Notorious child killer Raymond Leslie Morris, who raped and murdered a seven-year-old girl and was suspected of strangling two others, has DIED behind bars aged 84.
Morris was caged for life after he snatched schoolgirl Christine Darby off a street and strangled her before dumping her body on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, in 1967.
He was also prime suspect in the murders of five-year-old Diane Tift, from Bloxwich, West Mids., and six-year-old Margaret Reynolds, from Aston, Birmingham, who disappeared in 1965.
The bodies of all three girls’, who had also been sexually assaulted and strangled, were dumped within a few miles of each other beside the A34 on Cannock Chase in 1966 and 1967.
The killings shocked the country and sparked one of the biggest murder investigations in British criminal history – dwarfing even the man-hunt for Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
Morris – dubbed the ‘Monster of Cannock Chase’ – was jailed in 1969 and spent 45 years in prison before his death.
The Ministry of Justice confirmed Morris, who lived just 13 miles from where he dumped his young victims’ bodies, died in HMP Preston at 8pm on Tuesday.
He is believed to have died of natural causes.
The former engineer and factory worker had been transferred from nearby HMP Wymott where he had been serving his sentence.
The Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has launched an investigation as is required by law.
It was in January 1966 that the bodies of two little girls were found buried in a ditch in the heart of the wooded Staffordshire beauty spot.
Diane Tift had gone missing while playing with friends outside her Bloxwich home two weeks earlier.
Margaret Reynolds had vanished as she walked to school in Aston, the previous September.
Police said the girls had fallen prey to a crazed sex monster who had used the A34 to get to the forest after the abductions.
A year later, the body of Christine Darby was discovered on Cannock Chase by a soldier – just a mile from the first grim discovery.
She had also been taken from near her home before being brutally strangled and sexually assaulted.
The hunt for the Cannock Chase child killer saw 150 detectives visit 39,000 homes, interview 80,000 people and check more than a million car records before Morris’s arrest.
Morris was spoken to four times but slipped through the net when his wife gave him an alibi. She later became a key prosecution witness.
In 2011 Morris broke his silence insisting he was an innocent man.
He said: “No acquisitions of guilt can ever compensate the loss that the families involved must feel.
“But I will always maintain that I am not responsible for the murder of Christine Darby and hopefully my fight for justice will uncover the truth.
“I can only say over and over again, I didn’t do it, and hope that someone will listen.”
The sister of five-year-old Diane Tift, who is believed to have been one of three victims murdered by Raymond Morris, said: “I’m glad he is dead.”
Jean Buttery was 11 when her little sister Diane was snatched off the street as she walked to her gran’s house in Bloxwich, West Mids.
After a high profile search for the youngster her body was found on January 12, 1966 in a ditch at Mansty Gully, Cannock Chase.
Her body was found dumped alongside six-year-old Margaret Reynolds.
Jean, 59, who still lives in Bloxwich, yesterday branded Morris “pure evil.”
She said: “I’m glad he is dead but it will never bring my sister back.
“It does bring some closure but you never forget. I think he was low-life scum. He was evil. Pure evil.”
CANNOCK CHASE MURDERS TIMELINE
December 1, 1964: Nine-year-old Julia Taylor is abducted, raped, strangled and left for dead but saved by a passerby.
September 8, 1965: Six-year-old Margaret Reynolds goes missing on her way to school in Aston, Birmingham.
December 30, 1965: Five-year-old Diane Tift goes missing on her way to her grandmother’s house in Bloxwich, West Mids.
January 12, 1966: The bodies of Margaret Reynolds and Diane Tift are found at Cannock Chase.
August 14, 1966: Ten-year-old Jane Taylor disappears near Cannock Chase and is never seen again.
August 19, 1967: Seven-year-old Christine Darby is lured into a car by a man near with a local accent.
August 22, 1967: Christine Darby’s body is found on Cannock Chase.
November 4, 1968: A failed attempt to abduct ten-year-old Margaret Aulton is witnessed and police are called.
November 15, 1968: Carol Morris is shown the pornographic pictures that her husband took of her five-year-old niece and retracts her statement giving him an alibi for the day Chistine Darby was murdered.
November 16, 1968: Raymond Leslie Morris is charged with the murder of Christine Darby and is remanded in custody.
February 18, 1969: The seven day trial ends with Morris found guilty of murder. He is sentenced to life imprisonment.
August 2010: Morris begins an appeal.
November 2010: Morris is granted a judicial review in the case of the murder of Christine Darby. The review is overturned.
May 2011: Morris breaks a 40-year silence, claims his innocence and says he may go to the European court of human rights. He later says he will make no further appeal and will probably end his days in prison.
March 11, 2014: Morris confirmed dead at 8pm at health facility in HMP Preston.