Pen & Sword Review: Broadmoor Women – Tales from Britain’s first criminal lunatic asylum, by Kim Thomas

By Kim Thomas
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526794260
Published: 12th April 2022

Blurb

Broadmoor, Britain’s first asylum for criminal lunatics, was founded in 1863. In the first years of its existence, one in five patients was female. Most had been tried for terrible crimes and sent to Broadmoor after being found not guilty by virtue of insanity. Many had murdered their own children, while others had killed husbands or other family members.

Drawing on Broadmoor’s rich archive, this book tells the story of seven of those women, ranging from a farmer’s daughter in her 20s who shot dead her own mother to a middle-class housewife who drowned her baby daughter. Their moving stories give a glimpse into what nineteenth-century life was like for ordinary women, often struggling with poverty, domestic abuse and repeated childbearing. For some, Broadmoor, with its regime of plain food, fresh air and garden walks, was a respite from the hardships of their previous life. Others were desperate to return to their families.

All but one of the women whose stories are recounted in this book recovered and were released. Their bout of insanity was temporary. Yet the causes of their condition were poorly understood and the treatment rudimentary. As well as providing an in-depth look at the lives of women in Victorian England, the book offers a fascinating insight into the medical profession’s emerging understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness.

My Review

Rosie Crofts, who does the marketing for Pen & Sword, sent me an email about this book a couple of weeks ago. I sat down and read it over the weekend.

I quite enjoy microhistories; the life of a single person or building can tell you something about the world around them. This book investigates the lives of seven women who were incarcerated in Broadmoor in the first forty years.

Most of them killed their children, one killed her husband and one killed her mother. Most of them had hard lives, limited by social conventions and/or poverty. Respectability was important to them all, and in court could be leveraged by a defendant so that they received a ‘guilty but insane’ or ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. Often judges and juries were sympathetic to women who killed new born children in ‘puerperal insanity’ or ‘lactation insanity’. Psychiatrists and doctors didn’t really understand what was going on in people’s minds, and were still clinging to the idea that uteruses could cause madness; one particular belief was that women were so fragile that breast feeding for too long would cause madness.

Some of them had pre-existing mental health conditions before they committed their crimes and hadn’t received any or very limited care. Medical care for mental illness was limited at the time, as people were expected to look after their family members and doctors didn’t really understand how brains and hormones worked. Really bad cases were dropped in asylums and either left or experimented on, observed and drugged. Except in rare cases, like Tukes’ Retreat in York where the Quakers believed in calm, purposeful activity and loving kindness.

They averaged about 7 years in Broadmoor and were often released back to their families. Some husbands started petitioning for their release almost immediately after they were convicted, out of love or desperation for someone to care for their children. Returning to their families was often the worst thing that could happen to the women for several years, since it was the family/home environment that triggered the mental breakdown in the first place.

The regime at Broadmoor in the early years was based on improvement and calm, providing patients with a safe place to recover from their madness, time to heal and return to equanimity before being released. The early superintendents took after Dr. Tuke in their care of the patients; nutritious food, rest and care by sympathetic staff. Their regime was based on the latest (in the 1860s) scientific information. It would still be considered good care, now. Unfortunately, in between 1900 and 2000 there was a change in attitudes from care to abuse and back again. Seriously, I’m working on a project about this for work and it gives me nightmares to think about what happened to people with mental illnesses, learning disabilities or who were otherwise neurodivergent in asylums and residential centres.

I found this book interesting, it humanises the history of Broadmoor and gives us a snapshot into the social conditions of the late Victorian period. It would have been interesting to learn about the lives of the women warders alongside the patients. How did some working class women end up as warders and some as patients?

Could have done with some copy editing.

Review: What Lies Buried, by Kerry Daynes

Kerry Daynes, leading forensic psychologist, takes us into the murky world of psychological investigation to uncover what lies buried. Each of her clients is classed as a ‘mentally disordered criminal offender’ whose psychological problems have contributed to them breaking the law.

