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Is There A Serial Killer In York?

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This story appeared on the Indie's website yesterday, about the disappearance of a student while walking home from a night out in York last Thursday. Below it were comments speculating that a serial killer is operating in the city, including one which alleged that there had been "dozens of other disappearances in the last two years", mainly vagrants and residents of a bail hostel in the city.

I lived in the city from 1999 to 2013, and the possibility was discussed over garden fences, in pubs and so on. At the time Lawrence vanished, another woman of a similar age and lifestyle, Lisette Dugmore, also disappeared. I remember the case, because she was last seen only 200 yards or so from where I lived at the time. Dugmore was found in the river four and a half years later, but significantly, no public statement was ever ever issued by the police as to the cause of her death, and, as with Lawrence, there was no apparent motive for suicide. There was an inquest, but I can't find anything online as to its verdict ... or, in fact, anything online whatsoever to rule out the possibility that she was murdered and her body dumped in the river.

Dugmore and Lawrence weren't the only disappearances from York during the '00s. In around 2003 or '04 a male office worker vanished while walking home from a party early one Sunday morning, also in the Clifton/Bootham area. In 2001 or '02 a restaurant worker was knocked off his bike and assaulted while cycling home across wasteland behind Leeman Road, again in the middle of the night (he escaped, but with serious injuries). I've a feeling that there were others, too. I couldn't cite you more concrete examples, but have a gut feeling that if you were to trawl the archive of the York Evening Press, you'd find at least three or four others.

Idle talk in the pub about the possibility of a York serial killer centred on the possibility that he slipped up in targeting Lawrence, a woman with a strong and well-connected network of family and friends, who ensured that the case received widespread publicity. The other people who vanished tended to be loners, or, as one of the commenters on the Indie story put it, people who had slipped through the cracks of society. Given that tourism represents such a major part of York's economy, it's hardly surprising that the serial killer hypothesis is not one that the police or local politicians want to dwell on. However, the latest disappearance does have me wondering: 1 - is a thin air disappearance from an urban street every couple of years or so (assuming that my recollection as to the number of them is roughly right) significantly more than the average for a city the size of York ; and 2 - has there ever been a previous, proven case of a serial killer murdering people infrequently over a very long time period (i.e. over a decade) and going undetected for this long?

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This story appeared on the Indie's website yesterday, about the disappearance of a student while walking home from a night out in York last Thursday. Below it were comments speculating that a serial killer is operating in the city, including one which alleged that there had been "dozens of other disappearances in the last two years", mainly vagrants and residents of a bail hostel in the city.

I lived in the city from 1999 to 2013, and the possibility was discussed over garden fences, in pubs and so on. At the time Lawrence vanished, another woman of a similar age and lifestyle, Lisette Dugmore, also disappeared. I remember the case, because she was last seen only 200 yards or so from where I lived at the time. Dugmore was found in the river four and a half years later, but significantly, no public statement was ever ever issued by the police as to the cause of her death, and, as with Lawrence, there was no apparent motive for suicide. There was an inquest, but I can't find anything online as to its verdict ... or, in fact, anything online whatsoever to rule out the possibility that she was murdered and her body dumped in the river.

Dugmore and Lawrence weren't the only disappearances from York during the '00s. In around 2003 or '04 a male office worker vanished while walking home from a party early one Sunday morning, also in the Clifton/Bootham area. In 2001 or '02 a restaurant worker was knocked off his bike and assaulted while cycling home across wasteland behind Leeman Road, again in the middle of the night (he escaped, but with serious injuries). I've a feeling that there were others, too. I couldn't cite you more concrete examples, but have a gut feeling that if you were to trawl the archive of the York Evening Press, you'd find at least three or four others.

Idle talk in the pub about the possibility of a York serial killer centred on the possibility that he slipped up in targeting Lawrence, a woman with a strong and well-connected network of family and friends, who ensured that the case received widespread publicity. The other people who vanished tended to be loners, or, as one of the commenters on the Indie story put it, people who had slipped through the cracks of society. Given that tourism represents such a major part of York's economy, it's hardly surprising that the serial killer hypothesis is not one that the police or local politicians want to dwell on. However, the latest disappearance does have me wondering: 1 - is a thin air disappearance from an urban street every couple of years or so (assuming that my recollection as to the number of them is roughly right) significantly more than the average for a city the size of York ; and 2 - has there ever been a previous, proven case of a serial killer murdering people infrequently over a very long time period (i.e. over a decade) and going undetected for this long?

