Abusive husband drowned in his own pond after stabbing his wife and setting her car alight in rural Chorley

A salesman - wanted by police after stabbing his wife and pouring petrol over his daughter - deliberately drowned himself, a coroner has ruled.

By Catherine Musgrove
Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 3:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th May 2019, 4:28 pm
John Cowley
John Cowley

John Cowley was described by his estranged wife as ‘controlling’ and ‘possessive’ at an inquest into his death at Preston Coroner’s Court yesterday.

A high-profile manhunt was launched for the 63-year-old, after he stabbed his wife Alison multiple times as she waited in her car outside the former marital home in Moody Lane, Mawdesley, to pick up their 15-year-old daughter on October 10 last year.

Mrs Cowley reported how he looked “cold and menacing but otherwise calm in manner” in the seconds before the attack.

CCTV footage of the car on fire in Moody Lane

Afterwards, and with his seriously injured wife still inside, Cowley used a blow-torch to set the car on fire. Despite her injuries, she and her daughter managed escape with the help of a passer-by.

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Cowley walked away. His body was discovered eight days later by police divers, face-down in a small lake at the rear of his property.

A Home Office Post Mortem, carried out by Dr Alison Armour, revealed there was a deep cut to the front of Cowley’s neck.

A CCTV image of John Cowley at a petrol station shortly before the premeditated attack. He was found dead in a pond wearing the same clothes on October 18, 2018.

Coroner James Newman also said there were a number of other injuries to his chest, arms, and minor bruising to his legs.

Dr Armour stated the wounds were “typical of self-infliction”, but that none of the injuries had damaged any major arteries and were insufficient to have caused his death.

The official cause of death was by drowning.

There was no evidence of any third-party involvement in Cowley’s death, and a hand-written amendment to his will was found inside the house.

The scene of the attack - Mr Cowley's home, Woodvale, in Moody Lane, Mawdesley.

Recording a verdict of suicide, Mr Newman said: “Mr Cowley deliberately and wilfully entered a water hazard with the intention of ending his life.”

The attack on Alison Cowley came eight weeks after she broke free from their “unhappy” 26-year marriage.

The teaching assistant did not attend yesterday’s hearing, instead she issued a statement which was read to the court by the coroner.

Mr Newman said: “Alison recalled John had been very controlling in their relationship, engaged in mind-games and was possessive.

“He had no regard for authority, especially the police, and often thought he was better than everybody else and lacked empathy for other people.”

The pair had been together for 29 years and married for 26. Mrs Cowley’s statement said the marriage became unhappy within the first few years, and when she finally left him, Cowley had refused to support her.

Her statement said he had a history of being verbally aggressive and had intimated physical violence, but there had been no previous violence.

Det Insp Steve Monks, who lead the hunt for Cowley, also gave a written statement to the court.

In it, he said that Mrs Cowley had reported an incident of domestic abuse and threatening behaviour on August 15, 2018, after which, Cowley had his firearms license removed.

Later that month, Mrs Cowley reported her car stolen and threats by her husband, who had keys to the car.

At that time, Mrs Cowley had told the police he stated he would kill himself and would kill her if she was to see anyone else.

Dr Gaskell, of Croston Medical Centre, was the last GP to see Cowley before his death, on September 27, 2018. He had asked her for help after trouble sleeping following the breakdown of his marriage.

She reported that he appeared “anxious and shocked”, that he wasn’t eating or sleeping, but had told her he had a supportive family.

He had told her that his mood was low since the separation, but did not consider himself depressed.

He had sought help for depression in 2006, but was not under the care of any mental health service at the time of his death.

Dr Gaskell said she thought that he was anxious and tired, but otherwise behaving “completely appropriately”. She prescribed diazepam and remembered him saying, “I’ll be fine” before leaving the surgery.

Mrs Cowley was taken to hospital in Liverpool by air ambulance, and was discharged after five days.

The case was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), in relation to the missing person search.

Mr Newman said of the IPCC report: “It was entirely non-critical to the missing persons enquiry and noted the difficulty of a lack of specific evidence in terms of location, which may have delayed though not prevented the outcome.”