Who was Peter Manuel, when was the serial killer hanged and why was he nicknamed the Beast of Birkenshaw?

NICKNAMED the Beast of Birkenshaw, Peter Manuel terrorised Scotland in the late 1950s, where he murdered eight people.

This Monday, 7 June, ITV is re-airing In Plain Sight, a three-part drama starring Martin Compston and Douglas Henshall based on the killer's two-year crime spree.

Who was Peter Manuel?

Born in 1927 to Scottish parents in New York, Manuel moved to Detroit wit his family before emigrating back to Britain in 1932.

He lived in Birkenshaw, North Lanarkshire, where he was bullied throughout his childhood.

By the age of ten, Manuel was already known to police as a petty thief.

When he turned 15, the beast broke into a young woman’s house, waking her, pulling down her underwear and battering her with a hammer.

He attacked several other women before being caught and caged for nine years in Peterhead prison when he was 16.

Over two years in the 1950s, he was responsible for almost a third of all killings in Scotland.

Who were Peter Manuel's victims?

On January 2, 1956, 17-year-old Anne Kneilands was stalked at an East Kilbride golf course.

The teen had met Manuel the day before and went to a tea room with him.

Manuel later raped Anne before bludgeoning her to death with an iron bar.

The killer admitted the murder two years later but the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.

In September 1956, Marion Watt, 45, her daughter Vivienne, 17, and sister Margaret Brown, 41, were shot dead in their Glasgow home.

At first, Marion’s husband William was the prime suspect. But Detective William Muncie, the man behind the investigation that led him to the scaffold, was convinced Manuel, out on bail for burglary, was involved.

Watt hired hired lawyer Lawrence Dowdall, who began receiving messages from Manuel confessing to the murder.

When Manuel said one of the women had been shot twice — a fact police had not made public — Watt was freed.

Manuel shot and killed fifth victim Sydney Dunn, 36, a taxi driver, while looking for work in Newcastle.

The killer was never tried for the murder but after he was hanged, a coroner's jury found Manuel guilty.

On December 28, 1957, Isabelle Cooke vanished while making her way to a dance in Uddingston, Lanarkshire.

The 17-year-old was raped and strangled before being buried in a nearby field.

He later led police to where he buried Isabelle, saying: “I think she is here. I think I’m standing on her.”

On New Year's Day 1958, Peter Smart, 45, wife Doris, 42, and ten-year-old son Michael were all shot in the head as they lay in bed.

The beast stayed in the Smart house for a week after the killings – eating leftovers and feeding the family cat.

Manuel stole the family's car and even gave a lift to a police officer investigating Isabelle Cooke's disappearance, telling him he felt the cops were looking in the wrong places.

How was Peter Manuel caught?

The serial killer had stolen some banknotes from Peter Smart's house after murdering him and his family.

Manuel used these to pay for drinks in Glasgow and was subsequently arrested.

He confessed to eight murders and in a bombshell move, sacked his lawyer aead of his trial at Glasgow High Court and conducted his own defence.

Although the judge, Lord Cameron, admitted that Manuel conducted his defence "with a skill that is quite remarkable", the killer was unable to convince the jury of his innocence and he was found guilty of all charges against him.

When was Peter Manuel hanged?

After feasting on a last meal of fish, chips, tomatoes and tea, Manuel was hanged on the Barlinnie gallows on July 11, 1958.

The monster had turned to executioner Harry Allen and said "Turn up the radio and I’ll go quietly" before plunging through the trapdoor.

Manuel was the third-to-last criminal to be executed in Scotland. Anthony Miller followed Manuel on to the Barlinnie gallows in December 1960, and Henry John Burnett was executed at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen, in August 1963.

Why was he called the Beast of Birkenshaw?

Losing hope in a prison cell midway through his murder trial, Manuel put pen to paper and wrote an extraordinary poem to serve as his epitaph.

The Beast of Birkenshaw’s chilling poem

I'm Peter Anthony Manuel,

In Barlinnie Jail, I lie,

Awaiting on a High Court jury,

To sentence me to die.

I know the Jury's verdict,

Will sentence me to death,

For I'm Peter Anthony Manuel,

The foulest beast on earth.

I know you read your papers,

And shall read about my crime,

I have not caused the death of one,

But have caused the death of nine.

I'm looking for not sympathy,

For don't you realise,

I'm Peter Anthony Manuel,

A reptile in disguise.

I murdered Isabella (sic) Cook,

And young Anne Knielands too,

Shot the Watts and shot the Smarts,

And Sidney (sic) Dunn I slew.

I did these deeds without a doubt,

My guilt was found by law,

I'm Peter Anthony Manuel,

The Rat of Birkenshaw.

I wonder who the hangman is,

Since Pierrepoint's gone away,

But I know that I shall meet him,

On that ill fated day.

That day I'll get breakfast,

I know I'll get no lunch,

For the law must have its pound of flesh,

And they can hang me only once.

And when I'm dead they'll bury me

In a pit of burning lime,

But my name will live for evermore,

In the story book of crime.

And when they write my epitaph,

These words, they shall be seen.

Here lies Peter Anthony Manuel

Scotland's Frankenstein.

The killer called himself "The foulest beast on earth" … "A reptile in disguise" and "rat of Birkenshaw" before settling on "Scotland's Frankenstein".

While serving time, Manuel boasted of his sickening crimes and called himself the Beast of Birkenshaw.

The name spread and was used by the media at the time to describe Manuel's reign of terror.

 

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