Ian Brady’s Dead: Where Is Keith Bennett’s Body?
On 15 May 2017, news broke that one of Britain’s most notorious murderers- Ian Brady, had died at the age of 79 of lung cancer. Brady, who was sentenced to three life sentences in 1966, tortured and killed five children with his lover Myra Hindley. But one victim, 12-year-old Keith Bennett has never been found and now it appears that Brady has taken the secret to the grave. Hindley died in 2002, leaving Brady as the final survivor of the deathly duo and the only remaining source of closure for Bennet’s family. Despite a frantic legal battle between Brady and Bennett’s family, the youngster’s whereabouts remained unknown. Meanwhile Brady, diagnosed as mentally-ill, was housed in Ashworth Hospital where he was force-fed for his final 18 years and denied the opportunity to be transferred to a different facility, where he would be allowed to die.
Fifty-three years after his abduction, rape and murder at the hands of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, forever known as the Moors Murderers, 12-year-old Keith Bennett’s remains still have yet to be recovered from their undignified resting place somewhere up on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester. The boy from Longsight vanished without a trace on 16 June 1964, a mere four days after his birthday, walking to his grandmother’s house, where he would often stay overnight with his siblings. Hindley and Brady, out on the prowl in their Mini-Traveller, had spotted the lad all alone, approached him and asked if he’d help move some boxes from an off-licence.
The black-and-white photograph of Keith, the one widely circulated by Manchester city police on missing-posters, showed a bucktoothed lad in glasses smiling warmly for the camera. In any other context, the photo would be of absolutely no significance to anybody but the Bennett family. Yet it’s been elevated into infamy by our knowledge of his cruel fate and transformed into an emblem of a serial killer’s monstrous achievement. As with all photographs, but especially amplified regarding murder victims, they capture an exact moment in time and speak to us an often overlooked, somewhat ghoulish, paradox: this person is already dead and this person is going to die.
The world knows Keith Bennett purely as an image from a photo, but his family lost a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin and a grandson. Friends lost their pal. It’s worth remembering, too, that it took the killers over 20 years to even confess their responsibility. 20 years of unanswered questions, suspicions and torment. Keith’s mother, Winnie Johnson, who passed away in 2012, aged 78, was again, like the rest of the families, launched from a life so utterly ordinary to a figure of fortitude and dignity.
It wasn’t until 1987 that Brady and Hindley, the former lovers now displaying complete antipathy toward each other, finally admitted abducting and murdering Keith and Pauline Reade (their first victim). Based on information given by the pair, 16-year-old Reade was recovered by the forensics crew on the afternoon of 1 July. Her remains were interred on 1 August at Gorton cemetery. With Keith, there was no such luck. The search then was called off on 24 August 1987 and only resumed in 2003, under Operation Maida. Six years later, in 2009, with nothing doing, the official police search was discontinued.
Brady and Hindley, at various times, offered tantalising clues to Bennett’s location, but their memories and admissions were never definitive enough. What became a chief location and focal point, Shiny Brook, has become contentious, because it doesn’t tie in with where the other bodies were unearthed. Is Keith buried near to where John Kilbride was found, on the opposite side of the road from Lesley Ann Downey and Pauline Reade’s graves? Chris Crowther, whose family owns the land where the murders took place, believes so. He explained his reasoning to author Carol Ann Lee, in her chilling and yet equally fair-minded biography of Myra Hindley, One of Your Own: The Life and Death of Myra Hindley (2011). “We’ve always felt Keith was near John. Brady was a lazy beggar, wasn’t he? He kept them close. Girls on one side of the road, boys on the other. John’s grave was just under the lay-by there that we’ve created. Not far from the road at all.”
It is true that Brady used two sides of the road, the A635 (Holmfirth Road), to bury his victims, close to Hollin Brown Knoll, only a hundred yards or so apart. Lesley Ann Downey (age 10) and Pauline Reade were placed on the north side and John Kilbride (age 12) on the south. Would Brady really have altered what looks like a clear and meaningful pattern based around his favourite spot on the moor? How many times have the searchers been within a hair’s breadth of Keith’s remains … and missed them?
Hindley died from the effects of bronchial pneumonia on 16 November 2002, aged 60, in a Cambridgeshire hospital. Tabloid newspapers had their long-awaited field day. Brady had decided to no longer cooperate with requests for new information from the Bennetts or detectives assigned to the case, going so far as to write to Winnie Johnson explaining his stance, which he put down to police incompetence. Yet in 1987, he’d been let out of Ashworth Hospital, Merseyside to embark upon a lamentable trip to the moor. The killer now seemed unsure of the layout of the land. What was once his cherished kingdom of death now appeared to confuse him, or was he leading the authorities on a merry dance for his own sick kicks? For the family of Keith, it was another missed opportunity and another extension to their pain and suffering. Responding to news of the called-off official search, in 2009, Winnie told the BBC: “I want Keith found before anything happens to me because I want to give him a decent burial.”
