"The foulest beast on earth... A reptile in disguise, and rat of Birkenshaw"
Peter Manuel’s description of himself in a poem written in his cell during his trial.
The Daily Record, April 2009
Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel is born in New York in March 1927 to Scottish parents who had moved to the United States in search of a better life. The family struggles to achieve success in the US and life is tough after the Wall Street Crash so they return home to Scotland in 1932, settling in Lanarkshire. Young Peter has a broad American accent and there are reports that he is bullied by his schoolmates.
Manuel is young boy when he starts his life of crime. By the age of ten he is known to the local police as a petty thief and he spends time in and out of approved schools. His probation officer comments that Manuel has the worst criminal record for a juvenile that he has ever seen. As a teenager his crimes escalate to include violence and sexual elements.
When he is 15-years-old Manuel breaks into a house and attacks the female occupant who is asleep in bed, beating her over the head with a hammer. Over the next year he carries out a string of sexual attacks for which he is caught and convicted, serving nine years in the local Peterhead prison. He will serve further prison time for rape before beginning his killing spree in 1956.
Opinion is divided about Manuel’s mental state. Some say he displays many of the classic traits of a psychopath: lacking empathy with his victims, showing no remorse and not accepting that what he has done is wrong. Doctors also describe him as having fugue states, memory loss and epilepsy.
Those seeking to understand what drives Manuel to kill have to wrestle with some contradictions: he is someone who kills and rapes women, yet dotes on his own mother; he is cruel to animals but he is devoted to the family dog; he can’t maintain a relationship with a woman but he considers himself as a lothario.
Manuel will have committed at least eight murders by the time the police arrest him in 1958.