John Duffy and David Mulcahy

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John Duffy and David Mulcahy
John Francis Duffy (1958)
David Mulcahy (1959)

Other names"the railway killers"
"the railway rapists"
Spouse(s)Margaret Duffy née Byrne
Sandra Mulcahy née Carr[1]
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment (both Duffy and Mulcahy)
Span of crimes
29 December 1985 – 18 May 1986
Date apprehended
7 November 1986 (Duffy)
1999 (Mulcahy)

John Francis Duffy (born 1958) and David Mulcahy (born 1959) are two British serial rapists and serial killers who together attacked numerous women and children at railway stations in southern England during the 1980s.[2]

Their crimes are often referred to as "the railway murders", and they are often referred to as the "railway rapists" or the "railway killers"; Duffy, once identified, was referred to in the press as the "railway murderer" or "laser eyes".[3]

The attacks[edit]

In 1982, a woman was raped by two men near Hampstead Heath railway station. Eighteen more women were attacked over the next year, mostly late at night in dark, quiet places often near railway stations in and around North London, especially Hampstead, Barnes and other places.[3] Further attacks occurred during 1984, and then three women were raped on the same night in 1985, in Hendon.

The Metropolitan Police in West London initiated an urgent investigation, named "Operation Hart", to apprehend the perpetrators.[4] The women described their attackers as a short ginger-haired man and a larger man. DNA technology was not then available, but some suspects could be eliminated by blood grouping: one attacker, believed to be the ginger-haired man, was an "'A' secretor with a certain PGM factor of his blood". Unlike DNA, many people share the same blood grouping, so this evidence could eliminate suspects but not identify the offenders.[3]

On the evening of 29 December 1985, Alison Day, aged 19, was on her way to meet her boyfriend at his place of employment at a desolate trading estate close to Hackney Wick station. Duffy and Mulcahy had been driving around several railway stations and ended up at Hackney Wick where they saw Day exit the train. After she stopped at a telephone box, it is believed she took a wrong turn heading down to the canal and into the path of Duffy and Mulcahy. Duffy then threatened her with a knife and both men sexually assaulted her. The two men then forced her to walk across live railway lines to the parapet of a bridge. Day fell from the bridge into the canal, but was able to swim to the bank where Duffy and Mulcahy pulled her from the water and then to a wasteland where she was strangled to death with her blouse.[5][4] Her body was sunk into the River Lea using discarded cobbles (granite setts) placed into her coat pockets. The Metropolitan Police in east London set up a further separate investigation, Operation Lea.[6]

Police further stepped up their search for the attacker who had been nicknamed by the press the "Railway Rapist". The murder of Day changed this name to the "Railway Killer", a tag reinforced by the rape and murder of 15-year-old Dutch schoolgirl Maartje Tamboezer in West Horsley in Surrey on the afternoon of 17 April 1986 after knocking her from her bicycle with a wire that had been tied between two trees.[7] As well as suffering rape and strangulation, Tamboezer had been repeatedly struck in the head with a rock and her body was set on fire.

Surrey Police set up Operation Bluebell. Meanwhile, the Day murder inquiry was taken over by Detective Superintendent Charles Farquhar (a highly experienced east London murder investigator) and he linked that murder with the previous railway rapes. He then drew a link with the murder of Tamboezer when he spotted that a belt and twig in a scene photo were the parts of a tourniquet ligature. A month later on 18 May 1986, Anne Lock, a 29-year-old secretary at London Weekend Television was abducted and murdered after she got off a train at Brookmans Park railway station, Hertfordshire.[7] This heralded the first multi-police force murder inquiry (Operation Trinity) since the badly executed Yorkshire Ripper inquiry. It was the first such investigation to utilize basic computers and an early version of HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System).

Duffy, a martial arts exponent and former railway carpenter, was identified by Detective Superintendent John Hurst as a suspect. He was known to police as he had been charged with the rape of his estranged wife.[3] He is known to have believed that rape was a "natural male instinct". A rare type of string called 'somyarn' was found in his parents' house. This linked him to the second murder victim. His experience with traditional bow saws linked him to the unusual method of strangulation using a self-fashioned tourniquet, and his knowledge of the South Eastern railway system was part of his former job. David Mulcahy was also questioned, owing to his close friendship with Duffy, but victims were still traumatized and unable to pick him out of an identity parade (at that time, identity parades required the victim to physically touch the offender and get close to him). Mulcahy was released for lack of evidence.[6]

New methods[edit]

