Episode 4: The PoliceThe Murders at White House Farm: The Podcast
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- 15 Oct 2020
In this fourth episode of the companion podcast to HBO Max’s The Murders At White House Farm, host Lauren Bright Pacheco again talks with Carol Ann Lee -- author of the highly-researched book upon which the series is based -- this time, to discuss the many missteps taken by the police in the way they handled the investigation of the murders. Carol explains how, as the investigation continued under the guidance of DCI Taff Jones, he refused to consider the possibility that what happened was anything other than a straightforward case of murder-suicide. Carol explains how Taff Jones' steadfast belief that Sheila Caffell had killed her parents and twin sons before turning the gun on herself, had shaped the way the entire investigation was conducted, leading to the repeated breach of police protocol. She also discusses how the equally stubborn mindset of DS Stan Jones -- and his doubts about the likelihood of that initial murder-suicide narrative -- ultimately helped alter the course of the police investigation.
You ever wonder why a 50 year old career cops that it is? It's all about the team follow orders, I come play for the team and Stein in never get. Anyone who's seen just the first few episodes of the HBO series, the murders at White House Farm or read up on the tragic real life events which inspired the series, is aware of the monumental role the police and the missteps of their investigation played in the case and its trial. Crucial evidence was ignored by detectives who were adamant about pursuing a murder suicide narrative, almost gleefully tossing aside anything that contradicted that theory.
But why was this negligence due to laziness, to prejudice or merely to a lack of experience? And why did one cop decide that there was more to the case than meets the eye? Compelling him to repeatedly contradict his superior officers in an attempt to uncover the truth. I'm Lauren Bright, pachuco, and welcome to the fourth episode of the official companion podcast to the HBO series The Murders at White House Farm. Today, I'll continue my conversation with Carolyn Lee, author of the 2015 Book of the same name on which much of the series was based.
This time, Carol and I will discuss the way in which the police approach the case, the internal disagreements between officers and their opposing theories about what happened on that night, as well as all the things the police did and didn't do during the course of their investigation.
Through extensive research, Carol is perhaps the best living person to explain why the police were so adamant about following through with their initial hypothesis and how that subsequently colored the way they conducted their investigation of what really happened at White House Farm in Essex, England, on those fateful early hours of August 7th, 1985. While the two key police figures at the center of this story are no longer with us. That's the late Dan Jones, whose relentless quest to get to the bottom of the case ultimately led to the truth.
And the late DCI Tath Jones, the senior officer, convinced that this was indeed a case of murder suicide. Carol has uncovered countless police and court records and conducted numerous interviews with detectives to piece together the reality of their professional rivalry as it's reflected on screen. Beyond that, Carroll's book goes into tremendous detail about the ways in which the police mishandled the evidence of the case, both at the scene of the crime and subsequently. And while this is covered in the series, I dove deeper with Carol to better understand just why these officers didn't feel the need to better protect more evidence, even though there were doubts from the very beginning that Sheila could have been capable of murdering her six year old twin boys and her parents before shooting herself.
Not only did Detective Sergeant Stan Jones suspect that this wasn't just a simple open and shut case from the very beginning, playing a pivotal role in revealing otherwise ignored facts about that night. He was also instrumental in shining a spotlight on Sheila's brother, Jeremy Bamber, as the more likely perpetrator of those awful events. Now, perhaps a better way to frame a discussion about how the police botched the investigation at White House Farm is to instead talk about what they didn't do.
Would you agree?
Yes. I think the prime problem really with the investigation at the start was that Jeremy had primed the police as to what they should expect to see when they went into the foam. And the problem was that that's how the senior investigating officer just viewed the case. He saw it straight away. It's murder suicide. It's very clear cut. So because he thought that the problem was that the crime scene was not secured, as it certainly would be today, there were different people just coming into the house.
I mean, obviously, all police and forensic experts. But there was no attempt made really to kind of secure the crime scene to make sure that nothing was interfered with as such. And the senior investigating officer, Taffe Jones, had such a closed mind. And of course, if you are a police officer, the one thing you do not have is a closed mind, no matter what you're being told or what you can see. You have to look at the bigger picture.
Why was Taffe Jones, who was the detective chief inspector on the case, why do you think he was so quick to dismiss any evidence that cast doubt on Sheilas involvement in particular?
Well, obviously, I didn't meet him because he died shortly before the trial, Jeremy Bambas trial. But having spoken to a number of people who did work very closely with him, certainly officers of his standing and above were very protective of him. They felt that he'd been used as a scapegoat in this case, you know, but younger officers and the ones who were coming up through the ranks did not particularly like him. He was very much kind of an old school police officer.
