The White House Farm Murders

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?

Ralph ‘Nevill’ Bamber and wife June married in 1949 and moved into the White House Farm on Pages Lane, Tolleshunt D’Arcy and set up married life among the 300 acres of tenant farmland that had previously belonged to June’s father. Here, Nevill, worked as a farmer and as a local magistrate at Witham Magistrates’ Court while it is reported that June was a stay-at-home wife. As they continued through married life, Nevill and June received the news that they were unable to have biological children of their own and therefore decided to adopt Sheila and Jeremy as babies. The two children were in no way related to each other, but family life seemed complete for the couple. The Bamber’s now had the family that they desired and equally were financially secure, not only owning the large farmhouse and plot of land but also owning property in London and a caravan site. The finances and inheritance provided a motive for the murders. The Bambers’ Company was worth £400,000 in 1985 (£1,057,000 in 2016). This large income of cash meant that Sheila and Jeremy were able to attend private education, which offered them a decent start at life. However, research shows that there was many frictions present within this happy family life. To begin, June had suffered from depression multiple times and had even been admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1955 and again in 1958 when she was given electroshock therapy. June was treated many years later, also, in 1982. The second tension present was that June was extremely religious and this caused problems between her relationship with Sheila and Jeremy; Sheila feeling that her mother disapproved of her and Jeremy believing his relationship with his mother was that damaged he had stopped speaking to her all together.

Sheila Caffell’s background is vague, yet it is known that her biological mother was the 18-year-old daughter of a senior chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury and that after two weeks her mother gave her up to the Church of England Children’s Society. In October 1957, when Sheila was only a couple of months old, she was adopted by the Bamber’s and renamed from Phyliss to Sheila.  Sheila moved around different schools, beginning at the local Church of England School, then moved around three different private secondary schools before attending secretarial college in Swiss Cottage, London. In 1974, when she was only 17, she discovered she was pregnant to Colin Caffell. Nevill and June disagreed with the pregnancy that much that they personally arranged an abortion for Sheila and this is when her relationship with her adopted mother began to deteriorate. Around this time, Sheila began to have paranoid delusions about being taken over by the devil, which Sheila claimed began when her adopted mother began calling her, ‘the Devil’s Child’. Following the abortion, Sheila continued with her education at the secretarial college and then for a short time trained to be a hairdresser, before jetting off to Tokyo for two month’s as a model. On returning to the UK she fell pregnant again to Caffell and married him in May 1977. When Sheila turned 20, and six months into the pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage. Sheila moved out of the family home after this and settled into a flat with Colin. Married life was a struggle for Sheila following the miscarriage then on the 22nd June 1979, after four months in hospital, she gave birth to twins. Sheila left Colin 5 months after the birth of the twin boys after finding that Colin was having an affair and in May 1982 they divorced. Sheila was now a single mother to 2 young boys and her adopted father Nevill decided to buy her a flat in Maida Vale, close to Colin’s home so that they could work together to raise the children. A broken marriage and a tense relationship with her adoptive mother led to Sheila tracing her real mother to Canada. Sheila and her real mother had a brief reunion, but the relationship did not develop past this. Sheila therefore turned to a small support unit of friends, who later told reporters that Sheila was lonely, insecure and had a real poor relationship with her adoptive mother. Sheila’s modelling contract then fell through and having to support 2 young children Sheila turned to the Welfare system and worked minimum wage jobs as a waitress and cleaner to support her family. Throughout all of this, Sheila’s mental health continued to detoriate, with episodes of banging her heads against walls and in 1983, she was referred to the psychiatrist who had treated her adoptive mother. The doctor reported that Sheila was agitated, paranoid and psychotic and admitted her to a private facility where she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The doctor also reported that Sheila believed that the devil was within her, similar to the previous time Sheila spoke to a psychiatrist. She was discharged in September 1983 and continued her treatment by taking antipsychotic drugs. She was readmitted in March 1985 and after four weeks was discharged. From this point onwards, the boys lived with their father.

Five months after Sheila was released, a week-long visit to White House Farm was arranged at the Bamber’s request. The plan was that the twins would visit their grandparents with their mother before going on holiday to Norway with their father. Colin Caffell reported how the boys were very reluctant to stay at the farm, stating they disliked how their grandmother June made them pray and even asked their father if he would talk to her about this topic. On the 4th August 1985, the two boys arrived at White House Farm with their mother. The housekeeper noticed nothing unusual about Sheila or the boys and said that everybody seemed happy. Little else is known about the days leading up to the murders but on the evening of 6th August, Jeremy Bamber visited the farm. He quoted to police how his parents had suggested to Sheila that the boys be placed in day-time foster care with a local family but that little else had been spoken about. A farmworker heard Jeremy leave around 9:30pm. The farm’s secretary, Barbara Wilson, telephoned Nevill at around the same time and reported after the murders that she was under the impression she had interrupted an argument. She stated that Nevill seemed short with her and seemed to hang up the phone in irritation. Finally, June Bamber’s sister telephoned at around 10pm. She spoke to Sheila, who seemed quiet and then to June, who seemed perfectly normal.

