un­earthing the se­crets of the sun­der­land stran­gler

One of Eng­land’s most no­to­ri­ous se­rial killers went to great lengths to avoid cap­ture and evade jus­tice, so why did Steven Grieve­son drip- feed con­fes­sions to po­lice after his in­car­cer­a­tion?

Real Crime - - Contents - Words Tanita Matthews

This warped north­ern English se­rial killer went to ex­treme lengths to hide his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity

After a gru­elling two- week trial in 2013, 42- year- old

Steven Grieve­son stood be­fore the judge at New­cas­tle Crown Court and waited to hear his fate. For the last fort­night he had bat­tled in an ef­fort to con­vince the jury that the 1990 mur­der of 14- year- old Si­mon Martin had been an ac­ci­dent; the re­sult of a men­tally un­well in­di­vid­ual strug­gling to come to terms with his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity and com­bat the in­ner loathing he had ex­pe­ri­enced for so long. He had fi­nally con­fessed be­cause the weight of the crime on his con­science was too much to bear and he felt he couldn’t “move for­ward” if he didn’t at­tempt to wipe the slate clean. Un­for­tu­nately for him, it was an ar­gu­ment that the jury were not con­vinced gave him ab­so­lu­tion for his crime. Not only had he killed a young, in­no­cent boy for his own grat­i­fi­ca­tion, but he had left the fam­ily in limbo for more than two decades.

What’s more, Grieve­son’s rep­u­ta­tion as a cal­lous mur­derer had been firmly so­lid­i­fied ever since he was given three life terms back in 1996 fol­low­ing the mur­ders of 18- year- old Thomas Kelly and 15- year- olds David Han­son and David Gri­eff. Dubbed the ‘ Sun­der­land Stran­gler’ based on his deadly modus operandi, he was al­ready, by def­i­ni­tion, a se­rial killer. His cho­sen vic­tims, naïve young boys who he groomed and then killed, had been treated with no more re­spect or mercy after they died than they had been in the fi­nal ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ments of their life. But why had it taken po­lice so long to pin­point Grieve­son as the cul­prit, es­pe­cially since he had been in­ves­ti­gated 12 years pre­vi­ously for Si­mon’s mur­der? Why had Grieve­son con­fessed to killing Si­mon when there was no chance of a re­prieve for his ear­lier crimes? Could there still be more vic­tims of Sun­der­land’s no­to­ri­ous slayer wait­ing for their day of jus­tice?

Smeared In Blood

The dis­cov­ery of Si­mon’s body in May 1990 re­vealed the first vic­tim of a cruel and cal­lous se­rial killer liv­ing in the Sun­der­land com­mu­nity. Dis­cov­ered in a derelict, now long- gone build­ing known then as Gill­side House in Roker Ter­race, a metropoli­tan bor­ough in Tyne and Wear, Eng­land, Si­mon was naked from the waist down and ly­ing on a mat­tress. In­juries to his skull showed he had been beaten with a blunt ob­ject, while his neck bore signs of stran­gu­la­tion. Blood splat­tered the walls of the smoked-

out shack. The last the child’s par­ents had seen of him had been the pre­vi­ous evening when he hur­ried out the door of their Amy Street home in South­wick at 5pm to play with his friends. He would never re­turn.

After his body was found, po­lice scoured ev­ery inch of the over­grown gar­den look­ing for clues. More than 70 de­tec­tives sifted through the long grass and the way­ward weeds. Noth­ing of any use was dis­cov­ered de­spite ex­ten­sive fin­ger­tip searches through the scene as well as foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tions. The death of a child is hard for any fam­ily or close knit com­mu­nity to bear, but Si­mon’s was par­tic­u­larly hard to take. For Si­mon’s fam­ily, it was the third time their world had been shaken by tragedy. Only two years pre­vi­ously in 1988, Si­mon’s fa­ther Robert, a for­mer sol­dier and ac­tive sports­man, was crip­pled fol­low­ing a climb­ing ac­ci­dent. Barely two months be­fore the young boy’s death, Si­mon’s un­cle had killed him­self. On top of this, Si­mon was the third pupil from Monkwear­mouth School to have per­ished in the last 12 months: an 11- year- old girl had been swept away by a large wave and drowned in Se­aburn, and a 13- year- old boy had died in an ex­plo­sion at a home in Roker.

