Donald Neilson

Child Killer
AKAThe Black Panther
DOB1 Aug 1936
Kill Total4 +
Kill PlaceBath & Broadmoor
Kill Date1974 - 1975
Victim         Donald Skepper

Derek Astin

Sydney Grayland

Lesley Whittle
CourtOxford Crown Court
JudgeMr Justice Mars-Jones
DefenceGilbert Gray QC
Case No:

Born Donald Nappey he suffered a lot of bullying as a child. After a spell in the army he got married, and in 1960 had a daughter, it was this that made him change his surname, by deed-poll, so his daughter would not suffer the same name calling.

His wife persuaded him to leave the army, and they settled in Bradford, while he tried various jobs, mainly around the building trade,.

In 1965 he was not happy with income, and her branched out into house burglary, his first real venture into crime.
It is estimated that he committed hundreds of house burglaries, but Neilson was still not happy with his income.
He progressed to armed post-office robbery, in the years between 1967 and 1972 he committed at least 19 robberies.

1972, The first sign of violence, as Neilson wearing his now trademark black Balaclava, shot and wounded a  Lancashire sub-postmaster, luckily the injuries were not life threatening.

15th February 1974, He shot and killed sub-postmaster Donald Skepper, at his New Park post office in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

6th September 1974, Neilson Murdered Derek Astin in Accrington at the Higher Baxenden Post Office.

11th November 1974, Murder of Sydney James Grayland at the Sub-Post Office in Langley, West Midlands  He also violently beat Mrs Grayland, leaving her for dead.

14th January 1975, the Whittle family were subjected to a particularly horrifying ordeal that would stay with them and friend and family for a very long time.
On Mrs Whittle's arrival at the house at 12:45am, she found that her daughter Lesley Whittle, was asleep in bed. She took her usual sleeping tablet and slept heavily, waking at 7.00am and making breakfast for Lesley.
She was surprised to find that Lesley was not in bed, and the clothes that she was to wear that day were still neatly folded on the chair. In panic, she then picked up the telephone to ring Lesley's brother, Ronald. The telephone was dead. She rushed in her dressing gown to the car to find the door was open from the lounge to the garage. This door was rarely used and was supposed to be locked. After her arrival at Ronald's home, Ronald and his wife Gaynor accompanied Mrs Whittle back to the house. There they found a box of Turkish delight on the hearth-rug in front of the fireplace with a ransom demand of £50,000.00, and giving instructions for someone from the family to be at a telephone box the next day to receive instructions on passing the money. The message also said that if police were involved then "death" was the outcome. It was then clear that Lesley had been abducted from her house when she was in bed and only her robe and slippers were missing.
Ron Whittle called the police and reported all the details. The police made arrangements for the telephone call to be monitored.

16th January 1975, When the telephone call came at 11:30pm, the call was a taped message spoken by Lesley. The message said that she was alright, and that someone from her family was to go to the telephone box in Kidsgrove to retrieve a message that was behind the back-board of the kiosk. Her voice was verified by Ron Whittle and the police then made arrangements for a radio link to be established, with a spiders web of police assistance discreetly across the area. Ron was assured that if he was in need of help, then it could be with him in under two minutes. All this arranging took 2 hours, and Ron Whittle left Bridgenorth Police Station at 1:30am to drive to Kidsgrove. He took a wrong turning in the dark and eventually arrived at Kidsgrove Post Office telephone box. After looking for 30 minutes, he found a message that told him to go to Bathpool Park, which is situated about 1 1/2 miles away. The message instructed him to;


Ron arrived at Bathpool Park and turned into the "No Entry" as instructed, but in the dark he did not see the low wall that edged the railway bridge, and drove to the end of the lane. He stopped, flashed his lights, got out of the car and shouted, and there was no-one there. Ron left the park and met up again with the police.
7th February 1975 the police discreetly searched the park. There was nothing found.

10th February 1975, the news black-out was lifted.

2nd March 1975.  A television interview was staged, with Ron Whittle and the police. Ron had to mention his trip to Bathpool Park on TV, and the police needed to act as if they did not know about this, so that they could stage a full search of the area. After this interview, a Kidsgrove headmaster contacted police with a few plastic dymo type labels two of his pupils had found in the park. One said "DROP SUITCASE INTO HOLE". The next development was of a couple of school boys finding a torch wedged in the grilles of what was locally known as the "glory-hole". This was one of the capped ventilation shafts of the old Harecastle Tunnel. The boys said that a plastic label was attached to the torch which they peeled off, but they said that they never read it.

Thursday 6th March 1975  an urgent search of the park was instructed, starting with the glory-hole. A Detective Constable went into the shaft and found a Dymo machine and a roll of tape and not much else. The second shaft was then checked and nothing was found.
The third shaft, the deepest of the three near to the park entrance that was once a shaft to Nelsons Coal Mine was then uncapped. This had to be checked for gas as it was to a coal mine, and so the search was abandoned until the next day.

