Category: British Crime

Greed: The ‘Mr Asia’ Connection

 

This is a great read about a notorious drugs syndicate that spanned Australia, New Zealand, the UK and beyond.

The drugs syndicate, known as ‘The Organisation’ was spearheaded by a Kiwi-born criminal called Terrence ‘Terry’ Clarke, who started selling cannabis known as ‘Thai Sticks’ and graduated to trafficking heroin using his network of associates.

The stakes were high and the rewards were big.

New Zealander Terry Clark was the head of global drugs syndicate called ‘The Organisation’.

Author Richard Hall paints a comprehensive picture of this crime saga, starting with the murder of Kiwi man Martin Johnstone, the one dubbed ‘Mr Asia’ because he was The Organisation’s Singapore contact. Johnstone’s body, sans his hands, was thrown into a flooded Lancashire Quarry.

This book, which I picked up at an op shop (a great way to find hard-to-get and out-of-print true crime reads) was published in 1981, after five men, including Terry Clark, tried under the name Terry Sinclair) were convicted for their part in Johnstone’s murder.

The book details the court trial, the movements of the syndicate and how they smuggled drugs to various countries and the luxury lives these people led. As the title of the book suggests, it was greed that led to the downfall of Terry Clark/Sinclair.

Highly recommend this read. (I love that this copy is a Pan Original paperback.) It had been republished in the wake of the Underbelly: A Take of Two Cities series.

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

Poverty on trial in Kate Summerscale’s New Book

Review by Ellen Wallace

 

The Wicked Boy

 

Author Kate Summerscale investigates one of the Victorian England’s most disturbing murder cases in her latest book The Wicked Boy.

The book recounts the 1895 murder trial, conviction and subsequent life of Robert Coombes. At 13, Robert stabbed his mother to death while she was sleeping.

Summerscale provides a restrained but detailed picture of England’s Victorian era, its penal system and the redemption of a disturbed boy. The author is not shy about exposing the failure of England’s educational system for the lower classes or its prison system that merely warehoused criminals.

There were contributing factors to the murder. Robert’s youth was, to say the least, shaped by domestic violence, a dysfunctional family and the lack of a strong father figure.

Although Robert never tells the court the reason why he killed his mother, the spark may have been the repeated beatings Mrs. Coombes dealt her sons. These beatings occurred while she was left alone with them with little money while her husband eked out a living as a seafaring deck hand on some of the British ships.

After one of the more violent, bloody beatings of his younger brother, Robert hatched his plan to murder his mother.

The crime is discovered only after the stench of death seeped out of the bedroom windows as Mrs. Coombes’ corpse decomposes on her bed. Robert readily admits the killing, is tried for murder but never tells the court why he did it. Left with little choice, he was found guilty but insane. Not really knowing what to do with the child murderer, he is sent to Broadmoor, a lunatic prison.

Unexpectedly, Robert flourishes at Broadmoor soaking up an education in books, music, sports and more that he would have never received if he had remained with his family.

While her writing style is unemotional and measured, Summerscale’s research carries the story and enables readers to travel back the to the Victorian era seeing the failures of a country led by a minority of aristocrats who steadfastly ignored how their cultural system treated the majority of British subjects — the poor.

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer

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This is a solid, meticulously researched book on a notorious 19th century British female killer.

Christina Edmunds was a poisoner who laced chocolates with strychnine. She was tried for the murder of a little boy and she poisoned many others. Her murderous impulses were sparked by unrequited love she had for a married man.

Christina was found to be criminally insane and lived for the rest of her life at Broadmoor Hopsital (home of serial killers Peter Sutcliffe and Moors Murderer Ian Brady) , dying in 1907.

The author Kaye Jones knew the case was a sensation of its time, garnering national press coverage. However the book is also a social history of life in Brighton in the late 1800s and a detailed account of Christina Edmunds’ family history. The epilogue is also fascinating as it applies a diagnosis to what Edmunds was suffering, which was not a recognised condition at the time of her crimes.

Kaye Jones gave an interview to her local newspaper Andover Advertiser, which is a good background read if, like me, you are fascinated by the research and writing processes of authors.

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Killer is published by Pen & Sword Books.

