The White House Farm murders have attracted a great deal of attention since they were perpetrated in August 1985. Continued interest in these brutal killings that took place in the peaceful surroundings of rural Essex has been ironically kept in the forefront by Jeremy Bamber who was convicted for the offences in October 1986. He has always maintained he is innocent. With the aid of a campaign team he diligently pursues supposedly undisclosed evidence. His support team consist of some very well respected, intelligent and articulate individuals who are working hard to secure further appeals that will, they hope, ultimately bring about his release. They consider his incarceration to be major miscarriage of justice.
The purpose of this blog however is not to make judgement, become embroiled in that argument or indeed cast opinion. I am going to deal in simple facts and some important points of circumstantial evidence.
The feature will be part of my new book, BULLET PATH which traces the preparation of a selection of gun killings throughout history. I prefer to closely study aspects of my investigations and on 4 Feb 19 I visited the vicinity of the White House Farm Murders in Essex. I discovered that the approaches to the farm complex, the villages of Tolleshunt D’Arcy and Goldhanger where Jeremy Bamber lived, and the surrounding road and route network is probably still much as it was in 1985.
I have handled firearms in my military career and in shooting sport pursuits for over 45 years. I fully I understand their technical functions and the knowledge and skills required to utilise them. I further appreciate the psychological, physical and proprioceptive demands and dark burden associated with hunting and killing human beings with a gun. I also understand the physical clandestine processes of planning a path to a target with the minimum risk and maximum chance of success.
In 1975 I was the victim of a random shooting in Spain. I hope therefore, experience combined, I am considered to be suitably qualified to write about and discuss the raw subject of shooting to kill.
In October 1986 Jeremy Bamber was tried and convicted for the murder of his adoptive parents, Neville and June Bamber, his adoptive sister, Sheila Caffel and her two 6 year old twin sons, his nephews, Daniel and Nicholas Caffel. The murders had taken place in the early hours of August 7th, 1985 at the family home, White House Farm near Tolleshunt D’Arcy in Essex. The victims had all been shot with an Anschutz 525 semi-automatic .22 rifle that belonged to and was licenced to Neville Bamber. A total of 25 rounds had been fired at close range into the victims, no shots had gone astray. Initially Essex police concluded that Sheila Caffel had committed a murder suicide. Bamber’s guilt came to light after some of his relatives became suspicious and his ex-girlfriend, Julie Mugford told police that he had confided in her about plans to kill his entire immediate family in order to secure the wealthy family estate. Bamber she claimed had even contacted her in the hours before and after deliberating the crime. She had considered it so monstrous she found difficulty believing he would do it. Once the police investigation and inquest determined that it was likely to be Sheila Caffel, she accepted that conclusion.
As more findings and facts emerged Jeremy Bamber was arrested. Eventually he was put on trial and was found guilty of the 5 murders. The jury convicted him on a majority verdict of 10-2 and he was sentenced to 25 years. He has never admitted guilt and has now spent nearly 33 years in prison. His supporters continue to pursue the theory that Sheila Caffel committed the murders.
Only 1.6% of people in the UK use and have legal access to guns. This includes our police and military as well as sporting shooters. Private ownership and licencing of shotguns and firearms can only be granted for sporting use. Unlike the USA, guns in the UK cannot be procured for personal protection. Therefore, shooting as a sport has to be associated with a desire and interest. Within that 1.6% gun handling population only 10% are female.
Women are far less likely to commit murder than men advises Adam Lankford, a US criminal justice professor. In the USA where firearms are far more accessible than in the UK only 8% of firearm homicides are perpetrated by females. On the rare occasions when women kill, they are far more likely to poison, stab, suffocate or start fires than use a gun.
There is a very straightforward philosophy called “Ockham’s Razor” which is a problem-solving principle that suggests that simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones. When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one might consider the solution with the fewest assumptions. That practise does not immediately solve crimes but it is an interesting reflection. Within my descriptions I like to use analogies. I appreciate that most people don’t understand firearms and how they operate so I will cross associate with common everyday skills that we regularly undertake or can more easily associate with, I hope that will help. Guns and their characteristics are so often misunderstood, misplaced, and misinterpreted. Unfortunately very few journalists and writers can accurately describe, debate or discuss them. The reason is simply because most people don’t use guns. Writing about them especially with reference to crime and the taking of lives has to be absolutely accurate. There can be no room for error.
A great deal of focus, attention and deliberation has been applied to certain features of this crime. The telephone calls to the police, the sound moderator, (rifle silencer), and the mental and physical condition of Sheila Caffel. This is all relevant and important, but I am going to focus my study on three other aspects to this crime. The choice, preparation and use of the murder weapon. The single, detachable Anschutz 525 10 round magazine and the approach and return cycle route to the farm that it was considered Jeremy Bamber might have taken.
