Police fear a serial killer that targets elderly couples could still be on the loose after two suspected murder-suicides from the 1990s were re-examined.
In both cases police believed that the wives had been murdered by their husbands, but after they were re-examined using modern techniques officers now think they were actually double murders, according to a special investigation by the Sunday Times.
In a 179-page report written by Stephanie Davies, the senior coroner’s officer for Cheshire, it is suggested that the two suspected double murders were in fact the work of a serial killer, known to police, having been active since the mid-1990s.
Both the suspected double murders occurred in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1996 and 1999 and Cheshire police are now carrying out a review into the findings of the report.
Bea and Howard Ainsworth were found dead in their bed in 1996.
Bea was wearing a nightdress with a knife in her forehead and had been hit in the head with a hammer and pillow.
Howard lay next to her in his pyjamas with his head in a bag.
The second case, involving Auriel and Donald Ward took place in 1999.
Auriel was found to have been beaten, stabbed and suffocated, with her head partially covered by a pillow.
Donald was found to have had a knife stabbed into his heart.
Police concluded that both the cases involving Howard and Bea Ainsworth and Donald and Auriel Ward were murder suicides.
However, in her report, Davies claims that there are a number of inconsistencies in the evidence which challenge the original rulings on the two cases being murder suicide.
Stephanie Davies had voiced her concerns about the similarity in the two cases to colleagues in 1999, but they did not lead anywhere.
Davies produced the report in her spare time by examining police files and crime scene photos and is supported by evidence from her predecessor and a US-based crime-scene analysis expert.
The report calls on the National Crime Agency and Interpol to review cases both in Britain and Europe to check whether other cases might be related.
Nazir Afzal, former chief prosecutor for the northwest, said: ‘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.’
Three other cases have also been identified by Davies, in 2000, 2008 and 2011, which she believes are also related to the Wilmslow deaths.
Two of the cases took place in Greater Manchester and one in the Lake District and Greater Manchester and Cumbria police forces have now been alerted to the findings in the report.
In these three cases, police said that the husbands had stabbed their wives and hit them on the head before taking their own lives – just as had been said of the cases in the 90s.