Dr Alan Keightley was head of religious studies at a West Midlands sixth-form college when he began writing to Ian Brady in 1992 at the suggestion of the mother of his youngest victim, Lesley Ann Downey. For years, he visited Brady in prison every month, spoke to him on the phone every day and received hundreds of letters from him.
Dr Keightley built up a detailed archive of material he has now turned into a biography of Brady that provides a disturbing and unique insight into the man himself — and the nature of evil.
More than half a century has gone by since the Moors Murders, yet they hold a fascination that will not go away, despite the passage of time.
They were the flip side of the so-called Swinging Sixties, traumatic events that shattered all sense of safety and decency in society. It is one thing to cause another person to suffer to achieve some other goal, as in violent robbery.
Brady was never cruel to animals. As a lad, he ran home in tears when he saw an injured horse being put down in the street. He wept again when his pet spaniel died
It is another matter to cause a person pain for no other reason than to make them suffer. Here was pure malevolence and we struggle still to understand it.
But people often got Brady very wrong as they searched for clues to explain who and what this monster of a man was.
It was often said, for example, that as a slum-kid growing up in Glasgow, he imprisoned cats, crucified frogs, sliced up caterpillars with razor blades and beheaded rabbits — and that later he got a job in a slaughter house, where he acquired his taste for the sight and smell of blood.
All this was untrue. Brady was never cruel to animals. As a lad, he ran home in tears when he saw an injured horse being put down in the street. He wept again when his pet spaniel died.
He never worked in a slaughter house, though he was once a meat delivery boy, which was how that particular myth began. The idea of butchering animals appalled him. ‘I could never have brought myself to kill sheep or cattle,’ he once told me.
BRADY’S FIVE VICTIMS
- Pauline Reade, 16, was the couple’s first victim. She was on her way to a local dance when Hindley persuaded her to get in her car. They drove Pauline to Saddleworth Moor where she was raped Pauline, beaten and stabbed.
- John Kilbride, 12, was snatched from Ashton market on Saturday November 23, 1963. He was strangled and buried in a shallow grave. He was the second of Brady and Hindley’s five victims.
- Keith Bennett, 12, disappeared on the way to his grandmother’s house. Hindley had lured him into her car and driven him to the Moors where he was murdered. The method of killing has never been made clear. The pair buried his body which has never been found.
- Lesley Ann Downey, 10, disappeared on Boxing Day. She had been snatched from the fair and taken back to Hindley’s house. She was brutally assaulted with the ordeal captured on tape.
- Edward Evans, 17, was the sick duo’s final victim. He had just been to see Manchester United play when Brady lured in Edward. Brady repeatedly bludgeoned Evans with an axe
‘But the idea of killing people never bothered me in the least.’
This was the real Ian Brady, a much more chilling man than anyone can possibly imagine, driven by complex motives that are not easily understandable.
Another enduring story is that he and Hindley were inspired by Nazi ideology — that Brady was a Hitler fanatic who collected Third Reich memorabilia from childhood and whose terrible deeds were somehow the outcome of his obsession with the Fuhrer.
But this was not true, either. In fact, as he revealed to me, his political views were Left-wing rather than extreme Right.
The misinterpretation came about because at his trial much was made of his tapes and books on Nazi figures. ‘I also had tapes of Stalin and Churchill,’ he told me, ‘but these were of no interest to the prosecution.
‘My interest in the Third Reich was based on aesthetic, not political grounds. I admired the will, boldness and the courage with which Hitler put his beliefs into effect.’ But he did not identify with Hitler. ‘No one could. He was unique.’
Certainly Brady had books on Nazism. I know because I saw them. But they had been sent to him by people who had assumed he was fascinated by the subject. They went largely unread.
The same went for his supposed obsession with the works of the Marquis de Sade. It is part of the accepted Moors Murders story that the 18th-century French aristocrat’s explicit writings combining sex and violence had a decisive, catastrophic influence on him and may even have precipitated the murders.
Brady dismissed this as ‘nonsense’. Again, this was an accusation and an explanation that had been offered by the prosecution at his trial, but he rejected it.
Brady thought they might just as easily have blamed Shakespeare’s Richard III, which he read at school, and which was a major influence on him. Brady often likened himself to the cruel king of Shakespeare’s play. ‘Richard’s himself again,’ he would say in his sinister way, to describe the onset of his evil state of mind.
Curiously, I could not find this quotation in Shakespeare’s text, but among Brady’s property was a video of Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film. It was here that I found the elusive sentence.
