Suffer Little Children, the final song on The Smith’s self-titled debut album (1984), is a chilling and sombre account of The Moors Murders, carried out by Myra Hindley and Ian Brady between July 1963 and October 1965. It would be a further year before Hindley and Brady confessed to the murders and the full extent of the crimes that inspired Suffer Little Children would come to light. At the time of the song’s writing and release, Hindley and Brady had both maintained their innocence and had not told the police about two of the murders, hence Suffer Little Children only including the names of three of the victims.
“Over the moor, take me to the moor, Dig a shallow grave, And I’ll lay me down”
The first victim of the killer couple was the 16 year old Pauline Reade, Hindley’s neighbour. Reade had disappeared on her way to a dance at the British Railways Club in Gorton, Manchester, on the 12th July 1963. On the same evening, Brady had told Hindley that he wanted to “commit his perfect murder”. He told Hindley to drive her van around the local area whilst he followed on his motorcycle. Upon spotting the victim for “his perfect murder”, he would flash his headlights and Hindley was to stop to offer that person a lift.
Driving down Gorton Lane, Brady saw a young girl walking towards them and signalled Hindley to stop, which she did not do until she had passed the girl. Brady stopped his motorbike alongside Hindley’s van and demanded to know why she had not offered the girl a lift, to which Hindley replied that she recognised the girl as Marie Ruck, a neighbour of her mother’s.
Shortly after this failed attempt, at around 8pm, the couple were driving down Froxmer Street when Brady noticed a girl wearing a pale blue coat and white high-heeled shoes walking away from them. Brady once again signalled for Hindley to stop. Upon stopping, Hindley recognised the girl as Pauline Reade, a friend of her younger sister, Maureen. Reade accepted a lift from Hindley. Hindley told Reade that she had lost an expensive glove on Saddleworth Moor and asked if she would mind helping her to find it. Reade said she was in no hurry and agreed to helping Hindley.
Reade was 16 years old, a few years older than their intended first victim, Maria Ruck. Hindley realised that there would be slightly less commotion over the death of a teenager than there would be over a child of seven or eight. Upon reaching the moor, Hindley stopped her van and Brady arrived shortly afterwards on his motorcycle. She introduced him to Reade as her boyfriend and said he had also come to find the missing glove. When questioned, Hindley told the police that Brady had taken Reade onto the moor whilst Hindley waited in the van. After about 30 minutes, Brady returned alone and took Hindley to the place where Reade lay dying. Her throat had been cut twice with a large knife, with the larger of these wounds being across her voice box. The collar of Reade’s coat had been pushed into the wound in a deliberate fashion.
Whilst Brady had gone to find the spade which he had hidden nearby to bury the body, Hindley told of how she had noticed that Reade’s coat was undone and her clothes were untidy, leading Hindley to guess that Brady had sexually assaulted her. However, Brady’s account of the murder differs greatly. Brady claimed that Hindley was present at the crime scene and that she even took part in the sexual assault. After burying Reade’s body, Brady put his motorcycle in the back of Hindley’s van. Whilst returning home, Hindley and Brady passed Reade’s mother, Joan, who was accompanied by her son, Paul. Hindley and Brady stopped to help Joan search the streets for her daughter.
Oh John, you’ll never be a man, And you’ll never see your home again”.
The second victim of The Moors Murders was 12 year old John Kilbride. Hindley and Brady approached Kilbride at a market in Ashton-Under-Lyne in the early evening of the 23rd of November 1963. The couple offered Kilbride a lift home, telling him that his parents would be worried about him being out so late. They bribed Kilbride with a bottle of sherry and he got into the Ford Anglia car that Hindley had recently hired. Once in the car, Brady told Kilbride that the sherry was at the couple’s home and that they would have to make a detour to collect it before dropping him home. Once they were on their way, Brady suggested another detour to search for a glove which he said Hindley had lost on the moor. Upon reaching the moor, Brady took to the child with him to supposedly search for Hindley’s glove whilst Hindley waited in the car. Brady sexually assaulted Kilbride and attempted to slit his throat with a 6-inch serrated blade before eventually strangling him with a piece of string, possibly a shoelace.
“A woman said: “I know my son is dead, I’ll never rest my hands on his sacred head.””
The third victim was Keith Bennett, who vanished from his grandmother’s house in Longsight, Manchester, during the early evening of 16th June, 1964, four days after his twelfth birthday. Hindley asked Bennett for his help in loading some boxes into her Mini pick-up truck and told him that she would drive him home afterwards. Once she had lured him into the pick-up truck, she drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor, where Brady was waiting. Once again, Bennett was told that Hindley had lost a glove and she had asked for his help in finding it. Brady went with Bennett to find the fictitious glove. Hindley kept watch until 30 minutes later when Brady reappeared, alone and carrying a spade which had been hidden there earlier. When Hindley asked Brady how he had killed Bennett, he said he had sexually assaulted him and strangled him with a piece of string.
“Lesley Ann, with your pretty white beads”.
On the 26th December 1964, Hindley and Brady went to a local fairground in search of another victim. They noticed Lesley Ann Downey standing beside one of the rides. After realising Downey was on her own, they approached the 10 year old girl and deliberately dropped some of the shopping they were carrying close to her. They asked for Downey’s help in carrying the shopping to the couple’s car and then to their home. Downey agreed and once back at Hndley and Brady’s home, she was undressed, gagged and forced to pose for photographs before being raped and killed. It is suspected that like the previous two victims, Downey was strangled with a piece of string.
