Arrogant killer Jeremy Bamber: A personality ‘difficult to pin down’
- Credit: PA
A TV drama about the murder of an Essex family starts on Wednesday, drawing partly on a book claiming to be ‘the definitive investigation’ of the crime
Would you write to a prisoner who killed his parents, sister and her six-year-old twins? Writer Carol Ann Lee did.
And her verdict on the multiple-murderer? "In his letters, he is - or can affect that he is - charming, always personable, solicitous, witty, and has a magpie mind for the minutiae of his case. But at the same time he seems arrogant and curiously shallow, fixated on revenge, and is undoubtedly manipulative, as most high-profile prisoners are," she says in her book The Murders at White House Farm.
It was in August, 1985, that five people were found dead at the family farmhouse in Tolleshunt D'Arcy, near Maldon.
The initial theory was that 28-year-old divorcee Sheila Bamber had shot her twin six-year-old boys Nicholas and Daniel in their beds, then her father Nevill, 61, and mother June.
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Finally, Sheila - who suffered from schizophrenia - was believed to have shot herself dead.
Those of us around at the time remember all the stories (true or not) that came out about the woman nicknamed "Bambi" and the way the Bamber family was dubbed the local "Archers" - after the long-running BBC Radio 4 series.
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Less than two months later, Sheila's younger brother, 24-year-old Jeremy, was charged with killing the five members of his family.
In the autumn of 1986, a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court found him guilty by a majority verdict. He was told he'd be behind bars for at least 25 years, but in 1988 this was raised to "life".
Since then, he's consistently proclaimed his innocence and worked to uncover evidence to clear his name.
Carol Ann Lee is no stranger to the dark side of life. She's written many "true crime" books, whose subjects include murderers Myra Hindley and Ruth Ellis.
She wrote to Jeremy Bamber, through his lawyer, and received a reply in the early summer of 2012.
After that, she'd send questions and the prisoner "would reply promptly in his trademark capitals. His letters varied in length from a couple of pages to fifteen or more sides of A4 paper".
By the spring of 2014, working on a potential appeal, he was saying that he didn't expect to be in jail much longer. Bamber wrote his last letter to the author late in 2014.
Today, he remains a prisoner. Nevertheless, Carol Ann points out in her book that "there are puzzling aspects to the case, such as how a guilty Jeremy managed to overcome three adults and why they met their deaths at the particular spots in which they were found".
The book offers a possible "solution" - "based on the known evidence and following consultation with experts who worked on the case originally. Jeremy's own solution is simple: he did not do it. The difficulties with that scenario are the reasons he remains in prison".
She adds: "Opinions of Jeremy Bamber are profoundly contradictory. Those who believe in his innocence are voluble about his courage, strength and compassion, while those certain of his guilt detest him with equal vehemence, describing a man who never accepts responsibility for any wrongdoing and is swift to dispense with friendships that no longer serve a purpose to his campaign. The disparities make his personality difficult to pin down with authority."
Her book, originally released in 2015, is updated and published as a tie-in edition to the six-part ITV series White House Farm.
"Among the many interviews conducted for this book were several with leading figures from the 1985 enquiry, including a number of former police officers, pathologist Peter Vanezis, Sheila's psychiatrist Dr Hugh Ferguson and ballistics expert Malcolm Fletcher.
"I have also drawn on several thousand pages of unpublished documentation such as witness statements, police records, court documents, personal letters, notebooks and memoirs in an effort to write a balanced, comprehensive study of the case."
The first episode of White House Farm is on ITV at 9pm on Wednesday, January 8.
It's based partly on the research and interviews done by Carol Ann for her book, which included talking to people from Essex Police and friends and family of the victims.
The production team transformed a house deep in the Essex countryside to stand in as the farmhouse - the interior dressed to resemble the Bamber home at the time of the murders.
"I spent a couple of days on set during the filming of White House Farm," said Carol Ann on her Facebook page. "The attention to detail was astonishing, sensitive and often unsettling."
She writes in the preface to her book: "At the heart of the story are familial bonds, ceaseless but volatile, leading to a savage end. And while no-one, with the possible exception of Jeremy Bamber, can know exactly what happened inside White House Farm that August night, understanding each individual and their relationships within the family unit is key to making some sort of sense of the incomprehensible."
Of the convicted killer, she says that, "largely through his own efforts, Jeremy has remained in the public eye, steadfastly maintaining his innocence.
"Either he is truthful and the British justice system has meted out an appalling miscarriage of justice against a man already suffering an incalculable loss, or he is a callous, calculating killer whose attempts to gain freedom are another example of his psychopathy."
* The Murders at White House Farm is published at £8.99 as a Pan paperback. It's also available in ebook and audio formats.