Known affectionately as the Monster Mansion, Wakefield prison is home to the worst of the worst. Many of the country’s most prolific serial killers, rapists, pedophiles and terrorists will pass through its hallowed halls at some point during their incarceration, many of which remain there to this day.
In the dank recesses of the prison’s cellar, a purposely-built glass cage houses a man so dangerous that he is considered unfit to associate with even the most vile offenders in the country. That man is Robert Maudsley.
Robert Maudsley, widely considered to be one of the most horrific serial killers in British history, is relatively unknown in comparison to some of his more media-friendly counterparts. Maudsley was responsible for the deaths of four men in total, three of which were killed while Maudsley was already behind bars. His story is one of tragedy, complications, and perhaps even injustice.
Robert Maudsley was born on June 26th 1953 in Toxteth, Liverpool to parents Jean and Robert Maudsley. At the time of his birth, he was one of four children. He was named after his father, who, in later life, would become the catalyst to his son’s future murderous impulses. Before Maudsley was two years old, his parents placed him and his siblings in a Roman Catholic orphanage due to claims of parental neglect.
Robert, his brothers Paul and Kevin, and his sister Brenda lived at Nazareth House orphanage for around seven years. During this time, Robert claimed that he was treated well by those in charge and formed a fantastic bond with his siblings. All four of them spoke highly of Nazareth House and didn’t want to leave when the time came. However, their parents eventually brought them back home.
Robert was around eight years old at the time, and was the youngest of the siblings he had been at Nazareth House with. Robert’s parents would go on to have seven more children, although it is unclear at what point the children were born and whether all seven were alive when Robert, Paul, Kevin and Brenda returned home.
This would be a turning point in Robert’s life. In an instant, he would go from being cared for and cherished to neglected, physically abused and sexually assaulted. Robert’s father regularly handed out beatings to all of his male children, but reports from Robert’s siblings themselves claim that the worst punishments were reserved for Robert.
Robert would later claim that he doesn’t remember his parents at all, only the beatings they administered to him. Despite his father being the one physically assaulting him, his mother also played her part in his abuse. If any child misbehaved or was late home, she would bring it to their father’s attention and they would subsequently punished.
In a strange move, their father then placed Robert and Robert alone into a foster home. None of his other children reportedly received the same treatment, which suggests that Robert’s father had a severe dislike of him more so than the others. Additionally, when his siblings inquired as to their brother’s whereabouts, his father told them that Robert had died.
At the age of 16, Robert fled to London. He supported himself through prostitution, servicing gay men sexually for money. He would sleep on the streets and in strange men’s houses, moving from area to area regularly. This lifestyle took its toll on Robert. He soon developed a severe drug addiction and he attempted suicide on multiple occasions. When the authorities became aware of his mental state, he was detained and placed in a psychiatric ward.
Over the next few years Maudsley did frequent stints in multiple psychiatric hospitals. He was free by 1973, and went back to working as a rent boy. While on the job, he was picked up the man who would become his first victim – a man named John Farrell.
Farrell picked up Maudsley in the Wood Green area of London. Before the two engaged in sexual activity, Farrell proceeded to show Maudsley some pictures of children he had sexually abused in the past. Why Farrell did this – whether it was to elicit fear or arousal in Maudsley – is unknown, but the act caused Maudsley to fly into a fit of rage. He attacked Farrell, strangled him to death, then stole £5 out of his pocket and fled.
Upon being caught, Maudsley was immediately sent to Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane. Due to his presumed psychosis he was considered unfit to stand trial. There, whilst in Broadmoor, he would commit the act which cemented his legacy as one of the most disturbed minds in Britain.
In 1977, Maudsley and fellow inmate David Cheeseman barricaded themselves in a cell with another inmate – David Francis – as their hostage. The three were allowed out of their rooms in order to play football (Broadmoor Hospital is more lenient with their rules than the majority of prisons), and so Maudsley and Cheeseman took advantage.
For nine hours, the pair tortured Francis until eventually garrotting him to death. The attack was witnessed by multiple guards and nurses but were powerless to stop it. When Francis was dead, reports state that his skull had been smashed in to the point that parts of his brain were visible.
[Popular myth states that Maudsley proceeded to take out a canteen spoon and eat parts of Francis’ brain in front of prison guards, however, this is entirely unfounded rumour. Today, Maudsley’s name is synonymous with cannibalism, yet there exists no evidence to suggest Maudsley engaged in any type of cannibalistic activity whatsoever. It is likely a rumour brought on by his later comparisons to fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter].
In an ironic twist, Maudsley was found fit to stand trial for the killing of David Francis, despite his previous diagnosis and despite the murder occurring in a mental hospital. Found convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life imprisonment, Maudsley was sent to HMP Wakefield.
Upon arriving at Wakefield prison, Maudsley discovered that word of his crimes had circulated. His murder inside Broadmoor had given him a reputation, and it was a reputation he would live up to very quickly. It was only a matter of weeks before he attacked again, killing two people inside Wakefield prison on the same day.
