British Executions

Peter Manuel

Age: 31

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 11 Jul 1958

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Barlinnie

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Peter Manuel, aged 31, second to last person to be hanged in HM Prison Barlinnie and the third to last to be hanged in Scotland.

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel (13 March 1927 – 11 July 1958) was a United States-born Scottish serial killer who is known to have murdered 9 people across Lanarkshire and southern Scotland between 1956 and his arrest in January 1958, although he is suspected of having killed as many as eighteen people. Prior to his arrest, the media nicknamed the unidentified killer the Beast of Birkenshaw. Manuel was hanged in HMP Barlinnie for his crimes on 11 July 1958; he was one of the last prisoners to die on the Barlinnie gallows.

Manuel was born in 1927 to Scottish parents in New York; the family moved to Detroit before emigrating back to Britain in 1932, this time to Birkenshaw in Lanarkshire. From childhood, possibly due to bullying, he was a loner, and was known to the local police as a petty thief by the age of ten. Aged sixteen, he committed a string of sexual attacks that resulted in him serving nine years in HMP Peterhead, and served further sentences for rape before beginning his killing spree in 1956.

Although Manuel confessed while in custody to killing eighteen people, he was tried for the murders of only eight people in 1958. One of the cases against him was thrown out of court; another, committed in England, was attributed to him following his death.

Anne Kneilands: 17. On 2 January 1956, Kneilands was stalked onto an East Kilbride golfcourse, where she was raped and bludgeoned to death with a length of iron. Although he was questioned by police about the murder and would confess to it two years later, Manuel escaped arrest when his father gave him an alibi. He was charged with this murder in 1958, but the case against him would be dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Marion Watt, Vivienne Watt, and Margaret Brown: 45, 16, and 41. Marion, her daughter Vivienne, and her sister Margaret, were shot to death in their home in Burnside, Glasgow, on 17 September 1956. Manuel was out on bail for a burglary at a nearby colliery at the time of the murders, and was suspected by officers in charge of the manhunt for the Watts’ killer, but he once again evaded capture following the arrest of Marion’s husband, William. Although released two months later, he was assumed guilty of the murders until 1958, when the Smart family were gunned down in their home just a few miles away.

Sydney Dunn: 36. Manuel shot and killed his fifth victim, taxi driver Sydney Dunn, on 8 December 1957 whilst looking for work in Newcastle. Dunn’s body was found on moorlands in Northumbria soon after, but by this time, Manuel had already returned to Lanarkshire. As with the case of Anne Kneilands, there remains some doubt as to whether or not Manuel did indeed kill Dunn; an inquiry into the murder, held a fortnight after the killer was hanged at Barlinnie, officially tied the crime to him after a button found in Dunn's taxi was matched to one of his jackets.

Isabelle Cooke: 17. Cooke disappeared after leaving her Mount Vernon home to go to a dance at Uddingston Grammar School on 28 December 1957. Manuel stalked her, raped and then strangled her, and then buried her in a nearby field; he would later lead officers to the spot where he’d disposed of her body. As with Dunn’s murder twenty days earlier, Cooke’s disappearance was not initially connected to Manuel.

Peter, Doris, and Michael Smart: 45, 42, and 10. The Smarts were shot to death in their Uddingston home on 1 January 1958. Manuel then stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from a Hogmanay meal and even feeding the family cat, before stealing some brand-new banknotes that Peter Smart had been keeping for a holiday, and taking the family car and dumping it nearby. Ironically, Manuel gave a lift in this car to a police officer investigating the disappearance of Isabelle Cooke, and even told him that he felt the police weren’t looking in the right places. It was only following the Smarts’ murders that police realised a serial killer was on the loose, leading to the exoneration of William Watt.

Although many police officers who were familiar with Manuel suspected him of carrying out these murders, they were unable to prove it until shortly after the Smarts’ murder, when some banknotes Manuel had been using to pay for drinks in east-end Glasgow pubs were found to be from the batch stolen from their household by the killer. Initially denying everything, he confessed to these murders, and more than a dozen others, after his mother confronted him at the police station where he was being held.

Manuel was tried for murder at the Glasgow High Court; in a move that astounded many present, he sacked his lawyers and conducted his defence by himself. Although the judge, Lord Cameron, admitted that Manuel conducted his defence “with a skill that is quite remarkable”, the killer was unable to convince the jury of an insanity plea, and he was found guilty of all charges against him, except for that of Anne Kneilands, which had been dropped due to a lack of evidence. On 11 July 1958, Manuel was hanged on the gallows at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. His last words are reported to have been, "Turn up the radio, and I’ll go quietly".

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Manuel was not the last criminal to be executed in Scotland, but the third-last. Anthony Miller followed Manuel on to the Barlinnie gallows in December 1960, while Henry John Burnett suffered a similar fate at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen in August 1963.

