Chilling letter could finally prove husband’s innocence – 30 years after his wife’s murder
OLD and frail, 86-year-old Peter Heron has just one wish left in life – to finally end the suspicion that he is a killer.
For the past 30 years the story that he murdered his second wife has hung over him like a permanent black cloud.
But today The Sun can reveal exclusive chilling evidence about the man who could be the real killer of 44-year-old Ann Heron — whose throat was cut as she sunbathed in her garden on the hottest day of 1990.
Our investigations have linked the unsolved murder to escaped con Michael Benson, who at the time was on the run after serving nearly 20 years for attempted murder.
Someone claiming to be “The Killer” sent sick, taunting letters to police, Ann’s family and a local paper.
The Sun has now shown one letter to Benson’s ex-wife.
Upon reading it, the colour drained from her face and she said: “One hundred per cent that’s Michael’s handwriting.”
Ruth Bennett, who married Benson in 1989 not knowing he had absconded from jail, said: “I’d recognise it anywhere and I’d swear on the Bible that he wrote it. I’m convinced he’s a killer.”
The letter writer boasted about how much he had enjoyed killing Ann and how he, “Loved hurting people, physically and mentally”.
In a distinctive style, the writer also bragged: “I don’t owe anyone an apology.”
In 2016, more than a quarter of a century after Ann’s murder, criminologist Jen Jarvie began re-examining the brutal slaying on behalf of the victim’s family.
When she took the case — for which she did not want payment — Jen warned Peter: “If I find you’ve done it, I won’t hesitate to shop you.”
Five years on, she is convinced Peter is innocent and that police became “unfairly fixated” on Ann’s husband as their only suspect.
Peter’s nightmare began on August 3, 1990, when he arrived home after work to find Ann’s half-naked body face-down in their living room.
Her throat had been slashed repeatedly after she had been in her garden sunbathing and she was left dying in a large pool of blood as the murderer fled. Her bikini bottoms had been removed.
The family’s bearded collie dog had slept through the attack, leading detectives to assume Ann, a former care home worker, knew her killer.
Peter, a haulage firm operations manager, quickly became the prime suspect, despite a “cast-iron” alibi.
Colleagues confirmed he was at work a mile away from the family home at the time his wife was being attacked.
Witnesses reported seeing a tanned man in a blue Ford car near the Herons’ large white detached house in the upmarket village of Middleton St George, on the outskirts of Darlington, Co Durham, that afternoon when the temperature reached 97F (36C).
A couple of minutes after 5pm — the time investigators calculated Ann was killed — a blue Ford screamed out of the gravel drive, almost hitting a passing pick-up truck, and roared off at high speed.
The pick-up driver was forced to swerve off the road, and in the panic, neither he nor his passenger got the number plate.
The Ford, driven by a dark-haired man who looked to be in his late thirties — a good 20 years younger than Peter Heron, who was in his mid-50s — veered recklessly across two lanes of the A67, narrowly avoiding a taxi.
Despite cops tracking down the owners of 3,500 blue Fords, the car was never found.
In the immediate days after the murder, suspicion began to swirl around Peter after police discovered that for ten months he had been cheating on Ann with a 32-year-old married barmaid at his golf club.
Peter says: “I’ve endured three decades of whispering.
“A lot of people around here thought I’d killed my wife but nobody was brave enough to say it to my face. I am innocent and I pray that before I die it can be proved I am not a killer.”
WHIFF OF SUSPICION
By 2005 Ann’s slaughter was the only unsolved murder case on Durham police force’s books.
So cold case detectives looked again at the evidence, using new DNA techniques — and charged Peter with murdering his wife.
But the case against him collapsed before trial because of a lack of evidence.
However, the whiff of suspicion refused to go away.
After her investigation, Jen, an award-winning university lecturer in police procedure, said: “Peter Heron was arrested in 2005 because the police found evidence of his DNA on her body. Of course they did, Ann was his wife.
“Also, cast-iron alibis prove it could not have been him. Peter was in a meeting in Darlington and then went back to the hauliers where he worked.
"He was wearing the same beige trousers and white shirt he’d had on all day.
"There’s no way he could have called in at home to murder Ann and arrived spotless at the haulage depot. He’d have been covered in her blood.
“The affair with the barmaid was never an issue, it was just a stupid thing he did.
"Peter may not have been a good husband but that doesn’t make him a killer.”
At the time of the murder Peter was no longer seeing the barmaid.
During her investigation, Jen discovered that career criminal Benson, serving life for putting a shotgun to a business partner’s head, had absconded while on day release from prison in May 1989 to see his lawyer.
While on the run, Benson — described by a prison doctor as “manipulative and psychopathic” and who had robbery at knifepoint on his record — was selling burglar alarms and calling himself Michael Johnstone.
One customer, divorced single mum Ruth, fell in love with Benson, who claimed he was a millionaire and had been in the SAS.
They married on Ruth’s birthday in September 1989. Benson brazenly claimed on their marriage certificate that he was a “serious crime prevention officer”.
The couple lived in Ruth’s home near Southampton, but after eight months he vanished, taking his wife’s electric blue Ford Orion car and £32,000 from a fraudulent loan he had taken out on her home.
In October 1990, two months after Ann’s murder, Durham detectives went on BBC TV show Crimewatch to say they were looking for a dark-haired, suntanned man driving a blue Ford.
Jen says: “The following month, November 1990, Hampshire police appealed on Crimewatch for help finding Michael Benson, a dark-haired, violent prisoner who had absconded with a blue car.
“It’s extraordinary that neither Durham nor Hampshire police have put the two together before.”
Benson was originally from Yorkshire and Jen believes it is likely he fled north after leaving Ruth.
On July 18, 1990, two weeks before Ann was murdered, two women were attacked on a footpath beside the River Wear in Durham by a man who grabbed them and threatened violence with a knife.
He ran off when they gave him £35 cash.
An artist’s impression of their dark-haired attacker looks like Benson’s photo shown on Crimewatch.
Jen also believes Benson wrote the badly-spelled letters sent from “The Killer” in 1994, which were post-marked Darlington.
Police were convinced they were looking for someone local but Jen says: “These letters were clearly not written by someone from Darlington.
“No one in the town refers to the police station as ‘Parkgate’, although that’s where it stood.
“Interestingly, Park Gate in Hampshire is where Benson lived.
“The writer used a capital B when he wrote ‘bastards’, a letter Benson would have been used to writing as a capital because of his name.
“The letters contained vivid and compelling information only the killer would know.
“Benson is a viable alternative who needs to be looked into.
“When you put together the circumstantial evidence, he’s more of a person of interest than Peter Heron ever was.”
After absconding from Leyhill prison, Gloucs, in 1989, Benson stayed on the run for ten years before he was caught in the Scottish village Tyninghame, near Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Records are unclear on how long he was kept in Scotland but he was never returned to an English prison and died, aged 60, of natural causes on New Year’s Day 2011 at his home in Pudsey, West Yorks.
A spokesman for Durham Police said: “While there is no current investigation into Ann Heron’s murder, the case will never be closed.
"Any new information which comes to light will be fully considered and the necessary action taken.”
The Heron family’s lawyers are this week expected to lodge an official complaint with the Independent Office for Police Conduct about the investigation and are demanding an apology for Peter.
Benson’s shocked ex-wife Ruth, now remarried and living in East Anglia, did not even know her former husband was dead.
The 63-year-old told The Sun: “For 30 years I have lived in fear of him turning up here.
“He was controlling and even kept a sawn-off shotgun in the back of my car. He wasn’t afraid to use it.”
Source: The Sun