The White House Farm murders

At around 3.30 am on the 7th August 1985, a man who identified himself as Jeremy Bamber rang the local Police station with concerns for his family who lived at White House Farm, a well-known Georgian property, near Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex. He further explained that he didn’t live at home but that his father had just phoned him to say that his adopted sister Sheila, who suffered from schizophrenia, had got hold of a hunting rifle and was going berserk. Jeremy Bamber added that he intended to go to the house but wished the police to attend to check on the family’s safety, the police dispatcher told him police would meet him at the property.

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The imposing White House Farm in daylight.

As the first police car approached the farm they passed Bamber driving slowly down the lane, when they all arrived the police thought it prudent not to enter the premises until they had the backup of the armed offender’s squad, resulting in quite a long delay. When at around 7 am, they finally forced the back door, which was locked from inside and entered the farmhouse they found all the occupants dead, all shot to death. Father, Nevil, dressed in pyjamas was in the kitchen, with six bullet wounds to the head and two more to his body in conditions that seemed to indicate that he had been involved in a confrontation and had fought for his life, with serious head and facial injuries probably caused by the butt and barrel of a rifle and also, broken and turned over furniture and a smashed sugar bowl. The two six-year-old twin boys of Jeremy’s adopted sister Sheila, Nicholas and Daniel, were in their beds dead, shot to death at close range as they slept. The mother June Bamber had also been shot and killed, dressed in her night clothes lying beside her bed in the master bedroom, with seven bullet wounds. Adopted sister Sheila was also in the same room lying on the floor with two bullet wounds and the .22 calibre Auschutz semi-automatic rifle resting against her neck and chin. A total of 25 bullets had been fired into the bodies which by any count was total overkill. The scene gave the impression that Sheila really had gone berserk and killed everyone including herself, although her first attempt at suicide hadn’t killed her she managed to fire a second fatal shot. So who was Sheila and what could her motivation have been?

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Nevil and June Bamber a few months before their murder.

Sheila was adopted by the Bamber family when she was only two weeks old and grew up in a well-off, privileged environment and as she grew older was sent to private boarding schools, which could have been the cause of, as she later admitted, her feeling of isolation from her adopted family and rejection by her adoptive mother. When she was 17 she became pregnant by her boyfriend Colin Caffell, who she later married but not before her mother had arranged a termination of Sheila’s pregnancy.

Sheila trained and found work as a hairdresser, and later as a model and eventually married Colin and in 1979 gave birth to her twin boys. However, the births marked a serious deterioration in Sheila’s mental health and she became erratic, unpredictable and at times violent so the couple soon separated and were divorced in May 1982. After the divorce, Nevil Bamber bought his daughter a flat in Morshead Mansions, Maida Vale and she eventually got in with a group of young women friends who partied a lot, took drugs and had rich men friends. Although Sheila had a flat, her only income was welfare or a series of low paid jobs such as waitressing and cleaning, which drove her to depression.

At that stage of her life, she was desperately insecure and complained about her poor relationship with her adoptive mother and her mental health began to deteriorate further, with a number of hospital admissions. At times she thought she could commune directly with God, at other times she thought that she was controlled by the Devil and that she could induce evil into her boys and other people, but normally she was a pleasant personality and a loving mother. Eventually, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and treated with antipsychotic drugs, which she was obliged to take for the rest of her short life.

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Sheila, Nicholas and Daniel Bamber.

On the 4th August, three days before the killings, Sheila and her two boys came to visit White House Farm to spend a one week holiday with the family and on the day before the murders the Bamber’s housekeeper had spoken with Sheila at length and had noticed absolutely nothing amiss, so the theory that Sheila was having a mental breakdown seems unlikely, however, the investigation proceeded as if this was an established fact. The investigators continued the case as if it was a clear-cut murder-suicide and burned bloodstained bedding and carpet, failed to take fingerprints or even witness statements and within three days wrapped up the crime-scene enquiry at the farm and handed the keys back to the Bamber family.

However, the extended Bamber family were not satisfied with that outcome, because none of them could believe that Sheila would ever kill family members, especially her two boys who she loved dearly and moved into the farm to take a closer look at the evidence. What they found, quite quickly in a kitchen cupboard was the silencer that was usually on the .22 rifle and it had a small speck of blood on it, that when analysed the blood proved to belong to Sheila.

