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TRCH The Da Vinci Code

Greed: The Story of the Mansfield Murders, the Subject of Upcoming Sky TV Series ‘Landscapers'

4 November 21 words: George White
illustrations: Charlotte Clarke

Just over two decades ago Susan and Christopher Edwards shot the former’s parents dead on a quiet cul-de-sac in Mansfield. It took sixteen years before the truth came to light and the pair were imprisoned for murder. We take a look back at one of Nottinghamshire's most shocking crimes ahead of the release of Landscapers, a Sky TV series exploring this unbelievable story, later this year…

We all get a little greedy sometimes, don’t we? We might nab one too many Celebrations at Christmas time, or find a pound coin on the floor and spend it on a can of Coke instead of giving it to charity. But you'd think all of us would agree that murdering our own parents, pretending they’re alive for over a decade and using their ongoing pension payments to fund an overpowering obsession with Hollywood memorabilia would take things more than a tad too far. 

Yet this was not beyond Susan Edwards and her husband Christopher as, in May 1998, the couple killed the former’s parents, Patricia and William Wycherley, at their home in Mansfield, in what then Detective Chief Inspector Rob Griffin described as a “cold and calculating” scheme to grab money they felt they were owed. 

For the following fifteen years the pair forged letters to the Department for Work and Pensions, wrote fake Christmas cards to relatives and created bogus stories to tell to neighbours, all in the hopes of keeping hold of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is a crime that shook Nottinghamshire and the country to its core when it was taken to court back in 2014, and a tale so peculiar it will be made into a Sky TV series starring the likes of Olivia Colman and David Thewlis later this year. And, above all else, it was one seemingly motivated by little more than the craving for a payout. 

It was the May Bank Holiday weekend back in 1998. Eurovision fever was ready to sweep the nation and Arsenal were edging their way towards a first league trophy since 1991. Yet on a small cul-de-sac in the heart of Forest Town, something far more shocking than a close title race was about to take place. Patricia and William Wycherley, a quiet, reserved couple who rarely spoke to neighbours or went out into the community, were to be shot dead by those closest to them. 

During an intense trial at Nottingham Crown Court in 2014, Susan Edwards claimed she was woken by a bang on the Sunday morning and rushed into her parents’ bedroom to find her father lying on the ground and her mother holding a revolver. After a heated argument, Susan said she was provoked into pulling the trigger on Patricia, who told her she was an “unwanted child”. 

A whole week passed, Susan went on to say, before she told Christopher the truth. The couple, a former librarian and a bookkeeper, claimed they had returned to their home in Croydon in that time, and it was only on their way back to Mansfield - as they stopped off for fish and chips - that she came clean about what had happened. Once they arrived at 2 Blenheim Close, Forest Town, Christopher agreed to bury his in-laws to save his wife from a life in prison, and the pair said they watched the Eurovision Song Contest before dumping the bodies under the back garden. This was all a tragic misunderstanding, they claimed, an angry exchange that simply spiralled out of control. 

But this is not how the court saw it, with the prosecution arguing that both were there at the house on that fateful night one week earlier. Furthermore, they believed Christopher himself had pulled the gun on both parents; as a former gun club member, he appeared to use a Second World War vintage .38 revolver with planned precision, with the shots seemingly too professional to have come from an act of self-defence. Neighbours also said they saw Christopher “up to his waist” digging in the garden over the weekend - well before Susan claimed he had found out.

 

In total, the pair stole an eye-watering £245,000 from their victims, siphoning off cash over fifteen years to fuel their own personal desires

Rather than an unfortunate incident, this was considered a deliberate act of vengeance - after Susan felt swindled over an inheritance she believed she was owed. Over time, this slow-burning resentment grew into a rage, and in a pre-planned attack the pair would wrestle back what they felt they deserved. 

Following a six hour deliberation, a jury of twelve unanimously decided that the couple were guilty of murder, and they were handed a minimum sentence of 25 years. This perceived desire for wealth, and the outrage they felt as a result of not getting what they wanted, had led to them being put behind bars - and for a long time. 

More shocking than the crime itself, though, is what happened between that day and the eventual trial some sixteen years later. Just 24 hours after that savage Sunday, Susan Edwards withdrew £40,000 from the Wycherleys’ account. From there, the lies and deceit spiralled - with the couple going to extreme lengths to keep up the illusion that her parents were alive for well over a decade. 

