Especially for World Head and Neck Cancer Day – here’s a sample chapter from Tommy V Cancer! Feel free to share it with your family and friends. #WHNCDay2017
My second day of chemotherapy today, followed by another radiotherapy session…
We arrived at the cancer unit in Preston to find ourselves sitting next to a couple from Bamber Bridge – just a few miles away. We soon began to chat (no-one stays shy when you all have something as large and bastard-shaped as cancer in common), and I happened to mention that I had grown up in a particular area of Leyland.
“Ah!” said the guy. “The handless corpse!”
The Handless Corpse was the name the national TV and press gave to the murder case I alluded to in an earlier chapter.
I said I would come back to it and explain more, so here we go…
When we first moved from Liverpool to Leyland in 1979, we lived on an estate just off Slater Lane called Robin Hey. We moved into number 25. It was a smaller house than we’d been used to, but still plenty of room for the five of us, and my sister, brother and I had a big garden to play in.
Our next door neighbours were a young couple – Andy and Barbara, and their new-born baby. They were pleasant people. Andy made model aircraft and liked showing them off to me and my sister, and we occasionally played games of badminton over the garden fence with him.
They had a lot of visitors who, if Andy and Barbara weren’t in, would frequently wait in our house until they were home; my Mum would make them cups of tea and chat (she was very good at chatting!)
One such visitor was a guy called Marty from New Zealand. I remember he was dressed in a white suit the first time I met him at our kitchen table. Strange the things that stick in your mind.
Months passed without any kind of event until early one morning – just before 7am – a dozen or so cars screeched into the cul-de-sac side road where our house was located.
Men jumped out of the cars, spotted the number 24 on the nearest house and raced up our front path, presuming the houses would be numbered as odds and evens, and that we were number 26.
But, the houses were numbered sequentially on Robin Hey – we were at number 25, and 26 was next door where Andy and Barbara lived.
My Dad was in the middle of brushing his teeth when a gang of armed police hammered on the front door. He said he almost swallowed his toothbrush.
The mistake soon realised, everyone charged to the next house along, the door was kicked in – and we soon found ourselves living right on top of an active crime scene.
Of course at the time, we had no idea what was going on – but it wasn’t long before the press began to arrive en-masse, and we were able to find out.
There had been a newspaper story the week before in which two recreational scuba divers had been exploring a nearby flooded quarry – Ecclestone Delph. The place was full of junk – old fridges, abandoned cars, etc. So, it was a popular location for local divers.
However, on this occasion, the shocked scuba enthusiasts had discovered more than they bargained for beneath the surface.
They found a body, caught on a ledge just a few metres down. If it had missed and sunk lower, it may never have been found.
Obviously, the police gave little away, but the story was to progress over the following few days to explain that the victim’s teeth had been destroyed, and both his hands had been cut off and remained missing – both deformations a way of obscuring the identity of the individual.
In an attempt at gathering names, the man’s face was rebuilt and posters of this death mask were printed to pass around in pubs and clubs. The search for the missing hands – and vital fingerprints (this was well before modern DNA testing), went onto overdrive.
The press called the case The Handless Corpse.
They postulated the murder was a professional hit, ordered from the top ranks of an international drug ring.
But that wasn’t exactly the case.
Thanks to a unique medallion the victim was wearing, he was soon identified as Martin Johnstone – a New Zealand drug dealer who had, apparently, been a little too flashy with his earnings and whose behaviour had over-stepped the mark.
The guy in the white suit I’d met in my kitchen.
He’d been murdered by Andy. My next door neighbour.
How do I know? Because Barbara and her friend, Julie, walked into the police station in Leyland a few days later and confessed.
Andy had run when he realised that he was about to be given up. For the next week or two, police staged a scene at number 26 Robin Hey. A lookalike female police officer moved in, along with several armed – and hidden – personnel. They were there to trick Andy in case he came back to the house.
Parked in the streets outside were cars full of detectives and plain-clothed officers. My mum used to send me over with flasks of tea and sandwiches for them. One of the officers threatened to arrest me if I didn’t take the 50p tip he offered me!
Andy was caught re-entering the UK at Heathrow Airport some time later, tried and convicted. He was given life in prison.
In 1992, a TV movie was made about the story called All Good Friends. Much of the footage was shot in and around the original houses and the quarry where the body was dumped.
I watched the film when it was released on DVD.
At one point, shortly after the murder, Victor McGuire as Andy is at home, mulling over what he has done when there is a sudden noise, causing him to panic.
“Relax!” says another character. “It’s just the kids next door…”
i.e. me, my sister and brother!
It has often been said that Andy had no choice in killing Marty. That he would have been targeted if he had not gone through with his orders. I don’t know if that is true or not.
From what I believe, Andy left prison a broken man, and was taken in by his elderly parents who continue to care for him.
As an author – and someone who was there when all this was happening – I’ve occasionally wondered whether I should write the book that tells the story from Andy’s perspective.
I’ll begin this final section by saying that I have absolutely no belief in the work of mediums, astrologers, fortune tellers or anyone else who professes to be able to talk to the dead or see the future – for profit or otherwise. I think they are scandalous, wicked people, out to prey on the weak and unhappy.
The year is now 2005. I’ve just met Kirsty and we’ve been on a couple of dates. On this particular night, there was a ‘spiritualist’ performing above a pub in Bedlington, where we both lived. Kirsty wanted to go along but I wasn’t so keen, for the reasons stated above.
However, I liked her and didn’t want the night to end early, so I went with her.
The first 20 minutes were laughable, to the point where I even suspected the guy might be a parody act.
“Does anyone know a John? John? Could be Jack? John or Jack? How about Jerry? It begins with J. It sounds like a J, at least. It could be a K. Keith? Does anyone know a Keith? Kenneth? What about a Steven…?”
It was going to be a long night.
Then, around 20 minutes in, the guy paused and points to the row at the back where Kirsty and I were sitting…
MEDIUM: “Someone there is a writer.”
I nearly shat myself.
ME: “Er… yes.”
MEDIUM: “And you’re considering a new book…”
MEDIUM: “About some very bad people.”
ME: (Croak) “Yes.”
MEDIUM: “He’s telling you to leave it alone.”
MEDIUM: “He says these people are too dangerous. That they’ll get what they deserve in the due course of time. He’s telling you to go no further.”
Then, as quickly as it had happened, he was back to the front row. “Does anyone here ever have an Auntie Carol? Caroline? Claire? Does anyone here know a woman of any description?”
I didn’t take a breath until I was at the bar.
In a pub two streets away.
And I’ve just scared myself writing about it again now.
Maybe I’d be better off sticking to books about reluctant werewolves and action hero mummies?!