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A.K.A.: "The Stockwell Strangler"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Sodomy
Number of victims: 7 +
Date of murders: April-July 1987
Date of arrest: July 28, 1987
Date of birth: 1962
Victims profile: Eileem Emms, 78 / Janet Cockett, 67 / Valentine Gleim,84, and Zbigniew Strabawa, 94 / William Carmen, 84 / William Downes, 74 / Florence Tisdall, 83
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Stockwell, London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to life in prison 1988. In July 2009 murder convictions were reduced to manslaughter on the grounds on diminished responsibility following an appeal

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Kenneth Erskine (born 1962) is an English serial killer who became known as the Stockwell Strangler.

During 1986, Erskine murdered seven elderly people, breaking into their homes and strangling them; most often they were sexually assaulted. The crimes took place in south and north London.

His first victim was Mrs Eileen Emms (78), of Wandsworth, who died on 9 April 1986. Her death was originally not believed to have been murder, and it was only established that she had been murdered when a television set was detected missing from her flat. A post mortem examination revealed that she had been raped and strangled.

His second victim was Mrs Janet Cockett (67), who died on 9 June 1986 after being strangled in her flat on the Wandsworth housing estate on which she was chairwoman of the tenants association. Erskine's palm print was found on a window at Mrs Cockett's flat.

On 28 June 1986, Erskine claimed his third and fourth victims (both men) at a residential home in Stockwell. His victims were Polish pensioners Valentine Gleim (84) and Zbigniew Strabawa (94). Both men were sexually assaulted and strangled.

Erskine's fifth victim was Mr William Carmen (84), of Islington. He stole cash from Mr Carmen's flat before molesting him and strangling him to death in an attack on 8 July 1986.

He claimed his sixth victim on 21 July 1986, when he committed a similar fatal attack on 74-year-old Mr William Downes in a Stockwell bedsit.

The final victim was Mrs Florence Tisdall, an 83-year-old widow who lived at a retirement complex in Fulham. She was found dead by the caretaker on the morning of 23 July 1986.

A homeless drifter and solvent abuser, Erskine was 24 years old when he committed the crimes, but had the mental age of a 12-year-old. He was convicted of seven murders.

Police suspected Erskine of four others murders. These include the murder of Wilfred Parkes (aged 81, at Stockwell, on 2 June 1986) and Trevor Thomas (aged 75, at Lambeth, on 21 July 1986). Erskine has never been charged with any of these murders.

Erskine was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 40 years, but has since been found to be suffering from mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983, and is therefore now held at the maximum security Broadmoor Hospital. He is unlikely to be freed until at least 2028 and the age of 66. Some 20 years later, the trial judge's recommendation is still one of the heaviest ever handed out in British legal history.

In February 1996, Erskine was again in the news, this time for preventing the possible murder of Peter Sutcliffe, the "Yorkshire Ripper", by raising the alarm as a fellow inmate, Paul Wilson, attempted to strangle Sutcliffe with the flex from a pair of stereo headphones.


Kenneth Erskine

When 24-years-old Erskine was judged to have the mental age of eleven. He was abandoned by his parents, and was known as a 'persistent loner' that drifted through special schools and flophouse's. He was arrested on numerous occasions for burglary and had ten different bank accounts full of the proceeds from his successful thefts.

Eventually Erskine felt the need to go one step further and began taking more than money.

His first murder victim was Eileen Emms, 78. She was strangled in her own home in early April, 1987. Less than a month later Janet Crockett, 67, went the same way. On June, 28 Erskine scored a double-header. First he got Valentine Gleime, 84. And if you though that was pretty sick he went one better later in the day with 94-year-old Zbigniew Stabrawa.

All of these victims had been manually strangled. But this was not all, the sick little fucker had also molested all the victims. The molested victims had all been sodomized. The police could not determine if this buggery was done before or after death. Either way it sound pretty sick to me.

It was at this time that Erskine was dubbed 'The Stockwell Strangler', named such because the victims all lived in the South-west London neighbourhood.