Christmas cards were written to family members, with some falsely “signed” by Patricia and William, and others written by Susan on their behalf. These would include stories about how the Wycherleys were travelling and enjoying their retirement. “It is like he is having his second youth now because when he does speak now he speaks of travel – and travelling,” one of the eerie notes to cousins said of William. “I cannot really keep up with where he is planning to settle!”

Letters were forged to the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure the Wycherleys’ pensions would make their way into the hands of the Edwardses, and hospital appointments were cancelled to avoid any further scrutiny of the sinister situation. 

The pair kept up the act face-to-face, too, with Christopher eventually telling neighbours that his in-laws had moved to Morecambe to see off any suspicion. One of these neighbours once told The Guardian that he’d ask how William and Patricia were doing in Lancashire: “‘Oh, they’re fine, they’re loving it up there, it’s just what they always wanted,’ Christopher would say. ‘He’s getting on a bit, he’s in his nineties, but he’s still having a little walk on the seafront.’” 

In total, the pair stole an eye-watering £245,000 from their victims, siphoning off cash over fifteen years to fuel their own personal desires. What was this money spent on? Well, their purchases are almost more astonishing than the crime. 

Over several years, the Edwardses spent tens of thousands of pounds on Hollywood memorabilia, splashing £20,000 on a signed Frank Sinatra photo and £14,000 on Gary Cooper autographs. Susan had also falsified letters from French actor Gérard Depardieu for a decade and a half, leading Christopher to believe they were pen pals. It appeared their obsession with the film world had affected their decision-making in the real one, causing them to hide the truth so they could continue living in their own fantasy. 

Eventually, it was a simple letter from the DWP that unravelled this elaborate scheme, with the government requesting a face-to-face meeting with William Wycherley for what they believed to be his hundredth birthday.

They decided on a course of action. They said: 'We will travel to Mansfield, we will kill this couple, who we know will not be missed, and take all of their money.'

Worried that the jig was up, they fled to Lille in France, with Christopher reportedly stealing £10,000 from his employer to fund the move. Quickly, the couple became strapped for cash, and found themselves a whopping £160,000 in debt. Rather than sell their prized assets, a panicked Christopher called his stepmother to ask for a loan - and ended up telling her the truth. Horrified, she called the police and, in 2013, the couple surrendered to Border Force authorities on the French coast. 

Stealing money from your deceased parents and using it to fund your own hobbies seems like the workings of nothing but greed, a sheer desperation to gain something for yourself even at the expense of others. Yet for Dr Simon Duff, Director of Stage II Forensic Training at the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Forensic & Family Psychology, things may not be that simple. “If the primary motivator was greed then it is difficult to determine if this was a particularly strong case of greed,” he argues. “It seems that they had access to a finite amount of money and when that ran out they asked for more money. What they didn’t do, as far as I know, was do the same thing again – which we might have expected given that they were successfully getting away with it for a long time.

“Without assessing the individuals to explore what the motivators might have been, we are making hypotheses. If the reason for the murders was to access the money then one would want to untangle the extent to which this was due to greed or need. Could it also be the case that the murders were for other reasons (from what I have read the initial motivator might have been a sense of injustice about having money that was originally meant for them being taken away) and the access to the money was a secondary gain?” 

For Griffin, though, the case of this “unusual couple” was a clear one: “They decided on a course of action. They said: 'We will travel to Mansfield, we will kill this couple, who we know will not be missed, and take all of their money.' I would describe that as pretty cold and calculating.” Harsh words for a brutal crime.

Whether purely motivated by greed or not, this twisted, fascinating tale has attracted the attention of writer Ed Sinclair, with wife Olivia Colman joining a cast crammed with ridiculous talent - from Gundpower Milkshake’s Samuel Anderson to veteran actor Karl Johnson - for the upcoming Landscapers Sky TV series. 

Despite the quality of people involved, the man at the heart of it all isn’t fully convinced, with Griffin saying, “I have mixed emotions about the programme being made. It involves victims who have a family and people’s lives have been changed forever because of this. Having said that, I understand why people want to hear about this case. It’s a unique story and I will be interested to see how it plays out on television.” ‘Unique’ might be an understatement - this is a story that floored an entire community. 

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