The Leeds Strangler
BBC - Crimewatch
Leanne Tiernan, a 16-year-old schoolgirl,
disappeared at around 5pm on Sunday 26 November 2000, while walking
alone through an isolated and unlit path known as Houghley Gill -
less than a mile from where she lived in Bramley, Leeds. She took
public footpath as a short cut home after going Christmas shopping
with a friend. The two friends said their goodbyes and Leanne was
never seen again.
The search for her became the largest West Yorkshire
had ever seen. More than 1,000 properties were searched, a 3-mile
stretch of canal was drained and rubbish collections were halted while
police looked for any sign of her. Leanne's family made public appeals
and police released an e-fit of a man who'd been seen walking a small
dog in the area. The man was not a regular dog walker in the area but
had been seen several times near where Leanne went missing before her
disappearance, but not after.
Eight months later Leanne's body was found in Lindley
Woods in North Yorkshire by a local walker. Police launched a major
murder investigation. Leanne had been strangled and it was now becoming
apparent that she had been abducted.
Leanne's body provided clues about who had killed her
but hopes of a quick breakthrough were dashed when tests revealed there
was none of the murderer's DNA on the body. This was a real
disappointment but the police began a different approach - piecing
together a jigsaw of evidence obtained through tenacious policing that
made sure no stone was left unturned.
First, they made a public appeal for people linked to
the Bramley area of Leeds and Lindley Woods. Experience told police the
murderer was likely to have been familiar with both the area where
Leanne had been abducted and where her body had been left. The appeal
generated hundreds of names including that of a poacher who lived in
Bramley and used to go to the woods: John Taylor.
Secondly, detectives set out to work investigating
the items that were found on Leanne. Leanne's body was discovered
wrapped in a duvet cover and green dustbin liners. Her head was covered
by a black plastic bag, which was held in place by a dog collar. A scarf
and plastic cable tie had been tied around her neck and cable ties bound
together her wrists.
Police went to great lengths to trace people in
Bramley who had bought a dog collar matching the one found on Leanne's
body. They contacted more than 100 pet shops and suppliers before they
were successful and eventually made contact with a company who kept
computerised records of all customers, including those supplied by mail
order. One of those customers had bought a number of dog collars similar
to the one found on Leanne's body and he lived in Bramley. His name was
When the same name appeared from two separate lines
of enquiry it was impossible to ignore. John Taylor became the prime
suspect. Upon further enquiries police discovered that 44-year-old John
Taylor was a Parcel Force employee and lived within a mile of where
Leanne was abducted. Taylor was known locally as 'the pet-man'. He had
kept various animals at home such as dogs and ferrets and was a keen
poacher. He was divorced with children.
The fact that John Taylor worked at Parcel Force was
also significant as some of the cable ties found on Leanne's body were
supplied almost exclusively to Parcel Force's parent company Royal Mail.
Police began searching Taylor's house with a fine-tooth comb. They found
cable ties and a dog collar, identical to those found with Leanne's body,
inside Taylor's house.
Police enlisted the help of forensic scientists to
prove Leanne had been at Taylor's house. Scientists had found a strand
of pink carpet fibre on the jumper Leanne's jumper was wearing when she
was found. Pink carpet fibres were then found attached to a nail in
Taylor's house. These fibres were indistinguishable from those found on
Leanne's jumper. Taylor had had destroyed the pink carpet but luckily a
few fibres still remained.
After Taylor was arrested, forensic scientists also
found Leanne's blood under Taylor's floor boards, and after excavating
his garden they found the remains of a small dog with a shattered skull.
It's possible Taylor could have killed his dog when police made an
appeal on the news, with an e-fit of a man, saying that a man with a dog
had been seen near to the place and time where Leanne had gone missing.
Ten months after Leanne disappeared, John Taylor was
arrested and charged with her abduction and murder. Taylor pleaded
guilty. When passing sentence the judge described the crime as "as cold
and calculating an act as can be imagined". He told Taylor that he was "
a dangerous sexual sadist" who should "expect to spend the rest of (his)
life in custody". Taylor was sentenced to two life sentences.
