FOR 16 YEARS, John Taft thought he had got away with the murder of a glamorous beautician. Yesterday, after 12 hours of deliberation over three days, a jury convicted the company director and he was jailed for life.
Judge David Clarke QC said that only Taft would know why he had strangled Cynthia Bolshaw, a 50-year-old divorcee, at her bungalow in Heswall, Merseyside. "You have never told the truth about what took place on that night," he said.
Taft's first wife, Barbara, who has told police that she once woke up to find his hands around her neck, provided him with a false alibi 16 years ago. Taft, who was then a double-glazing salesman, told her he had visited Mrs Bolshaw "to do a foreigner" - a private sale - on the night of the murder in October 1983.
He had in fact strangled Mrs Bolshaw with his bare hands after a sexual liaison between them, dragged her to the bathroom and laid her face down in a bath of water, naked but for her jewellery, before driving away in her car. Her clothes were found neatly folded by the bed. Taft later burned the clothes he had been wearingand buried them in the garden for fear they could incriminate him.
Detectives discussed Mrs Bolshaw's murder with Taft in the days after the killing but he said he did not know her and they had no reason to disbelieve him.
A boyfriend of Mrs Taft telephoned police this year after reading about breakthroughs in DNA technology, and said that Taft had acted suspiciously that night. Barbara Taft was interviewed and reported that her former husband asked her to provide a false alibi. DNA tests then matched Taft's blood to semen discovered on a black negligee that had been found on Mrs Bolshaw's bed, which meant that the odds of the killer being anyone other than Taft were 160 million to one. "No murderer can ever sleep comfortably, however long it is they have escaped," Andrew Edis QC, for the prosecution, told the jury at Liverpool Crown Court.
Mrs Bolshaw's colourful sex life - and the labyrinth of clues that it left behind - shielded Taft from suspicion for years. Her diaries contained the names of around 200 men, some of them pillars of local society. Detectives called the officers who interviewed these men "the boyfriend squad". "She was red hot," one of her lovers told detectives.
In court, the full colour of her love life emerged in the men who bore mention: the American magician she had met on a train to London, the captain in the Sultan of Oman's army, the inspector in the Ugandan police; the oil-rig worker. A police officer and a restaurant manager both told how Mrs Bolshaw wore no underwear as she initiated sex with them. Her promiscuity made her a target for cuckolded wives. One threw a glass of whisky over her.
Other tantalising leads occupied the time of police. Mrs Bolshaw had been flat-hunting with a man in Chester on a Sunday afternoon two months before she died. Yet she had only lived in her bungalow since January 1983. The man was never found.
She cashed in a life insurance policy weeks before she died and withdrew pounds 5,903 from her bank, of which only pounds 803 could be accounted for. Her car was found abandoned in a field gateway, in full view of the main North Wales to Wirral road. Detectives, baffled by the flagrant way it was abandoned, took more than 100 witness statements from those who had seen it there, including one from the then chauffeur of the chief constable of Merseyside Police.
The only promising lead was a 36-year-old woman who made 16 calls to police. They were bogus. The woman was charged with wasting 100 hours of police time.
Taft admitted that he had lied when he had told police he did not know Mrs Bolshaw and his explanation of why he was seen digging a hole in his garden on an October night in 1983 was unconvincing. He was putting out bacon rind for wild animals, he said.
Mrs Bolshaw's son, Christopher, 42, said outside court yesterday: "None of this is going to bring my mum back. But at least perhaps now she might be able to rest in peace safe in the knowledge that John Taft, a vicious, cold and brutal man, is behind bars. We sincerely hope that John Taft will now be deprived of his liberty for a very long time."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies