British serial killer
Kenneth Erskine was a sexual psychopath who became known as the 'Stockwell Strangler' after going on a brief murder spree at Stockwell in south-west London in the summer of 1987, during which he was responsible for the death of seven individuals.
Abandoned by his parents at a young age, Kenneth Erskine spent much of his early life in a variety of care homes and special schools, after which he embarked on a reasonably successful career as a house burglar. His preferred targets appear to have been the homes of elderly and in Erskine's case, burglary seems to have led very naturally to murder. He first struck on the 7th April 1987 when the body of a retired schoolteacher named Eileen Emms (78) was found strangled to death in her home. In the following June there were three more murders, Janet Cockett (67), Valentine Gleim (84) and Zbigniew Stabrawa (94), followed by the further murders of William Carmen (82), William Downes (74) and Florence Tisdall (80) in July.
It was clear to the police that all these attacks were the work of one man. There were no signs of forced entry, with every indication that the intruder had gained access through an unsecured window. In each case it appeared that the killer had knelt on the victim's chests, and then placed his left hand over their mouths whilst he used his right hand to grip their throats and strangle them to death. In addition four of the victims had been buggered, although there was some uncertainty as to whether this had taken place before or after death.
Fortunately the police had some very clear evidence pointing towards the identity of the perpetrator; at the Cockett murder scene fingerprints had been found on a plantpot, whilst a palm print had been identified on the wall of the kitchen at the home of William Downes. They also had the testimony of one Frederick Prentice (73) who, in the early hours of the morning of the 27th June, woke in bed and realised there was an intruder in his bedroom. He was then attacked and was in the process of being strangled to death, when he managed to get one hand free to press the alarm button at the side of his bed. The intruder promptly fled the scene and Prentice was able to provide police with a description of his assailant.
Since Erskine had prior convictions for burglary these prints where soon identified as being his and he was arrested on the 28th July 1987. When he appeared to sign on at the Social Security office where he was claiming benefit. At an identity parade he was readily recognised by Frederick Prentice, and was duly charged with seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder. It also seems that at the time police believed that he was responsible for another four murders, but that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a charge against him. Nevertheless they have regarded these four cases as closed.
Erskine's trial began at the Old Bailey on the 12th January 1988 where Erskine pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming that "I don't remember killing anyone. I could have done it without knowing it. I am not sure if I did it." The jury however suffered from no such doubts and found him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for each of the seven murders with a further twelve year sentence for the attempted murder, with a recommendation that he serve a minimum term of forty years, the longest minimum period of detention ever recommended by a judge. He was subsequently judged to have had the mental age of eleven and sufficiently insane to be transferred to Broadmoor Hospital, where he remains to this day.
Since entering Broadmoor Kenneth Erskine has become a born-again Christian and his name has occasionally entered the news. In March 1996 it was reported that he had helped to save the life of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, when, together with fellow inmate Jamie Devitt, he intervened to prevent a third inmate Paul Wilson from throttling Sutcliffe with the flex from a pair of stereo headphones, whilst in early 1998 the Daily Mirror reported that he had been injured by a home-made flamethrower wielded by another inmate during New Year celebrations at the hospital.
Kenneth Erskine is believed to be one of the twenty-three prisoners currently service life sentences in England and Wales who are regarded by the Home Office as serving a whole life tariff i.e. it is not intended that he should ever be released.
- Erskine, Kenneth http://www.real-crime.co.uk/Murder1/doce.htm
- The Stockwell Strangler
- Inside for good, The Guardian, January 14, 2004