UPDATE: Jebson died at University Hospital of North Durham in April 2014.
Ronald Jebson (born 1939) is a British multiple child murderer
He was first imprisoned for life in 1974 for the murder of eight-year-old Rosemary Papper.
25 years later, Jebson was in prison when he was charged with murdering Susan Blatchford (11) and Gary Hanlon (12), whose bodies were found Epping Forest after they disappeared from their neighbourhood of Enfield in North London during March, 1970.
Jebson admitted both murders at the Old Bailey on 9 May 2000 and was given two further life sentences.
He is still in prison and media sources have stated that he is unlikely ever to be released.
Babes in the Woods
Susan Blatchford, a precocious 11-year-old from Enfield, England, spent the last morning of her life teaching her younger niece and nephew how to fly a kite. Then, around 4:30 p.m. on March 31, 1970, she stopped by the home of her best friend, 12-year-old Gary Hanlon, and invited him out to play.
They were last seen that day walking down a quiet lane in their North London suburb, holding hands and laughing.
Gary was supposed to be home in time for his dinner, and when he failed to show up by 8 p.m., his parents, Frank and Beryl, contacted police. Meanwhile, Lionel and Murial Blatchford were also waiting anxiously for their daughter to come home.
Both children were as obedient to their parents as 11- and 12-year-olds normally are, and it was unusual for them to commit such a serious breach as skipping dinner to play.
The local police, contacted by the Hanlons, told them to go home and wait — the children would show up. In 1970, children just didn’t go missing in Enfield. The night of March 31 turned bitterly cold and the temperature fell below freezing. On April 1, it snowed in Enfield. Gary and Susan were wearing light coats that would not have protected them from the elements.
The hours turned to days, and the days became weeks. Meanwhile, the local constabulary had called in Scotland Yard and a massive investigation was underway. Lead by legendary Detective Chief Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read, the man who put Reggie and Ronnie Kray behind bars, police scoured the area for clues.
Eventually, some 600 police officers on the case interviewed more than 15,000 people, and searched nearly 4,500 homes. One of the people interviewed was a convicted pedophile, Ronald Jebson. He spoke to police on two occasions but he had an alibi for the evening and in their zeal to move on to more promising leads, the police never followed it up.
One of the areas searched by authorities was the vast wilderness known as Epping Forest, about a half-hour walk from the homes of Susan and Gary. That search was fruitless.
By the summer of 1970, the police had run out of leads and the investigation was bogged down. However, on June 17, 1970, a 20-year-old man out walking his Labrador Retriever was alerted by the dog to something unusual in a copse of trees at the edge of Epping Forest. Looking into a rugged stand for birdwatchers, the man found the badly decomposed bodies of Susan and Gary. Their clothes were askew and they lay in the stand with their arms around each other.
The children’s remains were taken to the medical examiner who submitted them to a battery of tests, but was unable to ascertain the cause of death. In the absence of any indication that violence had befallen the children because the bodies had decomposed so severely, he entered “unascertainable” as the cause of death. At the coroner’s inquest, the coroner speculated that the clothes had been torn up and that Susan’s bra and underclothes had been “removed by foxes.”
The coroner’s statement defied the clear evidence that the children were victims of homicide. Susan’s corpse was still dressed in her overcoat, blouse and corduroy pants. Only her underclothes were missing.
However, with no forensic evidence to back up the circumstantial evidence of foul play, the unofficial view of most authorities was that the children had simply gotten lost and died of exposure.
Nipper Read and the families of the dead children were unconvinced of that holding.
“The only animal that could remove Susan’s bra, pants and tights is a human animal,” Muriel Blatchford said at the time. “If these people are not caught, the same thing will happen again.”
Read would later say “many senior officials at Scotland Yard tried to dissuade me and insisted that it was simply a tragic accident that the children had become lost and died of exposure in each other’s arms.”
Eventually, Read and the victims’ families would be proved right. That knowledge, however, was small comfort.
The deaths of Susan and Gary were the only murders that Read failed to solve during his stellar career at Scotland Yard. It is possible that he might have successfully closed the case if he had the support of his superiors and the time to devote to the mystery.