We know that Jeremy Bamber was totally familiar with his fathers Anschutz .22 rifle and regularly used it to shoot rabbits around the farm. That is what the rifle was designed for. Bamber had handled firearms from an early age. Like any physical coordination skill, handling a gun is more natural to some than others. Some people are natural shots and take to handling firearms smoothly and easily; they are not unlike naturally skilled drivers, footballers and artists. Others are awkward and uncoordinated and may become quickly frustrated and disinterested. A lot of people are physically frightened of the mere thought of handling and discharging a firearm. Most of us drive but we don’t need to be interested in cars. That does not apply to guns and shooting in the UK.
If Sheila Caffel had any interest in shooting and the attendant skills needed to operate a semi-auto rifle it would not have escaped attention. Most people in the UK do not know how to operate a firearm any more than they could operate and drive a steam engine. Those same people could learn of course but there must be a desire and they would need to apportion a reasonable amount of time. You don’t learn to drive a steam engine by watching “The Railway Children”.
If Sheila Caffel committed the murders, we must assume she had acquired the skill and knowledge to confidently operate the .22 Anschutz in what would be a very pressured situation. We assume she had a motive and had the will to kill her mother and father and her two 6 year old sons. She had planned the entire event which included her own suicide. She was able to overpower her father after she initially failed to kill him outright. Neville Bamber was a very tall and powerful man. She was able to recharge the rifle magazine, carry out all the drills necessary and all in the frenzy of killing her family.
The rifle scope had been removed before the murders
A family member had noticed in the weeks prior to the murders that the telescopic sight on the Anschutz had been removed. The scope whilst an ideal sighting accessory to shoot rabbits would have been a burden to a shooter trying to use such a weapon in the close confines of a property to shoot people. We must assume that she had determined this. Either the scope was coincidentally and conveniently removed in the period just before she used it by Neville or Jeremy Bamber or she did so and neither of them questioned it. You need the tools and the knowledge. For the purpose of shooting rabbits removing the scope made no immediate sense. If Neville or Jeremy Bamber had removed it, they would have agreed. Either could have simply reasoned that he wanted to try the rifle without it, using the open iron sights. That would have been reasonable. If Sheila Caffel had removed it surely both men would have questioned it and they would have interrogated the family.
When Derrick Bird perpetrated the Cumbria shootings in 2010 he made the mistake of leaving the scope on his CZ .22 rifle. Thank goodness he did because that probably saved some lives in the close proximities that he was shooting at people.
Sheila Caffel displayed no interest in firearms or shooting. If she had and if only for a premeditated plan to kill her family maintaining a secret shooting pursuit in the UK would be extremely difficult. There was certainly evidence that Sheila Caffel had a rudimentary experience of firing a shotgun but that does not qualify someone to purposefully and individually operate it or any other firearm. It has also been implied that because she was brought up in a rural farming family, she would learn how to handle firearms. That is a very common, urban inspired myth and likened to supposing a Merchant Sea Captain’s daughter is skilled at deep sea fishing and tying knots. Irrespective of all that Sheila Caffel would need to be able to do the following, quickly and confidentially.
Magazine charging / Loading / Making ready
Unless she had acquired extra magazines, (which were never found), she would have to be able to charge a single magazine 3 times with a total of 25 x .22 bullets. Load the rifle, (attach the charged magazine into the magazine housing). Make ready, (withdraw the cocking handle to the rear and let it go – the bolt assembly flies forward under spring tension and picks the top round off the magazine and feeds it into the breech. This also cocks the internal hammer. The process of making a semi-auto rifle ready, (loaded and cocked to fire), is not natural, it takes practise. The natural inclination of the inexperienced shooter is to keep hold of the cocking handle and guide it forward. This will generally fail to pick up a round and will result in a misfeed. The analogy here is when we learn to allow an open car bonnet to drop the last couple of feet to enable it to lock. It’s not natural…but we only learn after we are initially shown.
Placing fired rounds with no hesitation or mercy
She was able to remove the safety and then very confidently bring the weapon to bear, (this is where removing the scope was so important). Firing and placing rounds into shouting, flailing, pleading human frames at close range would require some cold composure; despite being a schizophrenic, physically weak and uncoordinated. She found her mark on every attempt, not one round missed.
Killing a family
If it was Sheila Caffel who failed to kill her father in the bedroom she followed him downstairs after killing her mother and fought him in the kitchen, overwhelmed him, striking him with the rifle stock and barrel so hard that a shard of the wooden stock broke off and was later found. Having managed to detach the magazine and reload it, make the weapon ready again she continued to fire more rounds into his head until he was dead. Throughout the entire murderous scenario, she removed the magazine and recharged it twice. A magazine reload at speed would take between 20-30 seconds. That is with the rounds accessible and at hand. How did she achieve this, she was wearing a nightdress. She managed this without dropping any cartridges or leaving any lead deposit or bullet lube on her hands, fingers or clothing. She was also able to do this with long natural nails and without damaging them. She had no stoppages that we know about but if she did, she dealt with them, picking up the small live rounds which having been ejected out of the ejection port would have been difficult to immediately find. Her handling drills were swift and smooth. There would have been no fumbling, panic, odd bullets dropped and cast around. She entered her sons bedroom and coldly shot them both in the head whilst they lay asleep.
