Peter Manuel’s violence had Scotland gripped in terror, but one detective was devoted to bringing him to justice.


He is said to have been Scotland's first ever serial killer.

The death of American-born Peter Manuel at the end of a hangman's noose at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow on July 11, 1958, brought a two-year killing spree, which had horrified Scotland, to an end.

Manuel was said to be responsible for as many as nine murders between 1956 and 1958, which left people of all ages, particularly young women, in fear of their lives.

Men would meet their female relatives and loved ones coming off evening buses and escort them home.

Young women returning from a night out would band together to make sure they got back safely.

This was the effect Peter Manuel had on the people of Glasgow and Lanarkshire during his two-year reign of terror.

At his trial at the High Court in Glasgow in May 1958, he was convicted of seven murders - the Watt family, in Burnside near Glasgow; the Smart family, in Uddingston, Lanarkshire and Mount Vernon teenager Isabelle Cooke.

The other charge against him, the murder of East Kilbride teenager Anne Kneilands, which he had initially confessed to, was dropped due to lack of evidence.

So what had driven Peter Manuel to become Scotland's first known serial killer?

He was born in Manhattan, New York on March 15, 1927.

His parents had emigrated from Scotland to America to seek a better life during the Depression of the 1920s.

However, his father Samuel became ill while living in Detroit.

That and a lack of money drove them back to Motherwell in 1932 and then to Coventry in 1937.

Manuel’s first encounter with the police was the following year when he broke into a local chapel in the Midlands town and stole the collection box.

At the age of 15, he committed his first act of violence when he attacked a sleeping woman with a hammer after breaking into her home and was sent to prison for the first time.

In one robbery which he committed at the time with another youth, a local newspaper report described how the damage left was "of such enormity" that "words could not adequately describe it".

It said: “Cupboards and drawers had been ransacked and the contents strewn over the house.

"Crockery, dirtied by the youths, had been thrown about, eggs had been broken and ground into the carpets," it said.

"Vases and bowls had been smashed, tablecloths destroyed, tins of foodstuffs thrown about and other tins emptied on the floor and ground into the carpets.

"Curtains had been torn down and windows broken, and the cover of the settee had been dirtied and torn beyond repair."

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It was a pattern that would be repeated in later more deadly crimes.

Though he was proving to be a violent criminal there was little in his respectable family background to suggest any reason for this.

He had been bullied by the local English children because of his American accent but otherwise had had a happy upbringing.

The Manuels then moved back to Lanarkshire after their Coventry home was bombed by the German Luftwaffe during the second world war.

If his parents hoped it was a fresh start for their son, they would soon be sorely disappointed.

In February 1946, Manuel broke into a bungalow in the Sandyhills area of Glasgow.

A young Detective Constable William Muncie - who would later help bring him to justice for the seven murders - then carried out a routine fingerprint examination of the scene

After he returned to the house later that day, he spotted Manuel in the garden and arrested him.

Manuel had earlier hidden behind wood panelling in the loft while the house was being searched by police.

While on bail for that break-in, he committed three assaults on women, including the rape of an expectant mother.

Manuel was sentenced to eight years and freed in 1953, aged 26.

It was his first experience of an adult prison, and he never forgave Muncie, whom he saw as the architect of his incarceration.

While he was in prison he earned a reputation as a Walter Mitty character who liked to tell lurid tales to fellow prisoners of his father's death in the electric chair in America.

In fact, the closest his law-abiding father had come to an electric chair was a short stint working in a Detroit car factory.

Three years after his release from prison in early January 1956, he began the killing spree which would lead to the hangman's noose.

The battered body of his first victim, 17-year-old Anne Kneilands, was found on a golf course in East Kilbride.

The first officers at the scene found that the dead woman’s head had been smashed in. They also saw the marks of running feet in the mud which indicated that she had run for her life for over 400 yards.

She had also been sexually assaulted.

Anne lived with her parents in the town and had gone dancing on January 2 but failed to return home.

Her mum and dad, thinking she was staying at a friend’s, didn't report her missing until two days later.

The foreman of a gas board crew, who had been working near the murder spot, told police that one of his workers, Peter Manuel, was a convicted rapist and had scratches on his face.

However, Peter’s father Samuel provided an alibi and further attempts to find evidence to pin the murder on Manuel were unsuccessful.

