Murder of the lady in the lake was kept secret for 20 years, trial told

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The Independent Online

A teacher murdered his wife, expertly bound her body and pushed it from the side of his boat into a lake, keeping the crime a secret for more than two decades, a jury was told yesterday.

Gordon Park, 60, would probably have escaped detection had he tipped his wife's body a few feet farther from the shore of Coniston Water, in the Lake District, Manchester Crown Court was told. She was found by divers on a shallow underwater slope, in 25 metres of water, 21 years later.

The body of 30-year-old Carol Park was weighed down with stones identical to those used by Mr Park to build the couple's home at Leece, near Barrow- in-Furness, Cumbria She had been bludgeoned in the face with an ice axe, was wearing her nightdress and was fastidiously wrapped in one of her pinafore dresses, a black plastic bag and a rucksack.

She was also bound with knots that would have been known only to climbers, sailors or someone with an "unusual interest in knots". Mr Park was all three - and the knots precisely matched those tied at his houses and on his boat, it was alleged. The evidence proved Mr Park's guilt, said Alistair Webster, QC, for the prosecution. "The dark secret of [Coniston's] cold depths ... guarded for over 21 years ... was a secret known to only one living person: Gordon Park," he said.

Mr Park denies murdering his wife in July 1976.

Mr Webster said Mrs Park, a "petite, pretty ... bubbly" person, who was a musician and teacher at an infants' school, married Mr Park in July 1967. But beneath the veneer of marital harmony, "all was not as it seemed," said Mr Webster.

She went to Keele University in 1974, began a relationship with another man and left home to live with him in Normanby, Teesside. She was forced to return to the couple's home, Bluestones, in July 1975 after Mr Park, who also had affairs, was granted custody of the children. Altough there was no evidence of regular violence, a friend was once called to deal with an argument and found Mr Park sitting on top of his wife.

She vanished on Saturday 17 July 1976, the day before family friends travelled from the Midlands to be told by an "annoyed" Mr Park that he had returned from a trip to Blackpool with the children, the previous day, to find his wife had disappeared, taking neither her purse nor suitcase. Despite the friends' long journey, Mr Park did not invite them in. Mrs Park had not taken her wedding and engagement rings, as she had when leaving home in the past. Neither had she contacted friends or family, telling them where she was, as usual. Mr Park told no one of her disappearance, though it was his usual practice to seek her out. He finally mentioned her absence to his brother-in-law and the police just before the start of the school term in September 1976.

"Questions were bound to be asked [at school]," said Mr Webster. "He had no choice but to report her missing."

Mrs Park remained "a name upon a file at Scotland Yard, a question mark in the minds of those who had known her"; and Mr Park got on with life, remarrying twice, before the body was discovered. Mr Park was charged with murder in 1997 and held at Preston prison where he allegedly made confessions to two inmates, whose testimonies will form a part of the case.

Other witnesses will include John and Joan Young, who were sitting in a car overlooking Coniston when they saw a man fitting Mr Park's description - slim, bespectacled and in possession of a wetsuit - dumping "a bulky item" into the lake. The trial continues.