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Peter Thomas Anthony MANUEL






A.K.A.: "The Beast of Birkenshaw"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 9 - 12
Date of murders: 1956 - 1958
Date of arrest: January 13, 1958
Date of birth: March 15, 1927
Victims profile: Anna Knielands, 17 / Marion Watt, 45, her daughter Vivienne, 16, and Marion's sister Margaret, 41 / Sydney Dunn (taxi driver) / Isabelle Cooke, 17 / Peter Smart, 45, his wife Doris, and their son Michael, 10
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: England/Scotland, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow on July 11, 1958
photo gallery

National Archives of Scotland

records relating to the trial and execution of peter thomas anthony manuel

Selection of Medical & Psychiatric documents telating to Peter Manuel

part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4

Peter Manuel (March 1, 1927 – July 11, 1958) was a U.S.-born British serial killer who committed his crimes in Scotland. He was the second to last person to be hanged in Barlinnie prison and the third last to be hanged in Scotland.

Early life

Born in New York to Scottish parents, Manuel and his family moved to Coventry, England in 1932. Considered a juvenile delinquent throughout childhood, Manuel's first jail term was at age 16 for sexual assault. He served further sentences for rape before moving to Glasgow, Scotland in 1953 to join his family, who had moved there.


Although Manuel confessed while in custody to killing eighteen people, he was tried for the murders of only eight people in 1958. One of the cases against him was thrown out of court; another, committed in England, was attributed to him following his death.

Anne Kneilands: 17. On 2 January 1956, Kneilands was stalked onto an East Kilbride golfcourse, where she was raped and bludgeoned to death with a length of iron. Although he was questioned by police about the murder and would confess to it two years later, Manuel escaped arrest when his father gave him an alibi. He was charged with this murder in 1958, but the case against him would be dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Marion Watt, Vivienne Watt, and Margaret Brown: 45, 16, and 41. Marion, her daughter Vivienne, and her sister Margaret, were shot to death in their home in Burnside, Glasgow, on 17 September 1956. Manuel was out on bail for a burglary at a nearby colliery at the time of the murders, and was suspected by officers in charge of the manhunt for the Watts’ killer, but he once again evaded capture following the arrest of Marion’s husband, William. Although released two months later, he was assumed guilty of the murders until 1958, when the Smart family were gunned down in their home just a few miles away.

Sydney Dunn: 36. Manuel shot and killed his fifth victim, taxi driver Sydney Dunn, on 8 December 1957 whilst looking for work in Newcastle. Dunn’s body was found on moorlands in Northumbria soon after, but by this time, Manuel had already returned to Lanarkshire. As with the case of Anne Kneilands, there remains some doubt as to whether or not Manuel did indeed kill Dunn; an inquiry into the murder, held a fortnight after the killer was hanged at Barlinnie, officially tied the crime to him after a button found in Dunn's taxi was matched to one of his jackets.

Isabelle Cooke: 17. Cooke disappeared after leaving her Mount Vernon home to go to a dance at Uddingston Grammar School on 28 December 1957. Manuel stalked her, raped and then strangled her, and then buried her in a nearby field; he would later lead officers to the spot where he’d disposed of her body. As with Dunn’s murder twenty days earlier, Cooke’s disappearance was not initially connected to Manuel.

Peter, Doris, and Michael Smart: 45, 42, and 10. The Smarts were shot to death in their Uddingston home on 1 January 1958. Manuel then stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from a Hogmanay meal and even feeding the family cat, before stealing some brand-new banknotes that Peter Smart had been keeping for a holiday, and taking the family car and dumping it nearby. Ironically, Manuel gave a lift in this car to a police officer investigating the disappearance of Isabelle Cooke, and even told him that he felt the police weren’t looking in the right places. It was only following the Smarts’ murders that police realised a serial killer was on the loose, leading to the exoneration of William Watt.

