The Legacy of Ian Brady

By Joe Turner

It is said that nothing bad can come from the death of a monster. When murderers and serial killers are executed or pass away, many people rejoice in their demise. It is considered a triumph when one more monster is banished from the world, especially by those who are suffering the repercussions of the monster’s actions.

On May 15th, 2017, one such evil was banished from the earth. Ian Brady, more famously known as the Moors Murderer, passed away from restrictive pulmonary disease in his bed at Ashworth Mental Hospital, Liverpool. Having been unwell for a number of years, Brady’s death did not come as a surprise, with many people believing his end was long overdue. Naturally, millions across the world were delighted to hear of his passing.

Brady’s death meant the end of a decade-long battle between villain and hero, but it was an end without a clear resolution. Several questions remained, and the only person who had the answers was no longer part of this world. The bittersweet ending to the case of the Moors Murderers has made a tale of secrets and lost innocence even more tragic.

Crimes & History

Many consider Ian Brady to be one of the most despicable creatures in true crime history. Although his crimes were committed over fifty years ago, his infamous black-and-white mugshot continues to elicit disgust and terror in the hearts of anyone familiar with his actions. Brady is something of a Hollywood serial killer; a perfect combination of charm, intelligence, manipulation and malice. He has a severe intensity about him; one which declares that the man behind this cold, dead gaze is someone equally as cunning as he is dangerous.

Between the years of 1963 and 1965, Brady, along with his accomplice Myra Hindley, were responsible for the deaths of five children throughout the Manchester area of England. Their modus operandi was to approach lone children on the dimly-lit Manchester streets and offer them rides home. It would be Hindley who made the initial contact with the children, as history has shown that a female presence is much less threatening than a male’s. However, once their victim had stepped into Hindley’s van, Brady would then emerge from the darkness.

Surprisingly, Brady did not resort to blitz attacking his victims, and instead used the journey to gain his victim’s trust. This alone is a testament to Brady’s powers of manipulation. He was confident that he wouldn’t need to quickly subdue his victims, allowing him to savor the last few hours of their lives without the need for physical restraint.

It was not the child’s home which Hindley was headed towards, but was in fact the Saddleworth Moors – the location which would become synonymous with Brady’s crimes.

Once suitably isolated on the moors, Brady would then attack his victims, often strangling the life out of them with his bare hands. Following their sexual assault, Brady would bury his victims in shallow graves in the Manchester countryside.

Brady and Hindley performed this ruse three times before slightly altering their method of abduction.

It was on Boxing Day, 1964 that Brady and Hindley abducted 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey from a local fairground. Once the pair had taken Downey back to their house, Brady undressed her, assaulted her, and then forced her to pose for provocative photographs. Finally, she was then strangled by Brady and taken to the moors for burial. In addition, Brady recorded Downey’s entire ordeal on audio tape.

Brady and Hindley’s final victim, 17-year-old Edward Evans, marked another deviation from their usual modus operandi. Instead of using their vehicle to pick up isolated children, they openly invited Evans to their home. Brady had befriended him at a nearby train station and simply asked him to come back to his house. Once Evans was inside, Brady blitz attacked Evans with an ax. Strangely, he didn’t commit any sexual assault in his final murder, possibly due to the physical assault alone being enough to satisfy Brady’s bloodlust.

The attack on Evans was not only witnessed by Hindley, but also by her 17-year-old brother-in-law David Smith. Smith, an unwilling participant, walked in on Brady’s assault and subsequently feared for a similar fate if he resisted. The plan was then for Smith and Brady to dispose of Edward Evan’s body the following evening, however, that opportunity never arose. 

The Makings Of A Manipulator

It is no secret that Ian Brady possessed almost genius-level intelligence, and this is something that he attempted to use to absolve himself of any involvement with the murders he committed. 

Following the death of Edward Evans, David Smith reported Brady’s actions to the local police. Immediately, Brady’s house was searched, and the mutilated body of Evans was discovered in an upstairs room. When sent for questioning, Brady immediately placed the blame on David Smith, claiming no involvement whatsoever.

Unfortunately, further evidence incriminated Brady and Hindley, resulting in life sentences for the pair. They had both previously pleaded not guilty, but it was the materials relating to Lesley Ann Downey which cemented their fate. Upon investigation of Brady’s possessions, police discovered the photographs the couple had taken of her, as well as the audio tape of her death. The tape was played in full during their trial, reportedly traumatizing many in attendance. 

Upon his imprisonment, Brady lost what he craved the most: power. Like most serial killer cases, the public’s interest in Brady began to wane, reducing him to a pathetic criminal rather than the god-like mastermind he once visualized himself as. However, as Brady was only ever convicted of three murders (as opposed to the five he was truly responsible for), he used this as a way to try and regain a sense of dominance.

It wasn’t until 1985, twenty years after his imprisonment, that Brady also confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, something the police had suspected but couldn’t prove. Following his confession, the bodies of these two victims were searched for, but only Pauline’s was found. The whereabouts of Keith Bennett remain unknown to this day.

The Mystery Of Keith Bennett

The undiscovered body of Keith Bennett was Brady’s true source of power until his dying day, and he made sure to exploit this fact at every possible opportunity. Over the years, Brady regularly claimed that he could locate the body of Keith Bennett if he was able to visit Saddleworth Moor in the flesh. In 1987, he was allowed back to the moors one final time, but claimed that the area had changed too much over the years, rendering him unable to make good on his claims. 

