Winnie Johnson, mother of Moors murders victim Keith Bennett, dies
Mother of 12-year-old boy murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in 1964 dies without knowing where her son is buried
The mother of Moors murders victim Keith Bennett has died without knowing where her son is buried.
Winnie Johnson died in a hospice at 12.35am on Saturday following a long illness and renewed controversy over the location of the grave of her son, who was murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley in 1964.
Brady’s mental health advocate, Jackie Powell, was arrested after she told Channel 4 that she was aware of a letter from Brady to Johnson in which he tells her where the grave of her son can be found.
She was held on suspicion of preventing the lawful burial of a body but later bailed. Police also searched Brady’s cell at the high security hospital at Ashworth, Merseyside but found no relevant documents.
Keith’s brother, Alan Bennett, issued a family statement about his mother’s death on his website, Searching for Keith. It said: “Winnie fought tirelessly for decades to find Keith and give him a Christian burial. Although this was not possible during her lifetime, we, her family, intend to continue this fight now for her and for Keith. We hope that the authorities and the public will support us in this.”
Johnson pleaded for years with Brady to be allowed to bury her son and experts suspect Brady has manipulated her and the media by promising information about the grave location and then withholding it.
A new documentary by Paddy Wivell to be shown on Monday on Channel 4 at 9pm, titled Ian Brady: End Games Of A Psychopath, claims Brady may have deceived doctors into believing his extreme psychotic symptoms in order to be transferred from prison to Ashworth hospital.
Ian Brady ‘may have revealed’ Keith Bennett burial place
Moors Murderer Ian Brady may have revealed information about where one of his victims, 12-year-old Keith Bennett, is buried, detectives believe.
Police are investigating whether Brady gave details to a hospital visitor.
A woman arrested in south Wales on suspicion of preventing a lawful burial of a body was named by Press Association sources as his mental health advocate, Jackie Powell.
Brady and Myra Hindley murdered five children between 1963 and 1965.
They kidnapped, tortured and murdered the children, whose bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester.
Keith’s is the only body never found.
He was abducted on his way to visit his grandmother in Manchester on 16 June 1964 and his mother Winnie Johnson, 78, has fought a long campaign to get Brady to reveal the location of her son’s grave.
A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said: “On 30 July 2012, Greater Manchester Police received information that led officers to believe that Ian Brady had recently given details of the location of Keith Bennett’s body to one of his long-term visitors.”
Martin Bottomley, from Greater Manchester Police’s Major and Cold Case Crime Unit, said: “I want to be explicitly clear about this: Ian Brady has not revealed to police the location of Keith’s body.
‘Duty to investigate’
“What we are looking at is the possibility, and at this stage it is only a possibility, that he has written a letter to Keith’s mum Winnie Johnson which was not to be opened until after his death.
“We do not know if this is true or simply a ruse but we clearly have a duty to investigate such information on behalf of Keith’s family.”
The police were alerted to the possibility of information about the location of Keith’s remains by the makers of a documentary about Brady, who said Ms Powell had told them she had received letters from the killer, one of which was for Mrs Johnson.
The programme’s editor Emma Cooper said after learning of the documents, she had informed police.
“No-one can verify the contents of the envelope and therefore what information it does or does not contain but given the enormity of the implications as suggested by Brady’s letter, we felt we had a responsibility to inform the family via their family liaison officer,” she said.
Brady, 74, was jailed for life in 1966 at Chester Assizes for the murders of Lesley Ann Downey, 10, John Kilbride, 12, and Edward Evans, 17.
He has spent the past 25 years at the high-security Ashworth Hospital in Merseyside and has been tube-fed since refusing food 12 years ago.
Hindley, who died in prison in November 2002, aged 60, was given a life sentence for the murders of Lesley Ann and Edward and for shielding Brady after John’s murder.
In 1987 they admitted killing Keith and 16-year-old Pauline Reade, whose bodies had not been found. Both were taken back to Saddleworth Moor to help police find the remains of the missing victims but only Pauline’s body was found.
The director of public prosecutions at the time decided prosecuting Brady and Hindley for the final two killings would not be in the public interest.
Police abandoned the hunt for Keith’s body in 2009 and officers said they would need fresh evidence to resume the search.
Greater Manchester Police said warrants were executed at Ashworth Hospital and an address in south Wales on Thursday.
The force said: “A 49-year-old woman has been arrested in south Wales on suspicion of preventing the burial of a body without lawful exercise and remains in police custody for questioning.
“Searches of both locations are ongoing.”
Last month Brady, who was born in Glasgow, was due to go before a mental health tribunal to consider his application to be transferred to a Scottish prison and be allowed to die. But it was postponed when he suffered a seizure.
