Death at 60 for the woman who came to personify evil

WHEN Myra Hindley joined Millwards Merchandising, a chemical company on the outskirts of Manchester, she was a deeply religious, naïve 18-year old from the suburbs. She said she "loved children and animals".

It was there she set eyes on Ian Brady, a tall Scot five years her senior who worked as the store clerk. To her, a lowly typist, he seemed impossibly sophisticated and mature. Hindley would later describe the meeting as "an immediate and fatal attraction".

For months, he ignored her but finally, in 1961, in the run up to Christmas, he asked her out to see a film about the Nazi trials at Nremberg. She quickly became infatuated with him, despite learning he had convictions for a string of burglaries. Hindley developed interests that mirrored his. She joined a gun club and even bought a gun.

Their criminal partnership began with her agreeing to hold up building societies and they dreamed of getting rich on the proceeds.

Within 18 months of the pair becoming lovers, Hindley was prepared to help Brady in the first of a chilling series of child murders. It began on a summer’s evening, in July 1963, when she stopped to talk to a neighbour, 16-year old Pauline Reade. Hindley said she had lost a glove on nearby Saddleworth Moor and the girl agreed to help.

Her body was found, two decades later; she was still wearing her pink and gold party dress and blue coat. Her throat had been cut.

For weeks after the murder, Hindley continued to say hello to Pauline’s mother as she passed by.

It took the pair just four months to claim another victim, 12-year-old John Kilbride.

In a series of acts so horrific that they continue to shock to this day, Hindley and her lover killed five children aged from ten to 17, between July 1963 and October 1965.

Throughout the murder trial, Hindley and Brady grimly refused to admit their guilt. On 6 May 1966, they were both sentenced to life imprisonment.

The presiding judge, Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson, drew a distinction between the two defendants, saying while Brady had no hope of redemption, he hoped that Hindley may be rehabilitated, once removed from his influence. Since that day, Hindley has made it her life’s work to attempt to persuade the world of the truth in his words.

At first, the pair communicated by letter. Later, Hindley reverted to the Catholicism of her childhood and they drifted apart. She battled to present herself as a woman full of remorse, a "normal, happy child" who had been threatened, blackmailed and beaten into going along with the most evil crimes of her generation.

She once complained that the mug shot, frozen in time, which has come to symbolise the evil she represented, was simply perpetuating the myth that, after decades in prison, she hadn’t changed.

But even in death, the 1960s image of the young woman - with its staring eyes, peroxide blonde hair and belligerent expression - is still the Myra Hindley.

Like the horrific crimes she committed, it continues to haunt not only the children’s families but a nation which has been unable to come to terms with what she did.

Her persistent campaigns for freedom, while attracting a few high-profile supporters such as the late Lord Longford and former Observer editor, David Astor, have invariably backfired, creating in their wake a barrage of ever-more vengeful attacks that successive home secretaries have found impossible to ignore. Every bid to free her was turned down.

Lord Longford, who was convinced she had reformed, became a victim of abuse after taking up Hindley’s cause. Even the sight of her portrait hanging in a London gallery has triggered violent protests.

Her supporters claim Hindley became an icon of evil simply because she was a woman and her crimes went against the notion of womanhood. This is no doubt partly true. In a more recent case, Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of Ian Huntley, who is accused of murdering Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, appears to have attracted more vengeful mobs at her court appearances than her lover, despite being charged only with conspiracy, not murder.

Hindley’s repeated excuse - that she took part in the crimes because of her obsession with Brady, whom she called a "God" at her trial - failed to explain her part in the gruesome murders.

The sight of Hindley posing for a picture for a photograph on the edge of the edge of John Kilbride’s grave, the fact that she taped the last, terrified cries of ten-year-old Leslie Anne Downey as she begged for help, are still difficult to explain.

Hindley claimed, in the 1990s that she had taken part in the abduction of Pauline Reade only after Brady had drugged her, taken pornographic pictures of her as blackmail and threatened that, if she did not help, her little sister would be next.

But she failed to address the one murder which proved incontrovertible evidence of her direct involvement in the actual killing - that of Lesley Anne Downey. Neither did Hindley, a supposedly devout Catholic, ever provide Winnie Johnson - the mother of her third victim Keith Bennett - with details of Keith’s final resting-place, thus denying him a Christian burial.

Hindley always felt that she had served her sentence, even in 1994, publishing a letter, begging: "After 30 years in prison, I think I have paid my debt to society and atoned for my crimes. I ask people to judge me as I am now, and not as I was then."

Among her detractors were her former lover, Brady, who wrote to ministers in 1997 claiming she was as committed to murder as he was and dismissing suggestions that she was an unwilling accomplice.

Hindley was aware that her chances of freedom were slim, and of the hazards that would have awaited her if she was released. She said: "I know I could be out one week before someone assassinated me. But at least I would have had a week of freedom."

As the years went by, Hindley’s efforts to win this freedom became more public. In a 1995 article in the Guardian, she wrote: "I was wicked and evil and I behaved monstrously. My greatest regret is that Ian Brady and I ever met."

She even claimed to be a political prisoner, her continuing imprisonment not because of what she did but because she served "the self-interests of so many parties". This included, she said, the government’s desire to be seen as being tough on crime and the newspapers desire to sell copies.

Her supporters argued that mitigating factors about Brady’s stranglehold over her were not taken into account at the time of her trial. But the public was unconvinced and the families of her victims vowed to kill her if she was ever set free.

Incensed by repeated refusals for her freedom, Hindley was vociferous in her campaign, writing to newspapers who called her a "psychopath" to complain, taking issue with people who remained unconvinced.

At one point, she asked Mark Leech, the editor of the Prisons Handbook and the inmates’ newspaper ConVerse, to meet her. He had insisted that for Hindley, life should mean life.

Her efforts to change his mind backfired. After spending three hours with Hindley in her cell at Durham jail in 1997, he concluded: "There were no genuine signs of remorse. I recognise that she’s changed, become a Christian and got a degree. But what she did over a two-year period was horrific and if someone who tortured and murdered five children doesn’t deserve to die in jail, who does?"

Yet even now she has died in jail, the story may not be over. Last month, Brady, told a newspaper that he planned to release secret coded letters from her - which have remained under lock and key for 36 years - which cast doubt on her claims that she was an unwilling accomplice.

In a letter written in April 1996, in which he accused her of making "self-serving confessions" Brady wrote: "Until she tells the truth she will never be released. But if she tells the truth, she will never be released anyway."

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