When Mark Manwering decided to sell his Ford Escort Cabriolet XR3i, he asked his dad to advertise it for him in the local paper.
This was perfect for the man we’ll call The Classifieds Killer.
Listen to the episode “The Classified Killer” below:
25 year old Alison Manwering was excited. In just nine days time she would be moving to a new home with her fiancé, Gordon Healis, a hospital worker.
It was Thursday, 23rd April 1992 and Alison and Gordon had spent the evening measuring their new home for curtains.
At 10.30pm the couple said goodbye to each other and Alison drove home to her father’s house in Aldersey Gardens in Barking, East London, where she was living in the run up to the move.
Matthew Manwering, 62, was a retired bank messenger who was getting ready for bed as his daughter made her way home. A widower after his wife had died from cancer two years before, Matthew still lived an active life.
Matthew’s day had been productive. His son, Mark, had asked his dad to sell his car for him and Matthew had placed an advert in the local paper which had been published that day.
The paper had only been out for a few hours when Matthew received a call from someone asking about the Escort XR3i. After a few questions the caller asked to come and see the car and arrangements were made for him to visit the next morning.
A knock on the door at around 10.30pm startled Matthew. He certainly wasn’t expecting anybody that late at night and made his way to his front door assuming that maybe Alison had misplaced her keys.
He opened the door to a young man who apologised for calling so late, saying that he had called about the car earlier and although he wasn’t due until the next morning, he happened to be passing and wondered if he could look at the car now.
Despite the time, Matthew agreed to the car viewing. He was laid back at the best of times, and keen to be helpful. He told the potential buyer that the car was his son, Mark’s, explaining that he was an officer serving in the RAF in Cyprus and that he was selling it on his behalf.
The pair were seen chatting on the doorstep by one of Matthew’s neighbours before they disappeared inside.
Whilst the pair were busy discussing details of the sale, Alison returned home.
The next morning the red Ford Escort was gone. Six miles away in Hornchurch, Matthew’s brother, Derek was growing frustrated.
He had arranged for Matthew to drive to his that morning so that they could go trout-fishing.
Getting fed up of waiting, he called his brother at home, but got no reply.
Meanwhile, in Forest Gate, 8 miles West of Hornchurch and less than 3 miles from Barking, staff at a local bank were getting worried that their colleague, Alison Manwaring, hadn’t shown up for work.
It was unusual for Alison to not call in sick or to let someone know that she wouldn’t be at work.
Alison’s fiancé, Gordon, called the branch later that day to be told that she wasn’t in, and was surprised to hear this. He told her colleagues that he’d been with her until late the previous evening and that she seemed fine then.
He put the phone down and called Alison at home. Like Derek, he got no reply. He tried again later that evening with the same result.
Checking the Aldersey Gardens house
The following day, Saturday 25th April, Gordon met up with Derek who had a spare key to his brothers house and the pair of them let themselves in.
They noted that the lights were all off and the curtains were drawn. They shouted out in the gloom but didn’t get an answer. Having a quick look around they realised that nobody was there and then left, baffled.
Derek returned the next day, alone, and found the house the same as it was before. Still nobody was home.
The day after that, still confused at the apparent disappearance of their loved ones, Derek and Gordon went back to the house again.
This time they chose to open the curtains and turn on some lights What they saw, horrified them.
Matthew’s armchair and the carpet around it were soaked in blood.
They wasted no time in calling the police.
Detective Superintendent Mike Morgan from Scotland Yard’s Major Incident Pool and Barking CID’s Detective Inspector Phil Burrows took charge of the investigation.
They visited the property and were baffled at what was set out before them. Aside from the blood-stained chair and carpet, they found two blood-stained cushion covers in the washing machine as well as more blood splashes in the bathroom.
Somebody had tried to clean up the scene but had done so poorly.
The door frame which led from the living room to the hall had been smashed and a half-hearted attempt at repairing the damage with filler and paint had been made. On closer inspection, they realised that it was the result of a shotgun being fired – shotgun pellets were still embedded in the door frame.
Letter from Alison Manwering
Handwritten documents were also found. One was a receipt for the sale of a red Ford Escort Cabriolet XR3 for £7,750 to a Mr Sinclair. The other was a note from Alison, clearly signed by her and in her handwriting, which explained that she and her father had chosen to go away for a few days and that she would explain why later.
Totting up what was missing, the police determined that as well as the Escort, Alison’s car was also missing, along with some jewellery, cheque books, building society books, a camera and a few other items.
The police decided to hold a press conference and on Wednesday 29th April the national newspapers all ran stories on the missing Manwarings.
The police had only revealed that the pair had vanished in -quote “strange and suspicious circumstances” -endquote.
