October 2018

Sadist sex killer who murdered Leeds teenager admits more historic rape and violence offences

Child killer John Taylor – the man who abducted and murdered Leeds teenager Leanne Tiernan – has today admitted a series sexual and violent assaults.

Taylor appeared before Leeds Crown Court where he pleaded guilty to 16 offences – included three of rape – committed against victims in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The 62-year-old is serving a life sentence for murdering schoolgirl Leanne Tiernan in November 2000.

Leanne was grabbed from a woodland path in Bramley then sexually assaulted by Taylor before he killed her at his home.

Taylor then stored the corpse in a freezer at his home in Cockshott Drive, Bramley, as a “trophy”.

Taylor appeared in court via a videolink from Wakefield Prison. He spoke only to confirm his name and enter pleas to the charges as they were put to him by the court clerk.

Taylor pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, two other serious sexual offences, two of possessing an offensive weapon, four of indecent assault, kidnapping, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and unlawful wounding. 

Taylor entered guilty pleas to a further count of rape and having an offensive weapon at a hearing on June 6.

The offences relate to attacks on five female victims between December 1977 and August 1996.

They include the rape of a woman in the Armley area of Leeds in 1977.

Taylor also admitted indecently assaulting a woman in Bramley Fall woods and putting a knife to her throat.

He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and indecent assault offences against a victim in Armley in 1984. Taylor entered guilty pleas to a sexual offence and two offences of violence against a woman in Gildersome in 1987.

He further admitted to two rape offences and an indecent assault offence against a victim in Bramley in 1996.

Prosecutor Stephen Wood asked for the case to be adjourned so victim statements can be obtained ahead of sentencing.

Mr Wood said it may be that some of the victims wish to attend court to see Taylor sentenced.

The Recorder of Leeds, Judge Guy Kearl, QC, adjourned the case until Friday October 26. 

Leanne Tiernan was just 16-years-old when she was kidnapped and murdered by sadistic sex killer John Taylor nearly 18 years ago.

The exact circumstances of what happened after her death remain a mystery.

Taylor, at the time a 44-year-old divorcee, is believed to have stashed her body in a freezer in his home for nine months before dumping her body in Lindley Woods, near Otley Leanne was walking along an unlit wooded path, Houghley Hill, in Bramley, on the evening of November 26, 2000, when Taylor seized her and forced her back to his home, tying her hands behind her back and blindfolding her.

Leanne’s disappearance sparked one of the largest manhunts in West Yorkshire Police’s history. More than 10,000 homes were visited by officers and 40 drains were searched.

The teenager’s body was not discovered until August of the following year, buried in a shallow grave.

Her hands were tied and a knotted scarf and a plastic cable were wound tightly around her neck. Taylor was said to have kept the body in his freezer after the killing – partly to avoid detection, and partly as a “trophy”.

Taylor admitted the brutal murder of Tiernan at Leeds Crown Court in July 2002.

Detectives continued to investigate Taylor after his conviction for the murder of Leanne and later charged him with two rapes – to which he pleaded guilty.

He carried out those sex attacks in Leeds in 1988 and 1989. A judge ordered Taylor to serve a minimum of 25 years over Leanne’s death at his sentencing in 2002.

The minimum tariff was then upped to 30 years at the Royal Courts of Justice in 2006. The new ruling means it will be 2031 before Taylor can even request his freedom.

Even then, he will only be released if he persuades the Parole Board he poses no further threat to the public. Mr Justice Openshaw took the highly unusual step of increasing Taylor’s tariff due to his later convictions for the two rapes.

He said “This was a planned and sadistic murder of a child, aggravated by the element of abduction and sexual assault. The victim must have suffered terribly. “Even in cases of this gravity, I am required to consider whether credit should be given for a plea of guilty.

“There is no mitigation whatsoever either in the facts of the offence or in Taylor’s personal circumstances. “It is true that he has made some progress in prison but, set against the magnitude of his offending, this – frankly – counts for nothing.”

The crimes

On the evening of 26 November 2000, Leeds teenager Leanne Tiernan, 16, was on her way home when she disappeared. Studying for her GCSEs, Tiernan had been shopping for Christmas gifts in the city with her friend, Sarah Whitehouse. The girls had shared a bus ride into the suburb of Bramley and parted near Whitehouse’s home. Tiernan then continued alone towards her own home but never arrived

John-Taylor

John Taylor (pictured above) had been lurking in the woods, waiting for a likely victim. It turned out to be Tiernan. As she walked alone along the unlit path known as Houghley Gill that she frequently used, Taylor grabbed her from behind. Whilst there were no eyewitnesses, it was later reported that someone had heard a stifled scream. Taylor put his hand over her mouth, blindfolded her and led her to his house. There he tied her hands behind her back and during the course of a sexual assault, strangled her with a scarf and a plastic ligature

Tiernan’s parents, Michael Tiernan and Sharon Hawkhead, were divorced and her father was away on holiday at the time. When Tiernan did not return home from shopping, her mother immediately reported her missing to the police. She described her daughter as happy, confident, streetwise and never having gone missing before