In 2003, once police had Taylor's DNA profile on the
database, Taylor was convicted of two rapes in 1988 and 1989 in the
Bramley. The first rape in October 1988 occurred on Houghley Gill - the
same public footpath from which Leanne was abducted. The second offence
took place in March 1989, during which a young woman was attacked in her
own home while alone with her 18-month-old daughter. Taylor pleaded
guilty to these attacks and received two further life sentences.
26 November 2000 - Leanne Tiernan
disappears from Houghley Gill at approx 5pm.
1 December 2000 - Leanne's mum makes
her first public appeal on the news about Leanne's disappearance.
21 December 2000 - Police make an
appeal on the National and local news, saying that a man with a dog was
seen nearby to the time and place where Leanne disappeared.
18 August 2001 - A local dog walker
discovers Leanne's body in woodland in Leeds called Lindley Woods.
16 October 2001 - Taylor arrested
for the abduction and murder of Leanne Tiernan.
8 July 2002 - Taylor pleads guilty
to abducting and murdering Leanne. He is found guilty and is sentenced
to two life sentences.
February 2003 - Taylor is convicted
of two rapes of women in 1988 and 1989 in Bramley. He pleads guilty and
receives two further life sentences.
John Taylor: Killer in the Woods
John Taylor was a man who was
outwardly viewed as a Ďregular guyí but who inwardly harboured a
darkness that led to murder. In 2000, Taylor abducted Leeds teenager,
Leanne Tiernan, engendering a missing persons search that became the
biggest inquiry in the history of the West Yorkshire police force.
Eventually convicted for her kidnap and murder, Taylor is currently
serving two counts of life imprisonment.
Leeds-born John Taylor enjoyed hunting from an early
age. He was known to derive pleasure from inflicting pain on small
animals. He would catch and torture rabbits; he had been seen stabbing a
fox repeatedly, while out poaching; and also enjoyed clubbing pheasants
Taylor had exhibited problems with his personal
relationships although he had been married and had a son, born in 1981,
and a daughter, born in 1983.
The divorced Taylor was a parcel delivery worker and
lived alone in a terraced home in Cockshott Drive, Bramley, Leeds. His
neighbours thought of him as trustworthy and described him as Ďan
ordinary blokeí. However, under the surface, the troubled Taylor would
advertise for female companions and would often travel across the
country to have sex.
On the evening of 26th November 2000, Leeds teenager
Leanne Tiernan, 16, was on her way home when she disappeared. Studying
for her GCSEs, Tiernan had been shopping for Christmas gifts in the city
with her friend, Sarah Whitehouse. The girls had shared a bus ride into
the suburb of Bramley and parted near Whitehouseís home. Tiernan then
continued alone towards her own home but never arrived.
John Taylor had been lurking in the woods, waiting
for a likely victim. It turned out to be Tiernan. As she walked alone
along the unlit path known as Houghley Gill that she frequently used,
Taylor grabbed her from behind. Whilst there were no eyewitnesses, it
was later reported that someone had heard a stifled scream. Taylor put
his hand over her mouth, blindfolded her and led her to his house. There
he tied her hands behind her back and during the course of a sexual
assault, strangled her with a scarf and a plastic ligature.
Tiernanís parents, Michael Tiernan and Sharon
Hawkhead, were divorced and her father was away on holiday at the time.
When Tiernan did not return home from shopping, her mother immediately
reported her missing to the police. She described her daughter as happy,
confident, streetwise and never having gone missing before.
Detective Superintendent Chris Gregg of the West
Yorkshire Police led the investigation into Tiernanís missing person
case. A week after her disappearance, investigators reconstructed
Tiernanís last movements. Her sister Michelle, 19, and friend, Sarah
Whitehouse, wearing the same clothing as Tiernan and Whitehouse had on
26th November, followed the same route home. Unfortunately this did not
produce any further clues. Tiernanís parents both made emotional appeals
to the public for any assistance they may provide in the search for
Leanne. There were several reports of possible sightings of Tiernan,
which police investigated, but to no avail.
