THE KNOTTY ASH RITUAL MURDER
On 20th December 1961, one of the most baffling and bizarre murders in criminal history took place in Liverpool. The case is still officially classified as unsolved, but I believe that 'the truth is out there' and that someone knows who murdered a young Knotty Ash housewife in cold blood.
On the day of the murder, Liverpool was enveloped in a dense freezing fog that had lingered over the city for days and was thickening by the hour. On the morning of 20th December, 1961, at eight o'clock, 33-yearold Brian Dutton took a cup of tea upstairs to his wife, who was in bed, then left his semi-detached home at 14 Thingwall Lane, Knotty Ash, and embarked on a long and hazardous journey to Widnes, where he worked as a research chemist for ICI. At home were his 27-year-old wife Maureen Ann Dutton, and his two sons, David, aged 2, and a 22-day-old baby who had not yet been christened.
Mrs Dutton wanted to take David to see the Christmas crib at Childwall Parish Church, and around 11 a.m., when her mother-in-law called to the house, Mrs Dutton asked her if she could babysit while she took her son to the church. Her mother-in-law said she would be able to look after the baby in the afternoon and left the house around midday. However, at 1.30 p.m., Mrs Dutton's mother-in-law phoned from her home in Broadgreen Road to say that she would not be able to come after all because of the thick fog.
At 6.10 p.m. Mr Dutton arrived home and was surprised to see that the house was in darkness. In the living room he found his wife dead on the floor in a pool of blood. She had been stabbed fourteen times. In a dazed state Mr Dutton called his neighbours and quickly summoned a doctor.
In the morning room the family's lunch lay half-eaten on the table and there was nothing to indicate that a struggle had taken place. Nothing had been stolen and there were no signs of a forced entry. For Mr Dutton the next traumatic experience, after discovering the body of his wife, was finding little David in the living room. He was upset and appeared to have witnessed the murder, although he and his baby brother had not been harmed. The police were called and immediately launched an intensive roadcheck of all vehicles in the area, but it yielded nothing.
Chief Superintendent James Morris, head of Liverpool CID, led the investigation into what would subsequently be referred to in the newspapers as the 'Knotty Ash Murder', and Old Swan Police Station became the murder Liverpool Echo: Thurs 21 Dec 1961
squad HQ. The drains of Knotty Ash and Dovecot were scoured with metal detectors, but the murder weapon - thought to have been a long-bladed knife - was never found. Herbert Balmer, the deputy chief constable of Liverpool was enlisted in the search for the killer, and his investigations led him to consider that Mrs Dutton had been killed by members of a Polynesian cult called Tiki-worshippers. Balmer and other detectives hadcome to this bizarre possibility after interviewing scores ofpeople who had visited the Dutton home in recent months. Many of these people claimed they were members of a strange South Seas Cult who made sacrifices to Tiki during the winter solstice - and Balmer discovered that Mrs Dutton had been murdered during this period.
Balmer and his men read up on the activities and customs of the Tiki cult, and learned that Tiki-worshippers had a reversed swastika tattooed on their upper left arms. Shortly afterwards, reports came in of a man who was visiting women who, like Mrs Dutton, had recently given birth. This man professed to be a doctor and had just visited a Halewood woman at her home and had told her to undress so he could examine her. The woman's husband later discovered that there was no doctor in the areawith the name given by the man. Balmer naturally wondered if this Bogus doctor had been the cowardly fiend who had come out of the fog to kill Maureen Dutton. Perhaps Mrs Dutton had been murdered by him after she had seen through his perverted disguise.
Meanwhile, little David Dutton, who had witnessed his Mum's murder, was being constantly watched by a policewoman, who listened to the child's babble for clues, but the boy was incoherent, and never shed any light on his mother's fate.
The bogus doctor was finally captured, and was found to have a reversed swastika on his upper arm - the sign of a Tiki member. He turned out to be a male nurse, and was subsequently found not guilty of murder at Liverpool City Magistrate's Court.
Statements from the public who had been in the vicinity of the murder presented the police with another red herring. AT 4.30 on the afternoon of the murder, a young blonde woman boarded the number 10d bus en route from Longview to the city centre in East Prescot Road, opposite Eaton Road. She was in an agitated state and out of breath from running. In an Irish accent she said to herself that she had to get out of Liverpool immediately, and was going to London to catch a plane. She got off at Lime Street and kept saying, "Oh my God!" over and over.
By January, the police had amassed 20,000 statements, and a mysterious figure surfaced among all the data: a young man in a black leather jacket who was seen running down Thingwall lane on the day of the murder. This youth was later seen being violently sick near the steps of Court Hey Methodist Church. All the time he was vomiting, he kept his hands in his pockets for some reason; were they bloodstained?
One woman who lived a few doors from Mrs Dutton also came forward and said that on the day of the murder in the afternoon, a youth in a black leather jacket had called at her house, When she opened the door, the young man just stood there with a menacing look, clapping his hands together. The woman quickly slammed the door.
The months rolled by without any more leads, and in desperation, the police even asked Interpol to help, but the murderer of Maureen Ann Dutton was never found.
At the time of the Knotty Ash Murder, the building that had been St Edward's Orphanage in Thingwall Lane had been converted into a home for the mentally insane, and the changeover was a very low-key affair, because Thingwall Lane was then part of a residential area populated by professional and retired people. Some theorised that the killer had been a patient from the mental home - which was less than a hundred yards from the murder scene. The patients at the home only had to step over a 3 foot high picket fence to be free. Is it possible that a patient acquired a knife and slipped from the home under the cover of the fog to kill at random? Would that explain the apparent lack of motive? We can only guess.
CONDENSED FROM TOM SLEMEN'S "MURDER ON MERSEYSIDE"
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