Brady and Hindley: Icons of Evil
The police portraits taken of Brady and Hindley during their trail at Chester Assizes in 1966 continue to haunt the covers of countless books and magazines. The harsh, flatly lit black-and-white images captured the impassive stares of two individuals we suspect of entirely lacking human qualities. Those two photos, often placed side by side when reproduced in the media, always for maximum effect, are icons of evil.
The crimes of Brady and Hindley occurred at a prescient time, when there was a large amount of media focus on the North West of England. Acclaimed British New Wave films set predominantly in northern cities and towns exposed audiences all over the world to previously unknown regional accents and dialects. The lives of the English working class were captured by filmmakers in what became known as ‘kitchen sink dramas’. In 1960 the landmark television soap opera, Coronation Street, began a run that continues to this day. The terraced houses, cobbled road and the mournful theme tune, the original title was fittingly Lancashire Blues, by composer Eric Spear, helped cement culturally iconic associations of the North West. In that same close-knit world of factories, dance halls, boozers and local picture houses that Brady and Hindley were raised.
Ian Brady was born on 2 January 1938 in Glasgow, as Ian Duncan Stewart, at Rottenrow maternity hospital. The boy was raised by a foster family after his mother, an unmarried waitress named Patricia Stewart, put him up for adoption. The Stewarts were a solid working-class family at the respectable end of the social scale. Young Ian was prone to temper tantrums, but was clever and passed entrance exams to the Shawlands Academy. Yet his rebellious nature and bullying increasingly turned sinister. His nicknames at school were ‘Big Lassie’, on account of his lame performances in sporting activities, and on the other end of the scale, ‘Dracula’. For a while, he had a penchant for torturing animals and he soon began breaking-and-entering, ending up in Borstal and then, later on, prison. When he moved south to Manchester to be reunited with his birth mother, who’d married a man named Patrick Brady, it is said Ian, at the time, wished to play the model son and decent member of society, and tried hard to fit in and leave his miscreant past behind. It did not last long and he was soon in trouble again for various offences.
Myra Hindley, born in 1942, grew up in the Gorton area of Manchester, east of the city centre, where an educated was likely to be provided by the school of hard knocks as inside the classroom. In those days, it was a slum ready for clearance. Folk were resettled to other parts of the city or into newly built house estates just over the county line, from land purchased off Cheshire County Council. When the two met at Millward’s Merchandising, Hindley fell head over heels. But they did not begin dating for a whole year, with Brady acting aloof around her much of the time. She obsessed over him and kept a diary of her romantic anguish. He eventually asked the girl out and on their first date they went to the pictures. Hindley claimed they went to see Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (1961), which, given Brady’s avowed atheism, is an interesting choice. Others record the film as Judgement at Nuremberg – a title much more fitting with Brady’s Nazi-obsessions.
They became inseparable. She was nicknamed ‘Hessie’ – presumably after Hitler’s number two, Rudolph Hess – and her pet name for him was ‘Neddie’, after a character in The Goon Show. Over time, they ignited in each other the perfect conditions to do terrible things to other people. Other serial killers and sexual sadists have boasted far higher body counts. Yet what grabbed the world’s attention, when the crimes were revealed, was the involvement of a young woman. Hindley was only 23 when she was arrested and charged. A somewhat rum Lancashire lass with peroxide hair was catapulted into infamy and has since become an enduring symbol of human evil with a cultural legacy involving a short-lived punk band named The Moors Murderers (they penned a single ‘Free Myra Hindley’), Marcus Harvey’s hugely controversial 1997 painting of the famous Hindley portrait made up of children’s handprints, presented at the Royal Academy, The Smith’s suitably saturnine ballad, Suffer Little Children, and even a coruscating, deeply satirical Chris Morris sketch in Brass Eye (where he performed a pop song titled ‘Me Oh Myra’).
Hindley may have portrayed herself in later years as another victim of Brady’s wickedness, but she was crucial to the kidnappings, was turned on by how the murders brought her closer to Ian (though she denied the killings sexually aroused her), and was a key part to the dreadful success of their murderous ambitions. Hindley drove the car because Brady could not drive (he rode a Tiger Cub motorbike). In collusion with Brady, she selected vulnerable children to approach and entice, her outwardly friendly demeanour masking what psychologists and writers have since identified as an egocentric personality entirely lacking in compassion and an expertise in manipulation. She disguised herself in a black wig and leather jacket, so as not to be recognised in the neighbourhoods she had once called her home and which now meant nothing to her. Hindley might have rallied against her reputation and expressed remorse, but she was the reason the case captured the public’s imagination and ire and has endured.