In September that same year, police were called to a house in Burnside, where they found Marion Watt, her sister Margaret Brown and 16-year-old daughter Vivienne Watt shot dead in their beds with a revolver.

Suspecting Manuel, the force obtained a search warrant for his parent’s house in Uddingston but found nothing incriminating.

At the time Marion's husband William Watt was on a fishing holiday in Lochgilphead and police began to suspect he may have been involved in the deaths.

Extensive tests were carried out to verify if Watt had in fact driven back to Glasgow overnight, murdered the three women, including his daughter, and then returned to Argyllshire.

Though the results were inconclusive, a ferry master and another motorist identified Watt as having made the journey and both picked him out at an identification parade.

As a result, Watt, who ran a bakery at the time, was arrested, charged with the three murders and held in Barlinnie Prison.

Ironically Manuel was also incarcerated there at the same time where he was serving a sentence for housebreaking.

Watt's lawyer, Lawrence Dowdall, began to receive letters from Manuel in which he claimed another prisoner had confessed to the murders.

The letters revealed details of the case that were not known publicly.

Dowdall would later describe Manuel as "the most vicious psychopath it has ever been my misfortune to meet".

When Manuel said one of the Watt women had been shot twice — a fact police had not made public — William was freed after 67 days in custody as the case against him collapsed.

A separate search of Manuel's parents' house turned up insufficient evidence to prove, as police now suspected, that he was the killer.

On December 29, 1957, a highly alarmed William Cooke, who lived in Mount Vernon, in the east end of Glasgow, reported his 17-year-old daughter Isabelle missing.

She had gone to a dance the night before but hadn't returned home.

A major police search of the area found one of Isabelle’s shoes and her handbag but no body.

Muncie, now a Detective Chief Inspector, was among the senior officers investigating the girl’s disappearance.

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A few days later, while searching for Isabelle, he was told that three others had been shot dead in a bungalow in Uddingston.

At this point, the Chief Constable of Lanarkshire realised he had a serial killer on his hands and asked for help from the more experienced detectives of the City of Glasgow Police.

Superintendent Alex Brown and Detective Inspector Tom Goodall were seconded to the enquiry.

The bodies of Peter Smart, 45, his wife Doris and 11-year-old son Michael had been found at their home in Sheepburn Road in Uddingston, on the outskirts of Glasgow.

All three had been shot through the head with a pistol at point blank range while they were sleeping.

After the murders, Manuel stayed in their house, eating leftovers from their Hogmanay meal.

He even fed the family cat, before stealing some brand new £5 banknotes that Peter Smart had kept for a holiday, and finally taking the family car.

Manuel then used the stolen vehicle to give a lift to a police officer investigating Isabelle Cooke's disappearance, even telling him that he felt that the police weren't looking in the right places.

DCI Muncie remembered his arrest of Manuel 12 years earlier when he had remained in the loft of a house after breaking into it.

As the evidence mounted against him, police got the breakthrough they were looking for.

They discovered that Manuel had been spending new £5 notes in pubs in the east end of Glasgow - the ones he had stolen from the Smart house.

On January 14, 1958, Manuel was arrested and charged with the murder of the Smart family.

Police also discovered burgled items in the Manuel family home and father Samuel was charged with receiving stolen property.

Despite his shocking crimes, Manuel was loyal to his parents.

To spare his father, Manuel confessed to the eight murders, telling detectives: "Bring my mother and father here and I will see them in your presence.

"After I have told them and made a clean breast of it to them, you can take them away and I will clear everything up for you. And I will take you to where the girl Cooke is buried."

At the meeting, his mother pleaded: "Tell us everything, Peter. Tell the truth."

With tears streaming down his face, Manuel confessed to killing Anne Kneilands, the Watts, Margaret Brown and the Smarts.

He led police to where he buried Isabelle, saying: "I think she is here. I think I'm standing on her."

Manuel's trial, which began at The High Court in Glasgow, on May 12 1958, lasted fourteen days. but it took the jury less than three hours to convict him.

He had earlier sacked his lawyers - ten days into the trial - and conducted his own defence, claiming William Watt had committed the murders.

William was even called as a witness and appeared on a stretcher having been recently injured in a road accident.

Charismatic, well dressed and his hair neatly gelled, Manuel did an impressive job of defending himself.

