Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The face of evil

A while ago I found a copy of Beyond Belief: The Moors Murderers: The Story of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley by Emlyn Williams in a second hand bookstore. I picked it up the other day and started reading. It was published in 1968, so most of the information in the book, while "fresh" at the time the murders took place in the early 1960s, has somewhat outdated. The book looked at the murders at a time when Hindley and Brady had only confessed to 3 murders. In the late 1980s, they admitted to a further two.

While the book does a good job of setting out the crimes and their aftermath, the writing style is somewhat annoying. Williams seemed to have some sort of aversion to quotation marks, so he would be describing a scene, and then immediately launch into what someone said without following the grammatical written convention of clearly identifying the speaker and using quotation marks to indicate when they started and stopped speaking. It was very annoying. He also "imagined" a great deal of what must have been going on in Hindley's mind during the events.

Recently, Carol Ann Lee has published One of Your Own: The Life and Death of Myra Hindley. This book has the benefit of both being up to date, as well as including the words from the killers themselves. The author had access to Myra Hindley's unpublished autobiography as well as Ian Brady's own words from his book about serial killer motivation called The Gates of Janus. Naturally, there is a great deal of contradiction that the reader is left to interpret. Before her death in 2002, Myra Hindley had tried for years to be released on parole. Her main arguments were that most killers sentenced to life terms had been released after serving much less time than she had, and also that she had become a deeply religious Catholic while in prison and was a changed person.

Williams believed that Hindley was obsessed with Brady to the point of being willing to do anything he asked of her so long as he would agree to maintain a relationship with her. She did keep a diary during the time when she first met Brady, and she recorded her frequent frustration with his treatment of her. For weeks he would ignore her, only to be nice to her and get her hopes up the next. When he finally did ask her out, she was completely infatuated with him.

The Lee book takes a similar tack, but gives Myra much more blame for participating in the murders. While both authors agree that Brady was the main architect behind the crimes, there has always been debate about to what extent Myra participated. In Lee's book, she quotes Myra as saying that Brady was extremely abusive to her. In addition to frequent sexual assaults and beatings, he also threatened to harm her family if she didn't go along with his plans. At the beginning, before there were any murders, she stated she wanted to go to the police, but nothing had been done yet and she feared for her safety. Later, she claimed that she did feel remorse for participating in the crimes by luring the victims into her car. She maintained, however, that she never actually participated in the murders. This statement is contradicted by Brady's statements (which have been refuted by forensic evidence for the most part), as well as the horrible tape recording the pair made while abusing and murdering a little girl. So the degree to which Hindley was a willing participant in murder is still not crystal clear in this book. Some people who met her over the years found her cold, sullen and calculating, while others described her as warm, open and genuine. There's no doubt that she presented different aspects of herself to people based on their perceived abilities to get her positive publicity in her bid to gain parole.

The thing that really amazed me about the whole thing was that, even today, Hindley seems to be the much more hated figure of the two killers. The crimes were shocking and horrible, but clearly Brady was the one who wanted to experiment with murder, who was sexually attracted to children, and did the raping and (most if not all of) the killing. Lee's book, however, begins with Hindley being taken to a hospital suffering from the pneumonia which would soon claim her life. After her death, the room in which she stayed was completely gutted -- everything was taken out and burned. No funeral home in the area wanted to handle her funeral. The book also states that after her arrest, the name Myra virtually disappeared as a girl's name in Britain. But the crimes didn't stop people from naming their sons Ian, did it?

I was also amazed at the extent to which the families of the killers were targeted for abuse. I suppose that since people were unable to get their hands on the murderers, they opted for the next best thing. It was really distressing that Hindley's brother-in-law, David Smith, who went to the police and stopped the murders, was repeatedly attacked and harassed, to the extent that he eventually went to prison for retaliating against a tormentor.

All in all, the two books presented fascinating, if conflicting pictures of this hated figure.
Final Verdict for Beyond Belief: Two Gherkins, for a detailed, if speculative look at the killer's motives
Final Verdict for One of Your Own: Four Gherkins, for being a very well researched and heavily footnoted look at one of the most despised people of the last century

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