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Murder-suicides in north west England ‘could be serial killer on loose’

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A string of murder-suicides in the 1990s may have been the work of a serial killer who could still be at large, a new investigation has suggested.

A concerned coroner has drawn a link between a number of deaths involving elderly couples found dead in their beds which were ruled as a result of violent murder-suicides.

Reports from the crime scenes showed unsettling links between the female victims as they were each beaten over the head with blunt objects, before being stabbed in the head or neck, and partly smothered by pillows.

While their nightwear was found to be hitched up to the waist, their husbands were found strangled, suffocated or stabbed beside them.

The Sunday Times has led a special investigation which could now point to the possibility of a serial killer who purposely killed elderly couples – and who has never been caught.

The similar deaths of two couples killed in late ‘90s sparked the investigation, while the local coroner’s report requesting an investigation went unfollowed for two decades.

Howard and Bea Ainsworth in Wilmslow were found dead in 1996, their blood-soaked bodies found in bed.

Wife Bea, 78, had been found in her nightie with a knife in her forehead and after being struck in the head by a hammer, with a pillow partially over her face, and her night gown pulled above hip-height.

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While husband Howard, 79, was found beside her with his head in a bag.

Police ruled the case a murder-suicide after discovering a note allegedly written by Howard – despite no history of domestic violence between the two and the deaths leaving the victim’s family shocked.

In 1999, Donald and Auriel Ward were found dead in bed under similar circumstances.

Muriel had been found bludgeoned in the head, stabbed, and suffocated – with her head partially under a pillow and her nightie pulled up to her waist.

While Donald was found with a knife stuck in his heart – with police again marking the deaths as a murder and suicide.

Coroner's officer for Cheshire, Christine Hurst, highlighted the similarities between the two cases – however her file wasn’t picked up until after she retired in 2017 and her reports were passed to successor Stephanie Davies.

The Sunday Times reports Ms Davies went on to investigate the circumstances of five murder-suicides, and has drafted a 179-page report.

The Sunday Times says Ms Davies makes clear in the report she can’t be sure the cases are linked until their police files have been reviewed, and acknowledged crime scene investigation techniques had advance significantly since the deaths.

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Her report is said to highlight two murder-suicide cases committed in Greater Manchester – half an hour’s drive from the scene the Ainsworth and Ward deaths in Wilmslow – while another case in Cumbria also sparked alarm.

The report highlights the fact that each of the female victims suffered “blunt force trauma” to their heads and had been stabbed in their necks – with local police deeming the deaths murder-suicide in each case.

Violet Higgins, 76, and her husband Michael, 59, were found dead in Didsbury, Manchester in 2000 – with these deaths said to be suspicious due to Michael being “incapable of violence” and as a suffered of Parkinson’s disease.

Violet, an ex-policewoman, had been beaten over the head with a rolling pin and stabbed in the neck with scissors.

While husband Michael is said to have been strangled by a coat hanger and with cuts to his hands.

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Kenneth Martin, 77, and his wife Eileen, 76, are found dead nearby in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester, in 2008.

They were found dead in their garage, with dementia sufferer Eileen with severe head injuries and Kenneth hanged with a cut throat.

While in 2011 in Cumbria, Peggie Wilson, 89, and her husband Stanley, 92, were found dead at their home.

Stanley – who the Sunday Times’ report says had been suffering mental illness and paranoia – had died of cuts to his neck and body, which were ruled self-inflicted, while wife Peggie was killed by blunt-force head injuries and a knife wound to her neck.

Cheshire police are now said to have launched a review, and alerted the Greater Manchester and Cumbria forces.

While coroner Stephanie Davies has called on the National Crime Agency and Interpol to carry out an urgent review of cases across Britain and Europe to unearth any potentially similar deaths.

  • Crime
  • Family
  • Police

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