In this episode we consider who the victims were, creating a picture of the Bamber's and Sheila Caffell.
Jeremy's story is missing from this episode, as it will be featured in a later one.
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The book that was pivotal to my research for this podcast – The White House Farm Murders, Carol Ann Lee [aff] - https://amzn.to/3e0Ew2f
Another book that was vital and is beautifully written – In Search of a Rainbows End, Colin Caffell [aff] - https://amzn.to/3fOM3DISupport the show
There’s a tendency in true crime for the victims of a tragedy to be somewhat forgotten, or side-lined, with our fascination of the crime itself tending to take centre stage. As a result, it is the suspect with whom we become familiar, learning everything that we can about them - often wanting to understand the how’s and why’s of why they did it. Oftentimes this misfocus of attention means that the victims get lost in the story and we learn more about the perpetrators than we do the people whose lives have been lost.
You’ve all heard of Ted Bundy, but how many of his victims can you name? And what about the five known victims of Jack the Ripper, what were they called? Or the Moors Murders – out of the five, how many can you name?
And in many ways this case is no different. After all, it’s Jeremy Bamber who is central to this case and for obvious reasons, he’s remained that way even in the decades past his alleged crimes. The victims are often an afterthought, when really, it’s they who should be remembered.
Over recent years there has been a move towards victim focussed true crime with Carol Ann Lee’s somebody’s mother, somebody’s daughter. And Halle Rubenhold’s The Five perfect examples of this shift. And yet some crimes are yet to benefit from this kind of revision.
Jeremy, his supporters, his defence, and his campaign team would of course argue that Jeremy himself falls under that category. That he too is a victim of the entire tragedy. And if someday proven innocent, then that is undoubtedly true. But for now, we’re going to deal with the five known victims, those who lost their lives on that fateful August night.
So, side stepping his protestations and the fact that he’s often central to this case, today, in this episode, we’re going to change the narrative.
I want to return the focus to the known and confirmed victims of this case. The five members of the family that lost everything that night. And to spend just a second re-telling their stories.
It’s easy to think of this case as having started in 1985, the year of the murders, but that is of course not true and, the story of this case goes back much, much further. And while the Bamber-Caffell story is the centre of this podcast, related tragedies also deserve their own place in history.
Because prior to the murders, there was a spate of separate tragedies at White House Farm. And while these were loosely mentioned in the initial episode, they also warrant their own place here.
White House Farm is a curious and difficult to describe property, one that is set back from the main roads whilst also nearer to one than you’d imagine. It’s haunting regardless of what’s happened there and has that traditional British farmhouse aesthetic. It’s huge and beautiful and under the care of the Bamber family, it was a thriving and successful business.
The farm itself is set in the heart of the Essex countryside, on a narrow dirt road called Pages Lane. The name originating from its earlier inhabitants, the Page family. A strange and unrelated coincidence, as it has no direct connection to me. Also, a Page.
The tragedies started in 1887, when Orbell Page was found dead less than a mile from the property. In circumstances that will always hold more significance than they ever could at the time. He was recorded to have been found with a rifle on his chest, a piece of string connecting the trigger to his right foot.
At the time, the tragedy was reported in the Essex Standard, with the following report having been published on the 1st of October 1887. Quick side note. While I will read the article, I have substituted one, outdated phrase for another.
