Book Review: Britain's Forgotten Serial Killer: The Terror of the Axeman by John Lucas
Having grown up in the UK, and with a love of true crime fostered by my mother who loved reading about serial killers, I was genuinely shocked to realise I had never even heard of Patrick Mackay, despite his killing at least five, possibly eleven or more people, in a period of just two years in the 1970s. In this excellent and detailed examination of Mackay’s life, crimes and victims, I learned all about this terrifying psychopath, a juvenile delinquent who killed seemingly on a whim and began a life in jail before his 22nd birthday. That’s right,he was barely out of his teens when he started killing, and Mackay is still in prison 44 years later, Britain’s longest-serving prisoner - though it seems not outside the realms of possibility that he could yet be released into the community, an alarming thought considering the nature of his crimes.
John Lucas has obviously done extensive research into as many of the original case files as he could access, as well as interviewed relatives of the victims and detectives who investigated the original cases, and the result is what is likely to be the definitive work on Patrick Mackay, especially since many files are sealed for decades yet to come and others may never see the light of day. Lucas does not shy away from describing the brutal nature of Mackay’s crimes or from delving into the background of abuse and deprivation which certainly contributed to Mackay’s antisocial attitude, but it’s Lucas’ sympathy for the innocent victims and sensitive writing about their deaths which really stands out. Almost half a century later, it would be easy to treat them as just names on the page, but Lucas has clearly made an effort to get to know them and describe the small details of their lives which caused them to cross paths with Mackay, making their tragedies really come to life for the reader.
It’s probable that Mackay’s case never achieved a great deal of notoriety because none of the cases never went to trial; he pleaded guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility in just three, and was jailed for life. What struck me was how careless Mackay was; he made no real effort to cover up his crimes, wandering around in bloodspattered clothes, leaving fingerprints behind at crime scenes and keeping jewellery and other souvenirs from his victims. It’s the way the mental health system was unable to keep the public safe from a man who was identified while still a child as ‘likely to kill a woman one day’ that’s truly chilling, though. Mackay spent his teenage years in and out of various psychiatric facilities including the infamous Moss Side in Liverpool and Tooting Bec, where doctors correctly identified him as a dangerous, violent psychopath but still didn’t have the power to keep him sectioned and off the streets.
This is a superbly researched, detailed examination of one of Britain’s worst serial killers, even though you very likely never heard of Patrick Mackay. Highly recommended for a fascinating read. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.