Complicating the police search was the fact that the
area in which Tiernan had disappeared consisted of vastly varying
terrain. There were more than 700 houses, open areas, woodland, canals,
drainage shafts and wells. Police conducted an extensive house-to-house
inquiry and the search eventually grew enormous, involving uniformed
officers, operational support, the dog section, the mounted section,
underwater search and air support.
On Monday 20th August 2001, nine months after she
disappeared, Leanne Tiernanís body was discovered near Otley on the
border of North and West Yorkshire, 16 miles from her house and several
miles from the scene of the crime. A man, out walking his dog in Lindley
Woods near the Warren Point car park, stumbled across her body, wrapped
in a floral duvet cover and buried in a shallow grave. It transpired
that a few days before the body was discovered, a retired couple had
seen a man carrying a large floral-patterned bundle from the boot of his
car into the woods.
Inside the duvet cover, Leanneís body had been
wrapped in green plastic bin-liners, tied with twine. Covering her head
was a black bin-liner, held in place with a dog collar tied tightly
around her neck. Her hands had been bound together with cable ties and
around her neck were more cable ties and a scarf.
The post mortem examination concluded that the degree
of decomposition of the body was inconsistent with burial in the ground
for the full nine months since Tiernanís disappearance. Investigators
were therefore hopeful that enough forensic evidence would be present to
lead them to the killer. Police officers, forensic and scientific
experts conducted a fingertip search of the dense woodland where
Tiernanís body had been buried and expanded this to cover an area of
20,000 square metres.
Leanne Tiernanís funeral was held on Friday 28th
September 2001, a day after what would have been her 17th birthday. The
service was held less than a mile from where she disappeared and close
to her home, at the Sandford Methodist Church in Bramley.
About a hundred people packed into the small church,
where Tiernan had been baptised, whilst other mourners had to stand
outside and hear a relayed version of the service, led by Sister Janet
Durbin. Deaconess Durbin said, ďLeanne was a normal, happy, fun-loving
teenager, half child and half young lady.Ē
Amongst those in attendance were Tiernanís mother
Sharon Hawkhead, her sister Michelle, her friend Sarah Whitehouse, and
Detective Superintendent Chris Gregg. The private burial took place at
the nearby Hill Top Cemetery.
During their investigation, the West Yorkshire police
learned that Taylor had often been seen hunting small animals in Lindley
Woods, where Tiernanís body was discovered and he was placed onto their
list of suspects. Forensic investigators found dog hairs on Tiernanís
body and needed further information. The dog hair DNA sample was sent to
a university in Texas, which had developed a DNA profiling technique for
pedigreed pets. The university produced a partial profile for a dog but
unfortunately police were unable to link this to Taylor, as the dog he
owned at the time of Tiernanís murder had subsequently died. This was
the first time dog DNA had been used in a British criminal case.
The knitted scarf found around Tiernanís neck
contained human hair in the knot. Initial conventional DNA tests of the
hair roots failed, so forensic experts used Mitochondrial DNA testing.
Using these results, they managed to create a DNA profile from the
minute amounts of DNA inside the hair shaft and it was a match to
John Taylor, 45, was arrested on 16th October 2001
and taken to a police station in Leeds for questioning. Police
immediately sealed off his house in Cockshott Drive, putting up seven-foot
high wooden screens and began their search. Investigators dug up the
garden and discovered the bodies of 28 ferrets and the skeletons of four
dogs, one with a crushed skull. Detective Superintendent Gregg commented,
ďTaylor appears to have been an ordinary man but he is not. He has a
dangerous, extremely dangerous nature. This is displayed in the way in
which he treated animals throughout his life.Ē
Further investigation provided more evidence in their
case against Taylor. The tan leather dog collar found on Tiernanís body,
had been made by a company in Nottingham. This company sold the collars
to wholesalers, including a mail order company in Liverpool, one of
whose customers was Taylor.
The twine that had been used to tie the green bin-liners
around Tiernanís body was of an unusual composition. It was traced to a
manufacturer in Devon and, having originally been made for the Ministry
of Defence, had more recently been sold for rabbit netting. Later, in a
search of Taylorís house, police found an exact march of the twine, as
well as a piece of green plastic, identical to the bin-liners used to
wrap Tiernanís dead body.