The only clue they gave was of a possible suspect described as a young man, possibly of mixed race with a goatee beard and moustache who had been seen talking to Matthew Manwaring beside the missing Escort.
Later that afternoon 25 year old Benjamin Laing, a delivery driver earning £150 per week for Selfridges in Oxford Street, walked into Barking Police Station and told the front desk that he wanted to speak to the officers running the Manwaring case.
Laing was mixed race with a goatee beard and moustache.
The son of a leading Ghanian author and poet, Laing possessed an IQ of 150 (but as we will see, a high IQ is not the same as common sense). He gained 10 O Levels and 4 A Levels at school and in 1986 was accepted for a place at Loughborough University.
He told officers that he has seen the newspapers that day and confirmed that he was the man who had been seen talking to Matthew Manwaring.
He explained that he’d seen the car advertised and had gone there to buy it, paying £7,750 in cash and taking the car the same night, but swore that when he’d left, both Matthew and Alison had been alive and well.
The police were keen to dig further and asked Laing where the car was now. Laing responded by telling the officer that he had sold it at a car auction in Enfield the previous Monday.
They then asked where he had been on Friday 24th April. Before Laing could answer, police revealed to him that when they discovered that bank cards and cheques had been stolen, they notified every bank and building society in East London and Essex. They went on to explain that on the Friday in question a man had walked into a Nationwide Building Society and attempted to take £200 from Matthew Manwaring’s account, but that an eagle-eyed bank worker had realised the signature given didn’t match the one on the account and refused to hand over the money.
Suspecting that this could be a fraud attempt, the bank teller activated a hidden surveillance camera which captured the man who was claiming to be Manwaring.
The police had the footage and the image clearly showed Benjamin Laing was that man.
Laing was shocked at this, but did his best to explain his way out saying -quote
“It was among the documents for the car. I don’t know how it got there. OK, I tried to get some money with it but that’s all” -endquote.
Despite his protestations, it gave the police the right to keep him in for fraud which allowed them extra time to continue investigating the missing persons.
As detectives looked into Laing’s history, they found that he was already known to them. Despite being all fairly minor affairs, all five of his convictions were for armed robbery in 1987. He had used a replica pistol to rob five taxi drivers and when caught was sentenced to six years youth custody. He’d been released in 1990 after serving less than half his time.
Officers also spoke to the car auction house in Enfield where Laing said he’d sold the car. They confirmed that they had indeed sold the car and that Laing had sold it in his own name
The auction company revealed that the car had sold for £7,600 which meant that after auction fees Laing would have walked away with just £7,000.
In other words, Laing would have lost over £700 in less than a week had his story been true.
Charged with fraud
It still wasn’t enough to charge him with murder though. Instead, police charged him with fraud for trying to get money from Malcom Manwering’s account at Nationwide and he was remanded in custody at Pentonville Jail in London.
The dealer who had bought the car from the auction house was quickly traced. Police checked the carpet in the boot and found that it was still damp with blood. Blood which, when checked by forensics, matched the blood found at the house.
Detectives were now convinced that Laing had killed the pair and then used their own car to carry away the bodies.
There was still more evidence to come.
A neighbour of Laing’s approached police with a camera which he claimed Laing had asked him to look after. It was the same camera stolen from the Manwerings.
And when detectives raided Laing’s home in Beckton, East London, just a couple of miles away from the scene of the crime, they found exercise books where Laing had sketched out plans to get money. These plans included stealing cars but also touched on the problem of being able to sell them afterwards as he wouldn’t have the correct ownership papers. The plans then went on to detail about looking through local papers for a car for sale where he would look for an elderly victim.
His plan was to buy a car and when the ownership papers were produced to then kill the victim and make it look like a suicide.
The exercise book plans finished with a shopping list of things needed to carry out such a plan. These included a pump-action shotgun, a crossbow (WTF?), handcuffs and bin liners.
It was still all circumstantial evidence though.
In the meantime, Matthew Manwering’s son, Mark, had made his way home from Cyprus. He launched a plea for the safe return of his father and sister.
The typed letter
Shortly after this a typed letter was delivered to Matthew Manwering’s address in Aldersey Gardens, addressed to Mark.
“Dearest Mark, I know you are very worried about where we are. I cant begin to explain the thought that has gone into daddy and I leaving. It has been very very lonley for daddy since mum died and all he does now is drink himself to sleep every night – I cant live with him in that state so we both decided to have a break and try to forget the constant pain. The – sorry for the mistakes, im still a bit nervous – last straw was on thursday night after we sold the car and daddy was so drunk he fell and cut his chest. He is alright now though and trying to forget the lonliness.
I promise you Mark im looking after him well.
