Hannibal the Cannibal
"When I kill, I think I have my parents in mind"
After suffering years of abuse at the hands of his parents, Robert Maudsley ran away from home and began working as a prostitute in London to support his drug habit. It was there that he committed his first murder in 1973, for which he received a life sentence, however it would be behind bars that Maudsley would commit his most notorious crimes. Sent to the high-security psychiatric hospital at Broadmoor, he and another prisoner held a suspected paedophile hostage, torturing him for hours before killing him. He was then sent to Wakefield Prison, but disliking the transfer he committed two more murders on the same day, allegedly eating the brain of one of his victims. Because of that incident the press have dubbed him the British Hannibal Lector, the Cannibal Serial Killer from the movie Silence of the Lambs.
Robert John Maudsley was born on June 26, 1953, the fourth of twelve children, he was sent to an orphanage when he was still a baby along with his brothers Paul and Kevin, and sister Brenda, who had all been taken into care after they were found to be suffering from ‘parental neglect’. For the next six years he would be raised by the nuns at the Nazareth House Roman Catholic orphanage in Crosby, Merseyside. When he and his three siblings returned to the family home in the Toxteth area of Liverpool they found his parents had four more children. It was then that the young children were subjected to horrifying systematic physical abuse.
His brother Paul remembers, “At the orphanage we had all got on really well. Our parents would come to visit, but they were just strangers. The nuns were our family and we all used to stick together. Then our parents took us home and we were subjected to physical abuse. It was something we’d never experienced before. They just picked on us one by one, gave us a beating and sent us off to our room.” The worst was reserved for Robert and he was regularly abused by his parents, and would later claim he was raped as a child. Robert was younger than his brothers, and never knew them at all. “All I remember of my childhood is the beatings. Once I was locked in a room for six months and my father only opened the door to come in to beat me, four or six times a day. He used to hit me with sticks or rods and once he bust a .22 air rifle over my back.”
He was eventually taken away by social services and then placed in a series of foster homes. His father, a lorry driver, told the rest of the family young Robert had died. In his teenaged years he went to London where he soon began taking drugs and was forced to resort to prostitution to support his growing addiction. It during his time as a rent boy that he was picked up by builder John Farrell on March 14, 1974, who took him back to his flat in North London for sex. When Farrell produced some photographs of a young girl he had abused, 21-year-old Maudsley flew into a rage and slowly garrotted him to death, watching as the man’s face turned blue before hitting him over the head with a hammer.
Arrested for this crime, he was found not fit to stand trial, but instead was sent to Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane and remained there for three years. Assessed by doctors, who believed his early childhood abuse left him with deep psychological scars. On February 26, 1977, Maudsley would commit his next murder. Maudsley and another inmate, David Cheeseman took another patient named David Francis into a cell, barricaded the door and tied him up with flex from a record player holding his hostage. 26-year-old Francis was a suspected child abuser and both men tortured him to death over a period of almost 10 hours, with prison officers listening nearby, unable to help.
Despite killing a fellow patient in Broadmoor, Maudsley was found fit to stand trial and was convicted of manslaughter. He was to Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire, which was known as Monster Mansion. Maudsley was reportedly unhappy with the move and requested a return to Broadmoor, which was denied. When he arrived at the prison, Maudsley discovered that his reputation had preceded him. He was widely considered to be a dangerous prisoner, with the other inmates referring to him as “Hannibal the Cannibal” and “Brain-eater”, and many kept their distance, believing him to be unpredictable and psychotic. He had only been in the prison several days when he began another killing spree.
On the afternoon of July 28, 1978, Maudsley committed his most notorious murders. His first victim that day was 46-year-old Salney Darwood, a murderer serving a conviction for the manslaughter of his wife Blanche, who was invited into Maudsley’s cell and then garrotted and stabbed to death. Hiding the body under his bed, he then stalked the wing looking for more victims. His attempts to lure other prisoners into his cell failed because they were all wary and refused. One inmate later said, “They could all see the madness in his eyes.” Eventually he cornered inmate 56-year-old inmate Bill Roberts in his cell, stabbing him to death. Maudsley then hacked Roberts skull open with a makeshift dagger and smashed his head against the wall.
After this he walked into the prison officer’s guardroom, calmly placed a serrated home-made knife on the desk and informed the guards that they would be two less names when it came to the next roll-call. When officers found Roberts body, they allegedly found a spoon protruding from his skull, Maudsley having eaten part of his brain. During his 1979 trial, the court heard that during his violent rages, Maudsley would believe his victims were his parents. His lawyer argued that the killings were the result of pent-up aggression resulting from the many years of systematic abuse.
“When I kill, I think I have my parents in mind,” Maudsley said. “If I had killed my parents in 1970, none of these people need have died. If I had killed them, then I would be walking around as a free man without a care in the world.” Convicted of the double murder, Maudsley was inexplicably sent back to Wakefield Prison. There the Governor refused to place him in the general population, for his and other inmates safety, he was moved into solitary confinement.
