On the 6/7th August 1985, a horrific multiple murder left the small village of Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex fearing for what had become of the quaint area they once lived in. That night, while sleeping soundly in their family farmhouse, Nevill and June Bamber were shot dead, along with their adoptive daughter, Shelia Caffell and Sheila’s two six-year-old twin sons, Daniel and Nicolas. The only person to survive this horrific crime which targeted this family was Jeremy, the Bamber’s adopted son but was this just luck or was the reason for this more sinister?
White House Farm Murders
Ralph Nevill Bamber was born on the 8th June 1924. He began his career as a farmer before progressing through numerous different employment sectors, including working as an RAF pilot and a local magistrate at Witham Magistrates’ Court. Ralph, who was known as Nevill, married his wife June (born 3th June 1924) in 1949 and the newly weds moved into the Georgian White House Farm on Pages Lane, Tolleshunt D’Arcy. Tolleshunt D’Arcy is a small village with a general population of 1,042 individuals settled within large areas of forest. Therefore it comes as no surprise that White House Farm nestled nicely among 300 acres of tenant farmland which had once belonged to June’s father. Wedded life was pleasant for the couple and soon the idea of beginning a family arose. Not long after trying for a child, the couple learned that they were unable to have biological children and therefore began looking into the avenue of adoption. The couple then adopted Sheila and Jeremy when they were still babies. Sheila and Jeremy had no relation to each other. Even though they had the large house set into the lovely countryside and now had children of their own, June Bamber suffered from chronic depression and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital once in 1955, before she adopted Shelia and again in 1958, months after the adoption and was reported to have received electroshock therapy.
It was no secret that the Bamber’s were very financially secure given the logic that they had the farmhouse, additional property in London, 300 acres of land which they profited off by using it as a farm and they even owned a caravan site. Therefore with the property and income they made as a couple they were able to send their children to the best private education establishments and provide a good home. However, cracks began to show in the relationship between mother June and her adopted children. June was very religious and had tried on numerous accounts to force her children, and later on her grandchildren, to adopt the same ideas as her. Something that did not set well with her daughter Sheila and son Jeremy. Sheila believed that her mother disapproved of her in all aspects of her life and the relationship between June and Jeremy was so broken that it is known that Jeremy did not speak to his mother.
Although adopted at a young age there is plenty of information pertaining to the background of both Sheila and Jeremy Bamber. Sheila Jean Caffell was born on the 18th July 1957 and was the daughter of an 18-year-old woman who’s father was a senior chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her biological mother is listed as Phyliss and gave Sheila up for adoption at two weeks old to the Church of England Children’s Society. It is believed that the reason for this is because Phyliss’ father insisted so, probably because of his religious employment and the fact that his daughter was not married and a single mother. The adoption papers were signed by Nevill and June Bamber on 1st October 1957 meaning that Sheila was only 2 months old at the time of her adoption. Sheila went on to be educated at private schools including Maldon Court Preparatory School in Maldon, followed by Moira House Girls School in Eastbourne and then Old Hall School in Hethersett. After school Sheila decided to attend secretarial college in London. In 1974, she discovered she was pregnant and the father was Collin Caffell. The Bamber’s were outraged due to the fact that Sheila was only 17-years-old and arranged the abortion themselves which caused the relationship between Sheila and her parents to significantly break down as she was in love with Colin Caffell. Sheila reported that following the abortion June began calling her the ‘Devil’s Child’ which many psychiatrists who saw Sheila said was a trigger for Sheila’s paranoid delusions. However, Sheila continued with her studies and then decided to train as a hairdresser and even found part time work briefly as a model with the Lucie Clayton agency which included Sheila jetting off to Tokyo for a two-month modelling contract. However, Sheila became pregnant again to Colin Caffell and married him at the Chelmsford Registry Office in May 1977. At 20 years old and not financially dependent on her parent’s Sheila could make her own decisions but unfortunately at six month’s pregnant, Sheila lost the baby.