To help their inquiries, the police brought in a psychologist from the University of Surrey, David Canter, who was working in the field of geographical psychology at the time. There had been no previous use in Britain of "psychological offender profiling" as it was known, but something fresh was required as two women and a child had been murdered and numerous others raped, with little progress being made. Canter examined the details of each crime and built up a profile of the attacker's personality, habits and traits. While this continued, another attack took place, when a 14-year-old girl was raped in a park.[8]

This inquiry led Canter to set up investigative psychology.[8]


As well as working together with Mulcahy, Duffy had started to rape alone; he was arrested on 26 November 1986[3] while following a woman in a secluded park. Items linking him to the Tamboezer murder were discovered, and rape victims identified him. There was evidence to charge him with the three murders and some rapes.[3] He was questioned about the crimes, and the next day he was charged on all counts. Police knew that he had not committed the offences alone, but Duffy was not forthcoming about his accomplice. Mulcahy was arrested as a likely suspect, but there was not sufficient evidence to charge him.[3]

Duffy tried, and convicted[edit]

Duffy went on trial in February 1988 and was convicted of two murders and four rapes, although he was acquitted of raping and killing Anne Lock (Lock's body had not been found until weeks after her murder, meaning forensic evidence could not be found on her body). He was given a minimum tariff of 30 years by the judge, later extended to a whole life tariff by the Home Secretary.[9]

Following the trial, much was made of the psychological profile constructed by Canter, as Duffy fitted 13 of the 17 observations he had predicted regarding the attacker's lifestyle and habits. Such profiling became commonplace in policing thereafter.[10]

Duffy agrees to interviews[edit]

Following his conviction, Duffy revealed to a forensic psychologist what the police knew already: that he had not attacked the women alone. However, he did not reveal any more at the time.

A junior police officer at the time of the investigation and 1988 trial, Les Bolland, was interested in the case and had risen by March 1995 to a position where he could commence or progress an investigation; he visited John Duffy, who agreed to be interviewed, but said it would take a very long time. A series of visits followed, and Duffy eventually requested assistance from the prison psychological service. In late 1997 a new psychologist started work at the prison. Bolland told her that real progress could be made if Duffy received counselling; this was arranged, and in June 1998 he agreed to start making full, proper, detailed admissions to the police. Interviews in the prison were difficult, so Duffy was secretly taken to a remote Hertfordshire police station for a week. There were complications, such as the football World Cup being on; Duffy asked for the interviews to be scheduled around the games, which Bolland, also a football fan, was happy with.

The interviews were carried out under police caution, although Duffy was not in legal jeopardy, and taped. He confessed to a number of rapes, but said he could remember no more. Further possible cases were put to him from police archives to jog his memory, and he remembered further cases. He was very clear that they were committed with his friend David Mulcahy.[3]

Mulcahy was a lifelong friend from whom Duffy had been inseparable since their days together at Haverstock School in North London. Whilst in school they were once excluded after being found laughing and covered in blood, after bludgeoning a hedgehog.

Duffy ultimately admitted all his offences, including the three murders with Mulcahy. He also explained in detail what had happened to Anne Lock. Bolland wrote that Duffy's confessions "gave a chilling insight into the serial killer/rapist's mind". Duffy told Bolland that a song by Michael Jackson called Thriller had played a part in the offences; the two men would play it loud in their car to psych themselves up before an attack (the tape was found in Mulcahy's house when he was arrested on Duffy's evidence).

Duffy also explained how the way they approached and then controlled a victim developed over time, so that they became in Bolland's words "shockingly skilled". Duffy spoke in a calm, matter-of-fact way, except when speaking about the Tamboezer murder. Nine months after the series of interviews Duffy was charged with seventeen offences of rape and conspiracy to rape; he admitted guilt to all offences, all of which he said he carried out with David Mulcahy. He could not be charged with murdering Anne Lock as he had been found not guilty, but was charged with raping her. In March 1999 Duffy appeared at the Old Bailey and pleaded guilty to seventeen offences.[3]

Mulcahy arrested, tried and convicted[edit]

Following Duffy's claims Mulcahy—a married father of four—was tracked for several months by police, then arrested in February 1999; DNA tests (which were not yet available during the original investigation) conclusively proved his involvement, supported by evidence from a search of his home. He did not answer any questions at interviews. Duffy was going to appear as a prosecution witness at Mulcahy's trial; Mulcahy's defence team sent letters to prisoners on Duffy's wing claiming to be under lawyer/client privilege, informing them that Duffy was the main prosecution witness against Mulcahy, and that if he gave evidence a miscarriage of justice would take place. This put Duffy in obvious danger, and the prison authorities took action to protect him. A complaint to the solicitors, who had written to prisoners who were not their clients, led to claims that the letters were an error made by a clerical worker.[3]

Mulcahy's trial began in Court number 1 of the Central Criminal Courts (Old Bailey) on 11 September 2000. Bolland, an important witness, was accused of conspiring to talk Duffy into giving false evidence against Mulcahy. Duffy appeared as a prosecution witness against Mulcahy, and gave detailed evidence over a 14-day period. It was the first time a category A prisoner had given evidence against an accomplice.