Now this was a significant development because if the silencer had been on the gun when Sheila committed suicide, then her arms were just not long enough to operate the trigger, but if Sheila had taken the silencer off after she had killed everyone and replaced it in its box in the kitchen cupboard, not the act of a crazy person, then it could not have had her blood on it. It was also realized that with 25 shots fired from a weapon from a ten shot magazine, Sheila would have had to have reloaded the magazine twice, undoubtedly leaving traces of lead on her hands and if she had been the shooter she would have gunshot residue on her hands and forearms. A test proved she had no lead or gunshot residue on her and further forensic testing proved that the bottom of Sheila’s bare feet were clean, in a bedroom, whose floor was splattered with blood and a kitchen floor that was covered in blood and sugar from the smashed sugar bowl.

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Jeremy Bamber with his then-girlfriend Julie Mugford at the funeral of his family.

About this time Jeremy Bamber’s ex-girlfriend, Julie Mugford, who Bamber had only recently jilted, came forward with some interesting information, bearing out the old saying about a ‘woman scorned’, which Bamber, to his cost, was unfamiliar with. She claimed that Bamber had told her of his intentions to murder his whole family in order to inherit the farm, a caravan park the family owned and considerable cash assets. He had also told her on the evening before the murder, “Tonight’s the night.”

When investigators commence a murder investigation they start by looking at three things, Motive, the reason someone commits the murder, which in Sheila’s case was claimed to be madness, but which in Jeremy’s case we know could be to inherit the family fortune. The second thing, is opportunity and Sheila was in the house at the time so did have opportunity, but Jeremy certainly also had that, several hours of darkness, in which time he could have driven to the farm, gained entry through a kitchen window which he later admitted he knew was insecure and murdered his immediate family. The third thing, of course, is means and as came out, Jeremy was well placed for the means to kill. According to Jeremy’s early statement, in the late afternoon he had thought he had heard rabbits outside in the yard so grabbed the .22 rifle belonging to his father and loaded the magazine with ten rounds, but as there were no rabbits to be seen he left the loaded rifle and a handful of rounds on the kitchen table, surely an irresponsible thing to do with two six-year-old boys in the house. As to Sheila and guns, although Jeremy claimed his step sister was a keen target shooter the extended family claimed that she disliked guns and had never been known to fire one, and wouldn’t know how to reload the magazine, so who was Jeremy Bamber?

Jeremy had also been adopted, some three years after Sheila and grew up with the same privileges of private schools leading on later to boarding schools. When he left school without qualifications Nevil sent him on a trip to Australia and Newzealand where it was rumoured he got into trouble and had to leave in a hurry. Then, back home in the UK followed a number of dead-end jobs, including working as a waiter and a barman including as a waiter for a Little Chef Restaurant, surely the pits for a man with a private education, but eventually, he agreed to return home and work on the family farm.

He resented the low wages but was provided with a car and a rent-free cottage in the nearby village of Goldhanger, Essex. He was also given an eight per cent share in the family’s caravan park at Maldon Essex, but it would seem it was not enough, Jeremy wanted more and planned to take it.

At this stage the police claimed that there had never been a phone call from Nevil to Jeremy, if there had been because Nevil’s phone-line was still open, Jeremy could not have immediately phoned the police as he claimed because according to a Post Office Technician, the phone would have been unavailable for 17 minutes. However, the defence refuted this and to this day it is unclear if that call was ever made and if Jeremy did it, how did he achieve it with no one at his house to answer the landline.

However Jeremy was arrested charged with five counts of murder and eventually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and most people think he got what he deserved, but because of the inadequate investigation at the very beginning, some doubts still remain. For example when the police and Bamber first arrived they thought they saw someone moving around inside the house and used a loud-speaker to try to make contact but with no response from the house. Later still they thought they heard a shot from inside. If either of these two things happened then it could only have been Sheila, moving around with one gunshot already inflicted on herself and then finally lying down and shooting herself a second time, this time fatally. If that scenario could be proved then Jeremy who has always maintained he isn’t the killer would be innocent. A very interesting thought-provoking case that I fear will continue to gather different points of view for years to come.

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