Life for brutal hammer killer who murdered pensioner in Lancaster
Looking back on brutal murder at a garage in Lancaster in 1977 solved in 2001 after the murderer’s wife went to police
Charles Gunn, 72, was beaten with a hook hammer on the night of November 6, 1977 at the Dutton Forshaw garage on Slyne Road, Lancaster.
Charles, known to his friends as John, of Willow Lane, Lancaster, was a part-time petrol pump attendant and it was about 10pm, when he was locking up, that the assailant struck. Charles died in the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on December 2 from meningitis caused by head injuries which included three fractures of the skull and a broken jaw. He had been found by another worker, Elizabeth Duff, of Price Close, Lancaster, when she arrived at the garage seven hours after the attack, finding him lying in pouring rain. Missing from the safe was £234. By January, 1978, police had visited 20,000 homes in the area, taken 3,000 statements and received about 100 confidential and anonymous calls on a special telephone line. Dutton Forshaw offered a £1,000 reward. Police believed that a local gang may have been involved. They issued several descriptions of people they wished to interview. One was of a man aged about 18, of slim build and about 5ft 7in tall. He had black, straight, collar-length hair and had been wearing a black, leather look waist-length jacket with size zip. The police believed this man had gone into a Lancaster off-licence shortly after the attack with a number of 50p pieces which he spent on cigarettes. Another suspect was described as a fair-haired youth who had been seen in the area at 9.45pm with three other youths.
Eventually enquiries spread throughout Britain although the police believed Charles Gunn’s killer was local. In 2001 the police reopened the case following new information received. The result was that just days later a man living in Preston, at Woodacre, Moor Nook, Brian George Garrity, aged 45, appeared before Lancaster magistrates charged with murder. He was remanded to appear at Preston Crown Court on August 31. He was also charged with robbery.
What had led to Garrity’s arrest was the DNA and forensic analysis of the hammer and items of Charles Gunn’s clothing, methods that had not been available at the time of the killing.
Detective Superintendent Buscini was quoted as saying: “ We are now able to use the very latest techniques, such as DNA. We are more than hopeful that these will lead us to the person or persons who so savagely ended a life at that garage all those years ago.” (Citizen, August 23).In March 2002, Garrity pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to murder. Judge Peter Openshaw sentenced him to life imprisonment . The story came out that Garrity’s wife, Jane, had known of her husband’s crime and kept the secret until the day of their divorce in December 2000. She had then gone to the police. Garrity had left her for another woman. Jane, who had been 18 at the time of the killing, had originally told police that Garrity had been at home with her. During the next 23 years, when they had rows, she threatened to go to the police. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute her. Judge Openshaw (whose own father William had been murdered), told Garrity: “ I well remember the shock and outrage that this offence caused in Lancaster at the time. No doubt the reason you then escaped arrest and conviction was that you attacked the only eye witness who could have described and possibly later identified you. The brutality and savagery of this murder have not been lessened by the passage of time. The sentence for murder is laid down by the law. It applied in 1977 as it applies now and that is life imprisonment. You must expect to spend many years in prison before even being considered for release.”
The following month Garrity’s wife, now living in Halifax, revealed: “I thought he’d kill me as well. He beat me senseless to keep quiet. I used to cry myself to sleep. Later, I found out he had been hitting my mum as well. He punched me for the slightest thing. He smashed my face after I bought the wrong flavour of crisps.”(Lancashire Evening Post, April 29).