On July 28, Erskine was arrested for trying to conceal one of his savings accounts from Social Security, and unluckily for him his palm print matched one found at a 'Stockwell Strangler' crime scene. He was then picked out of a line-up by a survivor of one of his attacks. When questioned about the crimes Erskine said -

"I don't remember killing anyone, I could have done it without knowing it. I am not sure if I did it."

Erskine was charged with seven murders (two more were dropped on insufficient evidence, and police have closed the book on two other murders) and was found guilty. He was given seven life terms, but comes up for parole in 2028.

Quotes & Interesting Bits

"It tries to think for me. It says it will kill me if it gets me.

It blanks things from my mind."

Erskin tried to blame the murders on a voice in his head.

As a child Erskine had twice tried to hang his younger brother.

When he was eighteen he was involved in an affair with a young male. One night he burst into his boyfriends bedroom and started stabbing him.

No charges were laid and Erskine was allowed to go free.

"I'm nice and cosy inside and I don't give a damn if I ever come out."

Obviously a man who is dying to get out of prison.

"There is simply no way of knowing how many defenceless old folk he killed; it could be dozens. This man must be from another planet. He simply does not have any regard for human life at all."

A senior detective gives his opinion on Erskine.

"I can't believe he did those things. Kenneth is just too weak and quiet."

A childhood friend gives her opinion.

He'd get really mad. When they were least expecting it he'd pick up a chair and hit them over the head."

A former cellmate tells of Erskine's temper.


Erskine, Kenneth

At age 24, Kenneth Erskine was diagnosed by court psychiatrists as possessing "a mental age of eleven." A persistent loner, abandoned by his English mother and Antiguan father, he drifted through a milieu of special schools and flophouses, compiling a record of arrests for burglary in London, living on the proceeds of his thefts. Business was good enough for Erskine to open ten separate accounts for his stolen loot, but money isn't everything. 

Somewhere along the way, the simpleminded youth picked up a taste for homicide. Eileen Emms, 78, was the first to die, strangled in her home during the first week of April 1987. A month later, Janet Crockett, age 67, was killed in identical fashion. The killer rebounded with a double-header on June 28, claiming 84-year-old Valentine Gleime and 94-year-old Zbigniew Stabrawa in separate incidents. William Carmen, age 84, was strangled in early July. 

Two weeks later, William Downes, 74, and Florence Tisdall, 80, were discovered on successive mornings. By then, police were working overtime to find the "Stockwell Strangler," so-called after the southwest London neighborhood where five of his victims were slain. There had been petty theft in several cases, with a television stolen from Crockett's apartment and roughly $900 missing from Carmen's home, but robbery did not appear to be the driving motive. All of the victims were strangled manually, left on their beds with the sheets pulled up to their chins. Five had been sexually molested, but authorities could not determine whether the acts were committed before or after death. 

Kenneth Erskine was arrested on July 28, at a social security office, for trying to conceal one of his numerous savings accounts. In custody, his palm print matched one lifted from a Stockwell murder scene, and he was picked from a lineup by victim Frederick Prentice, 74, who had survived an attempted strangulation on June 27. Under questioning, Erskine seemed to plead amnesia. "I don't remember killing anyone," he told police. "I could have done it without knowing it. I am not sure if I did." 

The court had little difficulty sorting out the problem. Charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, Erskine was convicted across the board on January 29, 1988. (Two additional murders, dating from 1986, were eliminated from the list on grounds of insufficient evidence.) 

The presiding judge sentenced Erskine to seven life terms with an additional twelve years for attempted murder, recommending that the killer serve a minimum of 40 years before he is considered for parole.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers


Erskine, Kenneth

A 24-year-old sexual psychopath who preyed on the elderly and became known as the 'Stockwell Strangler'.

On 7th April 1987 the body of 78-year-old, retired schoolteacher, Miss Eileen Emms was found in her home. In June there were three more murders, 67-year-old Mrs Janet Cockett, 84-year-old Valentine Gleim and 94-year-old Zbigniew Stabrawa.

