A VIOLENT criminal on the run from the police could have murdered Ann Heron on the outskirts of Darlington 30 years ago, according to a new theory.

Mrs Heron’s brutal death, on the hottest day of 1990, is the only unsolved murder in County Durham in the last 70 years.

But now a death investigator believes she may have discovered the identity of the mystery driver of a blue car seen speeding away from the isolated house on the edge of Darlington. The sun-tanned driver was at the centre of the police’s investigation but has never been traced.

The Northern Echo: Peter Heron and private death investigator Jen Jarvie. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPeter Heron and private death investigator Jen Jarvie. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Investigator Jen Jarvie believes he was Michael Benson, a violent criminal who was on the run having absconded from a life sentence.

Not only would the potential breakthrough explain the tragedy of Mrs Heron, a mother-of-three who was 44 when she died, but it could lift the cloud of suspicion that has hung over her 85-year-old husband, Peter. He was charged with her murder in 2005 but all the charges against him were dropped after 12 weeks when the case was discontinued.

VIDEO: Peter Heron speaking to The Northern Echo in 2015

Mrs Jarvie, who has been working with the family for four years, said: “Benson is an alternative who needs to be looked into. He is unknown to the police at any time during the 30 year investigation and I believe he could be responsible for Ann’s death.

“After 30 long years, the family needs conclusions. These are people’s lives we are dealing with. It is cruel, it is inhumane to keep them hanging.”


THE October 1990 Crimewatch TV programme, broadcast on BBC1, featured a reconstruction of the horrific murder of Ann Heron at her isolated home on the outskirts of Darlington two months earlier.

It showed how she had been sunbathing in a bikini in her front garden on August 3, 1990, which had been the hottest day in the North-East since records began in the 1930s.

VIDEO: Ann Heron murder investigation appeal begins at 1m7s

Then it showed her husband, Peter, returning home from work at his haulage depot in Middleton St George to find the dog outside, the front door wide open and Ann’s body lying in a pool of blood in the lounge.

“The crime was committed in County Durham although, as you will see, the killer could have come from anywhere,” presenter Nick Ross told the TV audience.

“At about a quarter to five, a blue car, possibly an Astra was seen outside Ann’s house.”

The cameras showed a blue car parked outside Aeolian House, and then re-enacted the moment at about 5.05pm when it dashed down the 50 yard drive – “I wasn’t sure he was going to stop”, said a taxi driver. It cut across traffic on the A67, wildly overtook the taxi before disappearing west on the A66.

“It is vital that we trace the owner of that vehicle,” Detective Superintendent Keith Readman, who was leading Durham Police’s investigation, said as the screen displayed four types of blue car to get people thinking.

Two witnesses saw the blue car, and described its driver as being a sun-tanned man aged 35 to 45.

To this day, neither car nor killer has been traced, and when DS Readman retired in 2000, he said: “If they (the witnesses) had even seen part of the (number) plate, the murderer would have been detected because I am confident this was the man who killed Ann. But this, along with the fact the murder weapon was never recovered, was a disappointment."

A month after the Heron reconstruction, the November 1990 Crimewatch featured an appeal from Hampshire police for information about the whereabouts of a violent prisoner, Michael Benson, who was originally from Leeds.

VIDEO: Michael Benson appeal begins at 2m12s

Benson had a long criminal history including burglary, robbery with a carving knife against three people, and in December 1972 had been sentenced to life imprisonment for causing Grievous Bodily Harm with a shotgun in Southampton.

The programme said he had escaped while on day release in May 1989, and that summer he had got married. However, he left his wife in May 1990 and disappeared – taking her dark blue metallic Ford Orion.

The Northern Echo:

“You may have seen him in it anywhere in the country since he gets jobs with security companies and is known to travel extensively,” said a detective, showing pictures of the dark complexioned wanted man and his blue car. “But if you have seen him recently please be careful. He’s potentially dangerous. You must ring us rather than approach him at all.”

The Northern Echo:

Benson, 40, was described as having a Yorkshire accent, three tattoos on each arm, being 5ft 11ins tall, and using the alias Michael Johnstone. He was never re-captured, although it is known that he was on the electoral roll in Leeds in 2005 and that he died there in 2011.

“So Ann’s appeal is on Crimewatch in October 1990 in which Durham Police say they are looking for a dark-haired, sun-tanned man in his 30s driving a blue car, and in November 1990, Hampshire police appeal on Crimewatch for a dark, violent prisoner who has absconded with a blue car,” says private death investigator Jen Jarvie, an award-winning lecturer in policing at Sunderland College who is now a lecturer in the same subject at York St John University.

“Neither Durham nor Hampshire has put the two together before.”

The Northern Echo: Michael Benson on his wedding day in 1989Michael Benson on his wedding day in 1989

It is her contention that in the summer of 1990, Benson, having left his wife, was on the run and returned, as he usually did, to his base in Leeds. Then he went searching in a blue car…

On July 18, 1990, two weeks before Ann Heron was murdered, two women were attacked on the footpath beside the Wear in Durham City. Near Prebends Bridge, a man grabbed them from behind and threatened violence. He ran off when they gave him £35 cash.

The Northern Echo:

Police issued a photofit of the wanted man, and told The Northern Echo that he was “30, 5ft 9ins, stocky build with dark brown brushed-back hair, and a sun-tanned complexion”.

This attacker has never been traced, but Mrs Jarvie’s theory is that it could have been Benson, on the run and dangerous, particularly to women, and just 25 miles from where, on August 3, 1990, Mrs Heron would be killed.

Indeed, she says there are three other unsolved murders, committed in Yorkshire and Southampton between 1991 and 1998, in which Benson could have been implicated.


Mrs Heron was a Glaswegian, who had three children from her first marriage, and she had met Peter Heron, a director of Stiller’s Transport, when he was on a golfing holiday on the Isle of Bute in 1980. He, too, had three children from his first marriage.

They married in 1986, and set up home at Aeolian House near the Morrison’s supermarket at Morton Palms.

The Northern Echo: Ann HeronAnn Heron

It is set in a large garden in a lonely location just beyond the A66 outer ring road, but conveniently located for Mr Heron’s depot, and Mrs Heron, a nurse, worked part-time at Trees Park residential home in Middleton St George.

Indeed, on the afternoon of the murder, Mr Heron had left the depot at 3.45pm in his white Mercedes, driven past the house to attend a meeting at Cleveland Bridge at 4pm before returning to the depot at 4.50pm.

However, the tone of the investigation changed when it emerged that Mr Heron had been having a short affair with a barmaid at the Dinsdale Spa golf club – and returned to the depot via the club in the vague hope of spotting her walking her dog.

In 2005, after a cold case review involving new DNA techniques, Mr Heron was charged with the murder. However, all charges were dropped and the case was discontinued – and there have been no further developments since, despite Mr Heron vehemently stating his innocence and his family doing their best to keep the case in the public eye in the hope that a vital piece of evidence would turn up.

Four years ago, they were approached by Mrs Jarvie, a governing council member of the Association of British Investigators, who lives near Darlington and was deeply intrigued by the case which, even after 30 years, still fascinates the town.

She has examined all of the evidence that the police put together for the failed prosecution in 2005.

The Northern Echo: Private death investigator Jen Jarvie. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTPrivate death investigator Jen Jarvie. Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

“When I first met Peter, I said ‘if I find out you’ve done it, I will shop you’,” said Mrs Jarvie, who has worked without payment on the case. “But it wasn’t him. He was somewhere else and can’t possibly have been there.

“None of the criminal analysis, from the victimology to the behavioural aspects, points to Peter, and nor does the evidence – right down to witness saying he was wearing the same beige trousers and white shirt throughout the day and the basic that he didn’t own a blue car. It isn’t just the one aspect, it is looking at the whole grouping of evidence.

“From an academic point of view, police were working on a basis popular at the time of ‘nearest and dearest’, that the victim, statistically speaking, would have known her killer.

“The affair with the barmaid was never an issue – it was just a stupid thing that he did. Being a bad husband does not make you a murderer, and there was a lack of open-mindedness to consider anyone else other than her husband.

“But Benson is a viable alternative who needs to be looked into. When you put together the circumstantial evidence, he’s more of a person of interest than Peter ever was.

“It might not be Benson, but there has never been an alternative and that has affected the public perception of the case.

“If the police are able to investigate and rule Benson out, it would be reasonable for them to say that it can’t have been Peter either.

“But as it stands at the moment, as the 30th anniversary approaches, the case is going nowhere.

“This isn’t just about clearing Peter’s name, it is about finding out who murdered Ann.”

Mrs Jarvie, who is working on the case with the support of Ann’s Scottish family, gave her dossier to Durham Police in September 2018, and is appealing for anyone who might have any information about the Durham riverbank or incident or who may have encountered Benson in the area to email her at jarviedis@gmail.com

A spokesman for Durham Police said: “While there is no current investigation into Ann Heron’s murder, the case will never be closed. Any new information which comes to light will be fully considered and the necessary action taken.”