The Moors Murders: The Swinging Sixties' Most Horrifying Event

After Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life in prison, the story only got weirder.
The Moors Murders: The Swinging Sixties' Most Horrifying Event

England in the swinging ‘60s was marked by groundbreaking music and regrettable fashion, but as far as cultural events go, few were as significant as the murders of five children that became known as the Moors murders. The O.J. Simpson trial of the mod era distracted everyone from their tiny motorcycles long enough to captivate a nation, and after Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life in prison, the story only got weirder.

Ian Brady

Ian Brady

(Greater Manchester Police/Wikimedia Commons)

Ian Brady was a prototype “gifted kid,” accepted to a prestigious high school but lashing out when he failed to live up to his potential. By the time he was 18, he had a long rap sheet that included breaking and entering, theft, and threatening a girlfriend with a knife -- you know, your standard “entitled piece of shit” stuff. At 21, he was working a menial bookkeeping job at a chemical distribution company, which definitely pissed him off.

Myra Hindley

Myra Hindley

(Greater Manchester Police/Wikimedia Commons)

Myra Hindley, on the other hand, never showed much promise. She was more skilled in the punching arts, known mostly by her peers as someone you didn’t want to spar with at her weekly judo lessons. At 18, she found herself working for the same company as Ian Brady

Boy Meets Girl

Hindley became obsessed with Brady despite having never spoken to him until she’d already written about him in her diary for six months, and she wrote about him for another six months before he asked her out. So far, so teenage girl. Their dates generally consisted of watching porn and drinking German wine, which is pretty great as far as dates go, but the German part is grossly significant.

Obviously, They Were Nazis


(National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

Brady was a devout student of Nazi philosophy, and soon, he and Hindley were spending their lunch breaks reading to each other about Nazi atrocities. So romantic, right? Eventually, they started making plans to “redistribute wealth” in their direction by robbing banks, but Brady got distracted when, like everyone who vastly overestimates their intelligence, he became convinced he could pull off the “perfect murder.”

The Moors Murders

Saddleworth Moor

(Parrot of Doom/Wikimedia Commons)

They took their chance on July 12, 1963, when Brady sexually assaulted and killed 16-year-old Pauline Reade with more or less assistance from Hindley, depending on who you believe. As Brady predicted, the two couldn’t be tied to the crime, so then they just started killing for fun, assaulting and murdering 12-year-old John Kilbride, 12-year-old Keith Bennett, 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey, and 17-year-old Edward Evans over the next two years and burying their bodies in Saddleworth Moor. The details of the murders are horrific and deeply unfunny. Moving right along.

Brought Down By Big Brother-in-Law

Site of Brady and Hindley's house

(Parrot of Doom/Wikimedia Commons)

During all this, Hindley’s sister got pregnant and subsequently married, and her new brother-in-law, David Smith, was very into Brady’s whole “perfect murder” deal but changed his tune when -- again, depending on who you believe -- he either helped him abduct Evans or walked in on the situation. After helping to dispose of the body, Smith went home, vomited a little, told his wife what happened, and called the police.

Not So Perfect Murders

Cassette tape

(J Huang/Unsplash)

Once they knew where to look, police discovered an imperial crapload of evidence linking Brady and Hindley to three murders, including a notebook with Kilbride’s name on it in their house and a locker at the local train station containing a recording of a little girl (identified by her mother -- which, Jesus Christ -- as Downey) begging for her life. “Don’t leave recordings of your murders lying around in public” is, like, Serial Killer 101.

Smith Sold His Story


(Bank Phrom/Unsplash)

Before the trial, Smith sold the rights to his story to News of the World to be serialized throughout the proceedings, a move that did not endear him to the public, who were also pretty sure he was in on the murders. He, his wife, and their children were attacked in public, and they couldn’t even rely on the support of family, as the Hindleys were on Myra’s side. Imagine your husband turns in your brother-in-law for murder, and your parents are mad at you.

“The Murder Trial of the Century”

Trial was a real “Twelve Days of Christmas” situation for Brady and Hindley, who had to sit behind security screens to protect them from the crowd that included 150 reporters and five authors while 300 police officers stood by to prevent any further murder. The trial only ended up lasting two weeks, as Brady and Hindley found it pretty hard to argue with themselves on a recording, and it took the jury only two hours to find them guilty.

Return to the Moor

Hindley at the moor

(Parrot of Doom/Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty years into her life sentence, Hindley agreed to help investigators find the body of Pauline Reade, with the understanding that she totes didn’t do it but she could show them where Brady “said” he buried her. The search was largely regarded as a morbid publicity stunt on the police department’s behalf and a wink to the parole board on Hindley’s, but they did find Reade’s body … two years later. Prison life apparently did a number on Hindley’s memory.

Brady Confessed to Other (Unlikely) Murders

Despite threatening suicide when asked to confess to Reade’s murder, Brady soon gave reporters incredibly vague descriptions of five additional murders he claimed to have committed. The funny thing is the police couldn’t find any unsolved cases matching even such murky accounts as “a woman in a canal.” In fact, they found so little evidence of these supposed murders that they didn’t even officially investigate them. You know how police departments like to save money.

Hindley Was Probably Safer in Prison

Hindley immediately and unsuccessfully appealed her conviction and applied for parole as soon as she could in the late ‘70s, claiming she’d found God and been threatened, blackmailed, and abused by Brady. Her efforts were somewhat hampered by her victims’ families, who kept reminding the public that they’d kill her if she ever got out. Kilbride’s father even tried when he thought she was given a pass to attend her sister’s funeral. He wound up attacking a different relative who must have sincerely regretted her choice of hairstyle.

Hindley and West

It’s not like life on the inside was all that bad for Hindley. She even had several lovers, including a prison guard who became an inmate after helping Hindley plan an escape and another notorious killer, Rose West, with whom Hindley developed a romance/rivalry straight out of Orange is the New Black. Another inmate said West eventually realized Hindley was manipulating her for her own gain, and they subsequently fought to become the prison queen bee. It was Mean Girls: Incarceration Edition.

Brady Wrote a Book


(Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash)

If the English public was mad at Smith for making a literary profit from the Moors murders, they only had to wait 40 years to get truly outraged by Brady’s own book. The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and Its Analysis, published in 2001, was denounced by the media and boycotted by the victims’ families, but it’s still available, if that’s your incredibly gross thing.

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