Shadow Boxing

A blog that probes the mind's dark secrets

Lost or Found? The Missingest Boy

New evidence in 50-year-old Moors Murders case launches one more search.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley believed that killing kids would somehow make them special. Brady had convinced Hindley that their destiny was to evolve into superior individuals, which meant committing the perfect crime of murder. In reality, Brady had a letch to kill kids.

Hindley agreed to lure them, always surprised how easy it was.

She started with a friend of her sister’s, but then baited two twelve-year-old boys and a ten-year-old girl for Brady before their fifth murder led to their arrest.

Four bodies were recovered: one from their house and three from the moors outside Manchester, England. For the family of Keith Bennett, there was no closure. Neither Hindley (now deceased) nor Brady (still alive) pinpointed the location of his grave.

The evidence at hand, mostly from Brady’s photos and letters, suggests that the missing boy was buried somewhere in the vicinity of the other graves. It took two decades to unearth the earliest victim.

Here’s what happened, according to several accounts: 

On June 16, 1964, Brady selected the Roy Orbison song, “It’s Over” to be the secret code for their next victim. It was his habit to select a song to commemorate a murder. He and Hindley deposited a suitcase filled with potentially incriminating items at the lost luggage department of the train station and went looking for vulnerable prey.

Keith Bennett had just turned 12. He was with his mother, walking ahead, as they made their way to his grandmother’s house, where he would spend the night. He turned down a street, out of his mother’s sight, just as Hindley drove up. She asked for his assistance and offered a small reward. She later said that he willingly got into the car. She didn’t have to threaten or coerce him.

Keith’s mother arrived where she thought he’d be, but didn’t see him. She didn’t yet know that she’d lost him forever. She figured he’d gone on ahead. He knew the way.

Hindley and Brady drove the boy out to the moors. Hindley claimed she waited in the car for a while before Brady returned with a dirt-covered spade. The boy, she knew, was dead. Brady said he’d raped and strangled him with a cord. Brady buried the spade there. He’d taken a picture, which he later developed, that showed the blurred image of Keith on the ground and what looked like blood on him. Brady wasn’t happy that he’d gotten such a poor photo.

When they were arrested the following year after killing a teenager with an axe, they were tried for the murders of three of their victims. Years later in prison, they both confessed to two other abductions and murders, including Keith’s.

Through the years, there have been many attempts to look for any indication on the moors of disturbed ground or a change in vegetation that might signal a grave. This was how they'd located Pauline Reade's remains in 1987. Dog handlers and people with metal detectors and forensic devices have given it their best effort. Psychics and paranormal groups have tried as well. Keith’s mother died without knowing where he was buried, but his siblings are still eager to find out.

On a website devoted to Keith, his brother Alan has written, “Keith had little time for anything but laughter and nature. He was an ordinary, uncomplicated child, with his head in the clouds most of the time. He lived for the natural word and animals, and never returned home from a trip to the local park without a few finds - usually a handful of leaves or twigs. Autumn was his favourite season but he also loved the summer flowers.”

So, exactly 50 years to the day of Keith’s disappearance – today – another group of experts will start a new search. They've pinpointed three distinct football-size areas. In fact, they think they might find three more victims, as Brady had claimed he’d killed other children. Hindley denied this claim, but Brady could have acted on his own or with someone else.

I wrote about cold case sleuths and missing persons networks last week. These efforts have solved quite a few cases, helping families learn what happened to their missing loved ones and recover the remains. The interest in finding the only missing victim of the notorious Moors Murderers, even this many decades later, remains intense.  

Welsh Mountain Rescue leader David Jones will head the new team, which will pair human remains specialist dogs with high-tech devices. He is convinced new evidence, the nature of which has not yet been revealed, will bring them closer than “anyone has ever got” to finding the boy’s remains.

Half a century after Keith made an unfortunate decision to go with a killer, we wait to hear if this new team will succeed where others have failed.  

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., an expert on murder and other shadow themes, teaches forensic psychology and has published 46 books.

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