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Jamie Doward, Saturday 18th August 2012 18:01
Throughout the decades that he haunted her, Winnie Johnson had only one question for Ian Brady: "Where is my son Keith?"
Of the five victims Brady is known to have killed with his lover, Myra Hindley, only Keith's body has never been found. But until her death in the early hours of Saturday morning, Mrs Johnson never stopped hoping she would find her son's remains. The 78-year-old widow had expressed the hope that one day Keith's coffin would be carried in a horse-drawn hearse to a Manchester cemetery. For years she kept a simple wooden cross on her mantelpiece that she dreamed of placing on Keith's grave.
Her son was abducted on his way to visit his grandmother on 16 June 1964. As with the four other victims whom Brady and Hindley lured to their deaths and sexually tortured, Keith was buried on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester.
"The thought of him alone there for eternity fills my every waking moment with dread," his mother once said. "I didn't retire until I was 70 because I had to stay busy to occupy my mind. Keith was 12 when I lost him, a little boy with broken spectacles and a shiny new bike who loved nature and collecting coins. That's how I remember him because, of course, he never reached manhood. A combination of that image of innocence, and the fact that I feel so guilty about him being alone the day he was snatched, meant I had to fight Brady right to the end. There was only him and me left. I was determined never, ever to relent."
In 1987 Brady was taken back to the moor as police sought the remains of Keith and another victim, Pauline Reade, but only Reade's remains were found.
Professor Malcolm MacCulloch, one of Brady's former psychiatrists, has suggested the visit was an attempt by Brady, now 74, to exercise control over his victims' families from within the confines of a high-security mental hospital.
"It's just possible that Ian Brady was on the moor and checked the site without letting on, as it were," MacCulloch told the BBC in 2004. "Final control is the possession of the body. 'I know, you don't know. You want to know and I'm not going to tell you'."
Professor Jeremy Coid, another psychiatrist who treated Brady, told a Channel 4 Cutting Edge documentary, to be screened on Monday night, that "withholding information as to where bodies might be buried is an enormously pleasurable sense of control for somebody who is obsessed with control".
The effects of battling Brady left psychological scars on Mrs Johnson. "Ian Brady has tortured me for over 40 years and enjoyed every minute of it," she said. "He is like Hannibal Lecter, getting pleasure from mind games. He did his best to drive me mad, even though behind bars. I felt at times that his mind was in search of my soul. Many times he nearly pushed me over the edge."
But time was running out and last December Mrs Johnson said she wanted to hear face-to-face from Brady where her son was buried.
In July, gravely ill with terminal cancer, she renewed her plea, saying in a letter to Brady that her dying wish was to find Keith's body. Her recent move to a hospice prompted Channel 4 to bring forward the Cutting Edge documentary Ian Brady: Endgames of a Psychopath in which it is alleged Brady had left a sealed envelope for Mrs Johnson to be opened in the event of his death.
"No one can verify the contents of the envelope, and therefore what information it does or does not contain, but given the enormity of the implications as suggested by Brady's letter we felt we had a responsibility to inform the family," explained Emma Cooper, Channel 4 documentaries commissioning editor. "Winnie's poor health was foremost in our decision-making and this is why we have decided to bring forward the broadcast of the film and make the existence of the envelope public."
Jackie Powell, who has been Brady's mental health advocate for the last 15 years, told the programme that she received a letter of instruction and a sealed envelope from Brady via his solicitors. She told the programme: "He says that he doesn't wish to take secrets to his grave and that within the sealed envelope is a letter to Winnie Johnson and that within that is the means to her possibly being able to rest."
But doubts are growing about whether the letter, said to have been written 10 years ago, still exists or ever existed. Police have searched Powell's house but to no avail. Powell has claimed she handed it back to Brady, but a search of his room at Ashworth Psychiatric Hospital has proven fruitless.
One possibility is that, in keeping with his sadistic character, the letter was a hoax, an act of malice by a psychopath immune to the damage he had done.
"A lost child is something which destroys part of you at the time and then the rest of you slowly," Mrs Johnson said. "It can and does drive you mad, properly mad. And it also makes you want to kill the perpetrator. I would like to tie Ian Brady to a stake in the street and tear bits of flesh off him, torturing him as slowly and as completely as he has tortured me. And then when he was dead I'd happily bang the nails into his coffin myself. I don't have to explain why. The grief never goes away."