Murder #31, Louisa Brannan, Sutton
Louisa Brannan, 35, was found dead at a flat in Sutton on March 14 2011. She had suffered multiple stab wounds to her body and a heavy blow to her head. Police launched a manhunt for Reece Ludlow, 18, who lived at the flat, but he was not arrested until March 20 when he was found drunk on a train at Victoria Station. Ludlow eventually pleaded guilty to the murder was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years before parole.
Visiting the site of Louisa Brannan’s murder was the first of many visits to the borough of Croydon for me. Not knowing the bus routes I opted for the long hike from Sutton Station to Oakwood Court. The building in which Brannan died was a small block of flats where every entrance was guarded by police officers. A few reporters from the local papers where on the scene and soon pointed me to the front of the building where a lot of forensic officers where suiting up to enter the flat where Brannan was stabbed to death by Reece Ludlow, an 18 year old man who seemed even younger in the photographs released of him. I watched the forensic officers go in one by one and the photo above is of the last officer going in. I didn’t make many photos after that but waited for something that never happened. I could see the blacked out windows of Brannan’s flat. I left when the forensic teams left.
At the time of the photos Ludlow was still on the run from the police so I checked daily as the police searched for him and 5 days later he was caught. Apparently he picked up Brannan at a pub and then murdered her, partly to get back at an ex girlfriend . Brannan had suffered much hardship in her life and it was a tragic end to her life. It was the fifth murder site involving violence against a woman. Over the months as I read the details of the murder through the court case I could not help think about Brannan a lot. I was very happy with the photo I took in Sutton so I looked at it a lot and showed it every time I shared my project with others. So many threads run through the case, domestic violence, mental health issues, and young male aggression.
When I first came to London I worked for a computer magazine that hired me to do B&W portraits of their main interview. In the 90s that meant I would make about 5 prints and deliver them in person to their offices in Sutton. So the journey to the place Louisa Brannan lost her life was very familiar to me. A journey I had made dozens of time for several years. Sutton for years meant this to me, a train ride with an envelope of large prints made by me the night before. Now whenever Sutton comes up I think of Louisa Brannan and her slow violent death. I think of Ludlow’s ex girlfriend hearing Brannan’s screams on the phone, I think of Ludlow’s mother having to call the police after her son confessed his crime to her. Men in blue forensic suits entering and leaving the building making crunching noises with their shoes as they walked along the gravel driveway in front of the building. Just the crunching noises, nothing else.
Anthony Whitefield, 47, was murdered and dismembered sometime between February 6th and 31st of March 2011. Mr. Whitefield’s severed arms were found in Roding Lake while the torso and legs were found in other locations. Whitefield’s head has not been found. Douglas Binet, 54, was arrested and found guilty of the murder. After being found guilty , Binet was asked by the court to reveal the location of Whitefield’s head and Binet refused.
I normally found out about murders through daily checking of the Metropolitan Police’s web site and the excellent Murder Map website run by Peter Stubley. I also regularly checked local newspaper websites and places like the Daily Mail, a newspaper I don’t like but have to grudgingly accept that unlike most national newspapers they cover crime well ( though I sometimes think their motives are suspect). I was unaware that a murder had occurred in Loughton at first because it was technically in the jurisdiction of Essex police and not the Met. Another reason I was unaware of it at first was because it was not classified as a murder. An arm had been found by an angler fishing in Roding Lake and then the lake had been drained by the police looking for more body parts. The other arm was eventually found. Douglas Binet, the man eventually convicted of the murder had buried other parts of the body in the rear of his house nearby. Anthony Whitefield’s head was never found.
I was drawn to the lake when I finally knew enough details of the case to make it part of my project. I took the long tube journey to Buckhurst Hill on the Central Line. I mistimed the journey and arrived much later than I had expected. I had a about half an hour of daylight left when I began. I remember it being miserably cold and overcast as I made my way around the lake crossing paths with dog walkers and people making their way home from work. The lake had been emptied during the search for body parts and when I had read this I imagined a tiny lake but Roding Lake was much bigger than I had expected. I had a hard time imagining it without water and kicked myself for having missed that. The lake had retuned to its serenity by the time of my visit. As the light disappeared my exposures became longer. I photographed from several vantage points until almost no light was left. I made my way back through the park wondering if the Whitefield’s head was buried nearby among the patches of trees that surrounded the lake.