A new theory on Jack the Ripper

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Melbourne author Richard Patterson has presented another theory to the mystery of Jack the Ripper – and he thinks he’s found the real culprit.

Patterson’s book Francis Thompson – A Ripper Suspect puts forward the theory that a poet was the infamous killer.

“Out of all the people suspected of the Whitechapel crimes, it would be hard to imagine anyone less likely to fit the image of a rough and strong armed assassin, like the paper’s described, than this mild mannered poet…,” Patterson writes.

The book is an interesting read full of the history of London’s East End, the background about the Ripper theories and investigations and of course, meticulous research (the teacher from New South Wales has spent more than 20 years researching his theory) about Francis Thompson, his poems and why the author believes he is strong contender to be Jack the Ripper.

His theory came about in 1997 when he read a book of Thompson’s poetry. Then there was the fact that Thompson also trained as a doctor that led Patterson (pictured middle) on his research journey.

Not surprisingly Patterson’s book, which he self published in 2015, has received press attention from around the world.

“I’m grateful to have played some part in helping people understand Thompson, and why he might have been the Ripper,” Patterson told UK’s The Mirror newspaper.

“Thompson kept a dissecting knife under his coat, and he was taught a rare surgical procedure that was found in the mutilations of more than one of the Ripper victims.”

For those interested in Jack the Ripper, and the more ardent “Ripperologists”, Patterson’s book is a compelling read.

I have nothing but respect for people who research as passionately as Patterson has for this book.

The London Underground Serial Killer

The book claims authorities covered up the killings to avoid public panic.
The book claims authorities covered up the killings to avoid public panic.

This book released in mid-2015 certainly boasts one of the most intriguing and explosive storyline of any book released this year.

In The London underground Serial Killer author Geoff Platt  claims Irish-born vagrant Kiernan Kelly told police he murdered 18 people by pushing them in from of trains on London’s Northern line but it was ‘covered up’ due to fears it would cause chaos among the public.

Kelly was convicted of murdering a fellow vagrant in 1975 and the killed a cellmate in 1983. It was during a 1984 interview with then-detective Platt about this jailhouse murder that Kelly allegedly confessed to killing the people on the train lines.

On further investigation of Kelly’s seemingly wild claims, Platt discovered there were many seeming suicides on the Northern Line and Kelly was a witness to a lot of them.

The revelations prompted much media coverage and newspapers in London reported the British Transport Police would investigate the allegations and invited more information from the public.

The book is a decent read, although I found there was a lot of padding to the story with general background about the London Underground. I felt this detracted from the explosive story Platt presented and it was a bit laborious in parts. I was keen to know more about the alleged murders.

I personally think this story would have worked better as a long form article or mini-book of around 4000-6,000 words.

But for sheer “I need to read this” the premise of The London Underground Serial killer is hard to beat.

The London Underground Serial Killer is published by Pen and Sword Books.

19th Century Barnsley Murders

Review by Ellen D. Wallace

Pen and Sword Books

19th Century Barnsley Murders is a look back at a town caught in beginnings of economic failure, the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of working class movements in Britain. All three of these major influences converge in poverty and crime, including murder of the boldest sort in Barnsley, a town located between Sheffield, Leeds and Doncaster.
 
Amid descriptions of rat-ridden slums populated by numerous pubs, author Margaret Drinkall describes the darker side of progress in this small town. She recounts 17 murders or near-misses that occurred during the tempestuous 19th century in Barnsley. Drinkall reveals cases of bodysnatching, an early case of stalking which ended in murder in the street, the loss of a child and murder by pudding.
 
Interspersed in the copy are black and white photos, maps and drawings of places described in each of the cases. These photos and maps help draw the readers into the narrative. One impressively stark photo is that of a jail cell door in Leeds — in an underground jail with ominously thick stone walls.
 
Court practices of the period are also described in the book. For instance, often in the 19th century, an inquest was started almost immediately and the body of the victim was not moved from the scene until jurors viewed the body were it was dropped. 
 
Drinkall describes the cases she has selected each in a separate chapter, allowing every case center stage. One thing that is lacking is a character development of the victim and murderer, but this is understandable since Drinkall relies on court records and newspaper accounts to retell these stories.
 