The vic­tim’s school­mate, 16- year- old Alvin White, was ar­rested for the mur­der when foren­sic tests dis­cov­ered the teenager’s fin­ger­prints in a sub­stance that they be­lieved to be the vic­tim’s blood at the aban­doned house. In Oc­to­ber 1990 the case against Alvin was dropped after a ‘ fail­ure’ was dis­cov­ered in the foren­sic tests – the sub­stance that had been tested came back in­con­clu­sive, mean­ing there was no proof that it was Si­mon’s blood or even that it was blood at all. The lo­cal daily news­pa­per The Sun­der­land Echo high­lighted the foren­sic tester’s in­com­pe­tence when they later re­vealed that the sub­stance had come from Alvin’s girl­friend at the time. Charges against Alvin were dropped. How­ever, Alvin spent more than a decade un­der a cloud of sus­pi­cion, plagued by the stigma of be­ing ar­rested for the mur­der of a child who had been blud­geoned and stran­gled to death. Po­lice had no idea that the real killer was roam­ing the streets with­out fear of de­tec­tion. He hadn’t even been a sus­pect in Si­mon’s mur­der. No one could have pre­dicted the stream of vic­tims that would fol­low in the foot­steps of the school­boy.

In time, Roker healed from the dev­as­ta­tion that had struck that spring. The sud­den and un­timely death of 18- year- old Thomas Kelly three years later, on 26 Novem­ber 1993, was in it­self a tragedy, but it wasn’t ini­tially con­nected to Si­mon, who had been four years younger than Thomas and who bore strong in­di­ca­tors that he had been mur­dered. Thomas’ body was dis­cov­ered in an aban­doned al­lot­ment shed be­hind Monkwear­mouth Hos­pi­tal, in the af­flu­ent area of Ful­well, Sun­der­land that had been set alight.

Within three months two more boys had been killed. On 8 Fe­bru­ary 1994 David Han­son’s body was found in a Roker Ter­race build­ing on the seafront. Fish­er­men had seen that a blaze was burn­ing inside the house and raised the alarm. Fire fight­ers found the young boy’s charred re­mains inside just as they had done with Thomas. Ex­actly three weeks later, an­other boy of the same age and with the same name had suf­fered the same fate as the other boys – David Gri­eff ’s body was only dumped 45 me­tres from where Thomas had been found three months ear­lier.

With each new mur­der came the op­por­tu­nity for po­lice to put out fresh en­quiries as to who was tar­get­ing the res­i­dents

Now a con­victed se­rial killer, pros­e­cu­tors com­mented that he had also been con­nected to the at­tempted mur­der of a 14- year- old boy

of Sun­der­land. Each time they in­ter­viewed 24- year- old Grieve­son. Sit­ting be­fore po­lice, he didn’t ap­pear to be of any great threat. There was no rea­son for them to sus­pect him. He had been fer­ried through the care sys­tem from a young age un­til he was 18 and had racked up 38 con­vic­tions for steal­ing since the age of 12. Grieve­son was trou­ble, but he didn’t seem ca­pable of mur­der.

No Progress Like Slow Progress

The Roker area where the killings had oc­curred was pre­dom­i­nantly mid­dle class, not known to be rough around the edges or so­cially frag­mented. The vic­tims were from de­cent homes with lov­ing fam­i­lies, and all three of them were stu­dents at a good school in Monkwear­mouth Academy, so the fact that a se­rial killer had tar­geted them all was a start­ing point for the po­lice divi­sion chas­ing down the sus­pect.

