John Sweeney was jailed for life in 2002 for the horrific attempted axe murder of his girlfriend, police who had searched his London flat feared the gruesome crime was just the tip of a blood-soaked iceberg.
Stored in the building were more than 300 explicit drawings, paintings and poems that seemed to offer clues to two grisly unsolved murders...and the twisted workings of Sweeney’s mind.
Years earlier in 1990, American model turned photographer Melissa Halstead, 33, who had previously lived in the UK, vanished from her canalside home in Amsterdam. Soon after, a woman’s torso with its head and hands missing was fished out of a canal, although it wasn’t until 2008 that a DNA match would prove the torso was Melissa’s.
In 2000, Paula Fields, 31, from Liverpool, went missing from the London streets where she worked as a prostitute. Her remains, similarly dismembered but with the feet also missing, were found in holdalls floating in Regent’s Canal in Camden, north London, in February 2001.
Both had had relationships with Scouse carpenter Sweeney, who was by 2008 six years into his life term for the attempted murder of his ex, Delia Balmer. She had survived his axe attack in 1994 but had lost a finger and had scars to her chest.
Sweeney had been on the run for six years, possibly living and working across Europe, when armed officers pounced on him in 2001 as he left a London building site. He struggled with officers who eventually overpowered him as he made a lunge for his toolbox, which had a revolver inside.
At the time there was not enough evidence to link him to the canal murders, but shortly before he retired in 2003, the lead investigator in Delia’s case Det Ch Insp Norman McKinlay ordered a review of the Sweeney case, and visited the brute at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridge to ask about the unsolved cases.
“He said nothing at all,” McKinlay said later. “He just looked at me, staring and smirking. His eyes always got me. He had piercing eyes.”
But among the artwork Sweeney left was a drawing of a woman, called One Man Band, believed to be Melissa. When forensic scientists shone ultra-violet light on a section where correction fluid had been applied, it revealed a gravestone with the inscription: “Melissa Halstead, born 7 November 1956.
Another sketch, The Scalphunter, showed women tied up, and another showed Sweeney dripping with blood.
When Sweeney was brought back to court for his double murder trial in 2011, prosecutor Brian Altman QC told the jury: “Police found amongst his possessions often lurid and demonic sketches, paintings as well as pages of verse which reveal an obsessive and virulent hatred of women and a preoccupation with dismemberment.”
New DNA evidence confirming Melissa’s identity would prove to be enough to convict Sweeney and he was handed a whole life tariff for the double murders.
But immediately following his incarceration detectives appealed for information about six other missing women.
Scotland Yard’s homicide and serious crime command said it wanted to identify a Scottish woman who may have been his girlfriend in the 1980s, possibly called Fiona, who shared a house with others in Hornsey Park Road, north London, in 1985.
Another woman police want to trace is a trainee nurse called Sue, from Derbyshire, who was said to have left for Switzerland in
And two former girlfriends of Sweeney, a Brazilian known as Irani, and a Colombian called Maria, have not been seen since the 1990s when they knew him in London.