Graham Backhouse: Scheme for Easy Profit Turns to Murder

This week, we continue the English crime theme with the case of Graham Backhouse. In 1984, Backhouse, a sheep farmer, tried to kill his wife. He then murdered his neighbor to try to cover up that crime.

Graham Backhouse Tries to Murder His Wife

Graham Backhouse worked as a hairdresser when his father died in 1979, leaving him Widden Hill, a sheep farm. There is no record of how skilled Backhouse was as a stylist, but he was a lousy sheep farmer. By 1984, he was heavily in debt. His solution? Insure his wife for £100,000 and kill her for the proceeds.

Graham Backhouse inherited Widden Hill Farm from his father in 1979
Graham Backhouse inherited Widden Hill Farm from his father in 1979

April 9, 1984 was an ordinary day in the small village of Horton in Dorset in Southwest England. Margaret Backhouse had some errands to run and her husband, Graham Backhouse, offered her the use of his Volvo station wagon. As soon as she turned the ignition key, a pipe bomb exploded. The bomb contained with nitroglycerine and 4,500 shotgun pellets. Its blast lacerated Margaret’s body with hundreds of pellets and nearly tore off her legs. But neighbors found her and took her to a local hospital, where she eventually recovered.

Detective examine Graham Backhouse's Volvo after the bomb explosion (Weston Media Publishing)
Detective examine Graham Backhouse’s Volvo after the bomb explosion (Weston Media Publishing)

Graham Backhouse was a natural suspect but claimed he was the victim of a vendetta and the intended target. A few days earlier, a worker on the farm found a severed sheep’s head impaled on a fence post. A note accompanied it that read “YOU NEXT.” Another threatening letter arrived at Widden Hill the same day as the bomb explosion. Backhouse claimed that he had had sex with several women in the area and that might be the motive for the attack. He also pointed the finger at his 63-year-old neighbor, Colyn Bedale-Taylor as a possible suspect. The two had an ongoing dispute over property lines.

Graham Backhouse Kills His Neighbor

On April 30, someone at the Backhouse home dialed 999 (the British equivalent of 911). When police arrived, they found Graham Backhouse lying on the floor covered in blood. At the foot of the stairs lay the body of the neighbor, Colyn Bedale-Taylor, dead from two point-blank shotgun blasts to the chest. When police first arrived, Bedale-Taylor held a Stanley utility knife in his hand. But a young constable removed the knife before crime scene analysts got there.

Graham Backhouse
Graham Backhouse

Graham Backhouse suffered deep knife wounds to his face and chest and required medical attention. Police interviewed him in hospital. He said that Bedale-Taylor came to the farmhouse and accused him of having a part in the death of Bedale-Taylor’s son, Digby. (Digby had recently died in an accidental car crash.) Backhouse said he asked Bedale-Taylor if he had planted the bomb and Bedale-Taylor said he had. According to Backhouse, his neighbor also admitted writing the threatening notes and setting up the sheep’s head. Bedale-Taylor then lunged at Backhouse with the knife, which he had carried with him.

What Really Happened?

The story Graham Backhouse told them about the attack and killing of Bedale-Taylor made little sense to police. Blood spatters at the farmhouse were round. This indicated the blood had dripped rather than being flung off in a struggle. Furthermore, there were blood spatters under furniture supposedly knocked over during the struggle. This meant the blood had been there before the purported fight.

Margaret Backhouse
Margaret Backhouse

Backhouse’s wounds were also inconsistent with his story. There were no defensive cuts on his hands as he would have had if he had been fending off a knife attack. And then there was the deep cut across his chest. That wound, said pathologist Dr. William Kennard, could only have been inflicted if Backhouse had stood perfectly still and not struggled with his attacker.

The police began looking at other evidence in the events swirling around Graham Backhouse. They had been unable to identify the obviously disguised handwriting on the “YOU NEXT” note. But document examiner Mike Hall noticed the faint impression of a doodle on the paper containing the note. Detectives found a matching doodle in a notebook tucked away in a drawer at Backhouse’s farmhouse. They also found a fibre clinging to the threatening letter that matched one of Backhouse’s own sweater.

A detective holds up the "YOU NEXT" note at the Backhouse trial (Weston Media Publishing)
A detective holds up the “YOU NEXT” note at the Backhouse trial (Weston Media Publishing)

Epilogue

Graham Backhouse went on trial for murder and attempted murder at Bristol Crown Court in early 1985. The prosecution contended he planted the bomb to collect his wife’s life insurance and murdered Bedale-Taylor to divert suspicion. He was convicted of both crimes. In giving him two life sentences, the judge remarked, “You are a devious and wicked man. The enormity of the crime that you have committed is very grave.”

Backhouse suffered a fatal heart attack in June 1994 while playing cricket at Grendon Underwood Prison. He was 53. Margaret Backhouse died in her sleep at age 48 on March 13, 1995.

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