Peter Manuel, aged 31, was a serial killer in Scotland. He was the second to last person to be hanged in HM Prison Barlinnie and the third to last to be hanged in Scotland.


Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel is born in New York in March 1927 to Scottish parents who had moved to the United States in search of a better life. The family struggles to achieve success in the US and life is tough after the Wall Street Crash so they return home to Scotland in 1932, settling in Lanarkshire. Young Peter has a broad American accent and there are reports that he is bullied by his schoolmates.

Manuel is young boy when he starts his life of crime. By the age of ten he is known to the local police as a petty thief and he spends time in and out of approved schools. His probation officer comments that Manuel has the worst criminal record for a juvenile that he has ever seen. As a teenager his crimes escalate to include violence and sexual elements. 

When he is 15-years-old Manuel breaks into a house and attacks the female occupant who is asleep in bed, beating her over the head with a hammer. Over the next year he carries out a string of sexual attacks for which he is caught and convicted, serving nine years in the local Peterhead prison. He will serve further prison time for rape before beginning his killing spree in 1956.

Opinion is divided about Manuel’s mental state. Some say he displays many of the classic traits of a psychopath: lacking empathy with his victims, showing no remorse and not accepting that what he has done is wrong. Doctors also describe him as having fugue states, memory loss and epilepsy.

Those seeking to understand what drives Manuel to kill have to wrestle with some contradictions: he is someone who kills and rapes women, yet dotes on his own mother; he is cruel to animals but he is devoted to the family dog; he can’t maintain a relationship with a woman but he considers himself as a lothario.

Manuel will have committed at least eight murders by the time the police arrest him in 1958.


The crimes

Between 1956 and 1958 Peter Manuel submits his victims to an orgy of violence, making him Scotland’s most notorious serial killer, with maybe the exception of the Dunblane massacre by Thomas Hamilton

The first of Manuel’s victims is 17-year-old Anne Kneilands. On 2 January 1956, under the cover of darkness, Manuel stalks the teenager across a golf course in East Kilbride, near to where he is working for the gas board. He rapes Anne, and attacks her with an iron bar. Police report his victim has been the subject of a ferocious sexual attack and she has been horribly beaten about the head.

Because he is a known sex offender, Lanarkshire police question Manuel about Anne’s murder. His father, Samuel, says Peter was with him at the time the crime was committed. Faced with this alibi and no other evidence, the case against Manuel is dropped.

This leaves Manuel free to kill again. On 17 September 1956, he breaks into the home of Marion Watt and her daughter Vivienne, in the middleclass Glasgow district of High Burnside. Margaret’s sister Marion is also staying for a visit. Manuel shoots the three women in their beds, sexually assaulting 16-year-old Vivienne. For a while suspicion falls on Marion’s husband, William, who is away on a fishing trip at the time of the killings.

Police arrest William Watts, a successful local businessman, and charge him with the murder of his own family. He spends two months in jail before the case is dropped through lack of evidence. Meanwhile, Manuel finds himself locked up at Barlinnie Prison after being convicted of breaking into another house.

Manuel resumes his killing spree when he is released from prison at the end of November 1957.

His fifth victim is believed to be Northumbrian taxi driver Sydney Dunn who is shot on 8 December 1957. Piecing together information concerning Manuel’s movements after his execution, police determine that he was on a job hunt in the North East at the time of Dunn’s murder. Although this evidence is not conclusive, it links him to the killing.

Isabelle Cooke is the next to die. The teenager is on her way to a dance and has arranged to meet up with her boyfriend, Douglas Brydon, at a bus stop near her Glasgow home. But she never arrives. Police mount a hunt, but only find pieces of Isabelle’s clothing which suggest she may have been attacked. Isabelle’s body is not discovered until after Manuel is arrested for his other crimes. He confesses to her murder and leads police to the remote spot where he has disposed of her body. She has been strangled with her own underwear.

Early on the morning of New Year’s Day 1958, Manuel breaks into the home of the Smart family, in Uddingston, a suburb of Glasgow. Mr and Mrs Smart and their 11-year-old son Michael are all asleep in their beds when Manuel shoots them in the head. Having committed the murders, Manuel spends some time in the Smart’s home, going back over several days, feeding their cat and eating the family’s food.

The murders of the Smart family will prove the beginning of the end for Manuel.

