Murder Most Vile Volume 8

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Beyond Evil

In November 1993, the whole of Britain was transfixed by a murder trial, the trial of ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables for the murder of 4-year-old James Bulger. The boys had abducted the toddler from a Liverpool shopping mall, walked him around town for hours, then eventually taken him down to the railway tracks where they tortured and beat him to death. It was a brutal and senseless crime, perhaps one of the most horrific in the annals of British criminal history.

Just 35 miles away in nearby Manchester, another trial was underway, this one for the murder of a 16-year-old girl named Suzanne Capper. This case did not attract the same level of attention as the other, but in many ways it involved a murder even more brutal than that of young James Bulger. Suzanne had been held captive and systematically tortured over a period of six days. She’d then been dowsed with gasoline and set alight. The perpetrators of this horrific act were six individuals who she had thought of as her friends.

Even at sixteen, Suzanne Capper had been through a lot in her life. Two years earlier, her mother and stepfather had divorced sending Suzanne into a period of uncertainty and instability. For most of those two years, she’d lived a shiftless existence, shuttling between her mother, her stepfather and the local authority. She’d also begun spending time at the home of a new friend, 26-year-old mother-of-three Jean Powell.

Powell was hardly what you’d call a fitting role model for a young girl. She was a drug dealer and a fence for stolen car parts, someone who was regularly involved in violent confrontations with her neighbors. Her home at 97 Langworthy Road, Moston was a virtual turnstile for local delinquents. Most came to buy drugs or barter in stolen goods. Others, like 16-year-old Anthony Dudson, came to have sex with Powell.

Still, Suzanne appeared devoted to her new friend. She regularly babysat Powell’s children for free, and was always willing to help out around the house. Powell even convinced her to drop out of school and to begin working as an office cleaner in the city center. Her weekly pay packet went directly to Powell who repaid her with regular beatings.

Suzanne Capper endured all of this abuse, and never wavered in her loyalty to Jean Powell, not even when Powell took in a new lodger and the mistreatment escalated. Like Powell, Bernadette McNeilly was a young mother-of-three. She had recently rented number 91 Langworthy Road, but she and Powell quickly become such firm friends that they decided move in together. If anything, McNeilly was more dangerous than Powell. In her short time living on Langworthy Road she’d developed a reputation for drug and booze filled violence. She’d threatened to burn down one neighbor’s house. With another, she’d taken her threats a step further, setting their laundry alight. It wasn’t long after McNeilly moved in with Powell that the violence against Suzanne Capper escalated.

Matters eventually came to a head on December 7, 1992. Over the previous week, Powell and McNeilly had begun accumulating an array of petty complaints against Suzanne. The first of these related to a man named Mohammed Yussif, who Suzanne and Jean Powell had met in late November. According to the story Powell relayed to McNeilly, Suzanne had encouraged her to have sex with Yussif and deserved “a good hiding for trying to make me go with an Arab.”

Then there was the pink duffle coat that was missing from the house. Powell and McNeilly were convinced that Suzanne had taken it. Their lack of proof as to the alleged theft in no way discouraged them from plotting their revenge.

Finally, there was the most serious complaint of all. Powell and McNeilly were both promiscuous women, who routinely had sex with the succession of delinquents and drug addicts that visited the house. These included the aforementioned Anthony Dudson and Powell’s ex-husband Glyn. Unsurprisingly, given this lifestyle, it wasn’t long before both women were afflicted with pubic lice. The blame for this passed to Suzanne, the warped logic being that she sometimes used a downstairs bed at 97 Langworthy Road. It was enough for McNeilly to convince the others that Suzanne had to pay.

On December 7, Powell and McNeilly knocked on the door at 6 Bewley Walk, where Suzanne was staying with her father. They asked Suzanne if she wanted to come over to their house. Eager to please as always, Suzanne agreed. She’d barely walked through the door at 97 Langworthy Road when Anthony Dudson and Glyn Powell grabbed her.

Dudson and Powell dragged the terrified girl into the kitchen, where they held her down and shaved off her hair and her eyebrows. After that, they made her clean up the hair from the floor then forced her into the lounge, where Jean Powell and McNeilly were waiting. Over the hours that followed, Suzanne was subjected to a savage beating. She was punched, kicked, struck with belt buckles and a heavy wooden ornament. A cigarette was put out on her forehead; she was suffocated with a plastic bag. When she eventually collapsed, her tormentors dragged her into a small closet under the stairs, where she spent the night. The next morning her captors took her to McNeilly’s home at 91 Langworthy Road. It was here that the worst of the abuse occurred.

