Music Motivated by Murder: “Suffer Little Children” by The Smiths

This is the second article in a series examining music motivated by murder. I’ll provide information about the songs, the killers and the heinous nature of their crimes during this series.

The Song

One of the first songs that The Smiths’ primary members, Morrissey and Johnny Marr, co-wrote was “Suffer Little Children”. It is a tribute to the 5 children abducted, tortured, raped and murdered by the Moors Murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. The couple buried the children’s bodies on Saddleworth Moor in Manchester, England between 1963 and 1965. “Suffer Little Children” featured on The Smiths’ eponymous debut album released in 1984.

Morrissey had read Emlyn Williams‘Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection’, a semi-fictional account of the Moors Murders. He suggested to Marr that they write a song to lament the loss of innocent lives and the resulting damage to those left behind. The murders themselves affected Morrissey greatly as he was around the same age as some of the victims and lived in the area at the time of the murders.

Songwriters Marr & Morrissey of The Smiths (Image: Clare Muller/Redferns, feat. in NME)

Morrissey’s lyrics are critical of the city of Manchester, writing that the city has so much to answer for. He received criticism for addressing 3 of the victims by name in the lyrics, with many of their relatives disapproving. Several record shops banned the sale of The Smiths album as a result.

Morrissey wrote letters to the victims’ relatives following their condemnation. He stressed that his lyrics were a tribute to the children, and there were no sinister motives on his part. As a result of his letters Morrissey met and befriended the mother of the youngest victim, 10-year-old Leslie Ann Downey.

“Suffer Little Children” was included as the B-side to The Smiths’ hit, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”.

The Lyrics

Over the moor, take me to the moor
Dig a shallow grave
And I’ll lay me down

Over the moor, take me to the moor
Dig a shallow grave
And I’ll lay me down

Lesley-Anne, with your pretty white beads
Oh John, you’ll never be a man
And you’ll never see your home again
Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

Edward, see those alluring lights?
Tonight will be your very last night
A woman said: “I know my son is dead”
“I’ll never rest my hands on his sacred head”

Hindley wakes and Hindley says
Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, and says
“Oh, wherever he has gone, I have gone”

But fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death
Fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death

Hindley wakes and says
Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, Hindley wakes, and says
“Oh, whatever he has done, I have done”
But this is no easy ride
For a child cries

Oh, find me, find me, nothing more
We are on a sullen misty moor
We may be dead and we may be gone
But we will be, we will be, we will be, right by your side
Until the day you die
This is no easy ride

We will haunt you when you laugh
Yes, you could say we’re a team
You might sleep
You might sleep
You might sleep
But you will never dream

Oh, you might sleep
But you will never dream
You might sleep
But you will never dream

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for
Oh Manchester, so much to answer for

Oh, find me, find me
Find me
I’ll haunt you when you laugh
Oh, I’ll haunt you when you laugh
You might sleep
But you will never dream

Oh, over the moors, I’m on the moor
Oh, over the moor
Oh, the child is on the moor

Songwriters: Steven Morrissey & John Marr

The Killers

Ian Brady

Ian Brady was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 January 1938. He grew up as an above-average student who developed a taste for housebreaking in his teens. Brady moved to Manchester at 17. He ended up in a juvenile facility shortly thereafter, after facing 9 charges, including threatening his then-girlfriend with a knife.

After his release, Brady spent hours self-teaching and studying bookkeeping to better himself. His studying paid off and he secured a clerical job. Brady was an avid reader, concentrating on books like “Teach Yourself German”, Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and others focused on Nazis war crimes.

Ian Brady met Myra Hindley, a co-worker, in Manchester in January 1961.

Ian Brady (Image: William H Alden/Getty Images)

Myra Hindley

Myra Hindley was born in Manchester on 23 July 1942. Her parents struggled during the war and, as a result, Hindley lived with her grandmother from the age of 5. She still saw her parents often and her father taught her to be hard and to stand up for herself physically. Hindley’s first job was as a junior clerk and she kept herself busy after work with judo training. Training partners were hard to come by as Hindley had a reputation for “not releasing her grip”.

In January 1961 Myra Hindley found employment as a typist at the same company where Ian Brady worked.

Myra Hindley (Image: Getty Images)

The Couple

Brady and Hindley began dating in December 1961. Their dates generally consisted of a trip to watch an X-rated movie, then back to Hindley’s house for wine. The couple spent lunch breaks reading to each other about the Nazis. Hindley developed an infatuation with Brady. She began bleaching her hair, wearing thick make-up, knee-length boots, short skirts and leather jackets.

In 1978 Hindley wrote of Brady: “Within months he had convinced me that there was no God at all: he could have told me that the earth was flat, the moon was made of green cheese and the sun rose in the west, I would have believed him, such was his power of persuasion.”

