The Crossbow Cannibal
"Hatred Bound Tightly in Flesh"
Stephen Griffiths’s MySpace entry describing himself
Stephen Shaun Griffiths is born on Christmas Eve in 1969, in West Yorkshire. He’s the eldest of the three children of telephonist, Moira Dewhirst, and frozen food salesman, Stephen Griffiths. Their marriage soon breaks up and the children stay with Moira in her council house. (She’ll later be convicted of benefit fraud and many have speculated her behaviour may partly explain Stephen’s hatred of women). But Stephen’s father works hard to send his 13 year old son to a fee paying school.
THE CRIMINAL STUDENT
As a teenager, Stephen regularly shoplifts. When a supermarket manager tries to stop him, Stephen attacks with a knife. Aged just 17, he’s sentenced to three years’ youth custody. He tells probation officers he fantasises about serial killing.
During this time, he loses contact with his family.
In 1989, he’s convicted of possessing an offensive weapon: an air pistol. He uses it to shoot birds which he then dissects.
The next year, he receives two year prison sentence for affray after holding a knife to the throat of a young girl. But because he’s said not to possess signs of psychotic illness, or a treatable mental disorder, he can’t be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Stephen develops a fear of penetration and every night places cotton wool in his ears so that insects can’t enter. He never works, surviving on benefits and grants. But he does go on to secure a degree gaining a First in psychology. And he’ll begin a PHD. His doctorate thesis is on the history of homicide.
"There may be an element, although this is difficult to prove, that he is in a sense...educating himself better about the phenomenon that he was going to engage in practically...Was he studying some of these books to understand how to avoid capture, how to dispose of bodies, how police would conduct an investigation?"
David Wilson – Professor of Criminology
Stephen buys books on serial killing online. (He will later purchase crossbow bolts).
Many of the books focus on Jack the Ripper, the Moors Murder and his idol, Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. During the 70 and 80s, Sutcliffe killed 13 women, many of them prostitutes.
At 27 Stephen moves into a one bedroom flat in a block of housing association flats in Holmfield Court, Bradford, West Yorkshire. It’s on the edge of Bradford’s red-light district.
Around two dozen prostitutes walk the nearby Thornton Road. Stephen will target three of them.
But at first Stephen doesn’t use prostitutes. In 1998, he starts a two year relationship. When he finally invites his girlfriend into his flat, she finds every surface, even the carpet, covered in plastic.
She senses something is very, very wrong. She makes her excuses and leaves, and soon also exits the relationship. Stephen then has an abusive relationship with another woman who manages to escape him in 2001. However, he harasses her for years, spraying ‘slag’ on her wall when she’s away on holiday and leaving threatening messages on her voicemail. In one he laughs maniacally and states:
"I’m not going to go away. So I guess you’d better."
He then buys two lizards, sometimes taking them for walks on dog leads into town. A neighbour, Rachel Farrington, agrees to come into his flat to see his ‘pets’. She describes his flat as like entering a maze. Stephen shows her how he feeds live rats to his pets. She watches as a lizard bites one in half. Enraptured, Stephen observes, "That’s nature for you."
Billy Parkin, a former friend, remembers even seeing Stephen eat a small live baby rat, and washing it down with a glass of water.
Stephen creates an online pseudonym for himself called ‘Ven Pariah’. David Wilson speculates that the ‘Ven’ was a shortening of either his first name, ‘Stephen’, or perhaps the word ‘venerable’. A ‘pariah’ is defined as ‘a social outcast’.
Ven Pariah posts the following on MySpace the night before he kills Suzanne Blamires.
"What will this pseudo-human do, one wonders. Poor Stephen, pretended to be me, but he was only the wrapping. He knew towards the end, that I supplied the inner core of iron. Hatred Bound Tightly in Flesh. At very long last, the time has come to act out."
This entry echoes Thomas Harris’s psychopath in Red Dragon, the infamous novel that introduces Hannibal Lecter.
"I'm the great Red Dragon... I am not a man...You are privy to a great becoming, but you recognize nothing. To me, you are a slug in the sun...Before me, you rightly tremble. But, fear is not what you owe me. You owe me awe."
Many worry that our fascination with serial killers, real and fictional, combined with the level of sex and violence now seen on our screens, may have a detrimental effect. For them, Stephen Griffiths are their fears made flesh.
"This is someone who was almost a wannabe serial killer. He wanted his 15 minutes in the spotlight."