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A.K.A.: "The Leeds Strangler"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: November 26, 2000
Date of arrest: October 16, 2001
Date of birth: 1958
Victim profile: Leanne Tiernan, a 16-year-old schoolgirl
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Bramley, Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to two life sentences on July 8, 2002

photo gallery


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 John Taylor.

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 to death.

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.

The Crimes

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.

Police Investigation

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.

Animal DNA

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 Taylor.

The arrest

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.

The trial

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.

Guilty plea

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 and applauded.

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

The aftermath

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 Jess Fowle.

Carey Latimore -


Case No: 2004/324/MTS


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 19/12/2006


 Regina Prosecution
 - and - 
 John TAYLOR Defendant

Approved Judgment

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 1997.

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 plastic ligature.

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 sentence.

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 point.

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.



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