In 2009, a BBC programme Inside the Mind of a Psychopath argued that the authorities colluded to ensure Manuel was hanged, despite the fact that he was a known psychopath.

Another Account

At 8.45 on the morning of 17 September 1956 Mrs Helen Collison arrived at the High Burnside bungalow as she did every day to start work as the daily help. She was surprised to find the house still locked and the curtains drawn. When she noticed that a pane of glass in the kitchen door had been broken alarm bells started ringing inside her head. Scared of what she might find she went next door to ask for help. Just then, Peter Collier, who was a postman arrived and, reaching through the broken glass, opened the door. Mrs Collison entered the house but soon came back out again.

Lying in bed were the bodies of 45-year-old Marion Watt and her sister, Margaret. Both of them had been shot at close range. Mrs Collison then remembered the Watt's 16-year-old daughter, Vivienne. Moving quickly to the young girls bedroom she was horrified to find that she too, was lying dead in her bed.

Mrs Watt's husband, William, was a master baker who owned a string of shops in Glasgow had gone away for a week's fishing holiday. So that Marion would not have to be in the house on her own Margaret had been staying with her during her husband's absence. Police investigating the killings heard of another bungalow in Fennbank Avenue that had been burgled during the night. The officer that investigated the second break-in recognised the handiwork of local villain Peter Manuel. He was 30-years-old who had been born in New York. His family had returned to Britain in 1932 and he had a history of offences that started when he was 12 years-old. He was currently on bail for a break-in at a local colliery. Police hurried around to the Manuel home but could find no evidence and Manuel frustrated police efforts by refusing to tell them his movements. A couple of weeks later Manuel was given 18 month's for the colliery job. Police suspicions had now centred on Mr Watts. The police had interviewed a ferryman on the Clyde who thought that he carried Mr Watts' car across on the night of the killings. Due to this mistake William Watts spent over two months in jail before police were satisfied of his innocence and he was released.

On Manuel's release he paid a visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On December 7 1957, at 4.30 am, he hired the taxi of 36-year-old Sydney Dunn. The next day a policeman cycling along a moorland road near Edmundbyers, twenty miles from Newcastle, noticed a car abandoned in a gully. Although the car was empty it did have signs of fresh blood. He reported it and a search was launched to find the missing driver. It was not long before they discovered the body of Sydney Dunn. He had been shot and his throat had been slashed.

Meanwhile further north in Glasgow, a young girl, Isabelle Cooke who was 17-years-old had arranged to go to a dance in nearby Uddingston with her boyfriend on December 28. She left her home to meet him but never arrived. Her father reported her missing at 9 am the following morning. Over the next couple of days various items of Isabelle's clothing were found but there was no sign of the girl herself. In Uddingston, at about 5.45am on 4 January, Mr and Mrs McMunn awoke to find a face peering around the bedroom door of their Sheepburn Road house. Mr McMunn had the presence to mind to call to his wife, 'Where's the gun?' and the intruder fled. The story of the break-in heightened the feeling of tension that was already existing in the street. Neighbours had felt uneasy for several days as they passed the bungalow belonging to 45-year-old Peter Smart and his wife, Doris. They noticed that the curtains were closed at strange times and felt that they were being watched as they passed. All the same it was not until Peter Smart failed to return to work after the New Year's holiday on January 6 that anyone reported anything strange. When his car was found abandoned, the police were worried. Police went to investigate the Smart's bungalow and forced the back door. In a heavily bloodstained main bedroom they found the bodies of Mr and Mrs Smart and in a smaller bedroom they found the body of their 10-year-old son, Michael. All three of them had been shot. One person that the police had their eye on was Peter Manuel. A man who was normally broke, was now spending freely in the local bars. They managed to recover some of the £1 notes that Manuel had passed and found that they were crisp and of a newly printed batch. Taking them to the bank they asked if they could be traced. The bank checked the serial numbers and found that they had been paid over to Mr Smart, who had cashed a cheque in preparation for a holiday. This was all the police needed and they arrested Manuel and put him on an identification parade. He was identified by staff and drinkers at a bar where he had handed over other new blue notes that were in the same sequence as the ones given to Peter Smart.

He was arrested and charged on 13 January 1958. He agreed to help detectives and confessed to killing the Smarts and also to the murder of the Watts and Isabelle Cooke. He also owned up to the murder of another 17-year-old girl, Anne Knielands. Her body had been found on the fifth fairway of East Kilbride Golf Course on 4 January 1956. He had smashed her skull with a length of iron. He took police officers to the spot where he had buried Isabelle Cooke in a field and casually remarked 'This is the place. In fact, I think I'm standing on her now.'

At his trial in May 1958 he was found guilty on seven counts of murder, being found not guilty of the murder of Anne Knielands on the direction of the judge. When he was hanged at Barlinnie Prison on 11 July 1958 he was still only 31 years old.