Pitchfork when arrested
23 March 1961
Newbold Verdon, Leicestershire, England
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Colin Pitchfork (born 23 March 1961) is a British convicted murderer and rapist. He is the first person convicted of a crime based on DNA fingerprinting evidence, and the first to be caught as a result of mass DNA screening. Pitchfork raped and murdered two girls in Leicestershire, the first in Narborough, in November 1983, and the second in Enderby, in July 1986. He was arrested on 19 September 1987 and sentenced to life imprisonment on 22 January 1988, after admitting both murders.
Pitchfork lived in Newbold Verdon, attending school in Market Bosworth and Desford, until his marriage in 1981 to a social worker, after which he lived in Littlethorpe. The Pitchforks had two sons.
Pitchfork had obtained work in Hampshires Bakery in 1976 as an apprentice. He continued to work there until his arrest for the murders. He became particularly skilled as a sculptor of cake decorations and had hoped eventually to start his own cake decorating business. According to his supervisor he was "a good worker and time-keeper, but he was moody...and he couldn't leave women employees alone. He was always chatting them up."
On 21 November 1983, a 15-year-old girl named Lynda Mann left her home to visit a friend's house. She did not return. The next morning, she was found raped and strangled on a deserted footpath known locally as the Black Pad. Using forensic science techniques available at the time, police linked a semen sample taken from her body to a person with type A blood and an enzyme profile that matched only 10 percent of males. With no other leads or evidence, the case was left open.
On 31 July 1986, another 15-year-old girl, Dawn Ashworth, took a shortcut instead of taking her normal route home. Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area near a footpath called Ten Pound Lane. She had been beaten, savagely raped and strangled to death. The modus operandi matched that of the first attack, and semen samples revealed the same blood type.
The prime suspect was Richard Buckland, a local 17-year-old youth with learning difficulties, who revealed knowledge of Ashworth's body, and admitted the crime under questioning, but denied the first murder. Alec Jeffreys, of the University of Leicester, had recently developed DNA profiling along with Peter Gill and Dave Werrett of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) and detailed the technique in a 1985 paper.
I was responsible for developing all of the DNA extraction techniques and demonstrating that it was possible after all to obtain DNA profiles from old stains. The biggest achievement was developing the preferential extraction method to separate sperm from vaginal cells – without this method it would have been difficult to use DNA in rape cases.
Using this technique, Jeffreys compared semen samples from both murders against a blood sample from Buckland which conclusively proved that both girls were killed by the same man, but not Buckland. The police then contacted the FSS to verify Jeffreys' results and decide which direction to take the investigation. Buckland became the first person to have his innocence established by DNA fingerprinting.
Jeffreys later said:
I have no doubt whatsoever that he would have been found guilty had it not been for DNA evidence. That was a remarkable occurrence.
Leicestershire Constabulary and the FSS then undertook an investigation in which 5,000 local men were asked to volunteer blood or saliva samples. This took six months, and no matches were found.
Arrest and conviction
On 1 August 1987, one of Pitchfork's colleagues at the bakery, Ian Kelly, revealed to fellow workers in a Leicester pub that he had obtained £200 for giving a sample while masquerading as Pitchfork. Pitchfork told Kelly that he could not give blood under his own name because he had already given blood while pretending to be a friend of his who had wanted to avoid being harassed by police because of a youthful conviction for burglary. A woman who overheard the conversation reported it to police. On 19 September 1987 Pitchfork was arrested at his home in Haybarn Close, in the neighbouring village of Littlethorpe and a sample was found to match that of the killer. During subsequent questioning, Pitchfork admitted to flashing females over 1,000 times, a compulsion that he had started in his early teens. Flashing led to sexual assault and then to strangling his victims in order to protect his identity. He pleaded guilty to the two rape/murders in addition to another incident of sexual assault that he had committed. Pitchfork was preparing to move to Littlethorpe at the time of the murder of Lynda Mann, and lived at Haybarn Close, Littlethorpe at the time of the murder of Dawn Ashworth. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and concurrent terms for rape and murder. The Secretary of State set the tariff or minimum term before consideration could be given to his possible release at 30 years, which was reduced on appeal by 2 years, to 28 years.
In April 2009, a sculpture that Pitchfork had produced in prison was exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall. The artwork, entitled Bringing the Music to Life, depicted an orchestra and choir, made "in meticulous miniature detail by folding, cutting and tearing the score of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony". The sculpture was exhibited as part of a venture by the Koestler Trust, having been purchased by the Festival Hall for £600. Following outrage in the Daily Mail, it was removed from display. Pitchfork had made the work while in Frankland Prison, Brasside, County Durham. He exhibited it with a caption bearing the words, "Without this opportunity to show our art, many of us would have no incentive, we would stay locked in ourselves as much as the walls that hold us.”
On 14 May 2009, after an initial adjournment on 30 April 2009, Pitchfork’s legal appeal was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. He won a two-year reduction in his original sentence of a minimum 30 years' imprisonment. As a consequence, Pitchfork was eligible to apply for release in September 2015 due to the time he spent on remand prior to conviction. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge stated, however, that "he cannot be released unless and until the safety of the public is assured." The court heard that Pitchfork is now educated to degree level and had become expert at the transcription of printed music into Braille, hoping one day to be able to help the blind. This evidence was presented by his legal representatives as evidence of the development of his character while incarcerated.
In 2014, a two-part television drama entitled Code of a Killer, based on Pitchfork's crimes and the creation of DNA profiling, was commissioned. It stars John Simm as Professor Jeffreys and David Threlfall as David Baker, the lead detective. Pitchfork was played by Nathan Wright. The drama was first broadcast in two 90-minute episodes, on 6 and 13 April 2015.
- Hinckley Times 2008 12 19
- Evans, Colin (1998). The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling Crimes. London: John Wiley & Sons. p. 62. ISBN 978-0471283690.
- Wambaugh, Joseph, The Blooding: The True Story of the Narborough Village Murders, Bantam, 1989, p.250.
- Graff, Vincent (4 April 2015) "DNA of a killer", Radio Times, Pages 24-27
- Sanders, John (2000). Forensic Casebook of Crime. London: True Crime Library/Forum Press. p. 229. ISBN 1-874358-36-2.
- Pitchfork, R v  EWCA Crim 963
- "Work of art or monstrous cynicism? Convicted paedophile creates extraordinary paper sculpture in bid to win freedom". The Daily Mail. 2009-04-11. Retrieved 2010-12-13.
- "Anger over child killer's artwork". BBC News. 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
- "'DNA' child killer Colin Pitchfork gets parole review". BBC News. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
- Lee Marlow, "Code of a Killer: ITV film crew shoot in Leicester for two part drama on how DNA profiling snared double-child killer", Leicester Mercury, 30 October 2014