The disappearance of Muriel McKay remains for me one of the most frightening and perplexing mysteries in British criminal history, a tragedy which began with a case of mistaken identity and climaxed with one of the first convictions for murder without a body being found.
It is a story that I have wanted to tell for decades.
In the mid-1980s, my late father, a diligent and determined policeman, secured a conviction for murder without a body being found, an achievement which, while not unique, was unusual. It stimulated memories of the case of Muriel McKay, which I then read an account of, although by then all books on the case were long out-of-print.
All these years later, despite the sea of research I am now on the other side of, I can still see those early, eerie images that the story conjured up in my mind, the chilling calls from isolated telephone boxes, the sinister farmhouse, the bleak, empty, wintry countryside on the Essex-Hertfordshire border, close to where I grew up, and most of all, the horror of how an adored woman can one moment be by her fireside and the next plunged into horror and darkness, never to be seen again.
Over the years it nagged at me that while Nizamodeen Hosein, one of the two brothers convicted of her murder, was still alive, there could be some hope of finally solving the puzzle of what really happened to Muriel and where she is buried. The three-year investigation meant battling to access closed police files, attempting to locate and interview Nizamodeen, and for the first time, to map every one of the hundreds of scraps of information in existence to see if they could finally build up a clearer picture of this most bewildering and senseless of mysteries.
Upon opening those long-closed files, it immediately became clear that there were acres of this story which had never been made public before, and which built up a powerful sense of the origins of the crime, and of a very different Britain. In particular, they built up a picture of the appalling Arthur Hosein, and allowed me to chronicle what had previously seemed an inexplicable journey from hard-working tailor to kidnapper and murderer. Also, in the light of the #MeToo movement, we can look back with horror at how the warning signs that Arthur was a highly dangerous man were ignored at the time.
I set out with the mantra that every single scrap of paper available was potentially important. Mapping hundreds of items, from household bills to seemingly irrelevant witness testimonies, finally, to my amazement, allowed almost every outstanding question on the case to have a potential solution.When one embarks on a project like this, you have that quiet fantasy that you will find that lost clue, that missing piece of the jigsaw, that vital piece of paper which has slipped through the cracks, and which just might provide the answer.
Amazingly, that just might have happened. The day that I unearthed a piece of paper in which, two years into his prison sentence, Arthur Hosein actually revealed where Muriel McKay perhaps is buried, a piece of paper never before shared with the police, is a day that I will never forget.
I was always aware that for this investigation to be thorough, I would have to attempt an interview with Nizamodeen Hosein. For decades he had been a face from true crime encyclopedias and press cuttings. Now, suddenly, there he was. He has a long history of manipulating people and playing for sympathy, but it was to my advantage that we clearly hated each other on sight. It meant that although the interview was conducted in a fairly testy way, time wasn’t wasted having to wade through his usual charades. The interview proved to be more about calling out his lies than unearthing the truth, but by the end of it, I did feel that his responses had provided a few small steps closer to my conclusions. He is an empty shell, seemingly devoid of any empathy or compassion. It’s hard to believe that someone can care so little about something that has disfigured their whole life, and the lives of others.
At the end of three years, I can at least say that I have offered answers to all the outstanding questions on the case. Whether the reader agrees with them is another matter. But the one question that remains unanswerable is why something so senseless and cruel ever happens, why evil men commit evil deeds.
One thing that I am certain of is that “money” is not the whole answer. Yes, this is a story about the love of money, and the hunger for money. But I honestly believe that even if the Hoseins had been born wealthy men, they would still have committed a dreadful crime.
A Desperate Business: The Murder of Muriel McKay, is available now.