Recently there have been a spate of news stories about Robert John Maudsley, 68, serving life in prison in the UK. He killed four men, three of them in prison between 1974 and 1978.
The latest yarn is about how he wants to get out of solitary and join the general population of prisoners in time to enjoy the holidays,.
The stories are whole-cloth, based on a single, unnamed source, dubbed an “insider,” who says that Maudsley was disappointed that he won’t be let out of his solitary cell.
The so-called insider said: “He was told ‘No’ last month [by prison officials, also unnamed] but appealed against the decision and wanted to spend Christmas in the presence of other humans. But he’s just been told ‘No’ for the final time.
“Being alone for that long does something to you. He isn’t OK and they cannot take the risk of what he might do.”
Maudsley has lived in an underground cell at F wing at HMP Wakefield for 37 years.
It comes as no surprise that Maudsley will remain in his spacious-by-prison-standards cell, at 18 by 14 feet, built for him in 1983 for the rest of his life.
There are those who make a separate point: That his solitary – the longest in the UK – is unnecessarily cruel.
A solid steel door opens into a small cage within the cell, encased in thick transparent acrylic panels, with a small slot at the bottom through which officers pass him food and other items.
He gets out for one hour per day, to shower and walk or exercise in a high-walled yard. He is escorted by four or more prison guards whenever he goes out of his cell.
Inside he has a concrete slab for a bed, bolted down sink and toilet, and pressed carboard table and chair. His view of the outdoors is limited to a centimeter of sky he can see through a ventilation hole.
He eats from plastic plates with plastic spoons. He writes letters with a Biro pen because he might use a ballpoint to injure himself or a guard.
To reach his unit, one passes through 17 locked steel doors, it is reported. Maudsley’s only contact with humans are guards and the prison doctor.
He is 6′ 2″, went 12 years without a haircut because no prison barber would do the honors, and writes that he suffers from a speech impediment because of lack of human contact.
“I am left to stagnate; vegetate; and to regress; left to confront my solitary head-on, with people who have eyes but don’t see, and who have ears but don’t hear, who have mouths but don’t speak; consequently I too am left with no voice, nowhere to turn to but inward,” he wrote to the London Times.
He asked for a pet budgie [parakeet]. It was denied…
“Why can’t I have a budgie instead of the flies and cockroaches and spiders I currently have; I promise to love it and not eat it?” he wrote.
“Why can’t I have amazing pictures on my walls in solitary rather than the dirty damp patches I currently have; why can’t I possess or purchase postage stamps so I can maintain contact with my family, friends; people who contact me, etc.? Why can’t I have hand-held electronic games in my cell? Why can’t I have toiletries? With the open toilet that blocks up here, it certainly does smell like a sewer.”
Hard Luck Murderer
One of the problems with his story or stories is that he is often the only source for them and they change over the years. On top of that, there is a growing cadre of do-gooders who want to make a hero of Maudsley – making him into a version of Charles Bronson in Death Wish.
Here is what I have been able, with some corroboration, to gather:
Maudsley was born in Speke, Liverpool in 1953, one of 12 children of coalman George and his wife Jean. At the age of two, he was taken, along with brothers Paul and Kevin and sister Brenda, from his parents’ home and placed in the Nazareth House in Crosby, run by Catholic nuns.
He left there when he was nine and was placed in the care of Eileen Holgate of the Children’s Department of Liverpool City Council. Occasionally he and his siblings were allowed to go back to their parents’ tenement building for “trial periods.”
The father used to beat the boys with fists, a belt, and sometimes, a stick. He was locked in his room and beaten. Within 12 months, Robert was placed with foster parents. He was arrested in Liverpool on theft and burglary charges at 16.
He started roving around the country taking odd jobs. He worked as a gas station attendant and went to the Isle of Mann before going to London. He was admitted to a mental hospital after taking a drug overdose. He attempted suicide on two occasions.
In March 1974, he killed his first victim.
Murder or Justifiable Homicide?
