Donald Ward and his wife, Auriel, who were found dead at their home in Lacey Grove, Wilmslow in 1999.

Cheshire police examine serial killer theory in five couples’ deaths

Police in the north-west of England are reviewing claims that a serial killer may have been behind five apparent murder-suicides of older couples over the past 24 years.

Stephanie Davies, Cheshire police’s senior coroner’s officer, has produced a 197-page report raising concerns that the deaths of Harold and Bea Ainsworth in April 1996 and Donald and Auriel Ward in November 1999, all in the wealthy town of Wilmslow, were double murders by a third party who is still at large, the Sunday Times reported.

Cheshire police have long since closed both cases, concluding that they were murder-suicides where the husbands killed their wives and then themselves. Neither man had a history of violence and both couples were said to have had very happy marriages.

Davies worries that the couples may have been murdered and that three further cases in the wider north-west may also be linked, according to the report.

The newspaper reported that Davies developed this theory after making freedom of information requests across the UK to look for other murder-suicides and found 39 cases of older couples discovered together in such circumstances between 2000 and 2019.

She was not able to look at police files belonging to other forces but she found three that shared “striking” similarities with the Wilmslow cases.

One was the deaths of Michael and Violet Higgins in February 2000 in Didsbury, Manchester, where a coroner noted a “very sad end to many years of apparent happy marriage”. Though he ruled that Mr Higgins had battered his wife to death using a rolling pin and then throttled himself with a coat hanger, the coroner remarked that “terrible violence took place that was completely out of character with Mr Higgins”.

The others are the deaths of Kenneth and Eileen Martin in November 2008 in Davyhulme, Greater Manchester, and those of Stanley and Peggy Wilson in February 2011 in Kendal, Cumbria.

Cheshire police said: “We are in receipt of the report and it is being reviewed. This is a piece of research which has been undertaken by the staff member, independently from her role within the constabulary.

“As with any case that has been closed, where new information comes to light it is reviewed and acted upon if appropriate. We have notified both Greater Manchester police and Cumbria constabulary.”

The Sunday Times, which said it had a copy of Davies’s report, said she explained that she was raising the cases with the police because of “the concern that there is an outstanding offender, who could still be offending, and who needs to be brought to justice”.