Last December, Mrs Johnson, from Longsight, Manchester, said she wanted to attend the planned hearing to face Brady, saying she had “never seen him face to face”.
But in the days leading up to the tribunal, before it was called off, she said it would be too traumatic for her to attend.
Mrs Johnson’s solicitor John Ainley said she was not aware of the new developments, but said his client had “always believed that Ian Brady knew where her son was buried”.
“She never thought anything else,” he said.
“He had a dialogue with Winnie some years ago and she was certain that he could have provided information that would have given her closure in this harrowing case.
“Her one and only desire is to give her son a proper family burial during her lifetime.”
“Dear Mr Brady” will be aired on More 4 at 10pm tonight (Monday 23 July)
THE mother of a Moors murder victim has made one last plea to killer Ian Brady to tell her where her son is buried.
Winnie Johnson (78) is now critically ill with cancer and her one last wish is to find the remains of her eldest son, Keith Bennett.
Keith was just 12 years old when he was murdered by Brady and Myra Hindley in 1964.
Now, almost 50 years on from Keith’s death, Brady still refuses to say where he buried the youngster’s body — only that it is somewhere on the vast Saddleworth Moor.
But brave Winnie has refused to give up the search to find and bring home her son.
And as a documentary due to be aired on Monday will reveal, she has made one last plea to the killer to tell her the truth about Keith. A spokesman for More 4, which is airing the programme, “Dear Mr Brady”, said: “Out of the five victims of the Moors murderers, only Keith remains buried on Saddleworth Moor.”
Lawyer John Ainley, acting on behalf of Mrs Johnson, said: “Winnie is suffering from cancer and is not in the best of health and has been in hospital.
“There’s only one question she wants answered and that’s where her son Keith is, so she can have a proper family burial during her lifetime.”
When Keith disappeared, he was on his way to join Alan and his other siblings at their grandmother’s house nearby. Although old enough to make his own way, he was short sighted and had broken his glasses the day before, so Winnie made sure he got safely across Stockport Road. Heavily pregnant with her fifth child, Winnie went on to her weekly bingo session. She never saw Keith again.
Hindley was nearby, driving a Mini Traveller, Brady in the back. She stopped the car and asked Keith to help her carry some boxes. Brady then told Keith to get in the back with him, saying they were going to find a lost glove. Once on the moors, Hindley watched Brady set off with Keith. She claimed she didn’t see what happened next. When Brady returned, he said he had raped and strangled Keith and taken a photograph.
Even though this is a matter of public record, Winnie has avoided the details. She knows he was raped but the police have never told her everything. Sometimes she thinks it’s best; other times she thinks it might be better to know. “I did and I didn’t want to know. I asked them once and they wouldn’t tell me. I don’t want to see the photos. It would break my heart – it would kill me.”
In 1966 Brady and Hindley were jailed for life for the murders of 12-year-old John Kilbride, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and 17-year-old Edward Evans. The fear was that they had got Keith and Pauline Reade but there was nothing conclusive.
But not long after his disappearance, Winnie knew Keith was dead. “I’d had Joey and was breastfeeding him. I heard a child’s voice behind me saying, ‘Mam, I’m at the back of you.’ It was Keith, in spirit. When my husband Jimmy came in, he said ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’ I said, ‘I’ve not seen one but I’ve heard one. I’ll never see Keith alive again.’ He’s around me all the time. I find it comforting. Sometimes I find myself talking to him. If they did find him I’d want to kiss him.”
Given the heartbreak she suffers, the years of agony and her poor health, it’s surprising how open, friendly and sometimes funny Winnie is. The day I met her, the film-maker John Coffey sat with her while she watched his documentary about her. At one point she wept and he comforted her. She recovered and cast Coffey an embarrassed, sidelong smile when on the film she says they should cut Brady’s balls off and stuff them in his mouth. “You bugger, you left that in!” she says. He is about to reply and she says with a smile, “Oh, shurrup you!”
When she smiles you see a flash of the girl she was. She says she was always full of mischief. “I was at school in the war. My mates and I said let’s wag it and go in the air-raid shelter. I was mischievous and used to get in loads of trouble. I wasn’t interested in school, I wanted to get out and do something I shouldn’t be doing.”
Winnie loved dancing, and met Keith’s father at a dance hall. She’s vague on dates and details – asked how long she went out with him she says, “Jesus! Now you’re asking me summat!” His name was Frederick Norman and his parents were French. Asked if he was handsome and dashing, she replies, “Was he heck!”
She was 19 when Keith was born and she came home to her mother from hospital crying: “My mother said, ‘Now what the bloody hell’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Mam, I hope the same doesn’t happen to Keith as happened to Margaret.’ When my younger sister Margaret was seven she ran past the fire and her dress caught alight. She died. I said what if something happens to Keith like it did to Margaret – and it did, in a different way.”