In the early hours of the morning, on the 7th August, Jeremy Bamber telephone to police to raise the alarm. He told the police he had received a telephone call from his father, from the landline at White House Farm, to say that Sheila had ‘Gone berserk with a gun’. Jeremy ended the phone call by saying that the landline had gone dead in the middle of the call. After the telephone call to the police, Jeremy made his way to by car to the farmhouse. Around the same time PS Bews, PC Myall and PC Saxby from Witham Police Station, passing Jeremy on the way. The noticed how curiously, Jeremy was driving much slower than the speed limit. Jeremy arrived at the farmhouse two minutes after the police. The police, unsure of what to expect inside, waiting for the firearms team to arrive. At 5am, they arrived and decided to wait until daylight to enter the farmhouse. Using a loudhailer, they police spent two hours trying to communicate with someone inside the house, but all the reported was a dog howling. While waiting outside, the police questioned Jeremy. He seemed calm and told them about the phonecall with is father, and that it sounded as though someone cut the phone call. He also reported not getting on well with his sister, he further went on to call Sheila a ‘nutter’. The question the police were most curious to answer was why Nevill had called Jeremy and not the police to which Jeremy responded that his father liked to keep it within the family. The police finally entered around 7:54am with a sledgehammer through the back door. The door was locked from the inside. Inside they found five bodies with multiple gunshot wounds, Nevill downstairs within the kitchen and the rest upstairs. Just over 25 shots had been fired, all at close range. A telephone, believed to be the one Nevill rang off, was on the kitchen worktop with the receiver off the hook, next to several .22 shells. There was evidence of a struggle; stools overturned, broken plates and what looked like blood on the floor.

Nevill was found in the kitchen, still in his nightwear, lying over a chair which suggested a struggle. He had been shot six times in the head and face and the remaining shots had hit his body. The police concluded after an examination that Nevill had been shot four times upstairs and had managed to get downstairs where a struggle had taken place. His lips had been wounded, jaw broken and damage to his teeth and larynx meaning he would have not been able to engage in purposeful talk. June’s body was found dressed in a nightdress which was soaked in blood. The police believed she had been sat up during the time she was shot, based off the forensic evidence on her nightdress. She had been shot 7 times, the worst shots hitting her right between her eyes and side of the head, probably causing a quick death. The two twins, Daniel and Nicholas, were found in their beds. Daniel had been shot 5 times in the back of the head and Nicholas had been shot 3 times. Finally, Sheila was found on the floor of the master bedroom with her mother, also wearing just a nightdress. She had two bullet wounds under the chin, one of them which had targeted her throat. Bloodstains on her nightdress suggested she had also been sat up when she received both injuries. Further analysis suggested that Sheila had been taking her anti-psychotic drug Haloperidol and several days before the murders had used cannabis.

The breaking news was first suggested to be a murder-suicide theory. As a result of the police being certain this was the case, the crime scene was not secured or searched thoroughly, and some evidence was not even recorded. The scenes-of-crime officer moved the murder weapon without wearing gloves and it was not examined for fingerprints until many weeks later. Only three days after the killings, Jeremy was given back the keys to the house. On the 10th August one of Jeremy’s cousins found a silencer in the cupboard and saw what appeared to be splats of red paint and blood. He took it to another of the cousins’ homes and waited three days until the police came to collect it. The inquest opened on the 14th August, the police gave evidence that it was in fact murder-suicide, and the bodies were released. Nevill, June and Sheila were cremated, and the two boys were buried. Jeremy’s behaviour sparked suspicion among family members; hysterically crying at the funerals but joyfully laughing at the wake. Shortly after the funerals he travelled to Amsterdam and bought a large quantity of cannabis. He returned and began selling family belongings and even tried to sell 20 nude photographs of Sheila to The Sun for £20,000. After this period of time the police had began to look into the silencer found at the crime scene. The silencer was not on the gun when the police found the bodies. Police reported that the silencer was not in the cupboard when they had first investigated the crime scene. Three days later, Jeremy and extended family visited the house and this is when it was found. Little came about of any evidence however and the murders slowly lost interest. However, on the 7th September 1985, just a month after the murders, Jeremy’s girlfriend, Julie changed her statement to the police now confessing that Jeremy was involved in planning the murder of his family. He was arrested the next day. Julie also stated that Jeremy has said he wished he could get rid of them all, called his father old and his mother mad. He further told Julie that his sister had nothing to live for and that the twins were disturbed. Julie further believed that Jeremy was angry at the fact that Nevill had bought a nice flat for Sheila and said this made him want to shoot them all and use Sheila as a scapegoat.

The trial opened on the 3rd October 1986 and contained a jury of 7 men and 5 women. The prosecution case was that Jeremy was fuelled by hatred and greed and that after he left The White House Farm on the 6th August, he returned to the farm on his mother’s bicycle. He avoided the main roads to avoid being seen and approached the house from the back. He then entered through the downstairs bathroom window armed with a rifle and headed upstairs. The prosecution believed from heading upstairs, he first shot June in her bed and then shot Nevill in the same bedroom. They believed Nevill managed to get downstairs where he fought with Jeremy before being shot dead. He then shot Sheila in the main bedroom and then shot the children last. The silencer played a very important role in the investigation. It was concluded that it had been on the rifle when it was fired judging by the blood inside it. The forensic teams had concluded that the blood was Sheila’s and therefore how could Sheila have taken the silencer off the rifle after she had shot herself dead?

The defence maintained that the witnesses who had provided detailed statements were mistaken or misinterpreted his words. No one had seen Jeremy on his mother’s bike. There was no marks on him that suggested he had been involved in a struggle. There was no blood stained clothing. The defence continued to argue that Sheila was the killer due to the fact she knew how to handle guns, she had a serious mental health issue and she was capable of killing her children. The motive? The discussion on the night of the murders suggesting Sheila place her children in day foster care. Following the arguments there was three critical points: Did they believe Julie Mugford or Jeremy Bamber? Were they sure that Sheila was not the killer who had committed suicide? Was the second fatal shot fired at Sheila with the silencer on? If the answer to this was yes, she could not have fired it and finally, did Nevill call Jeremy in the middle of the night. After nine and a half hours of deliberating, the jury found Jeremy guilty by a majority of 10 to 2, sentencing him to five life terms, with a minimum sentence of 25 years. sdlocked0


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