One of the UK’s most prolific serial killers worked in Blackpool. I may have seen him although I don’t recall.
Blackpool residents who are old enough may recall Rumours. You had to be a member. It had three main attractions. One was that because of restricted membership it was a peaceful town-centre venue. Second was that it was very tightly watched by security staff. And last you had a very good chance of being served by a girl in her underwear. Obviously I spent much of my life in there. The clientele tended to be a tad older than the nightclub crowd so it was a place so it was sophisticated by Blackpool standards. There used to be a joke: “Llandudno for people who find Blackpool too sophisticated.”
Any road up I digress. The incidents also reflect a time when the civilised organised crime since the War gave way to a chaotic crime landscape driven by drugs and violence and poverty. Blackpool’s decline after the early seventies was fast and remorseless. Streets that had been filled with moderately prosperous boarding houses were turned into flats and an people who were on the run or had problems filled these flats. Murder which had been a rarity in earlier days became a weekly event. It was in these years that the protection gangs of earlier years became the security companies of today. Often with the same staff. Organised crime had often aspired to become law enforcers. When Holy Family School was robbed and damaged by fire a group of local parents approached Mixie Walsh who sent one of his intimidating colleagues to talk to the perpetrator. There was no violence. The perpetrator was told not to do it again. And he didn’t and nor did anyone else. It is conceivable (I don’t know that details) that Mixie Walsh did this for free because it enhanced his reputation… kind of “pro bono” as they say. It is possible (again I have no idea) that the fact that guns were rarely used in Blackpool as opposed to Liverpool or Manchester was because organised crime had such a tight grip.
But I digress.
Stephen Akinmurele had killed at least five people and very likely seven by the time he was twenty. The last person he killed was himself.
Every story is part of another story. A love story involves Eric and Joan Boardman. They had been friends when they were young. Both had married and then divorced and they met again on Blackpool Promenade. Eric ran boat trips from Blackpool in the sixties and when they met again they were soon married and lived happily for twenty seven years. Until 30 October 1998 when they were murdered at their home by Stephen Akinmurele at their home, 2 Seafield Avenue, North Shore.
Joan was 74 at the time. She had got a full boatman’s licence. Stephen Akinmurele broke in and concealed himself for some time. Whilst the two were apart in the morning he strangled Joan. He then coshed Eric using a sock with batteries inside, they call this PP9ing somebody. Eric who was 76 put up a terrific fight. He probably hoped to save Joan not knowing that she was already dead. His brave fight led to the the discovery of evidence. Stephen Akinmurele, his plans disrupted, tried to make the deaths appear as an accident by toppling a wardrobe on the couple. However the cosh was discovered and fingerprints led to Stephen Akinmurele. Had his plans not been disrupted it is likely that Stephen Akinmurele would have started a fire to destroy evidence. Joan and Eric were discovered by Joan’s daughter Marelyn. Investigators soon found fingerprints which led them to Stephen Akinmurele.
Stephen Akinmurele was twenty. He had killed at least five and probably seven people when police questioned him. Photographs show a good looking young man and Stephen Akinmurele was an industrially active bisexual. He liked the company of down and outs and drug addicts of whom there are many in Blackpool. And he gave things he had stolen from his victims to lovers. A contemporary who went to school with him recalls that he was often in trouble but came across as a nice friendly lad.
His background is unusual. His father was Nigerian and his mother came from the Isle of Man. When he was six his mother took him to the Isle of Man where he was brought up first of all by his grandmother and then by his mother. He was often in trouble at school and had some mental health problems. However he went to the mainland when he was eighteen and was able to get a job as a civil servant working in Benefits and also the much envied job working as a barman in Rumours. He was living in Cheltenham Road in North Shore when he was arrested.
When he was arrested he told some cock and bull story about being hired to carry out a hit on a drug dealer in Caunce Street. This was nonsense but it did lead the investigators to look at his earlier residence in Caunce Street. His former landlady Jemima Cargill aged 75 had died in a fire. Because of the destruction of evidence it was assumed that she had died in the fire probably through smoke inhalation. Investigators now began to investigate other house fires. There were two fires in the Isle of Man that were similar to the Caunce Street fire. 68 year old Dorothy Harris and 72 year old Marjorie Ashton had both been found after separate house fires in Ballasalla in the Isle of Man. They had died in 1995 and 1996.
When he was questioned Stephen Akinmurele’s demeanour was liable to change. He could be quiet and polite and then he would have terrifying rages. DS Bob Denmark who interviewed him describes him as: “One of the most dangerous men I have ever met.”
In prison he attacked and wounded a doctor and the threatened to kill others. He also confessed to other crimes including the murder of a rambler in the Isle of Man. Some aspects of this confession were corroborated by evidence. Investigators did find a concealed firearm. But no body was found and it was concluded that the confession was false and intended to mislead.
Why did Stephen Akinmurele confess to a crime he did not (or probably did not) commit? The answer is odd. All Stephen’s murders involved older people. Not only that but he did not profit by his crimes, or at least he only profited very little. If he had intended to burgle the Boardmans why bother to kill them at all? Why not just take what he could while they were asleep. The investigators believe that Stephen Akinmurele confessed to conceal the true motive for his crimes which was a homicidal hatred of older people. This is unusual although you do wonder if it was part of the motivation in the case of Doctor Shipman, the most prolific UK killer of all time… a man so lethal that his crimes affected the statistical murder rate by several per cent. (I met somebody who worked with him but another story.)
Stephen Akinmurele was only to be charged with the three Blackpool murders. This is because the unusual status of the Isle of Man meant that he would have to be tried there for crimes committed there. In addition to the two murders in the Isle of Man Stephen was also suspected of two other murders which involved similar circumstances: fires and older victims.
The trial was set for October.
The trial never took place. Stephen was found with a concealed weapon, a sharpened toothbrush. His girlfriend Amanda Fitch told the prison authorities that he was suicidal. On Saturday 28 August 1999 he hanged himself using a ligature made from a bedsheet tied round the bars of his window.
He left a note for his mother part of which said:”I couldn’t take any more of feeling like how I do now, always wanting to kill.”
The absence of a trial means that Stephen Akinmurele’s crimes are not so well-known as other criminals but here was a man who killed five people and probably seven by the time he was twenty. And he could have gone on to kill more if it were not for Eric Boardman.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE STEPHEN AKINMURELE?
Of course we can never know. It is possible that he puzzled himself as much as he puzzles us. Here was a man not all that far from normal and within him this incomprehensible lethal ferocity. Maybe much of the time he felt much like we all feel. Hungry or bored or enjoying himself. One aspect of his crimes which may be linked to his mental health is that he spent a long time in the Boardman’s house and also in the house in Caunce Street. It is possible that in Caunce Street he made himself a meal after he killed Jemima Cargill and before he set the house ablaze.
Young lads who are brought up without a father are disproportionately likely to go to prison. Whatever it was like to be Stephen Akinmurele we should be grateful we are not him.
Stephen Akinmurele was the most dangerous kind of killer. He was normal enough not to attract attention but capable of ferocious violence.
A FINAL WORD ABOUT ERIC BOARDMAN
I often go for walks around Skippool. It is within cycling distance and the walk by the river changes with the seasons. Also although I like walking I am not extremely bothered where I walk. I put my bike in the car-park and I sit on a bench and put my boots on. I glance at the bench. Like many benches along this part of the estuary there is a plaque. Something catches my eye. Here it is. The gallant old sailor lost his life trying to save his wife Joan and now his plaque looks over the sails of the estuary.