Rather than being a genuine endeavor, many people saw this a manipulative tactic by Brady to allow him one final visit to the place he buried his victims. Letting a serial killer re-visit their burial sites is rarely, if ever, employed by authorities, yet Brady was able to make it happen with relative ease. The fact that this endeavor was even considered, let alone put into action, is a testament to Brady’s powers of manipulation.

In fact, Brady’s visit to Saddleworth Moor served two purposes for him. Firstly, he was able to visit a place which was very important to him, and secondly, he instilled a sense of false hope in the family members of his lost victim. When he declared that he was unable to remember where Keith’s burial site was, his family likely felt as though their torment was beginning all over again. This psychological torture is all Brady had left to live for. 

Is there a chance Ian Brady truly does know the burial location of Keith Bennett? Yes. It’s highly likely that he does know the exact location, but there is really no incentive for Brady to give up such information. What would he achieve from giving up his final secret? He would still be the most hated criminal in England and would still have to serve out a life sentence. It would be a move that benefited everyone else while hindering him – the complete opposite of what a true psychopath strives for.

While Brady has never officially mentioned that he genuinely remembers the burial location of Keith Bennett, he regularly hints at it in personal letters of correspondence. There have many news reports of Brady’s pen-pals being given new information regarding Keith’s location, although it seems that such information is rarely acted upon by authorities. Indeed, the search for Keith was officially called off in 2009, so resurrecting the search would involve legal proceedings which authorities are likely to be unwilling to process.

Regarding Ian Brady’s claims of remembering where he buried Keith’s body, it is interesting to note that this author has had personal contact with Brady on several occasions. One thing I picked up very early on in my interactions with him is his natural tendency to embellish on small details. For example, when discussing his crimes, he would occasionally focus on a very minor aspect of the situation and describe it in vivid, albeit unnecessary detail.  

For example, I once questioned him on matters relating to another British serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. Instead of addressing my question directly, he began describing a chess game he allegedly played with the Ripper when he visited him at his hospital. If such an incident occurred (and I personally believe it did), then what Brady subsequently told me is very revealing into Brady’s psyche. He mentioned, with great accuracy, the exact moves he and Sutcliffe played as their game progressed.

This may not sound significant at first, but when we consider that this was an entirely unremarkable event which Brady experienced almost thirty years ago, the fact he can remember such insignificant details indicate his cognitive prowess. If he can remember minor details such as this, are we really to believe he doesn’t remember the details of an event which once afforded him so much satisfaction?

Brady’s Final Victim

For almost thirty years, the mother of Keith Bennett had been in contact with Brady, pleading with him to help locate her son’s remains. Naturally, Brady exploited this for media attention, dropping subtle references that he knew where he was buried but refused to tell.

In 2005, Brady sent Keith Bennett’s mother, Winnie Johnson, a letter claiming that he could take her within 20 yards of her son’s resting place. Brady also said, however, that authorities wouldn’t allow him to do so. He then claimed that he had felt a moment of ‘clarity’ which resulted in his sudden remembering of where he and Hindley buried Johnson’s son.

Winnie Johnson reportedly visited Saddleworth Moor every week to search for her son’s remains, but the vast greenery of which she was met with rendered her efforts futile. In 2012, Winnie Johnson died of cancer. Fifty years of emotional and psychological torment finally came to an end, during which she considered herself just as much of a victim of Brady as her son was.

The Right To Die

The psychological manipulation Brady employed to keep himself alive is nothing short of incredible. For many years, Brady claimed to have protested for the right to commit suicide, however, many believe that this was actually a masterful display of reverse psychology. Brady went on hunger strike in 1999, meaning he was force-fed by hospital officials until his death in 2017.

As Brady spent the majority of his imprisonment in a hospital as opposed to a prison cell, rules relating to suicide differ greatly. By making his “intentions” to kill himself clear, hospital staff then have a responsibility to keep him alive, whereas there is no such rule in place in a HMP prison. Arguments have been ongoing for a number of years to transfer Brady to a HMP prison, but have always been overturned due to his unstable mental state. A mental state which is assumed due to his hunger strike claims.


Despite his recent death, Ian Brady remains a figure of repulsion the world over. He was perhaps one of the more complex serial killers of our time. A nihilistic figure who believed he was above the rest of the world in terms of entitlement and intellect, but still found himself at the mercy of the law. This, then, only fuelled his capacity for manipulation, eventually going to extreme lengths in order to claw back any kind of power he could. He lashed out at the families of his victims, the media, prison officials, and even the general public.

When broken down, Ian Brady was a deluded child murderer, desperate for attention.

Following his death, reports of Brady’s will emerged, and his final requests are as specific and narcissistic as they come. Brady requested that his final journey to the afterlife be accompanied by Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie, a classical piece that documents a murderer’s descent into Hell. He then wants his ashes to be scattered on a river in Glasgow – his home city. He also requested that all of his possessions and artwork be sold in order to fund the publishing of his secret autobiography he wrote while in prison, tentatively titled Black Light.

Even from beyond the grave, Ian Brady still manages to find ways to manipulate those around him. It seems that even death can’t keep him quiet.


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