Full title: The Secret Serial Killer, the true story of Kieran Kelly. In this book, Robert Mulhern, a journalist, documents his search for the truth: was Kieran Kelly a serial killer who managed to fly under the radar, or not? And, if he was not, why do some think that he was a serial killer?
In the preface we read that when Kelly was arrested in 1983 for the murder of William Boyd, he started to confess several other murders. Some of those dated back to 1953.
Legally speaking, Kieran Kelly’s criminal history shows just two murder convictions: William Boyd (1983) and Hector Fisher, 1975. Two murders is bad enough but, it doesn’t make Kelly a serial killer.
In 2015, a former police officer claimed that the authorities in the UK covered up Kelly’s murderous past. He allegedly killed as many as 31 people. This revelation started all kinds of new investigations. Even the then-Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the MET would re-examine Kelly.
So, Mulhern’s task is clear: delve into the many newspaper archives and records to trace those 31 cases and see how or if there is a connection to Kelly. We follow along as we get to know Geoff Platt, the former police officer, and Mulhern’s sources. One of them is officer A who warned that “the big problem with this case is trying to sort the fact from the fiction.”
IF Kelly was a serial killer, we would need to find evidence to tie him to the victims and the crime scenes or, maybe find those connections at his places of residence in the forms of souvenirs. Ideally, we’d be digging literally for remains, listening to witnesses who were never heard by the authorities or who never dared to speak up while Kelly was still alive, and last but not least, we’d be talking to Kelly’s family and friends to find out what type of person Kieran was growing up.
As you can see from the above, I was in full dig-into-this-case mode. The fact that Chapter Two was called ‘No Good Leads’ didn’t face me at all. Welcome to the world of true crime writers!
With Mulhern, we delve into the archives of the British Library to check up on those cases. We find errors not just in the timelines but even in our supposedly serial killer’s and his victims’ names.
What is Kelly’s motive for those murders? His victims represented aspects of him that he hated such as being homeless or an alcoholic. As you can imagine, IF all these murders took place their priority for investigations would not be very high.
History has shown time and again that some people just don’t make the news. They are expendable, they are a nuisance when alive so why bother with a full investigation? But that’s just it. By disregarding people because they are of no value to you, these victims cases don’t get the attention that they deserve and with that, you actively contribute to keeping criminals on the streets, free to kill again.
Platt never made a mystery of his recollections. He never had a tight grip on the exact timelines and Kelly never gave a chronological overview of all his crimes, just bit-by-bit pieces. As Mulhern notes “it was a stream of consciousness that in no particular order listed crime scenes and murder locations.”
Given that premise, an author now has several choices. Do I write just a research overview meaning that the readers jump with me from topic to topic without guidelines, structure, or order only to tie ends together at the end or, do I keep my research to me and present the readers only with a logical overview that they can follow in the chronological order in which all crimes allegedly occurred? I would have opted for the latter. Maybe not consciously, but Mulhern went the other way.
We basically ride along as he describes his research, the many questions that he has when he meets people who knew Kelly, but we also start to get the feeling that we will never know it all. You wish that Mulhern would meet up with Platt and that Platt would show Mulhern all the evidence, the complete reports, etc. Mulhern does meet with Platt but Platt doesn’t deliver.
The book could have benefitted from a better organizational chart with a clear distinction between research and interview notes, a timeline at the start of the book, a listing of facts, a chronological order from the start, a listing of proven parts of crimes, and ending with open questions. This would have given the reader a frame work to keep in mind. Where are we now in the story (e.g. research, interview, archives, etc.) and where is that in the timeline? Mulhern does remind us at the beginning of most chapters where we are but it feels repetitive instead of helpful. Only at the end of the book do we see a more logical order.
The book has sixteen pages with colour photography and some newspaper articles are cited with publication dates in the text. Other than that, there’s no bibliography, no index, no listing of recommended reading on either Kelly or any of the cases.
The book is interesting but keep my critique in mind when you read it. If you feel that you get lost, it isn’t you. All my other book reviews can be found here.