Murder #28, Ram Bhasin and Sunil Koosuru, Shadwell

MurderProject_028Murder #28, Ram Bhasin and Sunil Koosuru, Shadwell

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.

An Interactive Map of the Murder Sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Guardian Weekend Magazine piece on my project and the Guardian Website Gallery

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #27, Solomon Sarfo, Brixton

MurderProject_027Murder #27, Solomon Sarfo, Brixton

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”

An Interactive Map of the Murder Sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Guardian Weekend Magazine piece on my project and the Guardian Website Gallery

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #26, Gagandip Singh, Blackheath

MurderProject_026Murder #26, Gagandip Singh, Blackheath

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.

An Interactive Map of the Murder Sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Guardian Weekend Magazine piece on my project and the Guardian Website Gallery

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #25, Victor Parsons, Alexandra Palace

MurderProject_025Murder #25, Victor Parsons, Alexandra Palace

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.”

An Interactive Map of the Murder Sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Guardian Weekend Magazine piece on my project and the Guardian Website Gallery

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #24, Keith Needell, Highgate

MurderProject_024Murder #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.

An Interactive Map of the Murder Sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Guardian Weekend Magazine piece on my project and the Guardian Website Gallery

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #23, Albert Wright, Hainault

MurderProject_023Murder #23, Albert Wright, Hainault

Albert Wright, 80, was stabbed to death at his home in Hainault, east London, on Friday, 25 February, 2011. His body was found five hours later when the victim’s son David arrived home on Trelawney Road. Mr Wright was pronounced dead at the scene. Mark Robinson, 35, pleaded guilty to murder on January 16, 2012, and was jailed for life with a minimum of 21 years. The Old Bailey heard Robinson stabbed the widower 31 times to spite David Wright, who had married Robinson’s mother three months before her death.

I was still playing catch up with my project when I arrived in Hainault. I had been away in Afghanistan on assignment and I was rushing around London to the sites where murders had occurred while I was away. Hainault was one of the furthest I had travelled on my project. It was near the end of the Central Line and I had never been there. The walk to Trelawney Road was short from the tube station. The area resembled my own neighbourhood in Arnos Grove. Semi detached houses built in the 1930s lined the quiet if slightly shabby street. The day before I had been in Downham to photograph the house of Pat Jobson, a retired widow who had been killed by a drug addict and now I was at the murder site of a widower killed in a family dispute.  Two elderly Londoners killed in their 80s after having survived long lives in London. I had arrived a couple of weeks after the murder had occurred and a few flowers were laying in the forecourt of the house next to a car. As I set up my camera a neighbour from across the street came and asked what I was doing. She asked for some ID to prove I was a photojournalist and satisfied, she told me she had been asked by Wright’s family to look after the house now that it was vacant. She told what had happened without betraying any assumptions of how it could have happened except to say Mr. Wright had been a nice neighbour.

I started photographing from across the street to take in the whole house but as I went along I got closer and closer until I photographed the scene in the photograph above. I sensed that I was being watched by the neighbours and I decided not to step into the forecourt of the house. I stayed behind the fence and gate, photographing from the pavement. It was the first time I felt like I was trespassing. It was a very uneasy feeling. The street was empty of people and it was getting dark but I somehow felt I was intruding. The photograph has a disjointed feel, imperfectly balanced and it probably reflects my uneasiness that day.

An Interactive map of the places I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The captions information comes the MurderMap website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #22, Pat Jobson, Downham

MurderProject_022Murder #22, Pat Jobson, Downham

Pat Jobson, 86, was found battered to death at her home in Downham, south London, on February 20, 2011. Police forced entry to the house in Oakridge Road after being contacted by worried relatives. It is thought she was attacked two days earlier during the night of February 18. A postmortem gave the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head. On March 7, police charged Karen Williamson, 45, with murder. Williamson had worked for the victim as a gardener.  Williamson battered Mrs Jobson to death with a hammer and a glass jug during a row. She then pawned the victim’s jewellery, an earring, a locket and her husband’s ring on a chain, all for just £61.

I dont know why my abiding memory of going to Downham was the long walk and how poor the area looked as I walked through it. The closest I had been to the area was Bromley. I was desperate to get to the murder site. I had been away for 3 weeks in Afghanistan and I was playing catch up with my project. I was worried that too much time had passed between the time of the murder and me photographing the scene. Maybe I was still suffering from culture shock as I had only been back in the UK for a day and yet I could not help thinking how poor Downham seemed. I always tell people that Afghanistan is a very beautiful place and maybe it was this contrast that I was experiencing. Downham seemed so dreary, and bleak. It was a strange feeling to have after returning from one of the poorest countries in the world.

When I finally found the house where Pat Jobson had been killed I was surprised that the police tape still draped the gate to her front garden. Flowers still lined the front of the house, worse for wear, but still there. The new metal door now prevented anyone from entering the property but I could not imagine who would want to go in. I focused on the metal door as it seemed to say “Beyond me something terrible has happened”. Those metal doors would become familiar to me over the course of the project. Unmistakable in their symbol of tragedy. Before to me they were a symbol of an abandoned property, a repossession , an obstacle to squatters.

The pavement was narrow and many people stepped over me while I photographed. Most seemed not to care what I was doing and a few gave me disapproving glances. Only a couple who were neighbours stopped to tell me what a nice lady Pat Jobson was.  Months later I would find out that the murderer was an aspiring actress who had appeared on Eastenders and other TV shows but had fallen into crack addiction.  The scourge of drug addiction and the drug trade would be prevalent throughout my project. To me visible symptoms of the disease of poverty. And Pat Jobson was an unlucky to have been caught in its wake.

