Myra Hindley – Moors Murderer and ‘the most hated woman in Britain’ - was born in Gorton, Manchester on 23 July 1942, the eldest child of Bob Hindley, a member of the parachute regiment, and his wife Hettie, a machinist. For the first three years of her life, Myra lived with her mother and grandmother, while Bob served overseas in the forces, and after he returned, the family moved in together, just round the corner. In July 1946, a second daughter, Maureen, was born, and when Hettie Hindley found the workload of two children too great, she sent Myra back to live with her mother.
Overall, this was a good solution, easing the pressure on the Hindley parents, and providing Myra with her grandmother’s devoted attention, but the lack of a father figure may have left a void ready to be filled later by an authoritative male.
Certainly, until she came into contact with Ian Brady in 1961 when the couple worked together in a Gorbals chemical company, Myra had never been in any trouble. Her grandmother was something of a pushover, allowing Myra to miss school on the smallest pretext, which meant that although she showed some talent for creative writing and was a strong swimmer, she never did more than adequately at Ryder Brow secondary Modern where she studied.
However, she had a reputation for being mature and sensible, and was much in demand as a babysitter, being popular with both parents and children.
At fifteen, she suffered a personal tragedy when a close friend, 13 year old Michael Higgins, drowned in a reservoir. Grief was coupled with guilt, as she’d refused to go swimming that day, and she believed that, being a much stronger swimmer, had she been there she would have been able to save her friend. She was devastated, and for months after the death was frequently inconsolable – she converted to Michael’s religion, Catholicism, and lit daily candles for his soul. The profound reaction troubled her family, who perceived it as overdramatic, and she was told to control herself. Outwardly, she did so, but her schoolwork deteriorated, and soon after Michael’s death, she left school.
She took work as a typist, and became engaged to a local boy, Ronnie Sinclair at the age of eighteen, but called the engagement off, seeking something more exciting than a house and a gaggle of kids, with no money and no future.
This excitement came when she met Ian Brady. Brady was of above average intelligence, but his background was one of crime, having spent time in Borstal for burglary and aiding and abetting. He was socially withdrawn, and had a well documented fascination with Nazis and nazism. He was like nobody she’d ever met.
Whether it was his misfit air, his dangerous background or his apparent intellectualism (when they met, Brady was reading Mein Kampf in the original German) which attracted her, Myra was soon infatuated with him, writing screeds in her diary about her longing for him.
For a year, he ignored her, but then finally got together at an office Christmas party. Brady became Myra’s first lover and she was totally besotted with him – his interests became hers, as she absorbed his philosophies, took on his interests and changed herself to fit his desires, bleaching her hair and wearing Germanic clothes to please him. Anything Ian said or did must be true and right, and she had no qualms about allowing him to take pornographic pictures of her and of them together.
Her belief and adulation fed Brady’s own sense of worth and encouraged him to more paranoid and outrageous fantasies. However extreme Brady became, Hindley never questioned him, and she’d do anything he asked.
What he asked, at first, was assistance in armed robbery – and Myra willingly went out, took shooting lessons and learned to drive. When it came to the crunch, Brady backed out, but it proved to him that Myra would do her part in his schemes– whatever he chose that part to be.
He chose murder.
First came sixteeen-year-old Pauline Reade. She was abducted by the pair on 12 July 1963 while she was on her way to a dance. Her disappearance was followed by house-to-house enquiries, but these provided no clues.
Twelve year old John Kilbride disappeared on 11th November 1963, on his way to a part time job, after he’d been to the movies with a friend, he went to catch a bus and was never seen again. His absence was reported when he didn’t come home, but again an exhaustive search turned up nothing.
Keith Bennett, also twelve, was only a mile from home going to visit his grandmother, when he disappeared. He wasn’t missed for longer, since he was supposed to stay the night with his grandmother. The alarm was raised when he didn’t come home the following day, and his mother discovered he hadn’t ever arrived – the grandmother had simply assumed he’d changed his mind about coming. Police, once more, were baffled.
