Nov 2007

Paedophile convicted of Lesley Molseed murder – after evading justice for 32 years

A paedophile who abducted a girl of 11, sexually assaulted her and stabbed her repeatedly before dumping her body on moorland has finally been jailed for her murder, 32 years on. 

Ronald Castree, 54, will serve a minimum of 30 years for what the judge called “a truly dreadful crime”, adding that he accepted the killer would probably die in jail.

Lesley Molseed, from Rochdale, was abducted and killed in 1975, in a case which resulted in one of Britain’s most notorious miscarriages of justice.

Her body was found on Rishworth Moor in West Yorkshire and Stefan Kiszko, a lonely misfit, confessed to the crime under duress.

He was jailed and served 16 years before he was cleared in 1991 when it emerged that sperm samples taken from her clothes could not have been his, as he was infertile. He died the following year.

Forensic scientists used new techniques to produce a DNA profile in 2000. And last year they found that Castree, who had given a sample after being arrested in 2005 on another matter, was a one-in-a-billion match.

Court records also showed that days before Mr Kiszko stood trial, Castree had abducted a nine-year-old and subjected her to an indecent assault which led to a conviction.

At the murder trial, Castree tried to have this conviction kept from the jury. He also argued that the sample from Lesley’s clothes must have innocently become contaminated with his DNA.

But the jury at Bradford Crown Court was not taken in. Mr Justice Openshaw told Castree, a trader in comic books: “You kept quiet whilst an entirely innocent man was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced for this murder.”

Afterwards Lesley’s mother, who has reverted to her maiden name, April Garrett, said: “We are relieved that after so long our quest for justice for Lesley is now over.”

He appeared to all the world as a caring father – and a hard-working, self-made man. But for 32 years, Ron Castree lived with a terrible secret.

Behind his respectable facade, he was a paedophile and serial sex attacker who eventually progressed to child murder.

While his wife and her baby were in hospital in 1975, Castree snatched Lesley Molseed off a street in Rochdale as she went to buy bread for her mother.

He drove the 11-year-old, who had learning difficulties, to a windswept moor, sexually assaulted her and stabbed her to death in a “frenzied” attack.

Then he drove home and, in the words of his trial judge, carried on with his life “as if nothing had happened”.

It was a pretence he kept up for more than three decades, until the police finally caught up with him, last November.

Then Castree told officers: “I’ve been expecting this for years.”

The story which led to the death of a child, and the jailing of an innocent man, begins in October 1953 when Castree was born the only son of Eric, an export clerk, and wife Dora, both of whom died more than ten years ago.

Castree was still in his teens, when he married for the first time. He and wife Beverley set up home in a small terrace house just a few streets from Lesley’s family home.

Six days a week, Castree worked at the office of one of the many textile mills in the area.

But in the mid-Seventies, as the couple were saving to buy a house, he started driving a taxi in the evening.

Their marriage was stormy, with affairs on both sides. Castree knew “their” first child, Jason, born on September 19, 1975, when he was only 21, was not his.

And Beverley Castree told Bradford Crown Court that her husband was never faithful. There were always “three people in the marriage”, she said.

Castree, balding and overweight, admitted he was a serial adulterer. He said casual sex with the women he picked up in his taxi was “normal behaviour” in the trade at that time.

After Jason Castree’s birth, mother and baby were readmitted to Oldham Hospital after she developed a deep vein thrombosis.

Left alone – and no doubt still chafing at the prospect of raising another man’s son – Castree abducted and murdered Lesley.

The girl with the lopsided grin was small and weak for her age, and she was known as Little Miss Chatterbox.

At Castree’s trial, Lesley’s mother, April Garrett, told of the last time she saw her daughter, the youngest of four.

She described the “dainty” child’s “bubbly” personality and relived the terrible moment she realised Lesley was late returning from the shops.

As police searched for the child’s killer, Castree’s wife watched news coverage of the inquiry. She recalled expressing her hope that he would be caught soon. But her husband gave her no clue that he was the man responsible.

Detectives soon became convinced that Stefan Kiszko had killed Lesley. He was a local misfit whose profile in many ways fitted that of the predatory paedophile they were hunting.

Castree must have been delighted. Free to strike again, he abducted another girl nine months later, just days before Mr Kiszko’s trial in the summer of 1976.

He snatched the child who, like Lesley, had learning difficulties, and took her in his taxi to a derelict house, where he forced her to take part in a sexual act. However, she managed to kick out at her attacker and run away.

This time Castree was quickly identified as the culprit and brought to court.

But he had no previous convictions, and there was no reason to link him to Lesley’s murder because Mr Kiszko was the prime suspect.

When he came to trial, Castree pleaded guilty, but he claimed to have no memory of what he did. He put it down as an aberration caused by the exhaustion of doing two jobs – and insisted the girl had come to “no harm”.

West Yorkshire detectives remain convinced that he must have offended again. But Castree came to officers’ attention on only one other occasion.

In 1979, he reported a theft from his workplace – but ended up as the suspect.

At home, despite continuing affairs, one-night stands and claims of domestic abuse, he and Beverley stayed together. They had two more sons, Nicholas, now 28, and Daniel, 23.

When made redundant from his office job, Castree set himself up as a market trader, selling secondhand books.

The family began to prosper and moved to a larger house in the town of Shaw, between Rochdale and Oldham. He began to specialise in comic books and went on to open two shops with an annual turnover of £50,000.

In 1994, he posed for a national newspaper in a Batman baseball cap in 1994, surrounded by hundreds of his comics. He said at the time: “The timeless appeal of the comic is escapism. As people increasingly need a break from real life, it can only mean greater popularity for comics of all kinds.”

As an innocent man served life for his crime, Castree must have allowed himself to believe that he would never have to answer for it. But the front would soon begin to crumble.

In 1991, Mr Kiszko’s conviction was quashed and he was released from prison the following year.

Although it re-opened their wounds, the Molseed family accepted his innocence and campaigned for Lesley’s murderer to be brought to justice.

However, it took another 15 years for Castree to be identified as the killer.

As he waited for the police catch up with him, his personal life began to disintegrate.

Beverley left him and they divorced in the mid-Nineties. Castree moved in with divorcee Karen Curtin, who has six children by previous marriages, the youngest still only eight.

They married in 2004, and Castree became a familiar sight at the local primary school, taking his stepchildren to class.

But in 2005, a routine DNA sample was taken after he was arrested for another offence.

And officers made the link to Lesley Molseed’s murder.

Although exact details have been kept secret, Castree’s arrest is believed to have been on suspicion of raping a local woman. It is understood that the allegation did not come to court because the victim was not mentally fit to testify.

But Castree must have guessed that his luck had run out, because he was made to provide a swab for DNA analysis.

Although the clothes Lesley was wearing when she was abducted had been destroyed following Mr Kiszko’s conviction, forensic scientists were still able to produce a DNA sample.

Pieces of sticky tape used to lift traces of semen found on the girl’s underwear had been kept.

And, just as the presence of sperm confirmed Mr Kiszko’s innocence, it proved a billion-to-one-match to Castree.

In court, Castree made a series of bizarre assertions as he tried to find an alternative explanation for the evidence against him.

He claimed that police who investigated the 1979 theft incident had threatened to “fit him up” for Lesley’s murder – despite the fact that Mr Kiszko was then in jail.

He even hinted at sexual contact with Lesley’s mother and older sister – to explain how the child’s clothes became contaminated with his DNA.

But the jury rejected his story, and after 32 years, justice was done.

Castree showed no emotion as the foreman returned the verdict in the packed courtroom.

Then again, hiding his feelings is a subject on which Ronald Castree has become something of an expert.

Castree’s imprisonment is the final vindication of Stefan Kiszko.

He was acquitted on appeal after serving 16 years in prison for Lesley Molseed’s murder, but within a year the former Inland Revenue clerk was dead, a broken man.

Stefan Kiszko was born in Rochdale in 1952. A weak, sickly child, he was dependent on his parents. His last school report recorded that he was “an oddity and a butt for bullies”.

By his mid-twenties, he was 6ft 2in and 17 stone, but emotionally immature. In August 1975 he was diagnosed as being sexually underdeveloped and prescribed testosterone.

Police later found pornographic magazines in his car along with sweets and gloves which they took to be a “kit” for abducting children.

Under intense questioning, he admitted that he had killed Lesley, only to retract his evidence. He had apparently “confessed” in the belief that it would mean he could spend Christmas with his mother.

The blunders continued at his trial at Leeds Crown Court. Mr Kiszko’s barrister David Waddington, who went on to become Home Secretary, ran a defence of manslaughter through diminished responsibility, despite his client never having met the victim.

Mr Kiszko was found guilty of murder and after an appeal failed in 1978 was left to serve his life sentence. Refused parole because he would not admit guilt, he was targeted by inmates and treated for schizophrenia.

In the Eighties, his mother enlisted the help of campaigning solicitor Campbell Malone.

Police re-investigated and found evidence that would destroy the case against him.

He was released in 1992 and died in 1993, aged 41.

His mother, who died six months later, said: “I am not a bitter woman. However, there are certain people I cannot forgive for the way they treated my son.”