Peter Manuel’s ghastly murder spree lasted exactly one day short of two years. His first attack occurred on January 2, 1956, and his final assault took place on January 1, 1958. In those 729 days, the man know as the “Beast of Birkenshaw” committed acts of violence that still haunt the people of Scotland, even now. Like many serial killers, the true number of victims Peter Manuel claimed is unknown, but he is positively credited with 8 murders.
Manuel was born in New York City to Scottish immigrant parents in 1927. The family stayed in the U.S. for a while before they decided to return to their native Scotland when Peter was 5 years 0ld. The family settled in Birkenshaw. Manuel embarked on a life of crime from an early age, and he was well-known to police as a petty thief before he was even a teenager.
At the age of 16, Manuel began committing sexual assaults. He eventually attacked over a dozen women and was sent away to prison for 9 years for his crimes. After his stint behind bars, Manuel returned to Birkenshaw, but crime was never far from his mind. On January 2, 1956, Manuel committed his first murder. That day he stalked, attacked, raped, and murdered 17-year-old Anne Kneilands on a golf course. Manuel was questioned by police in the Kneilands murder, but his father provided him with an alibi, so he was crossed off the list of suspects. His father’s unfortunate lie kept Manuel on the street, where he went on to commit several more heinous acts.
In September 1956, Manuel committed a triple murder, taking the lives of Marion Watt, her sister Margaret Brown, and her 17-year-old daughter, Vivienne. All three women were shot dead in Marion Watt’s home. Police originally suspected Marion’s husband, William Watt, who was questioned extensively and eventually arrested and held in prison for two months before he was released.
Manuel’s next known homicide occurred in England, where Manuel had gone looking for work. In December 1957, Manuel shot and killed a taxi driver in Newcastle upon Tyne and dumped the man’s body in a rural area outside of town. Later in December, 17-year-old Isabelle Cooke disappeared on her way to a dance. Manuel had followed Cooke, attacked her, raped and murdered her, then buried her body in a field. After his capture, Manuel led police to the burial site and said, “This is the place. In fact I think I’m standing on her.”
The Beast of Birkenshaw’s final attack took place four days after the murder of Isabelle Cooke. On January 1, 1958, Manuel entered a home and shot and killed Peter Smart, his wife Doris, and their 10-year-old son Michael. Manuel stayed in the Smart home for several days after the murders, eating the family’s food and even taking time to feed their cat. Manuel stole brand-new banknotes that Peter Smart had stashed in his home.
It was these banknotes that proved to be Peter Manuel’s undoing. The killer took these notes and spent them lavishly in pubs in Glasgow. The brand new notes caught the attention of a bartender, who alerted police. The police tracked the notes to a bank, and then discovered they had been paid out to Peter Smart. Police arrested Manuel, and he was identified by bartenders and customers as the man who had been spending money freely in Glasgow’s pubs. Peter Manuel confessed to police that he was the serial killer responsible for the unsolved murders.
Manuel served as his own attorney during his trial. The judge remarked that Manuel’s defended himself “with a skill that is quite remarkable,” but the Beast of Birkenshaw was sentenced to hang regardless.
On July 11, 1958, Peter Manuel was hanged to death at the gallows in Glasgow. Even today, nearly 60 years after his execution, Manuel is still regarded as the worst serial killer in Scotland’s history.
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