I don’t remember when I first saw the above photo, but it had been seared into my memory ever since. Usually, one tends to forget prison mugshots — thousands are made each day anyway — but not this one. In this, one can almost sense the evil permeating out of the photo, as if it were a modern Dorian Grey, tempting us, mocking us.
Between 1963 and 1965, Myra Hindley (above) and her deranged mentor Ian Brady sexually assaulted and murdered five children aged between 10 and 17. The killings were known as the Moors Murders because the bodies were buried on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester. Hindley’s brother-in-law reported her assault on a 17-year-old, which lead to her arrest, and discovery of pornographic photos the couple took before killing their victims.
A stubborn, unrepentant creature in her early twenties, Hindley entered the court defiantly, pleading not guilty. The most damning, however, was a 13-minute tape recording of a child victim screaming and pleading for help while Hindley and Brady were sexually assaulting her. As newspapers wrote back then, the above picture looked as if it was snapped in the moment of that atrocity, Hindley hovering pitiless over a dying child. The jury took less than two hours to find them guilty; in an uncharacteristically vituperative closing remarks, the presiding justice described the murders as a “truly horrible case” and condemned the accused as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity”.
The Abolition of Death Penalty Act was passed while Hindley and Brady were on trial, and the sentence was to be life-imprisonment without parole. Hindley died in 2002, alternately maintaining her innocence and blaming Brady for blackmailing her into the murders. Brady remains the longest-serving prisoner in the United Kingdom.
In 1995, an art installation of the above photo in mosaic form created by hundreds of copies of a child’s handprint (Myra by Marcus Harvey) created a media firestorm at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. The Mothers Against Murder and Aggression protest group picketed, accompanied by a mother of one of Hindley’s victims. Even Hindley sent a letter from jail denouncing it as “a sole disregard not only for the emotional pain and trauma that would inevitably be experienced by the families of the Moors victims but also the families of any child victim.” Windows at Burlington House, the Academy’s home, were smashed and ink and eggs were hurled at the picture. Academians resigned. The installation was removed and restored, but put back on display behind Perspex and guarded by security men. One critic noted, “Far from cynically exploiting her notoriety, Harvey’s grave and monumental canvas succeeds in conveying the enormity of the crime she committed. Seen from afar, through several doorways, Hindley’s face looms at us like an apparition. By the time we get close enough to realize that it is spattered with children’s handprints, the sense of menace becomes overwhelming.”