In 2015, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first body being found on Saddleworth Moors, reporter Catherine Musgrove spoke to the policeman whose steely determination helped bring Brady and Hindley to justice.
Article from January 2015:
During his 32 years in the police force, PC Bob Spiers became a well-known figure on the beat in Garstang and Brock, but very few of those whose collars he felt will have realised the crucial part he played in one of Britain’s most notorious cases.
Now aged 72 and sitting comfortably in the living room of his neat house in Garstang, Bob casts his mind back 50 years to October 1965, when his life was about to change forever.
Then 23 years old, he had been a police officer for just a month, having given up hopes of running a pub with his young wife Maureen.
It had been decided that he’d be stationed at Ashton under Lyne, and he knew he had to keep his head down during his two-year probationary period.
“It was just as the muck hit the fan”, said Bob.
“It had all come to light and there were police cars flying up and down the road. There was no publicity about it though, so I wondered what on earth was going on.”
On the evening of October 6, 1965, Ian Brady murdered 17-year-old Edward Evans in front of Myra Hindley’s teenage brother-in-law David Smith, who had been lured to their house under false pretenses. Smith was asked to help wrap the body in plastic sheeting and put it in the spare bedroom, and he agreed to meet Brady the following evening to dispose of it, but after returning home he woke his wife and she told him he must call the police.
Three hours later the couple made their way to a public phone box in the street below their flat, Smith armed with a screwdriver and a kitchen knife to defend them in the event that Brady suddenly appeared and confronted them.
Early the next day, police swooped on Brady and Hindley’s house at Wardle Brook Avenue, and found Evans’ body. During the course of their searches, they found a left-luggage ticket in the back of Hindley’s prayer book, which led them to discover a suitcase of Brady’s at Manchester Central Station.
Inside the suitcases were nine pornographic photographs taken of a young girl, naked and with a scarf tied across her mouth, and a 13-minute tape recording of her screaming and pleading for help.
Ann West, Lesley Ann Downey’s mother, later listened to the tape and confirmed that it was a recording of her daughter’s voice.
Police searching the house also found an old exercise book in which the name John Kilbride had been scribbled, which made them suspicious that Brady and Hindley might have been involved in the unsolved disappearances of other youngsters.
A large collection of photographs was discovered in the house, many of which seemed to have been taken on Saddleworth Moor.
Realising the gravity of the situation, police from aross the North West teamed up and it was decided that a search of Saddleworth Moors would take place at locations identified in the photographs.
On Friday, October 15, 1965, Bob - who was sent to be the beat bobby in Garstang in 1970, later covering the Billsborrow, Brock and Catterall areas - was chosen as one of 150 officers from Lancashire, Cheshire and Manchester drafted in to carry out the search.
He said: “All the police in the area were out, scouring the moors. We weren’t given a copy of the photos, all we knew was we were looking for a body. The technology we were given to help us were long metal sticks that we prodded into the ground. The idea was if you came across something you were interested in, you’d stick it into the peat and then smell the end, the reason being that if there was a decomposed body, it would smell.
“But nobody found anything. All the hierarchy were thinking what it was costing them, so it was decided that we weren’t going out again.”
The next morning, Bob arrived at Ashton under Lyne police station ready for his shift, when he was met by the station’s head detective, Joe Mounsey and told he was going back out onto the moors.
Bob. who spent the last six years of his career at the Judges Lodges at Lancaster Castle looking after the judges and keep the peace, said: “Joe was an old-time detective and he’d been looking for John Kilbride who’d gone missing from Ashton Market.
“He’d had a personal involvement in it and told the family that he’d make sure he found their son, so somehow he’d managed to persuade the men in charge of the investigation to go back out to the moors. He didn’t want all of us back out there like on the Friday, he just asked for a dozen or so of his lads from the Ashton division to go back out for one more day, and I was one of them.”
Bob was told to go home and get changed out of his uniform, and he went back in police trousers, wellies and a sweater.
“In contrast to the previous day there was nothing, just a few men”, said Bob.
“It was a dry day, but bitterly cold, and quiet. We knew roughly the area from the formation of the rocks and we each had an area.
“When it got to lunchtime we all gave up searching and went to the pub down in the village for a pint, a pie and a sandwich, and it was decided that we’d give it till three or four in the afternoon, and that if nobody found anything, we were going to call it quits.”
Later in the afternoon the officers met up again, and still nothing had been found.
Bob said: “Out of all the lads there I was the oldest, even though I’d only been in the police a month. The rest were coming towards the end of their probation and they wanted to keep their noses clean. I suddenly looked up and said What’s up there?’
“Nobody else wanted to look, so off I went to the top, and when I got there I could see the highway, but it was quiet, you couldn’t even hear birds.
“I was looking across to the reservoirs, then on my way down there was this depression in the peat that had filled with water.
“There was something sticking out and it looked like a withered stick, but I later found out it was a forearm.
“I thought I’d found a bit of stick, but I was prodding the water and I could feel something, but I couldn’t see anything because the water was black.
