Serial Killers

Peter Manuel

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel (13 March 1927 – 11 July 1958) was an American-born Scottish serial killer who was convicted of murdering seven people across Lanarkshire and southern Scotland between 1956 and his arrest in January 1958, and is believed to have murdered two more. Prior to his arrest, the media nicknamed the unidentified killer “the Beast of Birkenshaw”. Manuel was hanged at Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison; he was one of the last prisoners to die on the Barlinnie gallows.

Manuel was tried in 1958 for the murders of eight people. One case against him was thrown out of court; another, committed in England, was attributed to him.

Anne Kneilands: 17. On 2 January 1956, Kneilands was stalked at an East Kilbride golf course, where she was raped and bludgeoned to death with a length of iron. Although the police questioned him about the murder and he would confess to it two years later, Manuel escaped arrest when his father gave him an alibi. He was charged with this murder in 1958, but the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Marion Watt, Vivienne Watt and Margaret Brown: 45, 17 and 41. Marion, her daughter Vivienne, and her sister Margaret were shot dead in their home inBurnside, Glasgow, on 17 September 1956. At the time of the murders, Manuel was out on bail for a burglary at a nearby colliery and officers in charge of the manhunt for the Watts’ killer suspected him. However, for a time the main suspect was Marion’s husband, William, who had been on a fishing holiday in Ardrishaig, but was suspected of driving around 90 miles through the night, faking a break-in to his own house, murdering his family, and driving back. The ferryman on theRenfrew Ferry claimed to have seen him on the ferry during the night (although this was not the most direct route) and a motorist claimed to have passed him onLoch Lomondside. Both witnesses picked him out at an identity parade (American English “police lineup”). William Watt was arrested and held on remand in Barlinnie Prison, he was released two months later after the police realized that they could not make the case against him stick, and the ferryman seemed confused about what type of car he had driven. The police did not find any serious motive which might have led Watt to murder his family, although it came out that he had a number of affairs during his marriage. Police frogmen searched the Crinan Canal next to the hotel where he had stayed, looking for a murder weapon and bloodstained clothing, but the weapon was actually in another stretch of water further south. It was established that the level of petrol in Watt’s car had not fallen during his alleged overnight drive, so the police questioned petrol stations along the route to see if he had refuelled, and even speculated that he might have had a secret cache of petrol, and searched the route for it. William Watt remained the main suspect until the Smart family murder just a few miles away, when the police realised that there was a serial killer on the loose. At Manuel’s trial, the defence argued that Watt had committed these murders.

The legal system could have come close to a miscarriage of justice in Watt’s case (who would very likely have been hanged if convicted) and the evidence of these two witnesses is still not easy to explain even now. However one possible explanation is that the ferryman was a fantasist who had already seen Watt’s picture in the papers, although he claimed not to. The other admitted that he did not get a clear look at Watt but identified him based on the way he held his cigarette.

Sydney Dunn: 36. Manuel is believed to have shot and killed his fifth victim, taxi driver Sydney Dunn, on 8 December 1957 while looking for work in Newcastle upon Tyne. Dunn’s body was found on moorlands in Northumberland soon after, by which time Manuel had already returned to Lanarkshire. Manuel was never tried for this murder, as it took place in a different legal jurisdiction, but 17 days after he was hanged a coroner’s jury found that he murdered Dunn, after a button found in Dunn’s taxi was matched to one of his jackets. This verdict has been accepted in most accounts of the case, but some doubts have been expressed. There are a few indications that the murderer might have been a local person, or he might have come off an Irish boat train which had recently arrived at Newcastle station. Two witnesses who spoke to the killer picked out Manuel at an identity parade, but these identifications are not always decisive (see the Watt case above). One of these witness initially said that the apparent killer had a local accent, but when it was suggested to him that the killer might have come off the Irish boat train he said that he had an Irish accent, and Manuel had a Scottish accent. Manuel definitely did attend a job interview in Newcastle two days before this murder, but it is not clear that he hung around in the area, he could have just gone home to Scotland.

Isabelle Cooke: 17. Cooke disappeared after leaving her Mount Vernon home to go to a dance at Uddingston Grammar School on 28 December 1957. Manuel stalked, raped and strangled her, and then buried her in a nearby field. He would later lead officers to the spot where he had disposed of her body. As with Dunn’s murder twenty days earlier, Cooke’s disappearance was not initially connected to Manuel.

Peter, Doris and Michael Smart: 45, 42 and 10. The Smarts were shot dead in their Uddingston home on 1 January 1958. After the murders, Manuel stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from a Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) meal and even feeding the family cat, before stealing some brand new banknotes that Peter Smart had kept for a holiday, and taking the family car and dumping it nearby. Manuel gave a lift in this car to a police officer investigating Isabelle Cooke’s disappearance, even telling him that he felt that the police were not looking in the right places.

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