In July three more elderly people were strangled in their homes. These were 82-year-old William Carmen, 74-year-old William Downes and 80-year-old Mrs Florence Tisdall. In none of the cases had there been a struggle and they were no signs of any forced entry. It looked as though their attacker had got in through unsecured windows. In some of the cases the victims had been robbed.

In the early hours of 27th June 73-year-old Frederick Prentice was awoken by sounds of someone entering his bedroom. He switched on the light and told the intruder to get out. He was then attacked and was being strangled when he freed one hand and pressed the alarm at the side of his bed. His assailant ran off.

A pathologist involved in the case reported that, from the pattern of injuries, it looked as though all the killings were linked. It appeared that the killer had knelt on the victim's chests, had placed his left hand over the mouth and had used the right hand to throttle the victims. In four of the seven cases the victim had been buggered after death. Forensic scientists discovered a single hair at the scene of Emms' killing and found shoe marks that matched at three of the scenes.

At the scene of the Cockett murder fingerprints were found on a displaced plantpot and there was a palm print on the wall of the Downes' kitchen. They were found to belong to Kenneth Erskine who had a criminal record for burglary. But Erskine's whereabouts were not known. It was discovered that he was collecting Social Security payments and a watch was kept at the office where he signed-on. When he appeared he was duly arrested.

At an identity parade he was recognised instantly by Frederick Prentice. Examination of his building society accounts showed that during the three months of the murders he had paid in around £3,000, including £300 the morning after the Carmen murder. The old man was known to have kept about £400 in cash in his bedroom.

A hairdresser told police that she had been approached by Erskine who had requested that she bleach his head and pubic hair. She had agreed to the former but had refused the latter request. She said that while he was sitting waiting for the bleach to take effect he had taken the bowl with the bleach and had applied it to his public region. He had also tried to bleach his eyebrows and had got some of the chemical into his eyes and needed help in washing it out. DNA fingerprinting with swabs taken from the Downes murder indicated that Erskine could have been responsible but they could not prove it conclusively.

His trial opened at the Old Bailey on 12th January 1988. He faced seven counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

He pleaded not guilty but the jury did not believe him and he was found guilty on all eight counts. He was given seven life sentences for the murders and 12 years' imprisonment for the attempted murder. The judge recommended that he should serve a minimum of 40 years, the longest period of detention ever recommended.


Kenneth Erskine

by Paul Sutherland

The London borough of Stockwell, South London, is a favoured place for elderly folk to retire to. In the summer months of 1986 however, a serial killer known as The Stockwell Strangler began a reign of terror amongst this community, leaving seven people dead and a further 4 suspected of being victims of him.

The murders started with the death of 78 yr old Nancy Emms, found dead in bed in her unkempt basement flat in West Hill Rd, Wandsworth, on 09 April 1986. At first, the cause of death was thought to be of natural causes, as Nancy was found lying in her bed, with no obvious marks on her body. A doctor called to the scene thought she had been dead about 3 days and signed a death certificate certifying natural causes. It was only when Nancy’s home help, who had found the body, noticed that a portable TV set was missing, that police were called in.

A post mortem revealed that Nancy had been strangled by bare hands. There was also heavy bruising to her chest, suggesting that her killer had kneeled on her whilst he throttled her. The killer had left virtually no signs of a break in, but police forensic scientists found one minute clue; a short Afro - Caribbean head hair on a bed sheet

On 09 June 1986, the body of 67 yr old widow Mrs Janet Cockett was found in her flat on the Overton Estate, Stockwell, South London. Detectives were immediately aware that this was a murder they were dealing with. Mrs Cockett had been savagely sexually assaulted, and had two fractured ribs as a result of someone kneeling on her chest. Her nightdress had been ripped from her, then folded up neatly and placed on a bedside chair, and detectives noticed another bizarre feature; Family photographs on the bedroom mantelpiece had been placed face down, or turned away from the crime scene. Police did discover some prints, including a clear palm print, at the scene.