‘Headline- Suicide of Mr Orbell Page at Tolleshunt D’arcy. Article – Between 6 and 7 o’clock on Wednesday evening it was reported that Mr. Orbell Page, who had resided in the parish of Tolleshunt D’arcy for many years and was well known, had taken his own life. The report turned out to be only too true. The deceased, it appears, was under notice to leave his house on the 29th inst., and as he had no other home to go to it seems to have preyed upon his mind. He was about the village as usual during the day and retired, as was supposed, to rest. He had, however, secured his gun, and by means of string fastened to his foot, he shot himself through the head. On Thursday the coroner, Mr. J Harrison, jun., held an inquest on the body, Mr Hunt being foreman of the jury. Susan Ludgater, wife of Harry Ludgater of Tolleshunt D’arcy, said deceased, who was 78 years of age, occupied rooms in their home. At about half-past six o’clock on Wednesday evening she saw him going upstairs and bade him good night. It was his usual time for going to bed. She heard him go into his bed-room and also into the back-room. She heard him open the window and close the door. She then heard a ‘click’ like the hammer of a fun being raised and then followed the report of a gun. She was very frightened and ran to WM. French next door as she thought deceased had shot himself. French went upstairs and found that it was so. Deceased had lived there 42 years. Witness and her husband had livered there about nine months. Deceased did no-work but lived on his friends. Witness had never heard him threaten to take his life, but during the week he had told her he hoped to be in the church-yard on Sunday. She did not think much of this at the time. Deceased was always of cheerful disposition. He had no furniture and lived a curious existence. On Wednesday afternoon he made presents to witness’s children. He received notice to quit during the spring. The jury returned a verdict of ‘temporary insanity’.
The farm itself was owned by Benjamin Page, who’d inherited the farm some years prior to Orbell’s death in 1864. He too had suffered from bouts of depression and on the 29th of December 1891, he attempted to end his life. Said to have consumed poison, Benjamin was discovered by his daughter, and while he was unwell and vomiting, he was found to be conscious. Next to his body was a spoon and a bottle of poison. The family called the doctor, who enquired as to whether or not the family had a history of madness. Despite the best efforts of those involved, his body had already been affected and in January 1892, Benjamin Page died.
Again, a news article records the death:
‘Mr Benjamin Page, of the White House Farm, Tolleshunt D’arcy, died on Tuesday evening under most painful circumstances. Mr Page, who was an ardent sportsman, had a shooting party last Monday week, and was then in his usual health; but on the Tuesday night he drank a quantity of poison, which, although it did not immediately kill him, left little hopes of recovery; he expired on Tuesday night. The deceased has held the office of surveyor for the parish for a number of years; he was also a very energetic local secretary of the Farmers Benevolent Society. He was 57 years of age. The inquest was held on Thursday by Mr Coroner Harrison. Miss Florence Page said she discovered he father in great pain and vomiting; a glass and spoon were close by. She surmised that he had taken poison as he had suffered from fits of depression and had threatened suicide. He complained most in story weather. John Perry deposed that the deceased said to him, ‘I’ve taken it, John’. Dr James said he found that the glass referred to contained corrosive sublimate. Miss Page said that her father kept the poison in his desk and used it for cattle. A verdict was returned to the effect that deceased died from exhaustion, consequent upon taking poison while in an unsound state of mind.’
The property was left to Benjamin’s widow, Elizabeth, who managed the farm with the support of her two sons for several years, one of whom was named Frank Page.
And for a short while, tragedy seemed to have left the property for good.
It’s at this point that our stories begin to merge because in 1937, an already successful farm manager and landowner, who also happened to be June Bamber’s father, Leslie Speakman came into the picture. At this point, Leslie Speakman assisted Frank Page in the co-management of White House farm.
In 1920, having already had one daughter named Pamela, Leslie and his wife Mable were expecting their second child. A little girl to be named June.
Taking the story back ever so slightly, the Speakman’s were a wealthy, hardworking and successful family with both Mabel and Leslie having themselves come from farming legacies. But at the time the two children were born, they were living in Vaulty Manor. A beautiful manor house set opposite what would eventually become the Osea Caravan Park.
The manor still exists to this day but it’s now a conference and wedding venue, but at the time of its farming operation, it was a hugely successful venture.
Alongside their two biological daughters, Mabel and Leslie also unofficially adopted two of their nieces, following the death of Mabel’s sister-in-law. The two girls, known as Binky and Betty were also raised on the farm. The four girls seemed to enjoy their childhood, and it’s said that they greatly contributed to the running of the farm.
In 1933, Mabel started her own business, offering land opposite Vaulty as camping space for those looking for a getaway. It was an idea to which she dedicated a huge amount of time with the results speaking for themselves. The little camping field that Mabel started was to eventually become Osea Caravan Park.
