Donald Neilson (aka The Black Panther) – 1975

By | January 27, 2017

Lesley was found naked and dead at the bottom of a sewer shaft



Donald Neilson known as The Black Panther because of the hood he wore as a disguise

Born on 1 August 1936, Donald Nappey served with the King’s Own Yorkshire Infantry in Kenya during his National Service. He later said it was the best time of his life. On the birth of his daughter, Kathryn, in 1960, Nappey changed his name to Neilson to stop her being teased at school. When his joinery business failed, Neilson turned to crime and burgled more than 400 houses. The returns from burglary were not great so he took to robbing sub-post offices. On 15 February 1974 he murdered sub-postmaster Donald Skepper in Harrogate. On 6 September he shot dead Derek Astin and on 11 November he killed Sidney Grayland in the West Midlands.

Neilson’s practice of wearing a black hood led to him being nicknamed The Black Panther. On 14 January 1975 he kidnapped 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle from her home in Highley, Shropshire. Neilson had planned her kidnap as early as May 1972 when he read an article in the Daily Express about the 582,500 she had inherited on the death of her father, George, who ran the Whittle coach business, one of Britain’s biggest private coach firms. Neilson left detailed instructions for the Whittle family on a piece of Dymo tape that he left in the family’s lounge. He demanded a £50,000 ransom.

Despite an intensive police search, the kidnapping ended in tragedy. On 7 March Lesley was found naked and dead at the bottom of an 18 m (60 ft) sewer shaft in Bathpool Country Park. She had been strangled using wire. On 11 December 1975 two policemen, Tony White and Stuart Mackenzie, spotted Neilson acting suspiciously outside a post office. They approached him and he pulled a sawn-off shotgun on them and ordered them to drive in their Panda car to Blidworth. Outside the Junction Fish and Chip Shop in Southwell Road the two policemen, helped by passer by Roy Morris, managed to disarm Neilson.


Highley, Shropshire, England


Tuesday 14 January 1975


Neilson’s trial began at Oxford Crown Court on 14 June 1975. On 1 July 1976 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He claimed that Lesley had died when she accidentally fell off the platform he had left her on. On 12 June 2008 Neilson was told that he must die in prison. Seventeen days later it was revealed that the multiple killer was suffering from motor neurone disease.

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