The investigation

The investigation into the horrific murders in Glasgow is challenging for police. Manuel seems to have no apparent motive, no obvious links with his victims, there are no witnesses and limited evidence; the killings go unsolved for years. Manuel’s pattern is to either batter his victims to death or shoot them in their own homes. The only connection between the victims is that they are unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Police and prison staff who come into contact with Manuel suspect his involvement in the murders but without any hard evidence, there is little they can do about it. 

It will take the deaths of two young girls and two families before the police get their breakthrough. 

Banknotes stolen from the Smart’s home are linked to Manuel. They were new notes, in a numbered sequence, and it seems that he used the money stolen from Peter Smart to buy drinks in bars around Glasgow. Pub landlords aware of the murder investigation contact local police. 

In addition, the police have letters that Manuel has written to William Watts. Despite trying to pass off responsibility for the murders of the Watts women onto others, Manuel’s letters contain information that only the killer would know.

The arrest


Early on the morning on 14 January 1958, a little over two years since his first known victim Anne Knielands was killed, Lanarkshire police finally arrest Peter Manuel. They raid the family home in Birkenshaw, searching for stolen items from the Smart murder scene and they arrest Manuel and his father for housebreaking. The aim is to get him off the street and it is while Manuel is under arrest, that the case against him makes real progress.

The police know Manuel well, and are aware of his love of attention, so they leave him alone in his cell for nearly 24 hours before interviewing him. This approach has the desired effect: Manuel calls from his cell saying he wants to help police with some ‘unsolved cases’. 

He confesses to killing Anne Kneilands, the Watts and Margaret Brown, Isabelle Cooke and the Smart family. It could be that Manuel does this so that he will be allowed to see his parents, with whom he has a close relationship. But it could also be argued that psychopathic killers like Manuel need to be at the centre of the story.

With the killer finally in custody the people of Scotland can sleep more easily in their beds.

The trial


12 May 1958, Glasgow’s High Court: 31-year-old Peter Manuel is on trial charged with eight murders and if found guilty, he faces the death penalty.  The crowd which has queued around the block for a seat in the public gallery expects a spectacle, and they are not disappointed. 

Manuel sacks his lawyers and conducts his own defence. He revels in being the centre of attention and believes himself to be clever enough to make the jury believe in his innocence. Having confessed to the murders both to the police and in letters, in court the unpredictable Manuel retracts his statements, saying that he only confessed so that the police would leave his family alone. The judge rejects his efforts to have them withdrawn and rules they can be admitted into evidence. 

The court hears evidence from the police about the banknotes belonging to Peter Smart which Manuel spent in a Glasgow bar in the days after the murders took place. The jury also hears about Manuel’s damning confessions and previous criminal convictions. In his defence, Manuel claims that he had known the Smart family for years and that Peter Smart had asked him to get him a gun. He said he had found the bodies and thought it looked like a case of murder suicide. And as far as the murder of Isabelle Cooke was concerned, he had been at the cinema that night.

The jury are not taken in by Manuel’s defence and after a trial lasting twelve days it takes less than two and a half hours for them to return with guilty verdicts on all seven murder charges. Disappointingly for Anne Kneilands’ family, the judge had ruled that the jury should not find Manuel guilty in her case, due to lack of evidence.

Manuel is sentenced to hang. During the days leading up to his execution the arrogant man who conducted his own defence is replaced by a shambling mess, who hardly speaks to his guards. In one last attempt to escape the hangman’s noose Manuel is trying to convince the authorities that he is not sane, a charge he had up until then vehemently denied. But Manuel’s mother sees through his pretence, losing her temper and slapping him across the face during a visit, shouting “You can’t fool me!”.

On 11 July 1958, Manuel is hanged. His last words are reported as: “Turn up the radio and I’ll go quietly”. He is buried in an unmarked grave within the grounds of Barlinnie prison.


13 March 1927 
Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel is born in New York
Manuel family moves back to Scotland
2 January 1956 
17-year-old Anne Kneilands is murdered
17 September 1956 
Marion Watt, Vivienne Watt and Margaret Brown are shot dead at their home in Glasgow 
November 1957 
Manuel is released from prison after a short term inside for housebreaking
8 December 1957 
Sydney Dunn is killed
28 December 1957 
17-year-old Isabelle Cooke is killed 
6 January 1958 
Peter Smart, his wife Doris and 11-year old son Michael are found shot dead in their home
14 Jan 1958 
Lanarkshire Police arrest Manuel
12 May 1958 
The trial starts at the High Court, Glasgow
11 July 1958 
Manuel is hanged by executioner Harry Allen in Barlinnie jail