While it would eventually be the site of Jeremy Bamber’s break-in, it was also hugely successful. At the time of scripting this episode, the site remains within the family, via Ann Eaton’s daughter.
When June Speakman finished her education at Maldon Grammar School, she joined the Fire Guard, but in 1940 was moved to the War Office in London. Initially joining as a typist, before being recommended for the FANY – the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry in 1940. For those unsure, it was an organisation affiliated with the Special Operations Executive.
The SOE trained its potential agents in the art of resistance and sabotage with agents being shipped across the world.
It was made up of 10,000 men and 3000 women. For those of you interested in WWII or the who want to know more about the organisation, you should give the movie A Call to Spy a watch. As the SOE is the basis for that film’s plotline.
For those who haven’t yet seen the movie, the story follows a group of female agents who are trained and sent over the Europe to aid in specific sabotage efforts and to help better connect the resistance. And it was this organisation which June Speakman eventually worked for in 1940.
In her book, The Murders at White House Farm, Carol Ann Lee perfectly outlines the skill set which suited her to these duties.
‘June’s qualifications were typing, shorthand, French, first aid and home nursing, her interests swimming, tennis and reading.’
In November 1944, June was hired as a wireless operator and in January 1945, following her training, she was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act. What followed was a series of training modules aimed at readying June for duty, with essential lessons including parachute jumping and how to be inconspicuous.
While June is known for this case and her deeply religious beliefs, it’s clear that she was a brave and accomplished young women. One who contributed to the war effort in a way that we might never fully understand or appreciate.
Shortly after, in 1945, the war ended and over the next few years armed personnel and others working in the war effort were sent home and decommissioned. The post-war years dominated by an intention to recover, whether that be families, cities, or so on.
In January 1947, with the war fading slowly into memory, June’s sister Pamela married Robert Boutflour, also from a farming legacy. The couple settled in Carbonells, one of the farms managed by Leslie Speakman and they went on to have their son, David. They eventually had a second child – Ann, who would eventually become Ann Eaton. One of the first family members to be suspicious of Jeremy.
In 1948, Robert Boutflour asked his father to supply him with some extra labourers, requesting that a couple of his students offer a helping hand. As the Principal of the Royal Agricultural College, his father was aware which students were best suited to the job. He agreed to the request and one of the students sequestered was that of Nevill Bamber. A handsome, tall, and lean young man who was said to have set the local girl’s hearts racing.
Ralph Nevill Bamber was born in 1924 and was the youngest of the three Bamber children. But despite having been christened Ralph, it was familial tradition for all Bamber children to go by their middle name and so Ralph Nevill Bamber was only ever called Nevill.
The children saw very little of their parents with their father and mother both away for work, but it was said to have been a mostly happy childhood.
Similarly, to what would happen with Jeremy, in 1934, Nevill Bamber was sent to Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, Sussex and was said to have been a promising and successful student. In fact, it was one of the reasons why Nevill and June eventually sent Jeremy to boarding school. According to those close to Nevill, the boarding school experience had transformed his life and as far as he was concerned, he wanted his children to have the same.
In 1940, Nevill decided to join the RAF, and passed his exams with flying colours, eventually being called up in 1941. At the time he was given the title, Temporary Sergeant Pilot, flying with army support, Squadrons 13 and 55.
During the allied invasion of French North Africa, Operation Torch, which began in November 1942, Carol Ann Lee recounts how Nevill Bamber was actually shot down.
‘One source state that his mosquito crashed and he spent weeks in hospital with his back encased in plaster, while another claims he was out of action for two years with spinal injuries. His service records show that on 8 June 1943, he was transferred to the Emergency Medical Services Hospital in Lambert’s Bay, a small fishing town in Western Cape province of South Africa. On 16 August 1943, he returned to England.’
It took months of therapy and recuperation but in November 1944, Nevill was called up for a second time. This time he was posted in Jerusalem, followed by Egypt, before returning to England. In 1947, his duties also officially ended.
