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moors murderers

'He was highly intelligent but barking mad. She was highly intelligent but very manipulative'

Former Manchester detective Geoff Knupfer interviewed Myra Hindley and Ian Brady in the 1980s.

NOTORIOUS CHILD KILLER Ian Brady died this year aged 79 – his ashes unceremoniously buried at sea in the wake of his cremation.

Myra Hindley, his former girlfriend, died in prison in 2002 after serving 36 years behind bars. Successive UK home secretaries had insisted she remain in prison until her death.

The pair were jailed for life in 1966 for the sexual abuse, torture and murder of three children whose bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester in northern England.

In 1987, when Hindley received counseling from a priest, the pair confessed to two other child killings.

Around the same time, she also began cooperating with police, and even visited the moors with the detectives charged with finding the remains of their victims.

Geoff Knupfer, one of the detectives who worked the case, is now heading up the search for the bodies of the remaining members of ‘The Disappeared’ – the name given to victims of the Troubles who were kidnapped and killed by republicans.

Knupfer sat down for an interview with TheJournal.ie to talk about his work around the border region in recent years. He also spoke to us about his work on the Moors Murders, and how he came to be assigned to the case.

“I worked in the serious crime squad in Manchester at the time that that review was set up and I just happened to be the guy who was in the right place in the right time – or the wrong place at the wrong time,” Knupfer said.

It was completely by chance – but having said that I’ve got a background in major crime and homicide investigations so I suppose I was partway down the line.

Search for IRA victims Geoff Knupfer at work for the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Hindley and Brady had very different responses when Knufper and his boss on the case, Peter Topping, began speaking to them.

“She had clearly made her mind up or had been advised to cooperate – which she did and she was absolutely fine throughout.

“He was difficult throughout and always put impossible preconditions up. ‘Give me a weekend out and I’ll tell you what happened’ – that sort of stuff.”

But he was as mad as a hatter – highly intelligent but barking mad. She was highly intelligent but very manipulative. But she agreed right from the outset that she would help, and she did.

British Crime - Murder - The Moors Murderers - Woodhead - 1965 Searches for the bodies of the victims of the Moors Murderers in 1965. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Hindley was brought up the moors, on the outskirts of Manchester, on two occasions to assist the police in their search. The first visit, when she was flown out by helicopter, was “pretty public … not our idea of as to how things should be done,” Knupfer recalled.

The second time she was taken up in a camper van. “She was very unfit, she smoked like a chimney” as she led the officers around the bogland, said the retired detective.

Knupfer and Topping conducted numerous searches without Hindley too – but had an arrangement with the prison service that meant they could call her in the evening, after they returned to the office.

A chance observation, and a well-placed question led the detectives directly to the area where one of Brady and Hindley’s victims had been buried.

“We were looking at an outcrop of peat and realised that much of this outcrop could be seen from the road – but some of it couldn’t… Which way should we progress the search? That was the issue we were addressing.”

If a person wanted to bury a body, they wouldn’t do it if they could be seen from the road, the officers surmised – unless they were digging after nightfall.

“We rang the prison and asked her the question – was it daylight or dark?

“And she said she remembered it was just going dusk. She said ‘I know that because I looked across the valley and I saw the ‘V’ of the hills of the other side of the valley, just in the dusk’.”

Knupfer recalled:

We went back the next day and there was only one area, one location, where you could actually see this ‘V’ she was talking about on the other side of the valley.
It was a chance question, a chance answer, but it took us straight to the site – or straight to where to search.

16-year-old Pauline Reade, who disappeared on her way to a disco near her home in Manchester in 1963, was the first victim of  Brady and Hindley. In 1987, she was found in a shallow grave, still wearing the pink gloves and gold party dress she had last been reported wearing.

Hindley’s approach to their investigation, decades into her prison sentence, was in stark contrast to that of Brady.

“I sometimes think when you read some of the coverage that she’s not given credit for that,” said Knupfer.

Once the decision had been made to help and to confess – which she also did, we took a three day tape-recorded confession from her – she spilled the beans well and truly.

“What her motives were I don’t know,” he said. ”He was always very challenging.”

Keith Bennett search Private searches have also taken place in recent years for the grave of 12-year-old Keith Bennett. Manchester Police said this year they would never give up the search. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

The detectives’ searches helped them develop the kind of forensic archeology techniques and processes Knupfer uses today in his work searching for victims of the Troubles.

A new search for Columba McVeigh, who was 17 when he was kidnapped and killed by the IRA more than four decades ago, is likely to take place in the new year.

Read: British court orders ‘no music and no ceremony’ at cremation of Moors murderer Ian Brady >

Read: The stories of the five children tortured and murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley >

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