Beyond Belief: The Moors Murderers by Emlyn Williams
And in break from the football . . . As I’ve stated before, I have a particular fascination with serial killers and those who methodically kill. I have read so many books on the subject, it proves I am not one, as only in Hollywood films and episodes of Messiah do serial killers show a morbid fascination for the work of other serial killers. Phew, that’s my alibi then. Seriously, I find the extremes that men (and women) will go to, for whatever warped reason, compelling. You can’t call it evil – that’s too Old Testament for me, and it doesn’t help. Even though they often exist on the outskirts of mental stability, repeat killers do so with the same will and thought processes that you or I might apply to picking up a date or putting out the washing. In many cases, the desire to kill is an extreme reaction to a broken childhood, a quest for power denied the killer by circumstance. Sex is more often than not an engine. It’s silly to generalise, but we are so often looking at men of a certain age, loners, repressed homosexuals, or just highly sexed. They are usually intelligent, too, and though cruelty to animals can occur in childhood, it’s not unusual for a serial killer to have a dog that they love. Dennis Nielsen loved his dog and when he was caught, his one concern was what would happen to his dog. (Then again, Hitler also loved his dog, one he rescued in the trenches of the First World War.)
After watching ITV’s See No Evil, I realised I had never read a book about Ian Brady and Myra Hindley (remiss of me, really), so I made up for lost time and ordered two online. The first, a lovely ex-library copy which came from a second hand bookshop, Brady And Hindley: Genesis Of The Moors Murders by Fred Harrison, is the perfunctory telling of the tale, published in 1986 after the author had gained rare access to Brady. This was the book’s main selling point, and as an account, solid and factual, it provides useful groundwork, albeit badly punctuated. I’m glad I read it first, as Beyond Belief by Emlyn Williams is the masterwork.
If you read the customer reviews on Amazon, you’ll see how it divides readers. As non-fiction crime literature I believe it is in the same league as In Cold Blood, which was only published a year before it. Whether Williams, a playwright, read Capote’s classic, either in serialised form in 1965, or in book form in 1966, is unclear. He will have been researching his book at the time – the Brady and Hindley trial at Chester Assizes took place in ’66 – so it’s possible Capote’s novelistic style fed into his own. This, at any rate, is what makes Beyond Belief so special, and what must still infuriate “proper” writers about criminology.
It’s written in an impressionistic style, full of phonetic reported (and imagined) speech, and run together like conversation, bitty and without formal punctuation. You’d think this would annoy me (I still hate it when journalists patronisingly use phonetics when quoting people with an accent – see: most Arctic Monkeys articles), but it doesn’t. Williams has spoken to many witnesses and is almost fanatical in his research. One of his cleverest coups is to constantly refer to what’s showing at the local cinema as he tells the story (“Queens Feb 20 VIOLENT MOMENT, Kings Apr 10 GUNMAN’S WALK. Then the red-letter week of May the 15th: Kings, Return of THE THIRD MAN!!! Dum da de de DUM da DUM . . . “) – this adds spice to the story, and important cultural context, the kind missing in many more sober crime books. Gordon Burn used this approach, albeit less playfully, in Happy Like Murderers, another descendant of Capote.
The Moors Murders is a tale that needs telling, how a weak mind (Hindley’s) combined with a strong one (Brady’s) can make a hideous combination. I suppose you’ve got to watch a couple whose pet names for each other are “Hessie” (after Rudolph Hess – that’s her nickname) and “Neddie” (after the Goons character, someone Brady did a nifty impression of, apparently). Williams even divines black humour from the murder of Edward Evans, the decisive one that finally got the pair caught: “This must be one of the few indoor murders witnessed by two dogs, and surely the only one ever attended by a budgerigar. There is no record of any reaction from this last. An excerpt from Joey’s limited vocabulary would have been, in that silence, impressive.” On describing the dead body of Evans, he turns to poetry: “A life-loving mouth, more articulate in death than ever in Greater Manchester. And weak as a flower. But he looked inviolable . . . it could have been a torso from the Aegean Sea, perfect except for the nibblings of erosion.”
It’s not going to be for everyone, this book, but I was captivated. And what about this for a wise and prescient conclusion, written after Brady and Hindley were locked up and a local bring-back-hanging petition was signed by 30,000 people:
Their continued existence is indeed hard to tolerate. Public feeling being what it is – and about these two the public will have a long memory – it is unlikely they will ever be released, and it is natural for taxpayers to be incensed at the though of their being maintained, for life, by the State. But one word in that complaint does not apply. These two are no longer alive.
I don’t know that Morrissey read this book when it first came out, but I’d put money on it.