Keith Bennett’s Mother Pleads for his Body

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 death.

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 British history.

Initially, police 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 found.

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 body.

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 the disease.

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.

John Corcoran 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 goodbye.

“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.”

The 300-strong 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.”



I hope that that scum Brady tells her where the body is but I sadly have a feeling he won’t.

Her pain will feed his ego.

    • frigginloon
    • August 4th, 2011

    Ian Bray has no empathy and in all honesty would probably have no idea of the exact location. It wouldn’t have been in his line of thought to even make a mental note. I have no doubt there are a few more victims out on those moors courtesy of this creep. Last I heard Brady was refusing to eat and they were feeding him intravenously.

  1. I say stop the forced feeding and let him go if that is what he wants.

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