Whether she is dealing with a young murderer who says he has heard voices telling him to kill, a teacher who daubs children in red paint and threatens to abduct them, or an aspiring serial killer who faints at the sight of blood, Kerry’s quest is to delve beyond the classic question asked of forensic psychologists: ‘Are they mad or are they bad?’

In her new book, Kerry provides an unflinching, enlightening and provocative insight into the minds of her clients, shedding light
on the root causes of their behaviour.

Continue reading “Review: What Lies Buried, by Kerry Daynes”

TBR Pile Review: Bad Psychology, by Robert A. Forde

34878545
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 1st 2017 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers
ISBN:1785922300 (ISBN13: 9781785922305)

For decades the psychological assessment and treatment of offenders has run on invalid and untested programmes. Robert A. Forde exposes the current ineffectiveness of forensic psychology that has for too long been maintained by individual and commercial vested interests, resulting in dangerous prisoners being released on parole, and low risk prisoners being denied it, wasting enormous amounts of public money. Challenging entrenched ideas about the field of psychology as a whole, and how it should be practised in the criminal justice system, the author shows how effective changes can be made for more just decisions, and the better rehabilitation of offenders into society, while significantly reducing the cost to the taxpayer.


This is a fearless account calling for a return to scientific evidence in the troubled field of forensic psychology. 

Continue reading “TBR Pile Review: Bad Psychology, by Robert A. Forde”

Review: In Black and White, by Alexandra Wilson

Alexandra Wilson was a teenager when her dear family friend Ayo was stabbed on his way home from football. Ayo’s death changed Alexandra. His death compelled her to enter the legal profession to search for answers.
As a junior criminal and family law barrister she finds herself navigating a world and a set of rules designed by a privileged few. A world in which barristers sigh with relief at the retirement of a racist judge: ‘I’ve got a black kid today and he would have had no hope.’

In her debut book In Black and White, Alexandra beautifully re-creates the tense court room scenes, the heart-breaking meetings with teenage clients and the moments of frustration and triumph that make up a young barrister’s life.

Alexandra speaks with raw honesty about her experience as a mixed-race woman from a non-traditional background in a profession that is sorely lacking in diverse representation. A justice system in which a disproportionately large number of black and mixed-race people are charged, convicted and sent to prison.

She shows us how it feels to defend someone who hates the colour of your skin or someone you suspect is guilty, and the heart-breaking youth justice cases she has worked on. We see what it’s like for the teenagers coerced into county line drug deals and the damage that can be caused when we criminalise teenagers.

Her account of what she has witnessed as a young mixed-race barrister is in equal parts shocking, compelling, confounding and powerful. Alexandra’s story is unique in a profession still dominated by a section of society with little first-hand experience of the devastating impact of violent crime.

Endeavour • 13th August 2020
£16.99 • Hardback

Continue reading “Review: In Black and White, by Alexandra Wilson”

Review: The Mayfair Mafia, by Dick Kirby

The Mayfair Mafia
By Dick Kirby
Imprint: Pen & Sword True Crime
Pages: 198
Illustrations: 32
ISBN: 9781526742612
Published: 1st May 2019

It is a little known fact that one immigrant Italian family ran London’s thriving vice trade unchecked from the mid-1930s for some twenty years.

The five Messina brothers imported prostitutes from the Continent on an industrial scale, acquiring the women British citizenship by phoney marriages. Demanding 80% of earnings, the Messina became fabulously wealthy, purchasing expensive properties, cars and influence.

As this revealing and absorbing account describes, the brothers ruled with a ruthless combination of charm, blackmail and all too credible threats of disfigurement and death.

It took a sensational Sunday newspaper exposé to get the authorities to act. A series of dramatic arrests and trials followed and one by one the brothers were imprisoned and deported for crimes including immoral earnings, attempted bribery and firearms offences.

Such was their fortune that numerous potential beneficiaries came forward, most recently in 2012.

