Murder of Ann Heron
On August 3, 1990, a murderer who has not yet been identified killed British woman Ann Heron at her Darlington, County Durham, home. In October 1990, the case received significant attention in the British media and on the BBC show Crimewatch, although murder of Ann Heron is still unsolved.
After his semen was discovered in samples recovered from Heron’s neck, her husband—who was having an affair at the time—was charged with the murder in 2005. However, the case was later withdrawn for lack of evidence.Although he says he has an alibi, the police believe he is unable to sufficiently explain his whereabouts during the critical portion of the day. He’s still under suspicion in this case.
In 2020 a self-proclaimed investigator claimed that Michael Benson, an escaped prisoner who was on the run in Hampshire at the time, was a possible suspect. Jen Jarvie had watched the October 1990 edition of Crimewatch that featured Heron’s murder and then watched the following month’s edition, concluding that one of the criminals featured fitted her profile of the killer.
However, Durham Constabulary investigated the alleged links to Benson and found there was no evidence to place Benson in the area at the time of the murder, and also revealed that they were “all but certain” he was living abroad at the time of the attack. Durham Constabulary eliminated Benson from their enquiries, concluding that he “is not and never has been a suspect”.
Mary Ann O’Neill, who later adopted the name Ann Heron, was born on March 24, 1946, in Glasgow, Scotland. Her initial marriage was to Ralph Cockburn. During the 1980s, she relocated to England due to her involvement with Peter Heron. At the time of their first encounter, Peter Heron was already married and had three children. However, an affair between him and Ann led to his divorce from his wife in 1986, followed by his marriage to Ann in the same year.
The couple resided together in Aeolian House, situated on the outskirts of Darlington in County Durham. Peter Heron held a position as a company director at a haulage firm nearby. Ann Heron worked part-time as a care assistant at a local care home. Ann experienced discontent while living in Darlington, frequently longing for her children from her previous marriage, who still resided in Scotland.
The free-standing Aeolian House was described as a ‘conspicuous’ building which was clearly visible from the busy main road which it was located next to. The A67 road it was located on was the main route from Teesside Airport to Darlington and so was heavily used. Ann was known to have felt frightened of the isolation of the house and was said to have felt wary of being alone in the property.
Heron went shopping in Darlington in the morning of August 3, 1990, and he returned at lunchtime. On that day, her spouse arrived home for lunch as usual. Ann announced that she planned to spend the afternoon in the yard tanning in her bikini. That was the warmest day of the year, and it was the middle of the 1990 heat wave.At 2:00 p.m., Peter left to return to work.
At 2:30pm a friend rang and spoke to Ann, who sounded happy and cheerful. At 3:30pm a friend on a passing bus saw Ann sunbathing in her bikini in front of the house. She had been forced to move to the front of the house to sunbathe, nearer the road, because a tractor nearby had been blowing grass towards the back garden. This was the last known sighting of Ann alive.
When Peter Heron arrived home from work at 18:00, her radio was found still on, along with her book and cigarettes. The family dog was also outside, and the house front door was open. Heron’s body was found in the living room of the house. Heron was lying on the floor in a pool of blood and had a stab wound in her neck. Her bikini bottoms had been removed, which indicated that it may have been a sexually motivated killing. The weapon used had been something like a Stanley knife or a razor blade. The murder weapon was missing from the scene and was never found.
There were no indications of a struggle inside or outside the house when the police initially looked into the case, which suggested that she might have known her killer. The family dog, which was discovered outside the house when Peter got home, had not been heard to bark at a visitor or an intruder, which provided evidence in favor of this.
A witness came forward to say they saw a blue car, possibly a Vauxhall Astra, parked outside the house around 16:45. Witnesses also reported seeing a blue Leyland Sherpa van parked at the end of the drive some time after this. The van had a trident logo on the side, and three men were seen inside. At around 17:05, a taxi driver and two women in another car who were passing the property saw a blue car speeding down the driveway away from the house, travelling so fast that the taxi driver did not know whether it would stop and pull out in front of him.
The car pulled out immediately behind him but accelerated and overtook before racing across the nearby roundabout and driving down Yarm Road into Darlington. Several other people also reported seeing the car parked at the house and speeding down the drive, and investigators believed that it was the same vehicle. Several of the witnesses gave similar descriptions of the male driver as being aged between 35 and 45 with a suntanned complexion and short dark hair.
When Heron’s murder was reconstructed on Crimewatch in October 1990, the multiple sightings of the blue car were described as “obviously the most interesting of the sightings”. Although said to have possibly been an Astra, it was also noted that the car could have been a Mazda, Toyota or a Vauxhall Cavalier.
Police tracked down the owners of 3,500 blue cars, but the car has never been found or identified. Despite several witnesses saying they had seen the driver, a photofit was never produced of the man, with Durham Constabulary later stating that “the descriptions of both the vehicle and the person driving the vehicle differ and lacked the detail required for a photofit”.
The police found no evidence of a robbery or sexual assault. Police believe Heron was murdered around 17:00. Peter Heron discovered her body at 18:00.
A witness said they thought they saw Heron driving near her home with two unidentified persons in the car around 16:15 that afternoon, but they were not certain it was Heron. However, it is likely that the witness was mistaken, as Ann was found dead in the same bikini she was seen wearing at 3:30pm, indicating she had sunbathed for the whole afternoon.
One week after the murder, it was discovered that 55-year-old Peter was having an affair at the time with a 32-year-old barmaid at the local spa club, leading some to suspect that he may have had a motive to kill Ann. Statistically most murder victims know their killers, with 62% of those murdered in England and Wales in 1988 being murdered by someone they knew, and statistics show that 37% of women murdered in the UK are killed by their husband, boyfriend or lover.
