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Peter Manuel

Peter Manuel mug shot
Background information
Birth name: Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel
Also known as: The Beast of Birkenshaw
Born: March 13, 1927(1927-03-13)
New York, United States
Died: July 11, 1958 (aged 31)
Cause of death: Hanging
Number of victims: Murders: 8
confessed 18+
Span of killings: 1956–1958
Country: Scotland
Date apprehended: 13 January 1958

Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel (13 March 1927 – 11 July 1958) was a United States-born Scottish serial killer who is known to have murdered seven people across Lanarkshire and southern Scotland between 1956 and his arrest in January 1958, although he is suspected of having killed as many as eighteen people. Prior to his arrest, the media nicknamed the unidentified killer the Beast of Birkenshaw. Manuel hanged in HM Barlinnie for his crimes on 11 July 1958, and was the second last prisoner to do so.


Early life

Manuel was born in 1927 to Scottish parents in New York; the family moved to Detroit before emigrating back to Britain in 1932, this time to Birkenshaw in Lanarkshire. From childhood, possibly due to bullying, he was a loner, and was known to the local police as a petty thief by the age of ten. Aged sixteen, he committed a string of sexual attacks that resulted in him serving nine years in HMP Peterhead, and served further sentences for rape before beginning his killing spree in 1956.


Whilst Manuel confessed to killing eighteen people following his arrest, he was only tried for eight murder charges, with another being attributed to him by an official inquiry some time following his trial.

Anne Knielands: 17. On 2 January 1956, Knielands was stalked onto an East Kilbride golfcourse, where she was bludgeoned to death with a length of iron. Although he was questioned by police about the murder and would confess to it two years later, Manuel escaped arrest when his father gave him an alibi. He was charged with this murder in 1958, but the case against him would be dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Marion and Vivienne Watt, and Margaret Brown: 45, 16, and 41. Marion, her daughter Vivienne, and her sister Margaret, were shot to death in their home in Burnside, Glasgow, on 17 September 1956. Manuel was out on bail for a burglary at a nearby colliery at the time of the murders, and was suspected by officers in charge of the manhunt for the Watts’ killer, but he once again evaded capture following the arrest of Marion’s husband, William, who wouldn’t be proven innocent until Manuel struck for a fifth time in 1958.

Sydney Dunn: 36. Manuel shot and killed his fifth victim, taxi driver Sydney Dunn, on 7 December 1957 whilst looking for work in Newcastle. Dunn’s body was found on moorlands in Northumbria soon after, but by this time, Manuel had already returned to Lanarkshire. This murder wouldn’t be tied to The Beast of Birkenshaw until Manuel’s arrest a month later.

Isabelle Cooke: 17. Cooke disappeared after leaving her Mount Vernon home to go to a dance at Uddingston Grammar School on 27 December 1957. Manuel stalked her, strangled her, and then buried her in a nearby field; he would later lead officers to the spot where he’d disposed of her body. As with Dunn’s murder twenty days earlier, Cooke’s disappearance was not initially connected to Manuel.

Peter, Doris, and Michael Smart: 45, 42, and 10. The Smarts were shot to death in their Uddingston home on 1 January 1958. Manuel then stayed in their household for nearly a week, eating leftovers from a Hogmanay meal and even feeding the family cat, before stealing some brand-new banknotes that Peter Smart had been keeping for a holiday, and taking the family car and dumping it nearby. Ironically, Manuel gave a lift in this car to a police officer investigating the disappearance of Isabelle Cooke, and even told him that he felt the police weren’t looking in the right places. It was only following the Smarts’ murders that police realized a serial killer was on the loose, leading to the release of William Watt.

Arrest, trial and execution

Although many police officers who were familiar with Manuel suspected him of carrying out these murders, they were unable to prove it until shortly after the Smarts’ murder, when some banknotes Manuel had been using to pay for drinks in east-end Glasgow pubs were found to be from the batch stolen from their household by the killer. Initially denying everything, he confessed to these murders, and more than a dozen others, after his mother confronted him at the police station where he was being held.

Manuel was tried for murder at the Edinburgh High Court; in a move that astounded many present, he sacked his lawyers and conducted his defence by himself. Although the judge, Lord Cameron, admitted that Manuel conducted his defence “with a skill that is quite remarkable”, the killer was unable to convince the jury of an insanity plea, and he was found guilty of all charges against him, except for that of Anne Knielands, which had been dropped due to a lack of evidence. On 11 July 1958, Manuel was hanged on the gallows at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. His last words are reported to have been, "Turn up the radio, and I’ll go quietly".

Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Manuel was not the last criminal to be executed in Scotland, but the third-last. Anthony Miller followed Manuel on to the Barlinnie gallows in December 1960, while Henry John Burnett suffered a similar fate at Craiginches Prison, Aberdeen in August 1963.

In 2009, a BBC programme Inside the Mind of a Psychopath argued that the authorities colluded to ensure Manuel was hanged, despite the fact that he was a known psychopath.[1]

In fiction

Scottish actor Brian Cox loosely based his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter on Manuel.[2]


  1. ^ BBC Radio Scotland Serial killer's voice to be heard
  2. ^ Cox, Brian. Inside Manhunter: Interviews with stars William Petersen, Brian Cox, Joan Allen and Tom Noonan. [Manhunter (DVD)].  

External links



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