Pensioner questioned over deaths of three girlfriends in decade

Leslie Ross, from Dromore, Co Down quizzed over fatal incidents between 2002 and last year

A stone mason continues to be held over the suspicious deaths of three of his former girlfriends in a rural town in Northern Ireland as police issued a new appeal for information.

Leslie Ross, 66, from Dromore, Co Down, was detained in the quiet market town in connection with the three fatal incidents over a 10-year period.

Michelle Bickerstaff, 47, died in April last year; Margaret Weise, 50, in August 2007 and Lily McKee, 52, in December 2002.

It is understood two of the women died after suffering physical injuries, with officers working to establish how they were caused, with the other death attributed to organ failure.

Mr Ross, from Meganlis Park, not far from the town square, was arrested last year in the wake of Ms Bickerstaff's death but was released unconditionally.

The latest move by police comes after detectives carried out a review of the three separate cases.

The families of the three women have been informed about the arrest.

Mr Ross, who was taken to Antrim police station for questioning, is also being quizzed about other offences relating to other women.

Jenny Dickson, the only daughter of Ms McKee, said her mother was in a relationship with Mr Ross for 11 years.

“I know that the police have been working hard with these cases and I am not prepared to give any details as I would not want to jeopardise their inquiry and we want to see justice,” she said.

She described her mother as fun and active, kind with a good sense of humour. She did charity work and supported the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“She was a great person,” she added.

She said her mother maintained her own flat in the town but lived with Mr Ross from time to time. She was divorced.

The investigation was originally headed up by district-based detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but last night specialist officers from the PSNI Serious Crime Branch took the lead.

Detective Chief Inspector Richard Harkness asked anyone in Dromore with knowledge about the deaths to contact officers.

“People may have been reluctant to come forward in the past but I can assure you that any information given to the police will be treated in the utmost confidence,” he said.

“Your information could provide us with the vital link to enable us to bring this investigation to a successful conclusion.”

Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who knew Ms McKee and Ms Bickerstaff, said the community was in shock.

“Dromore is one of the oldest towns in Northern Ireland and nothing like this has ever happened in the history of the town,” he said.

Mr Ross was said to frequent a number of bars in Dromore, including the Market Bar.

One local at the Market Bar said he was a well-known face.

“I also knew all three of the women,” he said. “They had their problems in life.”

It is understood Mr Ross's family owned a bar in Castlewellan, which was blown up during the Northern Ireland troubles.

Relatives moved to Rathlin Island off Ireland's north coast.

Mr Ross later moved to Dromore, where it is understood he lives alone in a white-painted terraced house. Yesterday there were signs of graffiti having being painted over the property.

Neighbours said he once owned a bar in the area, since demolished, and also had interest in other properties further afield.

“He is quiet and keeps himself to himself. He lives alone,” said Barbara Boyd, 54.

Ms Bickerstaff, a mother-of-four, was a regular at the Drop Inn shop on the town square where she came to sift through rails of clothes or for a chat with staff.

She would also visit a charity cafe run by volunteers in the centre of the town.

“She was a nice woman, she would have been in here regularly,” one shop assistant said.

Kenneth Spratt, a bystander in the town centre, said he knew the women well.

“They were good, lovely women,” he said. He added: “They were all fun girls”.

Democratic Unionist Mr Donaldson said relatives of the women would need support in the period ahead.

“The community in Dromore is very close and tight knit, and the community is shocked by the news today,” he said.

“My first thoughts are with the families and we will be bearing them up in prayer and I know the community will offer all the support they can to each family.”

Detectives urged anyone with information to contact detectives on 028 3831 5339 or alternately through independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss