True story behind ITVs In Plain Sight: Killer dubbed The Beast of Birkenshaw terrorised Scotland – Daily Mail

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The harrowing crimes of Scotland’s worst serial killer were thrust into the spotlight once again last night, as ITV rebroadcast the first episode of its 2016 true crime drama In Plain Sight. 

Peter Manuel, nicknamed The Beast of Birkenshaw after the Lanarkshire village where he grew up, murdered an entire family and taunted police before being caught.

He was sentenced to death for the murder of at least seven people between 1956 and 1958, and is thought to have killed two more.

His story was dramatised in the 2016 three-part series, starring Line Of Duty‘s Martin Compston – who postponed his honeymoon to play the swaggering psychopath – and Douglas Henshall as Detective William Muncie, who pledged to catch him. 

The harrowing crimes of Scotland's worst serial killer Peter Manuel (pictured) were thrust into the spotlight once again last night, as ITV rebroadcast the first episode of its 2016 true crime drama In Plain Sight

The harrowing crimes of Scotland's worst serial killer Peter Manuel (pictured) were thrust into the spotlight once again last night, as ITV rebroadcast the first episode of its 2016 true crime drama In Plain Sight

Martin Compston stars as serial killer Peter Manuel in the ITV drama

Martin Compston stars as serial killer Peter Manuel in the ITV drama

The harrowing crimes of Scotland’s worst serial killer Peter Manuel (left) were thrust into the spotlight once again last night, as ITV rebroadcast the first episode of its 2016 true crime drama In Plain Sight, starring Martin Compston (right)

ITV’s decision to show the sinister drama again went against pleas from the victims’ families; Stuart Reid, 76, from Falkirk, who is related to two of Manuel’s victims, told the Daily Record: ‘All we want is for someone to stop this horrible decision.’

Mr Reid’s father Robert was haunted by the deaths of his sisters, Marion Watt and Margaret Brown, and teenage niece Vivienne, at the hands of Manuel, and was present on the day the murderer was hanged for his crimes.

‘I was 12 at the time, I will be 77 at the end of this month – it’s terrible that this is still going on. Me and my brother David are the last of my dad’s family,’ Mr Reid said. ‘We don’t want to see it again.’

Born to Scottish parents in New York in 1927, who relocated back to the UK in 1932, Manuel was bullied as a child and turned to petty crime. At the age of 16, he committed a string of sexual attacks that saw him serve nine years in Peterhead Prison in Aberdeenshire.

Released in 1953 after pretending to be a safeblower in prison – then the glamour crime of the day – Manuel soon returned to violence.

Peter Manuel was sentenced to death for the murder of at least seven people between 1956 and 1958, and is thought to have killed two more

Peter Manuel was sentenced to death for the murder of at least seven people between 1956 and 1958, and is thought to have killed two more

Peter Manuel was sentenced to death for the murder of at least seven people between 1956 and 1958, and is thought to have killed two more

Spurned by his childhood sweetheart Anna O’Hara on the day they were due to wed in July 1955, he attacked Mary McLaughlan, 29 – seen dramatised in last night’s episode.

After dragging her into a field, Manuel threatened to cut off her head with a knife and bury it when she screamed for help, and made her stay with him for three hours while he taunted her.

Lawyer Allan Nicol, author of Manuel: Scotland’s First Serial Killer, believes he was a sexual psychopath who took pleasure from the control he had over people before killing them.

Nicol previously told the Daily Record that Mary wasn’t to know the necessary ‘excitement process’ for Manuel to achieve satisfaction started with them simply lying together in the field. 

Peter Manuel's story was dramatised in the 2016 three-part series In Plain Sight, starring Line Of Duty's Martin Compston, left, who postponed his honeymoon to play the swaggering, psychopathic killer, and Douglas Henshall (right) as Detective William Muncie, who pledged to catch him

Peter Manuel's story was dramatised in the 2016 three-part series In Plain Sight, starring Line Of Duty's Martin Compston, left, who postponed his honeymoon to play the swaggering, psychopathic killer, and Douglas Henshall (right) as Detective William Muncie, who pledged to catch him

Peter Manuel’s story was dramatised in the 2016 three-part series In Plain Sight, starring Line Of Duty’s Martin Compston, left, who postponed his honeymoon to play the swaggering, psychopathic killer, and Douglas Henshall (right) as Detective William Muncie, who pledged to catch him

‘He outlined her fate. Her head was to be severed and buried. He groped and forced kisses on her,’ he told the publication. 

‘She sobbed and pleaded. Suddenly, he stopped. He stopped groping and sat back. She had escaped rape. She was about to become the last of Manuel’s victims of violence who would be allowed to live to testify.’

Mary did go to the police, but Manuel successfully conducted his own defence at Airdrie Sheriff Court and got a not proven verdict, enabling him to begin his killing spree.

A diminutive man at just 5ft 4in, Manuel was always well groomed and dressed smart – reflected in Compston’s chilling portrayal of the villain in the ITV drama.

Manuel’s first murder victim was Anne Kneilands, 17, a machinist, who was found with her skull smashed after being bludgeoned with a length of iron and her underwear ripped off on the East Kilbride Golf Course in January 1956.

Despite Manuel confessing to the killing two years later, he escaped arrest when his father gave him an alibi, and the case was dropped because of insufficient evidence. 