The area was once covered in forest, part of what is now Epping Forest. The area with its tree cover and location close to London have made it notorious as a burial area for murder victims. Dick Turpin and his Highwaymen known as the Essex gang operated in the area. It was easy to see from the remnants of woods around the lake that this was a good place for hiding out and burying secrets when this area was still countryside, before the trains and the subsequent development. Murder victims had been found buried nearby as recently as 1966. I knew that Whitefield’s head lay nearby somewhere and that the area still held dark secrets.
Piotr Maculewicz, 29, suffered fatal injuries in a fight at his workplace in Shepherds Bush, west London, on Friday 11 March, 2011. Paramedics were called to a garage workshop in the forecourt of Sulgrave Gardens to find him suffering from injuries to his head, face and ribs. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Paval Dunanov, a 28 year-old Ukrainian attacked Mr Maculewicz, a Polish national, during a drunken row at work. On July 9, 2012, a jury cleared Dunanov of murder but convicted him of manslaughter. Dunanov was jailed for seven years.
Most murders seem to happen at night. I toyed with the idea that I should photograph the murder sites at the time the actual murder had occurred. I realised that if I did this I would be photographing a lot in the dark and all the photographs would have the orange glow from the sodium vapor lights that are used for street lighting in most London streets. And I did not want that uniform to the photographs though it did give a certain menacing look to the scene.
I went to Sulgrave Road just south of Shepherds Bush Common late on a Saturday the day after the murder. The sun was going down and police had cordoned off the small tower block of Sulgrave Gardens and were not allowing anyone near except its residents.The forecourt of the building lay on the other side and I could not get anywhere near it. I went to Shepherds Bush Road which overlooked the forecourt and could see forensic officers doing their work next to one of those yellow pop up tents that they set up at every crime scene. But by this time it had gotten dark and I decided to come back the next day.
On my return the next day the police were gone and I could photograph on the forecourt. Again I had come late in the day but I stayed until dark to make my photographs. It was the first set of images I had made in the dark for my project. For once I felt that the night matched the scene. It was also around the same time 2 days earlier that Piotr Maculewicz had been killed. At the time no one knew the name of the victim or much else. It would be a week before he was identified. It was the 4th murder of the 29 I had done so far that involved an Eastern European national. During the next two years of my project more men from eastern Europe would find themselves victims of murder. It reflected the large number of single men from the region that had come to work to London.They would find themselves in situations of sharing flats and houses with a large number of their fellow countrymen. They would be free of the social constraints that families, friends and community provided. Many would find solace in alcohol and many fights that led to a killing were fuelled by alcohol. The court heard that Maculewicz and Paval Dunanov were involved in a fight fuelled by alcohol. I can’t imagine a fight about work getting out of hand to the degree that one person is beaten to death. But like 99% of the murders I could not comprehend the circumstances. I felt alienated from the subject matter at hand and at the same time I was learning fast.
Lastly, it was only my second visit to west London. The east west divide that has always plagued London was making itself very evident in my project. Whatever factors lead to violent crime they were mostly evident on the eastern half of the city.
Ram Bhasin, 80, and his lodger Sunil Koosuru, 29, were killed in a house fire in the early hours of Monday 7 March, 2011. Their bodies were found by firefighters after a blaze at their maisonette in Chapman Street, Shadwell, east London. A postmortem gave the cause of death for both men as smoke inhalation. Mr Bhasin’s son Aaron Bhasin pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The court heard he started to suffer psychotic delusions after a heart attack in December 2010 left him brain damaged. Bhasin, 53, was sentenced to indefinite imprisonment for public protection with a minimum of six years before parole.
I normally waited a couple of days to visit a murder site but after I heard about the murder on Chapman Street I made my way there the day after. I exited the DLR line at Shadwell and made the short walk down to the building where the fire had occurred. I was confronted with a scene still guarded by many policemen and police tape everywhere. I approached from the east and could see the flat that had burned. I could also smell the smoke and dampness associated with it. I was photographing a policeman guarding the front door but was very unhappy with the position I was in. It did not help that the police on the scene wanted to me stay further back. A woman who was watching me from a neighbouring flat called me and suggested I go to the other side of the building for a better shot. I followed her advice and was relieved to find it free of police and it allowed me to shoot straight into the second floor flat.
Shadwell has one of the oldest Asian communities in London and it continues to have a strong Asian presence to say the least. Just a hundred meters south is Cable Street mural which marks the spot where the Cable Street riots happened as anti fascists battled Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. Chapman Street runs parallel with the DLR rail line and the passing trains provided a constant rumble. The area was heavily bombed during the Blitz and this is illustrated by the lack of building and housing stock around Chapman Street that predates the war.
