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Heart of a Murderer

Neville Heath was an ex-RAF pilot who murdered a part-time actress in a London hotel room then went on the run, sparking the biggest manhunt in British history. A charming and extremely plausible psychopath who talked his way into all levels of British society, Heath left an indelible impression on the public psyche.

After booking in to the Tollard Royal Hotel on Bournemouth’s West Cliff under the alias Group Captain Rupert Brook, he spent two weeks entertaining fellow guests with his film star looks and engaging manner. No one suspected that the seductive facade hid a far more dangerous persona, and on July 4th 1946, he snared his second victim, a nineteen-year old ex-Wren, convalescing in the town after a bout of flu.

When finally arrested – after strolling casually into Bournemouth Police Station to report his whereabouts on the evening of the girl’s disappearance – Heath at first denied his involvement, then later confessed. Impressing police officers and prison staff alike with his military air and cool one-liners, he faced a certain trial and possible death sentence with remarkable detachment.

Having spent hours interviewing and studying their subject, the doctors and psychologists of the day concluded that they knew very little of the real Neville Heath. Exuding confidence at all times and making the humourous quips which by then had become his trademark, he gave them very little to go on. Their conclusions were brief, and perhaps because of the evidence, rather obvious. He was clearly a psychopath and a sadist who showed no regard for human life.

After a brief trial at the Old Bailey, Neville George Clevely Heath was sentenced to death. His fast-approaching date with the hangman prevented further interrogation and the case was closed, albeit with lurid newspaper headlines sensationalising his exploits. Awaiting execution, Heath amused himself reading paperbacks and playing chess with prison officers. He was, by all accounts, completely unfazed by his impending demise, and determined to play the dashing Group Captain to the end.

What’s disturbing about the case, isn’t so much the murders Heath committed – appalling as they were – but the casual disregard he showed for his victims, and indeed his own life. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the level of deception needed to maintain such a front, but for someone like Heath it was all too easy. He displayed the classic psychopathic traits: boldness, a fondness for risk-taking, and a complete lack of remorse for his crimes. Add to this a considerable personal magnetism and willingness to exploit every opportunity and you have the makings of an extremely dangerous man.

The public fascination for killers like Heath is endless. Fuelled by extensive media coverage and lavish dramatisations, audiences are both thrilled and horrified by these frenzied accounts. But in seeking answers for the perpetrator’s behaviour we are often left unsatisfied. What if there is no reason, no motive? What if the component that makes us human is, in these extreme cases, simply missing?

My screenplay, Heart of a Murderer, focuses largely on the two weeks Heath spent on the run in Bournemouth, posing as Group Captain Rupert Brook. It features the beauty of the Jurassic Coast and the contrasting savagery of Heath’s crimes. The role of the media is also explored, with its parallels with today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. The newspapers of the immediate post-war era helped turn Heath into a media superstar, someone whose exploits and image was to dominate the headlines and captivate the public’s imagination for a long time to come.

(Heart of a Murderer is currently in pre-production. Filming is scheduled to begin in Bournemouth in 2017)

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