Only 13% of women murdered in England and Wales in 1988 were murdered by strangers, with most women murdered at this time being killed in domestic violence situations. As Ann’s husband and the person who found her body, Peter Heron hit two of the main criteria for murder suspects. Peter had left a meeting at Cleveland Bridge at 4pm and said he drove back to his office through the village of Croft-on-Tees and Middleton St. George.
Detectives questioned this route because going via Croft was not the most direct or logical route from Cleveland Bridge (which is only 400m from Aeolian House). Police felt that Peter had a missing amount of time he could not account for between 4pm and 5.50pm (the time period in which the murder occurred).
By 1991, the case had gone cold, despite press conferences and a Crimewatch UK reconstruction. In December 1992, a woman told police a man came to the card shop in Darlington where she worked and boasted about killing Heron. In October 1994, the police, Peter Heron and a newspaper received a series of letters from someone claiming to be the killer.
The letter to the newspaper, the Northern Echo, began “Hello editor, it’s me…Ann Heron’s killer!” and ended “Your readers will have plenty to talk about. Signed The Killer.” Forensic tests were carried out on the letters in an attempt to establish who the author was, and handwriting samples were taken for comparison with suspects in the case.
Two years after the murder, in 1992, Peter Heron re-married. He publicly defended himself after the press questioned why he had re-married so quickly. Two uniformed officers chose to attend the wedding.
Interrogating Philip Hann
Durham Police questioned a rapist who had been convicted about the murder in April 1997.After being imprisoned in 1994, 29-year-old Philip Hann was transferred from Wakefield Prison to Darlington so that he could be questioned about the homicide.
Husband’s arrest, accusation, and release
Police were adamant that scientific advances could eventually lead to the identification of the killer, and early in 2005 Durham Police brought in one of the country’s foremost forensic scientists so a series of laboratory tests could be conducted. Blood traces and fingerprints found on some of the 1,500 items originally taken from the crime scene were forensically examined. This led to the arrest in November that year of Ann’s husband, Peter Heron, who had remarried after the murder and relocated to a bungalow Wishaw, Lanarkshire.
His DNA was found on samples taken from his wife’s body at the time of the murder. Specifically, his semen was found on samples taken from the back of Heron’s throat. The Crown Prosecution Service agreed to charge him after he was interviewed a number of times, however, the case against him was subsequently dropped due to a lack of evidence.
The decision was made after additional expert opinion was obtained on the scientific evidence presented, leading to an eminent barrister advising the CPS that the case should be discontinued. Durham Police insisted that Peter Heron’s release would “not preclude us from going back and re-interviewing him”.
Investigators subsequently announced their plans to re-examine key evidence, and in 2007 fresh forensic tests were conducted on what police described as “the crucial samples” from the crime scene. Investigators stated that advances in technology would allow some samples taken from the scene to be examined for the first time, using “super-sensitive” technology.
Peter Heron’s alibi
For a long time, Peter Heron has maintained that he was working when the murder occurred.Nevertheless, he has provided contradictory explanations throughout the years regarding the precise timings of his movements that day, and the police believe that he is unable to adequately explain his actions between 4 and 5:50 pm, the time frame in which the murder took place. While he had previously stated that the meeting began at 3:15 pm, his daughter testified on the 2022 Channel 5 documentary about the case that the meeting actually started at 3:45 pm and lasted for approximately 30 minutes. He had undoubtedly been in a meeting with clients at Cleveland Bridge at some point that afternoon.
Heron had originally said it started at 3:15 pm after being told by police that a former employee of his had reported seeing him driving erratically at high speed towards the murder house at 3:15 pm. He said in 2016 that the meeting, which was taking place only 400 meters from Aeolian House, ended at approximately 4:30 pm, but his daughter said in 2022 that it ended at approximately 4:20 pm, while other sources assert it ended at around 4:00 pm.
Heron had also been positively identified driving his white car around a roundabout two miles from Aeolian House between 3:50 and 3:55 pm, when he was supposedly in the meeting with the clients. In total, three separate witnesses reported during this time seeing a car which they thought may be Heron’s travelling towards Aeolian House at excessively high speed, although each gave a different description of the car.
Heron said that after the meeting ended he took an extremely long route back to his office through the village of Croft and Middleton St. George, meaning that he would not have driven past Aeolian House during the time period Ann Heron was murdered between 4:00 pm 5:50 pm. When police asked him why he did this, he said that he had gone to see a woman he was later found to be having a brief affair with.
In 2020, Jen Jarvie, an investigator, declared that she had found a “viable suspect” in the deceased man Michael Benson. In 2016, Jarvie reached out to Peter Heron’s daughter on Facebook, asking to assist with the case’s investigation. Upon viewing the murder in the October 1990 episode of Crimewatch, she deduced that the murderer had to be a frequent criminal and burglar. When she saw the episode the following month, she saw that Michael Benson, a man from Leeds, was being sought by Hampshire Police after he broke out of jail using his wife’s blue Ford Orion.She came to the conclusion that the man matched her killer’s profile.
Benson was described as a violent criminal with a strong criminal history of robbery, burglary and assault with a shotgun, and another with a carving knife. However, Durham Constabulary investigated the alleged links to Michael Benson and found that there was no evidence to place Benson in the area at the time of the murder, and also revealed that they were “all but certain” Benson was living abroad at the time of the attack.
Detectives also have DNA samples from Benson’s family members to compare to the crime scene evidence. In May 2022 Durham Constabulary ruled out a connection to Benson, stating that he “is not and never has been a suspect”. Durham Constabulary also voluntarily referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct in response to allegations against them.
In a 2022 Channel 5 program about the homicide, Durham Police stated that Peter Heron remained a suspect in the case, along with a number of other unidentified people.