Clutching a simple bunch of roses and irises, Muriel McKay’s daughter Dianne left her Surrey home on Thursday morning to lay her carefully chosen blooms on a spot of earth by a farmhouse close to the border of Hertfordshire and Essex.
It was the sort of journey grieving sons and daughters make on a regular basis. But for Dianne, now 81, the pilgrimage marked the first time she had visited the spot where she believes her beloved mother lies — more than half a century after she died.
‘It was a spontaneous thing,’ Dianne recalls now. ‘I’ve never wanted to go there or anywhere near it. For me it was always a place of evil. The name has such awful connotations.’
That name has now changed, but in 1969 it was Rooks Farm, and it was where Muriel was taken on a chilly December night, snatched from her home in Wimbledon, South-West London, in a bungled kidnap attempt after being mistaken for Anna Murdoch, the then wife of media baron Rupert.
Tragic: Muriel McKay
She has never been seen since. One of Britain’s most notorious murders, the case made headlines round the world. Nine months later, Trinidadian brothers Arthur and Nizamodeen — known as Nizam — Hosein were convicted and imprisoned for Muriel’s kidnap and murder.
It was the first time a UK court had handed down a verdict of murder despite the absence of a body. Both men protested their innocence. Ever since, what happened to Muriel has remained a mystery and a source of enduring pain for her three children.
Now, in a remarkable development, Dianne and siblings Jennifer, 84, and Ian, 79, believe they may finally have learned the truth about their mother’s final days.
In December, over the course of several video conversations with Dianne and the family’s lawyer, Matthew Gayle, Nizam — now 73 and back in his native Trinidad — revealed Muriel died as a result of a heart attack and described the specific spot on the land surrounding the now renamed Stocking Farm where Muriel’s body could be found.
It is there that Dianne laid flowers this week on the patch of grass she believes to be her mother’s grave.
Confirming Nizam’s confession, however, is proving difficult, for while police are re-examining case files, the family’s attempts to establish the truth of his claims have been hampered by a refusal from the farm’s current owners to allow them full access to their land.
‘I want to believe him,’ says Dianne. ‘It’s odd to think he would lie now, when he has served a prison sentence for murder.
‘We asked a lot of questions and whenever we said something he thought was wrong, he was vehement about saying no. I think he’s been in denial for the last 50 years. He had older brothers who I think he was scared of.’
Target: Anna Murdoch with husband Rupert and Alick McKay
Today Dianne is an eloquent octogenarian who divides her time between Europe and the UK. In 1969, however, she was a 29-year-old mother of three. The McKay family had moved to London 13 years earlier from their native Adelaide, Australia, because of her father Alick’s job as a newspaper executive working for Rupert Murdoch.
Dianne settled in Sussex, but remained close to her mother, whom she describes as ‘glamorous, loving and gentle’. ‘She loved her life in London,’ she adds.
The day before she was abducted, Muriel had travelled from London to visit her daughter and grandchildren. ‘They called her Carly after her much-loved dog who was called Carl. It was a silly thing,’ recalls Dianne. ‘She went home. I never saw her again.’
The following evening, Sunday, December 29, Alick arrived home at 7.45pm to find the front door open, the lights on and no sign of Muriel.
The phone had been pulled from the wall, the contents of his wife’s handbag were strewn over the stairs and a rusty meat cleaver lay on the floor. Initially, the police refused to believe she had been abducted, insisting she must have ‘run off’ with a boyfriend.
‘We told them she’d never do something like that,’ says Dianne.
Baffled as to why Muriel would have been targeted for such a crime, the story which emerged proved so gripping it featured in the hit West End play Ink, decades later.
While Murdoch and his wife Anna were on holiday in Australia, they had lent their chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce to Alick, his deputy.
Unaware of this development the Hosein brothers spent several days following the car, believing they were on the trail of Murdoch and his wife. When the car stopped at the McKay home in Wimbledon the brothers understandably thought it was Murdoch’s home and, on that fateful Sunday when Alick was out and Muriel home alone, forced their way in, bundling her into their car.
‘It was hell,’ Dianne recalls of those initial days. ‘We were distraught. You felt so helpless because what do you do? Drive round the streets? I sat by the phone all night waiting for a call we knew would come.’
When it did, it was Dianne who answered. ‘We are called M3, we are the Mafia,’ said the male caller, whom she now knows was Nizam.
‘We tried to get Rupert Murdoch’s wife,’ he told her. ‘We couldn’t get her, so we took Muriel instead.’
‘They said they would give further instructions,’ Dianne recalls.
Two days later, a scribbled note —the first of three — arrived in the post in Muriel’s handwriting. ‘Please do something to get me home,’ it read. ‘My father was a complete wreck,’ Dianne recalls. December turned to January and still the family had no idea where Muriel was.
The kidnappers demanded £1 million for Muriel’s safe return. A thwarted ransom exchange on February 1 — abandoned by the pair when they suspected a police ambush — was followed by another, five days later.
On that occasion, Arthur Hosein’s Volvo was seen repeatedly driving near the site of the requested ransom drop. His number plate led the police to Rooks Farm, where they discovered a notebook filled with the same paper that Muriel’s letters had been written on, and a set of Arthur’s fingerprints matching those found on the ransom demands. Still, there was no trace of Muriel.
