Hereford & Worcester

Triple child murders: The lodger who destroyed a family

Elsie Ralph and her three children Paul, Dawn and Samantha Image copyright Ralph family
Image caption Elsie Ralph sits with her three children (l-r) Paul, Samantha and Dawn

In 1973, a 20-year-old man murdered and mutilated his friends' three young children. No motive has ever been established and he has never expressed regret. Now, 45 years after being jailed, David McGreavy is due to walk the streets again.

It was a crime that would destroy a family, horrify the nation and - with its gruesome details - continue to provoke furious reaction in Worcester.

Yet it has largely stayed below the radar of the British public.

WARNING: This account includes descriptions some readers might find distressing

Image copyright PA
Image caption David McGreavy was 21 when he was told he would serve at least 20 years for the murders

As far as Clive and Elsie Ralph were concerned, Friday 13 April 1973 had been unfolding like any ordinary day.

Mr Ralph was a lorry driver, Mrs Ralph was a barmaid and they lived on Gillam Street in Worcester with their children Dawn, Paul and Samantha, aged four, two and nine months.

Their lodger, Mr Ralph's friend David McGreavy, was helpful to have around, as Mr Ralph's job meant he was often away from home and Mrs Ralph sometimes worked evening shifts. McGreavy was good with the children and seemed to enjoy looking after them.

That spring evening, while Mr Ralph was combining a last-orders pint with collecting his wife from work, McGreavy, having drunk between five and seven pints of beer, could not stop baby Samantha's crying.

He later said he just put his hand over her mouth, left it there, and "that was it".

The nine-month-old was dead.

Next, McGreavy went into the room he shared with Paul, four, and strangled him with a wire. He followed this by slitting two-year-old Dawn's throat, and battering Samantha until her skull was fractured.

He then went into the cellar and got a pitchfork with which he mutilated the dead children.

Then he took them into the garden, spiked their small corpses on to some iron railings between two back gardens, and walked out.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Both police and public were shocked by the murders

When Mr and Mrs Ralph returned home, their children were missing. There was blood across their two-bedroom terraced home. Their lodger was nowhere to be seen. They called the police.

PC Bob Rees was the unfortunate person to shine his torch around the garden and make the grim discovery, and within two hours McGreavy was found wandering around the nearby Lansdowne Road.

When arrested, McGreavy asked "what's all this about?" and denied any knowledge of the murders. But at the police station, he admitted killing the children.

He told officers how he did it but not why he did it.

He has never said why.

Image caption The BBC reporting from the scene in 1973

An old friend of Mr Ralph, McGreavy was an impulsive young man - he once proposed marriage to a girl just a week after meeting her - who tended to flare up after drinking, but he had given no indication he might kill.

He grew up in an Army family, moving frequently as his father took on different posts across the UK and in Germany.

He joined the Royal Navy but was dishonourably discharged after setting fire to a rubbish bin. Colleagues from those days described him as "rather arrogant" and said he always had to have the last word.

He returned from his base at RNAS Brawdy in Pembrokeshire to live in Worcester with his parents, getting short-lived employment as a labourer, a chef and a factory worker. He often lost jobs because of his drinking and cocky attitude.

His fiancée broke off their relationship on New Year's Eve 1971 and McGreavy argued with his parents. The 20-year-old moved in with the Ralphs.

He paid £6 a week in rent and occasionally cooked and babysat.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption The children were found in a garden to the rear of Gillam Street, Worcester

Judy Lessemun and her husband Roger had lived in the road for about three years at the time of the murders. She had a job in the city centre and walked past the Ralph home every day on her way to work, and had seen Mrs Ralph with the children.

"On the Saturday morning I got up early like I did every day, about 7am, and opened my curtains and there right in front of me in my front garden were two police officers and sniffer dogs sniffing around.

"I was shocked. I didn't know what had happened. I left for work as usual and asked the policeman what he was doing and he said he was looking for a weapon, but he wouldn't say more than that. I tried to walk my usual route down Gillam Street but it was blocked off at one end by police.

