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The Man in Black: Wales’ Worst Serial Killer by Dylan Rhys Jones

November 8, 2020

The first thing I should say about this terrific memoir is that it is not a book about a serial killer, and that’s one of its strongest features. Murderers get books written about them, their victims seldom do. Psychopaths are superficially charming, but they are never deep or interesting. The Man in Black is the fascinating story of the lawyer who had the dubious role of defending Peter Moore, a seemingly mild-mannered cinema chain owner accused of murdering four men and carrying out a string of violent sex attacks.

A phone call on December 21, 1995 changed Dylan Rhys Jones life forever. He was running a successful legal firm and was asked to report to Llandudno police station. The police had arrested Jones’ client Peter Moore, a well-known local entrepreneur, on suspicion of murder. Jones had always found Moore to be affable and polite. At the police station Moore was keeping up this pretence and seemed completely unfazed by the seriousness of the charge against him. At first Jones thinks he has a good case in defending Moore, but then the evidence starts to mount. The police can put Moore’s van at the crime scene. They are testing his knives for blood and find Nazi paraphernalia in his home. Soon Moore makes a confession which he quickly retracts, claiming the real murderer is a man named ‘Jason’ who he was trying to protect through a bogus admission of guilt. Moore’s case will go to trial and Jones has the impossible task of defending a suspect who has already confessed to the murders. As a lawyer, Jones displays a firm grasp of the legal procedures when telling the story. This might be too much for readers looking for gory details, but personally I found it to be exactly the right approach. The reader is left in no doubt that Moore received a fair trial, if anything his love of the limelight is over-indulged as he is gurning for the photographers every morning he is brought to court from jail. The verdict in the case will not come as a surprise, even if the reader has never heard of Peter Moore before this book. But although justice is done efficiently, the wounds do not heal so easily. Jones fulfilled his duty and did the best he could for his client, but he was left mentally scarred by the experience. Depression dogged him for several years resulting in a nervous breakdown for which he was hospitalised. Jones is brave and candid in writing about his struggles and its impossible not to be moved by these passages, wherever the reader happens to be on their mental health journey.

My father hailed from Mold and I remember visiting many of the north Wales locations described in this book a lot as a child. They can be peaceful and charming, but not a lot happens, and I guess they’re not well-suited to a restless child’s temperament. But after reading The Man in Black, I can understand the terror the local communities must have felt when the full horror of Moore’s crimes was revealed. Perhaps with DNA evidence the era of the serial killer is over, and that society may never sees the like of Peter Moore again. Then hopefully the peaceful, charming and slightly dull north Wales I remember can be protected from the monsters of the past.

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