An in­sight into the mind of a monster

Peter Manuel let­ters re­leased for first time

Rutherglen Reformer - - Your Vote Matters - Dou­glas Dickie

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

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