Copy was written for an entertainment blog that featured the stories of contemporary serial killers. All content and words are created/owned by Kate Weaver.
James Fairweather: The Colchester Killer
Crime scenes are never for the faint of heart, particularly when murder is involved. But over the years, the public has come to expect descriptions of these macabre settings, as our growing curiosity is spurned on by television, movies and publicly available police reports. In once such instance, however, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) decided that the details surrounding a 2014 murder in the south-east of England “were too gruesome to describe”. Later reports would reveal that the victim, thirty-three year-old James Attfield, a father of five, had been stabbed quite literally hundreds of times while he rested in a public park. The residents of the quiet, pastoral town of Colchester in Essex were suddenly rocked with the news that there was a serial killer in their midst. News outlets around the U.K sensationalized the discussion around who could have committed such a grotesque act of savagery for nearly a year after the attack, until late 2015, when the identity of the perpetrator was revealed and the British public reeled in shock and disbelief. The killer in question? James Fairweather…who was just fifteen years old.
On August 5th, 1998, James Fairweather was born in Colchester, Essex, just north of London, England. By all accounts, little James had a fairly normal childhood in which he was described by his teachers as a quiet, gentle boy. By the time he entered high school, however, he started to exhibit some drastic changes in behavior. Gone was the peaceable, amenable boy and in his place stood a withdrawn, caustic and angry young man who was known for being the school bully. His rages were initially brought on by classmates who antagonized him for his protruding ears, but he soon took his revenge against them to unexpected levels. Unearthed school reports on Fairweather revealed his tendency to descend into violent rages in which he would punch walls, throw furniture and scream expletives at his peers. His wrath was felt by his teachers, as well. Once such incident involved Fairweather lunging at a frightened school employee because he believed they were observing him for nefarious purposes. Another account given by a former classmate stated that when Fairweather was asked about his career choices, he retorted that he wanted to become a murderer. His peers somewhat cautiously laughed off his remarks as no more than dark humor. They would soon find out just how wrong they were.
On the evening of March 29, 2014, James snuck out of his parents’ home in the middle of the night with the intention of finding someone to kill. He happened upon thirty-three year-old James Attfield who had fallen asleep in a park after a night of raucous drinking. Fairweather proceeded to stab the half-conscious man all over his torso over 100 times. He left Attfield to bleed out on the grass and returned home around 2:30am. When paramedics finally found Attfield almost four hours later, he was miraculously still alive, despite losing nearly all the blood in his body among other more grotesque injuries. Unfortunately, he would succumb to his wounds just an hour later.
British police scoured the surrounding cities and towns in search of the suspect, but to no avail. In a sick twist of irony, just three days prior to Attfield’s murder, Fairweather had been placed under a juvenile probationary period following an attempted robbery at knifepoint. The conditions of his probation were limited at best, with no real effort at monitoring the troubled teen who had been allowed to continue living at home.
For the next several months, while the authorities continued their search for Attfield’s killer, James Fairweather descended into an obsession with notorious serial killers like Jack the Ripper. Once the investigation into Fairweather had concluded, the BBC revealed that “photos of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, were found in his possession, and he had researched Stockwell Strangler Kenneth Erskine, Ipswich serial killer Steve Wright and US murderer Ted Bundy.” A child psychiatrist would later testify that Fairweather had discussed his urges to rape, maim and burn women and prostitutes. Investigators also hypothesized that the loss of his grandmother in the years leading up to his first killing precipitated his murderous descent into full blown madness.
After months of staying off the investigative radar, Fairweather decided it was time to strike again. His next victim, whom he chose entirely at random, as he did with Attfield, was thirty one year old Saudi-Arabian student Nahid Almanea. On June 17th, 2014, the fifteen year old stabbed Ms. Almanea with a bayonet while she made her way to the University of Essex campus. She was walking along a well-traveled path called the Salary Brook Trail in broad daylight when Fairweather approached her silently from behind and pierced her directly in the kidneys. While he didn’t stab his second victim with the same ferocity as his first victim, Fairfield ensured an equally gruesome killing by running the bayonet through Almanea’s eyes into her brain so that she “could not see evil.”
This mention of seeing “evil” is the first instance in which James Fairweather’s possible schizophrenia came to light. During the young man’s deposition, another child psychiatrist would go on to state that Fairweather had discussed hearing voices that would dictate their desire for him to commit these atrocious acts. It was this same psychiatrist who would definitively diagnose young James as being on the autism spectrum, but stopped just short of a diagnosis of full blown psychosis brought on by schizophrenia.
