How Many Chances Should a Serial Killer Get?
The parole of Colin Pitchfork shows just how hard it is to predict future risk.
In 1983, twenty-seven-year-old Colin Pitchfork raped and murdered fifteen-year-old Lynda Mann in a small village in Leicestershire county, England. It was his first murder but far from his first offense.
Starting at age eleven, Pitchfork engaged in various troublesome sexual behaviors, exposing his private parts first to his friends and then branching out to strangers. Police first nabbed him for indecent exposure at age 14. Shortly before his wedding in 1981, local constables arrested him again.
The courts took the exhibitionism of a twenty-year-old a bit more seriously. He was ordered to get mental health treatment at a local psychiatric hospital, which he did. His treatment team thought Colin was back on track.
In 1983, the 22-year-old became a dad. This was also the year he sexually assaulted and strangled Mann, a lovely local girl whom he ambushed as she walked home from a babysitting job. His four-month-old son was asleep in the back seat of the car.
Three years went by, and it happened again.
On July 31, 1986, police spotted fifteen-year-old Dawn Ashworth’s body less than a mile from where a local resident had stumbled upon Mann. Dawn had left home to visit a friend, but her friend wasn’t home when she arrived. She had disappeared on the walk home. Two days later, her body was found in a wooded area near a footpath called Ten Pound Lane. She had been beaten, brutally raped, and strangled to death.
Corralling the Killer
After a massive manhunt, including the use of groundbreaking science and the voluntary DNA collection of 5,500 local men, Colin Pitchfork was arrested on September 19, 1987. To his social worker wife’s shock and horror, Pitchfork confessed almost immediately to the two murders. He also admitted to two other sexual assaults and said he’d exposed himself to over 1,000 women.
He pleaded guilty. At Pitchfork’s sentencing, mental health experts painted a grim picture of his psyche, opining that he had a “ personality disorder of…