Arrest, trial and execution

On 13 January 1958, Manuel was arrested when the new banknotes he stole from the Smarts' home aroused the suspicion of a local bartender. The police traced the notes to Peter Smart and arrested Manuel, who was charged with seven murders. At his trial at Glasgow High Court, Manuel conducted his own defence but was unable to convince the judge of his insanity plea. He was found guilty in May 1958 of seven murders, although many connected with the case believe he killed up to 15 people. He was hanged at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow on July 11, 1958.

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Manuel was not the last criminal to be executed in Scotland, but the third-last. Anthony Miller followed Manuel on to the Barlinnie gallows in December 1960, while Henry John Burnett suffered a similar fate at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen in August 1963.

In 2009, a BBC programme Inside the Mind of a Psychopath argued that the authorities colluded to ensure Manuel was hanged, despite the fact that he was a known psychopath.

Scottish actor Brian Cox based his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter on Manuel.


Manuel, Peter Thomas Anthony

At 8.45 on the morning of 17 September 1956 Mrs Helen Collison arrived at the High Burnside bungalow as she did every day to start work as the daily help. She was surprised to find the house still locked and the curtains drawn. When she noticed that a pane of glass in the kitchen door had been broken alarm bells started ringing inside her head. Scared of what she might find she went next door to ask for help. Just then, Peter Collier, who was a postman arrived and, reaching through the broken glass, opened the door. Mrs Collison entered the house but soon came back out again.

Lying in bed were the bodies of 45-year-old Marion Watt and her sister, Margaret. Both of them had been shot at close range. Mrs Collison then remembered the Watt's 16-year-old daughter, Vivienne. Moving quickly to the young girls bedroom she was horrified to find that she too, was lying dead in her bed.

Mrs Watt's husband, William, was a master baker who owned a string of shops in Glasgow had gone away for a week's fishing holiday. So that Marion would not have to be in the house on her own Margaret had been staying with her during her husband's absence. Police investigating the killings heard of another bungalow in Fennbank Avenue that had been burgled during the night. The officer that investigated the second break-in recognised the handiwork of local villain Peter Manuel. He was 30-years-old who had been born in New York. His family had returned to Britain in 1932 and he had a history of offences that started when he was 12 years-old. He was currently on bail for a break-in at a local colliery. Police hurried around to the Manuel home but could find no evidence and Manuel frustrated police efforts by refusing to tell them his movements. A couple of weeks later Manuel was given 18 month's for the colliery job. Police suspicions had now centred on Mr Watts. The police had interviewed a ferryman on the Clyde who thought that he carried Mr Watts' car across on the night of the killings. Due to this mistake William Watts spent over two months in jail before police were satisfied of his innocence and he was released.

On Manuel's release he paid a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On December 7 1957, at 4.30 am, he hired the taxi of 36-year-old Sydney Dunn. The next day a policeman cycling along a moorland road near Edmundbyers, twenty miles from Newcastle, noticed a car abandoned in a gully. Although the car was empty it did have signs of fresh blood. He reported it and a search was launched to find the missing driver. It was not long before they discovered the body of Sydney Dunn. He had been shot and his throat had been slashed.

Meanwhile further north in Glasgow, a young girl, Isabelle Cooke who was 17-years-old had arranged to go to a dance in nearby Uddingston with her boyfriend on December 28. She left her home to meet him but never arrived. Her father reported her missing at 9 am the following morning.

Over the next couple of days various items of Isabelle's clothing were found but there was no sign of the girl herself. In Uddingston, at about 5.45am on 4 January, Mr and Mrs McMunn awoke to find a face peering around the bedroom door of their Sheepburn Road house. Mr McMunn had the presence to mind to call to his wife, 'Where's the gun?' and the intruder fled. The story of the break-in heightened the feeling of tension that was already existing in the street. Neighbours had felt uneasy for several days as they passed the bungalow belonging to 45-year-old Peter Smart and his wife, Doris. They noticed that the curtains were closed at strange times and felt that they were being watched as they passed. All the same it was not until Peter Smart failed to return to work after the New Year's holiday on January 6 that anyone reported anything strange. When his car was found abandoned, the police were worried. Police went to investigate the Smart's bungalow and forced the back door. In a heavily bloodstained main bedroom they found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Smart and in a smaller bedroom they found the body of their 10-year-old son, Michael. All three of them had been shot.