The legend of Robert Maudsley is that he killed John Farrell and other victims because they were pedophiles or wife killers. It does not seem to be true. Maudsley killed, it seems, without control of his actions and only later was the story concocted that these were vigilante killings or justifiable homicides
On websites, attempts are made to make him seem heroic for killing pedophiles. There is even a petition on Change.org titled #freerrobertmaudsle with 200 signatures.
The murder of his first victim has been tailored to make it seem that righteous and oft-abused Maudsley killed only after he learned the man was abusing children.
Here is an example:
“Some people might say that Robert is actually a good guy, and that he is targeting and killing only people that deserve it. His first victim was an alleged child abuser.
“At 21 years old, he was taken by a man named John Farrell. He showed Maudsley photos of him committing sexual abuse upon children, and that is what triggered Maudsley into a rage. He strangled Farrell to death in an instant.”
Or these versions:
Daily Mail: “He killed John Farrell in Wood Green London after he showed Maudsley pictures of children he had sexually abused”.
Daily Express “He was jailed for killing… John Farrell after he’d showed him photos of children he’d abused.”
The Mirror and the The Sun:: “He was working as a rent boy when a builder named John Farrell picked him up and took him back to his North London flat for sex. Maudsley, then 20, flew into a rage when Farrell showed him photos of a young girl he had abused. He slowly garrotted [strangled] Farrell, turning the builder’s face blue.”
Maudsley’s original statement to police on the day of the murder suggests he wanted to kill and did not care who it was. It is not clear that Farrell was a pedophile. Maudsley changed his stories over time.
On Wednesday, March 13, 1974, Maudsley, 21, said he went to the West End to “hurt someone.” He carried a knife in his pocket. He went to the Texas Pancake House, Coventry Street and “I took a knife with me but I could find no one” to hurt.
He went to the Playland Arcade, a meeting place for gay men. “I walked about but could find no one to hurt,” Maudsley said.
He ran into some men, one of whom was John Farrell. He met him before, likely as a client and serviced him several times two or three years before when Farrell lived in Haringey.
Farrell was in his 30s and with a young man who was 18. Seeing Maudsley was available, Farrell told the teen to go, a fatal mistake.
Farrell told Maudsley he planned to take the teenager home until he saw Maudsley and, as Maudsley writes, “He fancied me as he liked what I had done.”
The two men went for a drink in the White Bear Inn, Piccadilly, then took the Underground to Wood Green. They walked to Farrell’s house. Farrell told Maudsley to wait outside while he went in to make sure the landlord did not see him. After five minutes he called him and they went to the second room on the right, down the corridor. Farrell told him to talk quietly as the landlord was watching television in the next room.
Farrell made tea and from the bottom drawer of the dressing table next to the bed, he gave Maudsley some photo magazines, some of girls and one of men.
Maudsley wrote, “While he was making the tea and out of the room I took my knife out of the inside top pocket of my jacket and put it on the floor under the bed.
“After we had the tea and talked we went to bed. Johnnie got into the bed and went to the side nearest the wall and I got in the open side to be near the knife. We started to kiss and masturbate each other and I thought then of killing him but I went on masturbating him thinking that the feeling might go and that I might not feel like killing him in the morning. After we finished kissing and masturbating we both tried to sleep but we were both restless and started to whisper to each other. Then we went to sleep but I still had the feeling I wanted to hurt him.
“When we woke up I made a cup of tea that was about 8:10 AM or sometime about then. I still had the same feeling. I put the cups on the dressing table and Johnnie was still in bed. While I was having my cup of tea I bent down and felt the knife was still under the bed. We each had two cups of tea and after we had drunk them I put the cups by the fire and had a couple of cigarettes and then decided to go back to bed. My feeling was getting worse and we started kissing and masturbating but I could not get an erection but Johnnie could so I masturbated him. When I finished I told Johnnie to go back to sleep. I got out of bed and sat by his gas fire.