The yellow cable ties, used to bind and gag Tiernan,
had been manufactured by an Italian company who sold 99% of them to the
Royal Mail. Taylor worked for Parcelforce, a division of Royal Mail.
Red nylon fibres were discovered on Tiernanís jumper
and found to have distinctive dye patterns. These fibres were matched to
those found clinging to nails in the floor of Taylorís house. He had
previously ripped out a red carpet and burned it, in order to destroy
evidence of Tiernanís presence in his home.
Police investigators questioned Taylorís ex-girlfriends,
who revealed similar stories of Taylorís love of tying up women, unusual
fantasies and enjoying sado-masochistic sex. One woman claimed Taylor
had told her of his desire to have sex with her 15-year-old daughter.
The West Yorkshire police were certain that Tiernan
had not been Taylorís first victim. Greggís team were further
investigating other major crimes committed over the previous 20 years,
to see if Taylor may have been involved in them. They focussed on four
in particular. The first was the 1992 murder of Yvonne Fitt, a
prostitute from Bradford, whose body as found in a shallow grave in the
same woodland where Tiernan was buried. The other three were Lindsey Jo
Rimer, who disappeared in 1994; Deborah Wood, whose body was found in
1996; and Rebecca Hall, found in an alley in Bradford in 2001.
Taylorís 2002 trial was held at the Leeds Crown Court
and presided over by the Honourable Mr Justice Astill. Taylor was
represented by defence lawyer Graham Stowe Bateson and despite the
extensive evidence against him, Taylor only admitted to abducting Leanne
and not to killing her.
His version of events was that she had fallen off his
bed and banged her head. Believing she was dead, he had lifted her using
the scarf that was around her neck and that must have been when she died.
He had panicked and buried her body in Lindley Woods.
Results of the post mortem examination on Tiernanís
body had concluded that the degree of decomposition was not consistent
with burial in the ground for many months, as Taylor had suggested. The
judge therefore concluded that the defendant had kept the body for some
time between three weeks and nine months in his deep freeze, perhaps as
a trophy or to avoid detection, before burying it in the woods.
Judge Astill said to Taylor, ďYou are a dangerous
sexual sadist. Your purpose in kidnapping this young girl was so that
you could satisfy your perverted cravings. This was a planned,
premeditated encounter. ÖIt was a cold and calculating act and the
suffering you caused was immeasurable.Ē
Prosecutor Robert Smith QC claimed that the state of
Tiernanís body when she was found meant that is wasnít possible to
establish for certain whether or not she had been sexually abused.
However, Smith claimed that Taylorís motive for killing her was clearly
for the purpose of sexual gratification.
On 8th July 2002, showing no emotion, 46-year-old
John Taylor pleaded guilty to the kidnap and murder of Leanne Tiernan on
26th November 2000. Taylor stared straight ahead as he was sentenced to
two counts of life imprisonment, during which the public gallery cheered
Judge Astill recommended that Taylor serve 25 years
before being considered for parole. Whilst Lord Woolf CJ later reduced
this to 20 years, saying this was more in line with current practice,
Taylor can most likely expect to spend rest of his life in prison.
Taylor was sent to the maximum-security Wakefield prison, home to other
infamous criminals Harold Shipman, Ian Huntley and Roy Whiting.
Following sentencing, Tiernanís mother, Sharon
Hawkhead, said ďAlthough John Taylor has been locked up, our agony
continues. We feel nothing for him. We are pleased that he has been
locked up so he canít do this to anyone else, but life should mean life.Ē
Police had warned that whilst Taylor had no criminal
record before being charged with Tiernanís abduction and murder, he
could feasibly have killed before. In the investigation following
Taylorís arrest, police had embarked on painstaking review of unsolved
cases of sexual attacks in the area.
By October 2002 Taylor was being questioned in
connection with these 1980s assaults. The first occurred on 18th October
1988 when Taylor, armed with a mask and knife, attacked a 32-year-old
woman as she walked across some waste ground near Houghley Gill, Leeds.
