It was an ordinary-looking letter, one of several which arrived on my office desk in those pre-email days some twenty years ago.
What wasn’t ordinary were the words stamped across the front of the envelope: ‘From HMP Parkhurst’.
I opened it. Inside – in a barely-legible scrawl – it said: “Dear Fred. I saw the film on your programme about the little girl. I think I can help. Get in touch.”
It was signed ‘Reg Kray’.
Yes, Reggie Kray. THE Reggie Kray. East End gangland legend. He’d written to me from his cell at Parkhurst where he was serving life for the murder of Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie.
Reg had seen an item on the ITV six o’clock news programme in the south – then called Coast to Coast, now called Meridian Tonight (and both introduced by yours truly!) – about a young girl’s life-saving kidney transplant.
Her grateful Dad wanted to raise money for the hospital to buy some specialised equipment – hence Reggie’s letter. I got back in touch and he told me: “There are some talented artists here in Parkhurst. We could make a lot of money auctioning some of their paintings.” Which is how, some months later, thirteen paintings were auctioned at an event called ‘The Rogues Gallery’.
Twelve of the paintings were real works of art. The thirteenth was a childlike painting of two boxers in a ring. It was signed ‘R.Kray’ – and it made more money than the other twelve combined.
Also auctioned was a magnificent model of a gypsy caravan, made from matches, and painstakingly created by an inmate at Broadmoor Hospital for the Criminally Insane. That had been ‘commissioned’ by Reg’s twin brother Ron, himself serving life for a gangland killing.
Reggie was delighted. He invited me to Parkhurst to meet him – and the rest, as they say, is history. There was the Kray twins’ autobiography, a book with Ronnie about life in Broadmoor, and – a couple of years ago – a documentary about the Kray legacy for Crime & Investigation Network.
That, in turn, led to Fred Dinenage: Murder Casebook on Crime & Investigation Network, which was the brainchild of a talented TV producer called Kate Beal.
Kate’s idea was to look beyond the story of the murder – to analyse the motive, to try and understand why and how it happened, to study the people involved, and to see if others – perhaps unnamed at the trial – had been involved. Basically to look beyond the myth and to try and understand the reality of what really occurred.
She also cleverly partnered me with our resident expert, Professor David Wilson, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University and once Britain’s youngest prison governor.
"We’ve experimented with sulphuric acid and how long it takes to eat flesh and bone (a la the Acid Bath murderer)"
David brings a fresh, lively approach to each investigation. And great knowledge. He KNOWS criminals, he’s worked with them, he’s studied them. He also loves test and trials. We’ve experimented with sulphuric acid and how long it takes to eat flesh and bone (a la the Acid Bath murderer)... we’ve tried drowning (in the nicest possible way!) a young researcher in a bath (the Brides in the Bath murderer)... and we went to the shooting ranges at Bisley to illustrate the difficulty of carrying and accurately firing a heavy handgun (a la Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in England).
There will be more experiments in the new series, in which we put the spotlight on eight more murderers. And fascinating cases they are, too.
Several of them involve serial killers. There’s Patrick Mackay who confessed to killing eleven people in England in the mid-seventies, including a much-respected priest.
Archibald Hall, also known as ‘The Monster Butler’, who committed crimes, including murder, whilst working as a butler for members of the aristocracy.
Mary Bell, convicted in 1968 of the manslaughter of two young boys. Gordon Cummins, known as ‘The Blackout Ripper’, who murdered four women in London during the blackouts of 1942.
Peter Manuel – Scotland’s most prolific serial killer – who murdered nine people in two years between 1956 and 1958.
Raymond Morris, the Cannock Chase killer, who murdered three young girls.
John Straffen, another child-killer, who achieved the dubious honour of being the longest serving prisoner in British legal history.
And the fascinating case of Lord Lucan, the British Peer and suspected murderer who disappeared without trace in November 1974 after the murder of the family nanny Sandra Rivett.
Our experts – including David Wilson – have their own views on what happened to Lucan and whether he could still be alive today. And, if so, where he is.
The whole Murder Casebook experience has been a fascinating journey for me, though I hasten to add that murder has only been a small part of my TV life!
I’ve done a lot of fairly regrettable quiz shows and the like. But it’s in regional TV that I’ve been happiest, because it’s here that you get closest to the viewers. You get a rapport you don’t get anywhere else in broadcasting except, I suspect, local radio.
But no matter how long you’ve been around, it’s still no guarantee of fame and recognition.
During the filming for the new series of Murder Casebook we were filming on a bleak common near Dumfries, in Scotland.
We were being watched by half a dozen young lads on bikes who, I suspect, may have skipped off school!
I was doing fairly endless pieces to camera about murder and serial killers.
During the break in filming one of the young boys said to me:
“Och Mister, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Not at all”, I replied, “What is it?”
“Are you a serial killer?” he asked.
“No”, I replied.
“What are you then?” he asked.
“I’m a television presenter”, I replied.
“Do you know anybody famous?” he asked.
“Yes”, I replied.
“Who?” he asked.
“Fred Dinenage”, I replied, jokingly.
“Is he a serial killer?” he asked. He wasn’t joking.
Fred Dinenage: Murder Casebook Series 2 - Sundays at 9pm on Crime & Investigation Network (Sky 553 and Virgin Media 237)