Suzanne Capper was a 16-year-old girl from Greater Manchester, England. Those who knew her said that all she wanted in her life was to be loved. She didn’t know her real father and she lived with her stepfather, John, after he split up from her mother, Elizabeth. She soon started to play truant from school and drifted from house to house, trying to find affection from anybody. While Suzanne had her issues, she was still known as a “high-spirited, well-mannered girl” who would help her stepfather out around the house and was thoroughly polite.1
Soon, Suzanne started to hang out at the house of Jean Powell, 26, who she had babysat for when she was 10-years-old. The dilapidated house at 97 Langworthy Road was a hot spot for drug dealing, parties and sex. Amphetamines would be weighed out on kitchen scales and stolen cars would be traded. “I tried to stop Suzanne going there but she had a very strong will,” said John. Moreover, John didn’t know the extent of what was going on behind closed doors. He just had a strange feeling about Jean and those who frequented her home, often referring to it as a “house of evil.” It was here in this house that Suzanne fell in with the wrong crowd. Glyn Powell, 29, was Jean’s ex-husband who had convictions for burglary, theft, and being drunk and disorderly. Bernadette McNeilly, 24, was a drug addicted mother of three. Anthony Dudson, 17, was Jean’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. Jeffrey Leigh, 26, had convictions for robbing his 86-year-old disabled aunt. Clifford Hayes, 18, was Jean’s brother and Suzanne’s ex boyfriend.
Suzanne continued to frequent the home despite the fact that almost everybody there bullied her and took advantage of her kind nature. “It was not that she was scared of them, it’s just she would do anything for them. She pampered their every whim,” recalled her sister, Michelle. In fact, in late 1992, Suzanne went to her mother’s home after being beaten up by Jean. Her mother cruelly turned her away when Suzanne begged to be let in the house and allowed to stay overnight. Her mother said her boyfriend wouldn’t allow it and Suzanne walked back to Jean’s house. “I believe that had she done something to help Suzanne, thing might be very different today. As a parent myself I would find what Suzanne’s mother did very hard to live with,” said Michelle’s fiance, Paul Barlow. Before Suzanne became involved with the group at Jean’s house, she had no human companionship other than from her family. In this squalid house on Langworthy Road, Suzanne found a source of human contact and she found it difficult to break that friendship up despite the fact it was abusive.
Then in December of 1992, the group claimed that Suzanne had stolen a pink duffle coat and infected them all with pubic lice. At the time, Anthony was having sexual relations with Jean, Bernadette and Suzanne. According to Anthony, he must have contracted the pubic lice from Suzanne. While these grievances – whether true or not – would appear insubstantial and trivial, the cumulative effect was to bring Suzanne into contempt and then turn that contempt into hostility. On the 7th of December, 1992, the gang lured her from her stepfather’s home back to their home under the pretence that a guy who she fancied was there and was wanting to see her. Once inside, Suzanne was held down while Glyn shaved her head, eyebrows, and pubic area. Afterwards, he placed a plastic bag over her head and walked around her while hitting her on the head. Laughing and shouting, the gang took turns hitting her with belt buckles and large ornamental wooden spoons. The beating was so severe that one of Suzanne’s arms would hang useless by her side for the rest of her imprisonment. Following the beating, Suzanne was locked in a cupboard.
Out of fear Suzanne’s cries and screams were disturbing Jean and Bernadette’s children who also lived in the grimy home, the gang moved her to Bernadette’s abandoned home which was just a few doors down. Here, Suzanne was shackled spread eagle to an upturned bed with chains and ropes. She had socks stuffed in her mouth to muffle any screams. Over the next five days, Suzanne was subjected to a catalogue of torture. Her two front teeth were pulled out with pliers and another was snapped in half, leaving the nerve exposed. She was injected with amphetamines and burned on the face and body with cigarettes. After the stench of Suzanne lying in her own excrement became unbearable, she was shoved into a bathtub filled with concentrated disinfectant and scrubbed with a yard brush until her skin came off. Through all of the torture and abuse, Suzanne was subjected to a tape of Chucky repeating: “I’m Chucky, wanna play?” through headphones as well as rave music at maximum volume.