Brady, who used the name Ian Stewart-Brady up until his death, was initially jailed for three murders in 1966
After a moment in which his better nature almost gets the better of him, the king declares: ‘Conscience avaunt. Richard’s himself again.’ Brady had watched the film as a teenager and this became his catchphrase.
As for De Sade, Brady had read his works, he admitted, but for the philosophy — life was meaningless and the universe without purpose; therefore, nothing matters — rather than the sexual content, which he described as ‘repetitive and turgid’. He said he was ‘bored rigid’ by it.
The fundamental cause and reason for the unspeakable acts he carried out lay in his conviction that life has no meaning.
A childhood photograph of Ian Brady during his time in Glasgow
‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted,’ he would tell me, quoting Nietzsche, famous for his pronouncement that ‘God is dead’. Brady believed the truth about life to be as bleak as it could be. ‘In the end, all is illusion or delusion. We each do what we believe is best, that’s all.’
He called himself an existentialist or a ‘moral relativist’ and his only faith was in chaos and absurdity. ‘Our yearnings for immortality are comical and preposterous. Life, like death, doesn’t give a damn about us.’
As for religion, he told me, that was ‘the self-flattering delusion of mankind that some supernatural force is in the least interested in the life of ants on a speck of dust in the universe’. Brady was convinced he was a new kind of killer, of which society would see more and more. These killers would be products of the secular atmosphere that pervaded life in the West as the absolute values of good and evil declined.
He aligned himself with the French atheist Albert Camus, and his copy of Camus’s book, The Rebel, was heavily highlighted, particularly a passage that concluded: ‘Wickedness and virtue are just accident or whim.’
But the intellectual influence that meant most to Brady was the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky. His book, Crime And Punishment, hangs like a shadow over the Moors Murders.
Brady’s own copy of the book was among the property he bequeathed to me. As I leaf through it, the margins are littered with his comments in purple ink — ‘marvellous psychological insight’, ‘stupendous observation of human nature!’ Brady was 18 and serving a sentence in Borstal for theft when he came across Crime And Punishment and identified with Raskolnikov, the book’s anti-hero.
Ian Brady, pictured by a court sketch artist at his last public hearing in 2013, has cost taxpayers millions in prison and secure hospital bills, it emerged after he died
Raskolnikov, a supercilious, poverty stricken student, robs and murders a rapacious old moneylender, a worthless parasite of no use to anyone. Afterwards, he realises money was not the real motive for his crimes, but that the crimes themselves were existential tests of personal will. Brady, as we have seen, went on to use the phrase ‘existential exercises’ to describe his own murders.
I once pointed out to Brady the irony of him taking Dostoyevsky as his intellectual mentor. The Russian wrote Crime And Punishment to make money to pay for the upkeep of his dead brother’s children. How strange that a book that saved children’s lives in the 19th century contributed to the murder of children in the 20th. Furthermore, Dostoyevsky wrote that the worst conceivable crime was crime against children.
But my comments were ignored. They did not fit Brady’s twisted philosophy.
ARCHIVE OF BRADY’S PERSONAL EFFECTS FROM PRISON
Over more than 25 years of their meetings, Dr Keightley compiled an extraordinary archive of Ian Brady’s personal effects — all given to him by the killer — that together reveal much about his twisted psyche…
The chess set used by Brady to beat disgraced MP John Stonehouse in a 1979 prison chess final (left). Right, a book given to Ian by Myra
Brady’s cufflinks — in the shape of police handcuffs — display his warped sense of humour
Brady’s steel cigarette box and lighter. He chain-smoked untipped Gauloises and frequently expressed dismay that smoking hadn’t killed him
Brady’s signet ring with the initials ISB. He was born Ian Duncan Stewart
Brady boasted of being well-read and Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment was one of his favourite novels
A Buddha (left) Brady kept on his bedside table, even though he derided all forms of religion. Right, A statuette of Don Quixote. Brady had been known to refer to himself as ‘a cynical Don Quixote, tilting at any laws and customs’
A Christmas card from Brady’s mother. He was fostered as a baby and grew up in Glasgow, moving to Manchester in his troubled teens where he renewed his relationship with his mother
This book of Wordworth’s Poetical Works was given to Brady by Myra Hindley in April 1967 and inscribed: ‘To Ian. With love, Myra xxxxxx’. The inscription is marked with a sprig of dried, pressed heather, quite possibly from Saddleworth Moor, where the pair buried their victims