First, Suzanne was forced to shave off her pubic hair, punishment McNeilly said, for inflicting her and Powell with pubic lice. Then she was made to lay spread-eagled on a bed and was lashed to the frame with electrical chord. With McNeilly the torturer in chief, the abuse now escalated. Suzanne was injected with amphetamines; headphones were placed over her ears and music was played at full volume for hours at a time; she was whipped and beaten, burned with cigarettes, and forced to lie in her own urine and feces. At one point, the torturers decided that she needed to be cleaned up and poured undiluted bleach directly onto her body, then scrubbed her with hard-bristled brushes until her skin peeled off. On another, Powell’s 16-year-old son, Clifford Pook, removed several of her teeth with a pair of pliers. McNeilly, high on drugs and obviously wallowing in this inhumane cruelty, started to torment her, taking on the persona of Chucky, the evil doll from the horror movie “Child’s Play.” She’d start each torture session with the character’s catch phrase, “Chucky’s coming to play.” Despite her horrific injuries and weakened state, this phrase never failed to get Suzanne screaming.

For six days and nights, Suzanne Capper endured this almost constant torment. But eventually, even her drug-addled tormentors realized that it could not go on forever. That left them with two options. They could either set her free, and risk her going to the authorities, or they could kill her. To them, it must have seemed like no choice at all.

In the early hours of December 14, 1992, Suzanne was taken from the house and forced into the trunk of a stolen Fiat Panda. Glyn Powell was behind the wheel of the car, Bernice McNeilly in the passenger seat beside him. In back were Jean Powell and her adolescent lover, Anthony Dudson. The foursome drove about 15 miles to a field outside of Stockport. There they dragged Suzanne from the car and marched her to the edge of an embankment, where McNeilly gave her a shove, sending her tumbling into a thicket of brambles. McNeilly then slid down the bank carrying a gas canister, which she emptied over Suzanne. After three failed attempts, she eventually got the gasoline to ignite. The flames quickly engulfed Suzanne and she started screaming, while McNeilly giggled and sang, “Burn baby burn!”

Eventually, Suzanne Capper’s struggles subsided and she lay still on the ground, a blackened, smoldering lump, barely recognizable as human. The killers then left the scene and drove home, stopping at a liquor store to pick up some drinks on the way home. But Suzanne was not dead. With incredible courage, she clawed her ruined body up the embankment, staggered to her feet and began stumbling down the Compstall Road towards Romiley. It was 6:10 in the morning when Barry Sutcliffe and two colleagues, on their way to work, spotted her. They took her immediately to a nearby house and from there called the police and an ambulance.

Suzanne was rushed to hospital, but her injuries were horrific. Her hands and feet had been so badly burned, they looked like charcoal; on the rest of the body her flesh resembled raw meat, her face was rendered almost featureless. Still, she managed to hold onto long enough to name her attackers. Then she lapsed into a coma.

Suzanne Capper died on 18 December 1992, without regaining consciousness.

All four of those involved in the killing of Suzanne Capper – Bernadette McNeilly, Jean Powell, Glyn Powell and Anthony Dudson – were arrested on December 14, within hours of Suzanne being found. In addition, Jeffrey Leigh and Clifford Pook, who had participated in torturing Suzanne, were taken into custody. At their trial, in November 1993, all were convicted.

Bernadette McNeilly and Jean Powell were both found guilty of murder and were each sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 25 years. Glyn Powell received the same sentence, while Anthony Dudson was found guilty of murder and ordered to be detained indefinitely, with a minimum of 18 years to be served. Jeffrey Leigh and Clifford Pook were found guilty of the lesser charges of false imprisonment and causing grievous bodily harm. Both have since been released from prison.

The final words in this horrific case belong to Suzanne’s mother, Elizabeth Dunbar. “Suzanne was very forgiving,” Mrs. Dunbar said. “But she was also a girl who would try to sort out her problems on her own. That’s what she did in the end, she survived her ordeal long enough to name every single one of them.”

Murder Most Vile Volume Eight features another 17 shocking true crime stories.