Prosecution evidence at the trial presented Mulcahy as the chief perpetrator and the first to decide that sexual stimulation was no longer enough of a thrill; therefore, he decided to murder the victims. Mulcahy, described as "smug and arrogant" in the witness box, denied all allegations and said that Duffy was lying, that the DNA had been planted by the police, and a fingerprint on the tape used during a rape was not his. The defence also applied to have Mulcahy's interview tapes from the 1980s excluded from evidence.[3]

Mulcahy was convicted of three counts of murder and seven counts of rape and was given three life sentences, with a 30-year recommendation, and 24 years' imprisonment for each full rape offence in February 2001.[3] He was not later given a whole-life tariff, as the ruling barring politically set tariffs had been made by the time his case was due for review.

A few weeks later Duffy was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for each of seven full rape offences he had confessed to (although he was already serving a full life sentence).[3] Neither man is expected ever to be released from prison.

There is a website in the name of David Mulcahy, copyrighted under his name in 2011, arguing his innocence and hoping for a retrial.[11]

In the media[edit]

In 2001, a television documentary Witness of Truth: The Railway Murders was broadcast.

While not in the public media, Bolland, who had been involved in the case from beginning to end, starting at a junior rank, and played a significant part, wrote a detailed article of his experience in the journal Medicine, Science and the Law in 2002.[3]

In 2015 the television program Born to Kill? made an episode about the case in series 6.

In 2016, a book was written about the case by Simon Farquhar (the son of DS Charles Farquhar), entitled A Dangerous Place: The Story of the Railway Murders. It was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award for Non-Fiction.

Episode 6 of season 2 of the TV series Britain's Most Evil Killers is a documentary about the case, which was broadcast in 2018 on the TV channel Pick.

The Railway Killers, a documentary about the case with dramatisation of the murders and interviews with key figures, was broadcast on Channel 5 in three parts, starting on 16 August 2021.[12] [2]

Further reading[edit]

  • Farquhar, Simon A Dangerous Place: The Story of the Railway Murders. The History Press, 2016. ISBN 9780750965897
  • Adler, Joanna R. Forensic Psychology: Concepts, Debates, and Practice. Willan Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-84392-009-3
  • Harrower, Julie. Crime: Psychology in Practice. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-340-84497-3
  • Herbert, Barry. All Stations to Murder: True Tales of Crime on the Railway. Silver Link Books, 1994. ISBN 978-1-857-94025-1
  • Wilson, Colin and Damon Wilson Written in Blood: A History of Forensic Detection. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-7867-1266-X

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clough, Sue; Alleyne, Richard; Laville, Sandra (3 February 2001). "They were like two bodies with one brain, raping and killing for kicks". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 18 January 2023.
  2. ^ a b Tabahriti, Sam (17 August 2021). "The harrowing true story of The Railway Killers explored in a new Channel 5 series". i News. Retrieved 16 June 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Bolland, Les (2002). "The Railway Murders: R v John Duffy and R v David Mulcahy". Medicine, Science and the Law. SAGE Publications. 42 (1): 2–9. doi:10.1177/002580240204200102. ISSN 0025-8024. PMID 11848136. S2CID 41997005. A very detailed account of the investigation, interviews, and trial, by a police participant in the case.
  4. ^ a b Steven Morris (3 February 2001). "As the Police Closed In, Jailed Accomplice Started Talking". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Shaw, Adrian (7 November 2000). "Night We Killed Girl for Kicks; Court hears of attack on Alison". Daily Record. Retrieved 14 September 2021.
  6. ^ a b "A Dangerous Place: The Story of the Railway Murders by Simon Farquhar"
  7. ^ a b "Murder Victims' Fate 'Revealed'". BBC News. 3 October 2000.
  8. ^ a b John Crace (2 November 2004). "Two Brains". The Guardian.
  9. ^ John Steele (4 November 2000). "Childhood Friends 'Went Hunting for Rape Victims'". The Telegraph.
  10. ^ Honders, Christine (2018). Criminal Profiling: Searching for Suspects. New York: Lucent Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-5345-6272-1. OCLC 1018944371.
  11. ^ David Mulcahy (?) (2011). "David Mulcahy - A case for innocence!". Archived from the original on 15 August 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  12. ^ "The Railway Killers". Channel 5. Archived from the original on 17 August 2021. Retrieved 18 August 2021.

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