COPS fear that a serial killer who targets vulnerable elderly people could be at large as they re-examine historic “murder-suicides” in the North West of England.
A special investigation by The Sunday Times insight team has revealed that the deaths of the two couples in Wilmslow, Cheshire, are now being examined as possible double murders.
Stephanie Davies, the senior coroner’s officer for Cheshire, has filed a 179-page report on five “murder-suicide” cases – in which it is suggested that the killings may be the work of a serial killer.
In the first case, Howard and Bea Ainsworth died in 1996, in what was believed to be a murder-suicide.
This was followed three years later by the apparent murder-suicide of Donald and Auriel Ward.
Both deaths involved horrifying levels of violence – with Bea, 78, found stabbed in the forehead with a knife.
She had also been struck repeatedly in the head with a hammer, and was found with a pillow covering her face.
Husband Howard, 47, was found lying beside her in his pajamas – with his head covered by a bag.
Police investigating the case found a suicide note – which appeared to be written by Howard- at the scene and subsequently declared the deaths a murder-suicide.
Meanwhile, the second couple Auriel and Donald Ward died in 1999 in a similar frightful scene.
Auriel was discovered beaten, stabbed and suffocated and, like, Bea, had a pillow partially covering her face.
Donald was found with a knife plunged into his chest.
Police initially concluded that both discovered of the cases were murder-suicides.
The coroner’s office for Cheshire at the time, Christine Hurst, reportedly said the cases didn’t feel “right” and was “appalled at the level of violence” – as well as the eerie similarities between them.
On her retirement in 2017, she passed the cases to her successor Stephanie Davies who has filed the new report.
Now, Coroner Davies has challenged the rulings of the two cases as murder-suicides – citing a number of inconsistent factors in the evidence.
In her new report, she calls on the National Crime Agency and Interpol to conduct an urgent review of the cases.
Nafir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the northwest, told the Sunday Times after reviewing Davies’ report: “We could potentially have a serial killer in our midst.
“There needs to be a proper review of these cases and others which carry similar hallmarks.”
A top “cold case” police forensic investigator said of the report: “I would be looking at the same offender involved in both cases as a very real possibility”.
The investigator added, however, that he was not certain.
Davies also identified three other ‘murder-suicide’ cases, which occurred in 2000, 2008 and 2011, which she believes could be related to the deaths of the Wards and the Ainsworth’s.
One of the cases took place in Cumbria, and the other two in Greater Manchester.
Both police forces have now been made aware of the findings in the report.
All three cases bore similar characteristics to the Wilmslow deaths – with police saying that the husbands had stabbed their wives and hit them on the head before taking their own lives.
Cheshire Police told the Sunday Times they were reviewing the report and have notified the other forces concerned.