“I marked the area with a stick and I went back down. I said I’ve found something’, but nobody wanted to know me. Everyone else was packing away, but I was determinded I’d found something, so I went back up. When they realised I was missing they started shouting at me to come down and I said no.
“This went on for a while and I refused to come down, so eventually the Detective Sergeant decided to come up. It was like a scene from a war film, with one man at the top and everyone else following up, including a lone photographer from the News of The World.
“The DS was saying I’m telling you there’s nothing here’. He’d done nothing all day apart from moaning that he was bloody freezing cold’ and we could have been home by now’. Maybe it was my Scottish stubborness, but I kept saying I’m telling you, there’s something there’.
“Then he prodded the ground and agreed there might be something, but said it was probably a sheep. All the time all I could hear was the click, click, click of the photographer’s camera. He had a scoop but he didn’t know it.”
The officers drained the water away in a channel and began digging. Away from the camera lens, they discovered a pleated dress.
Bob said: “I turned to the DS and I said, If that’s a sheep, then it’s wearing clothes’.”
Because the photographer was still at the site, the officers decided to cover the body lightly in soil and mark the grave, while they tried to throw him off the scent.
“As long as we were up there, we knew he was staying there”, said Bob.
“We had no communications, no radio or phone, so we drove to the nearest pub and went outside to the public phonebox to call Joe Mounsey. He asked if there was any media there, and when we said yes, it was decided that we would set off in two police vans, as if we were going back to the station. When we hit Mossley, the vans split, and matey followed the one back to the station.” Bob was in the second van, which was hidden at a nearby disused gas station. He said: “After a bit we came out and we quietly went back up to meet Joe Mounsey.
“He said, Come here, tell me what you did, what you saw and where you went’.
“At that point we thought it was the body of John Kilbride that we’d found, but it wasn’t it was Lesley Ann Downey.”
Hastily taken through very basic training about court rooms, Bob took part in the proceedings at Hyde Magistrates’ Court and Chester Castle, sitting across from Brady and Hindley.
He said: “They were just like you see them portrayed on the photos.
“Deep-set eyes staring at you, that’s how I remember them. I have seen the face of evil.
“I do think though that something took me up there that day, and had I not have done what I did, Brady and Hindley would not have been prosecuted for what they did.”
Asked if the experience has affected him in later life, Bob is quick to say no.
“No, not really. The only thing is at Christmas if I hear Little Drummer Boy, it takes me back to knowing what they did on those tapes.”
Ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey was lured by Brady and Hindley from a fairground in Ancoats on Boxing Day, 1964. She was taken back to their home in Hattersley where they stripped her, tied her up, sexually assaulted and killed her.
Brady and Hindley had recorded the girl as she plead to be let go and for her mother as they try to tie her up before Brady raped her. Brady obscene photographs of the little girl, and either he or Hindley recorded the scene on a reel-to-reel audio tape for posterity.
On the tape were two identical tracks of the voices of a man, a woman and a child. At the end of each of these tracks was a recording of two songs, Jolly St Nicholas and The Little Drummer Boy,
The tape recording was played in open court in May 1966.
Before he retired from the force in 1997, Bob received a phone call from a Chief Superintendent saying Lesley Ann’s mum, Ann West wanted to meet him.
He said: “It turns out that the West’s had made a load of enquiries but were told that it had affected my health and I’d left the force and that nobody knew where I was.
“Then a reporter from the Mirror requested an interview with me and Ann, and they’d gone through the press office about it. They said it was more for Ann to meet me than for the story.
“So I had the Chief Superintendent at HQ ringing me, asking if I wanted to take part.
“He said I believe you’re the man who found the first body on the moors?’. I was taken aback, I had always been told that it was on my record sheet that I’d done that, but it wasn’t and he had no idea.”
Bob met Ann at the Crofter’s Hotel in Garstang.
He said: “She looked very ill, frail, and the only thing keeping her going was keeping Hindley and Brady in prison.
“She wanted to know everything, so I told her. At the end, she gave me a brown box, and inside it was a plaque engraved to me from the family, thanking me for finding their girl.
“I was just speechless. I’d had nothing like this from the police.”
Winnie Johnson, mother of 12-year-old Keith Bennett who disappeared on his way to his grandmother’s home on June 16, 1964, heard of Bob’s meeting with the West’s, and invited him to meet her in Manchester.
He said: “She said:You found Lesley Ann, will you ever find my boy?
“I said, it doesn’t work like that, it was a fluke that day.”
He added: “The terrain has changed, there’s been a pipeline put through the moors, and the rain changes the very peaty bogland.
“I think that someone walking out there one day will see something and wonder what it is, and they’ll remember that years ago people were looking for that boy.”
Shortly after the trials, Bob, a father of two originally from Clackmannan near Stirling, was moved to a new post in Widnes. Then in 1970 he was sent to be the beat bobby in Garstang, later covering the Billsborrow, Brock and Catterall areas.
In the last six years of his career, Bob moved to Lancaster and was posted to the Judges Lodges at Lancaster Castle, his job to look after the judges and keep the peace. Solemnly he finishes: “I do think though that something took me up there that day, and had I not have done what I did, Brady and Hindley would not have been prosecuted for what they did.”