Every area of the UK has its share of violent crimes - events so shocking that they linger in the community's collective memory for many years - and, in this respect, the north east of England is no different. In West Auckland, over a period of twenty years during the middle of the nineteenth century, Mary Ann Cotton, to date Britain's most prolific serial killer, killed no fewer than twenty-one people. Thankfully, hers is a record that none of the thirty murderers covered here have come close to although the gruesome nature of some of the deaths make Mary Ann's chosen method of dispatch - poisoning - seem almost merciful.
The cases include: The brutal rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in 1902 near the shipyards at Gateshead; The wages clerk shot through the head for the bag of money he was carrying as he travelled by train from Newcastle to Widdrington in 1910; The Monkwearmouth woman who was so drunk when her lover struck her about the head with an axe, exposing her brain, she was able to walk to the hospital where she died of her injuries; The homosexual who lured teenage boys to out-of-the-way places to have sex with them, strangled them and then made feeble botched attempts to burn the bodies Of course, no book on murder in the Tyne and Wear district would be complete without reference to Mary Bell, the eleven-year-old who was convicted of killing two little boys, aged just four and three. Wade treats the case with unusual sensitivity, placing it in a context of poverty, alcoholism, family breakdown and the absence of any moral guidance.
Stephen Wade is a freelance writer specialising in true crime and the history of crime and law. His last book was Unsolved Yorkshire Murders (2004). He writes for True Crime magazine and he teaches the history of crime and crime writing at the University of Hull.