Black Panther's evil trail of murder.
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Black Panther's evil trail of murder DONALD Neilson turned from cat burglar to deadly Black Panther when he gunned down Baxenden sub-postmaster Derek Astin and sparked one of Britain's biggest ever manhunts. In the first of a series of six features retracing the steps of some of East Lancashire's most notorious killers, crime reporter NICK EVANS looks back at the case and talks to one of the detectives who helped bring him to justice. JUST before four in the morning on September 6, 1974, Baxenden sub postmaster Derek Astin woke to find a hooded intruder in his bedroom. He cried out and leapt out from his bed to tackle the man, pushing him along the corridor and into the bathroom. As he did so the intruder pulled out a shotgun and blasted the postmaster at point blank range in the shoulder, before fleeing through a downstairs window. Despite the best efforts of his wife Marion and ambulance crews, Derek Astin died from his wounds in Blackburn Infirmary later the same morning. The killer was later unmasked as the notorious Black Panther, Donald Neilson, convicted two years later of the murder of Derek Astin, two more sub postmasters and Shropshire heiress Lesley Whittle.
Forensic experts from Preston were called in to help with the enquiry and police dogs were used to scour the scene around the shooting. Sixty police officers, some of them authorised firearm users, took part in the investigation, led by Det Supt Joe Mounsey, head of Lancashire CID. An incident room was set up at Accrington police station to collate the information. One of the policemen assigned to the case was newly promoted Detective Sergeant Jim Oldcorn. Now retired and living in Great Harwood he recalls the murder as if it were yesterday. "I recollect it all vividly," he said. "Derek was a well liked and well respected member of the community and many of the policemen on the case knew him personally because they used to go into the shop. "On that first morning when Joe Mounsey briefed the troops, there was a feeling of sadness and outrage that this man had been killed in wicked circumstances. It reminds you how wicked and evil people can be." The murder investigation was a thorough and painstaking process lasting more than 15 months.
There was also a copy of the police photofit, pictures of guns and hoards of weapons. One doctor who examined Neilson after his arrest said although he was 39 he had the body of a 20-year-old. He would roll, cat-like from his cell bed and do 50 fingertip press ups with no sign of exertion. Another said the muscles on his back rippled like those of a panther when he leaned forward. The Black Panther was convicted in July 1976 of the murders of Derek Astin and postmasters Donald Skipper, 56, of Harrogate and Sidney Grayland, 54, of Langley in the West Midlands, as well as Shropshire heiress Lesley Whittle. Neilson was born Donald Nappy on August 1, 1936 but his school nickname of Nappyrash prompted him to change his surname. His father, Gilbert, worked in a woollen mill. His mother, Phyllis, died of cancer when he was 14. After a spell in the army where he learned to use a variety of guns, Neilson became a self-employed joiner, described by neighbours as a loner but a "nice chap." It is a description the families of Neilson's victims would find a baffling contrast to the callous killer they knew as the Black Panther. Black Panther ??1?? 03/05/07
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