Disciplinarian who bludgeoned wife to death was caught out by chance

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The Independent Online

On 8 January 1998, Gordon Park must have been convinced he had got away with murder. The Crown Prosecution Service had just concluded it could not establish his guilt for the death of his wife, Carol, 22 years earlier. Once released from custody in Preston prison, he cashed in on his good fortune with a £50,000 Mail on Sunday deal for the story of his years as an "emotional cripple" after his wife's disappearance.

On 8 January 1998, Gordon Park must have been convinced he had got away with murder. The Crown Prosecution Service had just concluded it could not establish his guilt for the death of his wife, Carol, 22 years earlier. Once released from custody in Preston prison, he cashed in on his good fortune with a £50,000 Mail on Sunday deal for the story of his years as an "emotional cripple" after his wife's disappearance.

"I must have sailed over her body dozens of times," he told the paper, with "tears" in his eyes. "I cannot see that I will ever enjoy the place again." He threatened to sue Cumbria Police for malicious prosecution.

The interview belied the reality of the life he had shared with the Barrow town hall clerk whom he had met through a mutual friend in 1963, when she was 17, and married four years later. Their marriage was punctuated by wild rows over her infidelity. Park's demand for control was best demonstrated by his practice of lining up his three children and smacking them with a stick until they confessed to indiscretions as minor as stealing an Easter egg. He was seen physically restraining his wife at least once before carrying out the killing for which he was finally convicted yesterday.

At the start of the 1976 summer holidays, Park said that he had returned from a trip to Blackpool with the children, to find his wife had disappeared, leaving her purse, rings and suitcase. In reality, he had hit her over the head with his climbing ice-pick before dumping her body in Coniston Water in the Lake District.

Suspicion surrounded his failure to report her missing until just before the start of the next school term - six weeks later. Park said he had not reported her missing because her disappearances were common - and until the body was found 21 years later, detectives could not disprove him.

Park was on a French cycling holiday with his third wife when the body was located by amateur divers in August 1997. On his return to Britain, he walked into Barrow police station and presented himself for questioning.

Most of the original case notes from 1976 had gone missing and the 50-strong investigation team had to muster what evidence it could. Their flimsy case was dropped a week before his committal to Crown Court.

It was a different story when the investigation was re-opened in 2002. Anxious not to alert Park to their inquiries, police discreetly asked experts to examine "granny" knots found in the blue nylon rope used to bind Mrs Park's body to plastic sheeting. They matched those in rope left lying around Park's house.

He seemed neither surprised nor alarmed when officers knocked on his door at 7am on 13 January last year - though his third wife, Jenny, collapsed.

With their investigation out in the open, police were free to re-examine the area where Mrs Park had been found. This time detectives engaged a cameraman who had worked on recovering Duncan Campbell's Bluebird speedboat from Coniston. His sonar equipment located a large piece of Westmoreland green roof slate and it matched that used by Park to create wall supports at his home "Bluestones".

It also alerted police to a piece of evidence they had had been in possession of since the body was found: a rock brought to the surface in 1997. Used to weigh down the body, this also matched stone from "Bluestones". The rock was the most crucial evidence the police put forward.