Moors murder victim Keith Bennett's mother pleads for
search: Police look for Keith Bennett's body in 2009
For more than 40
years, the Moors murders have lain dormant at the back of the British
psyche. They could never be completely forgotten -- the five killings
were too gruesome for that -- but they were put out of mind.
This week, as the
mother of one of the victims made a heartbreaking appeal to her son's
killer, they came back in all their gory detail.
The Moors murders --
so called because the bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor in the
south Pennines -- were carried out between July 1963 and October 1965.
Five children --
Pauline Reade (16), John Kilbride (12), Keith Bennett (12), Lesley Ann
Downey (10) and Edward Evans (17) -- were abducted and killed by Ian
Brady and Myra Hindley. At least four were sexually assaulted before
It is difficult to
comprehend just how big a story the murders were at the time. The
Madeleine McCann abduction is the only recent crime that comes close in
terms of penetration into the public consciousness.
"It was along the
lines of the Ripper," says John Corcoran, a counsellor who was a
teenager in Yorkshire at the time of the murders. "It was that big.
"It was 1966,
remember, and we only had BBC and ITV. The print media led the chase on
this story, and we had never seen anything like it before, not in
movies, or on TV. Serial killers were unknown, really," he adds.
Brady and Hindley
became icons of evil -- indeed Hindley was dubbed "the most wicked woman
in Britain" by the press -- and the murders themselves, and the trial in
April 1966, seemed to herald the end of a more innocent, trusting era in
believed there were only three victims -- Evans, Downey and Kilbride. In
1985, after nearly 20 years in prison, Brady confessed to the murders of
Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett.
The investigation was
immediately reopened, and Hindley and Brady were brought separately to
Saddleworth Moor to direct police to the bodies. Only that of Reade was
Keith Bennett was a
12-year-old schoolboy in 1964. On June 16, he was on his way to his
grandmother's house in Longsight when Hindley lured him into her van by
asking him to help her load up some boxes. She would give him a lift
home after, she said.
Instead she drove to
the Moor and Brady, who had been hiding in the back of the van, took him
out on to the Moor, ostensibly to help look for a lost glove. According
to Hindley, when she asked Brady what he had done with the boy, Brady
replied that he had sexually assaulted him, strangled him with a piece
of string and then buried him.
In the almost half a
century since Keith Bennett was killed, his mother, Winnie Johnson, has
written to Brady many times asking for his help in recovering her son's
She has renewed her
plea this week because she has been diagnosed with inoperable cervical
cancer. Now aged 77, she wants to bury her son before she succumbs to
She has filmed a
short DVD in which she reveals to Brady that she has cancer and appeals
directly to him to help her find her son's remains.
"I'm doing it in the
hope he will respond," Mrs Johnson said. "The most important thing is to
find Keith before the cancer beats me.
"He knows where Keith
is but I think he enjoys having that last bit of power -- and if I find
Keith he'll have nothing left."
Mrs Johnson has sent
hundreds of letters to Brady over the years, and doesn't hold out much
hope that he will respond this time.
In 2006, Brady wrote
back, saying he had "clarity" over where Keith was buried, and several
meetings with a solicitor for Mrs Johnson ensued, but came to nothing.
In his letter, Brady,
who is serving a whole-life sentence at Ashworth high security
psychiatric hospital in Sefton, Merseyside, claimed he was being kept
alive "for political purposes."
Myra Hindley died in
prison in 2002, aged 60.
remembers reading the 'Yorkshire Evening Post' for developments in the
investigation. Later, in his work as a counsellor, he helped relatives
of the North's "disappeared" deal with their bereavement.
"The Keith Bennett
case is exactly the same thing as the 'disappeared' in the Troubles," he
said. "It's about closure.
"That's why we have
burials in the first place. It's not about hygiene or public health;
it's about having a body to bury, to see it, to look at it and to say
"Not having a body
goes against all that. There is something inherently inhuman about not
seeing the body and not saying goodbye."
"It is particularly
difficult to work through the grieving process when the body of the
deceased has never been found," agrees Dr Joanne Cooper, a Dublin-based
psychologist and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist.
"Many families of
missing persons live in hope indefinitely that their loved one may one
day return, so the process of grieving never fully gets underway.
"Closure can only be
achieved when the tasks of mourning are finally accomplished, but
bereavement through homicide brings so many obstacles to the grieving
process that families describe it as 'a life sentence' for them as
well." she adds.
Winnie Johnson has
tried very hard to find closure. Last year, she held a memorial service
for Keith in Manchester Cathedral. "I hope he's found before I go," she
said at the ceremony. "All I want out of life is to find him and to bury
him. I just wish he's found before I'm dead."
congregation heard the Keith was "a happy-go-lucky boy with a cheeky
grin." He loved football, kept a scrapbook of leaves and collected
coins. 'Till There Was You' by The Beatles was played as the service
began; Keith had begun to follow the band before his death.
"A lot of people get
stuck in the denial stage of grief," says John Corcoran. "If you've had
a body and buried it, then you can't be in denial. At one level, Winnie
Johnson does know that her little boy is dead, but he [Brady] has given
her an excuse to deny that.
"Every time there's a
development in the case, she thinks 'Maybe it's not my little boy after
all.' Until she has a body, she can't even admit to herself that, 'yes,
it was my son that he killed and buried somewhere'."
Professor John Hunt,
an archaeologist who specialises in finding the graves of missing
people, spoke at Keith's memorial service last year.
"I have no idea how
many weeks I have spent out on those Moors in the last two decades,
trying out methods, trying out ideas," he said.
"I have learnt many
things looking for the missing. Above all I have learnt the importance
of closure in returning the lost ones, the importance of returning
husbands to their wives and sons to their mothers."
However, all the
words, pleas and appeals are likely to have little influence on Brady,
who has never expressed the slightest remorse for his crimes. In his
'Gates of Janus,' his controversial book on serial killers, Brady wrote:
"You contain me till death in a concrete box that measures eight by ten
and expect public confessions of remorse as well?"
Meanwhile, from her
home in Longsight -- the same place from which Keith was snatched 47
years ago -- Winnie Johnson sums up her plight.
"I am Keith's
mother," she told reporters. "I have lived through this life knowing he
is on those Moors. I just want him back."