And it was his way or no way.
And no matter how the evidence started to turn, he just had his view that it was Scheeler. It was open and shut. It was very straightforward. And no one could really shift him on it, whether it was his fellow officers or whether it was the family members coming to him and saying, look, we're not happy about this and this. And you'll see in the drama, of course, where he gets very angry with any person whose children, Jeremy's cousin, because she's wanting him to look a different aspect.
She's telling him, look, you need to look at Jeremy. His behavior is weird. We've got the silencer. He did call her Miss Marple and interfere in Miss Marple. That's not artistic license. He actually did say that to her, merely shouted at her, made her get out of the office. He just didn't like anyone else telling him how to run his cases either. I mean, nobody does. But he did have a very closed mind.
One thing I am sure of, she knew absolutely nothing about guns. How could she have shot them or your cousin Jeremy?
She's different. He said she'd be no shooting. Well, he's wrong or he's lying. Why would he do that? We aren't here to accuse anyone. We just we're concerned that you're jumping to conclusions, treating this as a closed. Right. Then why? I want a record of this. Stop right there.
You'll get out. If you're going to ignore the vital evidence for me, I'll die. You give me vital. I am telling you that.
Sheila, couldn't you tell me you think you are bloody Michael, get out to my office.
That was his reputation then within the force. You know, I was wondering how accurate the serious depiction was of his stubbornness and his, you know, very, very sad mindset.
Yeah, he was he was a very stubborn, very fiery individual. Having said that, you know, he worked in the police for many, many years and he did do a lot of good work. But I think certainly this case really was his undoing as far as his public reputation is concerned, because he did not go in there with the attitude he should have done, which is to be open about everything. He just seemed to want to get in there, look around, say, yes, it is what it is.
Yes, she committed these murders. Then she turned the gun on herself. She's a nutcase with a gun, basically. But very quickly, other people saw it from a different angle. But even then, he didn't want to know.
It's almost when you watch the series, it's almost as if he didn't want to take the time to actually analyse the evidence that was available. And as you said, that he had made up his mind from the get go. Yeah, he had.
And I think as well, you know, he saw Jeremy that morning. And as far as he was concerned, this persona that Jeremy had this morning of a grieving son, that was real and he just seemed to be taken in by him from the very start. I mean, he didn't bring the pathologist out. The pathologist should have come out there and then to have seen the bodies in situ. And I spoke to the pathologist, Peter Vanesa, and said, you know, how did you feel about that?
And he said it was crazy. He it is really strange because as a pathologist, you need to go and see the bodies where they are at that time. And he was shocked that he wasn't asked to go along.
But it also seems that far too many of the officers on the investigation were willing to go along with Taffe. Why wasn't Detective Sergeant Stan Jones?
Stan Jones was a very different individual indeed. I mean, he was also quite fiery, but he was he was certainly more open to what was happening. And he spent time with Jeremy that morning. You know, he went and interviewed Jeremy that morning, along with his sidekick, if you like, DCI Clarke. And straight away, he thought, now there's something off about this guy. There was a moment which you do see in the drama where Jeremy and Julie are together.
And Stan Jones heard them talking and he heard a giggle and he opened the door and they kind of came apart looking very startled. And in the drama, it's who we see witnessing that. But actually, it was Stan Jones and that Stan Jones was really a key moment. He just didn't trust James. From there, he just felt that something was really not right with him right from the get go. Why do you think Detective Sergeant Stan Jones was so determined to get to the truth?
I think he had maybe kind of what you might call an old fashioned cop, his instinct. I mean, certainly he spent more time with Jeremy in the family. Taffe James did not spend a lot of time with them. And Stan did listen to the family, whereas Taffe Jones didn't. And he took on board what they had to say. He did try to push Taffe at some points. There was a moment that first day where the police all went back to White House Farm.
They had a meeting there with the pathologist and Stan Jones got Taff Jones went completely mad with him and said, look, leave it. It's not it's not Jeremy. I'm telling you now, don't tell me how to run my investigation, because he was obviously a lower officer to tell. But Stan was really dogged. That's the best word to describe him. Dogged.
I don't think she let you go. One shred of evidence for that, because I got plenty. The woman was a nut job. This house was locked up from the inside. The murder weapon was, you know, something of fucking mad woman, killed the kids, shot him in the head. Do not care about that. I'm running this. I say it's tied up. So you get behind me or you'll be gone. And when I say gone, I mean gone.
In an early episode, there is a scene where one officer shares the observation that police work is really a team effort. You take orders and you play for the team. And that Stan had never learned that.
Did he have a reputation for challenging investigations?
I don't think generally he did. I mean, when I started writing the book, very sadly, he was extremely ill at the time and he died. So a meeting that I'd hoped for didn't actually happen. Very sadly. He was like I say, he was fiery in a different way to Taffe. And, you know, in the same way, if someone told him, don't do that, you think, no, no, I need to look at this myself.
So he was certainly more open to talking to other members of the family, which definitely helped because they gave him background. He observed Jeremy in a very different way to the way that Tath observed him. Taffe was completely blinkered. So the grieving son, that was it. Whereas Stan Jones had the son who's supposed to be grieving, giggling with his girlfriend that morning and thought, hang on, this doesn't add up at all. And he observed him as time went on and really started to thoroughly dislike Jeremy.
When you talk about the fact that he chose to see things a different way, there is a brilliant series of scenes in Episode one where we see Stan Jones processing the inconsistencies in the crime scene. Is that something that was in keeping with that intuition that you mentioned earlier? Yeah, I think so.
I think he felt more strongly about the surviving members. He was just more open minded generally. Having said that in his own way, you know, he got his own body in his bonnet, that it was Jeremy. And I don't think he was quite willing to let that drop in the same way that Tuff was convinced it was Sheila. So you had tough thinking. Think Sheila, because she's mad, Stan thinking it's Jeremy because he's bad. They were at opposite ends of the spectrum there and they never did meet.
You mentioned that he had these relationships and they ended up being very important in terms of Cousin Anne and Jeremy's girlfriend, Julie. Was that an unusual thing for police officers to kind of befriend the family in that way?
I don't think he befriended them as such. I think it was more that he was absolutely certain from the start that there was more to come, especially from Julie. And he was watching Julie all the time. And he did feel that that was going to come a point where she would crack and she would tell the truth. And so the day when she rang the police, she rang him and said, I need to talk to you. And it didn't come as a surprise to him at all.
He was just waiting for that moment. He was absolutely convinced it would come.
Julie, thanks for coming down. You write that you will not find. Now, what can I help you with? Julie. I want to tell you what really happened that night at White House phone.
You mentioned that from the get go, there was a bit of tension between Taffe and Jones. But the series implies that Taffe was so belligerent and honestly inapt because he almost wanted to undermine Stan and prove that he was the higher up in charge. Was the difference really that big and did it continue throughout the investigation?
Yes, it did. And I think I'm not sure quite how policing works now, but it was very much you know, you have your rung on the ladder and you stay there until you get a chance for promotion. You know, Stan was told you can't go over your boss. You just can't do that.
In terms of the ranking and the hierarchy. We also get the impression that Taffe was interested in rising up through the ranks and socialized with higher ups. We see him playing golf with his boss at one point rather than focusing on his actual job. Did he have that sort of reputation for being a climber?
I'm not sure he had a reputation for being a climber, but certainly, you know, he socialized among his own circle. So officers of the same rank, as I said, the people that I spoke to, certainly a couple of them, just as younger officers felt that he was very intimidating. He'd worked in the police for many, many years and he had risen through the ranks, you know, so he had done things right. But this case in particular, he just was not willing to be open minded.
And that was his downfall because staff was so convinced that it was open and shut. Do you think had Stan Jones not challenged it, that. It never would have come to light that Jeremy could have been responsible. I think it would have done because he wasn't the only one. I mean, of course, for the purposes of television, we're focusing on Stan Jones. But there were other officers involved, Bob Miller, who I interviewed, who sadly no longer with us.
There were quite a few of them. So this is all a bit too convenient, really, and didn't like Jeremy at all, you know, were watching him and thinking his attitude stinks. But certainly Stan Jones was the standout. He was the one who was determined that it was Jeremy and he was going to prevent. From Ridley Scott, director of Alien and Blade Runner comes his next sci fi masterpiece, raised by Wolves, the epic new HBO Mack's original series that The Wall Street Journal calls utterly absorbing Earth is on the edge of extinction.
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In terms of just the police force in general, why and how did they badly mishandle evidence from the start?
Just because I hate to say it, I feel mean saying it, but because Taffe Jones had such a closed attitude, you know, he went in there and they'd been directed by Jeremy to believe that it was a murder suicide. He went with that. There was no attempt to preserve the scene. There was no fingerprinting done. That wasn't done until the next senior investigating officer came on board, Mike Ainslee, who really turned the whole thing around. So there were lots of mishandling.
