At 80-years-old, convicted killer Peter Pickering has spent the last 46 years of his life locked up in a psychiatric unit with little possibility of release. A violent sexual predator known as the ‘Beast of Wombwell’, he had a long history of attacks on young women before he was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Shirley Ann Boldy in the South Yorkshire town of Wombwell, near Barnsley in 1972.
After an eventful month where he stood trial for the rape of an 18-year-old girl carried out just weeks before he murdered Shirley Ann Boldy, Peter Pickering died suddenly on 25 March 2018 at his current psychiatric unit in Berkshire, England. After his death, police have revealed that Pickering had also been questioned over the last two years in relation to the unsolved murder of 14-year-old Elsie Frost, who was killed in Wakefield in 1965 as she walked through an underpass beneath a railway line.
When an individual is found to have purposely taken the life of another, the question of whether they have killed before always begins to circulate. Data from the Murder Accountability Project states around 5,000 people kill someone in the United States each year and don’t get caught. Furthermore, since 1980 there are over 222,000 homicides that remain unsolved.
Data on potential active serial killers in the UK is a little harder to come by. Professor David Wilson is widely regarded as the country’s top criminologist and his research has suggested that on average there could be two serial killers active within the UK at any one time. In the television series ‘Killers Behind Bars’, which aired for two seasons across 2012 and 2013 on British TV, Head of Criminology at Birmingham University Professor Wilson examined known serial killers and whether they could be linked to other unsolved crimes. “My hypothesis is that many of the serial killers we catch will have killed before,” he said.
Shirley Ann Boldy was a bubbly schoolgirl simply walking back to high school after her lunch break on 13 July 1972 when she was abducted by Pickering. Then 34-years-old, he was three times her size giving her no chance to fight back against him. After throwing her into his van, he tied her up and raped her before driving almost 10 miles to a remote area in a nearby village. The end of his savage attack was caught when workmen in the area witnessed Pickering wearing yellow marigold gloves stabbing Shirley Boldy with a knife. The workmen were horrified that they couldn’t intervene before Pickering drove away at high-speed, but their reports to police ensured he was traced and arrested that evening. When questioned, Pickering confessed to the crime and led police to where he had left Shirley’s body.
The murder of Elsie Frost had remained an unsolved case that haunted the Wakefield area. In 2015, West Yorkshire Police reopened her case with Elsie’s family determined to uncover who was responsible for her violent and senseless death. She had been stabbed at least five times with enough force to pierce her heart, ensuring she did not survive.
During their investigation, police detectives found multiple storage boxes in a rental garage in Sheffield in South Yorkshire. Inside were a number of letters, diaries, and documents belonging to Peter Pickering. The content of the documents, the Guardian reported, led police to believe that Pickering ‘had a long-held desire to commit violent offences against young girls.’
One letter suggested a sexual attack on an 18-year-old girl just weeks before he murdered Shirley Boldy. Police managed to track down the woman, who is now in her 60s and has not been publicly named, and discovered she had been attacked and raped by Pickering in June 1972 and had never reported the assault. Detective Superintendent Nick Wallen who investigated this case said, “His victim has had to live a lifetime of knowing that Pickering, while not at large, had not answered for the dreadful and terrifying ordeal he put her through on that evening.”
On 21 March 2018, Peter Pickering was found guilty of rape at Leeds Crown Court after his victim bravely testified against him. Appearing via video-link from his psychiatric unit, Pickering was told new mental health reports would be ordered before he would be sentenced. Four days later, Pickering died.
Peter Pickering was a sexual predator who may have carried out many more attacks on young woman before he was caught and sectioned in 1972. Alongside being a suspect in the murder of Elsie Frost, the IB Times reported in March 2017 that Pickering was being looked at in relation to the unsolved murder of 13-year-old Anne Dunwell, who was raped and strangled in Whiston, Rotherham in May 1964. “Peter Pickering is obviously of interest. He is potentially a serial killer,” the South Yorkshire Police said at the time.
With his death comes disappointment for the family of Elsie Frost, who was so close to bringing the man it is believed to have murdered Elsie to court and finally having the opportunity to achieve justice for this young girl and see her killer punished. “They uncovered a monster. The man was such a nasty, nasty piece of work,” Elsie’s brother, Colin Frost said, reported the Dorset Echo. “If you’re asking my opinion, there are other offences. I couldn’t say whether it’s another rape, another kidnap, another murder. The suspicion at the back of my mind is that it’s all of them.”