Bernard Oliver – Muswell Hill/Tattingstone – 1967

January 2011/12

Police probe new 1967 Tattingstone ‘suitcase murder’ lead

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Police are investigating a potential new lead in a murder inquiry dating back more than 45 years.

The dissected body of Bernard Oliver, 17, from Muswell Hill, north London, was found dumped in two suitcases on farmland in Tattingstone, near Ipswich, on 16 January 1967.

No one was ever charged over the inquiry. Two doctors, both now dead, were prime suspects. Police said they had been contacted by a man with new information.

“Officers have spoken to a gentleman in relation to the inquiry, are reviewing what they have been told and will follow up where necessary,” said a Suffolk police spokeswoman.

It is understood the man initially contacted police in the 1970s but never made a statement. He is believed to have reported seeing two unattended suitcases and a man wearing medical gloves in the Ipswich docks area in the days before the teenager’s body was found.

Police have said previously they believed the murder was carried out by someone with expert knowledge because of the way the body was cut up.

Tony Oliver, whose sibling Bernard was found dissected into eight pieces – and dumped in two suitcases – in January 1967, still believes there are people alive who are keeping the secret of what happened to the 17-year-old

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Tony, 57, said: “I think there was more than one person involved and there’s more than one person who still knows now.

“I’m hoping someone will come forward and at least provide us with some comfort as to how Bernard died.

“I don’t believe for one moment the murder was something that was off-the-cuff. I still, to this day, believe it was premeditated.

“Bernard’s nails were manicured and he had a ten Guinea haircut. Obviously he had been looked after by whoever he was with.

“The police didn’t find his trousers, shoes, or underwear. All they found was his sports jacket in two suitcases. There’s just so many things that seemed wrong. I always believed Bernard was set up (to be killed).

“It was such a shame. For this to have happened to a person who was known and liked, and who wouldn’t harm a fly, is just so unbelievable.

“I still can’t believe the police didn’t get the leads then that they were hoping for.

“There were more than 100,000 statements taken and it (the inquiry) went on for so long.

“It was unbelievable. At one time we were so hopeful that someone was going to be apprehended, but the inquiry just seemed to fade away.”

Bernard Oliver’s body was discovered in the two suitcases, which were found under a hedge in Tattingstone by farm worker Fred Burggy.

The macabre discovery sparked a nationwide media frenzy, with one paper offering a £50,000 reward to catch the killer or killers.

At one stage it was reported that detectives checked on several houses in the Ipswich area which were said to have been hired for weekends by homosexual groups from London.

‘Drag’ parties at which men dressed in girls’ clothes were alleged to have been held in two houses near the town centre.

Police also checked on butchers’ shops and slaughterhouses among other places where the body could have been stored or dismembered, but never found a crime scene.

Despite a massive inquiry by detectives from Suffolk and Scotland Yard no one was ever charged.

However, the two prime suspects were doctors who had been investigated for child sex offences.

Bernard Oliver went missing after leaving his home in Muswell Hill, north London, on January 6, 1967. His body was found on the morning of January 16.

Tony, who was aged 13 at the time and now lives in Majorca, said: “Suffolk seems like a million miles away in terms of distance, but it’s not. We just kept asking why? Could be, it might have been someone in Ipswich – I don’t know.”

During the investigation there was a link to where one of the doctors had a surgery in the Muswell Hill area, and another had a house.

Tony said: “Nowadays with these cadaver dogs, why can’t police now use them on that house (doctor’s surgery)?

“Even if they found the crime scene, that would be something. Those doctors are dead. They were never questioned by police, yet they were arrested at one time for child sex offences. It seems so strange to me.”

One of the doctors investigated left a suicide note apologising to police for past crimes but made no reference to the Suffolk inquiry, which became known as the Tattingstone suitcase murder.

The investigation was reopened in 1977 but little progress was made. The crime remains one of the most brutal ever investigated by Suffolk police. It was also notorious for the appeal made by detectives following the discovery of the body parts.

With no knowledge of who they belonged to, police released a photograph to the media of Bernard’s severed head. His family came forward after seeing it published in a newspaper.

Background to the case

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Bernard Oliver pictured above

For farmworker Fred Burggy it wouldn’t have been the best start to a working week. On a bone-cold Monday morning in mid-January of 1967, Fred was harrowing a field adjoining Bentley Lane, in the village of Tattingstone. Passing up and down with his tractor, he’d dismissed as dumped rubbish the two discarded suitcases which he’d noticed earlier, at the field’s edge. Eventually, however, his curiosity got the better of him.

He stopped the tractor and went over to investigate. At first, he thought it was a pile of clothes. Closer inspection, however, revealed something far more sinister. There, in the suitcases, expertly chopped up into eight pieces, its severed head contained in one of them, was the body of a youth. A pathologist’s examination of the body revealed that the young man had been homosexually assaulted before being killed and that the dissection of his corpse had been carried out by someone with either surgical or butchery skills.

Tattered press clippings and photographs of the events are in black and white. In the shots, poker-faced policemen, including a bowler-hatted Scotland Yard detective, cluster around the findings in a muddy Suffolk field. The shocked farmworker unfortunate enough to have discovered the suitcases’ grim contents, – apart from witness statements to detectives – has declined to speak of the matter since. 

As the murder investigation got underway, an official photo was circulated of its victim With no clue as to the identity of the young man, the police had taken the unusual step of ‘dressing’ the severed head. To do this, they stuck its eyes open, set it upright with a scarf at the base of the skull, then tidied it up as best they could before photographing it. It was a macabre sort of thing to do. The move, however, soon paid its sad dividend when the boy’s father recognised the face in a newspaper picture and came forward to formally identify his son.

Described as quiet and gentle, with a mental age of eleven, Bernard Oliver had been missing from home for ten days. Up until his disappearance, the young man had been working for some weeks as a factory hand in north London. The police now stepped up their investigation, working exhaustively on the case. Alas, despite their best efforts, apart from the identity of the victim, not much more transpired and as the weeks turned into months, the months into years, the case remained unsolved.

As one exasperated detective later remarked, the police had only been able to work with clues from the scene where the body had been dumped – none from the scene of the murder itself. After his retirement, Tom Tarling, head of East Suffolk CID, who’d led the murder inquiry in 1967, said of the case, “It was the most gruesome thing I investigated, in 37 years with the police.” The village of Tattingstone itself remained in shock long after the investigation petered out. A yellowed newspaper cutting, dated January 1968 reveals that a full year after the event, in the village once described as, “A place where nothing ever happened,.” few of the villagers would now walk down the road now dubbed “Suitcase Lane.”