Although the relationship between Sheila and her parent’s was extremely strained, they offered to buy the couple a garden flat in Hampstead to help Sheila recuperate from losing her child. The couple accepted this offer but unfortunately Sheila went on to miscarriage again. Finally on the 22nd June 1979 at 22 years of age, Sheila gave birth to two twin boys. At around the same time that Sheila had her twin son’s Colin began an affair and only five months after the birth of their children decided to leave Sheila. Sheila’s emotional state shifted and she became increasingly upset on numerous occasions, even receiving hospital treatment after breaking a window with her fist. This may have been the final straw for Colin who decided on a divorce in May 1982. After the divorce, Sheila focused on starting her life fresh with her two young boys and moved out of the old family flat and moved to a flat in Maida Vale bought by her father. Things were starting to go well for Sheila, especially as Colin still provided a supportive father figure for her two children and would help raise the children from his nearby home in Kilburn. It was around this time that Sheila decided to trace her birth mother who had immigrated to Canada. They met at the airport in 1982 but the relationship did not develop. Sheila’s life then became about partying and drugs and with her modelling career over and two young children she lived on welfare and took on low-paying jobs such as waitressing. However through all this Sheila’s mental health continued to decline and she went through episodes of banging her head against walls. In 1983, her mother referred Sheila to the doctor she had seen for her own mental health. The doctor, Hugh Ferguson recalled how Sheila was in an agitated state and was definitely paranoid and psychotic. This led to her being admitted to a psychiatric facility where she was diagnosed clinically with paranoid schizophrenia. Sheila continued to state that she was the devil and that her children were the devil’s children and also about how she believed she was capable of murder or getting her children to kill for her. She continued to stay in the facility taking trifluoperazine before being released as an out-patient. Just five month’s before the murders she was back in the psychiatric facility claiming that people were out to kill her. She was released again but this time she had no children to come home too, the boys being relocated to live with their father for their own safety.
The other child, Jeremy Nevill Bamber was born on 13th January 1961 to a student midwife after she had an affair with a married army sergeant. His own biological parents later married and had other children following Jeremy being put up for adoption. Jeremy was slightly older than Sheila when he was adopted at 6-months old. He also went with Sheila to Maldon Court, followed by Gresham’s School in Norfolk but unlike Sheila he had a traumatic time at school due to bullying and sexual assault. He left Gresham with no qualifications but attended a local sixth-form where he passed seven O-levels in 1978. Following this his adopted father paid for him to go to Australia where Bamber stayed for a while before moving on to New Zealand. Many reports claim that while in New Zealand Jeremy took up a life of robbing and theft but he returned home soon after in 1982 and was paid £170 a week to work on his parent’s farm. He moved into the home cottage in Goldhanger, owned by his parents and was even given a car to use and 8% shares in the family campsite.
On the 4th August 1985, just three days before the murder, Sheila picked her two children up from her ex-husbands house. The plan was for the boys to spend time with Sheila and her parents at the White House Farm before going on holiday with their father. Colin Caffell reported how the boys were hysterical about going to see their grandparents and how their grandmother June forced them to kneel and pray. However, Colin convinced the children that he would speak to their grandmother but that they had to go. They arrived that day and the housekeeper and two farm workers reported how happy Sheila seemed. However after the crime, investigators found a carving in a cupboard door stating, ‘I hate this Place’, in the room where the boy’s were sleeping suggesting they definitely did not want to be there.
Jeremy visited the farm on the evening of Tuesday, 6th August. He later told police that his parent’s suggest to Sheila about the boys being placed in day-time foster care with a local family to which Jeremy said Sheila did not seem phased by this at all. Her doctor told police following the crime that Sheila had her children taken off her once before and any suggestion of this would of provoked strong emotions in Sheila but because the suggestion was just for day time relief Sheila would probably have welcomed this idea and thus why Sheila was not agitated by this statement on the night. A farmworker reported that Jeremy left White House Farm at around 9:30pm. Around the same time, the secretary of the farm contacted Nevill and was under the impression she had just interrupted an argument. The phonecall ended with Nevill hanging up in pure irritation. The time line next shows that Pamela Boutflour, telephoned her sister June at 10pm. She stated that June seemed normal on the phone but that Sheila was exceptionally quiet. That night, everyone left in that house would be killed.
