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Crime Killed

The unsolved murder of a Scottish mum-of-three which left police baffled

'Why would anyone want to kill her?’


  • Jun 24 2024
  • 72
  • 7067 Views
The unsolved murder of a Scottish mum-of-three which left police baffled
The unsolved murder of a Scottish mum-of-three which left police baffled

The air was hot on August 3, 1990.

Britain was experiencing a heatwave like no other, with the heat causing wildfires and transport chaos up and down the country.

Ann Heron, originally from Glasgow, had taken advantage of the unseasonably warm summer at her home in the village of Middleton St George, County Durham. Wearing a bikini, the 44-year-old turned on her portable radio and stretched out on the grass. Her loyal dog, a collie called Heidi, lounged beside her.

Ann’s £300,000 home – the ‘conspicuous’ Aeolian House just off the A67 – was shared with her husband Peter Heron, who worked as a company director of a nearby haulage firm. 

Ann, a part-time care worker, was said to have been fearful of being home alone. She missed her adult children Ralph, Ann Marie and Michael from her previous marriage to a Scottish policeman. All three lived and worked hundreds of miles away in the Central Belt of Scotland.

However, on August 3, 1990, with the sun shining down, Ann felt happy and relaxed in her Durham village. She was described as ‘cheery’ by a friend who called for a chat at 2.30pm. An hour later, a pal on a bus spotted Ann sunbathing in her home’s front garden. It was to be the last confirmed sighting of the mum-of-three alive.

When husband Peter, 55, arrived home from work at 6pm, he discovered the front door open and his wife’s body lying in a pool of blood in their living room. She had four stab wounds to the neck and her bikini bottoms had been removed, suggesting there had been a sexual attack. The radio was still playing and Heidi the dog remained outside.

‘It’s impossible to describe how I felt seeing her [Ann] there dead,’ Peter would later tell a press conference. ‘We were only married for four years and they were the best years of my life. She always greeted me when I got home from work. She was the most placid and loveable person you could meet. Why would anyone want to kill her?’

At the time of the crime, police said there were no signs of a struggle inside or outside Ann and Peter’s house. The mum-of-three knew her killer, they suggested. This theory was supported by the fact Heidi was not heard barking, nor did she seem distressed.

In the first year of the investigation, detectives took 4,040 statements and did 4,061 interviews. Yet despite the various puzzle pieces, no murder weapon was ever found, nor the killer ever identified. In 1995, five years after the murder, the Sunday People magazine described the senseless killing as ‘the ultimate motiveless crime.’ 

Keith Readman, the detective superintendent who led the inquiry for five years, later stated: ‘Ann had no enemies. She kept to herself and there was no evidence of her having an affair or of any suspicious behaviour near the house before her death.’

In a strange twist, the Northern Echo, the paper that serves the Darlington area, received strange hand-written letters pertaining to the case.

One read: ‘Hello editor, it’s me… Ann Heron’s killer!’ and ended with: ‘Your readers will have plenty to talk about. Signed The Killer.’ Another stated: ‘I love hurting people physically and mentally… I don’t owe anyone any apologies.’ The letters were all locally postmarked.

At the time of Ann’s death, the whereabouts of her husband, Peter, came under scrutiny by the police, press and public. Only 13% of women murdered in England and Wales in 1988 were killed by strangers, most were victims of domestic abuse situations.

Peter had told detectives he had left a meeting at Cleveland Bridge at 4pm and drove – in his blue Mercedes – back to his office through the village of Croft-on-Tees and Middleton St. George. This wasn’t the most direct route, police noted.

Peter made a tearful appearance on television, begging for anyone with information on Ann’s murder to come forward. Days later, it emerged that the businessman had been embroiled in a ten-month affair with a 32-year-old married barmaid at his golf club. Two years after Ann’s murder, Peter married a telephonist called Freda, whom he met while on a work trip to Scotland. 

Speaking to the Northern Echo in 1995, Peter  – who has always maintained his innocence – acknowledged the cloud of suspension which followed him. ‘I know there are people who still think I killed my wife,’ he told the regional newspaper. ‘No-one is ever brave enough to say that to myself, of course. One day the murderer or whoever is protecting him will crack. No-one can live with that on their conscience.’ 

On an episode of Crimewatch which aired in October 1990, viewers were reminded of a crucial piece of evidence. A blue vehicle – possibly a Vauxhall Astra or Leyland Sherpa van – had been seen being driven erratically near Ann’s home by a ‘sun-tanned man.’ One taxi driver reported seeing a blue car overtake him near Aeolian House before it raced across the nearby roundabout and drove down Yarm Road into Darlington. The A67 road, near to Aeolian House, formed part of the main route from Teesside Airport to Darlington which meant many cars routinely passed through.

Durham Police tracked down the owners of 3,500 vehicles which matched the description of the blue vehicle sighted on the day of Ann’s murder, but, still, the investigation yielded no results. 

By 2005, new technology had allowed for further DNA testing to take place.  Peter, who had relocated to a bungalow in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, was charged with Ann’s murder after his semen was found in samples taken from his murdered wife’s throat. But the case against Peter was subsequently dropped due to a lack of concrete evidence and his family later described the ordeal as ‘a serious injustice.’

In 2020, there were claims that an escaped prisoner in the area at the time – Michael Benson – could have been responsible. But this theory was ruled out by Durham Constabulary, who stated they were ‘all but certain’ he was abroad at the time of the attack.

To mark the 33rd anniversary of his mother’s death in August, 2023, Ann’s son Ralph Cockburn – a former police man – released a statement on behalf of her family.

He said: ‘I know there are people out there who know something about what happened that day. You might think that the info you have is insignificant, but trust me, even the smallest detail could be a game-changer.  

‘It might just be that missing puzzle piece we need to finally catch our mum’s killer.’

It’s now nearing 34 years since Ann was brutally murdered. After decades of dead-ends and false hope, no killer has ever been found.

Meanwhile, Durham Police continue to use advances in forensic technology to review items recovered from Ann’s home in their search for answers.

‘The investigation into the murder of Ann Heron remains open,’ Detective Superintendent Craig Rudd tells Metro. ‘The Major Crime Team continues to review the case and investigate any new information. Ann’s family have been left devastated by what happened – they deserve closure, and we will never give up trying to find who killed her.’

Information can be reported to Durham Constabulary via 101, anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, or via the portal https://mipp.police.uk/operation/11HQ020101X43-PO1

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Kirsten.Robertson@metro.co.uk 

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