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Snuff Country

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Snuff County


 Jimmy Lee Shreeve



Getting a haircut leads crime beat journalist, Jimmy Lee Shreeve, onto a bizarre and grisly trail of murder, hardcore porn and snuff movies in darkest England.


The story of how I walked into a bizarre and grisly murder began in early April this year. After a string of nightmare deadlines, I was badly in need of some R&R and a haircut. So closed the lid of my laptop and took a leisurely stroll over to my barbers, which is on the other side of Mousehold Heath, a large woodland on the east of Norwich, England, where I live.


It was a good opportunity to clear my head and take it easy. The sun was shining and no one, not even a dog-walker, was around to disturb my peace. So when I got to the barbers I was nicely relaxed. The good thing about this particular barbers is the cutters don't normally say much. Which is rare. Most places you go for a haircut are talkative. Too talkative.


But today it was different. The barber giving me a No.4, short-back-and-sides, had something to say. Probably because he knew I was a journalist and knew I wouldn't be able to resist the tale he was about to tell. The tale of finding a body, cut to pieces, in a local lake.


Body in a lake


It was back on Easter Monday, March 28th, 2005. Rick was at Pentney Ski Lake, just outside Swaffham in the county of Norfolk, England, helping prepare the lake for water skiers. He was with a group of other water skiing enthusiasts and the owner of the holiday complex, Bill Atkins. At 2:30 pm, Rick and Atkins pulled out a headless torso floating amongst the reeds at the edge of the lake.


"At first we thought someone must have dumped some meat out of their freezer," Rick told me as he applied a capful of bay rum to my hair. "But then our hearts missed a beat when we realized it was a body."


The cops were called and the area beside the lake was quickly sealed off. Police took statements and put up a tent to allow experts to carry out a detailed forensic examination of the crime scene. The next day police divers recovered more body parts from the water. Now they had a complete body. At that point police were reasonably certain the remains were those of 36-year-old Alexander Brown, a plasterer from Kent, Southern England who had vanished without trace from Swaffham last year - a mystery they'd had little success in solving.


Last contact


Brown hadn't been in contact with his family in Kent, since he'd spent the evening with a friend, a freelance filmmaker called Eddie Simmons (34), in Swaffham on Saturday, October 23, 2004. That evening, the two were seen drinking in three Swaffham pubs, the King's Arms, Norfolk Hero and George Hotel. At around 11 pm, Brown called his girlfriend of four-and-a-half-years, Tracey Meakin - his last contact with his loved ones.


Police believed he stayed with Eddie in Swaffham overnight, but didn't think he got the bus the next morning to travel back to his home in Kent. They said that since then he hadn't accessed his bank accounts, nor had he made any calls from his mobile phone and had missed various important family occasions, which wasn't like him.


Prime suspect


Not surprisingly, suspicion fell on Brown's friend Eddie, who had attended the same school as Brown and was also from Kent, but at that time was living in his parents second home, a bungalow in Southlands, Swaffham. So he was arrested in December on suspicion of abduction and released on police bail pending further inquiries. At a press conference on March 2, this year, the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Julian Gregory, admitted that, although it was still a missing person inquiry, "we think it's more likely than not that he (Brown) is dead and possible that he died in suspicious circumstances."


Not long after Brown's body was recovered, police arrested Eddie again and this time charged him with murder. He appeared at Norwich Crown Court on May 9, and the case will go to trial towards the end of this year. In a statement, Alexander Brown's distraught father described the dismemberment of his son's body as "an unimaginably barbarous and heinous act."


Once Rick had finished cutting my hair he said he couldn't understand how someone could cut their friend up into bits. "You'd need a chainsaw and there'd be blood flying everywhere," he said. One of the other barbers pointed out that dead bodies are heavy, "so cutting it up would have made it easier to get to the lake and dump it."


