Saddleworth Moor is part of the South Pennines, an area of moorland and hill country in the north of England. It’s a bleak, windswept and desolate place, with not really that much to commend it in the way of natural beauty.
The Moor also has a sinister reputation. For most people it is associated with one thing and one thing only: it’s the place where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the most notorious serial killers in British history, buried their child victims.
The names and their fates are engraved in popular consciousness. Pauline Reade, aged sixteen, disappeared on her way to a disco on July 12, 1963. John Kilbride, aged twelve, was snatched in November the same year. Keith Bennett, also aged twelve, was taken on June 16, 1964 after he left home to visit his grandmother. Lesley Ann Downey, aged ten, was lured away from a funfair on December 26, 1964; and Edward Evans, aged seventeen, was murdered in October 1965. With the exception of the last named, all were sexually tortured and killed before being buried on Saddleworth. Keith Bennett’s body, to this day, has never been found.
Brady and Hindley were both sentenced to life imprisonment for their crimes. Hindley died, still in prison, ten years ago. Brady, now aged seventy-four, has been held in a maximum security psychiatric hospital since 1985.
Winnie Johnson, Keith Bennett’s mother, died on the early hours of Saturday morning aged seventy-eight. For decades after he son’s disappearance and death she made repeated attempts to discover the whereabouts of his body, hoping to give him a Christian burial.
She wrote to Brady several times, addressing him as “Dear Mr Brady”, the final time only a few months before her death from bowel cancer. Telling him that she was terminally ill, she concluded with a last plea - “If you have got it in your heart to tell me where Keith is, it would end the trouble I have lived in for 47 years.”
The story has one final appalling twist of the knife. Shortly before Mrs Johnson’s death, Greater Manchester Police revealed that they were investigating a claim that Brady had revealed the location of Keith Bennett’s body in documents passed to Jackie Powell, his mental health advocate, with strict instructions that they were not to be opened until after his death. In pursuance of this, Powell was arrested in South Wales on suspicion of preventing the burial of a body without lawful excuse. It’s now believed that the whole thing was a hoax orchestrated by Brady himself.
The game is now over. Commenting on Mrs Johnson’s death, Marie McCourt, a personal friend and herself the mother of a murder victim, said;
I am devastated over Winnie's death, it's so sad. Her death does take her away from that whip that Brady keeps using, it takes away his manipulation tool he has used over the years. I met Winnie lots of times and she was a good woman, a practical woman and always always, the one thing she wanted more than anything was to find her son's body. It’s so sad she never got that wish before she died. I hope he suffers a lot for it now. He has lost his bargaining tool and I hope people stand up to him now.
David Kirwan, the lawyer acting on Mrs. Johnson’s behalf, who met Brady twice to discuss the possibility of him being taken back to the Moors to help in the search, described his client’s death as an “absolute tragedy.” “I would sum her up in one word”, he said, “a mother.”
Winnie Johnson’s mental torture is over. She never found her son’s body in life. One can only hope that they are at last united in death.