Growing fears 'serial killer on the loose' after string of murder-suicides in North West

FEARS are growing that a string of ‘murder-suicides’ in the North West of England could be the work of a sadistic serial killer who may still be on the loose.

The gruesome deaths of two couples believed to have been butchered by their husbands have been re-examined decades later – with police now raising the possibility that the two deaths may have been double murders. 

A special investigation by The Sunday Times insight team has revealed that the deaths of the two couples in Wilmslow, Cheshire, are now being examined as possible murders.

Stephanie Davies, the senior coroner's officer for Cheshire, has now filed a 179-page report on five cases – in which it is suggested that the murders may be the work of a serial killer.

The killer was, she claims, known to police and had been active since the mid-1990s.

In the first case, Howard and Bea Ainsworth died in 1996, in what was believed to be a murder-suicide. 

This was followed three years later by the apparent murder-suicide of Donald and Auriel Ward.

Both deaths involved horrifying levels of violence – with Bea, 78,found stabbed in the forehead with a knife. 

She had also been struck repeatedly in the head with a hammer, and was found with a pillow covering her face.

Husband Howard, 47, was found lying beside her in his pajamas – with his head covered by a bag. 

Police investigating the case found a suicide note – which appeared to be written by Howard- at the scene and subsequently declared the deaths a murder-suicide.

Meanwhile, the second couple Auriel and Donald Ward died in 1999 in a similar frightful scene.

Auriel was discovered beaten, stabbed and suffocated and, like, Bea, had a pillow partially covering her face.

Donald was found with a knife plunged into his chest.

Which cases are being examined?

Donald and Auriel Ward (73 and 68 respectively)

The bodies of Donald and Auriel Ward were discovered on November 26, 1999, in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

Auriel had been struck over the head and stabbed in the neck, while Donald had had his neck cut open and had been stabbed in the chest.

They were found in bed dressed in pyjamas and a nightdress.

Kenneth and Eileen Martin (77 and 76 respectively)

The bodies of Kenneth and Eileen Martin were discovered on November 10 in 2008 in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester.

They were found in their garage.

Eilen had suffered head injuries and cuts to her head and neck.

Kenneth, meanwhile, was discovered hanged and his throat had been cut.

Stanley and Peggy Wilson (92 and 89 respectively)

The couple were found on February 18, 2011 in the town of Kendal, Cumbria.

They were – like the other couples- found dead in their bedroom.

Peggy had sustained a blow to the head as well as cuts to her neck.

Stanley was discovered with cuts to his neck and body.

Michael and Violet Higgins (59 and 76 respectively)

Michael and Violet Higgins were discovered on February 21, 2000 in Disbury, Manchester.

Violet was found in her bed wearing a nightdress, after being beaten over the head and stabbed in her neck.

Michael was found in the spare bedroom and had cuts to his neck.

He had also been strangled with a coathanger.

Police initially concluded that both discovered of the cases were murder-suicides.

But now, Coroner Davies has challenged the rulings of the two cases – citing a number of inconsistent factors in the evidence. 

Nafir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the northwest, told the Sunday Times after reviewing Davies' report: “We could potentially have a serial killer in our midst.

“There needs to be a proper review of these cases and others which carry similar hallmarks.”

A top "cold case" police forensic investigator said of the report: "I would be looking at the same offender involved in both cases as a very real possibility".

The investigator added, however, that he was not certain.

Davies also identified three other 'murder-suicide' cases, which occurred in 2000, 2008 and 2011, which she believes could be related to the deaths of the Wards and the Ainsworth’s. 

One of the cases took place in Cumbria, and the other two in Greater Manchester.

Both police forces have now been made aware of the findings in the report. 

All three cases bore similar characteristics to the Wilmslow deaths – with police saying that the husbands had stabbed their wives and hit them on the head before taking their own lives. 

Cheshire Police told the Sunday Times they were reviewing the report and have notified the other forces concerned.


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