Couple's family back probe into whether they were victims of killer

Murder-suicide couple’s family back fresh probe into whether they were victims of a serial killer who is still on the loose

  • Donald, 73, and Auriel Ward, 68, were found dead in home in Wilmslow in 1999
  • A coroner at the time found that Mr Ward killed Mrs Ward before killing himself
  • Now, senior coroner fears the pair could have fallen victim to a grisly serial killer 
  • A relative of Mr and Mrs Ward said ‘the police should certainly investigate this’

A family member has backed a coroner’s claim that their elderly relatives died at the hands of a serial killer – and not in a murder-suicide as previously reported.

On November 26, 1999, devoted couple Donald, 73, and Auriel Ward, 68 – who were happily married for 45 years – were found dead in their bloodstained bed at their home in Wilmslow. 

A coroner at the time found that Mr Ward, a retired chemist, killed his ex-nursery school teacher wife before killing himself – despite saying the behaviour was ‘so alien’ to the loving husband’s personality.

Now, a senior coroner fears the pair could have fallen victim to a grisly serial killer after their case bore a striking similarity to one three years prior – and Cheshire police are carrying out a review into the findings.

A relative of Mr and Mrs Ward, who has not been named, told The Mirror: ‘The police should certainly investigate this. It’s come as quite a shock.

Auriel and Donald Ward, who were found dead at their home on Lacey Grove in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on November 28, 1999

A police forensic team pictured outside Lacey Grove, Wilmslow, Cheshire, where Donald Ward and his wife Auriel were found dead

Auriel was found bludgeoned and stabbed. She had also been suffocated and her head was partially covered by a pillow. Pictured: Police at the scene

‘I have never been convinced about Donald killing anybody – he was a very gentle chap.’ 

Senior coroner’s officer with Cheshire police Stephanie Davies published a 179-page report claiming there were significant similarities between the deaths of couples across North West England between 1996 and 2011. 

The incidents, which spanned Cheshire, Manchester and Cumbria, involved a husband seemingly going beserk and viciously attacking his wife before taking his own life. 

Coroners recorded each incident as murder-suicide, but Ms Davies says at least two cases could be the work of a serial killer because of strong similarities across the incidents.  

Auriel was found bludgeoned and stabbed. She had also been suffocated and her head was partially covered by a pillow.

Donald had a knife protruding from his heart and his throat had been slit.

After a lengthy police investigation, the coroner Nicholas Rheinberg found the balance of Donald’s mind must have been disturbed and he had taken his life after killing the wife he adored.

Howard Ainsworth was devoted to his wife Beatrice, everyone who knew them said so (pictured)

Yet he said: ‘This in all respects was so alien to Mr Ward’s personality – his whole life – not a single shred of evidence would suggest there was a timebomb waiting to explode.’

The couple’s four children have never spoken about what happened. Their son was a suspect but was ruled out.

Just three years earlier, Howard Ainsworth, 79, apparently bludgeoned, Beatrice, 78 – known as Bea – with a hammer, before stabbing her with a breadknife. 

He then supposedly suffocated himself with a plastic bag. A suicide note, assumed to have been from Mr Ainsworth, said he had ‘given her some sleeping tablets’.

But no sedatives were found in either of them following toxicology tests and Mr Ainsworth had ‘unexplained bruises’, possibly from being forcibly suffocated, on his lips.

Eleven crime scene clues have sparked fears that a mass murderer could be roaming the streets of Britain.

For example, the bag covering Mr Ainsworth’s head was covered in blood, suggesting he already had it on when his wife was attacked. And an additional hammer was found at the scene, possibly left by the killer. 