Pathol­ogy and foren­sic tests pro­gressed slowly, sci­ences that were still in their rel­a­tive in­fancy. Grieve­son’s modus operandi didn’t help ei­ther; he had stran­gled his vic­tims in such a way that it left vir­tu­ally no signs of in­jury. He then set fire to the scene in an at­tempt to de­stroy any ev­i­dence. Ini­tial post- mortem ex­am­i­na­tions could there­fore not pro­vide a cause of death.

It was this that led peo­ple to sus­pect ini­tially that the deaths were self- in­flicted and po­ten­tially the re­sult of sol­vent abuse, al­though De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dant David Wil­son of Northum­bria Po­lice in­sisted that at no stage had the deaths of the young men been scaled down to a sta­tus on po­lice files that in­di­cated mis­ad­ven­ture as a cause of death.

As all of the vic­tims had been from the same school it meant that the in­sti­tu­tion’s oth­er­wise good rep­u­ta­tion was soiled by not only the mur­ders of the young boys but with the ru­mours that its pupils were drug tak­ers. Pupils at the school, some of which had been good friends of the vic­tims, felt the ef­fects of the deaths as their par­ents kept a closer eye on them. With the in­ves­ti­ga­tion at a stand­still, the the­ory of sol­vent abuse left the path­way for the real killer wide open. It wasn’t un­til sev­eral months later that a break­through in the case came when two of the coun­try’s top pathol­o­gists de­ter­mined that the three of them had been stran­gled.

Fur­ther sus­pi­cion fell on Grieve­son the fol­low­ing month when he was ar­rested and charged with an at­tempted bur­glary at the Roker Ter­race house­hold where the charred body of the sec­ond vic­tim had been found. In­ves­ti­ga­tions into Grieve­son, who had con­tin­u­ously popped up in their search for the Sun­der­land se­rial killer, re­sulted in his ar­rest. He was charged with the three mur­ders in Novem­ber 1995. When ques­tioned, Grieve­son de­nied that he had been re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of the young men.

At Leeds Crown Court, Jus­tice Hol­land over­saw Grieve­son’s six- week trial, which com­menced on 26 Jan­uary 1996. Here, the al­leged triple killer of­fered an ex­pla­na­tion for the mur­ders: he had killed the young men after en­gag­ing

The pub­lic gallery erupted into cheers and sobs as Grieve­son was found guilty of mur­der

in sex­ual re­la­tions with them, but their deaths had been an ac­ci­dent. Warn­ing them not to tell any­one that he was a ho­mo­sex­ual, he then stran­gled them.

Grieve­son did not take the stand in his own de­fence. Pros­e­cu­tor John Mill­ford’s open­ing ar­gu­ments were that Grieve­son killed the youths for two rea­sons: one was “to pre­vent them from re­veal­ing that he had demon­strated his sex­ual pref­er­ence to them”. The other was “sim­ply be­cause he en­joyed killing them and fir­ing their bod­ies”.

Un­earthing Grieve­son’s True Tally

After four hours of de­lib­er­a­tion the jury re­turned with their ver­dict. They saw no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Grieve­son wasn’t the man re­spon­si­ble for the string of mur­ders in Sun­der­land, Tyne and Wear. The pub­lic gallery erupted into cheers and sobs as Grieve­son was found guilty of mur­der. De­scribed by the judge as “plain evil”, he was given three life tar­iffs. The judge com­mented that he would im­plore to the Home Sec­re­tary that his suc­ces­sors think “long and hard” as to whether Grieve­son was still a risk to the pub­lic be­fore re­leas­ing him in the fu­ture. Speak­ing after the trial, Thomas’ fa­ther de­scribed the killer’s sen­tence as “a great re­lief. This mon­ster is off the streets so no other fam­ily will have to go through what we faced”.

Now a con­victed se­rial killer, pros­e­cu­tors com­mented that he had also been con­nected to the at­tempted mur­der of an­other 14- year- old boy. But in view of the ver­dict it was de­cided there would be “no profit” in try­ing that case and in­stead it was rec­om­mended that the case re­main on file.