The fact the exhibits were not handled properly. The silencer primarily was not handled correctly. That was just like a catalogue of errors in sort of the first half of the investigation. And certainly when the trial was held, the newspapers really ran with the story of the inept, the police. And unfortunately, Essex police did get a reputation after that. And if an investigation was badly handled, they would call it doing a bumba. So, yeah, it outlived them for quite a while, unfortunately.
You mentioned the fact that so much of the crime scene was compromised before it could really be utilized. But there was also the fact that they burned so much of the evidence and thereby disposed of crucial stuff. Why do you think that decision was made?
Well, as far as how crucial it was is concerned, I'm not entirely sure because they certainly burned the mattresses, carpets and so on. They asked Jeremy if he wanted these things kept and he said, no, just keep anything that's of value. And they destroyed the rest. And then what happened much later was that the evidence that had been preserved over the years, such as Sheila's nightdress and so on, in 1996, even though Jeremy was still protesting his case, is a miscarriage of justice.
Essex police again then destroyed the remaining evidence, which should not have been done at all.
And in fact, one of the officers who was directed to go and get these boxes of evidence and destroy them was not happy with it at all, you know, and he wrote to his bosses and said, I don't like getting rid of stuff like this. You know, it's still an ongoing case. All right. He's in prison, but he's still saying it's a miscarriage of justice. So those areas to some extent did continue. And that's why Jeremy has so much mileage, unfortunately, because mistakes continue to be made.
So we're finishing up at the farm today and the boys have asked if you'd like their help cleaning up. There are a lot of blood stained items, anything with blood on each component.
I wanted to come now. You mentioned that the local force has been kind of portrayed as bumbling. The murders did occur in a very small rural town where, you know, things like this don't normally happen. Was there a bit of truth that the local investigators were just out of their league in terms of knowing how it should have been handled from the start?
I think that's an element of that, definitely. I mean, certainly the police who I spoke to, you know, some of them were very well versed in their jobs. But I think it was the enormity of the crime sort of took them by complete surprise. There really hadn't been anything like this in that area before. I mean, and Darsey, where White House Farm is located, is beautiful. Rural spot is very well-to-do. Everyone knows each other.
So to have this case suddenly explode in the way it did with all the press attention as well. It was unprecedented for them. And I think they were to some extent on the back foot, if you like. Having said that, there was also some very good police work done and certainly the second half of the investigation worked much better. My Kensley came on board and as the senior investigating officer and went over everything again.
Do you think that the fact that it was a shooting, which was unusual for the time and the place also presented particular hurdles for the investigation, perhaps to some extent.
I mean, certainly it just kind of added to the unreality of the whole thing in a way, if you like, because, yes, it was a farming community, but they didn't tend to go and shoot each other, you know, so to have a whole family wiped out in one night, you know, three generations was so shocking. And it was certainly shocking to read it from the newspapers, you know, so to have actually gone into the house and to have even as a professional, they're still human beings.
At the end of the day, they were really shocked. The officers who went in were appalled by what they found. It was a massacre. It was a crime of huge violence. So that did have an impact on them. In terms of the way in which the police conducted themselves, I'm sure there was the emotional impact of processing that because as professional as we want to believe police can be in the worst of situations, it's got to have a personal toll.
But some of the mistakes that they made seem so awful that they're almost intentional. Did you ever get the feeling that they were intentionally making bad decisions at any point?
No, I didn't get that feeling. It was just really, as I said, you know, going in with such a closed mind is just a basic no in policing. You know, you have to go in there with an open mind. You start at what you can see and you work your way out. All the areas really came from that. More than anything, that's where it started. The fact that they've been directed as to what they would find from Jeremy and then Terry Jones went in there, said, yes, it is what he says, it is the investigation.
I mean, even though the crime scene officers went through the house and looked for what they could, they didn't find the silencer. You know, that was found sort of three or four days later by the relatives. And the police didn't really seem to know what they should have been looking for. And then when the relatives presented it, the police didn't look after it properly. So there was just so many basic errors committed in those early stages. And the early stages of any investigation are also crucial.
Yes, well, I thought this was a clean up junior. I asked him, are you on a national charge? No.
Then why the hell are you managing my crime scene? Those bodies shouldn't have been moved. Is that right? There's something off those bodies. This crime scene that was evidence.
And, you know, we've spoken about Taaffe being stubborn and steadfast in his conviction. But do you think he always believed he was right to the end?
Yes, I do. It would have been very interesting had he survived this awful accident that he had at home, it would have been really interesting to see if he'd have been called to court, what he would have said, because he was still convinced that Jeremy was innocent and Sheila was guilty or even today because how do you think the police response would have differed had this happened today just in terms of their approach and the technology?