I don't see why we should be immune, the States have had lots of "successful" serial killers who remained undetected for ages. Is there any reason to suppose our police are more honest and competent than theirs? One real nightmare would be if it were a copper, because they do like to protect one another......

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This story appeared on the Indie's website yesterday, about the disappearance of a student while walking home from a night out in York last Thursday. Below it were comments speculating that a serial killer is operating in the city....

...has there ever been a previous, proven case of a serial killer murdering people infrequently over a very long time period (i.e. over a decade) and going undetected for this long?

Zodiac was undetected for decades. Fred West had twenty year 'career'.

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I don't see why we should be immune, the States have had lots of "successful" serial killers who remained undetected for ages. Is there any reason to suppose our police are more honest and competent than theirs? One real nightmare would be if it were a copper, because they do like to protect one another......

A copper was my first thought. Circumstances - middle of the night, "dozens of other disappearances in the last two years, mainly vagrants and residents of a bail hostel in the city." Someone's cleaning the city up. It's probably in his job description to clean the city up. S/He's just gone a bit far.

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A copper was my first thought. Circumstances - middle of the night, "dozens of other disappearances in the last two years, mainly vagrants and residents of a bail hostel in the city." Someone's cleaning the city up. It's probably in his job description to clean the city up. S/He's just gone a bit far.

I Saw that film too...

Maniac_Cop_Movie_Poster.jpg

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Zodiac was undetected for decades. Fred West had twenty year 'career'.

And (I see, having just looked on Wikipedia), his murders were spaced evenly over a period spanning over a decade, with two-year gaps between some of them. Some of his victims were known to him, while others were complete strangers. And he was only caught, basically by accident. Hmm....

Of note, I attended a wedding in the church next door to 25 Cromwell St., about a year after the Wests were arrested. All the locals were at pains to stress that no-one suspected anything.

There's been half a dozen men drown in the Rochdale Canal in Manchester over the last few months.

Ish.

Sure - there are lots of accidental drownings all time time, including in the Ouse at York. But most of them are fished out, and the cause of death is established to have been non-suspicious. What distinguishes this spate of disappearances is that they are just that (apart from Dugmore, the people who vanished were never seen again, dead or alive).

Oh, and if Maniac Cop doesn't offer a solution...

The-vanishing-1988-poster.jpg

English title = The Vanishing ; tagline, "Who has seen this woman?"

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And (I see, having just looked on Wikipedia), his murders were spaced evenly over a period spanning over a decade, with two-year gaps between some of them. Some of his victims were known to him, while others were complete strangers. And he was only caught, basically by accident. Hmm....

Of note, I attended a wedding in the church next door to 25 Cromwell St., about a year after the Wests were arrested. All the locals were at pains to stress that no-one suspected anything.

Sure - there are lots of accidental drownings all time time, including in the Ouse at York. But most of them are fished out, and the cause of death is established to have been non-suspicious. What distinguishes this spate of disappearances is that they are just that (apart from Dugmore, the people who vanished were never seen again, dead or alive).

Oh, and if Maniac Cop doesn't offer a solution...

The-vanishing-1988-poster.jpg

English title = The Vanishing ; tagline, "Who has seen this woman?"

A horrid film.

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If she's simply fallen in the river, they typically pick the bodies up when a high river carries them down to Naburn Lock where they get fished out. e.g.

In a way you would rather it was that because just a disappearance is terribly unsatisfying and even more distressing.

Of course we all hope she is found alive and unharmed.

If they've CCTV of both ends of the bridge it seems unlikely to be an abduction, can't see any explanation other than she's fallen in the river.

Very sad.

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Oh, and if Maniac Cop doesn't offer a solution...

The-vanishing-1988-poster.jpg

English title = The Vanishing ; tagline, "Who has seen this woman?"

Based on a good book by Tim Krabbe. Who also wrote a book about a bike race which is how I first came across him (being more into weekend cycling than I am into recreational kidnap and murder).

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There's been half a dozen men drown in the Rochdale Canal in Manchester over the last few months.

Ish.