If you are lucky enough to be traveling to Great Britain, based on the intrigue of the this book, you might wish to read this book first and then add Barnsley to your itinerary to soak in the local colour and the sites of murders long ago. 

Published by Pen & Sword Books
 

 

Luck of the Irish: Dr John Bodkin Adams

My second true crime book Angels of Death was released early this year. One of my favourite cases I covered in the book was that of  doctor John Bodkin Adams.

BUY THE BOOK HERE

The case of Dr John Bodkin Adams was a worldwide sensation in 1950s. The portly general practitioner lived and worked in the south coast English seaside town Eastbourne and he had a reputation for being a particularly attentive doctor, especially to elderly wealthy widows.

Dr John Bodkin Adams

 

 

READ THE WHOLE CHAPTER at Herald Sun True Crime Scene

Adams received money from over 300 wills and was left property, jewels, silverware and the luxury cars he so loved.

When police started investigating the death of one of Dr Adams’s wealthy widows it seemed that the good doctor may have been a serial murderer…

 

 

 

Mothers Who Murder by Xanthe Mallett

Mothers who murder

This book covers a topic that is deeply distressing and uncomfortable to consider. Women who kill their son or daughter, known as filicide, challenge our deeply ingrained notion of what we think a woman, and a mother in particular, should be and how she should act.

The author, Dr Xanthe Mallett covers many of the well-known cases in Australian criminal history of mother who have murdered their children , including Keli Lane, Kathleen Folbigg and most recently Kristi Abrahams. Mallett, who was a presenter on the recent Channel Ten show Wanted, is also a forensic anthropologist and draws on her expertise to review each case and also add her opinion on the facts, evidence and investigation. However, there’s not much new in the case chapters to draw on. There’s no new insights revealed, which dedicated true crime readers would probably be looking for from this book.

Mallett also details some well-known miscarriages of justice, including Australia’s most notorious case of Lindy Chamberlain as well as shocking cases from her native United Kingdom and Europe.

Mothers Who Murder paints a shocking picture of the cruelty (and evil as Mallett concluded) that women can inflict. To do so on their own flesh and blood is mystifying and perhaps, this is why the topic of mothers who kill their children will always be heavily covered by the media and disseminated by experts and pundits.

This is Mallett’s first book and it is thorough and well-written.

Mothers Who Murder is published by Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House Australia.

 

There are 1000 unidentified bodies on UK police files

 

uk Missing Persons Bureau
Artist impression of the a man whose decomposed body recovered from the shore at Poole Harbour on January 6 2000. Picture: UK MISSING PERSONS BUREAU

 

There was a BBC article this week that shocked me.

There are currently around 1000 unidentified bodies on police files. Some of these bodies date back 50 years.

This is so sad and baffling. How is it that people can go missing and NO ONE tries to find out what happened? I understand that many of these bodies will be people from Europe or other countries but still, how does this happen?

 

This woman aged between 17-25 was struck by vehicles on the A1 near Baldock, Hertfordshire at 0615. Her body was found on February 18, 1975. Last seen by witness at 0530 hours, she stated she was heading for London. Had a foreign accent. picture: UK MISSING PERSONS BUREAU
This woman aged between 17-25 was struck by vehicles on the A1 near Baldock, Hertfordshire at 0615. Her body was found on February 18, 1975. Last seen by witness at 0530 hours, she stated she was heading for London. Had a foreign accent. picture: UK MISSING PERSONS BUREAU

 

The website UK Missing Persons Bureau gives details of these bodies but despite it being “live” for seven months, there have been no new leads on any of the cases.

A Calendar of Yorkshire Killings and Suspicious Deaths

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Author Charles Rickell specialises in the criminal history of Yorkshire and this ebook (also available in traditional format)  details almost 200 deaths (murders and suspicious killings) that have occurred in the region. Yorkshire encompasses English cities Bradford, Leeds, Hull,Ripon,Sheffield and York and hundreds of quaint villages. (The map on the book cover is the traditional one that shows the three “ridings”.  The area underwent a major local government rezoning in the 1970s.)  I thoroughly enjoyed this book. For true crime readers it’s a perfect book to have on your tablet or phone. I’m addicted to looking at historical newspaper collections online so I’m tempted to learn more about the crimes that are detailed here. The murders detailed date from the 1800s to the present day.

