Page last updated at 01:46 GMT, Wednesday, 16 June 2004 02:46 UK

Still missing after 40 years

BBC News correspondent Peter Gould
By Peter Gould
BBC News Online correspondent

Forty years ago on 16 June, a boy set out to walk the short distance to his grandmother's home in Manchester. He never arrived. The police know beyond doubt that he was abducted and murdered, but they have never been able to find his body.

The youngster who vanished without trace was 12-year-old Keith Bennett, one of the victims of the 1960s serial killers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

Twelve year old Keith Bennett
Keith Bennett was 12 years old when he disappeared

Like other children who disappeared, Keith was buried in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor.

For his mother, Winnie Johnson, the past four decades have brought no relief from the pain of her loss.

She wants nothing more than to find her son, and give him a proper burial. But the police say that without new evidence to show them where to dig, there is little they can do.

Still searching

On 16 June, Mrs Johnson, will lay a wreath on the moors in memory of her lost son. Had he lived, he would now be 52, probably married with a family of his own.

His mother refuses to give up hope that one day his body will be found. As the anniversary approached, she wrote to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, pleading with him to order a new search of the moors.

Myra Hindley and Ian Brady
Ian Brady and his accomplice Myra Hindley were jailed in 1966

"I am determined to get my lad back," she told me this week.

"When I wrote to David Blunkett earlier this year he said the police needed fresh evidence before they could go back to the moors.

"But what more evidence do they need? I think if they spent 10 solid weeks on the moors this summer they could find Keith.

"I have written to Mr Blunkett asking him to meet me face to face. He will be the first home secretary to do so."


She saw Keith for the last time on 16 June 1964. Britain was in the grip of a social revolution that became known as the Swinging Sixties.

That week, Cilla Black was top of the UK charts with "You're My World" while The Beatles were playing to screaming fans in Australia.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela had just begun a prison sentence that would last 27 years. In the United States, amid tension over the civil rights campaign, Mississippi was burning.

Ian Brady
Mrs Johnson has written to Brady, but has received no reply

And in Manchester, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were still roaming the streets undetected, looking for children.

They were finally caught and convicted, but never charged with the murders of Keith Bennett or Pauline Reade, a girl of 16 who also disappeared without trace. The police had suspicions but no evidence, and it was more than 20 years before Brady and Hindley finally confessed.

The police returned to Saddleworth to dig, and the two killers were taken back to the moors to help in the search. Pauline's remains were found, but it proved impossible to pinpoint Keith's grave.

Pleas ignored

Mrs Johnson is now 70 and still lives in Manchester. The mothers of the other children buried on the moors are now dead.

She suspects that Ian Brady knows more than he has told the police, and has written to him, urging him to finally put an end to her anguish.

"I told him that none of us are getting any younger, and Myra Hindley is now dead," she says.

"I said it is about time he told me where my lad is so that I can bury him while I still can. I have not had a reply. He has ignored me."

The enduring image of Keith is the snapshot of a boy with a toothy grin and NHS wire-rimmed glasses.

"He was a kid you could love," Mrs Johnson says simply.

I pray to God that this is the year Keith is found
Winnie Johnson, mother of Keith Bennett

"There was no harm to him. He enjoyed life and was very interested in nature. He used to pick up leaves and caterpillars and bring them home, and he collected coins."

It would be understandable if she never wanted to see Saddleworth again. Yet Mrs Johnson often goes there to gaze out across the bleak moors, and remember her son.

"It can be desolate, but it is also very peaceful," she says.

"It is hard to explain, but it is like another world up there. It is so quiet, and I always feel close to Keith. It is comforting. I cry more when I am at home.

"It is leaving the moors that is hard. I just want to be able to pick him up and take him home.

"I pray to God that this is the year Keith is found."

Ian Brady wants only to die
04 Mar 03 |  UK
'No prospect' of prosecuting Brady
04 Mar 03 |  England


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific