As an incurably curious individual, I’ll openly admit that I’ve always found crime and criminal psychology, especially those of a more extreme nature, very interesting. Over the years I’ve mostly read about serial killers and their monstrous crimes from the last century, and I’m currently writing a series of posts about some of the worst cases I’ve come across. If that’s your kinda thing then be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss them. For now though, let’s head to the Regent’s Canal.
You may already know of the Regent’s Canal or perhaps even live near it, as it stretches 8.6 miles from Paddington, West London to Limehouse, East London. It was established in the early 19th century, which makes it relatively new given how old London is, and has been in continuous use by the public ever since. The canal has also become a bit of a hotspot for dumping corpses.
26 MARCH & 3 APRIL 1996
CHRISTOPHER & ANTHONY LANGFORD
On 26th March 1996, the fractured body of Christopher Langford was found floating in the canal by a boat owner. Initially, his injuries were thought to have been caused by a fall before he drowned, leading investigators to believe his death was accidental. That is, until eight days later, when another body was found wrapped in a blue blanket just 45 metres away. This victim turned out to be Anthony Langford, Christopher’s identical twin brother. Anthony had several gashes to his head, and fractures to his skull, jaw and rib which were caused by a heavy, blunt object; unlike his brother, Anthony had clearly died as a result of his wounds.
On 8th April 1996, a few days after Anthony’s body was found, a Mr. Lawrence Walsh went to Islington Police Station and told officers that his drinking buddy, David Dillon, of Copenhagen Street, Islington, had confided that “he had turned the twins over and dumped them in the canal.” Walsh, Dillon and the twins all knew each other as the four of them sometimes drank together. Police had already visited Dillon at his home on 1st March 1996, a month before the twins were found, as they’d received an anonymous note three days before that claimed the twins were killed there. Despite obvious signs of redecorating work, the police had left after Dillon satisfied their inquiries.
After Walsh told the police about Dillon on 8th April, they went back to investigate his flat where forensics found a small amount of blood and hair belonging to one of the twins. Police discovered that Dillon had clubbed the twins to death and then used a shopping trolley to transport their bodies to the Regent’s Canal where he dumped them. Dillon was arrested and charged with their murder, and received two life sentences. The attack was apparently motiveless.
19 FEBRUARY 2001
On 19th February 2001, a couple of boys who were out fishing in the Regent’s Canal behind King’s Cross spotted some bags in the water. They pulled one out and found bricks and something wrapped in bin bags; they were the butchered remains of Paula Fields, who had been missing for two months. Her body had been hacked into ten separate pieces – consisting of two arms, two legs and a torso – and stored in six different bags. However, her head, hands and feet were never found.
When Paula’s remains were discovered, police were unable to identify her due to the absence of personal items and identifying body parts, and after two months in the water, any DNA evidence had long washed away. The condition in which Paula was found also meant that it wasn’t possible to determine her exact cause of death, however, police did find that a carcass saw had been used to cut through Paula’s wrists, elbows, knees, ankles and neck, before the pieces were dumped in the Regent’s Canal.
It looked like neither Paula’s remains or her killer would ever be identified, until over six years later. In June 2007, with the advancement of gene technology, police in the Netherlands were able to create a full DNA profile of an unidentified woman whose naked, folded body was found in a canal in Rotterdam back in May 1990. Like Paula, this victim’s head, hands and feet had also been sawn off before disposal, leaving police unable to identify her. The two victims were matched in November 2007, and a joint task force of British and Dutch police worked together to identify the bodies as those of Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead, an American expat. Police were also able to identify their killer: John Sweeney.
Sweeney, who lived under numerous aliases, was a deeply disturbed and violent individual who hated women with a passion. Not only was he an alcohol and drug addict, he also had severe mental health problems (made worse by his substance abuse) and a multinational criminal history that spanned several decades and involved multiple women. It is believed that he killed Paula after she realised his true identity.
When Sweeney was convicted of murdering Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead on 4th April 2011, he was already serving time for the attempted murder of an ex-girlfriend. He received a whole-life order for the murders, meaning he'll never be released from prison.
6 MARCH 2012
On 6th March 2012, a woman navigating her narrowboat through a lock in the Regent’s Canal next to Broadway Market, Hackney made a gruesome discovery. As the lock was filling up, her boat hit a heavy object in the water; upon looking over the side, she saw an open suitcase with a headless torso floating on it.
Dental records and distinctive tattoos allowed the police to identify the torso as that of Gemma McCluskie, who was previously an actress on Eastenders in the role of Kerry Skinner (2000 – 2001.) Gemma had been missing since 1st March, despite the efforts of police and her local community to find her. Once her torso was found, other body parts (including an arm and a pair of legs) were also later retrieved within the same area.
Gemma’s killer hadn't been meticulous in the ways they covered up the crime, and this was, of course, advantageous to investigators. CCTV footage near her Bethnal Green home showed a man lugging a heavy suitcase into a mini cab, and later, CCTV near the canal caught the same man with the suitcase heading to the canal, close to where Gemma’s torso was found. When investigators questioned the cab driver, he said that the man with the suitcase claimed there was a sound system in it.
The last person to see Gemma was her brother, Tony McCluskie, who lived with her and had first reported her missing. A few months after the discovery of her remains, on 10th September 2012, a crucial piece of evidence emerged; while cleaning part of the canal, some people had fished out a plastic bag less than a mile from where Gemma’s torso was found. Inside was a skull, which was soon identified as Gemma’s. Her cause of death could finally be determined: blunt force trauma to her head.
Although Gemma’s brother Tony started out as a witness, he later became the prime suspect, especially since he was being uncooperative as the case progressed. Investigators spoke to several people who knew the siblings and described how strained and problematic their relationship was, largely because of Tony’s heavy use of weed. Despite Tony’s attempts to throw off investigators, it was determined that Gemma had come home on 1st March and got into another argument with Tony, as he’d left taps on in the bathroom causing water to overflow. She had lost patience with him and asked him to leave, which Tony responded to by attacking her with a blunt instrument, killing her. He then spent three hours mutilating her body before leaving to dispose of it.
Tony's father and brother’s identification of him in the CCTV footage, combined with the discovery of Gemma’s skull, and the blood recovered from her home and the boot of the mini cab, gave investigators enough reason to charge him with her murder. He was jailed for a minimum of 20 years.
The Langford twins, Paula Fields and Gemma McCluskie are just a few people among several who’ve been discovered in the Regent’s Canal. There are more recent cases and there are older cases, with vague references to bodies being found in the canal going as far back as the 19th century. But the canal has existed for over 200 years, so we can really only imagine what (or who) else lies beneath its waters.