As I started shooting from my new vantage point I soon attracted a crowd of mostly Bangladeshi men quite content to watch me work without asking questions. I sensed they were unsure if I was Asian or not. Something about my whole demeanour seemed to tell them I was not. I had photographed two previous fires and they had both involved Asian victims. I started to wonder if this was a trend. It was also the third time I had photographed a scene that involved a double homicide. A woman suddenly emerged from the flat next to the fire. She was elderly and in her night gown and stared at me while I photographed. It looked like she was wondering why a crowd of men with a camera had gathered across the way.
I tried to photograph other things. The police standing guard, the vast amounts of police tape at the scene at street level. I even tried to get the small crowd around me in the frame by backing further back but they just followed me. The light was harsh and I wished for clouds. I kept expecting someone to lay some flowers at the scene but no one did. No one seemed to be grieving the loss of two men. Sunil Koosuru was from India and had only been in London a short time working as an IT manager. The other victim was the perpetrator’s elderly father.
One more fact about the case that seemed to be recurring in my project so far. Sunil Koosuru was the 11th victim be foreign born or a recent immigrant. His body returned to his homeland, dreams unfulfilled. Murder seemed to be stalking the immigrant communities of London.
Solomon Sarfo, 34, was stabbed to death in Brixton Hill, south London on Sunday, 27 February, 2011. He was found injured in Tilson Gardens at the junction with Forster Road at around 11.35pm. Paramedics attended but he was pronounced dead at the scene an hour later. A postmortem gave the cause of death as stab wounds including a fatal injury to the heart.On August 1, 2011 Jamie Rickerby was convicted of murder. Rickerby had tried to rob Sarfo of a large amount of cash. He was jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years before parole.
Brixton Hill/Streatham Hill is at the southern edges of what we call Brixton. I boarded the bus from Brixton tube south and got off just near Moorish Road. I walked down Moorish Road past the flat where Lorna Smith was murdered. The flat’s windows where still boarded up. I made my way through the maze of the southeast part of Clapham Park estate and soon found the spot where Solomon had died. A few flowers were placed on the railings and blue bags of rubbish from a nearby construction site were all that marked the scene. While I was photographing I met a couple of detectives canvassing the area looking for witnesses or any information that would help their investigations. They chatted with me for a short time while seemingly perplexed about what I was doing and why. They told me vaguely of their suspicions about what had happened to Solomon. They seemed confident about solving the case. I kept hoping someone besides cops would talk to me but for the couple of hours I was there no one came up to ask me what I was doing. I kept having to dodge construction trucks coming and going from the nearby building site. After a couple of hours I decided that the scene was not gonna change. The weather was grey and cold and I doubted I would get better light. I knew no one was going to come up and mourn Solomon while I was there. Solomon was from Ghana and had only been in London 5 years. Most of the people closest to him were very far away including his children and wife. London had devoured him before he had a chance to do something with his life. Maybe he had strayed into crime and drugs hoping for a quick route out of poverty. Maybe he was under a lot of pressure to provide for his family back in Africa, the lot of many immigrant men alone in London. Solomon’s Facebook page is full of the bravado common in young men but his first post in 2009 states “Can somebody tell where mr truth is. It seem this world we living in right now is full of lies”
The body of Gagandip Singh, 21, was found in the boot of a burnt out car in Blackheath, south London, in the early hours of February 26, 2011. Police officers on patrol came across the Mercedes C-class on fire in Angerstein Lane. Tests later revealed the victim suffered severe head injuries and was still alive when the car was set alight. Three 19 year olds were charged with the murder, Mundill Mahil, Harvinder Singh Shoker, and Darren Peters. The prosecution claimed that Mahil plotted to murder Mr Singh after he tried to sexually assault her in August 2010. Shortly after arriving at Mahil’s house in Brighton he was attacked by Shoker and Peters. Gagandip was beaten unconscious, wrapped in a duvet, put into the boot of the Mercedes and driven to Blackheath. Petrol was poured over the vehicle and set alight. On February 24, 2012, Shoker was convicted of murder and Peters was convicted of manslaughter. Mahil was cleared of murder but convicted of wounding with intent. On February 29 Shoker was jailed for life with a minimum of 22 years before parole. Peters was jailed for 12 years while Mahil was jailed for six years.
