investigation.

This has helped to spur Neil into pushing on with more research on the case and assistance in a new documentary,

Harold Jones teenage killer

As a 15 year old, Jones had callously murdered two girls in his home town of Abertillery in the 1920s. He eventually pleaded guilty because he would have turned 16 by the time of his trial and been eligible for hanging.

Owing to a ludicrously indulgent prison governor, Jones was released from prison in 1941, despite his lack of remorse for his crimes. There was a presumption that he would join the armed forces and contribute to the war effort, which he never did.

Geographic profiler Kim Rossmo

Kim Rossmo

Thanks to Neil’s research, it seems Jones turned up in west London, where he married and had a daughter. During the height of the manhunt for the Nude Killer, who murdered six prostitutes in 1964-65 and left their unclothed bodies in locations around west London, it seems Jones was living under the noses of detectives.

For my own book, I was lucky enough to interview Dr Kim Rossmo, a leading geographic profiler. He had created a computer program that can analyse data based on a series of crimes, travel routes and other local information to produce geographic hotspots revealing where a perpetrator lives, works or has some connection.

Geo-profile hotspots in west London

He conducted such an analysis for me in The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper (Mirror Books). This suggests two hotspots in west London where he thinks the killer may have had a base.

One is around Hammersmith and the other covers Holland Park/Notting Hill.

The Hotspot where murderer Harold Jones was living during the Nude Murders. ©Mirror Books

The significance of this is that Harold Jones – as Neil Milkins has shown – was living in Aldensley Road. This is right in the middle of the Hammersmith hotspot. But Jones never appears to have come under suspicion during what was the biggest manhunt in police history up to that time.

What would detectives have discovered about Jones?

Again, this doesn’t prove Jones was the killer. But it does raise the question… What if detectives had been able to narrow their focus to these hotspots?

Instead of being spread so thinly across 24 square miles of west London, they might have realised they had a cold-blooded psycho right in the murder zone.

They could have interviewed and checked out his movements and lifestyle very closely. So, he may or may not be Jack the Stripper… but on the other hand we know nothing at all about him at this time.

Appeal for contributors to documentary

Anyway, here is Neil’s alert about a new programme that sets out to examine Jones’s potential guilt for the Nude Murders.

Top British criminologist Professor David Wilson will be filming for a television documentary at The Metropole Theatre, Abertillery, on Sunday, 19 November, 3pm. The plan is to fill the theatre with members of the public. He is seeking ex-Abertillery detectives, ex-Abertillery police officers, and ex-Abertillery magistrates to work along with top British criminologists, pathologists, geographic analysts, ground-penetrating radar experts etc. As I understand it there will be a mock jury listening to the links between Harold Jones and the nude murders and will be asked if they believe that on the balance of probabilities Jones was the killer. I believe that Professor Wilson has some surprises up his sleeve…

Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival

Aside

Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival October 2017

Against a 1960s backdrop at the Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival

I met an interesting group of readers when I went to speak to the Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival, which concluded over the weekend.

Among those asking me questions about the Nude Murders case were a couple of retired police officers and a former nurse. The latter had come to London as a young woman in the 1960s and spoke about the appalling poverty she encountered when making house calls.

Home of Betjeman

Why are the series of murders now so little known? How did the investigation compare to that for the Yorkshire Ripper in the 1970s? Why did the investigation, the biggest manhunt ever seen in Britain at that time, fail to unmask the killer? All these questions came up.

Wantage itself, where former Poet Laureate John Betjeman once lived, is a delightful market town and a lovely setting for a book festival. It was great to be involved in an event supporting books of all genres, along with the town’s independent bookshop.

Keeler and Thorpe – the great British scandals return

Hugh Grant playing Jeremy Thorpe in BBC1’s A Very English Scandal Jeremy Thorpe

Interesting news – the Beeb has announced a new six-part drama called The Trial of Christine Keeler. It is going to focus on the young woman ‘whom the powerful, male-dominated establishment sought to silence and exploit, but who refused to play by their rules’.

Amanda Coe, the award-winning novelist, is writing the script. She said, ‘I’m excited to have the opportunity to bring a fresh lens to a story that has become a powerful fable of our national identity. The astonishing story of Christine Keeler and the so-called Profumo Affair is the Salem Witch Trial meets OJ Simpson. It’s a perfect storm of gender, class, race and power that resonates into the world we’re living in today.’

The other victim of the affair was Stephen Ward. He was the society osteopath who took his own life in 1963 after being hounded by the legal and political establishment.

Profumo Affair and the Nude Murders

The Profumo Affair is tangentially connected to the Nude Murders of the mid-1960s. While researching The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper I read about the scandal. Police and legal figures manipulated Ward. Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies were portrayed as prostitutes to trap him as someone living off immoral earnings and other crimes.

If anyone wants an insight into how bent the establishment was back then, and the extent of the cover-up, read Geoffrey Robertson’s short but shocking book Stephen Ward Was Innocent, OK.

But Christine Keeler’s story is not the only scandal being explored again. BBC1 is making a three-part dramatisation of events surrounding the fall of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, called A Very English Affair.

Hugh Grant as Thorpe

This will star Hugh Grant and is written by Russell T Davies, here a long way from his Doctor Who success. Thorpe in the 1960s was the young Liberal leader who had a secret he was desperate to hide – his lover Norman Scott, who could destroy his brilliant career. Continue reading

Catching a Serial Killer by Stephen Fulcher

by Stephen Fulcher

Catching a Serial Killer

This is a book that will leave you wondering at the injustice dished out to a detective trying to bring a vile killer to justice.

You may remember Stephen Fulcher’s story from recent headlines. He was the detective superintendent who breached Police and Criminal Evidence rules in an effort to find abducted Sian O’Callaghan. Sian, 22, disappeared after a night out in Swindon in 2011.

When Fulcher’s investigators closed the net on taxi driver Christopher Halliwell, the detective ignored the requirement to make the familiar ‘You do not have to say anything’ speech. Instead, he acted in the hope that Sian was still alive somewhere and he could appeal to Halliwell to confess where. The alternative was to arrest Halliwell, in which case the suspect might clam up and Sian could perish.

Meeting Christopher Halliwell

It was a career-risking move. Fulcher’s reasoning? Sian’s life took priority over rules designed to protect the rights of a suspect.

His encounter with Halliwell is the extraordinary fulcrum of the book. In the countryside, overlooked by a posse of police cars, Fulcher shared cigarettes with Halliwell and got him talking.

Sadly, Sian had been murdered. Halliwell took the police to the place he left her. However, Fulcher had another shock in store – Halliwell revealed the whereabouts of a second victim.

Continue reading