In 2000, se­men taken from un­der­neath Si­mon’s body was sent for test­ing after po­lice an­nounced a re­view of the case. One wit­ness claimed to have seen Grieve­son walk­ing from a nearby park with the vic­tim back in 1990. The DNA sam­ple was a pos­i­tive match for the in­car­cer­ated Sun­der­land Stran­gler. Still serv­ing out his life sen­tences at HMP Full Sut­ton, po­lice re­ar­rested him and in­ter­viewed him about the two- decade- old cold case. In the end, the Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice de­clined the op­por­tu­nity to charge him due to ‘ in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence’. In 2002, 12 years after he was named a per­son of in­ter­est, Alvin’s treat­ment as a sus­pect in Si­mon’s mur­der led him to re­ceiv­ing a five- fig­ure pay­out from the Home Of­fice.

In the sum­mer of 2004, Grieve­son wrote a let­ter to the Vic­tim Li­ai­son Ser­vices ad­mit­ting he had mur­dered the three vic­tims the jury had con­victed him of killing. Al­though con­tin­u­ing to omit his in­volve­ment in Si­mon’s death, Grieve­son of­fered up apolo­gies to each of the fam­i­lies who he had dev­as­tated through his ab­hor­rent acts. How­ever, po­lice were not con­vinced that his crimes had to­talled three, and in Novem­ber 2012 came the op­por­tu­nity to charge the se­rial killer with the mur­der of young Si­mon.

Be­fore the trial could com­mence in Fe­bru­ary 2013, Grieve­son ad­mit­ted that he had killed the young lad but de­nied that it had been pre­med­i­tated. He pleaded not guilty on the grounds of di­min­ished re­spon­si­bil­ity, claim­ing that at the time of Si­mon’s killing he had been a glue snif­fer for around a decade. He said he re­alised he couldn’t “move for­ward” un­til he got the crime off his chest. Re­gard­less of his pleas, the jury found him guilty. Al­though Grieve­son will have to serve a min­i­mum of 35 years be­hind bars be­fore he can be con­sid­ered for pa­role, po­lice still think he may have more to of­fer to a num­ber of un­solved cases.

be­low Steven Grieve­son will be in his late 70s when he is fi­nally el­i­gi­ble for pa­role, but he may well die be­hind bars for be­com­ing Sun­der­land’s most no­to­ri­ous se­rial slayerthe For more than tw o decades , death of 14- y ear- old Si­mon Martinere was a cold case , un­til po­lice w able to link DN A from the scene of his mur­der to Gr ieve­son The old­est of Gr ieve­son’svic­tims , 18- year- old Thomas K elly’sre­mains were f ound in a b laz­ingal­lot­ment shed be­hind Monkw ear­mouth Hos­pi­tal in Ful well David Greif f w as onl y 15 wheny Grieve­son, who had killed barel three w eeks bef ore in ear ly 1994, groomed him bef ore mur­der ing him in cold b lood

above Today home to over 250,000 res­i­dents, Sun­der­land suf­fered a tragic spate of loss dur­ing the 1990s. No­body could have known that a se­rial killer was stalk­ing the city’s streets

the 15- year- old Da vid Han­son w as. F ire sec­ond of Gr ieve­son’s vic­timsin fight­ers disco vered his re­mainsker an a ban­doned build­ing on Roc sea frontabove- Right Three vic­tims of the Sun­der­land Stran­gler were pupils at Monkwear­mouth Academy. A plaque in their mem­ory was erected after their mur­ders, which oc­curred in quick suc­ces­sion be­tween 1993 and 1994be­low In April 2018 po­lice ar­rested a new sus­pect in the search for Nikki Allan’s killer dur­ing a raid on a prop­erty in the Stock­ton area of Teesside. He was re­leased un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tionbe­low- Right Ap­pear­ing at New­cas­tle Crown Court in 2013, Grieve­son tried to con­vince the jury that he was men­tally ill when he had killed his first vic­tim, but the jury didn’t be­lieve him and found him guilty

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