The Horrific Murder of Suzanne Capper
This week, we covered the case of Suzanne Capper on the podcast.
I was reading a book called “Sadistic Killers: Profiles of Pathological Predators” by Carol Anne Davis (got it on Kobo https://www.kobo.com/gr/en/ebook/sadistic-killers-profiles-of-pathological-predators-1) when I came across Suzanne’s case. The case is absolutely heartbreaking, and researching it for the episode meant a deep dive into Suzanne’s life, and tortured death.
I used a multitude of sources for the episode which I will add.
Suzanne Capper was born in England, in 1976. She never knew her biological father as he had walked out before Suzanne had been born, and her mother Elizabeth Dunbar had married
a man named John Capper. She had a sister named Michelle and a brother, also named John. Michelle was fairly close with Suzanne from what I can gather in my research.
In 1990, when Suzanne was 14, her parents divorced and she spent time living in “the system”. She would also live between her mothers house, her stepfathers, and couch surfing with friends. At the time the crime took place, Suzanne was living with her step-father John and her sister Michelle at 6 Bewley Walk.
Suzanne was very much an innocent girl who is described as just wanting someone to love her.
She was consistently let down by those around her, even her parents.
She started to skip school, and her teachers said her behaviour was ‘erratic’.
Eventually, Suzanne came to become friends with Jean Powell. Jean was a 26 year old mother of 3 living in 97 Langworthy Rd, Manchester, Moston, which is about a 7 minute walk to Suzanne’s house. Jean was described as a “powerful character who dominated those around her”.
Also living at 97 Langworthy Road was Bernadette McNeilly, a 24 year old, who was also a mother of 3. She had originally been renting 91 Langworthy Rd, but after becoming best friends with Jean Powell, decided to move in with her with her own 3 children. So at this point you have the two mothers and 6 children in the house. It was known as a place to get drugs, and for stolen cars and their parts to change hands. Both women dealt drugs and had a very bad relationship with their neighbors, once setting a neighbor’s washing on fire.
Inside the house, there were just car seats placed around the house for people to sit on, and there were industrial kitchen scales in the kitchen for weighing out drugs. It was no place for children.
Now, there are other characters and it can become confusing. Glynn Powell was Jean’s 29 year old ex-husband, but they remained friendly, often still having sex with each other, and he would often be at the house. Then we have Anthony Dudson, who is Bernadette McNeilly’s 16 year old boyfriend. While the age of consent is 16 in the UK, I’d love to know exactly what she had in common with a 16 year old at her big age.
Then there is Clifford Pook/Hayes, who is Jean Powell’s 17 year old brother, and Jeffrey Leigh, a 26 year man who had previously actually assaulted and stolen from his 86 year old grandmother, a truly upstanding citizen.
Suzanne would often hang out in 97 Langworthy Road. She knew Jean as Jean had babysat her some years ago, and Suzanne had babysat Jeans kids then later on. There was another version of this story that Suzanne had only met Jean when Clifford introduced them.
Either way, the women quickly learned that they could easily take advantage of Suzanne’s need to be loved and accepted somewhere, anywhere.
Jean would get Suzanne to skip school and go to work with her as a cleaner, and would then take Suzanne’s full pay packet, leaving her with only 5GBP a week. When Suzanne’s mother Elizabeth found out about this, she confronted Jean, who threatened to burn her house down in retaliation.
Michelle, Suzanne’s sister, even lived in the house for a period of time before Bernadette McNeilly moved in. Michelle moved out, saying that she didn’t like Jeans “evil new friends”.
Suzanne still continued to frequent the house, sometimes staying over.
Michelle said “It was not that she was scared of them. It’s just that she would do anything for them. She pampered their every whim.”
Just a month before Suzanne’s murder, November 1992, she went to visit her mother with a massive black eye, asking if she could stay with her, but her mother turned away, saying that her boyfriend wouldn’t like it if Suzanne was to stay. Michelle was witness to this, saying
“If she had helped, Suzanne she might be alive today. She is a heartless mother.”
Paul Barlow who was Michelle’s fiancé said “Suzanne turned up on her doorstep with a huge black eye and said she wanted to get away from the trouble she had been having. Yet despite her appearance her own mother turned her away. I believe that had she done something to help Suzanne, things might be very different today. As a parent myself I would find what Suzanne’s mother did very hard to live with.”
Suzanne apparently told a neighbor that Jean had held her for 4 days and beat her up, but from what I read, nobody believed her.
Even John, Suzanne’s stepfather, wanted Suzanne to stop visiting 97 Langworthy. He knew that “nothing good” happened there, but he said Suzanne was so strong willed, he couldn’t stop her.