Unknown to the jury, he had previously defended himself on a rape charge at Airdrie Sheriff Court.

Joe Beltrami, one of Scotland's greatest defence lawyers, watched the proceedings from the public gallery.

He said later: "Judge Lord Cameron commented on Manuel's conducting of his own case after he sacked his defence team.

"Cameron said he was surprised at the standard and skill of the accused and so was I. "His cross-examination was quite skilful and well thought-out."

At 8am on July 11, 1958, Manuel was hanged on the gallows at Barlinnie Prison, following a failed appeal.

After a last supper of fish, chips, tomatoes and tea, Peter Manuel took a swig of brandy before turning to the hangman and quipping: "Turn up the radio and I'll go quietly."

However, the small crowd that attended his hanging at D-Hall was not the crowd he might have hoped for.

Just 12 people were in attendance outside the hanging shed at Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison before he went to his death at 8am.

That was the precise moment that executioner Albert Pierrepoint brought an abrupt end to the violent 31-year life of Peter Manuel.

Hundreds of thousands of Glaswegians were said to be watching the clocks on their walls and imagining the grim happenings in the east end of the city.

"Manuel had in a curious way become part of the city's life," said one Scottish newspaper.

"His reign of terror had filled the newspapers for years, his capture and trial attracted worldwide interest and his death brought a release to the city.

"For years there had been a climate of fear nourished by dread of a serial killer at large."

Muncie — a veteran of 54 murder hunts, all solved — later also spoke of his relief at Manuel's demise.

He said: "As I stood in the white-tiled cell at Hamilton police station and gazed at the killer of all those innocent people, I remembered how I used to go home and quietly check the front windows and door."

Manuel was one of the last people to be executed in Scotland before capital punishment was abolished in 1965.

As was common practice at the time his body was buried alongside other hanging victims in an unmarked grave on the prison grounds.

Family members including his parents were not allowed to attend the burial service or pay their last respects.

Manuel had also been the prime suspect for the murder of a Newcastle taxi driver, Sydney Dunn in December 1957, making him, at the time, Scotland's most prolific serial killer.

His conviction for the seven murders also meant that the still grieving William Watt had finally cleared his name.

Four days after the deaths of his family he had walked into a newspaper office in Glasgow with an impassioned appeal to the public.

It was published the next day and read: "You, the foul beast who murdered my wife, my daughter and my sister-in-law, may be strutting the streets arrogantly rubbing shoulders with clean and decent people.

"But wherever you are, read this: 'You can't be on your guard forever.'”

"Like all vile creatures of your kind, you will let up sometime - just for a fraction of a second, maybe, but long enough for the ever-watchful eye of the police.

"I shall never rest as long as I live until you, who took all that was dear to me, get what you so rightly deserve."

No one knows to this day why career criminal Manuel turned serial killer or how many people he actually murdered.

One theory is that Manuel's crimes were instigated for Muncie's benefit as a personal vendetta against the man who had sent him to an adult prison all these years ago.

His victims were chosen at random - the killer's only apparent motive being to provoke the police chief.

He even hand-delivered birthday cards to Muncie's home to make the hardened policeman feel that his own family may be at risk.

Manuel had also left clues to his own crimes in his letters to Lawrence Dowdall.

In 2016, a three-part drama series on the Manuel murders "In Plain Sight" explored the relationship between Muncie and Manuel.

The series' writer, Nick Stevens, said at the time: "Long before anyone else, Muncie saw Peter Manuel for what he was — a psychopath.

"Almost a decade before Manuel's first murder, Muncie arrested him for a slew of housebreakings. Manuel never forgave him."

Muncie was also said to be similarly obsessed with Manuel and colleagues joked he had "Manuelitis" — suspecting he was linked to almost any case.

Shetland star Douglas Henshall, who played Muncie in the ITV drama, said in one interview: "Manuel's case took up a huge chunk of his life and he was derided by some in the force because he was so obsessed. But he knew Manuel was guilty and needed to put him away."

Line of Duty star Martin Compston, who played Manuel, also commented: "He dropped birthday cards through his door just to let Muncie know he was close by.

"It was quite horrific.

"The sheer brazenness and confidence of the man were astonishing. He was the ultimate narcissist, an evil, evil man."