An insight into the mind of a monster
Peter Manuel letters released for first time
Letters written by Scotland’s most notorious serial killer detailing aspects of his murder of a Burnside family have been released for the first time.
Peter Manuel shot Marion Watt, her daughter Vivienne and her sister Margaret Watt at their Fennsbank Avenue home in September 1956.
Marion was 40-years-old, Margaret 30 and Vivienne just 17.
Their bodies were discovered by a domestic help, who said Vivienne was still alive when she was found. Sadly, she had died by the time emergency services had reached the house.
Reports in the Reformer at the time said: “The entire country has been shocked this week by the horrible murder of a mother, daughter and sister.”
Police immediately launched a manhunt, but focussed their attention on Marion’s husband, William, who was on a fishing trip at the time.
Two witnesses claimed to have seen him heading back to Rutherglen on the night of the killings and police suspected he had faked a break in.
William was held at Barlinnie for two months, but was eventually released when police concluded the case did not add up.
During his time in Barlinnie, he met Manuel, who was serving time for housebreaking.
The files, which have been held by the National Records Office, date from that period.
His explosive and brazen notes to lawyers and police officers would eventually help convict the man known as the Beast of Birkenshaw.
While in prison Manuel approached well-known solicitor Laurence Dowdall asking him to represent him.
At the same time, Dowdall was representing William Watt.
The documents include Manuel’s own hand drawn image of the gun he used to commit the Burnside killings, details of a poison suicide attempt behind bars and intimate details of his correspondence with his legal team.
The first letter, dated October 8, 1956, gives the first hint to Manuel’s involvement in the Watt murders.
It reads: “Last Tuesday I was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment in Hamilton Sheriff Court.
“Today I lodged an appeal and decided I should like you to represent me. I wish to obtain bail during period as appellant and desire to have this accomplished with all urgency.
“I would like you to come and see me on Wednesday. The proposals I have outlined are to our mutual advantage mainly due to the fact that I have some information for you concerning a recently acquired client of yours who has been described as ‘an all-round athlete’.”
Within two months, William Watt was released from prison and cleared of all charges. But Manuel continued with his correspondence, this time writing to Dowdall on October 26.
He said: “Tonight I received a visit from a friend of mine who gave me some very disturbing news. If you are not able to obtain bail by next Friday, there will be no chance of my participating in any way on your behalf regarding the matter we discussed.”
Manuel also wrote to Superintendent James Henry on November 9, 1956, displaying huge arrogance and playing a game of cat and mouse with detectives.
He addressed it as “Dear Jimmy” and said: “As I told you last Saturday, Nov 3, I would give you a decision on whether or not I would give you a statement when I learn the result of my appeal. I now honour it.
“I got tossed out on my ear although I knew that when I was sentenced. However I feel that in this matter my best interests would be served in making a statement.”
It was not until January 1958 that Manuel was finally arrested at his home in Birkenshaw.
And on January 16 he signed his confession. Manuel represented himself in the High Court in Glasgow but could not escape the hangman’s noose. On July 11, just after 8am, he was executed in Barlinnie prison.
The case hit the headlines again last year when the STV drama about Manuel, In Plain Sight, gripped the nation.
Professor Richard Goldberg, a criminologist at Durham University, said: “I would be extremely interested in seeing these new documents.
“I’ve been trying to get as much information about his mental state as possible.
“This case continues to grip Scotland even 60 years on and this offers the potential for us to find out more about Manuel’s mental state.”
Evil Peter Manuel was eventually convicted of seven murders and hanged in 1958
Too much William Watt, who was initially charged with the murders of his wife, daughter and sister-in-law, collapsed in court during Manuel’s trial
Tragic Vivienne Watt was still alive when she was found but sadly she died of her injuries before emergency services reached the house
Victim Margaret Brown was one of three women murdered in Burnside by Peter Manuel