Home Office, Pimlico, 1988
Michael Williams was a 43 year old Home Office official, who worked as part of the Police National Computer Team in Pimlico. He was murdered in August 1988 and the case has never been solved yet throws up some interesting questions.
Michael lived in Highgate with his wife of 18 years and their two year old daughter, whom he adored – often using the option of flexible working hours so that he could return home early to spend time with her. Michael was also an active member of his local church.
LAST KNOWN MOVEMENTS – Friday 26th August
Michael was a civil servant employed by the Home Office and was based at Horseferry House in Pimlico where he helped set up the police national computer system.
(Times are approximate)
6:00pm: It was a Friday evening before the August bank holiday weekend and Michael received a call from his wife, during which he told her he would be home around 8pm. He had been under considerable pressure at work and had been staying late that week in order to finish a project. However, a colleague persuaded him to join them at the Paviour’s Arms in Pimlico for a few drinks (now closed).
11:15pm: Michael left the pub with a colleague and they headed to the underground to catch the Victoria Line. He was carrying a carrier bag full of belongings.
11:35pm: His colleague changed at Victoria and that was the last time anyone saw Michael alive.
11:45pm: Michael would have remained on the tube heading to Warren Street or Euston, where he would have changed to the Northern Line in order to travel to Highgate. However, there is nothing to suggest he took his usual journey.
(If Michael had left Highgate station, he would have walked past Highgate Wood.)
12:30am: A ticket inspector one station further along – East Finchley – recalls seeing someone matching Michael’s description, who asked him where the local toilets were. The toilets were closed.
(If that was Michael, did he walk home from East Finchley instead?)
HIGHGATE WOOD – Saturday 27th August
7:40am: A woman walking her dog discovered Michael’s body in an alleyway off Lanchester Road, Highgate by the path leading to the wood. He had been killed by a single blow to the throat and all his belongings had been taken.
It is unknown whether Michael was killed in the spot he was found or left there later as several people who used the path earlier that morning did not see his body.
A man who was walking his dog at 6:00am saw no body as they passed the area. However, as they turned the corner to the wood, his usually quiet dog began barking at a man stood on the pathway. The man described the peculiar way the stranger seemed in a trance or under the influence of something as he was staring and not moving even whilst the dog barked at him. He was described as 6ft tall, slim build, with longish brown hair and a beard of the same colour.
Two further witnesses passed the same area at 6:50am and 6:55am and neither the man nor Michael’s body was seen near the path.
The police concluded that Michael’s body was dumped in the alleyway between 7:00-7:40am.
SOUTHGATE – 28th August 1988
At the New Argen Tandoori restaurant in Friern Barnet Road, Southgate, someone paid their bill using a credit card belonging to Michael.
Det Supt Peter Wilton appeared on BBC’s Crimewatch and stated that police believed the motive may have been robbery, or it may have involved “homosexual connotations” as Michael was bi-sexual.
He went on to appeal to anyone who may have met Michael that night to come forward as well as anyone who may have been attacked in that locality but never reported it before.
Newspaper reports stated that Michael had been beaten around the head and killed by a single blow to his throat which fractured his windpipe. Police spoke to a number of martial arts experts who said it would have taken several years of experience to deliver a blow that forceful.
THREE POSSIBLE WITNESSES
Police made their Crimewatch appeal in November 1988, which led to 140 calls – only three of which were of any credible use.
‘Paul’: A man who called himself ‘Paul’ stated he knew the identity of the stranger on the pathway but he rang off without giving further details.
Tandoori Restaurant: Another caller claimed to be the person who used Michael’s credit card to pay for his meal the day after Michael’s body was found. He claimed he had simply found it and hadn’t realised it’s significance until the Crimewatch appeal was aired.
Security Guard: A man called in who stated he was a security guard and had seen Michael leaving East Finchley station at 12:30am alongside another man.
Despite this information, Michael’s death remains unsolved.
- The police had questioned karate experts regarding the blow inflicted to Michael’s throat. However, maybe it wasn’t a martial arts expert at all – could the blow have been delivered by someone with specialist training? Is there any force that practices blows to the throat?
- If Michael had chanced upon a stranger who decided to attack him, that person must have been well built and very tall in order to get any power behind such a blow against his throat – Michael was 6ft tall.
- We know he had his personal belongings stolen – such as his watch, wedding ring, wallet etc – but what about the carrier bag? That too had been taken, but what did it contain? Did Michael decide to take some of his work home with him? If so, was any of the contents sensitive material?
- Michael had been drinking all evening and I assume he would possibly be easily overpowered. Would a simple mugger go to such extremes?
- As Michael was described as such a devoted family man, was it not strange for him to totally lose track of time whilst in the pub?
- On the same subject, did Michael ever have any extra-marital relationships?
- Given the nature of Michael’s work, what exactly was he working on when he was murdered? Did it involve sensitive information that could possibly have unknowingly placed him in danger?
- Did Michael happen upon a situation on his walk home that put him in the wrong place at the wrong time?
- Was Michael so intoxicated that he accidentally missed his usual stop at Highgate and alighted at East Finchley instead?
- Or did Michael meet someone on the train?
- If, as is seeming to be the most probably explanation, Michael’s body was dumped between 7:00am-7:30am, that person would be taking a real chance at being caught as it appears the area was well used, even early in the morning. Was it someone local?
- Has this case ever undergone a cold case review? Was any forensic evidence retained which could be used for DNA testing?
There are so many possible reasons for Michael’s murder and so many questions left unanswered.
One thought on “MURDER FILES: Michael Williams, Home Office, Pimlico”
Personally speaking, I don’t think there’s much to this case. Speaking as a gay man myself, Michael Williams’ story fits very well into model that a lot of gay men lived in the pre-internet age.
In cases like this, it’s always interesting to remember what things were like back in the 80s. Britain had the highest rate of violent crime in Europe throughout the decade, and the wider culture was massively homophobic. Unemployment was rife and there was widespread poverty. Britain had a dystopian, wild west feel to it in parts, especially the big cities. I believe the area Williams was found in was well known as a gay cruising area. Quite a number of other men have been killed in similar circumstances, a huge number of assaults and other crimes went unreported because the gay community massively distrusted the police, and there are still instances of murder today (Ranjith Kankanamalage was murdered just in 2021 in a park in East London in similar circumstances). Internalised shame about being gay was also a huge issue, and some men were known to turn violent after engaging in sex, as the shame they had about being gay kicked in.
As I recall, John Duffy (of the Railway murderers) was also skilled at martial arts and one of their victims had a broken neck bone from a blow to the neck, similar to Michael Williams. Duffy was a diminutive man and martial arts were popular back then. If Duffy could do something like that, then thousands of people could.
I don’t think Williams working on the police national computer system was of much significance either. It’s very possible that he was simply just working on IT infrastructure and didn’t have clearance to view much more sensitive info. If someone did want to get access to information, there would have been much easier ways to do it back then. We now know that the police were massively corrupt and could be infiltrated easily by criminals. I’m struggling to see why anyone would kill a civil servant for that.
It seems most likely to me that Michael Williams was simply a bit drunk and had gone looking for casual sex with another man, and ended up meeting one of the various (very often violent) criminals who preyed on gay men in such circumstances, knowing that it was unlikely they’d be reported.