One person that the police had their eye on was Peter Manuel. A man who was normally broke, was now spending freely in the local bars. They managed to recover some of the £1 notes that Manuel had passed and found that they were crisp and of a newly printed batch. Taking them to the bank they asked if they could be traced. The bank checked the serial numbers and found that they had been paid over to Mr Smart, who had cashed a cheque in preparation for a holiday. This was all the police needed and they arrested Manuel and put him on an identification parade. He was identified by staff and drinkers at a bar where he had handed over other new blue notes that were in the same sequence as the ones given to Peter Smart.

He was arrested and charged on 13 January 1958. He agreed to help detectives and confessed to killing the Smarts and also to the murder of the Watts and Isabelle Cooke. He also owned up to the murder of another 17-year-old girl, Anne Knielands. Her body had been found on the fifth fairway of East Kilbride Golf Course on 4 January 1956. He had smashed her skull with a length of iron. He took police officers to the spot where he had buried Isabelle Cooke in a field and casually remarked 'This is the place. In fact, I think I'm standing on her now.'

At his trial in May 1958 he was found guilty on seven counts of murder, being found not guilty of the murder of Anne Knielands on the direction of the judge. When he was hanged at Barlinnie Prison on 11 July 1958 he was still only 31 years old.


Call to examine 50s killer case

BBC News

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Vital information about Scotland's most notorious serial killer may have been suppressed to ensure he was hanged, a legal expert has claimed.

Peter Manuel was executed at Barlinnie prison in Glasgow in 1958 after being convicted of murdering seven people.

Dr Richard Goldberg, of Aberdeen University's law school, believes evidence about Manuel's mental health was withheld from the court.

He called on government archives on the case to be opened to the public.

Manuel, who was born in the US but moved to England with his family at the age of six, served jail terms for rape and sexual assault before moving to Glasgow in 1953.

Family killed

In an orgy of violence between 1956 and 1958, he was responsible for killing at least seven times, although it is generally believed the true figure was closer to 15.

While awaiting execution in prison, he is said to have admitted killing up to 18 people.

Manuel was convicted of the murder of three female members of the Watt family, including a 16-year-old girl, in a house in Burnside by shooting them in the head at close range.

He also butchered a family-of-three in Uddingston, Lanarkshire, as they slept, and 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke as she walked to a dance at Uddingston High School.

When detectives later took Manuel to the field where he buried Isabelle and asked where her body was, he replied: "I'm standing on her now."

The guns he used to murder his victims are still held in the Strathclyde Police museum.

There were few tears of sympathy for the mass murderer when Lord Cameron donned his black cap to pass the death sentence to make Manuel one of the last people to be executed in Scotland.

But Dr Goldberg, whose father witnessed a medical examination of Manuel while working as a consultant at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow, said he believed Manuel may have escaped the gallows if the court had been told the full extent of his health problems, which included a form of epilepsy many believe can cause criminal behaviour.

He believes that the possibility of a mental disorder - which would have led to a diminished responsibility verdict rather than execution - was not adequately explored during the trial.

Dr Goldberg added: "I think there was considerable evidence that he was a psychopath, there was debate over whether there should be a reprieve, and in my view insufficient weight was given to that evidence and also to the fact that Manuel suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy.

"To me it is in the public interest that we have access to this information, that the public should see that justice was done properly, and they should have access to everything in the Manuel files.

"I think it is remarkable that 50 years after his trial there are still files that are closed and there is still uncertainty about what evidence still lies there."

He told BBC Scotland he had come up against a "brick wall" when trying to access some files.

Little opposition

He added: "When you read the files you see the pressure from the Scottish Home Department.

"They look at this issue of his psychopathic personality and they say 'We don't think he's a psychopath, but even if he is a psychopath he's a very marginal psychopath', so there is a pressure on people at the time to get him hanged.

