Lost in the Moors

The Moor Murders are once again making headlines in British media.

UK landscape_311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
UK landscape_311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Anyone who has lived in Britain will be familiar with the Moors Murders.  These grizzly killings of young boys and girls still cast a shadow over the country five decades later.
The murders were once again in the British news this week, with reports that the location of the last undiscovered body, belonging to 12 year old Keith Bennett, may have been revealed.  Ian Brady, 74, who has spent his life behind bars, has repeatedly refused to let authorities, or Keith’s grieving mother, know where the young boy’s remains were buried.
Brady and his girlfriend, Myra Hindley, who died in prison in 2002, killed five young children in the 1960s, sexually torturing them, before hiding their small bodies on the desolate Saddleworth Moor.  Their victims also included Pauline Reade, 16, John Kilbride, 12, Lesley Ann Downey,10 and Edward Evans, 17.
Over the years, Brady has been accused of manipulating the police and tormenting his victims’ relatives.  Filmmakers working on a documentary recently interviewed Brady’s mental health advocate, Jackie Powell.  Powell revealed that she had received a letter from Brady containing the location of Keith’s body, with instructions that it be released to the boy’s mother, Winnie Johnson, upon his death.  The filmmakers passed this information on to the cold case unit of the Greater Manchester Police, who conducted a surprise raid on the Powell home.
Police have confirmed that Brady told Powell the location of Keith’s body.  Powell, who has worked with Brady for the past 15 years, was promptly arrested.
In a further tragedy that culminated a life torn apart of pain and loss, Johnson died this week of cancer before she was informed of these developments.  She had repeated asked for Brady to reveal the location of her son’s grave, but he has steadfastly refused..
After 47 years, Johnson went to her grave without being able to give Keith’s remains the dignity that they deserve.
In a election year, we are inclined to examine the ever-growing lists of concerns and issues we face under the rubrics provided by political parties and single-issue agitators.  The arguments for and against a rise in the tax rates, or liberalization of regulatory oversight, or a realignment of foreign policies can be compelling, in part because the outcome of each argument can influence millions of lives, directly or indirectly.
Unfortunately, though, there are only political solutions to political problems.
The overwhelming majority of the problems we face in life are not political, but moral, economic, emotional, philosophic or familial.  The scope of politics is not unlimited.  Much of our lives remain outside the influence of decisions from national or local government.
This week has been full of newsworthy incidents around the globe, each raising important questions about how the law impacts political discourse, and vice versa.
In Britain, questions concerning Julian Assange’s whistleblower activities with Wikilieaks were again on the front page, as he finally received asylum from Ecuador after hiding himself away in their London embassy for the past two months.  Australian national Assange was being deported to Sweden where he faces trial for rape.  Despite a passionate speech to his supporters from the embassy’s balcony, Assange is still effectively trapped, since British authorities have surrounded the building to block his departure.
In Russia, members of the feminist punk-rock band Pussy Riot were convicted of hooliganism for their mini-concert in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral.  Their song included explicit criticisms of President Vladimir Putin.  The court determined that the three women demonstrated a clear disrespect for society and they were sentenced to two years in prison.  Their supporters chanted “Russia without Putin,” while Orthodox church members voiced their disapproval of the band and their antics.
In China, Gu Kailai, wife of former high-ranking Communist Party official Bo Xilai, was convicted of the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.  Gu received a suspended death sentence, while her husband remains in custody pending investigations into his business affairs.  The case has regularly captured popular Chinese attention, as it opened a window on the corruption and criminality within the highest ranks of the ruling elite.
By comparison, the decades-old story of the Moor Murders, with its cruel twists and turns, may seem parochial.
However, the casual violence that Brady and Hindley inflicted on their victims still staggers the mind.  Even to this day, we are forced to wrestle with the effects of their brutal killings.  The human capacity for cruelty is extensive.  Despite the best intentions of society, there are individuals who act on dark impulses and inflict pain on those around them.
Brady killed his victims, recording their desperation and fear for posterity, as part of an existential exercise.  The tape transcripts still make for chilling reading.  Whether he was born with the drive to torture and kill, or it developed within him during his early life, cannot be fully answered.
Winnie Johnson died this week having failed in her quest to find her son’s remains, despite the unflagging determination that was a direct byproduct of her staggering grief.
Perhaps in the coming days Johnson and her son can be reunited in death, in a way that they could never achieve in life.  Although only a small justice in the grand scheme of events and ideals, both she and her son deserve at least this much.
The writer is a commentator who divides his time between the United Kingdom and Southern California. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, BBC and Sky News, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Economist.