There were three working phones at the White House Farm on the night of the murders which all ran off the same landline. The first phone was in the kitchen, the second phone was also in the kitchen, however this one was cordless and there was finally a third phone in the master bedroom. This played an important role in the conviction and understanding of the timeline of what happened next in that house.
In the early hours of the 7th August, Jeremy rang the local police raising the alarm that something had happened at his family home. He told police he had received a telephone call off his father from White House Farm to say that Sheila had gone mental with a gun. Jeremy told police that the phone had then gone dead, as if the line had been disconnected or unplugged. The police arrived at the scene but could not enter the house until 07:54am with a sledgehammer through the back door. The police soon found five bodies, all with multiple gunshot wounds. Nevill was in the kitchen, dressed in his pyjamas. His body was laid over an overturned chair suggesting immediately to the detectives that a struggle had happened. He had been shot 8 times, 6 to the head and face. Ballistic experts concluded that the first 6 shots to the face had been done from inches away but the final two shots had occurred from at least two feet away. Crime scene analysis concluded that because of where the empty shells were found, Nevill had been shot four times in his bedroom but had managed to get downstairs to the kitchen, probably to use the phone, but a struggle commenced and he was further shot, this time fatally.
June was found again in her nightdress. The police investigating concluded that she had been sitting up during the attack based off the staining on her clothing. She was found laying on the floor next to her bed and had been shot 7 times. One shot, between her eyes was decided by Ballistic experts to have been shot from under a foot away. The bullet to the right side of her head would have caused instant death. The rest of the wounds were to her lower neck, forearm and knee.
The two boys, Daniel and Nicholas were found in their beds in their own room. They appeared to have been shot while in bed. Daniel had been shot five times in the back of the head, four of the shots concluded as being under one foot away when fired and a final from over two feet when fired. Nicholas had been shot three times, all contact or close shots.
The final body found was Sheila’s which was found on the master bedroom floor. She also was in her nightdress and had two bullet wounds under her chin, one of them through her throat. The pathologist, Dr Peter Vanezis, said the lower injury had occurred from three inches and the other was a contact injury. The injury itself suggested that she may not have died instantly but could of walked around with the shot wound but the amount of blood on her clothing suggested Sheila did not do this. Following claims by Jeremy, a blood and urine test was taken from Sheila and found that she had taken the anti-psychotic drug haloperidol and cannabis several days earlier. The firearms officer reported how her fingernails and hands were clean and that there was no blood, no dirt and no powder. He concluded that the rifle would have been reloaded at least twice during the murder and usually when reloading some form of material or powder would be left on the hands from the bullets. A scientist known as Mr Elliot testified that if Sheila had done this she would have loaded 18 cartridges into a magazine and he would expect to see way more lead on her hands than what was present. However, the rifle, without the silencer or sights attached, was laying on her body pointing up to her neck suggesting suicide.
The media began a frenzy in the days following the murder, building up the idea that this was a murder-suicide. DCI Thomas Jones, the deputy of the CID, was so sure that Sheila had done this that he dismissed claims from Jeremy’s cousins about Jeremy setting the scene to look that way. Because of the assumption that Sheila had done this the crime scene was not secured and was not searched as thoroughly as normal. Within days of the murder, the police had burned any bloodstained carpets and bedding apparently to spare Jeremy having to do the task himself. The second problem was that the scenes-of-crime officer had moved the rifle without wearing gloves and therefore his finger prints ruined any chance of finding other evidence on the weapon. Then, just three days after the murder, Jeremy received the key back to White House Farm.
The police never did find the silencer because they didn’t do proper checks of the house. It was discovered on the 10th August in a cupboard by Jeremy’s cousin. It appeared to have flecks of red paint and blood on it and resided in the cousin’s house for three days before the police came to collect it. Because of the lack of investigation, and because head of departments automatically wrote the murder off as being committed by Sheila, three of the victims were cremated meaning that if new evidence came to light that the crime was committed by someone else the bodies could not be exhumed and re-examined.