Sheila Caffel’s suicide or murder
She then returned to her parent’s bedroom, laid down turned the rifle around and shot herself in the throat, planning to discharge a bullet through her palate and into her brain. She failed but despite the shock and pain of that attempt she managed to realign the weapon again and on the second attempt successfully killed herself. She had accounted for her rounds perfectly and had had a single round left for her own departure but when she failed to kill herself she reloaded the rifle having conveniently access to one further round and finished the job. So with all this in mind she had been able to count her rounds in the most peculiar circumstances. Now having killed herself she had even left the weapon “safe”; no rounds in the chamber or magazine. She didn’t even take her own life in her son’s bedroom as her ex husband Colin Caffel had pointed out and insisted she would have done.
Counting rounds, being acutely aware of ammunition expenditure, timing reloads etc are drills practised by the military and armed police. In the heat of a live murderous shooting, this slightly built, physically weakened schizophrenic became a hideous Lara Croft, she was text book.
The single Anschutz magazine, or were there more.
If the perpetrator was Jeremy Bamber, he could have acquired 2 further Anschutz magazines at some point well before the killings took place and had a total of 30 rounds already loaded and available. One already in the house where he left it and an extra two on his person. To plan a killing in these circumstances with a single magazine would demand a great deal of confidence. It would require somebody with a clear plan who appreciated that whilst the .22 rifle was the best weapon available to them, it was not ideal. Compared to the shotguns it gave the greatest rate of fire but to be effective the perpetrator would have to get close to his victims and possibly use a lot of ammunition. The rifle and .22 ammunition kept in the house required a Firearms Certificate to buy, store and determine its use which was for vermin control. That was the responsibility of Neville Bamber. It was his habit and ultimately his deadly mistake to allow this rifle and indeed his shotguns to be easily accessed within the property. In practise he should have had them all secured in locked gun cabinets when they weren’t in immediate use. This was a condition of his licence and he and only he should have had access to the keys. Neither Jeremy Bamber or Sheila Caffel had a FAC but you don’t need one to purchase magazines; they are not part of the weapon’s determined operational mechanism, they are detachable supporting items. Neville Bamber did not need to account for how many magazines were used with the rifle so Jeremy or Sheila could have them without his knowledge. The police could not deduce what ammunition was available before the murders because any amount of it could have been used for target or rabbit shooting.
If Jeremy Bamber was the perpetrator, having used 23 rounds, (now on the third magazine or third reload), he had to use 2 rounds to kill Sheila Caffel. He then unloaded the Anschutz and placed the original empty magazine on the rifle and then placed the weapon on her body. He took the other two magazines along with perhaps the remaining 5 x .22 rounds ready for disposal. They were small items, it would have been extremely easy.
If Bamber or Caffel only used the single magazine it was entirely possible, but it would suggest the murderer was fit, agile, coordinated, sufficiently practised, calm, calculating, knowledgeable and utterly ruthless. Caffel could only have used a single magazine.
The route to White House Farm
In her statement Julie Mugford stated that Jeremy Bamber had told her about his plan to kill his family and that it would take 15 minutes to cycle to Whitehouse Farm from his cottage in Goldhanger. By road, the most obvious cycle route would have been via Tolleshunt D’Arcy but it would have taken longer than 15 minutes on a regular pushbike. If Julie Mugford was lying why was she so specific about a timing. DI Robert Wilkinson trialled various routes between Goldhanger and White House Farm and concluded that the most practical and sensible route was by bike via the Brook House Farm track. This meant starting out of Goldhanger on the B1026, Maldon Road and then after 2 miles turning right on the road track which passes through the farm location and leads across field perimeter tracks directly to the back of White House Farm. This cuts off a huge corner and avoids Tolleshunt D’Arcy. It took DI Wilkinson 16 minutes. This part of the route had easy access but it is also well screened and would minimise the likelihood of being seen.
It was a wet day when I found and cycled the route on the 04 Feb 19. The last 400 metres on the approach to White House Farm was muddy. My mountain bike was probably better than the bike Wilkinson used but I’m 63 and considering the conditions I did it in 17 minutes on approach and 18 minutes into a slight headwind on return. That was pure riding time. I stopped to take photographs. There was only one gate to open. The route was easy and it would have been equally simple at night with the available ambient light. If Bamber used this route he was a young and fit 24 year old and the tracks would have been dry in the summer of 1985. If he had used additional rifle magazines, he could have taken them along with any .22 rounds he had in them or loose on his person. They would have been easy to dispose. Jeremy Bamber’s defence maintain that this route was a ridiculous exaggeration and nobody witnessed him. That might be true. I didn’t see or meet a single person on the farm track portion of the route and that was in daylight. Who saw me?
If Sheila Caffel committed those murders, she is entirely unique in the UK. She would be the only female, gun slay mass murderer that has ever existed in this country since the invention of gunpowder.