Friday 7th March 1975 Nelsons' Coal Mine shaft was uncapped. It showed a vertical ladder at the side, and a landing 22ft down the shaft. On this first landing was found a broken torch. This had been dropped down the shaft by police when lifting the cap. There was then a second landing, approximately 45ft down from the surface. On this landing there was a tape recorder. There was then seen a third landing, approximately 54ft below the surface. On this landing was a rolled up sleeping bag against the bottom of the latter to act as a pillow, a yellow foam mattress and a survival blanket. Then Lesley's body was seen hanging from the landing, suspended by a steel wire around her neck. Her feet were only 7 inches from the floor.
Inspection of the floor of the shaft, approximately a further 7ft below the third landing was a number of items. There were strips of used elastoplasts 3 inches wide, one had some of Lesley's eyebrow hairs attached to it and had been used as a blindfold; there were some brown trainers, size 7, more Dymotape, a cassette tape, microphone and lead, Lesley's slippers, a thermos flask, blue cord trousers and a reporters note pad. In all these things there was only one partial fingerprint and that was on the notepad. After four months of every other fingerprint investigation being put practically on hold, no match could be found to this print.

11th December 1975,  two policemen in their car in Mansfied saw a man rushing past and seemed to be hiding his face. They got out of their car as routine and asked the man his name and where he was going. The man replied he was "John Moxon" and then pulled a gun out of his coat and told the two policemen he wanted them to take him to a nearby village of Blidworth. When they got to Blidworth, one of the policemen managed to distract the gunman long enough to move the barrel from his partners side, and the gun was fired, tearing a hole in the roof of the car, and throwing shrapnel all over the driver. The car was stopped outside the local fish and chip shop where it took both policemen and the customers from the shop, and a large miner to capture this wiry little man and put him in handcuffs. It was said that he fought like a wild animal and was so strong that it was near impossible to hold him.

Back at the police station, "John Moxon" was searched and was found to be carrying a duplicate of each thing he carried. He had two watches on one strap that were perfectly synchronised, two torches and two sets of batteries, two knives, two razor blades and two pairs of gloves.
As a matter of routine, his fingerprints were taken before he was locked in a cell. They were checked with the one from the shaft at Bathpool, and it was a match.
"John Moxon" was not very co-operative at interviews, sometimes taking as long as 15 minutes before answering a question. He was asked why this was so, and replied that he was "thinking". It took a long time before he gave his correct name and address, saying that he didn't want his wife and daughter involved, he didn't want to embarrass them in any way. When he knew he was going to be in the newspapers and everyone would know, then he gave his real name "Donald Neilson, Grangefield Avenue, Leeds". His home was searched and an obsessive amount of firearms and weaponry was found. His life was found to be obsessive on the military. He took his wife and daughter on "manoeuvres" and staged fake battles. There were links and clues to other crimes he had committed as well as to the murder of Lesley Whittle.
Neilson has always claimed that he did not intend to kill Lesley, and that she slipped, he also claimed that all the post office shootings were accidents!!!

4th June 1976 Donald Neilson's trial started, he was charged with the following;

14 January 1975
Abduction of Lesley Whittle
21 years in prison

14 January 1975
Making demand for £50,000 with menaces and threat to kill Lesley Whittle.
10 year in prison

Between 13 January -7 March 1975
Murder of Lesley Whittle
Life imprisonment

17 November 1970
Burglary and stealing fire-arms in Dewsbury.
10 years in prison

Between 28 January 1971 - 1 February 1971
Burglary and stealing fire-arms at Cheadle Hulme.
10 years in prison

15 February 1974
Murder of Donald Lawson Skepper in Harrogate at New Park Post Office.
Life imprisonment

6 September 1974
Murder of Derek Astin in Accrington at Higher Baxenden Post Office
Life imprisonment

11 November 1974
Murder of Sydney James Grayland in Langley, West Midlands at the Sub-Post Office
Life imprisonment

11 November 1974
Attempted murder of Margaret Grayland
Not guilty

11 November 1974
Grievous bodily harm to Margaret Grayland
Life imprisonment

11 December 1975
Attempting to murder PC Stuart Mackenzie
Not guilty

11 December 1975
Possession of two shotguns with intent to endanger life.
10 years In prison

15 January 1976
Attempted murder of Gerald Arthur Smith
Not tried - ordered to lie on files.

He was found guilty and sentences to five life sentences.

2008, an appeal was rejected.

29th June 2008, it was confirmed by prison service that Neilson had developed Motor Neurone Disease,

Saturday 17th December 2011, Neilson taken from Norwich prison to hospital

Sunday 18th December 2011, Donald Neilson dies of breathing difficulties at 6:45opm in Norwich hospital.

Thursday 9th August 2012, It has been confirmed that an inquest will be held into Neilson's death at Norwich hospital.

Neilson was on the list of prisoners who must serve a 'Whole Life tariff', See list here >>