In July 1978, Maudsley claimed his third and fourth victims. On the day of the murders, Maudsley acted out a very strange ritual. He made paper coffins and placed human hair inside them, possibly symbolic of the murders he was preparing to commit.
Salney Darwood was a convicted murderer who was serving time for the murder of his wife. He and Maudsley had been studying French together whilst incarcerated, so Darwood likely believed he was safe. However, Maudsley blitz attacked Darwood with a knife to disorient him, then garrotted him until he died. He placed his body underneath his bed then continued on his day as though nothing had happened. Throughout the course of the day, Maudsley tried to coax other inmates into coming into his cell but was unsuccessful.
Later the same afternoon, Maudsley found his way into the cell of 56-year-old murderer Bill Roberts. Roberts was lying face down on his bunk when Maudsley rushed in and attacked him with a makeshift knife he had created. He repeatedly stabbed Roberts in the stomach, chest and skull, before forcing his head into the wall with his bare hands.
Maudsley calmly gave himself over to the prison staff, declaring that the next roll call “would be two short”.
As Maudsley was already serving a life sentence, there were no legal repercussions of his murders because his sentence couldn’t be increased. He was convicted of the murder, but it is difficult to punish someone who is fully aware they’re never leaving prison. Maudsley was deemed unfit to associate with any other inmate due to their safety, and so was placed in a solitary confinement unit.
In 1983, it was considered that Robert Maudsley was too dangerous to be housed in a regular prison cell. His suicidal tendencies were clear, and a normal cell gave him ample opportunities to take his own life. Therefore, a special cell was built for him. A two-unit cage made of glass was constructed in the basement of Wakefield prison where only he and another prisoner (Charles Bronson) reside.
For those familiar with the movie Silence of the Lambs, the circumstances of Robert Maudsley and Hannibal Lecter appear strikingly similar. Both are housed in glass cages in dark cellars, both are considered cannibals (despite Maudsley not being) and both are too dangerous to be allowed to mix with other inmates. Additionally, both Hannibal Lecter and Robert Maudsley are, quite strangely, similar in levels of intelligence. To look at Maudsley one would not think he possesses the acumen he does, but prison tests have indicated that Maudsley maintains a genius-level I.Q.
Inside Maudsley’s cell, there is a table and chair made from cardboard as any other material is considered too dangerous. There is a toilet and a sink, both of which are bolted to the ground so they can’t be used as weapons. He is allowed only plastic cutlery. His bed is a concrete slab covered with a sheet. The glass walls are bulletproof and the entry is through a large steel door. There is a small gap through which Maudsley is able to receive his meals and he isn’t allowed any other items.
He remains in his cage for 23 hours a day; the other hour is spent exercising in the yard while being monitored by six prison guards.
As of the time of writing, Roberts Maudsley is 64 years old and has been in solitary confinement for almost 35 years. He has been in kept alone for significantly longer than any other prisoner in the UK and it clearly shows in his mental and physical condition. His skin is pale white and his features are sunken. His gums are receding from disease and he has developed a speech impediment through lack of human contact. He spends the majority of his days writing to psychiatrists asking them why he is the way he is. He strongly protests his rights and has even requested he be allowed to commit suicide. He has requested books, music and TV in the past but has consistently been denied any privileges. Even Maudsley himself isn’t sure why he is being kept alive.
A cold, hard fact regarding Robert Maudsley’s murders, which is often overlooked, is that he only ever killed other criminals. His first victim was a child abuser, his second victim a pedophile, and his third and fourth victims were murderers. Going by these facts, Maudsley can be considered a vigilante. Many people, including authorities, have remarked that his crimes have done the world a favour. However, we must look into the reasons why he killed in order to ascertain if this was a pattern he would continue.
There is no official diagnosis of Maudsley’s psychosis, only speculation. However, it is this writer’s personal opinion that Maudsley was driven to sociopathic tendencies via his father’s abuse and sexual assault. There is no doubt that his violent upbringing was the catalyst to his crimes, and most likely, the sole reason he killed.
Because Maudsley’s murders were mostly unplanned, this suggests a disorganized brain at work. He killed his first victim after being shown pictures of child abuse and this triggered Maudsley to lash out. The way he killed his victim – garrotting – was likely a convenient way of killing as opposed to enjoying the act of murder. Although strangulation is a type of ‘personal’ murder (literally feeling the breath drain from someone), it requires great strength or rage in order to successfully strangle someone to death. Maudsley was not a strong man by any means, therefore, his rage was ample enough to strangle a living human without restraining them beforehand.
Maudsley’s later murders were again unplanned and opportunistic, a further indication of sociopathy. Due to Maudsley’s high levels of intelligence, some consider him to possess psychopathic tendencies, however his desire to kill was most likely unrelated to psychopathy and more to do with subconscious revenge against his parents.
He later stated in interviews that when he killed, he imagined murdering his parents over and over again. He also remarked that if he had killed his parents as a youngster, no one would else would have died by his hand.
Professional author of both fiction and non-fiction, specialising in horror, mystery and true crime. Psychology graduate.