Pathologist Dr Iain West examined the victims and determined that they were all strangled by the killer using only one hand. In such elderly victims unconsciousness would have occurred within 30 seconds and death within two or three minutes. Detectives working both murders compared notes on both of the crimes, but could find little or nothing at that stage to link the both. That view was to change in little over a fortnight.

In the early hours of 27 June 1986, retired engineer Fred Prentice was asleep in his room in a council run old people’s home in Cedars Rd, Clapham, when he was awoken by a noise in the corridor outside his room. Mr Prentice saw a young man enter his room, and managed to switch on the bedside light as the intruder jumped on him. Mr Prentice tried to shout out, but the killer placed his finger to his lips in a threatening gesture to the old man to be quiet. He then squeezed his windpipe powerfully, then relaxed his grip-then squeezed again. As he kept squeezing he uttered just one word over and over. “Kill, Kill, Kill”. Mr Prentice managed to hit an alarm button on his bedside wall, and although no sound came from it, the attacker was off the bad and escaped in a flash.

Detectives were now optimistic that the crimes were linked, and any remaining doubts that they did have were dispelled the next night, as the killer struck again.

The bodies of 84 yr old Valentine Gliem and 94 yr old Polish born Zbigniew Stabrawa were found in their adjoining rooms on the 28 June 1986 at Somerville Hastings House, an old peoples home in Stockwell Park Crescent. Both men had been manually strangled and sexually assaulted. The intruder had been spotted by alert night duty staff, but had vanished before police arrived. The entrance was once again to be determined as an open window. What made this horrific crime even more chilling was the discovery of a used flannel and electric shaver; the killer had calmly washed and shaved after killing two people in a nearby room.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson of Scotland Yard was now put in charge of the case, and was given a squad of over 200 detectives to try to find the man the newspapers had now dubbed, “The Stockwell Strangler”. Plainclothes officers watched dozens of old people’s homes throughout the night.

Two weeks after his horrific double murder, the Strangler struck again. This time, he wrong footed all detectives by murdering on the other side of the river Thames, in Islington, North London. 82 yr old widower William Carmen was found dead in his bed in his flat on the Marques estate. The bed sheet was neatly pulled up under his chin, and for the first time since the first murder, there were clear signs of theft. £400 to £500 of Mr Carmen’s savings was missing, and there were clear signs of ransacking. On 12 July 1986 75 yr old Trevor Thomas was found dead in the bath at his home in Barton Ct, Clapham. Little forensic evidence remained as Mr Thomas had been dead for some time, and it was due to this that he was not counted amongst the Strangler’s victims, although he almost certainly was one.

On 20 July 1986 the body of 74 yr old William Downes was found in his flat on the Overton estate in Stockwell. He had been strangled in the now familiar fashion, and police were able to pick up an excellent new lead from the murder scene. On the garden gate and off the kitchen wall, they were able to lift a clear set of the killers palm prints.

One would think that it would be a formality to match the prints with ones already on file at Scotland Yard, but in 1986, although fingerprints had already been transferred onto computer disc, the process of transferring palm prints had not even begun. Detectives had a staggering four million files to work through, but by concentrating on London based burglars and petty crooks, they were able to reduce this job to a more manageable size.

Three months of fruitless searching paid off after three months when detectives were able to match the prints found at the crime scenes to those of Kenneth Erskine, a small time crook who had a long record of arrests for burglary and minor offences. However, police did not know where to find Erskine, and it was whilst they were searching for him that he killed his final victim.

80 yr old Florence Tisdall was found in her upmarket apartment at Ranelagh Gardens, close to Putney Bridge, on the 24 July 1986. She had spent the previous day watching the televised wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York (Prins Andrew and Sarah Ferguson), and had even had her hair done specially for the event. She was found the next day manually strangled, sexually assaulted, with broken ribs where her killer had kneeled on her chest.

