For 44 years Rochdale was home to a murder that shook the whole of the country.
And what’s worse is the fact that the events that followed only seem to get more tragic with the arrest of the vulnerable Stefan Kiszko, a wrongful conviction and justice that was not found for three entire decades.
At lunchtime on 5th October 1975, 11-year-old Lesley Molseed left her home on the Turf Hill Estate in Rochdale to get a few bits from the shop for her mother. She never came home.
Lesley or ‘Lel’ to her family was a small, frail little girl. She suffered from a congenital heart condition which affected her health and development both physically and mentally leaving her with a mental age of a four-year-old.
When she didn’t come home, her mother began to panic and sent out a search party to find the little girl. There was no sign of her, and worse, no evidence that she even made it to the shop.
The police were called who began an enormous search around the town of Rochdale and the adjacent M62 area. Finally, three days later, Lesley’s body was found on a layby of a motorway near Rishworth Moor. She was lying face down and she had been stabbed 12 times in the upper shoulders and back. None of her clothes were disturbed, and there were no signs that she put up any sort of fight.
As far as evidence went, forensics collected foreign fibres, traces or wallpaper paste and 379 other small objects from the body and the surrounding area. The most important bit of evidence however, was some foreign DNA on the body which for the sake of politeness, I will not mention what it was exactly. I’m sure True Crime buffs you can use your imagination and connect the dots on a murder such as this.
This bit of evidence would be the paramount factor in sending two men to prison – one guilty and one not.
The violent murder of 11-year-old Lesley Molseed was one of the most callous and brutal murders of a child Greater Manchester has ever seen. When it came to finding out who was responsible for such a heinous crime the story follows a path that unfortunately, we are all familiar with.
Stefan Kiszko was a local tax-clerk with moderate mental health problems. At the time of the hunt, four teenage girls Maxine Buckley, Pamela Hind, Catherine Burke and Debbie Brown came forward and accused Kiszko of indecently exposing himself to the girls the day before the murder.
According to the West Yorkshire Police, this was enough evidence to arrest Kiszko and they conveniently decided he was the sort of person who would fit the profile of the person likely to kill Lesley. The police chose to ignore that Kiszko had the mental age of a seven-year-old and had a clean slate with the law.
Acting upon the girl’s accusations, Kiszko’s reclusiveness and the fact that they found sweets and softcore porn in the back of his car, the police arrested him on 21st December 1975.
After three days of intensive questioning, Kiszko confessed to the crime, believing that the investigators would prove his confession false, making him innocent and sending him home. He did not have a lawyer present and was never asked if he wanted one. His requests for his mother to be present were repeatedly denied.
Those of us who love a binge-worthy Netflix crime series will know that false confessions are a real thing, and in the past few decades, hundreds of prisoners have been exonerated on account of false confessions that were used as leading evidence in a trial.
A false confession is an admission of guilt for a crime for which the confessor is not responsible and they can happen for a number of reasons. One of these is some sort of mental disorder that makes the suspect actually believe they did it and another is in order to protect someone else.
False confessions can also occur through coercion, where a suspect is pressured or blackmailed into giving a confession so the police can quickly close the case with a conviction and wash their hands of it. These usually take place after hours of relentless questioning without rest or aid from anyone else and they are usually focused on vulnerable people who are easy to crack.
It would be accurate to suggest that Stefan Kiszko’s confession was coerced.
After confessing to the police, Kiszko was charged with Lesley Molseed’s murder on Christmas Eve 1975. He was sentenced to life in prison in July 1976 at Leeds Crown Court. Kiszko, who was sent to the sex offenders wing, was taunted and abused by other inmates, his mental health deteriorated drastically and every appeal was dismissed.
During his 17 years in prison, Kiszko developed schizophrenia and began to suffer from various delusions. Meanwhile, his mother never gave up hope of setting him free. In 1984 she contacted the human rights organisation JUSTICE who put her in contact with solicitor Campbell Malone who took on Kiszko’s case.
The case was reopened in 1991 and Malone and his team found a catalogue of mistakes and inconsistencies as they began to investigate further. The most overwhelming piece of evidence was that the material left on Lesley’s body could not belong to Kiszko (due to an illness which rendered him infertile and impotent) plus there was an eyewitness that placed him elsewhere at the time of the murder.
And remember those four girls that said Kiszko flashed at them? While this was going on, they all came forward and said they made it up for ‘a laugh’. The worst part is only one of them, Pamela Hind, apologised for what they did to such an innocent and vulnerable man.
His case was taken back to court in 1992, 17 years after he was first taken into custody and his name was cleared. This case has been dubbed ”the worst miscarriage of justice of all time” and spurred on a full and wide-ranging inquiry into the conviction.
Unfortunately, prison had taken a serious toll of Stefan Kiszko’s psyche. After his release, he was committed to Prestwich Hospital where he received treatment for his illness. In April 1992 he was allowed home but the years of incarceration had destroyed him and he lost interest in everything and he rarely left his home. Kiszko tragically died of a heart attack in October 1993.
With the release of Kiszko in 1992 the case remained cold, and for 14 years nobody heard so much as a whisper from the police with regards to Lesley’s murder. That was until November 2006, when the West Yorkshire Police arrested a comic book dealer Ronald Castree in connection to the murder.
In what must be seen by the police as a pure stroke of luck, Castree was arrested in connection with an unrelated sex crime, whereupon a DNA sample was then found to match the sample that was left on the body of Lesley Molseed 31 years prior. With an accuracy of one in a billion, this piece of shit was found guilty in 2007 and was sentenced to life in prison.
The murder of Lesley Molseed affected the lives of more than just her family and friends. This case fell victim to a string of crooked police, incompetent lawyers, scapegoating and the terrible treatment of mental health in a way that dragged out the trauma for nearly three decades.
The death of this little girl and the treatment and subsequent death of Stefan Kiszko will long be remembered by the community in Rochdale, as well as acting as a distinct black mark on the justice system in the country as a whole.