Canals murderer Sweeney to die in jail

By John-Paul Ford Rojas,Shenai Raif,Pa
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:37

A double killer who called himself the Scalp Hunter was told today that he will die in jail after being convicted of butchering two women and dumping them in canals.

John Sweeney, 54, was given a whole-life tariff at the Old Bailey for the murders of former girlfriends Paula Fields and Melissa Halstead.

Their bodies were discovered a decade apart in England and Holland and police now fear three other missing women may have suffered the same fate.

Sweeney, a carpenter, boasted of his violence in lurid paintings and verse found at his home - and in one picture, showing a bloody axe, he called himself the Scalp Hunter.

Sweeney refused to come to court from his prison cell at Belmarsh Prison to be sentenced.

Mr Justice Saunders said the gravity of the offences was exceptional and only a whole-life term would do.

He said: "These were terrible, wicked crimes.

"The heads of the victims having been removed, it is impossible to be certain how they were killed.

"The mutilation of the bodies is a serious aggravating feature of the murders.

"Not only does it reveal the cold-blooded nature of the killer, but it has added greatly to the distress of the families to know that parts of the bodies of their loved ones have never been recovered."

The judge said the killings had been planned.

"The method of disposal of the bodies demonstrates that there was a substantial amount of planning.

"Why the killings occurred, I cannot be sure, but I am satisfied that this defendant is controlling in his relationships with women and, chillingly, that control extends to deciding whether they should live or die."

Sweeney was said to have a hatred of women and turned violent when they tried to reject him.

In addition to the two murders, he also launched an axe attack on a girlfriend, nurse Delia Balmer, who was only saved when a neighbour arrived to help.

Some 300 paintings, wooden sculptures and poems were found at his home when he was arrested while on the run in 2001.

And similar works were found in his prison cell at Gartree Prison when he was arrested for murder last year.

Sweeney was already serving four life terms imposed in 2002 for the attempted murder in 1994 of Miss Balmer and having four guns when he was arrested while on the run.

Former model Miss Halstead, 33, from the US, was killed in 1990. Her dismembered body was thrown into a canal in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

She was only identified 18 years later by DNA, although her head and hands have never been found.

She had started a relationship with Sweeney who followed her to Vienna where he attacked her, and then to Holland where he killed her.

Her sister, Chance O'Hara, said: "She told me, if she ever went missing, that John Sweeney would have killed her. He had threatened that he would kill her and he would make sure no-one would ever find her body."

Sweeney wrote on the back of a scratchcard: "Poor old Melissa, chopped her up in bits, food to feed the fish, Amsterdam was the pits."

The body parts of Paula Fields, 31, were found in six holdalls floating in the Regent's Canal in Camden, north London, in February 2001. Her head, hands and feet are still missing.

The Liverpool-born young mother had arrived in London 14 months before and fell into prostitution to support a drug habit.

Her sister Irene Allahgreen told the court in a statement that the months before her death were only a small part of a "normal life".

Brian Altman, QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "Police discovered amongst his possessions often lurid and demonic sketches and paintings, as well as pages of verse which reveal an obsessive and virulent hatred of women, and a preoccupation with dismemberment."

Now detectives want to know what happened to three other former girlfriends who have not been seen for many years.

A trainee nurse called Sue from Derbyshire was said to have gone to Switzerland in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

And they are also trying to trace two South American former girlfriends of Sweeney who have not been seen since the late 1990s.

Little is known about them, except that one was a Brazilian woman known as Irani, the other a Colombian called Maria.

Asked if the three women were thought to have been murdered, Det Ch Insp Howard Groves said outside court: "We have some information which would suggest that is a possibility."