Friday, 23 December 2016

Peter Manuel Part 1: Early Life and First Crimes

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel was born in Misericordia Hospital in Manhattan, New York, on the 15th March 1927. His parents had left Lanarkshire for the United States in 1925 leaving Peter’s elder brother, James, then two, with relatives, intending to send for him once they got settled. Peter was born in 1927, and the Manuel’s lasted a few more years in the states before the Great Depression brought them back to Motherwell in 1932. The Manuel’s had one other child, a daughter named Teresa in 1934. In the 1930s Samuel moved his family to Coventry in search of work and it was there that Peter, aged 12, had his first of many run-ins with the law when he was convicted of shop breaking and larceny, between 1939 and 1946 he appeared variously at a succession of youth courts in all over the country, from Coventry, Ely, Cambridge, Darlington, Manchester, Southport, Hull, Beverley, Market Weighton, Chatham to Glasgow, mostly for breaking into shops and houses. Of this spree of petty crimes two in particular stand out as a portent of what was to come.

On June 24th1942, aged 15, Manuel appeared at Southport Juvenile Court on three charges of housebreaking and one charge of unlawful wounding, he had broken into a house where he made his way to the bedroom of a sleeping girl. He viciously attacked the victim with a hammer which he had wrapped in a handkerchief to prevent leaving fingerprints, before stealing her purse and leaving the home. Not only was this Manuel’s first conviction for violence, it was the first instance of a nocturnal assault on a sleeping victim, something that was to become a signature of his later crimes.

After at least two previous unsuccessful attempts, Manuel committed, and was convicted of his first rape in 1946. At the time, Manuel was only at liberty to commit the series of sex attacks because his indulgent father had stumped up the not inconsiderable sum of £60 for his sons bail on charges of housebreaking. There may have been others, but it’s now considered fact that Manuel carried out three attacks in 1946. The first attack occurred when a women was walking with her three year old child along an unlit path between Mount Vernon Avenue and Carrick Drive at night. Manuel was waiting in the shadows and grabbed the woman as she passed, but the woman fought back, screaming hysterically and Manuel ran off, before suddenly running back to repeatedly kick the woman until she fell to the ground, before running off again. Significantly, Manuel would go on to murder Isabelle Cooke on this very footpath 11 years later in 1957.

Four days later at around 9.30pm, a young nurse finished her shift at a local hospital and was walking along Calder Road, Bellshill, about six miles away from the site of the previous attack. Manuel struck the woman in the face, covering her mouth and warned her not to scream, in the struggle the pair of them ended up on the ground against a hedge at the side of the road, and at this point she managed to scream. At that moment the attack was interrupted by the sound of a passing motorcycle, which caused Manuel to run off into the nearby woods.

Only twenty four hours later, the victim wouldn’t be so lucky. Only two miles away from the attack on the nurse, a 26 year old woman alighted from a bus and started to walk along Fallside Road to her house on Ferry Road, Bothwell. Her husband expected her return at any time. She had seen Manuel waiting at the bus stop but had no cause to suspect him of anything. A few minutes later she realised that someone was walking behind her, glancing back she saw the same young, well-dressed man she had seen at the bus stop. Suddenly, he ran up behind her, punched her and pulled her to the ground, holding his hand over her mouth he growled for her to be quiet. When she bit his hand, he became furious and smashed her head against the ground several times. She pleaded that if it was her money he wanted, he could have it. But it wasn’t her money that he wanted.

He pulled the woman up from the ground and forced her over a fence to a railway embankment. Once there he threw her to the ground, tore off her clothes and raped her. He then tied her scarf around her eyes and ran off. The victim was able to give a description matching that of Manuel, and when police called at his house on March 9th he was arrested for the crime. The victims of the previous two attacks also identified Manuel at their attacker.

Despite the fact that all three women identified Manuel as their attacker, and despite the fact that all three attacks occurred in the same area, a few days apart, and were of a similar character, the Crown made the strange decision to proceed only with the rape allegation from the 8th of March 1946. Had the crown proceeded with all three attacks together, and achieved a conviction on all three, it is likely that Manuel would have been imprisoned for a much longer time that he actually served, and at least some of his later crimes might not have occurred. As it was, Manuel appeared at Glasgow High Court, on the 26th June 1946, and the 19 year old Manuel, full of self-conceit, elected to represent himself in court.

During the course of the investigation, detectives recovered a broken dental plate belonging to the victim from the crime scene, along with two distinct sets of footprints tracing to an area of flattened grass, thereafter the two sets of footprints set off in different directions – all apparently corroborating the victim’s version of events. Furthermore one of the set of footprints matched a pair of shoes belonging to Manuel, and fibres resembling those from the scarf of the victim were found on Manuel’s clothes, and when his shoes were examined, a mixture of dust and dirt consistent with that of the vicinity of the crime were found. All the evidence at least appeared to confirm Manuel’s presence at the crime scene.

The jury agreed – and Manuel was convicted and sentenced to 8 years, set to commence at the end of the 12 month sentence for housebreaking which he was currently serving. But Peter Manuel would be back on the streets in a mere 7 years. Peter Manuel was released from Peterhead Prison in 1953 at the age of 26, and it seemed that perhaps he was really was a reformed man when he met and became engaged to a young woman named Anna O’Hare in 1954. Anna worked as a us conductress at the bus terminus at the Mossend goods yard where Manuel worked, and knew nothing about his criminal past. Manuel was by every account a generous and loving fiancé, well –dressed, well-spoken and well-liked by Anna’s family, they were engaged on the 20th of May 1955 with a wedding date set for the 30th July that year. But that wedding wouldn’t happen and that date of the 30th of July would take on a more ominous meaning.

What split up Anna and Peter was his lack of religion, the O’Hare’s were devout Catholics, and although Manuel’s family were Roman Catholics too, he had long given up the pretence of actually practising any religion. As a consequence, Anna called off the engagement, and from there, Manuel rapidly gave up on any notion of social compliance.

On the date on which Peter was meant to marry Anna O’Hare, July 30th 1955, Manuel abducted and assaulted a 29 year woman named Mary McLachlan. Mary was travelling home from a failed rendez vous at a local dance in nearby Blantyre, sometime around 11pm that night she made her way into Lucy Brae, only a few minutes’ walk from her home, it was here that Manuel sprang out, covering her mouth and holding a knife to her throat. He made Mary climb over a fence into a field, warning that if she screamed he would cut off her head. Manuel made her lie with him for over an hour with his knife pressed against her throat, while he groped and threatened her. At one point Manuel stopped the attack, apologised, explaining that he was drunk, he had lost control, and overcome with the desire to kill someone. In true Manuel style he defected responsibility for his actions, he explained that he was meant to be married that day but his fiancé had left him the day before, that he thought about drowning himself in the Clyde before he remembered he could swim, that he had seen her and she bore such a strong resemblance to his fiancé with her red hair, if her hair had been any other colour she would have been safe. He offered her a cigarette, mused that they must travel on the same bus, and even offered to see her home.

Mary McLachlan would go to the police about her ordeal, and although she didn’t know her attackers name, she did recognise him as travelling on the same bus as her. Manuel was identified and charged. The case gained strength when his knife, complete with his fingerprints, was found in the field, and even more so when Mary McLachlan’s blood was found on his clothes. Once more, Manuel arrogantly elected to represent himself on court, giving him the opportunity to cross-examine his own victim in court. Manuel claimed that yes – he did know the victim, they had been seeing each other but had had a falling out. Yes – he had met her on the 30th, and in the course of an argument had hit her, splitting her lip and thus accounting for the blood found on his clothing. In short, he portrayed Mary as a vengeful, scorned ex-girlfriend out for revenge.

And it worked – Manuel received the peculiar Scottish verdict of ‘Not Proven’ and walked free. While Mary McLachlan was shunned by her neighbours, faced gossip and prejudice and was spat on by Samuel Manuel at a bus stop, and Peter Manuel learned not to leave witnesses, and he never would again. 

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