A MAN was yesterday jailed for life for killing his wife and two children 27 years ago.
Anthony John Allen, 68, of Poole, Dorset, had denied murdering his wife, Patricia, 39, and their children, Jonathan, seven, and Victoria, five, between 25 and 30 May 1975, while they were living in Salcombe, South Devon.
Allen never reported his family missing, nothing has been heard from them and no bodies have been found.
The Crown claimed his motive for murder was an ongoing affair with Eunice Yabsley, a restaurant owner and the widowed mother of three.
Allen was arrested and released by police in 1976, but, in 1977, the director of public prosecutions decided there was insufficient evidence for a case to proceed against him.
He was prosecuted after the investigation was re-opened by police in 2001, who took a statement from Mrs Yabsley about scratches she saw on Allen’s arm after Mrs Allen vanished.
The jury at Exeter Crown Court convicted Allen after nine hours deliberation, following a 12-day trial.
The pensioner maintained his wife walked out after a row, leaving him with the children - but she returned two days later and took the youngsters with her. Her VW car was later found in a car park in Salcombe, with dingy oars protruding from the windows.
Sentencing Allen to life, Mr Justice Steel said: " Only you know what truly happened in May over 25 years ago. There is no possible explanation for their disappearance other than you murdered them."
Allen moved in with Mrs Yabsley at her Galley restaurant within two months of Mrs Allen and the children last being seen in Salcombe, and they remained together until 1987.
In 1992, Mrs Yabsley, who still lives in Salcombe, wrote an autobiographical book about the events under her maiden name of Chapman - titled Presumed Dead.
In the book, she mentions that on the day after Mrs Allen vanished, she saw scratches on Allen’s arm.
Mrs Yabsley, a prosecution witness, said she did not mention the scratches to the police in 1976 out of loyalty to Allen, as he told her Mrs Allen had scratched him during a row.
Around the time Mrs Allen was last seen, a witness said she saw her, apparently unconscious, in a VW car with Allen and the children. Allen claimed this was mistaken identity.
The prosecution, however, said: "Patricia and the children were clearly in his way, and the motive is obvious."
When Mrs Allen’s cousin, Geoffrey Cotterill, called in at Salcombe while on holiday in August 1975, Allen told him she had gone off with a Canadian or US serviceman, and that the children were with his mother in Bournemouth.
Allen told the court that, when they moved to Salcombe, he and Mrs Allen initially tried to mend their failing marriage but, on 26 May, 1975, he and Mrs Allen had started arguing. He then went to work, and came back that night to see her "in the process of packing her case".
Mrs Allen, he said, told him her plans did not include the children and he went to the Galley to tell Mrs Yabsley that his wife was going to leave.
He returned home after 11pm and Mrs Allen drove off in her VW.
On 28 May, he said, about 9pm, Mrs Allen re-appeared at the flat saying she could not live without the children and wanted to take them. She then produced a hand-written paper for him to sign giving her sole custody of the children.
Allen said he believed Mrs Allen, who had lived in the US with a serviceman for six months before he met her, had someone waiting for her and had gone to the US or Canada.
When asked by defence counsel, John Aspinall QC, whether he had murdered Mrs Allen, Allen replied: "Of course not."
And of the children, he told the court: "I miss them to this day."
Speaking outside Exeter Crown Court, Superintendent Paul Davies, the officer in charge of the inquiry, said: "No words can describe the sheer evil of a man who can, by his own hand in cold blood, murder his own two young children simply because they stood in the way of his desire to be with his lover and his wish for a new life.
"John Allen has shown what a callous and cold individual he is. He has not shown one shred of remorse since his wife and two children vanished, setting instead to tell a catalogue of lies which have finally caught up with him."
After the case, Mrs Yabsley said she thought the jury had made the right decision.
"I am glad it is a guilty verdict, if glad is the right word."
She said she has already decided that Allen had killed his family. "I thought a long time ago that he did it," she added.
Asked outside court why it took her so long to reveal the detail of the scratches on Allen’s arm, Mrs Yabsley said: "I was committed to him as if I was his wife," she said.
She did not think anyone would ever know where the bodies were. "I think you could put him on the rack and he would not tell you," she said.
Allen’s solicitor, Robert Renshaw, said: "Mr Allen is devastated at the outcome of this case. He maintains his innocence, and he has instructed his lawyers to advise him on the grounds of appeal."
One of Mrs Allen’s cousins, Audrey Waugh, 72, from Siddon, Halifax, said she was "absolutely over the moon" at the jury’s verdicts.
"It is the verdict we wanted - that we knew should be but were never sure," she said.
Mrs Waugh said it was the family’s "final hope" that Allen would relent "and say what he did and where they are".
"But knowing him, I do not think he will," she said.