“At about a quarter to ten Johnnie woke up and he got dressed in a vest, pants, trousers and socks and he asked me to go for the papers and he went with me to the front door of the house to show me where to go and that was across the green by Wood Green main line station.
“I got papers, the Woodgreen Herald or Gazette and the Daily Mirror. When I got back Johnnie was still up. He let me in and we went back to his room and he asked me if I wanted breakfast and I said that I did. He started to make the breakfast and while he was doing this I put the knife from under the bed into my coat pocket. Breakfast and tea was made in about ten minutes and we sat down and ate it. I still had the same feeling after breakfast.
“John spoke to me about all the boys he brought back to the flat. He asked me if I wanted to see some photographs I said ‘Yes’ and he took a suitcase from the table near to the chest of drawers by the door, went across to the bed and started to look through the contents. He was sitting on the bed three-quarters facing me going through the suitcase.
“All of a sudden the feeling came on. I took the knife from my pocket in my right hand, I rushed across the room and stabbed him in the chest, he fell back on the bed and got up and said something like I’ve got to get out. The blood spurted out as soon as I stabbed him. He made a mad rush for the door and fell over a chair; it was the big armchair I had been sitting in. His head must have hit the door, his head was down by the door, and I stabbed him in the back or side quite a few times. I told him that I was sorry but I had to do it. When I said this I could see his face. He must have fallen back but I could have pulled him back to get out of the door…
“I put my hand into his back pocket and took out a blue plastic thing that had £5 in it and that is all I wanted. I could have robbed the house but all I wanted to do was kill someone. I put the knife in the sheath and went upstairs to the bathroom to wash myself. All I remember about John is seeing his face and saying I am sorry. When I washed myself in the bathroom I left the blue plastic folder in the bathroom. I can remember drying myself and there was blood there but mostly on my clothes.”
According to Maudsley, Farrell bragged about “boys” he brought back to the flat. The use of the word “boys” was not clarified. Maudsley referred to the 18 year old as, “he’s only a boy about 18.”.
Maudsley said nothing about children.
Reportedly, court records say Maudsley had another motive: He was working as a male prostitute and he killed Farrell in order to rob him and buy drugs. Maudsley admitted he took £5 pounds from the deceased man.
After the murder, he went to his flat by Piccadilly Line and changed from his bloody suit. He thought about killing another man, someone he called his “husband,” but a cup of coffee cooled him to the idea and he went to the London Pavilion, had something to eat, got the train to Wood Green, phoned police, and they came and arrested him. Then he made his statement.
He was convicted of manslaughter and sent to Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital. Security was not high enough, however.
In September 1976, Maudsley and fellow Broadmoor patient, David Francis seized an inmate and held him hostage for hours, threatening to gouge out his eyes. Eight months later it was Francis’ turn. This time Maudsley partnered with David Cheeseman.
Cheeseman also liked to partner with friends to wreak havoc; a few years earlier he and Roy Speake teied to kill a male nurse at Rampton Hospital by beating him over the head with an iron bar.
On February 26, 1977 some men were allowed out of their locked rooms for a game of football. Maudsley and Francis played while Cheeseman watched, the story goes. After the game, Cheeseman asked a male nurse to open the boot room and three of them went inside. The nurse went to follow but Maudsley pushed the door shut and Cheeseman barricaded the door with a foot locker.
The nurse saw Francis with hands tied, being kicked in the stomach by Maudsley. Staff listened as Francis screamed. The two men tortured Francis for hours, then Maudsley garrotted Francis.
The legend goes that Maudsley killed Francis because he was a pedophile, but I could find no independent verification of Francis’ record. If Muadsley hated Francis for pedophilia, he had earlier opportunities to dispatch him. Instead, he partnered with him to torture another prisoner.
Maudsley was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life imprisonment. Upon being sentenced, the legend goes he told the judge that he would kill again if sent back to Broadmoor.
He was sent to Wakefield Prison. It was not a good move.