Winnie had a second child, Sylvia, with Norman but things didn’t work out. “I told him to bugger off one day because he was going out with different women behind my back. I was very angry.”
He has never been in touch since.
She wasn’t alone for long. “I met a lad at Moseley rubber works where I was working; he was the father of the next three – Alan, Ian and Margaret.” When Winnie discovered he, too, went out with other women, she left him. Winnie and her five children lived with her mother, Gertrude, who helped look after them.
Being the single working mother of five children by two men can’t have been easy in the 1950s. Winnie shrugs and chuckles. “At first when I was pregnant people criticised me but I said it’s me that’s having the baby, I’m going to keep it. I didn’t give a damn; I said it’s my own bloody life. I love kids, they keep you young. Having kids made me strong. My mother agreed with me, she said, ‘Anybody comes near you, let me know – I’ll give them a right mouthful.’ My auntie from Newcastle came and said to my mam, ‘You should put her out of the house’. My mother said, ‘If you’re going to criticise me, you’d better get out – she’s my daughter and I’ll do anything I can for her.’ She left. I never spoke to her again.”
Gertrude was always fiercely protective. One day, after Keith went missing, she and Winnie were walking along Stockport Road. “Someone came up to me and said, ‘You’re Keith’s mother aren’t you. They cut him up and gave him to the pigs.’ I couldn’t speak, all I could do was cry. My mam went mad. She went to hit the woman – she said, ‘What kind of a person are you?'”
In 1963, the year before Keith disappeared, Winnie fell in love with Jimmy Johnson and married him. When Keith went missing, Jimmy was treated as a suspect and the strain threatened to destroy the family until Winnie confronted the police – Jimmy loved her kids like his own. As well as coping with this and as consumed with grief as she was, she tried to do her best for Sylvia, who was 11, Alan, eight, Ian, seven, Maggie, four, and Jim’s 11-year-old daughter, Susan. “I looked after my children. I wouldn’t let anything happen to them. They asked me all the time after Keith went, why has he gone? I said I don’t know. They said when are you burying him and I said as soon as I can.”
She kept going because she had to, but says: “I seemed to lose all faith in doing anything for the first five years, just didn’t want to know. And now with my grandkids [she has 18], I’m frightened to death of anybody picking them up and taking them.”
Winnie and Jim had three more children, Joey, David and Kenny, and brought up Jimmy’s grandson, Tony. Tragically, Tony was shot dead, aged 22 in 1991, the same year that Jimmy died. You wonder how Winnie has survived so much tragedy.
At first it seemed strange that she should want to take us to the moors, travelling the route along the A635 that Brady and Hindley took with their victims. Since 1985 when Brady admitted that he had murdered Keith and Pauline Reade, Winnie has gone to Saddleworth Moor many times. She says she likes it there; she feels closer to Keith. As we reached the bleak moorland slopes, she points to Hollin Brown Knoll, a rocky outcrop where Pauline Reade’s body was found, and to faceless patches of moorland where police unearthed the bodies of Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride. She directs the minicab driver to a layby a few miles further on towards the area where Brady is thought to have buried Keith.
Winnie stands looking across the desolate moorland, one hand on a fence post to which on a previous visit she had tied a blue teddy bear. On other posts are remnants of flowers and a wreath.
She is shivering but stoical. “He could be anywhere on these moors, such a vast area,” she says. “The police have stopped searching. I just hope someone will spot his burial ground.” On the way back she talks about how she has survived. “Once or twice I thought I was losing my mind and thought of suicide, but I thought I’ve got to carry on because I’ve got the other kids. It wouldn’t be fair on them.” She pauses. “What can you do?” It’s a phrase she often repeats. “I’ve just got to live with it and bear my temper,” she continues. But her mildness of manner belies the rage that never goes away. “I still feel very angry, as angry as I ever did. They should be tortured – do the same to them as they did to those kids.”
Some people keep a dead or missing child’s possessions, and leave their bedroom as it was the day the child vanished or died. Winnie didn’t keep anything except Keith’s broken glasses but it didn’t make his absence any more bearable. “Keith is always on my mind because I’ve never found him. I think of him before he went missing. Like any kid he’d say, ‘I’m not going to school.’ I’d say, ‘You are.’ He came home dinner time and said,’Mam, I’ve broke my glasses. I said, ‘You’re not staying off school. Get back to school.’ He broke them when he went swimming, he broke one lens. I said, ‘Go back to school and wear them as they are. Tomorrow I’ll take them to the clinic.”
But she never did because on that day Brady and Hindley murdered her boy.