Lesley Whittle kidnapped by Donald Neilson
Lesley Whittle, a 17-year-old student who had inherited £82,000 several years previously on the death of her father, was kidnapped during the night of January 14 1975 from the family home in Highley, Shropshire, a ransom note coolly left by the kidnapper.
Her kidnapper had planned the operation carefully for three years, having read of her inheritance in the press, and he acted with the callous indifference shown during an already notorious career. The kidnapper turned out to be the multiple-killer dubbed "The Black Panther" by the British press, the name chosen because of the dark clothing and hoods he wore, the escalation into kidnapping in part it seems because he wanted more notoriety.
The Black Panther was Donald Neilson, a one-time jobbing builder and security worker from Bradford who became a desperate criminal when those paths failed. Somewhat bizarrely his life of crime seems to have been rooted in his original surname, Nappey, and the teasing that caused him.
Initially Neilson turned to burglary, breaking into some 400 properties. But when he got greedier he changed his targets to post offices, shooting dead three workers - in Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Lancashire - during the course of his at least 19 raids.
The family of the kidnapped girl, with police approval, got the £50,000 ransom money together, and on January 16 her brother Ronald followed the kidnapper's instructions to go to Bathpool Park in Kidsgrove, Staffordshire. The meeting to hand over the ransom never took place. On March 7, during a lengthy search of that same park, Lesley's body was found in a deep drainage shaft little more than a stone's throw from the telephone kiosk at which her brother had been told to wait.
Lesley's naked body was hanging from a wire, and it is thought the enraged Neilson had pushed her from a ledge above, leaving her to a protracted death. One of the Panther's trademark hoods was found in the shaft, and the fingerprints which later identified Neilson as having been there. The failure to search the park thoroughly at this time was not the only error made in handling the case.
Neilson, aged 39, was arrested in December that year near Nottingham after two policemen saw him acting strangely near a post office. They were forced at gunpoint to drive away, but showing great courage were eventually able to catch him off guard, though one officer, Tony White, was wounded in the car. White and colleague Stuart Mackenzie were helped by two men who ran to their aid from a nearby chippy.
The so-called Black Panther was given five life sentences in his trial, the judge recommending he never leave prison, a recommendation confirmed by several Home Secretaries since. Neilson had murdered three postal workers and Lesley Whittle, and had shot another man, security guard Gerald Smith, who died as a result of his injuries beyond the year-and-a-day limit then set in the law for his death to be considered as murder.
In what may seem an ironically just twist, Neilson developed motor neurone disease in his seventies, condemning the man who never showed remorse for his victims to a slow and undignified end just as he had condemned Lesley Whittle.
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