He forced her to commit a sexual act on him and then raped her.
The second was on 1st March 1989 when a masked
Taylor, armed with a knife, broke into a 21-year-old womanís Bramley
home. It was lunchtime and her baby was in another room at the time. He
forced her into her bedroom, undressed her, blindfolded and gagged her,
forced her to perform a sexual act on him and then raped her.
On 3rd April 2003, Taylor pleaded guilty to the two
rapes before the Honourable Norman Jones QC, the Recorder of Leeds, who
sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for
a minimum of 30 years. The sentence was to be reduced by eight months 26
days, which Taylor had already spent in prison.
True North Productions made a television documentary
about John Taylor, ĎKiller in the Woodsí (2003) produced and directed by
Carey Latimore -
Case No: 2004/324/MTS
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Royal Courts of
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
Before : THE
HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE OPENSHAW
- and -
John TAYLOR Defendant
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no
official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that
copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.
Mr. Justice OPENSHAW :
1. On the 8th July 2002 following his plea of
guilty to murder before Mr Justice Astill, at the Crown Court at
Leeds, John Taylor was sentenced to the mandatory term of life
imprisonment. The judge recommended that he serve 25 years before
being considered for release by the Parole Board. In due course,
Lord Woolf CJ reduced that recommendation to 20 years; he said no
doubt correctly - that 25 years 'was out of line with current
practice'. However, before the Secretary of State set the minimum
term which he must serve, the process became subject to the new
regime introduced by section 269 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
He is now an 'existing prisoner' within the meaning of Schedule 22
of the Act; the Secretary of State has referred the matter to the
High Court under paragraph 6 of that schedule for the minimum term
to be set, pursuant to section 28(5) of the Crime (Sentences) Act
2. Although I have read the police 'Report for
the High Court', this summary of the facts is taken from the written
recommendation made at the time by the sentencing judge. On the
evening of the 26 November 2000, Leanne Tiernan, a 16 year old girl
was walking home along an unlit wooded path (known locally as
Houghley Gill) in Leeds. The defendant, who was a complete stranger
to her, was laying in wait; Leanne was not personally targeted, the
defendant would have attacked any vulnerable young woman walking
alone. There was no eye-witness to what followed but a girl's scream
was heard but stifled. It is plain that he seized her and by force
compelled her to walk to his home, having tied her hands behind her
back and blind-folded her. Back at his house, during the course of
a sexual assault upon her, he strangled her with a scarf and a
3. Leanne's body was not discovered until August
2001; it was buried in a shallow grave in Lindley Woods, some miles
away. A man had been seen carrying a large bundle from the boot of
his car into the woods some days before the discovery. Her hands
were tied and a knotted scarf and a plastic cable were wound tightly
around the neck. The post mortem examination concluded that the
degree of composition was inconsistent with burial in the ground for
many months, as the defendant suggested. Based upon expert evidence,
the judge concluded that the defendant had kept the body for some
time in his deep freeze; presumably this was in part to avoid
detection and in part as a trophy.
4. This was a planned and sadistic murder of a
child, aggravated by the element of abduction and sexual assault.
The victim must have suffered terribly. He then hid the body, first
in the freezer and then in the woods. Even in cases of this gravity,
I am required to consider whether credit should be given for a plea
of guilty, but some of the little credit available was lost by his
persistence in denying some elements of the offence; a Newton
hearing was ordered but the defendant withdrew his basis of plea on
the day of he hearing. These circumstances would now attract a
whole life tariff, even on a plea.
5. I have read the representations made on his
behalf by Graham Stowe Bateson. In my judgment, there was no
mitigation whatsoever either in the facts of the offence or in his
personal circumstances. It is true that he has made some progress in
prison but set against the magnitude of his offending, this frankly
- counts for nothing.
6. I note that the family of the victim have said
that they intend to submit Victim Personal Statements but they have
not, in fact done so. Their anguish does not need to be spelt out,
for it is obvious to all.
