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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 13:41 GMT
Axeman with a hatred of women
John Patrick Sweeney - jailed for life for attempting to murder his ex-girlfriend - had a history of violence against women and an obsession with weapons.

Police who raided his north London flat found hundreds of grisly drawings and poems depicting bloody attacks on female victims and the police.

One of the pictures, showing an axe about to fall on a woman's head, was entitled The Scalp Hunter.

John Sweeney
Violent pictures were found in John Sweeney's flat
He also kept a loaded Luger pistol and two loaded sawn-off shotguns at the flat in Kentish Town.

Detectives suspect he murdered two other former lovers, whose dismembered bodies were both found dumped in canals, and police are trying to trace a further two ex-girlfriends.

Sweeney had been on the run for six years when armed officers pounced on him in 2001 as he left a building site in London, where he had been working as a jobbing carpenter.

The 45-year-old, originally from Skelmersdale near Liverpool, had fled the country in December 1994 after attacking his former girlfriend Delia Balmer with an axe and a knife.

Only hours earlier he had been released on bail after subjecting Ms Balmer to 48 hours of torture the previous month when she ended their love affair.

Ms Balmer, now aged 50, survived but lost a finger and suffered horrendous scars to her chest and head, as well as untold psychological damage.

Sweeney spent the next six years working as a carpenter on building sites all over Europe.

In the summer of 2000 he felt safe enough to return to London and resumed work under assumed names, one of which was Scouse Joe.

Crack addict

In September he began a relationship with another Liverpudlian, crack addict Paula Fields, 22, a mother of two who had come to London to work as a prostitute.

She hooked up with Scouse Joe and introduced him to her relatives.

Paula Fields
Paula Fields' body was found in a London canal
Some time in December 2000 Paula disappeared and two months later her family reported her missing.

On 19 February 2001 an angler discovered six holdalls in the Regent's Canal in Camden Town.

Inside were the remains of Paula Fields. Her head and hands were missing.

Subsequent inquiries led back to Scouse Joe, who police realised was John Sweeney.

They arrested him and charged him with the attempted murder of Ms Balmer and with firearms offences.

Demonic images

Detective Chief Inspector Norman McKinlay, who led the hunt for Sweeney, said: "From our inquiries we were well aware that Sweeney may be armed and had boasted to people that he would not be taken alive."

Bag used for body disposal
A bag like this was used for the disposal of Paula's body
Their fears were backed up by the discovery of the lurid sketches and pages of verse which had two overriding themes - hatred of the police and virulent misogyny.

One of his poems read: "On the run from the law, with my back to the wall. Watching the windows and the door.

"I'm not afraid to do or die. Maybe when this life is over I will get some sleep."

In another passage he wrote: "I'm just a manimal, twisted and confused, very dysfunctional."

He had pictures of women with demonic horns coming from their heads and of him holding a scythe or knives dripping with blood.

Other images showed police officers shot dead or hanged.

Amsterdam canal

Sweeney had come to London in the mid-1980s, leaving behind an ex-wife and two children in Skelmersdale.

In 1988 he met Melissa Halstead, the daughter of a dentist from Illinois, who was working as a photographer in London.

Their relationship was "volatile" and did not improve after they moved to Austria together.

Sweeney was convicted of assaulting her with a hammer and served six months in an Austrian jail.

She moved to Amsterdam but, once freed, Sweeney followed her and she appears to have forgiven him and let him move in with her.

DNA tests

In July 1992 he suddenly left the Netherlands and came to London.

A few days later a torso - without head or hands - was found floating in a canal in Amsterdam.

"That body has never been identified but I believe that torso belongs to Melissa Halstead," said DCI McKinlay, who has pressed the Dutch police to repeat DNA tests which came up negative in 1995.

DCI McKinlay is convinced Sweeney did kill Ms Halstead and he cites one of the sketches found in his attic flat, which had a graphic picture of a dead woman and the words RIP Melissa 1992.

Police are also anxious to trace two of Sweeney's former girlfriends, who he was with in 1997 although they have scant details about Leani, who was from Brazil, and Maria, who was Colombian.

See also:

05 Mar 02 | England
Axeman gets four life sentences
29 Dec 00 | UK
Torso murder woman named
05 Jan 01 | UK
Torso murder family appeal
21 Dec 00 | UK
The families who wait
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