Margaret Brown, murdered by Peter Manuel at her home in High Burnside along with her sister Marion Watt and her niece Vivienne

Margaret Brown, murdered by Peter Manuel at her home in High Burnside along with her sister Marion Watt and her niece Vivienne

Margaret Brown, murdered by Peter Manuel at her home in High Burnside along with her sister Marion Watt and her niece Vivienne

In September that year, Manuel broke into the home of the Watt family in High Burnside, near Glasgow, and shot three women at point blank – Marion Watt, 45, her daughter Vivienne, 16, and her sister Margaret Brown, 41.

Marion’s husband William Watt was away on a fishing holiday at the time, but became prime suspect until Manuel struck again, alerting police that a serial killer was on the loose. 

In December 1957, 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke was stalked, raped and strangled as she walked to a dance in Uddingston, Lanarkshire. Manuel was not initially connected to the teenager’s disappearance, but later led officers to the area where he’d buried her body in a nearby field.  

Twenty days earlier on December 8, Manuel is suspected of shooting a Newcastle upon Tyne taxi driver named Sydney Dunn while in the area for a job interview. Manuel was never tried for the murder because it took place in a different legal jurisdiction, but 17 days after he was hanged a coroner’s jury concluded he was responsible after a button found in Dunn’s taxi was matched to one of Manuel’s jackets. 

In December 1957, 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke was stalked, raped and strangled as she walked to a dance in Uddingston, Lanarkshire

In December 1957, 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke was stalked, raped and strangled as she walked to a dance in Uddingston, Lanarkshire

In December 1957, 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke was stalked, raped and strangled as she walked to a dance in Uddingston, Lanarkshire

The crimes that finally snared Manuel were the murders of the Smart family – Peter, 45, Doris, 42, and their son Michael, 10.

The three of them were shot dead at their Uddingston home in the early hours of 1 January 1958. Afterwards Manuel stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from their Hogmanay meal and even feeding the family cat.

He then stole some brand new banknotes that Peter Smart had kept for a holiday and dumped the family car nearby – after using it to give a policeman investigating Isabelle Cooke’s disappearance a lift, during which he boldly told him they were looking in the wrong places. 

Many police officers – including Detective William Muncie, whose first arrest of Manuel was for housebreaking in 1946 – were familiar with Manuel and suspected him of carrying out the murders, but were unable to prove it. Manuel’s arrogance extended to dropping birthday cards through Muncie’s front door. 

After noticing the new bank notes were missing from the Smart’s home, police traced them to Manuel who had used them to buy drinks at several pubs in Glasgow. He confessed to eight murders – not Dunn’s – after police arrested his father. 

Manuel murdered an entire family including 10-year-old Michael Smart and his parents Peter and Doris (pictured) in 1958. He then lived in their house for a week with their bodies

Manuel murdered an entire family including 10-year-old Michael Smart and his parents Peter and Doris (pictured) in 1958. He then lived in their house for a week with their bodies

Manuel murdered an entire family including 10-year-old Michael Smart

Manuel murdered an entire family including 10-year-old Michael Smart

Manuel murdered an entire family including 10-year-old Michael Smart (seen right) and his parents Peter and Doris (seen left) in 1958. He then lived in their house for a week with their bodies

Nicol suggested Manuel fits the profile of the classic serial killer, most of whom are ‘white, male and under 35’. 

‘They are often good actors, usually more intelligent and motivated by the need to exercise control. They are not psychotic and appear quite normal in their every day context,’ he explained.

‘They are unlikely to be abusers of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. They generally care for their appearance and are often fastidious about their dress.

‘They have no ability to experience any feelings for their victims whom they regard as mere obstacles in the way of their pleasure.

‘They are unable to admit to their abnormality, usually sexual. Above all they are made rather than born. Had [Manuel] remained in society, he would have needed to kill again.’     

Nicol suggested Manuel fits the profile of the classic serial killer, most of whom are 'white, male and under 35' (pictured played by Martin Compston in the ITV drama)

Nicol suggested Manuel fits the profile of the classic serial killer, most of whom are 'white, male and under 35' (pictured played by Martin Compston in the ITV drama)

Nicol suggested Manuel fits the profile of the classic serial killer, most of whom are ‘white, male and under 35’ (pictured played by Martin Compston in the ITV drama)

Peter Manuel being led away hidden by a blanket. He was the third last person to be hanged in Scotland

Peter Manuel being led away hidden by a blanket. He was the third last person to be hanged in Scotland

Peter Manuel being led away hidden by a blanket. He was the third last person to be hanged in Scotland

Manuel was tried for the eight murders in a sensational trial at the Glasgow High Court, during which he sacked his lawyers and conducted his defence by himself. William Watt was called as a witness, appearing on a stretcher after being injured in a road accident. 

Among Manuel’s sensational claims during the trial was that Peter Smart was a friend of his who had given him keys to his home before murdering his family and then killing himself.

Although the judge, Lord Cameron, admitted that Manuel conducted his defence ‘with a skill that is quite remarkable’, he was unable to convince the jury of his innocence and was found guilty of all charges against him, except for that of murdering Anne Kneilands. 

Manuel was hanged on the gallows at Barlinnie Prison by Harry Allen on 11 July 1958, aged 31 – the third-to-last criminal to be executed in Scotland. His last words were reportedly: ‘Turn up the radio and I’ll go quietly.’

An ITV spokesperson said: ‘Before the drama commenced filming, the production team set out to trace and contact as many surviving relatives of Manuel’s victims as they could, but unfortunately we were unable to find the Reid brothers, hence them learning about the drama from pre-tx publicity. At the time we spoke to the brothers to reassure them that we fully respect and understand their views.’

In Plain Sight continues tonight on ITV at 9pm and concludes on Wednesday.

 

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