7. Following his arrest for murder and now having
his DNA, the police embarked upon a painstaking review of the
unsolved sexual attacks by strangers upon women in the locality. By
this means the defendant's guilt was proved of two other terrible
rapes committed respectively in 1988 and 1989. The facts of these
cases can be stated shortly. (I use initials only to preserve their
anonymity) A was aged 32, she was attacked and raped by the
defendant, who was masked and armed with a knife as she walked
across some waste ground near Houghley Gill on 18 October 1988; he
forced her to take his penis in her mouth; he raped her vaginally
and threatened her with anal rape; not surprisingly she has been
dreadfully affected by her ordeal. B was aged 21 as she was accosted
by a masked man, armed with a knife, who intruded into her own home
at lunchtime on 1st March 1989; he made her go to her bed-room,
where he undressed her; he blindfolded her and gagged her; again he
forced her to commit an act of oral sex upon him, ejaculating into
her mouth; he then raped her vaginally and tried to rape her anally;
she also still suffers from the after effects of the rape. In due
course, the defendant pleaded guilty to these rapes before His Hon.
Judge Norman Jones QC, the Recorder of Leeds, who sentenced the
defendant to life imprisonment and expressly dis-applied the early
release provisions; this is, in effect, amounted to a whole life
8. The fact that this defendant now has a
conviction for this murder and for these terrible rapes will be
highly relevant if the Parole Board come to consider the risk which
he presents, if he were ever to be released. In setting the minimum
term, I am concerned with the retributive and deterrent element only;
it is for the Parole Board and not for me to consider the danger to
the public. However, the question now arises whether I can and, if
so, should - take the rapes into account when I now fix the time to
be served by way of deterrence and retribution for the murder or
whether I must fix the minimum term, having regard only to those
matters which were known to the trial judge at the time that he made
his recommendation. There is, to my knowledge, no authority on the
9. By paragraph 10 (a) of Schedule 22, the court
may not set a minimum term 'which in the opinion of the court is
greater than that which, under the practice followed by the
Secretary of State before December 2002, the Secretary of State
would have been likely to notify'. This paragraph ensures that these
provisions are not retrospective, for it would be objectionable if
the Act exposed defendants to penalties greater than the maximum
sentence to which they were subject in law at the time of offending.
I do not interpret this as preventing the court from taking into
account the previous rapes even though they came to light only after
he was sentenced for the murder; indeed not to do so would be
entirely contrary to commonsense and public policy. Accordingly, I
propose to do so, as the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice,
would have done, had they known.
10. The guidelines then in force were those set
by Lord Bingham CJ in his letter to the judges dated 10 February
1997 (conveniently set out in paragraphs IV.49.18 21 of the Practice
Direction of 31 May 2002), which set a starting point of 14 years
for what he called the 'average' murder. He identified the killing
of a child, sexual maltreatment and a substantial record of serious
violence as aggravating features; all of these features are present
here. What then would the Secretary of State have set as the minimum
term had he known of these matters? Until the passing of the 2003
Act, whole life terms were reserved for the very few notorious
multiple offenders; I do not think that he would have imposed a
whole life term; accordingly, loyally applying the statute - as I
must I cannot now impose a whole life term myself. But in those
cases, such as the present, where there are several different
aggravating factors, even then very long minimum terms were
appropriate. This is surely one of those most serious cases where
the Secretary of State would have gone as high as 30 years, even on
a plea. Accordingly, I set the minimum term at 30 years.
11. I order, as I am required to do, that the
term of 30 years is reduced by the period of 8 months and 26 days,
which he spent in custody before being sentenced.
12. I am anxious that this sentence is not
misunderstood or mis-reported. The sentence is and remains a
sentence of imprisonment for life. The defendant may not even be
considered for release for this offence of murder until he has
served at least 30 years. That is not to say that he will then be
released; for the whole life term imposed for the rapes remains in
force. Furthermore, the defendant will be detained unless and until
the Parole Board is satisfied that he no longer presents a risk to
the public. Many prisoners, and surely John Taylor is likely to be
one, are in fact detained for many years after their tariff has
expired; indeed it may be that he presents such a risk that he could
never safely be released but that is for others to decide in due
course. I am just anxious that no one thinks that I am suggesting
that he be released in 30 years for I most certainly am not.