Muriel was taken on a chilly December night, snatched from her home in Wimbledon, South-West London, in a bungled kidnap attempt after being mistaken for Anna Murdoch (pictured), the then wife of media baron Rupert
Certain she was dead, police charged the Hosein brothers with her murder. Both made for unlikely kidnappers. Arthur had come to England in the early 1960s as a tailor’s cutter, harbouring ambitions to become a local squire.
He borrowed heavily to buy Rooks Farm, in the Hertfordshire village of Stocking Pelham. It was there that, aged 34, he came up with his kidnap plot while watching media magnate Murdoch and wife Anna on TV.
Nizam followed his older brother to England in the summer of 1969, only to find himself tangled up in his plot six months later. ‘I’ve no doubt Arthur was the lead,’ says Dianne. ‘He was a nasty piece of work.’
Yet both refused to confess and when they took the stand at their subsequent Old Bailey trial in September 1970, each tried to lay the blame at the other’s feet.
The jury did not believe either of them and both were found guilty of kidnapping and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Arthur died in Ashworth high-security psychiatric hospital in 2009 while Nizamodeen served 20 years and was deported to Trinidad on his release in 1990. Yet while justice was served, there has been no closure for the McKay family.
‘All the children had a very rough ride,’ says Dianne. ‘We were all happily married but our marriages broke down in the aftermath. Our whole world fell apart.’
Her father took it particularly hard. ‘He was never the same again and he never got over the guilt that my mother was the one who was taken and not him,’ says Dianne. Her own heartache was compounded by the fact that her grief-stricken father found even the sight of his own daughter — so similar to his wife — too much to bear and refused to see her for almost a year. ‘Not only had I lost my mother, but I lost him,’ she says. ‘He said I reminded him of my mother too much.’
Alick died 14 years after his wife’s disappearance, never knowing her fate. In the wake of her father’s death, Dianne had a breakdown. ‘I realised that I’d been hanging on to the hope that my mum wasn’t dead,’ she reflects.
She worked hard to rebuild her life, marrying a ‘wonderful’ South African man, although she was widowed 17 years ago.
Pictured: Kidnapper Nizamodeen Hosein
‘In the end I tried to bury the memories and I had a good life but there’s a black hole I would fall into sometimes,’ she says.
Little could she have imagined that more than half a century later a glimmer of hope would emerge. Last August, while filming for a TV documentary, Nizam — now living in his childhood village of Dow, central Trinidad — indicated he may be ready to talk to the McKays for the first time.
The family subsequently asked lawyer Matthew Gayle to approach Nizam on their behalf.
After talking on the phone, Matthew met Nizam at his home and the pair connected on a video call with Dianne and her son Mark.
It would be the first of several candid conversations, though Dianne admits to initial scepticism. ‘Why now and why would a criminal who had protested his innocence suddenly be admitting to burying my mother?’ she asks.
Talking on the video call, was, she admits, ‘horrific. I had to muster up all my courage to do it but I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for Mum’.
In December, over the course of several video conversations with Dianne and the family’s lawyer, Matthew Gayle, Nizam — now 73 and back in his native Trinidad — revealed Muriel died as a result of a heart attack and described the specific spot on the land surrounding the now renamed Stocking Farm (pictured) where Muriel’s body could be found
Over the course of the conversations, Dianne began to accept Nizam was telling the truth. ‘I think it has a lot to do with coming to the end of his life and wanting to do the right thing,’ she says.
And, against all odds, a strange comfort began to emerge. ‘He told me there was no physical violence in the house and that after they took Mum, she sat beside him in the car and told him she had a son of a similar age to him.
‘She also said, “I don’t think you’re a really bad person.”
‘It was such a relief as I always imagined that they had tied her up and thrown her in the boot — that haunted me.’
Inevitably, hearing news of how her mother died was distressing, not least because Nizam indicated her death came shortly after she watched Dianne, her siblings and father, on a television appeal on December 31, 1969.
‘He told us he had invited her to watch the TV news. My brother had flown from Australia and we were all together, making an appeal and he said she saw us on TV and was very upset.
‘He said she stood up and had a panic attack and collapsed.’
Given that Muriel was only 55, with no known heart problems, Dianne admits this seems strange, but she also believes the intense stress she was under could have led to her death.
What she does know is that if what Nizam said is true then the ransom negotiations continued long after she died. ‘That is hard to think about,’ she says. ‘We have a feeling she didn’t last longer than three days.’
This week, in an attempt to persuade the owners of the farm to allow the family to make a non-invasive search of the area identified using radar, Dianne travelled to Stocking Farm to make a personal plea. ‘For the first time in my life I had this really strong urge to go there, to see where my mother’s grave may be and to plead with the family to allow us access.’
The owners declined her request but Dianne did manage to lay her flowers, using a public right of way access. ‘I thought: “I hope that’s where you are.” ’
The family’s hopes now lie with the Metropolitan Police, who confirmed to the Mail this week that officers from their Specialist Crime Command are reviewing material from the case.
‘If she is there, I would like to get her out of that place and bring her home,’ says Dianne. ‘I don’t think that is too much to ask.’