When children are told never to talk to strangers, it is always men that are cautioned against. Hindley obliterated the notion that women could never be involved with the abduction and murder of children. She wasn’t akin to some old crone baby farmer from the Victorian era or an outwardly weird-looking individual that everybody in the neighbourhood reckoned was a wrong’un. Myra was the girl in the terraced house next door, and it was this everyday-ness that allowed her to approach kids and for them to implicitly trust her.
A Quiet Place to Kill
Until the mid-1960s, the Saddleworth Moor was just another beauty spot for weekend hikers and picnickers to enjoy. The terrible legacy since is bound to be enduring and immovable. It is etched into the cultural fabric and local history of modern-era Manchester and environs. Three victims, aged 12 to 16, were abducted, raped, murdered (by either knife or strangulation with a piece of cord) and buried off the A635. Lesley Ann Downey, the youngest victim, was killed at the home of Brady and Hindley on Boxing Day 1964, then, buried up on the moor the day after. The couple had intended to take the corpse up there the same evening, and they wrapped Lesley Ann in a bedsheet, along with the clothes (pink cardy, blue coat, tartan skirt) she was wearing at the time of her abduction from Silcock’s Wonder Fair in Ancoats, just north-east of the city centre, and set off for Saddleworth. Heavy snowfall imperilled the journey and, if they had been involved in an accident along the way, exposed them.
15 miles east of Manchester the magnificent lower spine of the Pennines meets the Peak District National Park. Described as the ‘backbone of England’, the breath-taking hinterland of undulating hillsides of acid grassland and peat bogs, impressive gritstone formations, pockmarked by pretty lilac heather, effectively cuts the North right down the middle, separating Lancashire from its old foe, Yorkshire. 400 square miles of rugged beauty and isolation, it’s a vision far removed from trite clichés of industrial northern England. A barren and sparsely populated area of occasional farmsteads, on a clear day on Saddleworth Moor, you can see right down onto the Cheshire Plain, spying Jodrell Bank satellite dish in the far distance and the bucolic greenery beyond. The wind rushing through the cottongrass and the sound of thundering streams are the only sounds for miles around.
The area overlooking Greenfield reservoir, where three bodies have been exhumed, held a particular draw for the psychopath. Inspired by the writings of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, but signing up to the thoroughly warped Nazi interpretation, and developing his own creed of moral relativism, he imagined himself as an Übermensch, literally looking down at people from his mountaintop. Brady cast himself as a modern version of Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ (1818). In The Gates of Janus, the author summed up the allure of natural landscapes on the imagination. “Confronting a sea, a moor, or standing on a mountain, you can almost hear the unknown, invisible presences: you know they are there, almost within touch, speaking an arcane language, and you feel the power rise up within you as you become a receiver.” It’s nothing but mystical-sounding mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-intellectual nonsense to mask his sexually sadistic desires.
Saddleworth was historically part of Yorkshire (West Riding) until 1974, when boundary changes made it part of Oldham and thus part of the very outer fringes of Greater Manchester. This means four of the crimes occurred in Greater Manchester or Cheshire, but ended in Yorkshire. When it was time to launch an investigation, it led to ill communication between various forces and them stepping on each other’s toes. Ultimately it was Cheshire Constabulary, led Detective Chief Superintendent Arthur Benfield, that took control, as the murder of 17-year-old Edward Evans, on 6 October 1965, at 16 Wardle Brook Avenue, the home of Brady and Hindley, which they shared with Myra’s grandmother, in the new housing estates of Hattersley, was technically on his patch.
The Perfect Murder?
That Keith Bennett has not been recovered from his hidden grave on Saddleworth Moor means, at least for now, for hope endures, that it represents Brady’s much dreamed-of ‘perfect murder’. When US publishing outfit Feral House made available Brady’s study of serial killers, titled The Gates of Janus (2001), company director, Adam Parfrey, was interviewed by the BBC website, in October 2001, and said, “There have been many criminals over the years who have killed children, and nearly all of them are forgotten. But not Ian Brady. Why?” Apart from decades-long tabloid-stoked sensationalism and exploitation to sell papers, the answer is almost certainly: Keith Bennett. However, Parfrey’s comments actually don’t hit upon the real reason for the continued cultural obsession, which has explained previously, has always been Myra Hindley.
Brady was last seen outside the secure unit he called home since 1985 during a court appearance in 2012, where he tried to secure a release from the hospital where he was confined and be allowed to return to prison, so he could starve himself to death legally. Once he claimed he’d give up the info on Bennett’s location, only if the courts granted him the privilege to end his own life. Yet for all the correspondence over the years with the families of the victims and police officers, in his controversial book, never published in the UK, the psychopath wrote “There is little intellectual or spiritual inducement for the captured serial killer to cooperate in any way.”
This feature was in Real Crime issue 3. To read more about the world’s most heinous crimes, why not subscribe to the magazine?