Things would escalate on December 7th. Over the week, the group including Glynn Powell, Jean Powell, Bernadette McNeilly, and Anthony Dudson all got pubic lice. They all had to shave their genitals and were annoyed by it. Jean decided that they only possible way that they could have gotten it was from Suzanne, and they bed she sometimes slept in..despite the fact that that group were all regularly having sex with each other.
On top of that, a pink duffel coat costing around 50GBP had gone missing and they went on to say that Suzanne had stolen it (despite drifters constantly being in and out of the house), and Jean was already annoyed by Suzanne, because Suzanne had suggested that Jean have sex with someone that Jean didn’t want to have sex with, Jean then making some racist remark about him.
So, the group decided to exact their revenge. On the 7th of December 1992, the two girls visited Suzanne’s stepfather’s home on Bewley Walk, and told Suzanne that there was a guy she had a crush on waiting for her at 97 Langworthy Rd.
She willingly went with them.
As soon as she stepped foot inside the house, Suzanne was grabbed by Glynn Powell & Anthony Dudson. They shaved off her hair and her eyebrows, and made her clean up the hair and put it in the bin. A plastic bag was then put over her head and she was suffocated while they beat her with many different objects, including a 3 foot wooden spoon, I believe it to be one of those decorative ones that goes up on the wall. A belt was also used in the beatings. At this point, something happened to Suzanne’s arm, I’m not sure exactly what but it hung limp by her side. Suzanne lay on the floor in a fetal position while the girls took turns in kicking and beating her themselves.
Bernadette then locked Suzanne in a cupboard for the night. She cried the whole night, and so because the women were concerned that the children would get upset by her crying, they decided to move Suzanne to 91 Langworthy Rd the next morning.
They made Suzanne shave her pubic hair as an act of humiliation. In a backroom there was an upturned box spring mattress with exposed boards, which Suzanne was tied spreadeagle to I believe half naked, with electrical wires and chains. They stuffed socks in Suzanne’s mouth to prevent her from screaming and would regularly beat her. It is believed that Jean once spent two hours alone beating Suzanne. They also injected her with amphetamines, and later when this comes up in court the perpetrator says she did this to save Suzanne from being injected with meth. The amphetamines would have not allowed her to sleep.
They played music one song on repeat- 150 volts- Hi I’m Chucky. It’s a rave song with excerpts from Child’s Play in it.. I listened to it and it is absolutely terrifying and really upsetting.. The end of the song says “no please…we’re friends till the end, remember? This is the end.”
I can’t imagine, you’re exhausted, being beaten, starved, you’re strapped down and this song is playing constantly in your ear. When Bernadette would enter the room, she would repeat the words, ‘I’m Chucky, wanna play?’, and soon the words alone were enough to send Suzanne screaming. She was burned with cigarettes, one burn mark right between her eyes. I believe that she may have been sexually assaulted but this is not proven from what I could find.
During this period, Jean’s brother Clifford and addict Jeffrey Leigh would call to the house, and they would partake in Suzanne’s torture.
Eventually the group decided that Suzanne needed a bath, particularly Clifford and Jeffrey, as at this point she had been lying in her own excrement and urine for days. They put her in the bath and dumped bleach and disinfectant over her, and scrubbed her with a yard brush, which resulted in some of Suzanne’s skin being removed.
At one point, Clifford Pook took a pair of pliers and told Suzanne to open her mouth. Anthony said “I was stood at the doorway with Jeanie [Powell] and Bernie [McNeilly]. Cliff [Pook] took her gag off. He told her to open her mouth. He said: ‘Right, I’m going to rip your teeth out’. He started hitting her teeth with the pliers. He got the pliers on and started pulling it out. But it just snapped and chipped. Then he hit them a few more times. He put the pliers on again and really, really pulled. He pulled Suzanne’s head forward until there was a snap and he had the tooth in the pliers. He did the same again and he was laughing”. The teeth were later recovered, he had kept them as a trophy. The pliers were also found on a shelf near the Christmas tree.
Over the course of 7 days, there were plenty of opportunities for Suzanne to be saved. At one point, Jeffrey Leigh and Anthony Dudson even went to visit Paul Barlow, Michelle’s fiance and Suzanne’s soon-to-be brother in law to get one of their cars fixed.”
“ If they were that sony about Suzanne they could have told me there and then. The door would have been kicked down and I would have got Suzanne out.”
“I did not think they were capable of such savagery.
Now all I want is ten minutes with them in a back room.”
Then, an 19 year old named David Hill was asked to “sit in” at the house while the others went out for a bit, likely to make sure Suzanne did not escape. He didn’t realise at first what was happening, until he heard Anthony shout “shut up you slag”, and when David asked about it, Anthony showed him Suzanne, tied to the bed.