An Interactive Map of the places I have written about so far

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #21, Regina & Rolls Say, Borough

MurderProject_021Murder #21, Regina & Rolls Say, Borough

Rolls Say,10 and his sister Regina,8, were stabbed to death by their father on February 13, 2011. Their throats had been cut and Rolls had suffered a head injury. They had also suffered knife wounds as they attempted to defend themselves. The father, Jean Francis Say, 62 was arrested at the scene and charged with two counts of murder. The prosecution said he killed Rolls and Regina to spite his estranged wife Antoinette, 44, after finding out he would be evicted from his flat. He had lost his entitlement to the property because she and the children had moved out. On December 8, 2011, he appeared at the Old Bailey to admit the murder of both children. He was jailed for life with a minimum of 30 years before parole.

I have two children of my own and I can’t imagine the crime that befell Regina and Rolls Say. It seems against every human instinct to murder your own children. This was the second time I had come to photograph a murder site where children had died. For some reason I expected to encounter someone who would object to my presence but when I got to Empire Square, the modern block of flats where Rolls and Regina lived, I was met with eery silence. It was a very bright winter day and light streaked through every crevice of the buildings. I photographed the entire building at first but gravitated to the entrance where some flowers lay. Among  the flowers, portraits of the 2 kids stood out, smiling as you would expect kids their age to do. The memorial was already wilting from the harsh sunlight and freezing temperatures. I hung around for an hour walking around the building. I could see the blacked out windows to the flat where the murder had happened. Finally as I was deciding to leave a woman came up to me asking who I was working for. She sadly told me what she knew and said that there had already been a dispute over the flowers. Some over zealous cleaner had tried to remove them after a couple of days. I had wondered already how long these makeshift memorials survived and who decides when to remove them. She said they should remain as long as they survive the elements.

An Interactive Map of the murder sites I have written about so far.

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The Caption Information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

Murder #20, Samuel Guidera, Sydenham

MurderProject_020bMurder #20, Samuel Guidera, Sydenham

Samuel Guidera, 24, was stabbed to death in a suspected robbery on Saturday, 12 February, 2011. He was attacked 200 metres from Penge East station in south London as he walked to see a friend. Guidera was attacked near a bus stop on Newlands Park. His wallet was taken as he bled to death in the street. A passersby found Guidera injured at the junction with Bailey Place and at first thought he had been involved in a road traffic accident.  A postmortem later found he suffered a single stab wound to the heart. The case remains unsolved. 

One of my intentions for the project was that I would photograph landscapes of the murder sites I visited. I would step back far enough to take in the surrounding area in the hope that something about the landscape would give clues and meaning to the photograph. But with the site of Samuel Guidera’s murder I was drawn to the flower memorial and in particular the white sheet of paper with the words written ” Give Yourself Up You Coward, R.I.P Sam, Love” The murder to this day remains unsolved and the sign seemed a premonition of that. Looking back at the photographs from the shoot I shot very few landscapes. Instead I focused on the memorial of flowers that also included a Crystal Palace FC jersey with a button of Samuel’s face on it. But it was the handwritten sign i kept focusing back on. Guidera’s murder was the first I encountered that seemed to be random. He was the victim of a robbery that led to murder. It is the kind of death that we all fear, the kind in which we have no control, a kind of urban fear we all share. We never truly believe that those we know are more likely to kill us. We all believe that if murder were to find us it would be a matter of bad luck, random in its nature. Unfortunately this is not the case. Murders in which the victim did not know the assassin are in the minority.

An Interactive Map of the murder sites I have written about

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The caption information comes from the MurderMap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

IMG_6868 IMG_6887 

Murder #19, Ramnit Chander, Southall

MurderProject_020Murder #19, Ramnit Chander, Southall

Ramnit Chander, 32, was found dead at a house in Sussex Road, Southall, west London, on February 10, 2011. Detectives were called to the address in Sussex Road by the landlord at 5.45pm and at first believed the death was not suspicious. A postmortem later confirmed he had been assaulted.

My notes remind me that I went to Sussex Road almost a month after Ramnit Chander was found dead in his flat. I would not call it a flat. It was a room in what looked like a converted brick shed behind some shops. He lived in slum housing. Just from looking at his lodgings I knew Chander lived an existence that could be described as an invisible in the margins of society.

It took a few weeks for the case to be considered a murder. It was the first murder of my project that was in West London. Most had been in Northeast London so far. I took the train to Southall from Paddington and enjoyed the long walk through the southern end Southall, with its Sikh/Indian vibe that seemed unspoilt by tourism in the way Brick Lane had. When I got to Sussex Road, I had a difficult time locating the location of where Chander had died. I stepped into a few shops asking if anyone knew and most feigned ignorance or declined to talk to me. Finally one young man showed me. Nothing marked the spot as a location of a violent crime except a small piece of police tape still on the black metal gate. The whole scene was ugly. I peeked over the gate and saw the small courtyard strewn with trash. The shed like flat where Chander had died seemed to be newly occupied with a new tenant.

So the 19th murder in London in 2011 had claimed another immigrant. I can’t help but ponder about people who journey so far away from their birth to meet such sorrowful ends to their lives. I sensed that Chander had struggled in the 10 years he had lived in London. Never rising above the poverty that he probably thought he was escaping when he left the Punjab. The case into his murder 2 years later remains unsolved. His death barely made news beyond the local papers in west London. According to police reports it seems that his life was “Sketchy” to detectives trying to figure out the circumstances of his death. I suspect that there are thousands of migrants like Ramnit Chander living below the radar. Invisible to us all, hiding out in the edges of London.

An interactive map into the places I have written about so far

The Landscape of Murder Photos

The caption information comes from the Murdermap Website and the MPS Press Bureau

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