Having joined the Royal Agriculture College, Nevill was soon chosen for the Speakman farm by Professor Boutflour and having built a great relationship with Pamela and Robert, he quickly found himself inside of their social circles. Eventually meeting and courting Pamela’s sister, June.
June and Nevill fell in love through their shared interest in tennis, having been doubles on a few occasions and began their relationship in 1948.
David Boutflour commented in a past interviews that the couple couldn’t have been any more different from each other and yet it seemed to be a marriage made in heaven.
Nevill was charismatic. He had a tremendous sense of humour. I can always remember, Nevill loved a party. June on the other hand, she was a much quieter person, shy and the two of them were a perfect pair.
It was clear that things were serious between them and they planned their future, deciding that they would marry as soon as Nevill had graduated from college and did so, albeit delayed slightly due to a family death. In 1949, the couple married in St Peter’s Church Goldhanger and on the 3rd of September 1949, Ralph Nevill Bamber and June Speakman officially became the Bamber’s.
Mr and Mrs Bamber were regarded as the squires of the village, very well respected, like you would look up to your parents, village people looked up to Mr and Mrs Bamber.
Those who knew Nevill, whether personally or professionally, recount him as being a fair and kind man. The kind of person who looked after those close to him and sought to be a reasonable and moderate force within all environments.
With Colin Caffell, despite his negative perception of June, offering many a kind word about Nevill in his book.
‘My first impressions of Nevill Bamber were ones I maintain to this day. He was the kind of man for whom one had instant respect and affection. At six foot, four inches, he was a big man in every sense of the word – almost aristocratic.’
And he also offered comments on June.
‘Mrs Bamber, on the other hand, was a quiet, nice-looking lady with a pleasant disposition; a woman who, although very active within the community, preferred to take a back-seat role to her ‘husband’s’ activities.’
‘But others suffered the consequences; although many would not consider it excessive, over the years. June had begun to preach her committed beliefs to all and sundry - especially to her own family.’
‘I suspect was a major contributing factor in not only Bamb’s tragic illness, but her own earlier breakdown. Like my own family, anger and feelings were never openly expressed by Nevill and June, with the inevitable result that the children were like a box of firecrackers waiting to explode at the slightest provocation.’
While Nevill and June were at the very start of their journey together, the Bamber’s and White House Farm were soon become intrinsically linked, but before that could happen, another tragedy was to strike. Both worlds finally and permanently colliding.
By 1950, Elizabeth Page had passed away, with her sons inheriting and running the farm at White House.
In mid 1950, Elizabeth’s son Frank Page was to suffer his own breakdown, a situation that was confounded by the eventual death of his brother just a few weeks later.
A notable and respected member of the community, Frank Page’s obituary is lengthy and poignant, listing all those who attended his funeral. Including P. Speakman, June’s sister.
The obituary, minus the funeral names, reads as follows:
‘Mr Hugh Page auctioneer and farmer, formerly of The Grange, Witham, and later of Sandford Road, Chelmsford, where he lived in retirement, died at the home of his daughter, Mrs H.B May, of Salcote Hall, Heybridge on Saturday. Mr Page was born at The White House Farm, Tolleshunt D’arcy, now the residence of his brother, Mr Frank Page, a retired farmer. Mr Page was articled to Messrs. Sandford & Son, Colchester, and started business on his own at Witham in 1905. Our years later he became secretary and auctioneer at Witham stock sale and cattle market, a position he held until he retired in 1946. The following year he also retired from farming, having farmed at Elm and Half Hides, Witham for a quarter of a century. He was a keen Freemason, a Past Grand Master of the Easterford Lodge, Kelvedon, and founder member of the Manor of Newland Lodge, Witham. His only son, Kenneth, died in South Africa in 1934. Mrs Page, who before her marriage resided at Little Totham Hall, died in 1944.’
Following his brother’s death, Frank confided in his sister, advising her that he was struggling with his grief and own mental health problems. A comment that held further meaning when, in November 1950, things were to come to a head.
Waking up in the early hours on the 10th of November, Minnie – Frank’s sister noticed that he was missing from his bed. A search ensued and eventually, his body was in the farmyard’s water tank. The tractor wheels having been found nearby, clear evidence that they’d been used to help him get inside.
