Murder #24, Keith Needell, Highgate
On January 31st, 2011 Keith Needell, 84, was attacked in Queen’s Wood near Highgate. Needell was found with serious head injuries and was taken to hospital where he remained and died on July 16. Needell was one of 7 victims attacked by Ali Koc,30. Two of the victims died. All 7 victims were attacked within a 2,5 mile radius of Koc’s home. The court heard at the murder trial that all seven victims were attacked at random. Koc was found guilty of murder and was jailed for life.
After venturing far and wide from where I lived documenting the landscape of murder sites around London, I found myself somewhere very familiar. Queen’s Wood was just west of Muswell Hill and not too far from where I live. I love walking in Queen’s Wood and have trodden its paths dozens of times. Keith Needell died in July, months after being attacked. So I photographed where he was assaulted months after the attack when all evidence of the crime had long since gone. Instead what I was confronted with was the woods themselves. Queen’s Wood is a relatively unspoiled woods and not really a park. Its a great place to walk but it has no playground and its only amenity is a cafe at its very edges. In the middle of the woods it is easy to imagine being in the middle of a vast forest. Unless a loud siren goes by you have no sense you are near Highgate or Muswell Hill surrounded by well to do neighbourhoods. In winter and in bad weather the woods can be very dark.
It was on such a day that I visited Queen’s Wood, months after Needell was assaulted. I had no clue where to go so I started asking people who seemed regular walkers if they knew. I got conflicting directions but eventually I seemed to be at the spot where Needell was assaulted. One tree in particular seemed to loom near the spot. I made several photographs of the beautiful woods that seemed only haunting in knowledge of what had happened.
I never anticipated that when I started the project some some murders would be classified as such months after the event because the victim had died. I hadn’t thought about visiting murder sites so long after the crime. At most I thought it might be a week or two. Whenever I photographed there was always a small clue to the events that had occurred…a small piece of police tape, rubbish left behind by forensic teams, memorials from friends and relatives, a boarded up door, or a shuttered property. Always something and yet the first murder site I did was a landscape devoid of evidence of a crime.
I walked out of Queen’s Wood thinking how beautiful it was. It was hard to imagine two men had been attacked here in what would have been a peaceful routine for them. I knew I would return to walk the woods again for pleasure but always with the dark knowledge that murder had occurred.