Peter Manuel mug shot
|Birth name||Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel|
|Also known as||The Beast of Birkenshaw|
13 March 1927|
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||11 July 1958(aged 31)|
|Cause of death||Hanging|
|Number of victims||9-18+|
|Date apprehended||13 January 1958|
Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel (13 March 1927 – 11 July 1958) was an American-born Scottish serial killer who is known to have murdered nine people across Lanarkshire and southern Scotland between 1956 and his arrest in January 1958, although he is suspected of having killed as many as eighteen. Prior to his arrest, the media nicknamed the unidentified killer the Beast of Birkenshaw. Manuel was hanged at Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison for his crimes on 11 July 1958; he was one of the last prisoners to die on the Barlinnie gallows.
Manuel was born in 1927 to Scottish parents in New York; the family moved to Detroit before emigrating back to Britain in 1932, this time to Birkenshaw in Lanarkshire. During his childhood, he was bullied; by the age of ten, he was known to the local police as a petty thief. At the age of sixteen, he committed a string of sexual attacks that resulted in his serving nine years in Peterhead Prison. He served further sentences for rape, before beginning his killing spree in 1956.
Although Manuel confessed while in custody to killing eighteen people, he was tried in 1958 for the murders of only eight people. One of the cases against him was thrown out of court; another, committed in England, was attributed to him following his death.
Anne Kneilands: 17. On 2 January 1956, Kneilands was stalked onto an East Kilbride golf course, where she was raped and bludgeoned to death with a length of iron. Although he was questioned by police about the murder and would confess to it two years later, Manuel escaped arrest when his father provided him with an alibi. He was charged with this murder in 1958, but the case against him was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Marion Watt, Vivienne Watt and Margaret Brown: 45, 17 and 41. Marion, her daughter Vivienne, and her sister Margaret were shot dead in their home in Burnside, Glasgow on 17 September 1956. At the time of the murders, Manuel was out on bail for a burglary at a nearby colliery and was suspected by officers in charge of the manhunt for the Watts’ killer, but he once again evaded capture, following the arrest of Marion’s husband, William. Although released two months later, William Watt was assumed guilty of the murders until 1958, when the Smart family were gunned down in their home just a few miles away.
Sydney Dunn: 36. Manuel shot and killed his fifth victim, taxi driver Sydney Dunn, on 8 December 1957 whilst looking for work in Newcastle upon Tyne. Dunn’s body was found on moorlands in Northumberland soon after, by which time Manuel had already returned to Lanarkshire. As with the case of Anne Kneilands, there remains some doubt as to whether or not Manuel did indeed kill Dunn. An inquiry into the murder, held a fortnight after the killer was hanged at Barlinnie, officially tied the crime to him after a button found in Dunn's taxi was matched to one of his jackets.
Isabelle Cooke: 17. Cooke disappeared after leaving her Mount Vernon home to go to a dance at Uddingston Grammar School on 28 December 1957. Manuel stalked, raped and strangled her, and then buried her in a nearby field. He would later lead officers to the spot where he had disposed of her body. As with Dunn’s murder twenty days earlier, Cooke’s disappearance was not initially connected to Manuel.
Peter, Doris and Michael Smart: 45, 42 and 10. The Smarts were shot dead in their Uddingston home on 1 January 1958. After the murders, Manuel stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from a Hogmanay meal and even feeding the family cat, before stealing some brand new banknotes that Peter Smart had been keeping for a holiday, and taking the family car and dumping it nearby. Ironically, Manuel gave a lift in this car to a police officer investigating the disappearance of Isabelle Cooke, even telling him that he felt that the police were not looking in the right places. It was only following the Smarts’ murders that police realised a serial killer was on the loose, leading to the exoneration of William Watt.
Although many police officers who were familiar with Manuel suspected him of carrying out these murders, they were unable to prove it until shortly after the Smarts’ murder, when some banknotes Manuel had been using to pay for drinks in east-end Glasgow pubs were found to be from the batch stolen from their household by the killer. Initially denying everything, he confessed to these murders, and more than a dozen others, after his mother confronted him at the police station where he was being held.
Manuel was tried for murder at the Glasgow High Court; in a move that astounded many present, he sacked his lawyers and conducted his defence by himself. Although the judge, Lord Cameron, admitted that Manuel conducted his defence “with a skill that is quite remarkable”, the killer was unable to convince the jury of an insanity plea, and he was found guilty of all charges against him, except for that of Anne Kneilands, which had been dropped due to a lack of evidence. On 11 July 1958, Manuel was hanged on the gallows at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. His last words are reported to have been, "Turn up the radio and I’ll go quietly".
Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Manuel was not the last criminal to be executed in Scotland, but the third-last. Anthony Miller followed Manuel on to the Barlinnie gallows in December 1960, while Henry John Burnett suffered a similar fate at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen in August 1963.
In 2009, a BBC programme Inside the Mind of a Psychopath argued that the authorities colluded to ensure Manuel was hanged, despite the fact that he was a known psychopath.
Manuel was known to have a hatred for the police that bordered on pathological, once remarking to an acquaintance that he would like to see a police officer hanged from a bridge they were passing under 'preferably one with three stripes on his uniform'. He accused police in Glasgow of harassing his family, a factor perhaps influencing his anger towards them.
He was also somewhat of a narcissist and enjoyed big-noting himself, including boasting of ties to organised crime figures in the United States (almost certainly false, considering he left the US as a child). He had once successfully defended himself in court against a charge of burglary, a fact which he claimed proved he was smarter than both the judiciary and the police
As a killer, he displayed a tendency to gloat and enjoy his murders even after the fact. He lingered in both the Watt and Smart homes for some time after the killings, eating food stored there and rifling through personal possessions. He was seen by a neighbour of the Watts a day after the killing through the window, and quickly drew the curtain.
He also exhibited sadistic tendencies, most notably when he was in the same prison as William Watt, accused of murdering his family. He contacted Watt's solicitor and requested to meet with Watt. At the meeting, he said that an acquaintance of his had confessed to the Watt murders, and offered a detail account of the murders. Watt's reaction was to angrily accuse Manuel of being the killer, remarking that he (Manuel) knew 'far too much about the house not to have been there'. His motive for such a potentially dangerous move was apparently to a) safely gloat about the killings and b) psychologically torment Watt with the details of his family's death.
Based on the above, Manuel was almost certainly a sociopath, if not a psychopath. But neither is legal grounds for an insanity defence under Scottish law.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (September 2008)|
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