An autopsy found no signs of drowning but did find that Frank Page had heart disease and it was this which was registered as his cause of death. The assumption being that he’d died from the shock of the cold water.
And so, by 1950, and with both Frank and Hugh Page having recently passed away, White House Farm officially needed a new tenant and having been married for a year, June and Nevill posed the perfect solution.
Leslie Speakman contacted the Henry Smith trustees, the organisation that owns the farm and suggested that Nevill and June should be its next tenants.
The Henry Smith trust was first established in 1628, based on the will of the namesake who was a moneylender and businessman. In his will he outlined the charity that he wished to create, also outlining the first beneficiaries. He stated that English sailors who had suffered at the hands of Turkish pirates were to be the very first.
The website states that the trust’s now goal is to continue with that endeavour and that it is ‘working to combat disadvantage and meet the challenges and opportunities facing people in need throughout the UK.’
It is the largest grant giving charity within the UK and in 2020 alone it provided over 39 million pounds.
There seems to be little information on the exact manner in which White House Farm operates, but presumably it helps to generate a consistent income for the charity.
But if you search for Henry Smith Trust White House Farm, you do get a link to the registered charity information.
‘Henry Smith Charity (Tolleshunt D’arcy trust)
Activity: To manage property vested in it being White House Farm in the Parish of Tolleshunt D’arcy. To distribute residue after expenses of management into 140 equal parts between the Ancient parishes of Suffolk, Essex, Hertford, Chester and Sussex.’
In 1951, Nevill and June Bamber moved into the property and White House Farm. And while the lane on which it sits is still named after the aforementioned Page family, from 1952 on, the house was too become forever linked to the Bamber’s.
The slow march towards the tragedy for which the farm is ultimately known had already begun.
The first bout of sadness for the Bamber’s came almost immediately as they found themselves struggling to conceive naturally. It was a trauma and tragedy that had a profound impact on June and in 1955, she was hospitalised for a supposedly related breakdown.
Having received treatment at a private hospital, she did eventually return home but not before spending three months living outside of the farm.
The decision was somewhat made for them a few years later, when June had a medical procedure which made it impossible for her to conceive and so eight years after their marriage in 1957, June and Nevill made the decision to adopt.
Having approached the Church of England’s Children’s Society, the couple were fast approved, that being despite June’s earlier mental health concerns.
The first child to come along was Sheila, who was born in 1957 and was placed up for adoption aged three months old. Her mother was the unmarried daughter of a Chaplin to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was the Chaplin’s belief that it would be best for everyone if Sheila was moved to a new home. The Bamber’s were selected and the 6th of February 1958, Sheila was officially adopted into the Bamber family.
It wasn’t long after this date that June was once again admitted for private mental health care and in 1958, she was once again treated. This time she attended the St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton, the same hospital that Sheila would later attend.
In her book, Carol Ann Lee recounts this in well-researched detail, outlining that while the records remain sealed, the psychiatrist Dr Hugh Cameron Ferguson was able to help.
‘June came under his car in 1982 and he learned that she had been treated there in the 1950s: ‘I don’t know if her depression following Sheila’s adoption took the form of the classical lowering of mood or if it was mixed up with her strong religious beliefs. I suspect it was somewhat religiose, disturbed thoughts as well as disturbed feelings. That’s the difference between clinical depression and a psychotic depression – there’s a breaking with reality.’
During her stint in hospital, June was eventually subjected to electroshock therapy, and it’s said that she received this on at least 6 occasions.
Electroconvulsive therapy – or electroshock therapy as it is colloquial known – is a procedure in which small charges of electric are processed through the brain of those suffering from mental health concerns. The aim of the procedure is to trigger a brief seizure, with the goal being to create chemical changes within the brain in a bid to ease mental ill-health symptoms.
For those who are interested in classic movies, you might best understand the procedure via a reference to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest because it’s the procedure that Jack Nicholson eventually has done.