When questioned by prosecutors about how he spent his time after Almanea’s murder and prior to his arrest (a period of more than a year), the now 17 year-old Fairweather said that he did not kill again because the public’s interest in the murders was too high, and he feared being caught. To his unsuspecting advantage, the residents of Colchester didn’t believe that one of their neighbors (a local) could be responsible for the killings, and the public investigation was prioritized to suspects who did not live in the area.
But was he ever identified as a suspect? Not in specific terms, he wasn’t, but he was one of nearly seventy people (all of whom had previous knife-related offenses on their criminal records) that police interviewed in the days after Almanea’s slaying. Along with his mother, who accompanied him due to his status as a minor, Fairweather was interviewed about the murders but told police that he was at home at the time they were committed. His mother, who suspected nothing about her son, confirmed his story, and he was given leave to return home, no longer a suspect in the gruesome “Colchester Killings”. Besides the fact that his faux-alibi was corroborated by his mother, police were searching for suspects that more closely fit the profile of an anti-Islamic State (ISIS) individual, as Almanea’s murder was initially thought to be the result of anti-Muslim sentiment. As for James Attfield, police suspected that he was killed by someone he knew or had unwittingly crossed. Attfield had sustained a traumatic brain injury earlier in life that left him moderately developmentally disabled, and he had a history of being somewhat of a rabble rouser at local pubs. There was no obvious connection between Attfield and Fairweather, and investigators certainly weren’t looking for a fifteen year old boy, regardless of criminal history. Furthermore, “Mr Attfield and Ms Almanea were very different victims – one a white British male, the other a Saudi Muslim woman – and Mr Attfield was killed at night, Ms Almanea during the day,” writes the BBC.
Investigators were initially considering the possibility that there were two serial killers. In an interview after the trial’s conclusion, Crown prosecutor Paul Scothern said that “ there was very little forensic or physical evidence from the crime scenes or from the bodies that enabled police to follow lines of inquiry that would lead them to any individual.”
On May 27th, 2015, the investigation into the media-dubbed “Colchester murders” finally caught up with James. According to the BBC, a resident of Colchester, Michelle Sadler, was out walking her dog near the area where Nahid Almanea was murdered. She spotted a suspicious looking Fairweather who was crouching down in an overgrown patch of bushes. She noticed that he seemed agitated and nervous. But when she realized that he was also wearing latex rubber gloves, a chill went straight down her spine. She quickly dialed the authorities and relayed what she saw to police dispatchers. Within minutes, officers descended en masse to the Salary Brook public trail area and James Fairweather was arrested without incident. During questioning he admitted to the killings and from there was promptly booked for trial.
Despite the law the forbade the release of James Fairweather’s identity to the public because he was a minor, word got out to the British public. The nation was gripped by the trial of the seventeen year-old who, despite his young age and perceived child-like innocence, committed acts of such a vile, grotesque nature. By this point, revelations about the defendant’s proposed mental illness had not made the rounds on the media circuit, so the public remained fixated on what could have possibly made such an unassuming young man “snap”.
The defense team assembled to represent James Fairweather immediately entered a “not guilty” plea with regards to outright, pre-meditated murder, but rather acknowledged the two charges of “manslaughter” on the grounds of insanity. During questioning, Fairweather admitted to the killings but claimed that the voices in his head told him to do it. At the time of his arrest, he stated that he was hiding in the bushes, poised to attack on advice from the inner monologue of these so-called “voices”, as he searched for his next seemingly random victim. Further psychological evaluation would dispute his claim of schizophrenic-psychosis, but psychiatric investigators would go on to testify in their belief that Fairweather was accurately diagnosed as autistic. This diagnosis, however, would not diminish the young man’s culpability for the crimes. To link a diagnosis of autism as a “reason” for such gruesome murders was considered an “unjustifiable slur” against members of the autistic community, the presiding judge Robin Spencer, QC, would go on to state.
On April 22, 2016, James Fairweather, who was tried as an adult due to the severity of his crimes and proximity to the legal age of consent, was found guilty of murder by an unequivocally unanimous jury. He was sentenced the following week on April 29th, to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for the first twenty-seven years of his incarceration.
His defense team vowed to appeal the verdict on the grounds that he could not be held responsible for the violent acts he committed while under the influence of what [could] be such a volatile mental disorder. They argued that the murders were not in fact, premeditated, but were rather one-off violent acts of rage and aggression as the result of living with an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness for so long. Crown prosecutors wholeheartedly protested the defense’s statement and countered with evidence of the young man’s obsession with serial killers, the calculated, precise and intentional way that the victims were stabbed and Fairweather’s previous entanglements with the law and with school authorities. As the appeal trial came to a close in September of 2016, the verdict and original duration of Fairweather’s sentence was upheld by the presiding Judge. Young James Fairweather, “The Colchester Killer” would spend the rest of his life behind bars.