Just as Muriel predicted, another child would die at the hands of the killer, but it would take police 30 years to learn that one man was responsible for all of the murders. It might have taken longer — or never come to light — if Ronald Jebson had not used the murders to exact revenge on another family that he victimized.
Jebson was a classic, incorrigible pedophile whose career of sexually assaulting children went back 15 years when Susan and Gary disappeared. In fact, he had only been released just 29 days before the children disappeared after serving a two-year stretch for “indecently assaulting” a six-year-old girl.
Abandoned by his unmarried mother, the infant then known as Ronald Harper was adopted by the Jebson family, but he claimed to have been rejected by his adoptive parents, and for many years reverted to his birth name of Harper. He returned to the name Jebson after a sex-crime conviction believing that his adoptive parents would be “blighted” by his use of the name.
Considered a loner, he joined the army in 1958 but was discharged on medical grounds. In 1960 he enlisted again, but within months went absent without leave and was discharged again.
He was an alcoholic and amphetamine addict with 11 prior criminal offenses who once told a prison psychiatrist that “he was evil” and that “he was afraid of himself.”
“If I get a few drinks and poppers, nothing would stop me,” he said.
Jebson opted not to receive treatment while in prison, believing it was simply a “feel-good” response by politicians and that it would not help him.
In early March 1970, Jebson was released from prison and taken in by an old school friend in Hatfield, not far from Epping Forest. While living with his friend, a man named Robert Papper who had a five-year-old daughter, Jebson kidnapped and killed Gary and Susan.
The Papper family was taken in by the clever convict. Jebson later told police of his gift for “making people feel sorry for me so I can manipulate them.”
Four days after killing the children, he enticed an 11-year-old boy from Nottinghamshire into his car, took the boy into the nearby woods and sexually assaulted him. For that crime, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.
Incredibly, when he was released in 1973, his school friend Papper took him back into his home, but he was asked to leave in early 1974. Indignant and angry, Jebson vowed revenge.
“I’ll get even with both of you,” he said to Papper and his wife, “I will do something you’ll regret.”
Jebson didn’t wait long to make good on his threat. The next day he picked up their daughter, Rosemary Papper, from school, bought her some candy, and raped her. Then he continued to revel in his crime by driving the girl around for several hours before strangling her with twine.
Obviously the prime suspect, Jebson, then 35 years old, was arrested the next day and confessed to the murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with a minimum 20 year term.
At Jebson’s sentencing in 1974, the judge was an unknowing oracle of the future. “The mind recoils from the horror and enormity of the crimes you have committed,” he said.
Jebson wasn’t finished tormenting the Papper family, and it eventually brought about his downfall. For some reason he waited several decades before attempting to exact his continued revenge.
Twenty years into his life sentence, Jebson contacted police and said he had information about the deaths of Susan and Gary. Nipper Read had retired and the case was headed by Detective Chief Inspector Declan Donnelly of Scotland Yard.
In 1996, Jebson contacted detectives from Wakefield prison claiming the Pappers were Susan and Gary’s killers. Donnelly disproved his story and became convinced it was Jebson himself who had committed the murders.
It would take four more years and exhumation of Susan’s body to force Jebson to confess to the murders. He told a chilling, horrific tale of their last hours.
“The only thing he wouldn’t do was go into the copse again,” Donnelly told the media. “He told us he didn’t want to run into their ghosts.”
Jebson said he randomly selected his victims as he drove home after visiting an employment office in Enfield. High on his drugs of choice, he selected his victims and took the children to a field where he raped Susan. When Gary told him he wanted to go home, he told him: “You’re not going anywhere.”
He then beat and raped him, before strangling both children and keeping Susan’s tights, bra and underwear as “trophies.”
While Jebson told police he confessed to the killings because he felt he would be dying soon and didn’t want their deaths on his conscience, the Crown prosecutor said at his sentencing hearing in 2000.
However, Donnelly didn’t believe him.
“Jebson is a fixated, sadistic pedophile,” he said after Jebson was sentenced to two life terms. “I do not think he confessed to clear his conscience. There is a certain element of status building in prison. We have seen justice done but we have also boosted his ego.”