"It wasn't until I got home that night I found out from neighbours there had been a murder. First we heard one murder and it was a child. Then people said that night it was more but we didn't know.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption A police officer stands outside the address in Gillam Street following the killings

"I waited for [my husband] Roger to get home from work and told him, but it wasn't until we read the paper the next day we found out it was three murders and all children. We were in a state of shock. Nobody knew what to say.

"When you walked past the house after it was chilling. You felt really cold. They were put on neighbours' railings. Can you imagine how bad it was for them?

"Even now when I've walked past the same type of railings I still think about it. Awful.

"They must've been hung up like in a butchers. I thought 'how cruel, how could someone be so cruel?'"

Image caption Judy and Roger Lessemun have lived in the area for nearly 50 years

At the time, Alec Mackie, now 79, was a reporter for the Birmingham Evening Mail. He attended a news conference at Worcester's police station before the press were taken to Gillam Street.

"I was the father of three small children, slightly older than those three," he said.

"Having been told what had happened, I was invited [by police] to go up the alleyway. I saw the tarpaulin over the fence between two properties, which was horrific, and I thought of my kids all at home tucked up in bed that morning.

"McGreavy had already been arrested, we knew that, but we didn't say so because we wanted to get publicity for any witnesses or information. But when it became public, the atmosphere in Worcester was remarkable.

"The horrific way the children had been killed... it shocked the nation.

"Even now, when I drive past that area of Worcester, the memories always come back of that Saturday morning."

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Det Ch Supt Robert Booth, who led the investigation, said at the time that he could not give an accurate description to the public of what happened.

"It was just too horrifying. They were brutally, brutally murdered."

Image caption Det Ch Supt Robert Booth led the investigation in 1973

Mike Foster, Worcester's MP between 1997 and 2010, spoke out against McGreavy's release when the issue was raised during his tenure, and he continues to believe the killer should remain in jail.

"People still remember it as if it was yesterday. The nature of the killings and what he did with the bodies of children afterwards, that image stays with people. The horror of it makes the situation so much worse in people's minds.

"There's probably fewer than a dozen cases across the UK where people have the same view: the Moors murders, Soham murders, I would put them in the same bracket. When people hear the details, they are immediately struck by the horror."

Image caption Mrs Ralph worked some evening shifts at the Punch Bowl Inn

Timeline

April 1973 -David McGreavy kills four-year-old Paul Ralph and his sisters Dawn, two, and nine-month-old Samantha at their home in Gillam Street, Rainbow Hill, Worcester

June 1973 - McGreavy is jailed for life

1994 - McGreavy transferred to open prison (category D) then back to closed prison conditions (Category C)

2007 - One of a number of bids for parole refused

2009 - McGreavy told he must remain in jail under closed conditions. An anonymity order for his protection is granted

2013 - Anonymity order lifted with ninth parole review underway

2016 - Parole Board confirms McGreavy is being considered for release. Later that month it rejected his application

2018 - McGreavy is cleared for release from HMP Warren Hill in Suffolk

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Crowds gathered outside Worcester Crown Court ahead of McGreavy's appearance on 16 April 1973
Image caption The children's mother, now called Elsie Urry, said McGreavy ruined her life

Elsie Ralph was just 23 when police told her the news that collapsed her world.

She had to be sedated in the police station when she found out what had happened. She wasn't allowed to return to her home or see the children.

Psychiatrists deemed McGreavy sane and fit to stand trial.

He offered no defence, no explanation and pleaded guilty. He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 20 years.

After the trial and using the name Elsie Urry, Mrs Ralph moved away from the area. She says she "just doesn't know how to cope with it all some days" and tried to kill herself "a couple of times".

Her marriage broke down and she has not had any further children.

She believes McGreavy, if released, will kill again, despite a Parole Board report claiming he had "changed considerably".

"If this had happened to someone on the Parole Board, would they be thinking of letting this man go? No way. So why should I have to keep fighting to keep him in prison?

"There's nothing to say this man won't do something like this again.

"It has ruined my life. Why should he be released?"

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