THE MURDER OF BERNARD OLIVER
On 16th January 1967 the remains of a youth were found in two suitcases in a Suffolk field and so began a police investigation to trace who the boy was and who committed such a heinous crime.
16th JANUARY 1967
Farm worker, Fred Burggy, stumbled across two suitcases that had been dumped behind a hedge in a field near Bentley Lane in Tattingstone, Suffolk. Police were called when it was discovered that both suitcases contained the dismembered body of a boy. It was discovered that the boy had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death approximately 48 hours before his body was discovered. The only clothing found with the body was a jacket.
With no idea who the boy was or where he came from, the police had the arduous task of trying to find information and the decision was made to photograph the decapitated head and make a public appeal. Local pathologist, Dr Alfred Lintott, confirmed that the body had been cut into eight pieces. A local funeral directors did their best to make head look as acceptable as possible, and a scarf was placed around the severed neck area.
Police then issued the photograph to local forces and media alongside the following description: ‘The victim was in his late teens or early twenties, about 5ft 3″, slim build, dark brown hair inclined to be wavy or curly, grey or grey-blue eyes, numerous moles in the right cheek, several more on the right side of the neck, and a few on the left cheek. He also had two small scars, both old, one near the bridge of the nose, and the other on the right-hand knuckle joint, and he seemed to be in the habit of biting his nails.’
Police hoped that the moles on the right of the face would lead them to an identification and that’s exactly what happened.
BERNARD MICHAEL OLIVER: 1949-1967
Bernard was born in 1949 – the fourth of six children born to George and Sheila Oliver. The family lived in Steeds Road, Muswell Hill, until George and Sheila separated and Sheila left the family home less than a year before Bernard disappeared. Bernard was described as having special educational needs with an inability to properly read or write. Bernard found his parent’s separation upsetting and an already introverted boy retreated even further into his shell.
6th JANUARY 1967
Bernard left his home, telling his family that he was planning on spending the evening with friends. It was not unusual for Bernard to spend a night away from home but, knowing something was amiss, the next morning his father, George, reported him missing.
There were sightings reported of Bernard in and around the Muswell Hill area.
Chris Oliver – Bernard’s younger brother – was getting a bus to Muswell Hill with a friend when he happened to spot the picture of his brother’s face in a newspaper. He said:
“I was waiting for a bus going up to Muswell Hill. There was a clipping in the newspaper of this boy and the head was just showing. A friend of mine said that looks like your brother and he showed me the picture.
I couldn’t believe it.
How do you feel when you are reading something like that? – when his body has been found in a suitcase.”
On 20th January 1967, the press confirmed that Bernard had been identified. He was laid to rest in St Pancras cemetery on 6th February 1967.
The police had pieces of evidence to work with.
- Bernard’s body had been professionally dismembered;
- One of the suitcases bore the initials ‘P.V.A’;
- Inside one of the suitcases was a hand towel with a laundry mark ‘QL 42’;
- A matchbox was found inside Bernard’s jacket pocket. The brand was manufactured in Israel;
- Bernard had been sexually assaulted. With today’s forensic capabilities, the police would have a better chance of identifying a suspect if Bernard’s jacket has been retained.
The investigation was headed by Det-Supt Harry Tappin from Scotland Yard.
- Within days, detectives had visited a cottage in a village near to Tattingstone after reports of parties there involving seamen, and police were certain that he was strangled and sexually assaulted in Suffolk, and that the killer dismembered the body somewhere not far from Tattingstone. Det-Supt Tappin confirmed that almost 1,000 people had come forward with information.
- 23rd January 1967 – The remains of another teenage boy aged between 10 and 18 were discovered at Waterhall on the Sussex Downs, near Brighton. The police suspected the body may have been dismembered and a Home Office pathologist was called in to examine the bones and skull and details were forwarded to Det-Supt Tappin and his team. The body was later identified as that of Michael John Trower, aged 14, from Hove.
- 12th February 1967 – With no further evidence forthcoming, police intensified their efforts and visited every single home in Tattingstone and then made similar inquiries in the neighbouring village of Bentley.
- 13th February 1967 – Detectives began contacting every laundry in Britain in an effort to trace the origin of the laundry mark ‘QL 42’ found on the hand towel inside one of the suitcases.
- 14th November 1967 – Det Chief-Supt Tom Tarling, head of Suffolk CID, held a press conference and disclosed information regarding the matchbox found inside Bernard’s jacket pocket.
- A consultant surgeon at the then Ipswich and East Suffolk Hospital decided the crime was most likely to have been committed by a doctor, surgeon or medical student. It was someone with “a knowledge of anatomy with previous experience of dismemberment“. The gory task had been “expertly accomplished“, with the exception of one joint.