Two More Killings
In July 1978, four months after being sent to Wakefield, Maudsley invited Salney Darwood, 46, a convict who was teaching him French, to his cell, where he strangled and stabbed him. The legend goes Darwood had been convicted of killing his wife, and that the righteous Maudsley hated violence against women and children.
I could find no proof that Darwood was convicted for wife killing. His only mentions online I could find are in connection to Maudsley.
“During the course of the struggle, Maudsley took a length of cord from his pocket and he garrotted this man by tying a ligature tightly round his neck,” Barry Mortimer, QC, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court during the murder trial in 1979. “He then put the body under the bed, washed his hands of blood, put the knife back into his waistband and went out on exercise as if nothing had happened.”
He was in a murderous mood. He attempted to lure other prisoners to his cell, but they wisely refused. Maudsley left his cell and saw Bill Roberts, 55, [according to legend another pedophile] cornered him and hacked at Roberts’ skull with a makeshift dagger then struck his head repeatedly against the wall.
“He caused some fearful violence to the side of his head, probably by banging his head against the wall,” Mortimer said during the murder trial.’
The legend of Maudsley is that after killing the two men, he went to the prison office on his floor and told the officer there that “roll call will be two short.”
Maybe He Can’t Be With Other Prisoners
In 1983, prison officials finally figured out Maudsley was too dangerous for general population, so they built a two-cell unit in the basement of Wakefield Prison and that’s where he has been ever since.
In March 2000, Maudsley pleaded for terms of his solitary confinement to be relaxed, or be allowed to take his life via cyanide capsule.
In letters to The London Times, Maudsley said, ‘As a consequence of my current treatment and confinement, I feel that all I have to look forward to is indeed psychological breakdown, mental illness and probable suicide…
” Why can’t I have a television in my cell to see the world and learn? Why can’t I have any music tapes and listen to beautiful classical music?
“If the Prison Service says no then I ask for a simple cyanide capsule which I shall willingly take and the problem of Robert John Maudsley can easily and swiftly be resolved.”
But they did not give him the cyanide 20 years ago, and they are not going to let him out to enjoy new friends among the general population of prisoners this holiday season.
Back in the day, when he was in general population, he had a high turnover in friends. One day Maudsley would meet a man and then never see him again.
The story writers and documentary makers like to tell stories glamorizing his murders. They are likely false.
“They called him ‘Blue’ because that was the color the face of his first victim had turned as he slowly strangled him.”
But he did not strangle John Farrell, he stabbed him.
“Then he became known as ‘Spoons’ after killing again and leaving the body with a spoon sticking out of the skull and part of the brain missing.”
There is no corroboration for this story anywhere I could find. Other reports say, without evidence, that he ate the brains of his victims. This was later discredited.
“His third and fourth victims died on the same afternoon and soon afterward Robert Maudsley acquired the nickname that has stuck: Hannibal the Cannibal.”
There may be some truth to the fact that Thomas Harris’ fictional character, Hannibal Lector, was inspired in part by Maudsley or rather by the legend of him. But Maudsley’s vigilante-like reputation is false. It’s fiction. And should be debunked and replaced by the truth – the man is a psychopath who killed without any known motive other than he wanted to kill.
There may be a better way than the way he is being confined. He could be permitted to have human contact, perhaps by Zoom, or telephone. Maybe he could enjoy entertainment via TV, videos or Apple music.
Even a live bird might not be implausible. It is not as if every prisoner need get it. After 37 years, the prison could set a standard, like some workers in time earn a gold watch, a solitary prisoner might earn a budgie and bird seed.
A talking bird seems best, for he could speak and be spoken to.
The writers of stories about him being denied release into general population write to amuse and please, knowing that they are just riling up readers, looking for an excuse to talk about murder, and mayhem, from a great guy it’s fun to tell stories about for after all he only killed pedophiles and wife-murderers, but, still, even if one was not a pedo or a spouse killer, no one will want to bunk with him, or dine.
Some might even want to make a name for themselves by stabbing, beating or better yet garroting him and be bogus vigilantes themselves