It was not until the funeral’s that Jeremy was under suspicion. During the funeral’s of his parents and sister’s he wailed and fell to the floor in grieve yet many reported that during the wake he was smiling and joking around. Following the funerals he travelled to Amsterdam with his girlfriend and a friend and bought a large quantity of cannabis. Jeremy also began selling off his families possessions and even tried to sell 20 nude photographs of Sheila for £20,000 to The Sun. It was now that the police began investigating that the murders may not have been committed by Sheila but actually by another family member.
The first piece of evidence that became a suspicion was that the phones within the house had all been moved. The phone from the master bedroom was moved and found downstairs and the phone from the kitchen had been hidden under a pile of newspapers in the living room. The second suspicion was that a print from Jeremy’s right forefinger was found on the rear end of the rifle. He claimed he used the gun to shoot rabbits. The third piece of evidence was that the silencer was not on the gun when the police found the bodies. The tests confirmed that the blood clogged within the silencer had been Sheila’s and therefore how did she manage to kill herself and then take the silencer off the rifle and place it in a cupboard. The net was closing in on Jeremy.
On the 7th September, a month after the murders, Jeremy’s girlfriend Julie Mugford changed her statement to police, now alleging that Jeremy had been planning to kill his own family. Mugford told police how she had been dating Jeremy since 1983 and that she did had a background of dishonesty due to being cautioned for using a friend’s checkbook but did report that she had helped Jeremy in March 1985 steal £1,000 from his family’s caravan site. She said that she helped state a break-in to make it appear that strangers committed the crime. She later went on to report that between 03:00 and 03:30am on the night of murders she received a phone call off Jeremy telling her that something was not right at home. She did not question what as she was tired but then found out the following morning what had happened. She said her position with Jeremy changed over the following month due to a series of arguments with him. She told police that he was a psychopath and he had once tried to smother her to death with a pillow while she slept. In her second statement she concluded that between July and October 1984, Jeremy had said how he wished he could get rid of them all. He had told her how his old father and mad mother were ruining his life and running it for him and how his sister had not one thing to live for. She also said how Jeremy had told her about sedating his parents with sleeping pills, shooting them and then setting fire to the farmhouse. He also reportedly told her that Sheila would make a good scapegoat because of her previous mental health problems. Mugford finally reported that the weekend before the murders she spent it with Jeremy in his cottage and that on the day of the murder’s Jeremy had rang her and said it is tonight or never. When Mugford later rang, Jeremy said he had not done it but a friend had for a paid fee of £2,000. As a result of this statement Jeremy was arrested and he provided explanations for all the evidence the police presented him with e.g. the silencer was off the gun because it would not fit back in it’s case otherwise.
The trial lasted 18 days and opened on 3rd October 1986 before a jury of seven men and five women. The prosecution argued that Jeremy had shot his mother first while she was in bed and shot his father too but that Nevill did not die immediately and was able to go downstairs and fight off Jeremy but Jeremy managed to fire more shots, killing his father. They then argued that Jeremy went upstairs and arranged a scene to make it look like Sheila killed herself after killing her family. They then reported that Jeremy realised that Shelia would not have reached the trigger with the silencer on and this is why he had to remove it. He removed the kitchen phone off the hook and climbed out of the house through the kitchen window. They argued he then cycled back to his cottage, telephoned Mugford at 3:00am and then the police at 3:26am. To create the delay he drove slowly to the farmhouse and told police his sister knew about guns so that they would be reluctant to enter.
The defence maintained that the witnesses who had provided detailed statements were mistaken or misinterpreted. No one had seen Jeremy on his mother’s bike, there was no marks on him that suggested he had been in a struggle, there was no blood stained clothing of his and they continued to argue that Sheila was the killer due to the fact she knew how to handle guns, had serious mental health issues and was capable of killing her children who she had previously referred to as the devil’s children.
After nine and a half hours of deliberating, the jury found Jeremy guilty by a 10 to 2 majority, sentencing him to five life terms with a minimum sentence of 25 years.