Police Investigation

Detective Superintendent Chris Gregg of the West Yorkshire Police led the investigation into Tiernan’s missing person case. A week after her disappearance, investigators reconstructed Tiernan’s last movements. Her sister Michelle, 19, and friend, Sarah Whitehouse, wearing the same clothing as Tiernan and Whitehouse had on 26 November, followed the same route home. Unfortunately this did not produce any further clues. Tiernan’s parents both made emotional appeals to the public for any assistance they may provide in the search for Leanne. There were several reports of possible sightings of Tiernan, which police investigated, but to no avail

Complicating the police search was the fact that the area in which Tiernan had disappeared consisted of vastly varying terrain. There were more than 700 houses, open areas, woodland, canals, drainage shafts and wells. Police conducted an extensive house-to-house inquiry and the search eventually grew enormous, involving uniformed officers, operational support, the dog section, the mounted section, underwater search and air support

On Monday, 20 August 2001, nine months after she disappeared, Leanne Tiernan’s body was discovered near Otley on the border of North and West Yorkshire, 16 miles from her house and several miles from the scene of the crime. A man, out walking his dog in Lindley Woods near the Warren Point car park, stumbled across her body, wrapped in a floral duvet cover and buried in a shallow grave. It transpired that a few days before the body was discovered, a retired couple had seen a man carrying a large floral-patterned bundle from the boot of his car into the woods

Inside the duvet cover, Leanne’s body had been wrapped in green plastic bin-liners, tied with twine. Covering her head was a black bin-liner, held in place with a dog collar tied tightly around her neck. Her hands had been bound together with cable ties and around her neck were more cable ties and a scarf

The post mortem examination concluded that the degree of decomposition of the body was inconsistent with burial in the ground for the full nine months since Tiernan’s disappearance. Investigators were therefore hopeful that enough forensic evidence would be present to lead them to the killer. Police officers, forensic and scientific experts conducted a fingertip search of the dense woodland where Tiernan’s body had been buried and expanded this to cover an area of 20,000 square metres

Leanne Tiernan’s funeral was held on Friday, 28 September 2001, a day after what would have been her 17th birthday. The service was held less than a mile from where she disappeared and close to her home, at the Sandford Methodist Church in Bramley

About a hundred people packed into the small church, where Tiernan had been baptised, whilst other mourners had to stand outside and hear a relayed version of the service, led by Sister Janet Durbin. Deaconess Durbin said, “Leanne was a normal, happy, fun-loving teenager, half child and half young lady

Amongst those in attendance were Tiernan’s mother Sharon Hawkhead, her sister Michelle, her friend Sarah Whitehouse, and Detective Superintendent Chris Gregg. The private burial took place at the nearby Hill Top Cemetery.

During their investigation, the West Yorkshire police learned that Taylor had often been seen hunting small animals in Lindley Woods, where Tiernan’s body was discovered and he was placed on their list of suspects. Forensic investigators found dog hairs on Tiernan’s body and needed further information. The dog hair DNA sample was sent to a university in Texas, which had developed a DNA profiling technique for pedigreed pets. The university produced a partial profile for a dog but unfortunately police were unable to link this to Taylor, as the dog he owned at the time of Tiernan’s murder had subsequently died. This was the first time dog DNA had been used in a British criminal case

The knitted scarf found around Tiernan’s neck contained human hair in the knot. Initial conventional DNA tests of the hair roots failed, so forensic experts used Mitochondrial DNA testing. Using these results, they managed to create a DNA profile from the minute amounts of DNA inside the hair shaft and it was a match to Taylor.

The arrest

John Taylor, 45, was arrested on 16 October 2001 and taken to a police station in Leeds for questioning. Police immediately sealed off his house in Cockshott Drive, putting up seven-foot high wooden screens and began their search. Investigators dug up the garden and discovered the bodies of 28 ferrets and the skeletons of four dogs, one with a crushed skull. Detective Superintendent Gregg commented, “Taylor appears to have been an ordinary man but he is not. He has a dangerous, extremely dangerous nature. This is displayed in the way in which he treated animals throughout his life.”

Further investigation provided more evidence in their case against Taylor. The tan leather dog collar found on Tiernan’s body, had been made by a company in Nottingham. This company sold the collars to wholesalers, including a mail order company in Liverpool, one of whose customers was Taylor. 

The twine that had been used to tie the green bin-liners around Tiernan’s body was of an unusual composition. It was traced to a manufacturer in Devon and, having originally been made for the Ministry of Defence, had more recently been sold for rabbit netting. Later, in a search of Taylor’s house, police found an exact march of the twine, as well as a piece of green plastic, identical to the bin-liners used to wrap Tiernan’s dead body.

The yellow cable ties, used to bind and gag Tiernan, had been manufactured by an Italian company who sold 99% of them to the Royal Mail. Taylor worked for Parcelforce, a division of Royal Mail.