He said: “She had a sort of cloth over her face, from just above the eyebrows and covering her nose. She had a bit of dried blood on her lip. She had no hair.” He also said that he heard them speaking about “dentistry work. It was something about pulling her teeth out with a pair of pliers.”[“She asked me if I could help but I told her I couldn’t. I asked her who she was. She said her name was Suzanne. She asked me if I could untie her. I said I couldn’t do anything. I thought they would batter me. If I’d said anything they’d all have got me, wouldn’t they? I didn’t know what to do. I was too shocked to do anything.”
So again, Suzanne was let down by those around her.
Now, John Capper was starting to worry about his stepdaughter. He hadn’t seen her in a week, and while it wasn’t uncommon for him not to see her for a few days, it was never really this long.
He was going to report her as a missing person. The group heard about this from Michelle, who had been asking around for her sister.
They decided that this was the time to get rid of Suzanne.
On the 14th of December 1992, Glynn Powell, Bernadette McNeilly, Anthony Dudson and Jean Powell all hopped into a stolen Fiat Panda and put Suzanne in the boot. They drove out towards the outskirts of Stockport, some 13-15 miles to like a ditch. There, Bernadette forced Suzanne to get out of the car but Suzanne fell, obviously being so weak. She made her get back up before pushing her down an embankment and sliding down after her with a canister of petrol that she poured over Suzanne. It took 3 attempts for Glyn Powell to set Suzanne alight. He tried to make a type of taper with paper but it wouldn’t work, so he eventually put the lighter to her back where she went up in flames. Dudson said “She went straight up in flames and was screaming. The flames lit up the whole forest.”
Satisfied that they had tortured and killed an innocent girl for no reason, they drove off singing Burn Baby Burn, buying alcohol on the way home.
The thing is…Suzanne had not died. She actually managed to pull herself up the embankment and walk some quarter of a mile before meeting 3 men on their way to work. The men took her to a house just up the road that was occupied by an elderly couple. Suzanne was as polite as ever, something the lady of the house comments on later, asking for some water. She drank 6 glasses of water, but the water had to be held to her lips because she couldn’t hold the glass herself. “Both her hands appeared like ash. Her legs were just like raw meat and her feet appeared to be badly charred. I was struck by how polite the victim was. She was constantly thanking my wife for her assistance.” Margaret Coop said: “I instinctively went to put my arms around her but she pulled away because she could not bear to be touched. Her head was shaved and there were recent, not new, cuts to her head. Her face was almost featureless. Her hands were red raw and black at the fingertips. Her legs were red from top to bottom. She couldn’t bear anything near her legs”.
The ambulance came, and Suzanne was brought to the hospital. Her burns were so bad that she had to be identified by a partial print on her thumb, the only print they could get due to her extensive burns. Her own parents wouldn’t even recognise her. She was able to give the names of the people who had done this to her, and Jeans address before either being put into a medically induced coma or slipping into one herself. 70-80% of her body was covered in bad burns. Suzanne unfortunately died from multi-organ failure due to her injuries on the 18th of December, 1992.
On the same day as Suzanne’s attempted murder, police were sent to arrest everyone they found at 97 Langworthy Road.
Anthony Dudson broke first. His own father urged him to tell the truth, and the more he spoke, the worse it got. Policemen cried when they heard the full extent of Suzanne’s torture.
The group, obviously as they are becoming sober while in custody, are releasing they are in deep shit and are trying to place the blame on each other, and it took some time to get the full picture.
The trial began nearly a year later in November of 1993, and it lasted 22 days.
Jean Powell, Glynn Powell, and Bernadette McNeilly all received life sentences, 25 years before parole can be considered.
Clifford Pook was given 15 years, Jeffrey Leigh given 12 years, both now expired.
Anthony Dudson was also handed a life sentence, which was reduced in 2002 to 16 years before he could apply for parole.
There were literal cries of relief in the courtroom when the perpetrators were sentenced.
However, the case had a lasting effect on England. Between this case, and the murder of James Bulger that had happened within the same timeframe, the release of movies were pushed back- including Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, for a few months in the UK.
Obviously, Bernadette McNeilly had gotten 25 years in prison, but she managed to get a year shaved off her sentence for being a “model prisoner”.
And the judge said, that Bernadette was “filled with remorse”.
Bernadette was given a new identity. It is believed that she may have had an affair with Rose West, with whom she was sharing a prison wing with, along with Myra Hindley.
Jean Powell is now Jean Gillespie after her divorce finalised while in prison.
Suzanne’s family have kept her name alive and well on social media, and it is clear that they love her dearly. This case absolutely broke my heart. Suzanne was an incredibly brave young girl.
Sources for this episode:
Sources for this episode:
Book mentioned: Sadistic Killers by Carol Anne Davis