Mark, we took some photos, my sentimental jewelry, the car money, our bank books – I think we took yours by mistake too. Please understand the way we had to do things – Its hard but necessary, for daddy.
I cant tell you where we are yet, but we are in London still. I swear to you we are ok. I left my car behind Plaistow station, you would have traced us too quickly so daddy said to leave it.
Daddy needs to be happy again Mark and ill do it for him. Please understand – we both love you so much and its so hard to ask you to understand but try to for now
Once Daddy sorts out his feelings and I feel better about the termination I had to have – It hurts too much to go into that now.
We will send you photos from daddy’s camera when we develop them. Love Always in God. Daddy and Alison.”
This letter caused suspicions with the police because of the clumsy attempts to explain away the bloodstains. Alison had also not told her family about her abortion leading police to believe that Laing had forced that from her when she had returned home.
Not only that but the last line – “Love Always in God” – was a crude acronym of the surname Laing spelt L A (in) G.
It did give them cause to check for Alison’s car which was found – as it said in the letter – behind Plaistow station.
Detectives were convinced that the letter had been drawn up by Laing and subsequently delivered by a sympathetic friend.
Just over a week after the pair disappeared, on 1st May, Laing was charged with their kidnapping.
The day after he appeared in court, where he was remanded back into custody on the kidnap charge, detectives were contacted by Sharon Thompson.
She revealed herself to be a girlfriend of Laing’s living in Greening Street, Abbey Wood – a town on the Kent / London border. She explained that she had returned home the previous weekend to find Laing there. He was tired and sweaty as he told her he had dug over the back garden for her.
Police took no time at all in responding and within hours there was a team of officers at Greening Street.
Speaking to a neighbour they had it confirmed that Laing had been working at one end of the garden with a spade and a pickaxe, even in the pouring rain.
Forensic experts erected a tent over the part of the garden which showed signs of recently being dug. Slowly working their way through the soil, they uncovered a black plastic bin liner around 2 feet down.
Uncovering the bodies
By the time they had excavated the site fully, they had unearthed a grave just over 6 feet long and 3 feet wide. In the grave was ten bin liners which contained the dismembered remains of Matthew and Alison.
Their bodies had been beheaded and had the limbs removed.
The post-mortem revealed that Matthew had been shot at point blank range, his heart being shredded by the bullets from the gun. Alison had been strangled.
The bodies were then taken apart using a hacksaw and a Stanley knife which were traced back to Laing’s own tool kit.
Finally police had enough to charge Laing with two counts of murder.
A few days later, a fingertip search which had lasted several days took place across an area of scrubland around Cyprus Place, not far from Laing’s Beckton home. They found plastic bin-liners containing Matthew Manwaring’s driving licence, ripped into pieces as well as items of Alison’s jewellry. They also found two sets of handcuffs which they traced back to a shop where Laing had purchased them shortly before the killings.
Sharon Thompson – Laing’s girlfriend – was brought in for questioning in an effort to locate the gun from the shooting. She told them that after the killing he had hidden the gun under the stairs at her home.
While detectives were searching the Cyprus Place wasteland, Thompson contacted Laing’s best friend, 21-year-old Mark Lesley to tell him where the gun was hidden. He moved it to a new hiding place before Laing’s brother, Peter, retrieved it and threw it in the Thames.
It took persistent questioning of all three of them but eventually Thompson, Lesley and Peter Laing all admitted to helping dispose of the weapon.
Peter Laing took detectives to the stretch of water where he said he had thrown the gun into the river and police divers soon recovered a sawn-off single-barrelled automatic shotgun which was used as evidence in court.
All three were eventually given a conditional discharge and a charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice was held on file.
Trial of Benjamin Laing
Benjamin Laing’s trial began at London’s Old Bailey on 24th Feb 1993. He chose to plead not guilty to both charges.
Prosecuting council Michael Stuart-Moore QC spoke of Alison’s death saying:
“Alison’s fate that night and the ordeal she went through can be pieced together from a large number of terrible clues. She was strangled to death, but not before she went through some form of mental torture or duress.
She was physically assaulted and may have been sexually assaulted as well. Her hands were manacled to render her even more helpless than she already was.”Prosecuting council Michael Stuart-Moore QC
Laing claimed in court that a terrorist group called the Fijian Freedom Fighters were blackmailing him and that they were responsible. The jury dismissed this story.
Just over a month later on 30th March 1993 Laing was found guilty by unanimous verdict.
Judge Robert Lymbery sentenced Laing to a minimum prison term of 25 years.
Laing’s current whereabouts are unknown.
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PYROMANIAC (ARSONIST EDIT by Pablo Perez.
Previous case: The Murder of Derek and Eileen Severs by Roger Severs