So where was Bernard in the days between he went missing and when he was killed approximately eight days later? There were a number of sightings, including some in Muswell Hill, as well as in London’s West End.
More than 2,000 people were interviewed in connection with Bernard’s murder. The main suspects were:
- Reggie Kray – In September 2000, Reggie Kray confessed to a previously unknown murder while being interviewed for the BBC documentary Reggie Kray: The Final Word. A former cellmate of Kray’s, Pete Gillett, claimed that Kray had also confessed the murder to him, and that the victim was “a young gay boy”. However, the confession is widely believed to relate to the disappearance of Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith in 1967.
- Joe Meeks – His name had been connected with Bernard as it was believed Bernard had worked as a tape-stacker in Meek’s recording studio. It was suggested that the circumstances surrounding Bernard’s death contributed to Meek’s mental state in the days leading up to his death, due to his fear of being implicated. He killed himself and his landlady, Violet Shenton, three days after Bernard was laid to rest.
- Dr John Roussel Byles – Was acquitted along with another man in November 1963 of assaulting a 16-year-old male at their flat in Earls Court, London. In the seventies, he was also implicated in the Huddersfield paedophile ring case involving Raymond Varley (new blog post will cover this) but had fled to Australia. In 1974 he was arrested in Sydney over and alleged assault of a boy but absconded. He was found dead in the Prince of Wales Hotel in Queensland and had left two suicide notes – one to Martin Reddington and the other to Scotland Yard which contained an apology for his actions, but no direct reference to Bernard’s murder.
- Dr Martin Bruce Reddington – In 1965 a warrant had been issued for his arrest for buggery and indecent assault of males. His address was registered as 18 Woodland Gardens, Muswell Hill and official files released in 2004 confirm he was identified very early on as a suspect but he had fled to South Africa. Following an appeal in 1977, further evidence strengthened suspicions about his involvement but he was never interviewed as it was considered that there was insufficient evidence to extradite him from Australia, where he was living. Died on 29th March 1995. His address was given as The Avenue, Surbiton. Both Byles and Reddington were both wanted for a string of crimes including the murder of a boy in London in 1973.
2012: A WITNESS COMES FORWARD
45 years after Bernard’s murder, detectives were given a new lead in 2012 when Robert Thurston came forward.
Robert was a local teenager at the time of Bernard’s murder. He described how one night, a week before Bernard’s body was found, he and a friend had a sinister encounter. It was around 1am-2am and they were pushing a scooter in Key Street by Ipswich docks. Robert described what happened next:
As we came around the corner we heard a bang. We walked round the corner and there were a pair of main gates and a courtyard where RW Paul offices were. We were right outside the gate and looked through the iron railings.
We stopped and looked around to see who was there. There were two suitcases which sat to the left-hand side of the archway and we though ‘why would there be two suitcases standing there?’
A guy walked from the right, his forearms towards his chest with his hands in the air. He had pink gloves on. I recognised the gloves as it wasn’t long after my appendix operation. The figure was frightening.
He had a really long, drawn face. The guy was well-dressed with a long black mac-type coat, dark trousers and polished shoes. We ran, bump-started the bike and fled. I can still see that drawn face.
Robert said that he first approached police ten years after Bernard’s murder but felt that he was not being taken seriously and did not make a statement. He finally approached police at the end of 2011 following a newspaper article featuring Bernard’s death. Suffolk Constabulary confirmed they had made an appointment to see him.
RUMOUR HAS IT…
Bernard’s brother, Chris, said:
I have got my idea that the Krays had something to do with my brother’s death and so has Tony.
They all used to go down to this house (in Suffolk). There were rent boys brought in. There were all sorts of people that went to that place.
Chris is referring to a large house the Krays purchased in 1967 in Bildeston called The Brooks, which they purchased alongside a pink cottage for their parents. The Krays would spend many weekends there.
Chris Oliver said:
It had a massive impact on us. You can’t describe it. Even today it still upsets me. To be honest I don’t think any one of us have properly sat down and spoken and grieved about it.
It was never really spoken about. At the time there was no counselling. It has done incredible damage. It split my family apart. His death devastated my mother and father. She felt guilty because she left the matrimonial home. All through my life she cried and felt really guilty even up until she died.
I felt for my dad and found it difficult to be close to my mother for 10 years and then realised life is not always as it could be. Then I got closer to her in the last few years of her life.
Bernard’s family have never had closure and Bernard has never had justice. If you have any information regarding Bernard’s disappearance and murder, the case remains open by Suffolk Constabulary.
- East Anglian Daily Times
- BBC News Dec 2011
- Ipswich Star 2004
- BBC News Jan 2012
- BBC News Jan 2017
- Evening Standard 2009