Both Muriel Blatchford and Beryl Hanlon were in court when an emotionless Jebson was sentenced. Each had been widowed in the years between their children’s disapperance and Jebson’s pleas, and both blamed the stress of the loss for their husbands’ deaths.
Muriel told of an inconsolable sorrow her own actions left her to deal with.
“I was working in the afternoons and I remember being in such a rush that I never got to kiss her goodbye,” she said. “Can you imagine that? I never got to kiss her goodbye.
Violent past of Babes’ killer
Tuesday, 9 May, 2000
Thirty years after the “Babes in the Wood” murders of two young playmates, their grief-stricken mothers saw a paedophile killer finally confess his guilt to a court.
Ronald Jebson, 61, also known as Harper, had kept his evil secret for decades while serving a life sentence for murdering another child – eight-year-old Rosemary Papper – four years after the deaths of Susan Blatchford, 11, and Gary Hanlon, 12, in March 1970.
But while in jail, he told a prison officer he knew who was responsible for their deaths and police subsequently reopened the case in 1996.
Jebson tried to implicate Rosemary’s parents in the unsolved crime and Susan’s body was exhumed in order to carry out scientific tests.
But after four years of painstaking police investigation, detectives broke down Jebson’s story and he confessed.
During the trial families of the victims heard how Susan and Gary were last seen playing happily playing near their Enfield homes.
Jebson had been driving in the area and enticed the children into his car.
After plying them with drink and cannabis in Epping Forest, near London, Jebson sexually assaulted Susan and then turned his attentions to Gary.
When the boy bravely tried to fight him off, Jebson strangled both children and dumped their bodies in a hide he had built in the woods.
Jebson kept the evil secret to himself for three decades.
Jebson, discharged from the army in 1958 on medical grounds, was separated from his wife and had a 15-year-old daughter.
He was an illegitimate child who had been brought up by foster parents.
By 1974 he was a known paedophile with 11 previous convictions, including three for sexual offences against children.
Mr Justice Kenneth Jones, sentencing Jebson at St Albans Crown Court in 1974, recommended he serve at least 20 years for the murder of Rosemary Papper.
Jebson had been staying with Rosemary’s parents but when they told him he was no longer welcome, the child killer swore revenge.
Neighbours recall the phrase: “I will do something you will regret.”
On 9 June 1974 he strangled Rosemary as he raped her, in a carbon copy of Susan’s killing.
“You took this small child aged eight and you committed these sexual offences on her and as you could not afford to take her home you took her life,” Mr Jones said.
“The mind recoils from the horror and enmity of the offences you committed.
“This was a vicious, ruthless, sexual murder for which I can find nothing to be said in mitigation.
“I regard you as an extremely dangerous man indeed.”
Confession ends mystery
Jebson’s guilty plea on Tuesday brings to a close the years of anguish endured by the families of Susan and Gary.
Gary Hanlon’s sister, Sharon Meger, said when the “Babes in the Wood ” inquiry was reopened that her mother had never been able to get over the deaths.
“We never believed that accident story.”
Gary had been a cheerful, home-loving boy and had asked permission from his mother before going out.
He was told not to go far as a meal was being prepared.
Susan looked older and was taller. She was described as a tomboy who loved horses and climbing trees.
Her dog Blackie constantly clawed at the floor after she disappeared – leading her mother, Muriel, to comment before her daughter’s body was discovered: “Blackie knows something.”
Norman Brennan, of the Victims of Crime Trust, supported the families’ plea for Jebson to remain in prison for the rest of his life.
“The torment and torture that the families of these victims have gone through for 30 years is beyond words.
“Jebson should never be allowed the opportunity of freedom again.”
Jebson’s cruel past
- 1968: When he was 15, he indecently assaulted a four-year-old girl and was sent to Borstal for 2 years. Released on March 2, 1970
- 1970: One month after release he Murders Susan, 11, and Gary, 12
- 1970: Jailed for three years for sexually assaulting a boy aged 11
- 1973: Released from prison and lives with Rosemary Papper’s family
- 1974: Murders Rosemary, eight
- 1974: Jailed for life
- 1996: Tells police he knows Babes’ killers
- April 2014: died at University Hospital of North Durham in April 2014.