Killing the Cleavers – (but not Beaver Cleaver)

New York Forest – Brockenhurst – England. At 80 years old, successful retired publisher Joseph Cleaver and his wife Hilda, a 70-year-old invalid, lived peacefully with their 46-year-old daughter-in-law Wendy in the beautiful, isolated Burgate House with its 14 acresin New York Forest. They were quiet, yet sociable people and were well-like in the community. Why is it that it’s usually the nicest people who meet terrible ends? Fate must have a lousy sense of humour.

Thatched hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom, Europe

Thatched hotel, Brockenhurst, New Forest, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom, Europe

On September 2, 1986, the Cleavers’ gardener and cleaner headed to the house as usual as 10:30 a.m. Today a frightening sight awaited them:smoke was pouring from the upstairs windows and when the hurried inside, they saw that the ground floor had been ransacked. The Cleavers’ poodle rushed to them, already half-dead from a terrible wound to its head. Later the animal had to be put down. On going upstairs the employees found Wendy dead and half-naked on her bed. The master bedroom was so hot, they couldn’t enter it and when the gardener attempted to call police, he discovered the phone line had been cut. The killers were pretty determined to do away with these people.

The gardener and cleaner high-tailed it out of there and into town. When officers and firemen went to the house they found carpets, furniture and curtains had been sprinkled with petrol, and scraps of firelighter littered the floors. Pictures hung awry where intruders had searched for a wall-safe, and Joseph Cleaver’s gun cabinet was empty. The Cleavers and their son Tom had been gagged, tied and burned. Tom had lost a leg some years earlier in a car crash. The family’s elderly nurse Margaret Murphy was discovered in the master bedroom. An autopsy established that Wendy Cleaver had been raped and strangled.

After hours of searching through the ransacked mess, police found a letter to Joseph Cleaver from a Bournemouth couple, George and Fiona Stephenson. They had successfully applied for the live-in posts of housekeeper and cook. However their term of employment hadn’t lasted long. Mr. Cleaver dismissed Stephenson for drunkenness and beating his wife. The Stephensons hadn’t returned to their previous address. It was now the home of another couple, and when police went there they found the Cleavers’ TV and video player.

ku-xlargeIf only Joseph Cleaver had looked into George Stephenson’s background he never would have hired the man. Stephenson had been jailed several times for offences including burglary, fraud and assaulting a policeman. Now a nationwide search was launched for him, his picture appearing on television and in newspapers across the country.
Oddly, this brought a quick response from him. He phoned the police in Hampshire from Coventry, saying he had seen himself pictured in the Coventry Evening Telegraph as a wanted man, and he was returning to Hampshire to give himself up. He then did so two days later. Not much of a fight there. The police had learned that another man, 25-year-old George Daly and his brother John, 21, were somehow connected to the Stephensons. They were arrested at their home address.

As it turned out the Daly brothers were also culprits. All three pleaded not guilty to five counts of murder when their trial began at Winchester Crown Court on October 6th, 1987. Stephenson and George Daly also denied rape and robbery, but John Daly admitted both. The prosecution alleged that Stephenson had planned the raid on Burgate House in revenge for his dismissal. John Daly had told detectives that after he raped Wendy Cleaver he was joined by Stephenson, who placed a knife and a piece of cloth on the bed. “He didn’t say anything, but I knew what they were for–to kill her with. I turned her on to her face, slipped the cloth round her neck and pulled tight. Her face went blue and she died.” Lovely.

George Daly told the police that while he was loading the stolen goods from the house into their car, Stephenson told him, “They are already dead and I have poured petrol on them.” George Daly lit a firelighter and threw it into the master bedroom. Stephenson claimed he gave himself up to clear his name, but the court was told that before surrendering to the police he spent a day concocting an alibi.

The trial ended with Stephenson receiving six life sentences for murder and rape. John Daly was given seven life sentences for rape, robbery and five murders, and his brother was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 22 years. As far as I’m concerned, that’s too good for him. The trio had found only $180.00 in the house, missing the wall-safe concealed behind a curtain…and $1,400.00 hidden in Thomas Cleaver’s artificial leg ironically, to keep it safe from thieves. Well at least it was worth the effort.

 

 

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