'Glaring similarities' between notorious unsolved murders
Journalist's new book lifts lids on women's killings
Bakewell, 1973. The battered, bloodstained body of 32-year-old Wendy Sewell is found lying among the graves in the local cemetery.
The young woman is clinging to life after being bludgeoned around the back of the head with a pickaxe handle.
She has been sexually assaulted - her trousers, shoes and parts of her underwear stripped away.
The Derbyshire Times reports that police are waiting by the legal secretary’s bedside at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, poised for answers.
But she dies two days later.
Wendy Sewell died of her injuries in hospital, two days after being attacked in Bakewell cemetery.
What followed was the longest miscarriage of justice in British history after a 17-year-old council worker with learning difficulties, Stephen Downing, was wrongly incarcerated for 27 years for the brutal killing.
Stephen, who lived on an estate in the town with his parents, had a reading age of 11 and was ‘pressured’ into signing what is believed to be a scripted confession full of words he did not understand.
His conviction was eventually overturned in 2002, following a dogged investigation by Don Hale, editor of our sister title the Matlock Mercury from 1985 to 2002.
Don, now 66 and living in Wales, has published a new book ‘Murder in the Graveyard: One Murder. Two Victims. 27 Years Lost’, in which he recounts the eye-opening details of his crusade to free Stephen - and several attempts on his life he says he suffered as a result.
Former Matlock Mercury editor Don Hale with Derbyshire Dales MP Patrick McLoughlin.
Don’s campaign eventually helped to force a change in both European and British law, but Wendy’s killer was never caught.
Perhaps they are roaming the streets even now. They could, as the book reveals, even be responsible for another murder closer to home - near Chesterfield.
Three years before Wendy’s murder the body of 24-year-old Barbara Mayo was discovered by a member of the public in Ault Hucknall, near Glapwell.
The trainee teacher had been attempting to hitchhike north from her London home.
She was raped, beaten and strangled before being dumped in woodland just over a mile from Junction 29 of the M1.
The ‘glaring similarities’ between the killings of Barbara Mayo and Wendy Sewell are ‘more than just a coincidence’, says Don.
“Look at pictures of Wendy and Barbara and the first thing you’ll notice is how strikingly similar they are in appearance,” he said.
A Derbyshire Times report from 1973.
“The murders were also committed within 12 miles of each other and just three years apart.
“Both women were beaten about the head and, there is evidence to suggest, heavily kicked as well as stripped half-naked.
“Items belonging to the two women also mysteriously disappeared from the murder scenes.”
The compelling links between the two murders, as well as that of 18-year-old Jackie Ansell Lamb in Cheshire in 1970, make up just a small fraction of ‘credible evidence officers failed to act on’ in order to swiftly condemn Stephen Downing, says Don- allowing the true killer to evade justice.
Stephen Downing was released from prison in 2002.
So who was the killer? In Murder In the Graveyard, Don draws upon three men he believes were closely involved, calling them Mr Blue, Mr Red and Mr Orange to protect their identities.
Witnesses say they saw Mr Blue running ‘like a bat out of hell’ from Bakewell Cemetery with a ‘horseshoe-shaped bloodstain’ on his leg.
Ex-con Mr Orange was also placed at the scene whereas Mr Red ‘went to an awful lot of trouble’ to threaten people into ‘giving him false alibis’.
These ‘dangerous’ men were ‘prominent figures’ in the area and, it is understood, romantically involved with Wendy, who was nicknamed the Bakewell Tart for a string of extramarital liaisons.
Don is now 66 and living in Wales.
“Wendy did keep a black book, but one wonders why someone would go to such final lengths to get rid of her,” added Don.
“It’s most likely because she had a lot of dirt on people that could easily have destroyed marriages and reputations. But we could speculate forever. I’m hoping that people will read my book and make up their own minds. It’s all in there.”
HarperCollins is one of the world’s largest publishing companies and the way Don’s book deal came about with the firm is eerie in itself.
“When I was at the Matlock Mercury, I’d often give talks about journalism to children at the local schools,” he said.
“One of those children was a Bakewell boy, who must have been seven or eight years old when I spoke to his class.
“Growing up, he’d been fascinated by the Wendy Sewell case and my campaign to release Stephen Downing.
“He vowed that if there was ever a way for him to get the story out there, he’d pursue it.
“Years later, working at HarperCollins, he tracked down and contacted me.”
The ‘small world’ encounter all the more affirms that the Stephen Downing case continues to make ripples through Bakewell and Derbyshire as a whole, nearly half a century later.
“I think even Stephen himself was surprised I stuck with it for so long,” said Don.
Don suffered attempts on his life during his campaign to free Stephen Downing.
“And there were times it got a bit much, particularly when I was just trying to go about my everyday life while people were threatening to blow my head off.
"There were bomb threats made on the Matlock Mercury office, a lorry tried to ram me off the road. I was threatened with prison.
“But with determination, the truth came spilling out.
“After years of hard slog, it’s done me good to collate my findings over what turned out to be a huge embarrassment to the police and the British government.
“So I present my book to the public and in turn make them the jury."
You can buy Murder in the Graveyard from Amazon or in most bookshops.
Don recently recorded an audiobook which will be available soon.
Murder in the Graveyard will also be the debut release under new true crime podcast, Reporter.