The author, a much published former Metropolitan police officer, has researched the remarkable criminal careers of the five Messina’s and the result is a riveting and shocking read.

Continue reading “Review: The Mayfair Mafia, by Dick Kirby”

Review: The Dark Side of the Mind, by Kerry Daynes


BLURB
Welcome to the world of the forensic psychologist, where the people you meet are wildly unpredictable and often frightening.

The job: to delve into the psyche of convicted men and women to try to understand what lies behind their often brutal actions.

Follow in the footsteps of Kerry Daynes, one of the most sought-after forensic psychologists in the business and consultant on major police investigations.

Kerry’s job has taken her to the cells of maximum-security prisons, police interview rooms, the wards of secure hospitals and the witness box of the court room.

Her work has helped solve a cold case, convict the guilty and prevent a vicious attack.

Spending every moment of your life staring into the darker side of life comes with a price. Kerry’s frank memoir gives an unforgettable insight into the personal and professional dangers in store for a female psychologist working with some of the most disturbing men and women.

·        Paperback: 304 pages
·        Publisher: Endeavour; 01 edition (20 Feb. 2020)
·        Language: English
·        ISBN-10: 1788402170
·        ISBN-13: 978-1788402170
 
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Side-Mind-Forensic-Psychologist/dp/1788402170
 
Continue reading “Review: The Dark Side of the Mind, by Kerry Daynes”

Pen & Sword True Crime Round-up Reviews

I have so many Pen & Sword books to review (because they keep releasing so many that I want to read!) that I’m doing multiple reviews in a single post. Today I’m writing reviews for the true crime books I’ve read recently.

The Secret Serial Killer
On the evening of 21 August 1983, Metropolitan Police detectives raced to the cells of London’s Clapham Police Station to find a prisoner dead and his cellmate sat cross-legged and quiet in the corner.

Kieran Kelly, a labourer from Ireland, quickly confessed to strangling the prisoner – and then stunned officers by confessing to dozens of unreported and unsolved murders over the previous 30 years.

Detectives believed they were in the presence of Britain’s most prolific serial killer yet Kelly was convicted on just two of his admissions and his story went unnoticed until 2015, when a former police officer who worked on the case claimed the killer’s crimes were covered up by the British Government.

Strangulations, murders on the London Underground, an internal Metropolitan Police review – as the story’s elements whipped the international news media into a frenzy, journalist Robert Mulhern set off on a methodical search for the truth against the backdrop of an ever-increasing body count.

Could Kieran Kelly really have murdered 31 times?
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Secret-Serial-Killer-Hardback/p/15804

My Review

I had not heard of this case before, and I was intrigued because I thought I’d heard of most of the major serial killers in Britain in the last fifty years, There has been a lot of speculation and sensationalisation about Kieran Kelly, much of it encouraged by former Police Officer Geoff Platt, alleging that Kieran Kelly had murdered 31 people, 12 on the tube. He wrote a couple of books about it and apparently does cruises. He also says the crimes were covered up by the government for some reason.

Robert Mulhern does an excellent job of chasing down as much of the truth as possible after so long. The only certainty is that Kelly killed his cell-mate William Boyd in August 1983 and Hector Fisher on Clapham Common in 1975. He may have also killed five or six other homeless people, but the police weren’t able to prove anything and his own solicitor called Kelly a ‘fantasist’.

As much an investigation in to the life of Kieran Kelly and an investigation into the claims that were making headlines and their author. Mulhern travels from London to Ireland and back, trying to check the details and speaking to people who knew Kelly as Ken.

Mulhern spoke to a lot of other people, including more police officers involved with the Kelly case in 1983/1984, and Geoff Platt himself. Among those Mulhern spoke to was ‘Officer A’, who had access to a lot of the paperwork and the new Inquiry, and retired D.I., Ian Brown, a detective on the Boyd case, who objects to being called a liar.

The evidence suggests Kelly murdered five or six homeless people during drunken rages, but had nothing to do with any deaths on the Underground. It also suggests that Platt is making hay from his minor part in an unusual case of murder in a police station. There’s some really good investigative work in this book, with multiple interviews from the people who were there.