In the early morning hours of the 14th of December, 1992, Suzanne was forced into the boot of a Fiat Panda car that the gang has stolen. They drove her to remote woodland near Stockport where she was forced out of the car and shoved down an embankment, rolling through dank leaves and brambles, with thorns cutting her bare feet. Bernadette poured petrol over the terrified teenager and they set her alight. “She went straight up in flames and was screaming,” said Jean. The gang presumed she was dead and left the scene laughing and singing “burn, baby, burn.”2 However, Suzanne didn’t die as quickly and anonymously as the gang had hoped… Somehow Suzanne managed to survive the brutal attack. She staggered up the embankment and was found by Barry Sutcliffe, who was driving to work. When she was found, Suzanne repeatedly thanked Barry before muttering: “Over there, in the field. They burnt me, they put petrol on me…”3 Barry did not need to be told what had happened to Suzanne, it was clear from the skin hanging from her battered body. Suzanne had suffered from burns to 80% of her body.
Unfortunately, Suzanne died four days later in Withington Hospital but not before she named all of her killers. “It was clear from the outset that Suzanne was unlikely to survive. She suffered superficial but widespread burns that led to several complications internally. There was a partial collapse in one of her lungs,” said Dr. William Lawler, a Home Office pathologist.4
When police arrived at 97 Langworthy Road, they were met by a complete and utter mess. The living room was strewn with rubbish and there were stolen car seats along the walls in lieu of sofas. In the home, they found Suzanne’s hair in the bin, a pair of bloody pliers and Suzanne’s discarded teeth. Initially, the gang all denied any involvement but then Anthony, urged by his father, began to tell the truth. “As the story began to unfold, we just couldn’t believe it. I kept asking myself how one human being could do this to another,” said a detective working on the case.5 Even the most hardened officers were moved to tears.
During the trial, the gang turned on each other to alleviate the blame from themselves. Also, all of them distanced themselves from the final act of horror of the burning of Suzanne. According to Jean, she sat in the car while the others set Suzanne alight. “I was numb. I was scared,” she alleged.6 She also claimed that she had locked Suzanne in a cupboard “for her own safety” and that she loved “her as a sister,” adding that she “can’t stand violence. I don’t even smack my own children.7 Bernadette claimed she had held the canister of petrol but said that Anthony had grabbed it from her moments before Suzanne went up in flames. She also claimed that she had injected Suzanne with amphetamines to protect her from being injected with heroin. Anthony told the court that Glyn had been the one to set Suzanne on fire.
During the sentencing phase, Judge Francis Potts called the murder “as appalling a murder as it is possible to imagine.” He sentenced Jean Powell, Bernadette McNeilly and Glyn Powell to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years. Jeffrey Leigh was sentenced to 12 years. Anthony Dudson was detained indefinitely with a minimum tariff of 18 years. Clifford Hayes was sentenced to 15 years. In 2012, Jean Powell’s sentence was reduced by two years after she allegedly showed remorse and helped prevent a jail escape. Bernadette McNeilly (who enjoyed a romance with Myra Hindley behind bars), Jeffrey Leigh and Clifford Hayes have all since been released.
- The Times, 18 December, 1993 – “Gentle Teenager Was Fatally Attracted to House of Evil”
- The Independent, 18 December, 1993 – “Petty Grudges Settled by Torture Spree then Murder”
- The Times, 18 November, 1993 – “Burns Girl Politely Thanked her Rescuers”
- The Times, 9 January, 1993 – “Coroner Told How 16-year-old Girl was Tortured and Burnt”
- The Guardian, 18 December, 1993 – “Sadistic Death Went Beyond Belief”
- The Independent, 1 December, 1993 – “Woman Sat Numb as Girl Burned”
- The Guardian, 18 December, 1993 – “Dominant Personalities Who Can Draw Individuals into Group Sadism”