One of the crimes that stuck in my mind was on November 8, 1965 when Rotherham biology master Alexander Mills Buttery, 46 murdered his wife and two children aged 10 and six and then killed himself with an overdose of barbiturates.

When you research and write about true crime you discover that there are so many family violence murders. The biggest threat to people comes from those closet to them in so many cases.

My husband spent his formative years in Yorkshire so i am very interested in the area. Rickell’s book is a real testament to his expertise on crime in Yorkshire.

Rickell has also  written a book called Yorkshire’s Multiple Killers.

You can read more about Rickell’s work at his homepage charlesrickell.weebly.com.

A Calendar of Yorkshire Killings and Suspicious Deaths is available from smashwords.

 

 

Beyond All Evil: Two monsters, two mothers, a love that will last forever

 

Photo source: Harper Collins
Photo source: Harper Collins

 

Review by Rachel EC

Beyond All Evil by Marion Scott and Jim McBeth is a book that really took me by surprise as I knew nothing about it. It was harrowing and I’m not entirely sure why these cases completely slipped under my radar, except that UK true crime books are not usually the first on the eBook shelf that pique my interest.

The book is about two women in the UK, Giselle and June who on the same day in nearby towns lost their children at the hands of their husbands. Giselle had only her two young sons, Paul and Jay-Jay that were killed by their father Ash and June lost her youngest two children, Michelle (a young woman with special needs) and Ryan when they were murdered by their father Rab.

The book runs the two stories parallel and although the marriages and the father/child dynamics are quite different, both women (and to some extent, the children) suffer tragic domestic violence at the hands of their husbands. Probably one of the most interesting parts of the book is the similarities and the contrasts in all of the relationships.

While June is controlled by Rab in a systematic cycle of physical abuse, Giselle was isolated in sinister ways by her husband Ash. The stories are different, but so similar and both women do their best to explain their situations, their different upbringings and answer the usual “why didn’t you just leave?” questions.

Ian Stephen provides small snippets of criminal psychology throughout the book, as well as writes an afterword explaining the psychology of ‘family annihilators’ and discusses the dire situation that is becoming shockingly, more common in some Western countries.

The book didn’t grab me straight away but it wasn’t long until I was staying up far too late to read this sad story. I do wish the book had included details of how June and Giselle came to get to know each other after their tragedies, as it is just their individual stories blended together so that the timelines match quite perfectly, but if you don’t mind a sad true crime story it’s well worth a read and spreading the story of these two mothers that were connected by awful situation and share their pain, grief and small joys with brutal honesty.

Beyond All Evil is published by Harper Collins

 

 

 

Rose West: The Making of a Monster

Criminologist  Jane Carter Woodrow presents a deeper examination of Rose West in Rose West: The Making of a  Monster, published in 2011.

From years of research into West, Carter Woodrow presents evidence and detail that Rose was the driving force in the murders and sexual depravity with her husband Fred. The couple is notorious as the perpetrators of “The House of Horrors” murders in the early 70s through to the late 1980s where young women and the children of Fred and Rose were sexually abused, tortured and murdered to satiate the couple’s perverted desires.

The book goes into great detail about West’s early years. She was the product of two mentally ill parents – her father was a paranoid schizophrenic who terrorised his eight children. The book reveals that Rose’s father  Bill Letts groomed his daughter, who learned that the abuse meant that she wouldn’t be targeted for her father’s brutality. By age 13, Rose was sexually abusing her two younger brothers.

While the book focuses mainly on Rose, Carter Woodrow also details Fred West’s depraved upbringing and the fact that the union of Fred and Rose (she met Fred when she was just 16) was like the “perfect storm” of dysfunction and danger that saw Rose become one of Britain’s worst sexual predators and serial killers.

Carter Woodrow draws from previous books written about the pair, including Fred & Rose by Howard Sounes. For those who have read about the Wests before, they will be familiar with the timeline of murder and the pair’s crimes, which are also detailed in this book but what is different is the extensive look at Rose’s childhood and the events that led to her behaviour. Carter Woodrow find evidence that it was Rose, rather than Fred who was the stronger of the two – the dominant force in the sick relationship. In fact it is believed by some investigators that it was Rose who did most of the murders and Fred disposed of the bodies. The abuse that The Wests own children suffered is also sickening, shocking and unfathomable.