I used to live in York. I'd be hesitant to read too much into a few disappearances occurring over many years - people disappear for many reasons, and falling into rivers whilst drunk being one of them, sadly. No body = no murder.

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I used to live in York. I'd be hesitant to read too much into a few disappearances occurring over many years - people disappear for many reasons, and falling into rivers whilst drunk being one of them, sadly. No body = no murder.

No body = very difficult to find evidence of murder, and to rule out other causes of death, or even that the missing person is still alive. That's why the modus operandi of the more competent and premeditated murderers is to try to prevent their victims' bodies from ever being found (either by destruction or concealment).

Quote from the police:

"All in the group, including Megan, were heavily affected by alcohol. That group, while together, was widely spread out." He said some of the group became separated from others, and ran down Tanner's Moat towards Wellington Row, looking for the others.

Supt Cain said Megan was the last in the group and bumped into the cycle racks outside the Maltings pub. He said: "CCTV evidence did not show Megan running back up the same street with the others to re-join the main group."

The view from Tanner's Moat looking towards Wellington Row. Imagine it in the dark.

I'm guessing that if she lived in Clifton, her intention was to walk northbound along the riverbank, across Scarborough Bridge, along the path between the railway embankment and Marygate car park, under the railway, up Bootham Terrace (right past my former home!), and then along Bootham and Clifton. Starting from Tanner's Moat and heading to a destination in Clifton, this is the shortest and most direct walking route. Until you get onto Bootham itself, that route is secluded and poorly lit. Until around 11pm there would have been people walking home from the station across Scarborough Bridge to the residential areas around Bootham and Clifton, but not at 2.10am - the last train would have been long gone. Furthermore, Wednesday-Thursday night is not a big one for clubbing. The last train from London gets in to York at around half past midnight, and I walked home from it probably 2-3 times a year during the time I lived in York. I often did not encounter a single other human being after turning off Leeman Road onto the footpath by the sorting office, especially if it was a midweek night.

This statement from police is a significant change from the previous assumption, which is that she fell off Lendal Bridge itself. At the riverbank on Wellington Row, there is a ridged concrete bank, probably around 6-10 feet, with another pavement at the bottom - picture here, taken from Lendal Bridge with Scarborough Bridge in the distance, with the Wellington Row riverbank on the left. Are we seriously being asked to believe that she slid down that bank, rolled over the pavement and then into the water?! I suppose it's just possible if she was monumentally drunk, but it's something I have a hard time believing. But yet she was walking, on her own (having become separated from her friends) along deserted city back roads and pathways, in the middle of a weekday night, in a city where there have been several other unexplained disappearances (and one survived attack) under very similar circumstances.

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No body = very difficult to find evidence of murder, and to rule out other causes of death, or even that the missing person is still alive. That's why the modus operandi of the more competent and premeditated murderers is to try to prevent their victims' bodies from ever being found (either by destruction or concealment).

I accept that nefarious things do happen and sometimes bodies are never found, but it must be very difficult to conclude that there is a serial killer on the loose simply based on several disappearances with no trace. Not saying it isn't a possibility, just very difficult to be at all confident of such a thing until he/she slips up!

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To be fair, the actual police quote is: "There is nothing at this stage to indicate that any member of that group of friends or anybody else is directly responsible for Megan's disappearance." What they seem to be ruling out is the stalker that she mentioned in her text messages a week or so before her disappearance, presumably because there were no reported sightings of him on the evening of the disappearance itself.

Furthermore, I'm not necessarily suggesting that there is anything sinister in the police not wanting to talk publicly about the possibility of a serial killer. Their official position is still that Claudia Lawrence was murdered. After all, there is no hard evidence to link any of the disappearances - it's all circumstantial, combined with the absence of any evidence for accidental death or suicide, either. If there is a serial killer, he's a clever one: targeting people who were drunk (this latest disappearance), people who lived alone and were frequently out alone at odd times (Lawrence, Dugmore) and those who were homeless and/or had no social roots in the city. Furthermore, many of the disappearances were in circumstances that could also suggest an accident. But this is all complete conjecture on my part (and among other York residents informally throughout the last few years I lived there), and in the absence of any real evidence, of course the police aren't going to call a press conference and announce their belief that a homicidal maniac is prowling the streets of the city, even if they also have their suspicions.