A few years after June’s successful treatment, in 1961, the couple decided that it was time to add a second child to their household and the same year, Jeremy Bamber was born. Despite having been hospitalised on two occasions for serious mental health conditions, with both seeming to have been triggered by her want for children or the adoption process, the Church of England’s Children’s Society once again approved their application.
Jeremy Paul Marsham was born on the 13th of January 1961 but quickly placed for adoption, finding himself in the custody of the Children’s Society.
Just six weeks later in July of 1961, Jeremy Marsden was welcomed into the Bamber family and was eventually given the name by which we all know him – Jeremy Nevill Bamber. During the police investigation into the murders, Jeremy refused them access to his adoption records, but the truth was uncovered later.
His mother was the unmarried daughter of a vicar, Juliet Wheeler, while his father was a married, former army sergeant, who at the time worked in Buckingham Palace.
It has since been established that just 18 months after Jeremy had been placed up for adoption, Leslie Marsham divorced his first wife and remarried Jeremy’s mother. They later had children together, keeping in touch with the Bamber’s for several years after the adoption took place. And yet they never sought contact with Jeremy himself.
Whether or not they thought about Jeremy a lot in the years after is impossible to establish but they were unable to avoid thinking of him forever and eventually they were to find out what happened to him, when newspapers tracked Jeremy’s biological parents down.
It’s since been stated that the Marsham’s had no idea about who their son had become, but I find this difficult to believe. After all, they were in touch with the Bamber’s and the White House Farm murders was a huge story in the 1980s, gaining all kinds of national traction. Surely, they would have recognised the families name and put two and two together with the alleged suspect.
In the years since, Major Marsden has occasionally spoke out about his first-born son. In an interview with the Sunday Mirror in 2004, he stated that he wanted nothing to do with Jeremy and that he fully supported the whole life sentence. He branded him a ‘psychopath’ and stated that neither he nor Juliet ever wanted any kind of contact with him.
It’s been suggested that the fact the children were adopted was common knowledge within the farm and that both Jeremy and Sheila were made aware of this detail from a young age. But we’ll never really understand the role – if any – this or the mere fact of their adoption played in what ultimately happened.
What is clear is that while from the outside the farm appeared idyllic, inside issues and tensions were slowly bubbling away.
The children were said to have had everything they wanted with Roland Pargeter – Anthony and Jacqueline’s half-brother – even referred to them as spoilt. An allegation that was also made by others close to the family.
What is clear is that Jeremy Bamber seemed to be an unaffected child, with June’s friend Agnes Low telling Carol Ann Lee that:
‘During the earlier years of the children, Sheila was the awkward one, Jeremy was a very pleasant and polite child.’
The family called him ‘Jem’, a name that even Julie uses in her police statements. And it’s said that Jeremy idolised his father during his childhood.
On the other hand, Sheila was said to have had quite a temper but that also being sensitive, she tended to feel guilty on the occasions when her temper got the better of her.
Again Carol Ann Lee, records the following of Sheila:
‘Friends recall her as an affectionate, spontaneous little girl who loved animals; she was dreamy and imaginative, strong-willed yet easily intimidated. Her Aunt Pamela described her as very loving, and throughout her life Sheila was a tactile person, generous with hugs and habitually touching the arm of the person to whom she was chatting.’
Over the past decade, there has been a huge increase into studies related to relationships and psychology with it now being a commonly held belief that we all have a language of love.
A manner in which we prefer to both give and receive demonstrations of love. Of these there are said to be five with physical touch being one of the many languages. From what we know about Sheila, it seems that this was one of hers with Colin also echoing how hard the Bamber’s lack of expression had been for her. With it being recorded that she was hurt with their lack of physical expression, as clearly it was something that Sheila valued.
It’s interesting that while Colin reflects this seeming deficit in the care and love which Sheila received, Jeremy claims that he’d always felt loved growing up. Telling Carol Ann Lee that his parents were always there for him.
There’s something about the way Sheila is described that really resonates with me. She sounds like the kind of person who I’d always look forward to catching up with. The kind of person you enquire after in the planning of a family event. