Episode 29 –The Murder of Eve Howells

Can pre-meditated murder be justified? To some, the idea of murder is more palatable if it was committed in self-defence or in the effort of saving someone else’s life. 

But what if the victim was the perpetrator of years of abuse and neglect and the offenders felt that the only way out was for to take their tormentor’s life? Do the means justify the end? 

Evelyn Howells Dalton was born and raised in Huddersfield, which lies to the northeast of Manchester. The township was founded in early Anglo-Saxon times and was initially renowned as a market village. During the industrial revolution of the early eighteen hundreds, Huddersfield became known as a hub for textile production. The rivers surrounding the town provided factories with the large volumes of water required to process textiles until mechanised weaving was invented and mills became a relic of the past. The area remains well regarded for wool fabric production but the largest employer in the region is now the University of Huddersfield. In more recent times Huddersfield is considered the origin of rugby league and the birthplace of two-time British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Can pre-meditated murder be justified? To some, the idea of murder is more palatable if it was committed in self-defence or in the effort of saving someone else’s life. 

But what if the victim was the perpetrator of years of abuse and neglect and the offenders felt that the only way out was for to take their tormentor’s life? Do the means justify the end? 

 

Evelyn Howells Dalton was born and raised in Huddersfield, which lies to the northeast of Manchester. The township was founded in early Anglo-Saxon times and was initially renowned as a market village. During the industrial revolution of the early eighteen hundreds, Huddersfield became known as a hub for textile production. The rivers surrounding the town provided factories with the large volumes of water required to process textiles until mechanised weaving was invented and mills became a relic of the past. The area remains well regarded for wool fabric production but the largest employer in the region is now the University of Huddersfield. In more recent times Huddersfield is considered the origin of rugby league and the birthplace of two-time British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

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Evelyn was known as Eve to friends and family. In 1971 she attended a British Legion function and met David Howells who would become her husband two years later. They bought a home together in a middle-class neighbourhood. The quaint bungalow came complete with ivy weaving around the windows and a large backyard which would be perfect for raising children.  It wasn’t long before the newlywed couple would welcome their first child, a son they named Gareth. But tragically Gareth didn’t survive and the couple experienced a deep period of mourning. As was a common attitude in those days, the couple was encouraged to try again for another baby who would take away the pain of their heartbreaking loss. 

Despite falling pregnant again quickly Eve remained grief-stricken over the loss of Gareth. Friends and family noticed her personality begin to change around this time but they reassured themselves she would return to normal when the next child arrived. But when her son Glenn was born, Eve struggled to bond with him. Glenn was a relatively content baby but Eve would make nasty comments about him and her handling of him was less than gentle. She also began to make strange comments that Glenn had somehow caused the death of his older sibling. Again family believed it would take time for Eve to take to motherhood but that eventually, she would come to love the little boy.

Two years after Glenn arrived, Eve and David gave birth to another son they named John. John was also a fairly happy baby and Eve seemed to take to parenting more positively this time around. But she still spoke unkindly about her children and didn’t seem as attached to them as other parents were to their kids. And rather than growing closer to them as they aged Eve became crueller and harsher in her treatment of them. It appeared as if her sorrow towards the loss of Gareth turned into resentment of the two boys who had survived through no fault of their own.

By the time the boys started school, they had both developed odd behaviours which drew the attention of teachers and parents alike. But it wasn’t until the horrific events of 1995 that the true nature of life behind the seemingly perfect bungalow façade would be revealed. But would it provide justification for murder? 

**

On the evening of the 31st August, 1995 Police received a frantic call from a home in Dalton in Huddersfield. When Police arrived to the quiet, middle-class home, they found a woman slumped over on the couch in her living room. Marring the otherwise normal family environment was the fact that the woman had clearly been brutally attacked. The back of her head was caved in and thick red liquid oozed through her matted hair. Blood was splattered across most of the surfaces in the room including the ceilings.

Outside of the home, officers were comforting two teenage boys. They identified themselves as John aged 14 and Glenn aged 15. They told officers they lived at the house and had been the ones to ring nine nine nine. They had been out walking their dog and when they came home they found the house broken into. When they entered the house they found their mother, Eve had been murdered on the family couch. 

Officers inside the home had indeed found signs of a break-in and a violent attack. In the living room, a desk was upturned and personal belongings were scattered across the floor. Glenn and John mentioned that some money was missing but they couldn’t be sure if anything else was gone. 

Police stayed with them as they attempted to make contact with their father, David. The boys told officers that David was at his local pub playing darts with his friends. Police drove to the pub to collect David and inform him of his wife’s murder. He appeared shocked when officers told him what had occurred and immediately asked if his boys were safe. He was driven home where he consoled and comforted the boys while the house was cordoned off for forensic examination. 

Eve’s body was removed for an autopsy and the coroner’s findings were conclusive. Eve had been beaten to death with a hammer. She had been struck at least ten times around her head and neck whilst in a seated position on the family couch. It appeared as though she had been bludgeoned from behind and the attack must have occurred very quickly and spontaneously given there were no defensive wounds on her hands or arms. 

Police opened an investigation into the robbery gone wrong.  But the lead officer in the case sensed something was off about the story right from the very beginning.  

For starters, John, Glenn and David seemed strangely fixated on details of the money which had been taken during the robbery. Every time officers spoke to them about what had happened they mentioned the money when officers would have expected some focus on the fact that their mother had been brutally murdered. It felt as if the family were trying to convince officers that it was a robbery and not something more sinister. 

And then there was the strange reaction from the two boys when they had arrived with David to formally identify their mother’s body. The boys had been observed by morgue staff throughout the viewing and at one point Glenn looked over at John and smirked and winked. It was this simple act that prompted police to look closer into their stories. 

Police knew David wasn’t involved in the murder given his strong alibi which was backed up by numerous eyewitnesses and bar receipts. But they couldn’t understand how or why two boys of just 14 and 15 years old would be driven to take their own mother’s life so brutally. And while they suspected John and Glenn were involved, they couldn’t fathom one of the seemingly quiet and gentle boys being the perpetrator of such a violent act. There must have been someone else involved. 

The data from the crime scene investigation was beginning to paint a clearer picture of the night of the attack. When blood splatter patterns were analysed it became clear that the boys must have been in the vicinity of Eve’s attack while it was happening. The blood splatter patterns on their clothing matched those found in the room where she was murdered. The blood was more concentrated on Glenn’s clothing than it was on John’s but it was clear both would have been in the room while the attack took place. This was in contrast to their statements that they were out walking the dog as they had claimed.

They decided to detain both the boys on suspicion of murder in an effort to separate them from each other and their father in the hopes that by doing so they would elicit a confession or at least more information about what had really happened inside the Howells home. 

In a somewhat unusual decision for the late nineteen nineties investigators secured a warrant to record conversations between the boys and their father. They allowed David to visit the boys in jail and over the course of the coming weeks, they recorded 12 conversations between them. Whilst none of the conversations revealed exactly what had occurred inside the home, there were vague references to “that night” and a comment from David to the boys “We’ve just got to bluff it out. if you two break, then I’m in as well, so we’ve got to stick together.”

Armed with this new information and a clear link between the trio and Eve’s murder, the Police questioned the family about their suspicions. They started by interviewing David. 

From the outset, David denied any involvement in the crime. He explained his involvement began only when he realised what had happened to Eve and in an effort to protect his children’s freedom he had attempted to provide them with a plausible coverup. His attempts to pervert the course of just was done as an act of love for his two precious boys. 

But when investigators interviewed the boys, a very different story emerged. To their shock, Glenn immediately confessed that he had been the one who had wielded the hammer and bludgeoned his mother to death. He defended John as being an innocent bystander who had cried and begged Glenn to stop.

Glenn’s explanation for why he had committed such a heinous act ran much deeper than an angsty teen who despised his mother. Glenn claimed his actions were as a result of a lifetime of trauma, abuse and neglect. He went into great detail as he described the events of his childhood. 

For both of the Howell boys, having Eve as their mother was an unpleasant experience from the very first moment of their lives. Eve had never bonded with them and she didn’t seem to care for them as other mothers cared for their children. 

Glenn described Eve as running the household like a dictator. Despite the pleasant façade, Eve was a strict disciplinarian and she was obsessed with controlling every aspect of her husband and children’s lives. 

From the time Glenn was born he was the target of hateful words, behaviours and actions at the hand of his own mother. Eve repeatedly reinforced her confounding belief that Glenn was responsible for the death of her firstborn child and she never let the boy forget it. The hatred Eve had for Glenn was tangible. She nicknamed him “fat fucker” and “fat little bastard” and used the monikers to get his attention and shame him for minor misdeeds. She told him he was “thick and would not get a job or get married”. He would be forced to live on the street. He would always be “a street brat”.No one would love him, in fact, he was unlovable. 

John didn’t fare much better than Glenn, though it was no secret to anyone living in the Howells household that John was Eve’s favourite. Whilst the position didn’t spare John from Eve’s neglect or control he was given special privileges and wasn’t forced into the humiliating and inappropriate conduct that Glenn was required to endure. He would be given sweet tea as a reward whereas Glenn would be lucky to receive plain bread and jam. 

Glenn was forced to massage his mother’s naked body at every opportunity. She would hand him a bottle of lotion and make him rub it into her skin all the while attempting to divert his gaze from her so-called “private parts”. Eve would regularly enter the bathroom when Glenn was showering or bathing.  She would take off her clothes until she was fully naked and then go to the toilet in front of him. She made Glenn spend hours cleaning the dirt from under her fingernails and toenails and called him her “body slave”. 

As punishment for minor transgressions Eve would hold a lighter to the boys’ favourite stuffed toys and gleefully threaten to burn them alive. When the boys did something Eve didn’t approve of she would threaten that she was going to give them up to social services as she didn’t want them as her children anymore. She took particular joy in telling them she would give them up separately so they could never be together again. Eve was often seen smacking the boys on their backs and legs for even the slightest fault. She would drag them away from playing with friends by their hair if they didn’t respond as soon as she called them. She yelled at them and threw objects at them. She never held them, hugged them or told them she loved them. 

Despite being relatively better treated than his older brother, John still felt the effects of Eve’s strange parenting and neglect. When he was just five he was taken to a psychologist after being found burning five-pound notes and urinating in rubbish bins. But even with the involvement of a psychologist, his treatment at home didn’t change. 

Glenn described Eve as a woman who was obsessed with control. She kept the fridge locked so no one could eat anything she hadn’t prepared. She weighed just 38 kilograms herself and she would regularly put the whole family on a diet of one description or another. When the boys didn’t like what she was forcing them to eat they would hide the food in an attempt to avoid consuming it. Glenn recalled that on one occasion Eve found the food the boys had hidden under a table in the house. It had been there for more than a week but Eve made the boys eat the rotten remains of the meal as punishment for their deceit.  

Eve also had total control over the family’s finances. Six years before her death she closed the joint accounts she had held with David and transferred the balance of fifty-one thousand pounds into her own account leaving David with just one hundred pounds in his.  Both her and David’s wages would go into her account and Eve would transfer over what her husband was allowed to spend each week. Somehow she managed to take control of her father’s accounts as well and when he received a generous inheritance Eve refused to release the funds to him. 

Investigators could hardly believe the story Glenn was telling. Eve was a schoolteacher after all and besides if her treatment of the boys was so terrible surely someone else would be aware of it. They weren’t naïve about the fact that people can present themselves entirely differently at home and work, but was it possible to hide such a dreadful true nature? 

To understand more about Eve’s personality they set about interviewing her colleagues from the school where she worked. As they did so, students and neighbours came forward to tell officers about the person she really was behind the front of a dedicated mother and teacher.

Eve was a school teacher at Huddersfield Secondary school. When investigators interviewed her colleagues they discovered Eve had long held a reputation as being unusual. One of her colleagues went so far as to describe her as “very, very disturbed“. Her students felt the same and portrayed her classrooms as having a culture of fear. The same words Glenn had used to describe Eve at home came up again at school. She was a strict disciplinarian and ran the classroom like a dictator. Students described her as terrifying. She was nicknamed “Evil Howells” in reference to her name Eve.  A colleague by the name of Maureen Smith recalled: “She created an atmosphere of fear like I’ve never experienced in 26 years of teaching. She was searing.”

When neighbours of the family were interviewed they told similar stories of Eve’s appalling behaviour. Neighbours recalled a specific incident where Eve had tied the boys to a kitchen table when they were just toddlers as punishment for an unspecified blunder.  “We used to dread them going in for bathtime because of the screams that used to come from the bathroom.” “The screams that used to come out were like someone was murdering them,”. Yet another neighbour told them that he stopped sitting in his garden because of the volume and frequency of Eve’s cursing which was usually directed at her children.

Eve’s own family were aware of her hatefulness toward her children. Her step mother Mary Dyson commented “She seemed to have it in for Glenn for some reason. She seemed to despise him. “She never showed love. It would seem as though she despised her sons. She was very aggressive.” Mary went on to say that the boys’ late grandad Harold often walked out in disgust when his daughter started ranting and raving.

By the time they started school the children had begun to demonstrate strange behaviours which were of concern to their teachers. This led to John being referred to a psychologist. When he was just five years old, John was seen repeatedly burning five-pound notes and rather than use the bathroom he would urinate in litter bins. Strangely he would return home from school and open up to 18 tins of food from the pantry. He took a spoonful of food from each tin and then hid the cans around the house and garden. He took bites out of his wooden bed frame and regularly broke toys. A  psychologist who met with John after Eve’s murder documented that John was “overly compliant” and was likely rebelling against the strict discipline he had endured throughout his life.  

The environment of life in the Howells’ home was beginning to crystallise for investigators. But it was also clear that John and Glenn couldn’t have carried out the horrendous murder unaided. 

They interviewed John for his version of events and a darker story emerged. John recalled that their father had been talking about murder for months and the three of them planned the finer details together. 

Their attention turned to David. Until now, he had feigned innocence and shock at what the boys had been involved in. But there was no way that David could have been unaware of how the children were treated or their growing hatred of their mother. Indeed from their interviews with the boys, the police believed David must have also been mistreated by Eve. 

So why had David not stepped in? Why didn’t he put a stop to the cruel and callous treatment of their children? 

It turned out that David had an even more sinister reason for becoming involved in the plot to kill Eve. Just two months before her death David had discovered Eve was having an extramarital affair. And when David looked closer at the behaviour of his wife,  he realised it had been going on under his nose for more than 12 years. The object of Eve’s desires was none other than the children’s godfather and family friend Russell Hirst. Russell was also a close colleague of David and had travelled with the family on a number of overseas holidays over the years. It was later revealed Eve would sleep with Russell while the family were visiting various locations as a family. 

This was the final straw for David. The man who had previously been a bystander while Eve treated their children with such cruelty, had become an active participant in the plot to end her life. Not only was David set to benefit from finally being free of his controlling and heartless wife, there was the additional benefit of him being the sole benefactor of a one hundred and fifty-five thousand pound life insurance policy in the event of Eve’s death.

But David didn’t want to be caught up in the murder itself. He knew he had two willing participants he could rely upon and he began to regularly discuss his hatred for Eve with his two sons. David wanted the insurance money and a clean break and he was prepared to risk his boys in the process. When Eve wasn’t around he led his teenagers in conversations about how they could get rid of her. Maybe they could push her off a cliff? Or in front of a car? Or they could plan a family holiday where she would accidentally fall from a high-level balcony? 

David was no fool, he knew he would need to have a strong alibi for the murder itself in order to avoid blame and claim the insurance money. He believed investigators would likely look kindly upon the two grieving boys and they would avoid being charged with any crime. 

And so the trio plotted their crime. For months, they discussed details from staging the scene to how to appear when police arrived and of course, they needed to be very clear that money had gone missing so police would believe it was a robbery. 

Despite the overwhelming evidence implicating David in a plot to kill Eve he continued to proclaim his innocence. He repeated that he had no knowledge of what could have unfolded that night. 

But Glenn was forthcoming with his description of the events of the evening of the 31st August, 1995.  He claimed the trio had opted for a date when there was a darts competition at David’s local pub so his alibi would be rock solid. While he was gone the boys would carry out the attack and call 999 claiming there had been a break-in. 

As expected, Eve had told the boys to take the family dog for a walk. Glenn explained that they had taken the dog outside and walked out of sight of the home before they sat on a fence for around twenty minutes. When they went home Glenn said Eve yelled at them “You two haven’t walked the dog properly. You lazy idle prick, take it for a proper walk. When you get back brush your f—ing teeth and go to your room and don’t make a sound. You’re spoiling my night and I don’t like you.”

He went on to explain how he reacted to her harsh words: 

 “I went in my room, I was angry. I changed my clothes. I thought, “This has got to stop’.” He explained how he picked up the hammer from his bedroom.  “I went through to the lounge. I didn’t think of anything, my mind just wasn’t working right. John was in the bedroom. I just looked at my mum. “Something went in my head and I just struck out. I heard my brother screaming and shouting. He was shouting “No’, because I had hit my mum. I told him to get out, I told him to get hold of the dog, just get out. I didn’t want him to see it. I realised what I was doing. “I said “Sorry Mum, I love you, I can’t believe it’. I heard her making some noise but I didn’t want her to come round and know I did it, so I hit her in the neck. I went through to my room and I couldn’t believe what I had done. I didn’t realise what I had done until I’d seen her. I wanted my mum back straight away.”

Whilst police now had a confession for murder there were some aspects of the story that weren’t adding up. Glenn described a spontaneous event where he had snapped and subsequently beaten his mother to death. But John claimed that their father was involved in planning the attack, that this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment event at all. 

And how did Glenn and John know to stage the scene with the upturned desk and scattered personal belongings if this wasn’t premeditated and planned? 

And the timeline of going for a walk with the dog before Eve made the horrible comments which caused Glenn to snap didn’t match with the timeline of the triple nine call. 

They also couldn’t overlook the convenience of the darts competition which provided David with a rock-solid alibi for the evening.

Indeed, Police believed all of the evidence pointed to the murder being planned to take place on that night. This was not an impromptu act of violence nor was it the actions of a single person as David would have them believe. 

With confirmation that John, Glenn and David were all active participants in the murder of Eve Howells all three were charged with murder. 

In 1997, Two years after Eve’s murder, their trials began. John, Glenn and David all plead not guilty to their charges. 

*

Can premeditated murder be justified in the event of such appalling circumstances? That was the question put to the jury in defence of the trio. 

Glenn stood by his story of a spontaneous murder prompted by years of ill-treatment. The secretly recorded conversations between the boys and their father were played to the court. In them Glenn can be heard sobbing “Got no dad any more … got no mum and dad … want me mum,”.

He went on to describe how he initially attempted to escape his traumatising home life. There are records of a number of calls to the youth mental health helpline – Childline. He told the jury that he decided to commit suicide so that the pain would stop, he couldn’t take any more ill-treatment from Eve. He got as far as tying a scarf around his neck which he intended to use to hang from his bunkbeds. “I couldn’t do it,” he told the court, “for the same reason I couldn’t run; I couldn’t leave John on his own”.

On the stand, Glenn claimed he was inspired by episodes of the Crimewatch programme to use the hammer rather than another object. 

