Doodles, Drolplets, and Cardigan Sweaters

Graham Backhouse

When Graham Backhouse’s father died in 1979 and left him Widden Hill, a sheep farm in the English village of Horton, Backhouse left his hairdresser’s career behind to become a gentleman farmer. However, Backhouse might have been a decent stylist, but he was an unsuccessful farmer.
 
By 1984 Backhouse found himself heavily in debt to the tune of £70,000 (very roughly $150,000 in 2015 dollars) with a wife of 10 years who he didn’t care much about but who happened to be insured for £100,000.
 
To Backhouse the solution to his problem was obvious.
 
Backhouse was an admitted womanizer whose affairs offended many residents of the insulated Cotswold village; this enmity would provide him with a means to deflect suspicion away from himself.
 
Backhouse began laying the groundwork for his wife Margaret’s murder in the spring of 1984, calling police to report that he had been the victim of threatening phone calls and notes. In late March, one of his farm hands discovered a severed sheep’s head impaled on a post outside the Backhouse property. Attached to the fence post was a note reading “You next.”
 
On the morning of April 9, 1984, Margaret Backhouse was heading into town and Graham kindly offered her the use of his station wagon. The moment she turned the key, the car was engulfed in flames. Margaret survived but was severely injured by a pipe bomb that contained some 4,500 shotgun pellets — the equivalent of 10 to 12 shells. The booby trap was wired to the car’s fuse box and heater.
 
“The heater had been on full so that, in fact, as soon as one turned on the ignition to the position before it started the engine, that would have sent the current through…and ‘bang’,” said James Black, QC, a prosecutor for the Crown.
 
The same day the bomb went off, a letter arrived at the house: “Came tyce last week but the pigs were about see you soon,” it read.
 
Police were now convinced that Backhouse was the target of a murder plot and placed him under 24-hour guard. Cooperating with the police investigation into the bombing, Backhouse admitted that he had seduced several wives in Horton, which meant there were more than a few cuckolds in the village who had a reason to want Backhouse dead.
 
However, the evidence of Backhouse’s womanizing was flimsy. Two of the women who he claimed to have been involved with strongly denied ever having been intimate with him. In a twist that sounds like it comes straight out of Greek mythology, one of Backhouse’s claimed conquests was a shepherdess who he alleged he had deflowered.
 
“I was the first man to have sex with her and we have a certain affection with each other because of this,” Backhouse bluntly told police.
 
The young lady adamantly rejected the notion that Backhouse had taken her virginity — or that they had sex at all.
 
Backhouse mentioned his 63-year-old neighbor Colyn Bedale-Taylor, with whom he had been feuding over property lines, as another possible suspect.
 
As the evidence began to mount against him as the most likely suspect in the bombing, Backhouse was forced to put the second part of his plot into action earlier than he planned. The bomb was meant to have killed Margaret, and so Backhouse intended to have the “murderer” try another attempt on his life. The plan called for Backhouse to instead kill his assailant in self-defense.
 
About two weeks after the car bomb, Backhouse asked to end the police surveillance and an alarm system that linked the Backhouse farm to the local police station was installed in the house.
 
It was the last day of April when the alarm sounded at 8:20 p.m. Moments later, someone at the Backhouse home dialed 999 (the British equivalent of 911).
 
Police arrived at the Backhouse home to find Graham Backhouse on the floor of the farmhouse awash in blood. He had been slashed by a utility knife across his face and chest. A shotgun lay next to him.
 
At the foot of a set of stairs was the body of Colyn Bedale-Taylor. He had been killed with a point-blank blast to the chest. In Bedale-Taylor’s right hand was a utility knife, but unfortunately, before crime scene analysts arrived, a young police officer removed it.
 
At the hospital, Backhouse told authorities that Bedale-Taylor had come to his home and accused him of having something to do with the accidental death of Bedale-Taylor’s son, Digby, who had died in a car crash.
 
“He said that God had sent him and I sort of laughed,” Backhouse told police. “He said it was blasphemy to laugh at God. I was annoyed at this and told him to piss off.”
 
Backhouse then said that Bedale-Taylor — whose depression over his son’s death had brought him to the attention of police before — accused him of laughing about the tragedy.
 
“Did you set that bomb in the car?” Backhouse said he asked his guest. “He said yes, and that he would not fail again and he attacked me with the knife.”
 
The story appeared to explain the recent events. However, the Backhouse case would become almost like a final exam at forensic school with clues lying around just waiting to be found.
 
Police first looked at the blood spatters from where Backhouse said Bedale-Taylor slashed him with the utility blade. The droplets were round.
 
“When blood drips, splashes, or is cast off an object, the shape of the blood spot varies depending on the distance it travels, the angle at which it strikes the object, the speed it was traveling, and the features of the surface it strikes,” write forensic pathologists Randy Hazlick and Michael Graham in Forensic Pathology in Criminal Cases. “Blood that drips straight down is often circular…The pattern of a blood stain may suggest certain types of weapons and be useful in crime-scene reconstruction/reenactment.”
 
If there had been the violent struggle that Backhouse described to police, the blood would have had a more oblique, ovoid shape, somewhat resembling an exclamation point, with a main spatter and a “satellite” spatter nearby. It appears that Backhouse was standing still when he was slashed.
 
“The wounds could have been caused by someone else, but Backhouse would have had to stand still there doing nothing while his attacker slashed him from shoulder to hip,” testified Crown pathologist Dr. William Kennard.
 
The evidence was further confused by the fact that some of the chairs in the kitchen where the struggle allegedly took place had Backhouse’s blood on them (as if he had arranged them after the killing), while the shotgun the farmer used to defend himself had no blood on it.
 
In addition, despite Backhouse’s serious injuries, there was no trail of blood leading from Bedale-Taylor’s body to where Backhouse was found. In other words, as he moved away from Bedale-Taylor’s corpse, Backhouse was not bleeding.
 
Other forensic scientists would also weigh in against Backhouse. The “You next” note contained the the impression of a doodle that matched a doodle found on a pad in the Backhouse home. In the glue of the envelope containing the “came tyce” letter, criminalists found a wool thread. The thread was matched to a sweater in Backhouse’s home.
 
The knife that was used to cut Backhouse was scratched with the letters CBT in an attempt to further implicate Bedale-Taylor. However, Colyn Bedale-Taylor was a craftsman and owned approximately 500 tools, investigators learned. None of them was inscribed with his initials.
 
The 44-year-old Backhouse was arrested for murder and attempted murder on May 13, 1984. He was convicted of both crimes shortly after and given two life terms.
 
“You are a devious and wicked man,” the judge said in sentencing Backhouse. “The enormity of the crime that you have committed is very grave.”
 
In June 1994, while playing cricket at Grendon Underwood Prison near Aylesbury, England, Graham Backhouse suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 53 years old.
 
Shortly after his death it was revealed that he was engaged to marry Rosemary Aberdour, a bunco artist who served two years in prison for stealing nearly £3 million from the National Hospital for Neurology development foundation while posing as a titled aristocrat.
 
Margaret Backhouse died in her sleep in March 1995. She was 48. The Backhouses left two teen children behind.