Britain's Forgotten Serial Killer

Serial killer Patrick Mackay was dubbed the most dangerous man in Britain when he appeared in court in 1975 charged with three killings, including the axe murder of a priest. The Nazi-obsessed alcoholic had stalked the upmarket streets of West London hunting for victims and was suspected of at least eight further murders.

Now, after more than 40 years behind bars, where he has shunned publicity, Mackay has been allowed to change his name and win the right to live in an open prison – bringing him one step closer to freedom. For the first time, Britain’s Forgotten Serial Killer reveals the full, untold story of Patrick Mackay and the many still-unsolved murders linked to his case.
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Britains-Forgotten-Serial-Killer/p/16439

My Review

Patrick Mackay is a bit of a sad sack, who took out his own insecurities first on his mother and sisters, and then on local kids, before moving on to murder people who tried to help him. Usually elderly women. I’ve heard about him before so I couldn’t understand the title of this book. And then I got to the last chapter.

Patrick Mackay’s crimes were sensational at the time – priests found hacked to death in their baths will cause a fuss – but over the years he’s been forgotten. Murderers with higher body counts have pushed him into the background. He’s changed his name and now lives in an open prison. Brady or Sutcliffe would never have been allowed to do that.

The author sets out a biography of Patrick Mackay and his potential involvement in other unsolved crimes that match the crimes he was convicted for. If you’ve never heard of this particular serial killer, this book is a good place to start.


Britain’s Unsolved Murders
Britain has its fair share of unsolved murders. Crimes that have both fascinated and horrified in equal measure, with many as baffling today as they were when the stories first hit the headlines in the national press. Spanning 100 years between 1857-1957, this book re-examines thirteen of these murder cases and retells the stories that have endured and confounded both police and law courts alike. Each chapter provides an account of the circumstances surrounding the killing, of the people caught up in the subsequent investigation and the impact it had on some of their lives. It also explores the question of guilt and to whom it should, or should not, be attached. Each of these murders poses an undeniable truth; no-one was ever proven to have committed the killing despite, in some cases, accusing fingers being pointed, arrests being made and show trials taking place. Consequently, notoriety, deserved or otherwise, was often attached to both victim and accused. But was it ever merited?

From the questionable court case surrounding Scotland’s now famous Madeleine Smith, and the failed police investigation into Bradford’s Jack the Ripper case of 1888, to the mysterious deaths of Caroline Luard and Florence Nightingale Shore at the start of the twentieth century, this book disturbs the dust, sifts the facts and poses the questions that mattered at the time of each murder. Did Harold Greenwood poison his wife in Kidwelly? Who was responsible for the Ripper-like killing of Emily Dimmock and Rose Harsent? Why did Evelyn Foster die on the moor near Otterburn in what became known as the Blazing car murder and who strangled Ann Noblett to death in 1957?

These are just some of the cases examined and the stories behind them. Each and every one, no matter how appalling the crime, still deserving of justice.
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Britains-Unsolved-Murders-Paperback/p/16507

My Review

This book covers thirteen murders from 1857 – 1957, some quite well-known and some less so. The author gives the details then discusses the possible killers, as far as he is able to after so long. Each chapter is detailed and the photographs and images provided are helpful. It’s a fairly easy to read book that you can pick up to read a chapter or two then go back to later.

A good place to start if you’re interested in unsolved murders.


Crime on the Canals
Throughout our islands’ history we find tales of thieves, smugglers, thugs and murderers. Books have been written retelling tales of bandits, footpads, highwaymen, et al, attacking the lone traveller, the horseman, the coachman, shipping line, locomotive engineer, lorry or van driver and even pilot. Yet for almost two centuries the majority of goods travelled on Britain’s famed canal network. This also attracted felons of all kinds and yet many of these tales had been ignored, until now.