The police search for Erskine intensified, but as he was a drifter with no permanent address, they were reduced to searching through the hundreds of squats and hostels in South London. The fact that Erskine was on a killing spree and could kill again at any time made them move quickly. Their big break came when they discovered that Erskine was claiming unemployment benefit from a Department of Social Security office in Southwark, and was due to collect his next cheque on 28 July. A team of detectives kept watch on the building, and Erskine turned up right on time to collect his money. As he joined the queue, detectives clicked handcuffs onto his wrist. Erskine didn’t struggle, and the reign of the Stockwell Strangler was at an end.

It was when detectives began to question Erskine that they realised that they had an uphill struggle on their hands. Erskine spent the majority of his many hours of questioning giggling, staring out of the window into the sky, or masturbating. He was clearly a disturbed individual, but was not a complete fool. In his possession detectives found details of 10 bank and building society accounts that Erskine had opened to hide the proceeds of his burglaries. Detectives noted that he had paid in nearly £3000 during his killing spree, whilst still drawing unemployment benefit.

The palm prints were damning evidence, but they only placed Erskine at 2 of the murder scenes, and with Erskine refusing to talk, detectives searched for other evidence. Fred Prentice willingly attended an identity parade at Clapham police station, and picked Erskine out of the line up without a second’s hesitation. Scotland Yard also took the unusual step of issuing his picture to the media, in an attempt to find more witnesses. The response brought in several leads, including a woman who saw Erskine on Putney Bridge, 200 yards from the scene of the final murder, on the night in question.

Erskine’s trial started at the Old Bailey on 12 January 1988, where he was charged with 7 murders and the attempted murder of Mr Prentice. Erskine pleaded not guilty to all the charges, but looked around the courtroom vacantly as though he was unaware of where he was. The jury was visibly moved whilst listening to the evidence, particularly in the case of Mr Prentice’s testimony. They also heard that Erskine had confessed to burgling the victims, but claimed that someone else must have followed him and killed them. After a trial lasting 18 days, Erskine was convicted of all the charges, and was jailed for 7 life terms, with a minimum of 40 years to be served.

Police believe that Erskine may have killed before his first known victim, and police theorised that due to the frailty and age of the choice of Erskine’s victims, and the lack of obvious injuries, many may have been attributed to natural causes. It remains a frightening thought that Erskine may have killed more.

Born to an English mother (Margaret) and an Antiguan father (Charles), Erskine was brought up in Putney. Erskine was one of four sons, and was remembered by neighbours to be a chubby, Bible reading soul. Erskine soon became difficult to control, and received his education at a series of schools for maladjusted children. Several times he violently attacked teachers and pupils, and appeared to inhabit a fantasy world. Erskine clearly had already murderous impulses, attempting to drown several pupils on a swimming outing, and once stabbing a teacher in the hand with a pair of scissors. Several periods in jail followed as Erskine graduated to an unsuccessful burglar. His own family cut themselves off from him and he had had no contact with them for years. When police arrested Erskine for the stranglings, they discovered that he had been a Rastafarian but had been shunned by fellow Rastafarians due to his habit of stealing. Little is known of his early life due to the lack of a detailed study of him. His only possessions were the clothes he stood up in and several building society books. No one has been able to penetrate the mind of Erskine due to his disturbed state, which has now worsened to the extent that he is now housed in Broadmoor secure hospital, and has been informed that he will die in prison.

Erskine remains a mystery character, with psychiatrists failing to be able to penetrate his mind. He has a problem distinguishing fantasy from reality, and remains locked in his childlike world. His mental state has deteriorated to an alarming extent nowadays, although one incident suggests that he may still be able to determine right from wrong. On February 23 1996 he was the sole factor that prevented convicted killer Paul Wilson from murdering Peter "Yorkshire Ripper" Sutcliffe in Broadmoor. Erskine managed to restrain Wilson from inflicting further injury.

Many psychiatrists continue to probe the mind of Erskine in an attempt to reach the bottom of his psyche, however, as of yet, Erskine remains a mystery. Only as and when he is reached will the answers so many have searched for for years will become available, and the Stockwell Strangler may be able to answer for his crimes.

Interesting facts


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