Voice from the past


When I got home from the barbers I put the story on my website (, just because it was a bizarre case that I'd walked into by accident. I didn't think much else about it until I got an e-mail from one of Eddie's school friends, Ryan Grant, who'd come across my website post. He'd been shocked that Eddie was on a murder rap and was even more amazed at another curious turn of events. Eddie's parents, Robert Simmons (58) and Carole Simmons (59), from Bromley in Kent, had been accused of helping him evade prosecution. In mid-July police formally charged the couple, but granted them bail so long as they stay either at their Kent home or at the bungalow in Swaffham and don't have contact with prosecution witnesses.


What was going on? Had they simply lied to police in a bid to divert suspicion from their son? Or had they actually helped their son cut up and dispose of his victim (presuming Eddie is guilty)?


It's hard to say how far any parent would go to help their offspring. But, Ryan, my e-mail contact, said: "I used to know his mum and dad well. Being an only child, he was the apple of their eye. As kids we all used to knock for each other on the way to school. I'm glad I never upset Eddie, god knows what his mum would have put in my squash!"


Dubious movies


Within days of hearing from Ryan, the plot thickened even further when another e-mail dropped into my inbox. This time it was from someone called Hugh Saunders, who said he was researching the case for a friend who had worked on the set of a low budget movie with Eddie and was shocked, as "he didn't seem the violent type." Saunders had discovered that police forensics had taken away a freezer and DVDs from the bungalow where Eddie was living in Swaffham. "Why would they take a freezer away?" he asked. "Unless something had been stored in it?"


Saunders went on to confirm that Eddie had been a film maker. He'd worked as location manager on the low-budget cult movie "Pervirella" back in 1997 and had gone on to work on adult movies backstage and in front of the camera. "However," continued Saunders, "being a film maker and accused murderer has led a few people to think Eddie may have made a snuff movie. Unlikely, but who knows, given that police seized DVDs from his home."


I sat back in my home office chair. Snuff movies have been pretty solidly dismissed as urban myth. But was Norfolk - one of the sleepiest, off-the-beaten-track counties in England - about to become the first place to have produced one? Was it about to become the snuff movie capital of the world?


It seemed unlikely. But I headed out to Swaffham to see what I could find out. Fortunately, a relative of mine lives only a short walk away from the bungalow where Eddie lived. He told me police had spent weeks there and that rumour had it they painstakingly removed the wallpaper. "What for, I don't know," he said. "But if the bloke was making snuff movies, all I know is he was very quiet. He didn't make any trouble."


More speculation


When I got home, I had a phone message from yet another of Eddie's school friends - Davey Matthews - who had also previously contacted me due to seeing my weblog post. He'd been in touch with Eddie on and off up until he moved to Swaffham a couple of years ago. Davey said he was ready to talk. Ready to spill the beans on Eddie. Maybe now I was going to get to the truth and find out what really went on - why the hell Eddie killed his friend and was he making snuff movies? So I called Davey back.


"Hearing that Eddie was on a murder charge was a complete and utter shock," said Davey. "But then he had always been a bit of a drifter and had been into some dodgy things, including starring in some hardcore porn films and marrying an American woman so she could live in this country. He also told me once that he'd financed some of his film making by being a male prostitute. But, to be honest, I didn't believe him. He wasn't exactly tall and stunningly handsome. He was five-foot-five and scrawny. And that's something else that made me wonder. The guy that died was a big lad, so I just couldn't see Eddie topping him on his own. But when Eddie's parents were charged too, well, you think maybe there was more than one person involved."


As to Eddie making snuff movies, Davey was skeptical. "I can't see it. I remember once talking to him about the late 80s' Japanese Guineapig films, which were designed to look like authentic snuff movies and I thought they were real. Eddie said to me, 'What's wrong with you, of course they're not real, it pisses me off when people think they're real.' He was dead set against them."


I was talking to Rick the barber the other day and he tells me he now cuts the hair of the officer in charge of the case. Think I'm due for another haircut...


(Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of those involved).


Jimmy Lee Shreeve

October 10, 2005

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