Rose West: The Making of a  Monster is published by Hodder & Stoughton.

 

True True Blood by Megan Norris

Melbourne author Megan Norris goes to the dark, dark side of human nature with her latest book True True Blood.

 

Billed as “The sickening truth behind our most grisly vampire slayings”, Norris details nine vampire killing cases – including two from Australia.

The  case I remember most (and was keen to read more about)  is that of Brisbane lesbian vampire killer Tracey Wiggington who made world headlines in 1989 when she was arrested for the brutal murder of a man whom she lured, along with her band of lesbian devotees, under the pretext of sex but slayed him and drank his blood from a stab wound in his neck.

Wiggington was quietly released from prison early in 2012 after almost 23 years in jail.

Another chapter in the book is dedicated to Perth killers Jessica Stasinowsky, 20, and Valerie Parashumti, 19, wo murdered their 16-year-old housemate Stacey Mitchell in 2006. The girls killed their housemate for no other reason that she was “annoying” them and attacked her after after giving her alcohol containing a sleeping pill. The pair then bashed the teenager with a concrete block. Parashumti was discovered to have drank blood as part of a vampire subculture that she was obsessed with.

Their trial caused shock around Australia  as details emerged that the pair shared a passionate kiss over the dying teenager and giggled through their pre-sentence hearing. They were jailed for life in 2008 with a minimum of 24 years.

True True Blood also includes the story of Sacramento vampire killer Richard Chase who killed six people in just one month and the Kentucky Vampire Clan killer Rod Ferrell who was under the delusion that he was a 500-year-old vampire.

Norris is a journalist with over 30 years who has covered some of the biggest crime cases for Australian magazines and newspapers. Her passion is true crime writing and true crime readers will appreciate her enthusiastic, detailed work.

True True Blood is available now in bookstores and online and is published by The Five Mile Press.

A Mix of Murders

 

A Mix of Murders is an e-book released for Kindle earlier this month that features British murder cases from the twentieth century from the early years of the century to the 1980s.

Author and librarian Grahame Farrell covers a really interesting mix (as the title suggests) of 15 crimes. The latest crime in the book  is a chapter on Kenneth Erskine, known as “The Stockwell Strangler” who murdered elderly people in South London in the 1980s.  This is a particularly disturbing chapter as Erskine was simply so brutal and dangerous. His victims so vulnerable.

Another intriguing case is the 1955 murder of Elizabeth Currell in the quaint and respectable commuter village of Potter’s Bar, South Hertfordshire. Mrs Currell was on her regular evening stroll on the local golf course when she was brutally attacked and murdered.

I enjoyed this book because the murder cases are ones that are lesser known and have a touch of “Midsomer Murder” to them. The book is Farrell’s true crime debut and it’s definitely worth a read.

A Mix of Murders by Farrell, Grahame is published by Kembra Publications and is available from Amazon. There’s a sample chapter at the Kembra Publications site for you to check out.

Fred & Rose by Howard Sounes

I first read Fred & Rose: The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors by British journalist Howard Sounes in 1996. I can remember being shocked by the story then but on re-reading it (and perhaps with age, gaving children and having lived in England for many years) the book was absolutely disturbing – stuff of nightmares.

Fred & Rose West murdered at least nine women (including their own daughter) together in their home in Gloucester. These crimes happened over the 70s to the early 1990s and there is wide speculation that they could have murdered many more. Their crimes were discovered in 1994. Fred West also murdered at least two other women on his own and Rose, her stepdaughter while her husband was in jail.

Fred West didn’t live to face up to his crimes. He hung himself in a police cell on New Year’s Day 1995. Rose West will spend the rest of her life in jail.

The Wests were  two people who together, were a nightmare pairing. Their fatal attraction resulted in nine young women being sexually tortured, raped and mudered. Worse still, Fred dismembered their bodies and their is information in the book from experts that this was more than just a means to bury these women, rather is was part of Fred West’s sexual deviancies.

