Focus: One of these women is an evil murderer

Maxine Carr never killed anyone. She was convicted of perjury, not murder. Yet she has been given a new identity on her release from prison, and forced into hiding. Beatrix Campbell explains why the former girlfriend of Ian Huntley was re-made in the image of Myra Hindley and why her treatment should alarm us all
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The Independent Online

Myra is dead, long live Maxine, wherever she is. The woman in Ian Huntley's life has been mobilised as the successor to the woman in Ian Brady's life, a new recruit to the monstrous regiment of murderous women.

She killed no one, of course, but the new life that Carr is starting this weekend, and the police protection that began as soon as she left prison, are necessary because of what she has been made to represent.

For nearly four decades Myra Hindley served as our "icon of evil", the hard-faced emblem of the 60s, decadence, and murder as transcendence. She gave us the look: the glare of a prowling hypnotist, a look that seemed to enjoy the transmission of terror. And she gave us the notion of a woman so impossibly sadistic she had to be an offence against nature.

The alliteration was too tempting: Myra faded away and metamorphosed into Maxine. A new mistress of evil was conjured up, a woman whose partnership with the school caretaker convicted of killing the Soham friends Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman implicated her in their inexplicable deaths. Myra was the template for Maxine.

Rose West was also lurking in the metaphorical shadows, her unflinching stare behind her big, working-class spectacles. Like West and Hindley, Carr's steadfast adhesion made her appear as more than merely an accomplice. In the beginning, before the trial, the less we knew about her, the worse she was. Fantasies were poured into the empty space. She was an enigma whose loyal silences confirmed her as perhaps even more sinister than the killer.

The phantom of Maxine-the-new-Myra was inferred from her confirming his alibi. By insisting that she was there in that house with the girls, that she was their friend, and that she saw them walk out of the door, she acquired a privileged position. It was as if she was the last person to see them alive, and she, therefore, held the secret of their death. She did not have the audacious Hindley look. She seemed small and distracted. We thought she must have been lying. And she was, of course.

It was her remorseless fidelity that seemed to connect her to the greatest crime of all. Like Hindley, Carr embodied transgression precisely because she was a woman and she, uniquely, could deliver her man what he wanted: children. The saturation media coverage of the girls' disappearance - at the expense of other, more prosaic and more typical atrocities against children in their own homes - engaged society.

It was the summer of 2002, the news schedules were suddenly filled with a mystery that concerned not just the disappearance of the girls, but a narrative about the nation itself. This was England! Warm beer, open doors, Beckham football shirts, little girls free to roam. These women's association with sadistic crimes against children became an affront against nature and the nation.

That was the story society was telling itself. But the invention of Myra Mark II obscured another analogy to Hindley and West. She was not transgressive, she was submissive and scared. She put her own will, integrity, freedom and safety at risk for the sake of a man. Or rather, because her man told her to.

We recoil from the story of such subordination because it forces our attention on to something that seems, paradoxically, both more banal and yet more unsettling - it takes us to men. Drawing on the work of the theorist of masculinity, the Australian academic Bob Connell, we could conceive of the excesses of Ian Brady, Fred West and Ian Huntley - their violence and megalomania and sexual sadism - not as aberrations of masculinity, but as resources in the making of their distinctive versions of masculinity.

All these men controlled their women, they were all excessively domineering, and Hindley, West and Carr were doormats. The menenlisted these women as their lieutenants, either to procure for them or to lie for them. Yet each of these women has been represented not as a doormat but a dominatrix. And it is not the awfulness of these men that we recoil from so much as what they reveal about men's power over women.

All of these females expose the extraordinary lengths some women will travel, the lives they might jeopardise on the way, for their men. They are intoxicated by them and afraid of them; they are in their thrall. If the women seem powerful then it is surely because they have power over children. And if they seem necessary, nay indispensable, to the men, then it is because they are.

But the men's neediness was only another resource. Estella Weldom, Britain's premier researcher on deadly, sadistic women, discovered that women might find their own power through their ability to please or protect dangerous men.

It seems that Huntley did use Carr: he was strategic, controlling, and "victimised"; he needed her to do his washing and provide him with alibis. He gave her his fear of being "fitted up" and she gave herself away trying to save him. Oh no, she is not a "sweet, innocent victim", a lawyer protested last week. Well, of course she was not innocent: she lied and cheated. Her story, though, has been so hard to hear because it is unbearably abject - it is about the shame of subordination.

Last week, on the eve of her release from prison, Carr was convicted of deception and social security fraud. The judge may have done her a favour. The conviction will keep her in contact with one of the parts of our criminal justice system that has grasped the bleak consequences of women's disempowerment, the Probation Service.

The decision by the court last week to forbid coverage of Carr's new identity in her "new life" tells us more about English culture than it tells us about her. No one could represent her as a child killer after the dramatic revelations during her trial and the palpable sense that she was only just working out how he had conned her - the unforgettable detail about the laundry spree by a man who didn't know how to work the washing machine.

With luck, her incarceration, and now her new life, might connect her with people who can work on her self-esteem and help her keep out of harm's way and bad men.

But isn't that what prison is supposed to do? And why does she need to lose her past, erase her entire identity, to become another person? After all, she is not a serial killer nor a supergrass. Carr, who never killed anybody, must disappear because she is in danger from her own society.