When questioned about the murder, Hindley maintained that she had gone to fill a bath for the child and on returning found the girl dead, killed by Brady. However, Brady stated that it was Hindley who killed Downey. The morning after the murder, Hindley and Brady drove Downey’s body to Saddleworth Moor and buried her, naked with her clothes at her feet, in a shallow grave.
“Edward, see those alluring lights? Tonight will be your very last night”.
The final victim of the couple was 17 year old engineer Edward Evans. On the 6th October 1965, Brady had met Evans at Manchester Central Railway Station. Hindley had driven Brady to Manchester Central Station and waited outside whilst Brady selected their victim. After a few minutes, Brady reappeared with Evans, introducing Hindley as his sister. Brady invited Evan’s back to the couple’s home at 16 Wardle Brook Avenue in Hattersley, Manchester for a drink, where Brady beat him to death with an axe.
This murder was to prove to be the couple’s undoing, as now becoming cocky and complacent, Brady had attempted to recruit Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith into their murderous plans. When the couple had arrived home with Evans, Brady had sent Hindley to fetch Smith. On returning with Smith, Hindley told Smith to wait outside for her signal, a flashing light. After the signal, Smith knocked on the door and was met by Brady who asked him if he come for “the miniature bottles of wine”. Brady led Smith into the kitchen and left him there, saying that he was going to collect the wine. A few minutes later, Smith heard a scream followed by Hindley shouting loudly for him to come and help. Smith rushed into the living room to the sight of Brady repeatedly striking Evans over the head with the flat of an axe. He watched in shock as Brady then throttled his victim with a length of electrical cord. During the process of killing Evans, Brady had sprained his ankle and the body was too heavy for Smith to take to the car on his own. They therefore wrapped the body in plastic sheeting and put it in the spare bedroom. Smith agreed to help Brady to dispose of Evans’s body the following evening. He went home and, horrified at what he had witnessed, told his wife, Maureen, what he had seen. The couple called the police from a public phone box at 6.07am the morning after the murder, the police searched the house and found the body of Edward Evans and Hindley and Brady were arrested.
When interrogated about the events, Hindley said “Whatever Ian has done, I have done”, alluded to in Suffer Little Children with the line “Wherever he has gone, I have gone”. Upon sentencing the couple to life imprisonment, the judge, Mr Justice Atkinson described Brady and Hindley as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity”.
“Oh, find me … find me, nothing more, We are on a sullen misty moor …”
Initially, the police were only aware of three killings, those of Edward Evans, Lesley Ann Downey and John Kilbride. The investigation was reopened in 1985 after Brady was reported in the press as having confessed to the murders of Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett. Hindley and Brady were taken separately to Saddleworth Moor to assist the police in their search for the bodies of Reade and Bennett, by then having both confessed to their murders.
Hindley was characterised by the press worldwide as “the most evil woman in Britain”. She made several attempts to have her life sentence overturned, claiming that she was reformed and no longer a danger to society, but was never released. Hindley died in 2002, aged 60 years old. Brady was declared criminally insane in 1985 and has since been confined to the high security Ashworth Hospital. He has made it clear that he never wants to be released and has repeatedly asked that he be allowed to die.
At the time of the murders, Morrissey was a child himself, being 4 years old in 1963, making the youngest victims not too much older than him. The reaction in Manchester was one of horror and disbelief that such acts could happen and also that one of the perpetrators was a woman, perhaps why the song focuses more on Hindley than Brady. In Suffer Little Children, Morrissey may allude to the shock felt that one of the perpetrators was a woman in the phrase “Hindley wakes …” Hindle Wakes is 1910 play by Stanley Houghton (which has since seen various film versions). The play criticises the patriarchal society’s view that women, unlike men, are not governed by the laws of nature, primarily those related to sexual desires. Therefore, by referring to the title of the play with the phrase “Hindley wakes”, Morrissey may be extending this criticism to include many peoples’ beliefs, particularly at the time of Hindley’s arrest, that a woman is not naturally capable of horrors such as the Moors Murders or that she could not have been a conscious participant, instead being manipulated by the man.
Morrissey wrote Suffer Little Children after reading Emlyn Williams’s book Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection (1967). It was one of the first songs that lyricist Morrissey wrote with guitarist Johnny Marr. The title of the song is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 19:14 in which Jesus rebukes his disciples for turning away a group of children by saying, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven”.
Suffer Little Children caused much controversy at the time of its release, particularly when placed in context of an album on which the opening song, Reel Around The Fountain, was said by many, including the press, to allude to a homosexual and potentially paedophilic relationship (“It’s time the tale were told, Of how you took a child, And you made him old”).
Similarly controversial at the time was track 5, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which the press also suggested was about paedophilia. These claims have been strongly denied by the band.
Suffer Little Children cause more controversy when it was featured on the B-side of the single Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984). The single featured an image of 1960’s pools winner Viv Nicholson who bore more than a passing resemblance to Myra Hindley, something that many newspapers picked up on. As a result, the single and album were both withdrawn from sale by some retailers, including Woolworths and Boots. Despite this, Morrissey later struck up a close friendship with Ann West, the mother of victim Lesley Ann Downey, after she accepted that the band’s intentions had been entirely honourable.