Then Lesley Ann Downey vanished from a local fair in Hulme Hall Lane, ten minutes from home, on 26th December, 1964. The ten year old stayed on after her brothers went home, and was last seen at five-thirty, standing by one of the rides. Another search, another failure.
Had the couple kept to this pattern, they might never have been caught. The seemingly unrelated disappearances all led to dead ends.
However, Brady believed that David Smith, Myra’s brother-in-law, could be inveigled into their schemes. Smith was a petty criminal with his own record, but he was inclined to laugh at Brady’s talk of murder – so Brady set up a practical demonstration. Myra brought Smith back to the house she shared with Brady on October 6, 1965 where, in front of Smith, Brady struck 17 year old homosexual Edward Evans 14 times with a hatchet before finishing the job by strangling the boy with electrical wire.
This was too much for Smith – while he appeared to go along with the Brady and Hindley, as soon as he left them he contacted the police, resulting in a police raid on Brady’s home in Hattersley, a council estate on the outskirts of Oldham. They discovered Edwards’ body, the bloody hatchet and Brady’s library of sadistic literature.
A twelve year old neighbour told police of trips to Saddleworth Moor with the pair, leading to a search of the remote area; this uncovered a shallow grave containing the body of Lesley Ann Downey. Further searches of the Hattersley house turned up left-luggage tickets, which led the Police to a cache of items, including nude pictures of Lesley Anne and a horrific tape, recording her last few minutes, in which she pleads for her life. There was also a notebook named “John Kilbride.”
No evidence connected them to the murders of Reade or Bennet, so despite the confidence of the police that they committed the crimes, it was only possible to prosecute them for the murders of Evans, Downey and Kilbride. Both pleaded not guilty, trying to blame the crimes on Smith, but on May 6, 1966, both Myra and Brady were convicted of killing Edward Evans and Leslie Ann Downey; Brady was also convicted of murdering John Kilbride, while Myra was convicted as an accessory after the fact.
Had they been caught earlier, both would have received the death penalty, but that had been abolished just months before. Instead Brady was sentenced to concurrent life terms on each count, while Hindley received two life terms plus seven years in the Kilbride case. In 1985 Brady finally confessed to the Reade and Bennet murders and a year later, Myra returned to Saddleworth Moor with police to help them find remains. Pauline Reade’s body was found, but Keith Bennet’s remains undiscovered.
It remains unclear to what extent Myra participated in the killings – undoubtedly her presence made it easier for Brady to abduct the children, and very probably that would have been impossible without her. She was definitely fully aware of what was done, and made no move to help the victims – quite the contrary. However, every indication is that Brady planned, initiated and carried out the actual abuse and murders.
Certainly, the judge on the case said, a mere two days after sentencing:
"Though I believe Brady is wicked beyond belief without hope of redemption, I cannot feel that the same is necessarily true of Hindley once she is removed from his influence."
During her time in jail, Myra studied for and passed an open university degree, returned to practising Catholicism, and by all accounts was a model prisoner, offering assistance to the police in seeking the bodies of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennet
Nonetheless, far more than Brady, Myra has been demonised. It was her involvement in the case that outraged people most. The murders were disgusting, of course, but that a woman should be involved was unthinkable. In addition, the only image of her ever presented to the public was the cold eyed, bleach-blonde mugshot taken on her arrest.
While the British public might stumble over recognising Ian Brady’s name, the same was never the case with Myra Hindley – her name, in the mind of the British public is synonymous with evil - and while other criminals received the option to seek parole, or life sentences were completed at a term of 25 years, Myra Hindley spent 36 of her 60 years in jail. Despite campaigns by well know justice advocates such as Lord Longford and Hindley’s own plea to: ”be treated with the same fairness and justice as would any other life sentence prisoner, however difficult” a series of Home Secretaries refused point blank to even consider releasing her (it should be noted that Brady has never sought release).
Myra Hindley was a woman who killed children, and such was the repugnance against this ‘unnatural’ act that she never stood a chance of being able to prove herself rehabilitated – nobody was ever interested in her rehabilitation, just her punishment.
She died on Friday 15 November 2002 in West Suffolk Hospital at Bury St Edmunds, where she was taken from prison after suffering a heart attack.