The Wests presented a facade of being a hard-working, loving family, They had four children together and Rose had four others, most likely fathered by the men she slept with at the notorious 25 Cromwell Street, dubbed “The House of Horrors” by Sounes who was a reporter on the Sunday Mirror and covered the crimes and the trial. The Wests children were also abused and tortured.

The Wests were able to kill and abuse for so many years undetected for many reasons that all conspired together to create the depravity that has made them some of the worst murderers in history. There was the troubled and poor family background the pair came from, their obsession with violent sex, the inadequacies of the social services in Britain at the time and the failure of some families of the murder victims to report their girls missing.  The Wests were able to gain the trust of women they picked up because they “seemed” like a (relatively) normal couple and trawled the streets together in their car to pick up hitchhikers.  One of the most chilling parts of the book – besides the grotesque and cuel crimes of the Wests – was a brief mention by Sounes that colleagues of Detective Constable Hazel Savage (DC Savage pushed for an initial search of 25 Cromwell St, which led to the discovery of the crimes) that:

“…if it weren’t for Hazel being held in such high esteem within the force (Gloucestershire Police), and had been so persistent, that nothing would ever have been done…” (pg 230)

This is a must-read for those interested in true crime. Very, very sad, shocking and disturbing but Sounes has written the facts and offers on opinion until the end in the epilogue. There is no fat on this book. It is detailed and well-paced. The chapters on Rose and Fred’s childhoods and family lives are fascinating and well-researched.

Fred & Rose: The Full Story of Fred and Rose West and the Gloucester House of Horrors is published by Sphere.

Soham: A Story of Our Times

 

Soham: A Story of Our Times is a short, beautifully written book about the grimmest of subjects – the murder of 10 year olds Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in a Cambridgeshire village in 2002.

Written by Nicci Gerrard, who sat through the entire trial of murderer Ian Huntley – the school caretaker – and that of his girlfriend Maxine Carr who was convicted of perverting the course of justice, this book is a wider look at the modern phenomenon of “conspicuous compassion”. Gerrard, a former feature writer for The Observer who covered the trials of Rosemary West and of Harold Shipman, details the collective mourning that gripped England during the two week search for the girls in the August of 2002. Gerrard cites Patrick West’s book Conspicuous Compassion (“…our culture of ostentatious caring is about feeling good, not doing good, and illustrates not how altruistic we have become, but how selfish…”, says West) and how society celebrates psychological pain and needs to “feel” by grieving in public (think Princess Diana).

Soham has a significance for me in that I arrived back in England to start life with my soon-to-be husband a few days after Holly and Jessica had gone missing. The famous photo of the girls in their matching Manchester United tops, taken the afternoon they were murdered, was a constant presence on the television news. The weather was hot and each day you woke wondering if the girls would be found.

Huntley is serving a life sentence for the murders and his ex-girlfriend Maxine Carr, who was one of the most reviled women in Britain – an almost modern-day Myra Hindley – served an 18-month sentence and has been granted a rare, lifetime injunction to protect her new identity. Carr was not involved in the murders but lied about her whereabouts on the evening of the murders to protect Huntley.

One of the most powerful observations for me from this book was this about the media:

“Everytime you turned on the television , it seemed that there was a reporter standing in the centre of Soham, telling us once more there was nothing to say…”

Soham: A Story of Our Times by Nicci Gerrard is published by Short Books.

Gerrard also writes psychological thrillers with her husband Sean French under the name Nicci French.

 

Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of Peter Sutcliffe

Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of Peter Sutcliffe was one of the first true crime books I read and it remains one of the best I have read.

 

Written by the late Gordon Burn in 1984, this book is a study of the serial killer known as the The Yorkshire Ripper who killed 13 women in the late 1970s and 1980 and was sentenced to life in 1981.

Gordon Burn spent three years living in Sutcliffe’s home town of Bingley, researching his life and absorbing the environment that led to his telling of the life of the man who had the North of England in fear during the 1970s (which wasn’t the most positive decade anyway in Britain).

Burn’s writing transplants the reader right into the life of Peter Sutcliffe and quite successfully into what Burn imagines is his mind. This book is a modern true crime classic, written long before the “true crime” genre became so popular. It is oft likened to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Peter Sutcliffe is jailed at the infamous Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital for the criminally insane.