'Cold, calculating' killer who shed tears before cameras

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

It was an extraordinary murder, carried out by a man prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to hide his guilt.

On two occasions Gordon Wardell publicly wept for his dead wife - first during an appeal on television to catch the "evil killers", and then again at her funeral. Yet as his tears fell and he talked of his terrible loss, he alone knew what it felt like to strangle his wife and then dump her body on the roadside.

During Wardell's trial the jury was told that there did not appear to be a single reason for the murder - money and the breakdown of their relationship seemed the most likely explanations. But whatever the motivation, Wardell, who was considered a "thinker", must have pondered for many hours over the plot.

The police were first alerted on 12 September last year when the body of Carol Wardell, 39, was discovered at a lay-by on the A444 near Nuneaton, Warwickshire. When detectives arrived at her home in Meriden, they found her semi-naked husband bound and gagged. He told them that he had arrived home the previous evening to find a gang of five men, one of whom was wearing a clown's mask, holding his wife at knifepoint.

He claimed that a rag with an "acrid" smell was placed over his mouth and knocked him out for about 10 hours. While he was unconscious the gang was supposed to have taken Mrs Wardell to the Nuneaton branch of the Woolwich Building Society where she worked, and stolen about pounds 14,000. She was then killed and her body abandoned.

Four days later a frail and gaunt-looking Wardell, seated in a wheelchair, spoke at a police press conference. Weeping before the cameras he said Carol's killers were "totally evil" and that he had "lost everything". The police said he was receiving stress counselling for his ordeal. He went on to take part in a police reconstruction.

Later he was to lead 200 mourners and comfort Carol's mother, Joan Heslop, who collapsed in tears after placing a red rose on her daughter's coffin.

But although Wardell must have thought his performance had convinced everyone of his innocence the police had a very different view.

They believe that he suffocated and strangled his wife at home before driving to the building society and looting the safe using her security code and keys. He then dumped her body. Finally he returned home and beat himself in the stomach before gagging himself with a ripped sheet from his garage and tying his hands and legs to a rubbish bin.

The police were suspicious of his story that a gang of hardened criminals who were willing to kill for money chose to take just pounds 14,000 from a rural building society branch, and leave other valuables at the Wardell's home.

Knot experts proved that he could have tied and gagged himself and anaesthetists said it would have been almost impossible for him to have been unconscious for 10 hours - he would have been knocked out for only a few minutes, they said.

Another key piece of evidence that helped convict Wardell was the post- mortem examination. The court was told that scientific examination of Mrs Wardell showed it would have been impossible for her to have been alive at 10pm when Wardell said he arrived home.

It was also told that despite Wardell's claims that he had smelled smoke at his home forensic tests revealed no cigarette ash or smoke in the house and no sign of glove or hand prints from the gang.

At the trial Richard Wakerley QC, prosecuting, said: "He made mistakes. He tried to be too clever. Maybe he overlooked the scientific evidence the police could bring to bear."

Later Detective Superintendent Tony Bayliss, who led the investigation, described Wardell as a "cool, cold, calculating" person.