Glenn was asked: “Would you have killed your mother without the approval of your father, depriving him of a wife?” to which he responded, “She deprived me of my life”.

One thing the boy’s attorneys did agree on was that both Glenn and John had not been given a fair shot in life. What they were forced to endure at the hands of their mother was abhorrent. Starting from the very first day they were born they had been deprived of love, nurturing and encouragement. And whilst the abuse was perpetrated by their mother, David had stood by as it was carried out against them. He too had chosen to ignore their pleas for leniency, for connection and for protection. They were forced to suffer a life of humiliation, degradation and abuse at the hands of their mother. And the only other person who could have protected them from her tirades and taunts was their father.  

Instead of safeguarding his children, David ultimately chose them to carry out the murder of their mother. And he didn’t want her gone in order to put an end to the way she treated them all. He wanted revenge for the affair she had been involved in, and he wanted her life insurance money. Unfortunately, the boys were merely the means to an end for David. 

Even when the gig was up and he was implicated for his involvement in the scheme, David abandoned his boys once again in order to feign innocence for his participation in the plot. 

 On the stand, David refuted John’s claims that he had spent months plotting Eve’s murder and then coached the boys on how to commit and then cover up her death. He called his son’s claims “wicked lies”. 

But the prosecution painted a picture of a starkly different version of events than the defence. 

They claimed David was an alcoholic who mistreated his children as equally as Eve though in different and more subversive ways. By ignoring their ill-treatment and convincing them that murder was the only way out he was as complicit as her in their maltreatment. 

Testimony was presented reportedly claiming the boys had begged their father to get a divorce. David had refused to leave Eve for fear of missing out on the money he was set to gain from her death. 

In a strange revelation Russell whom was Eve’s lover, described her as a ‘delightful‘ lady. He said: “Our relationship was special. It was not based on sex. Eve was the love of my life – a delightful lady.” After the murder trial Russell said he still missed Eve, saying: “I was in love with her and I still miss her to this day.”

Ultimately the jury believed that all three of the men were responsible for the gruesome slaughter of Eve in her own home. In 1997 John, Glenn and David were found guilty of the murder of Evelyn Howells. 

David received a sentence of life imprisonment. John and Glenn were initially given sentences of indefinite detention given their ages and roles in the murder itself. 

David received the bulk of the blame for his role in planning the murder. He was considered the most responsible for exploiting his children as tools to commit his heinous revenge. 

The judge described David Howells as a “thoroughly evil man who groomed or indoctrinated his sons to kill their mother while he was safely beyond suspicion as an actual participant’’.

In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Alliott told David: “You were the instigator of this appalling crime and you suborned your sons into doing what they did. “Over a period of months, if not years, you so groomed and indoctrinated their young minds in that they did what you wanted. “They acted out what to them initially must have been unthinkable while you were safely beyond suspicion as a participant. “He added: “There can be nothing more vile than to get your sons to kill their mother unless, as is apparent from the covert tapes, you cheerfully contemplated their long detention while you went free. “Notwithstanding any deficiencies in the deceased as a wife and a mother, she did nothing to warrant the terrible death she suffered.”

Eventually, John was sentenced was set to seven years and Glenn received ten years. In 2002 the boys appealed their sentences and Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, reduced both of their punishments. “Glenn feels that he should have been convicted of manslaughter and not murder, but states that he accepts full responsibility for his mother’s death and that she did not deserve what had happened. “He states that he saw no other way of stopping the abuse he and his brother endured. “He stated that “John has played a “lesser” part of the crime and had been heavily influenced by his father and brother.”

John’s sentence was reduced from seven years to six years, and Glenn had his sentence reduced from ten to nine years.

 So can abuse and neglect be justification for murder? Do manipulation and grooming 

at the hands of those who are meant to love and care for you the most diminish your culpability for such a heinous crime? 

Episode Credits:

Host – Rhiannon Doe 

Voiceover – Kwesi 

Website layout & design – Fran Howard 

Research & writing – Sophie Wild 

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