DNA links Derry man to grisly 1975 murder

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A breakthrough in DNA analysis and a handwritten confession have linked a Derry born man to the brutal murder of a 26-year-old mother of two in Preston more than 35 years ago.

Christopher Smith, who is believed to have been born Alexander Smyth, died in January 2008 - just days after he provided a DNA swab to police which linked him to the murder of Joan Harrison in 1975.

Ms Harrison was savagely bludgeoned to death on November 20, 1975 in a derelict garage in Preston. At one stage, thanks to a hoax confession, her murder was linked to the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.

However blood samples taken at the scene of the murder have been identified as belonging to Smith, with English police saying that had he been alive today there would have been “sufficient evidence” to put forward a prosecution against him.

It is understood that Smith had been serving a prison sentence in HMP Preston around that time and would have stayed in a hostel upon release which was known to have been frequented by Ms Harrison. In addition, his handwritten note seems to point to a confession of sorts. It reads: “Two how (sic) it concerns I would like to put the record straight. I can’t go on with the guilt. I have lived with it over 20 years. I am truly sorry for all the pain I have caused to anyone. Please believe me when I say I am sorry.”

“I love my grandkids and my daughter.

“I cannot go back to prison any more. Please God help my family who I worship. I have been out of trouble for over 20 years so please God help me.

“I am so sorry. God forgive me. I love you all forever.”

It is believed Smith held more than 14 aliases throughout his life - which was marred in earlier years by petty criminal offences leading to a series of convictions for violent crime against women.

In 1981 he was jailed for two months for the attempted rape of a 17 year-old girl in the Manchester area.

Two years later he received a suspended sentence for the manslaughter of his first wife Violet. He was cleared of murder, arguing that she fell on a knife he had held during a row.

His second wife has since claimed that he threw her out of a window when she was seven months pregnant.

Det Chief Supt Graham Gardner, head of crime for Lancashire Constabulary commented on the case saying: “This has been a long-running and complex homicide inquiry. Joan lost her life in a most brutal way and despite enormous efforts no charges were ever brought.”

“It is with some regret that Smith is not alive to stand trial for his crime,” continued Det Ch Supt Gardner. “I truly hope this development will bring some closure for the family.”

It is believed that ‘cold case’ police teams in areas where Smith is thought to have lived have been contacted to check if he may have been behind other unsolved crimes from across the UK.