Peter Manuel’s Lanarkshire killing spree subject of new documentary

A new documentary is to examine a notorious Lanarkshire killing spree.

Once Upon A Crime will examine the murders carried out by Peter Manuel during the 1950s, in an episode to be broadcast on the Crime + Investigation channel next month.

Crime author Denise Mina will host the show, which will examine the relationship between Manuel, the last man in Scotland to be hung, and William Watt, the Burnside man whose family were murdered by Manuel.

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Ms Mina, who has previously penned both a book and a play about Manuel, was given access to private tapes of Manuel talking to a prison psychiatrist as he waited to be hung – and she believes that they shed new light on the case.

The tapes make her more convinced than ever that the killer was hired through a third party by Watt to kill his sick wife Marion, 45, leading to the deaths of their daughter Vivienne, 16, and Marion’s sister Margaret Brown, 41.

Watt, who owned a chain of bakeries, was on a fishing trip in Lochgilphead when the trio were found shot dead at the family home.

Despite his alibi, police had him down as the prime suspect.

peter manuel
peter manuel

Ms Mina told our sister title the Daily Record : “He had taken the family’s golden Labrador away fly fishing with him. It was supposed to be a guard dog for the house.

“I think Watt asked somebody to kill his wife and they subcontracted it to a dodgy workman who went berserk.

“Marion Watt was pretending she wasn’t as ill as she actually was. She’d had open heart surgery. She could n’t really manage on her own de ella so her sister de ella came to stay in the house that night and her daughter de ella as well. They were not supposed to be there.”

Watt later met Manuel and had a drinking session with him in a meeting arranged by the lawyer who represented both men.

Manuel at the time was not yet charged with murder, and the details of what the two men talked about, or why they met, remain unknown.

Ms Mina, who has family in Rutherglen and previously set several books there, added: “The prison psychiatrist recorded some of Manuel’s stories in the weeks ahead of his execution.

“One of them is about how William Watt paid someone to shoot his family. I’d never heard Manuel’s voice before and it was chilling to listen to it in Barlinnie where it was recorded.

Crime writer and playwright Denise Mina
Crime writer and playwright Denise Mina

“Neither the psychiatrists nor the prison officers believed a word of his story but I can tell you quite candidly now that Watt definitely knew who shot his wife and he knew where the gun came from.

“There is no doubt about it in my mind. He had paid someone to shoot his wife from him.”

Manuel committed at least eight murders from 1956 to 1958. He killed 17-year-old Anne Kneilands in 1956 but escaped arrest due to an alibi provided by his father.

In September of that year he carried out his Burnside murders, before raping and murdering 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke in December 1957 as she went to a dance in Uddingston.

He was eventually caught by police after killing an Uddingston family, the Smarts, on January 1, 1958.

He shot dead Peter, 45, Doris, 42, and their son Michael, 10, before living in their house for several days and even using their car, but was arrested after being found using missing banknotes belonging to Peter Smart.

At his trial at the High Court in May 1958, he was convicted of murdering – the Watt family, in Burnside, near Rutherglen, the Smart family, in Uddingston, and Mount Vernon teenager Isabelle Cooke.

The murder of Anne Kneilands, which he later confessed to, was dropped due to lack of evidence.

He was hung on July 11, 1958.

Once Upon A Crime will air on Monday May 9 at 9pm.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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