Maudsley spent a period of his confinement at Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight, where he met psychiatrist Dr. Bob Johnson, who spent three years interviewing and counselling him. Dr. Johnson believed that Maudsley was making great progress and was three quarters of the way through removing the aggression and latent violence that made him such a danger. But then, without warning, this treatment was abruptly ended and Maudsley was moved back to Wakefield.
“As far as I can tell, the prison authorities are trying to break him,” says his brother Paul. “Every time they see him making a little progress, they throw a spanner in the works. He spent a time in Woodhill prison, and there he was getting on well with the staff, even playing chess with them. He had access to books and music and television. Now they have put him back in the cage at Wakefield. His troubles started because he got locked up as a kid. All they do when they put him back there is bring all that trauma back to him.” Maudsley agrees with this stating “All I have to look forward to is further mental breakdown and possible suicide. In many ways, I think this is what the authorities hope for. That way the problem of Robert John Maudsley can be easily and swiftly resolved.”
He was now considered the most dangerous prisoners in the UK prison system, and in 1983 plans were made to construct a special unit because was deemed to much of a threat to be kept in the general population. Prison authorities had a two-cell unit built in the basement of F wing in Wakefield Prison which was known as the “glass cage” because of its resemblance to Hannibal Lector’s cell. At around 5.5m by 4.5m, it is slightly larger than the average cell and has large bulletproof windows through which Maudsley can be observed and the only furnishings are one table and a chair which were made from compressed cardboard. It was considered a long-term solution because Maudsley would never be considered for release due to his notoriety of his crimes.
Behind a solid steel door that opens into a small cage within the cell, encased in thick Perspex, with a small slot at the bottom through which guards pass him food and other items, there Maudsley languishes within his new surroundings. Prisoner #467637 was left to serve out his sentence in almost complete isolation. The view from his tiny cell window is a brick wall, and he spends 23 hours of his day locked up, with only one hour for exercise, during which he is accompanied by six prison guards who escort him back and forth from his cell. He is not allowed contact with any other inmates. In the early years of his sentence he would befriend cockroaches and for the next twelve years he let his fingernails grow like talons and hair his grew long and wispy because no prison barber would venture into his cell.
It is a level of isolation to which no other inmate, not even the despised Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were subjected. Despite his reputation, Maudsley is considered to possess a near genius level IQ and has a passion for fine art, literature, classical music and poetry. He regularly writes letters to prison officials, describing his life behind bars as “like being buried alive in a concrete coffin”, and has also written to newspapers about his treatment, describing how “Prison authorities see me as a problem. Their solution has been to put me in solitary confinement and throw away the key, to bury me alive in a concrete coffin. I am left to stagnate, vegetate and regress…”. He is known throughout the prison by other inmates, who refer to him by the nicknames “blue”, because of the colour his victims turned before death and “spoons”, after his use of one after the murder of Bill Roberts.
Although he is allowed no contact with other inmates, there are other inmates considered too dangerous who are held within the basement at Wakefield. One such inmate is Charles Salvador, formerly known as Charles Bronson who was sent to Wakefield as one of Britain’s most violent prisoners for his involvement in numerous hostage situations. When he arrived at Wakefield, Bronson attempted to form a friendship with Maudsley, suggesting the two should “team up”, and sent a watch to Maudsley telling the guard to “give that to Bob”. However Maudsley sent it back, telling someone, “I’m never getting out, what do I want a watch for? Give it back”.
Because of this Bronson took offence and allegedly said, “I’m going to kill you when I see you”. Maudsley would often jokingly reply back, “You’ve never killed anyone, you soft cunt!”. Reportedly, the two inmates would often get along, and at other time they would clash. Once Bronson left his trademark John Lennon sunglasses in the gym, and Maudsley went and found them. Bronson threatened to sue the prison system for £250, and Maudsley eventually returned them telling the guard, “tell Charlie to stick them up his arse”.
Although he has become resigned to his fate inside his Perspex prison, Maudsley has made several requests to prison officials. Sometime in 2000 he asked for the terms of his imprisonment be relaxed and he be allowed a pet Budgerigar, but was denied, and so he requested permission to commit suicide through the use of a cyanide capsule. That same year Jane Heaton began writing to Maudsley and has visited him several times. She said, “Since getting to know Bob, I have seen many prison documents about him, everyone concentrates on the crimes he committed 25 years ago. It’s as if they are living in a time loop and no one is prepared to look at how he is now. I would like to see him get an independent review of his condition and find a suitable course of treatment for him.”
In 2010 he pleaded with the Home Office to be allowed to play board games with prison staff, to help alleviate the monotony of his life in solitary. He was interviewed in prison and was quoted as saying, “If I had killed my parents in 1970, none of these people need have died”. The most recent photographs of Maudsley were more than twenty years ago old, and were taken from a documentary made about his time in prison a few years into his regime of solitary. The harsh conditions of his solitary imprisonment have taken a tremendous toll on his health, and by 2003 Maudsley looked far older than his 49 years. He has grown a grey beard, his hair is long and wispy and his skin, pale from lack of sunlight, is sucked in across his cheekbones. With the death of Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer on May 15, 2017, Maudsley is now the UK’s longest serving prisoner.