Warning: This book gave me nightmares. I don’t read a lot of true crime as I tend to get too involved in what is being unfolded and there’s a thin line between being interested as a reader and feeling like a vulture picking over the pieces of the miseries of other lives. For a long time I felt very damaged by my reading of “Killing For Company”, Brian Masters’ seminal book on Muswell Hill serial murderer Dennis Nilsen. Other books in this field have rightly become classic reads. Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (1966) was a game-changer as the author became obsessed by the crime he was recording and by its perpetrators. Kate Summerscale’s “Suspicions of Mr Whicher” (2008) brought a case from 1860 back into the limelight with meticulous research. Carol Ann Lee began her non-fiction publications with a number of books on Anne Frank but her writing has taken a much darker turn of late with works on Myra Hindley and Ruth Ellis. Here she moves more up to date with a case which exploded across the tabloids and shocked a nation in 1985, the murder of the Bamber Family at White House Farm, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex. Although some may question why this case is being raked up yet again to cause more heartbreak Lee may very well have produced another classic in the true crime genre.
In August 1985 Police discovered a killing spree at the farm which had left grandparents June and Nevill Bamber, their daughter Sheila and her six year old twin boys dead from multiple gunshot wounds. The original belief was that Sheila, (who became emblazoned in the press as “Bambi”), who had suffered from serious mental health issues had murdered her parents and children and then committed suicide. It was, however, her brother Jeremy Bamber who was convicted of the crime.
I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book but I did find it compulsive and it remained with me even when I wasn’t reading it (hence the nightmares). The research is painstaking as Lee thoroughly examines the circumstances leading to the slaughter, the initial assumptions made by the police and the reinterpretation of evidence which led to Jeremy’s conviction. A phone call from Jeremy’s father at the time of the killing and a gun silencer seem to be the key points here.
I think Lee has produced a balanced, thorough examination of the case. Bamber has spent 30 years in prison and his insistence of his innocence and the campaign for his release is one of the longest running and most supported this country has known. Lee has tended to steer clear of this but I stumbled across Bamber’s campaign website on which there is a 34 question quiz to separate “fact from fiction”- even with the knowledge gained by reading this book I still only scored 50%, probably because this perception of events is different from the author’s.
It’ s easy to forget how different the Britain of thirty years ago was in terms of attitudes, policing, detection work, the press and media and this is skilfully recreated. I think this is an important book in the true crime canon but the general reader must be prepared to have the events of White House Farm remain with them for some time.
“The Murders At White House Farm” is published July 2015 by Pan Macmillan/Sidgwick and Jackson. Thanks to Netgalley for providing this copy for review
As a result of this review an interview with Carol Ann Lee was arranged for my Author Strikes Back Thread. This interview can be found here with direct links to purchase the book.