Well, certainly. I mean, in terms of the technology, it would have been very different. You know, the phone call evidence would have been very different. It would have been traceable in, you know, much more straightforward way. And as far as going into the crime scene is concerned, we now know there are certain rules and regulations that you do not deviate from in a crime scene. You don't just let random officers just wander through for a look.
There was an officer on the door taking the names of everyone, and that's just name after name after name. And you think how many people really needed to go through that house? So today I would hope it would have been handled very, very differently indeed.
And do you think that that was a little bit of rubbernecking at the time? Probably, yeah, I think so, because it was such a shocking crime. And, you know, just the different officers that were out there, I think they were just so shocked by what they'd sort of stumbled into. As I say, unfortunately, the crime scene was not secured because people were I know when I interviewed Bob Miller, he said everybody was just trampling through that house.
That should never have happened.
In terms of the tide of the police investigation, when did it really turn, looking back and through all your research, what really led to Jeremy's arrest? Well, there were two things.
I mean, the first thing was the discovery of the silencer, and that kind of really started to turn the tide. But more than anything, of course, it was Julie McGiffert, Jeremy's girlfriend. She cracked, as Dan always thought she would, because Jeremy had started seeing another woman and he seemed to think he could finish with Julie and she would keep her secret. But Julie didn't. And at that point, that's when it really turned because she was able to give background more information on things that had been puzzling the police.
And she also made it clear that Jeremy had been planning these murders for some time with her knowledge. She said that she didn't believe he would go through with it, but she was very, very clear. She never deviated from what she said. I mean, so many people view her with suspicion. But the one thing I will say is that she stuck to her story and it does not change. You know, she gave various statements, but it's all just enlarging.
Upon the original information, she stuck to her story. And once she came forward, that was really it for Jeremy. Do you think had she not come forward, had she not cracked, that there is a possibility he could have gotten away with it? Very possibly.
Yeah, I do. I think if she had not said anything, even though they have the silence or evidence, even though there were various other aspects of the case, I think Julie was an absolutely key element to unlocking it.
Now, Stan Jones was never recognized for really getting to the heart of the crime, and he died before, as you said, both the series and your book came out.
How do you think he would have reacted essentially to being proven? Right. I think he would have been pretty chuffed with the TV series. Really, I mean, Marchetti, who plays him on there, looks nothing like Stan Jones, but he certainly captures who he was as an individual. I think he's a lot less abrasive than Stan Jane. Stan Jones had quite a wicked sense of humor as well. I think he would have been delighted because he believed Jeremy was guilty from the off and he wasn't going to let it go unless there was absolute proof that it wasn't.
Germany have got it wrong. So I think he'd be very pleased all these years later to see himself portrayed on screen as the one who caught him.
Now, if you had to pick a hero for this story, would Stan be it for me as far as the police are concerned? It would be Mike Ainslee who took over the investigation because he just went back to basics and said, right, we do this from the start again, interview everyone, do everything, get the place fingerprinted. And he really took control of that investigation, as it should have been done from the very start. Had Mike Ainslee gone into the house that morning, I think it would have been curtains for Jeremey much earlier.
Put it that way.
In your gut, with all that you know, who do you think did it? Detective Chief Inspector Shela. No doubt about it.
Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy. Jeremy, Jeremy. Jeremy, Jeremy. Jeremy, Jeremy. Right, as of now, Chief Superintendent Ainslee will be taking charge of this investigation. Mike? I try to put everything you've got into catching this vampire bastard. And this time we will not fuck it up. That brings Episode four to an end, I want to thank Caroline Lee for joining me again and for helping us understand why so much was allowed to go wrong when it came to the police investigation of the White House farm murders and the near devastating impact that those shortcomings had on the next episode of the podcast.
I'll be joined by series writer Chris Merks, who will dive with me headfirst, literally into the psychology of the series. We'll discuss how he got inside the minds of everyone involved to reimagine a true story and a vivid and emotionally engaging way while attempting to remain as objective and factually accurate as possible. The murders at White House Farm, the podcast is a production of HBO, Max and I Heart Radio, hosted by me by Pachuco. The podcast is produced by Ethan Pixel, written and researched by Misha Perlman and engineered, edited and mixed by James Foster.
If you haven't already subscribed, rated or reviewed murders at White House Farm, the podcast, please do so at the I Heart Radio app, Biomax, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And of course, be sure to watch the series itself on Biomax with all episodes available to stream now.