‘An urban myth is that Blackheath was associated with the 1665 Plague or the Black Death of the mid-14th century. The idea that Blackheath got its name from its use as a burial pit goes all the way back to the medieval period, when it was almost certainly used for the disposal of the dead during the ‘Black Death’. So says Wikipedia about Blackheath near where Gagandip Singh’s burnt body was found. Disposed of and burned in a car after being beaten badly.
I exited Blackheath station and made the long walk over Blackheath open fields, north to Angerstein Lane. The Lane is hidden behind the grand houses that overlook Blackheath from the north side. The Lane is unpaved, really its a dirt track, and would be almost invisible except for its local residents. Beneath a blackened tree laid the flowers and candles that marked the spot where Singh died. The charred tree stood out from the moss tinged trees that stood all around it. The burned Mercedes car had been taken away and I could see that the night before there had been a candlelight vigil at the spot. I cursed myself for not having shown up a day earlier. I craved to photograph people for this project and still felt uneasy photographing landscapes devoid of walking living human beings. And yet it also filled me with a lot of dread having to confront people in the midst of mourning. Beyond the murder it was also strange to be surrounded by grand houses that were really mansions in another area. Some had been chopped up into flats but the area still felt extremely wealthy. Poverty did not lurk as it had in the previous images I had made. Only couples, mostly middle aged, walked by in what seem to be a daly routine, sometimes with a dog in tow, as I photographed. I made photographs of the candles that were arranged to spell “Gagandip”, the flowers but I settled on a photograph that showed the quiet dirt track lined with trees. I walked back to Blackheath Station crossing the Heath really wondering if there were mass graves beneath my feet filled with victims of the Black Death. It does seem that open spaces in London, many of them beautiful, have dark secrets beneath them. They all seem to have an alternative history to their present day use as parks and play areas.
Weeks and months went by and the murder of Gagandip Singh would get a lot of press. The fact that it involved a beautiful young woman and a honeytrap plot seemed to thrill some parts of the media. The whole case seemed scripted by cliches of what murder is. Jealousy, sex, violence, kidnapping, a nice car and the murder site deemed it an interesting story. The murder even made news in India and all parts of the Asian Press. One of my Asian neighbours in North London seemed quite abreast of facts about the case. It had a lot of soap opera elements. The girl in question, Mundill Mahill, got most of the attention even though she was given the smallest punishment for her role. The whole story seemed to revolve around her character. Very much like the Amanda Knox case.It went against the grain of most of the murder cases I photographed. Most of the victims whose stories I came to know remained anonymous, whose deaths in all its elements seemed mundane or unexciting to be covered by the press. Nothing to hang a witty headline on.
Victor Parsons, 67, was found unconscious by a member of the public near the gates of Alexandra Park, Alexandra Palace Way. Parsons was one of 7 men who had been attacked in the area over a 4 week period by the same individual. Mr Parsons had suffered head injuries and remained in a critical condition in hospital until his death on February 25. Ali Koc, 30, went on trial at Woolwich Crown Court on March 19, 2012, accused by the prosecution that he attacked all seven victims at random within 2.5 miles of his home, punching, headbutting and hitting them with a tree branch. He was jailed for life two days later and was told he would spend at least 35 years behind bars before parole.
It was several months after Victor Parsons died that I finally photographed the spot where he was attacked by Ali Koc. It was not until the late summer that I realised that Ali Koc was being charged with murder and murder sites that were off my radar suddenly needed to be photographed by me. Alexandra Park, like Queen’s Wood was very familiar to me. Next to the gates there is a weekend market that I have frequented many times. I used to live only a couple of blocks away up the hill. I was a bit confused as I tried to make photographs of a murder site from a place that for the most part was filled with good memories. Nothing at the gates of the park told that something horrible had happened. The usual relics of a police investigation had long disappeared. I photographed for a couple of hours as the sun went down. A lot of people asked me what I was doing and I told them. All of them had been unaware of the murder. I don’t live too far away and I knew nothing about it until recently and I had my ear to the ground about such things. It reinforced the idea I had that such horrific personal violence remained mostly hidden from us. The violence that befell Parsons was random, the kind we all fear in our nightmares. As Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Tim Duffield, said: “Koc has never shown any remorse for this wanton spate of attacks committed throughout January last year. There was no motive. This was simply violence for violence sake, randomly-inflicted upon law abiding people who happened to be walking or jogging through their local parks. Tragically, two of society’s most vulnerable members, Victor Parsons and Keith Needell, would pay with their lives for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
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