I have to say, though, that I really don't like the sound of this. People have fallen off Lendal Bridge many times, and jumped off it a few (the railing only comes up to just below waist height). But we now know that she was never on the actual bridge, and falling accidentally actually into the river from Wellington Row looks to me to be almost physically impossible. I wonder if the CCTV tapes from Scarborough Bridge and the Marygate car park have been looked at.

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But we now know that she was never on the actual bridge, and falling accidentally actually into the river from Wellington Row looks to me to be almost physically impossible. I wonder if the CCTV tapes from Scarborough Bridge and the Marygate car park have been looked at.

Maybe she went through here and then over the railings? Gap in wall

And, of course, one she is under the bridge, there is no wall / barrier between her and the river at all (this is the view from under the bridge with Wellington Row behind and the river ahead, on the right) Under Lendal bridge

Bear in mind that the river is a lot higher just now than in those streetview photos

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This story appeared on the Indie's website yesterday, about the disappearance of a student while walking home from a night out in York last Thursday. Below it were comments speculating that a serial killer is operating in the city, including one which alleged that there had been "dozens of other disappearances in the last two years", mainly vagrants and residents of a bail hostel in the city.

I lived in the city from 1999 to 2013...

At least the disappearances didn't mysterious cease when you left!

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Based on a good book by Tim Krabbe. Who also wrote a book about a bike race which is how I first came across him (being more into weekend cycling than I am into recreational kidnap and murder).

Really? Well, each to their own. ;)

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And, of course, one she is under the bridge, there is no wall / barrier between her and the river at all (this is the view from under the bridge with Wellington Row behind and the river ahead, on the right) Under Lendal bridge

She'd have had to have rolled down a conrcrete, stepped embankment at leats 10ft long, over a pavement at the bottom (unless the river level was high enough to have covered it, which, as you point out, it could have been) and then into the water. That runs the entire length of the western bank between Lendal and Scarborough bridges.

As I wrote earlier, I'm not definitely trying to claim that there was foul play involved, only that the circumstances do not add up overwhelmingly to an accident, however drunk she was.

Given that after three days, they haven't found Roberts anywhere in the Ouse running through the city centre, I'm getting increasingly sceptical about the "she fell in the river" hypothesis, unless the river level was so high that she could have been carried past the Ouse/Foss confluence and out towards Naburn and Selby. Lisette Dugmore was found in the river near Naburn, so that could be possible, assuming that she entered the river significantly upstream of there. Foul play has not been ruled out in Dugmore's death, either (or at least, I can find nothing online to suggest that it has been); but there again, Dugmore wasn't anywhere near the river (and there is no reason to believe that she was drunk, either) when she initially went missing, unlike this latest case.

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It's like a Miss Marple adventure unless you live in the city where it's happening, in which case it's seriously unnerving. The fiction that immediately came to mind when pretty much the first thing the police did was to make a statement denying foul play was An Enemy of the People (and/or its two modern reworkings, Ganashatru and Jaws). That narrative is basically about the authorities being in denial about an existential threat because they're more worried about the consequential economic one if it's acknowledged.

On reflection, I don't think this is going on - the evidence for there being a serial killer in York that is in the public domain is simply not strong enough. Added to which, even if the authorities do suspect that there is one, they may have good reasons not to make that suspicion public, e.g. the risk that he'll go to ground and prove even more difficult to catch (as happened the Peter K├╝rten case following media coverage, and that was long before the days of online speculation). I'm also conscious that people who know Megan Roberts might stumble across this thread and thus that their anxiety could be added to by it, too. However, there have now been too many of these disappearances in which foul play can only be ruled out on a balance of probabilities, and even then not a totally convincing one.

Just as the police in York have spent the last couple of years telling people not to go near the riverbanks and on Lendal Bridge when they're drunk, I think that things have got to the stage at which the official line needs to be that walking around York late at night (and especially on your own) is something to be avoided out of sensible precaution, too. I did so regularly, right up until I left last summer; but after this incident I really would be thinking twice about doing so now if I still lived there. That's not a message that a city which depends so heavily on tourism, leisure and night life is going to feel comfortable with, but IMO there have just been too many of these questionable disappearances for the possibilitiy of a serial killer in the city to be dismissed as silly conspiracy theorising.

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