Red nylon fibres were discovered on Tiernan’s jumper and found to have distinctive dye patterns. These fibres were matched to those found clinging to nails in the floor of Taylor’s house. He had previously ripped out a red carpet and burned it, in order to destroy evidence of Tiernan’s presence in his home.

Police investigators questioned Taylor’s ex-girlfriends, who revealed similar stories of Taylor’s love of tying up women, unusual fantasies and enjoying sado-masochistic sex. One woman claimed Taylor had told her of his desire to have sex with her 15-year-old daughter.

The West Yorkshire police were certain that Tiernan had not been Taylor’s first victim. Gregg’s team were further investigating other major crimes committed over the previous 20 years, to see if Taylor may have been involved in them. They focussed on four in particular. The first was the 1992 murder of Yvonne Fitt, a prostitute from Bradford, whose body as found in a shallow grave in the same woodland where Tiernan was buried. The other three were Lindsey Jo Rimer, who disappeared in 1994; Deborah Wood, whose body was found in 1996; and Rebecca Hall, found in an alley in Bradford in 2001.

The trial

Taylor’s 2002 trial was held at the Leeds Crown Court and presided over by the Honourable Mr Justice Astill. Taylor was represented by defence lawyer Graham Stowe Bateson and despite the extensive evidence against him, Taylor only admitted to abducting Leanne and not to killing her.

His version of events was that she had fallen off his bed and banged her head. Believing she was dead, he had lifted her using the scarf that was around her neck and that must have been when she died. He had panicked and buried her body in Lindley Woods.

Results of the post mortem examination on Tiernan’s body had concluded that the degree of decomposition was not consistent with burial in the ground for many months, as Taylor had suggested. The judge therefore concluded that the defendant had kept the body for some time between three weeks and nine months in his deep freeze, perhaps as a trophy or to avoid detection, before burying it in the woods.

Judge Astill said to Taylor, “You are a dangerous sexual sadist. Your purpose in kidnapping this young girl was so that you could satisfy your perverted cravings. This was a planned, premeditated encounter. …It was a cold and calculating act and the suffering you caused was immeasurable.”

Prosecutor Robert Smith QC claimed that the state of Tiernan’s body when she was found meant that is wasn’t possible to establish for certain whether or not she had been sexually abused. However, Smith claimed that Taylor’s motive for killing her was clearly for the purpose of sexual gratification

Guilty plea

On 8 July 2002, showing no emotion, 46-year-old John Taylor pleaded guilty to the kidnap and murder of Leanne Tiernan on 26 November 2000. Taylor stared straight ahead as he was sentenced to two counts of life imprisonment, during which the public gallery cheered and applauded. 

Judge Astill recommended that Taylor serve 25 years before being considered for parole. Whilst Lord Woolf CJ later reduced this to 20 years, saying this was more in line with current practice, Taylor can most likely expect to spend rest of his life in prison. Taylor was sent to the maximum-security Wakefield prison, home to other infamous criminals Harold Shipman, Ian Huntley and Roy Whiting.

Following sentencing, Tiernan’s mother, Sharon Hawkhead, said “Although John Taylor has been locked up, our agony continues. We feel nothing for him. We are pleased that he has been locked up so he can’t do this to anyone else, but life should mean life.”

The Aftermath

Police had warned that whilst Taylor had no criminal record before being charged with Tiernan’s abduction and murder, he could feasibly have killed before. In the investigation following Taylor’s arrest, police had embarked on painstaking review of unsolved cases of sexual attacks in the area.

By October 2002 Taylor was being questioned in connection with these 1980s assaults. The first occurred on 18 October 1988 when Taylor, armed with a mask and knife, attacked a 32-year-old woman as she walked across some waste ground near Houghley Gill, Leeds. He forced her to commit a sexual act on him and then raped her.

The second was on 1 March 1989 when a masked Taylor, armed with a knife, broke into a 21-year-old woman’s Bramley home. It was lunchtime and her baby was in another room at the time. He forced her into her bedroom, undressed her, blindfolded and gagged her, forced her to perform a sexual act on him and then raped her.

On 3 April 2003, Taylor pleaded guilty to the two rapes before the Honourable Norman Jones QC, the Recorder of Leeds, who sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a minimum of 30 years. The sentence was to be reduced by eight months 26 days, which Taylor had already spent in prison.

True North Productions made a television documentary about John Taylor, ‘Killer in the Woods’ (2003) produced and directed by Jess Fowle.

Timeline

Born
27 August 1964

The Victims
26 November 2000 – Leanne Tiernan, 16 (abducted, raped, murdered)

Further victims discovered after his imprisonment for murder:
18 October 1988 – woman, 32 (raped, released)
1 March 1989 – woman, 21 (abused, raped, released)

Arrested
16 October 2001

Convicted
8 July 2002

Sentenced
8 July 2002 – two counts of life imprisonment (without possibility of parole for 20 years)
3 April 2003 – life imprisonment (without possibility of parole for 30 years)