The clues that indicate the killer could be roaming Britain’s streets: 1. Howard Ainsworth has his head covered with a plastic bag and ligature 2. Bea Ainsworth had a knife sticking out of her head and injuries from a hammer 3. The bag on Mr Ainsworth’s head was covered in blood, suggesting he already had it on when his wife was attacked 4. Only a tiny amount of bloody was on Mr Ainsworth’s pyjamas 5. Mr Ainsworth’s body is in an odd position, suggesting it could have been moved 6. The tip of the knife in Mrs Ainsworth’s head was shoved in with considerable force 7. The hammer was found washed in the sink, which would be an odd move for Mr Ainsworth to make if he was about to commit suicide 8. Another hammer is also at the scene 9.  A possible second ligature is on the floor, potentially left by the killer 10. A bottle of pills was scattered on the floor, but it was a drug not prescribed to the couple 11. A suicide note, from Mr Ainsworth was found, but was he forced to sign it?

A bottle of pills was also scattered on the floor of their home, but the drug was not proscribed to either of the Ainsworths’. 

Both the suspected double murders occurred in Wilmslow, Cheshire, in 1996 and 1999. 

The deaths of Howard and Bea Ainsworth and Donald and Auriel Ward were considered by police to be murder-suicides.

Both couples were discovered lying on blood-soaked beds in their nightclothes.

Similarities between the cases included the extremity of violence, with knives left in bodies at the crime scene; injuries to the head from a blunt weapon and stab wounds; and the fact that the women had been left with their nightdresses lifted.

The report points to ‘a number of inconsistencies which do not corroborate the original manner of death of being murder suicide’.  

Stephanie Davies had voiced her concerns about the similarity in the two cases to colleagues in 1999, but they did not lead anywhere. 

The village of Wilmslow in Cheshire (pictured) was the scene of two murder suicides, one in 1996 and the other in 1999. However, a new report suggests that the deaths may have been the work of a serial killer known to police

Davies produced the report in her spare time by examining police files and crime scene photos and is supported by evidence from her predecessor and a US-based crime-scene analysis expert. 

The report calls on the National Crime Agency and Interpol to review cases both in Britain and Europe to check whether other cases might be related. 

Nazir Afzal, former chief prosecutor for the northwest, said: ‘We could potentially have a serial killer in our midst. There needs to be a proper review of these cases and others which carry similar hallmarks.’ 

Three other cases have also been identified by Davies, in 2000, 2008 and 2011, which she believes are also related to the Wilmslow deaths.

Two of the cases took place in Greater Manchester and one in the Lake District and Greater Manchester and Cumbria police forces have now been alerted to the findings in the report.

In these three cases, police said that the husbands had stabbed their wives and hit them on the head before taking their own lives – just as had been said of the cases in the 90s. 

Cheshire Police said they were conducting a review of the findings which was handed to the force last month.

Greater Manchester police said it was approached about two cases and it has spoken about them with coroners. 

Police in Cumbria have also been alerted.

Who are the suggested other victims of the potential serial killer? 

Michael and Violet Higgins (59 and 76 respectively)

Michael and Violet Higgins were found dead on February 21, 2000, in Disbury, Manchester.

As with the other cases, Violet was discovered in her bed wearing a nightdress. She had been beaten over the head and stabbed in the neck.

Michael was found wearing pyjamas in the spare bedroom and had cuts to his neck and had also been strangled with a coathanger.

Michael and Violet Higgins were found dead on February 21, 2000, in Disbury, Manchester and it has been suggested their deaths may be linked to the two re-examined cases from the 1990s

Kenneth and Eileen Martin (77 and 76 respectively)

The bodies of Kenneth and Eileen Martin were found on November 10 in 2008 in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester.

The couple were found in their garage with Eileen having suffered head injuries and cuts to her head and neck.

Kenneth was found hanged and with his throat cut.

Eileen and Kenneth Martin were found dead at their home on November 10 in 2008 in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester

Stanley and Peggy Wilson (92 and 89 respectively)

Stanley and Peggy Wilson were found on February 18, 2011 in Kendal Cumbria.

As with the other couples, Stanley and Peggy were found dead in their bedroom. Peggy had sustained a blow to the head and cuts to her neck.

Stanley had suffered cuts to his neck and body. 

Murder victims Stanley and Peggie Wilson. Both were found dead in their bedroom in Kendal, Cumbria.

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