Within these pages all manner of crimes are covered. From murders to muggings, parental problems to pilfering, arson, assault, smugglers, counterfeiters and even road rage (albeit canal-style). But it is not all morbidity and misery, humour also plays a significant part in these tales. Why would a hungry man steal the inedible? Follow the policeman on foot chasing down a thief on board the narrowboat. Discover what really lies beneath the waters of the canal. Learn about canal etiquette, the hardships, the kindness and the cruelty.

From an author whose fascination with etymology has produced many books on origins of place names, leading to an interest in the historical modes of travel across our islands, this book is the latest to follow old routes and those found along them.
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Crime-on-the-Canals-Paperback/p/16206

My Review

Well, this one was different. Since the network of canals around England were first dug in the early years of the Industrial Revolution to the modern use of them for pleasure, crime has taken place. Murder, mugging, coal theft.

I found this book sludgy going at times, although at others it was really fascinating.

Promo Post: ‘Stand Against Injustice’, by Michelle Diskin Bates #LoveBooksTours


https://amzn.to/2pc2i5o

Blurb

On April 26, 1999, BBC TV presenter Jill Dando was murdered outside her home in London. Barry George was convicted and imprisoned for the murder but was later acquitted after an appeal and retrial. Stand Against Injustice is the powerful memoir of the sister of Barry George. For the first time, Michelle Diskin Bates tells her story, the human side and truth behind one of recent history’s most high profile and damaging miscarriages of justice whose life is inextricably interwoven in the drama, the trauma, the conspiracy and the fight for justice. A self-confessed ‘ordinary housewife’, Michelle’s voice weaves the personal everyday struggles that bring depth, color, and passion into what is an extraordinary account. A troubled childhood weighted with overbearing responsibility, fear and insecurity, depression, and the challenges of marriage and adult relationships, Michelle’s life has never been easy. However, the one constant in her life – her faith in God – underpins and provides the foundation upon which she now stands – against injustice.  

Buy Link https://amzn.to/2pc2i5o

This was going to be a review post, but the book didn’t turn up in time. However, I am going to review the book at a later date.


Pen & Sword book reviews: The Women’s History edition

Thanks to Rosie Crofts, who emails me with lists of books every now and then. I have quite a pile of books to get through so I’m doing themed review posts. In this case, Women’s History. The next one will be ‘True Crime’.

Continue reading “Pen & Sword book reviews: The Women’s History edition”

May 2019 Bonus Review #1: ‘Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History’, by Tori Telfer


Publisher: John Blake
Publication Date: 8th February 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1786061218

Blurb

When you think of serial killers throughout history, the names that come to mind are ones like Jack the Ripper and Ted Bundy. But what about Tillie Klimek, Moulay Hassan, Kate Bender? The narrative we’re comfortable with is the one where women are the victims of violent crime, not the perpetrators. In fact, serial killers are thought to be so universally, overwhelmingly male that in 1998, FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood infamously declared in a homicide conference, ‘There are no female serial killers’.

Lady Killers, based on the popular online series that appeared on Jezebel and The Hairpin, disputes that claim and offers fourteen gruesome examples as evidence. Though largely forgotten by history, female serial killers such as Erzsebet Bathory, Nannie Doss, Mary Ann Cotton, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova rival their male counterparts in cunning, cruelty, and appetite for destruction.

Each chapter explores the crimes and history of a different subject, and then proceeds to unpack her legacy and her portrayal in the media, as well as the stereotypes and sexist cliches that inevitably surround her. The first book to examine female serial killers through a feminist lens with a witty and dryly humorous tone, Lady Killers dismisses easy explanations (she was hormonal, she did it for love, a man made her do it) and tired tropes (she was a femme fatale, a black widow, a witch), delving into the complex reality of female aggression and predation. Featuring 14 illustrations from Dame Darcy, Lady Killers is a bloodcurdling, insightful, and irresistible journey into the heart of darkness.

Continue reading “May 2019 Bonus Review #1: ‘Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History’, by Tori Telfer”