The couple started becoming less sociable with friends and colleagues, while visiting the library more often. They took out books on crime and torture, and titles on philosophy. Together they started “planning” bank robberies. Hindley later claimed that Brady became obsessed with committing the perfect murder. He would speak to her about the novel “Compulsion” by Meyer Levin, which deals with the murder of a 12 year old boy.

The Murders

Ian Brady moved in with Myra Hindley at her grandmother’s house in June 1963. On 12 July 1963 the couple committed their first murder – Pauline Reade, a 16 year old schoolmate of Hindley’s sister. Over the next 26 months they would add at least 4 more victims, all children aged between 10 and 17.

Brady and Hindley abducted, tortured, raped, and killed their victims before burying the bodies on Saddleworth Moor, north of Manchester. The couple often photographed their victims and, in one case, an audio recording was also made. Their victims deaths resulted from strangulation although they also used knives and hatchets to subdue some of their victims.

Moors Murder Victims (L-R): John Kilbride (12), Lesley Ann Downey (10), Edward Evans (17), Pauline Reade (16), Keith Bennett (12) (Image: PA)

The Arrests

Ian Brady’s arrest took place after the couple included David Smith, Hindley’s brother-in-law, in the killing of 17 year old Edward Evans, their fifth victim. After witnessing Brady killing Evans, Smith agreed to assist in disposing the body. Instead of returning the next morning to do so, he called the police. He told them what he had seen and, on searching the couple’s home, the police found the body wrapped in plastic in a locked spare bedroom. They also found an old school book labelled with the name “John Kilbride“, another missing child. Brady was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Hindley was arrested 5 days later. She initially denied involvement in any murders but further investigation had turned up pornographic photographs and an audio tape of a young girl, later identified as 10 year old Lesley Ann Downey. The 16 minute audio recording of the girl screaming and pleading with the couple included both Brady and Hindley’s voices.

Based on this evidence, and other information received from neighbours and a 12 year old girl close to the couple, police zoned in on Brady and Hindley’s favourite spots along the A635 road that ran through the Saddleworth Moor. Within 10 days of Hindley’s arrest, police discovered and identified the bodies of Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride buried on the moor.

The Trial

The couple’s trial began on 19 April 1966, 6 months after the discovery of Evans’ body. It lasted 14 days, with Brady facing charges for all 3 murders and Hindley charged with the murders of Downey and Evans. She was also charged as an accomplice to the murder of Kilbride.

While delivering his verdict, Justice Fenton Atkinson described the murders as “truly horrible” and the accused as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity”. He suggested they spend “a very long time” in prison but did not rule out the possibility of parole. He described Brady as “wicked beyond belief” but believed Hindley could be reformed once removed from Brady’s influence. Both of the accused received a sentence of life imprisonment.

Brady & Hindley in the Dock (Image: Birmingham Mail)

Subsequent Developments

In 1985, almost 20 years after the couple’s guilty verdicts, Ian Brady allegedly told the British tabloid The Sunday People that he was responsible for the murders of 2 other children, 16 year old Pauline Reade and 12 year old Keith Bennett. During later police questioning, Brady denied having made the claim. 18 months later, Myra Hindley made 2 visits to the moors to “assist” the police. The press saw these visits as publicity stunts as no new information came to light.

In early 1986, Hindley recorded a 17 hour long taped confession where she admitted her involvement in 5 murders. A police investigator described the confession as a “very well worked out performance in which, I believe, she told me just as much as she wanted me to know, and no more”. After police approached Brady with details of Hindley’s confession, he too decided to confess. His proviso was to be permitted to commit suicide afterwards, which was obviously turned down.

Police began concentrating their search for bodies on locations given by Hindley during her second moor visit. After over 100 days of searching they found Reade’s body, only 90m from the site of Downey’s body over 20 years before. When Brady heard the news, he made a formal confession admitting to killing the other 2 children. Police took him to Saddleworth Moor in the hope that he would be able to locate the burial site of Bennett. Unfortunately this, and a second visit, did not result in a discovery. Bennett’s body remains unfound.

Despite their confessions, the DPP decided not to charge the couple with the murders as they were already serving life terms.

Death in Prison

On 15 November 2002, Myra Hindley, a chain smoker, died from bronchial pneumonia at West Suffolk Hospital. She had suffered a brain aneurysm which resulted in her hospitalisation.

In 1985 the Crown declared Ian Brady a psychopath and he spent his remaining years in Ashworth, a high security Merseyside hospital. He died of restrictive pulmonary disease on 15 May 2017.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s crimes have cemented them as 2 of the most infamous and reviled serial murderers in British history. The Moors Murderers will always serve as horrific reminders of the capacity that human beings have for pure evil. Suffer Little Children.

The first article in the “Music Motivated by Murder” series features “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” by The Adverts.

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