"The problem is that psychopathic personality disorder still is not a basis for a plea of diminished responsibility, unlike in England, and this remains an anomaly."

Many of the papers used in Manuel's case were sealed for 75 years in 1958.

Journalist Russell Galbraith, who covered Manuel's trial, said there was little opposition to the decision to execute him at the time, even from anti-capital punishment protestors.

He said: "I don't remember any great enthusiasm from people trying to save Manuel, I must say, although there was obviously an abhorrence at the death penalty in many places."


Killing spree claimed eight lives

BBC News

Monday, 16 February 2009

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel brought terror to the streets of suburban Scotland in the 1950s.

He confessed to eight murders, but was suspected of involvement in many more killings. His victims were battered to death or shot in their own beds.

A teenager from High Blantyre was the first to die.

Anne Kneilands, who was 17, had planned to go dancing in Glasgow on 2 January, 1956. But her date was suffering from a Hogmanay hangover and never turned up.

Manuel stalked Anne after she left a friend's house in East Kilbride and pursued the terrified girl over a golf course, before beating her to death with an iron bar.

Manuel was a known sex offender. He'd been working locally for the gas board, laying mains pipes which were to serve East Kilbride New Town. He'd returned to work on 4 January with scratches clearly visible on his face. Some of his clothes were missing.

But his father, Samuel, gave his son an alibi. Lanarkshire Police simply didn't have enough evidence against Manuel.

No evidence

He would kill again, just nine months later on 17 September, 1956.

Marion Watt, the 45-year-old wife of a prosperous local businessman, her 16-year-old daughter Vivienne and sister Margaret Brown, were murdered at a bungalow in High Burnside, south of Glasgow.

They were shot in the dead of night.

Marion Watt's husband, William, was arrested and charged with the murder of his own family. He spent 67 days inside Barlinnie Prison before detectives realised they had no sound evidence against him.

Meanwhile, Manuel found himself locked up at Barlinnie after he was convicted of housebreaking.

Manuel was released at the end of November 1957, when the tempo of his killings increased.

In early December, Sydney Dunn, a taxi driver from Newcastle was found dead on a desolate moorland in Northumberland. He'd been shot at close range and had his throat slit.

Victim buried

Doubts remain about whether Manuel was the killer but a coroner's jury found him guilty of the crime following his execution.

Manuel's next victim, Isabelle Cooke, was to die on 28 December. The 17-year-old disappeared after leaving her home in Mount Vernon to meet a boyfriend in Uddingston.

Isabelle's body was only discovered after Manuel led detectives to the exact spot in a ploughed field where he had buried her. He's reported to have told police: "You are standing on her".

Manuel was to kill for the last time in the early hours of New Year's Day 1958.

Peter Smart, his wife Doris, and their 11-year-old son Michael, were shot as they slept in an attack horribly reminiscent of the Watt murders. Their bodies were to lie undiscovered until 6 January.

Despite the carnage at the Smart's home, Manuel repeatedly returned to the death scene.

Neighbours noticed the front curtains had been drawn and later reopened. Lights were switched on and off. Manuel later told police he'd even fed the Smart's cat.

Eight murders

All this as Peter, Doris and Michael lay dead.

Manuel was eventually arrested at his family home in Birkenshaw, near Uddingston, on 14 January.

He later confessed to eight murders, although he never accepted responsibility for Sydney Dunn's death or any of the other murder cases with which his name has been linked.

After a dramatic trial at the High Court in Glasgow, during which Manuel conducted his own defence, he was convicted of seven murders. The judge had ruled that Manuel's confession to the murder of Anne Kneilands was inadmissable.

Manuel was convicted in May. His appeal failed in June, and he was executed on 11 July 1958.

Justice had been swift.

Few mourned his passing and Scotland could once again sleep easily.


Manuel, Peter Thomas Anthony



DATE(S): 1956-58

VENUE: Scotland/England


MO: Career criminal; murdered victims during robberies.

DISPOSITION: Hanged in Glasgow, July 11, 1958.



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