While other teenagers celebrated New Years Eve, DECEMBER 31st, 1975, at parties, 19-year-old Mark Rowntree was otherwise engaged… committing his first murder.
The adopted son of a wealthy, middle-class Bradford couple, he seemed to have everything going for him. He was good-looking and intelligent, and had been given a public school education. But instead of going on to a university he had left his parents home, moving into lodgings and becoming a bus conductor.
His first victim was an 85-year-old widow he spotted sitting near a window at her home in Bingley. He went to her door and rang the bell with his knuckles, so as not to leave fingerprints.
When she opened the door he rushed in and stabbed her repeatedly with a long-bladed commando-style knife he took from his shoulder-bag. Two of the stab wounds penetrated her heart.
After burying his knife in Bingley, Rowntree went to a pub, had a pint of beer and washed the old ladys blood from his hands in the toilet. Her body was found on New Years Day by a neighbour.
Two days later Rowntree returned to the Bradford shop where he had bought the murder weapon, and purchased a replacement. That evening he went to Sutton in Craven. I again felt the urge to murder somebody: a child, a woman or a middle-aged man, he later told the police.
He walked to the village of Washburn, where he saw a young couple chatting outside a fish and chip shop. He followed them as they moved off, and when the girl left her 16-year-old boy friend standing alone at a bus stop, Rowntree walked up to him and began stabbing him.
The boy fled screaming, blood pouring from three wounds in his chest and abdomen. He managed to reach a nearby house, an ambulance was summoned, and he died in hospital. But not before he gave the police a description of his attacker: a man aged about twenty-two with black shoulder-length hair, wearing a black jacket and carrying a shoulder-pack.
Meanwhile Rowntree had swum across a river, hitched a lift to a taxi rank, and taken a cab to his lodgings in Shipley.
He felt compelled to kill again on January 7th, eight days after his first murder. His intended victim was a 24-year-old woman he had met through a contact magazine in which she described herself as a part-time model. The police were later to describe her as a prostitute.
I thought she would do nicely, Rowntree subsequently told detectives. So he caught a bus to Burley, Leeds, where he went to her home and killed her with a flurry of 18 stab wounds, some six inches deep.
As he was about to leave he spotted her three-year-old son hiding in a corner, so he killed him too, to silence him as a possible witness. Then he buried his knife and returned home to find the police awaiting him. They had traced him through a taxi-driver who had reported picking him up soaking wet on the night of his second killing.
Charged with four murders, Rowntree denied them all but admitted four cases of manslaughter, pleading diminished responsibility when he appeared at Leeds Crown Court on June 9th, 1976.
The Crown accepted his plea, the prosecutor telling the court: It may well be significant that he begins his statement to the police by pointing out his inability to find true friends and sustained happiness. He mentions being hurt and let down by girls, and this has motivated him to seek revenge on anybody or anything.
He tried to relieve his frustration by smashing cars and shop windows. This did not relieve it, so he felt he had to resort to human attacks.
The prosecutor revealed that Rowntrees ambition had been to kill five, thereby exceeding the tally of the Black Panther, Bradfords Donald Neilson. Rowntree told detectives he had daydreams of being put in the same cell as the Black Panther, and of the warders warning Neilson: This lad has killed five. Youd better watch out. He has killed with a knife.
A prison doctor told the court that Rowntree was suffering from schizophrenia and urgently needed psychiatric treatment in a secure hospital.
Mr. Justice Park then told the killer: It is clear from the medical evidence that at the time you committed these terrible crimes you were suffering from this severe mental illness. While at liberty, you are a danger to the public.
The judge then ordered Rowntree to be committed to Rampton without limit of time.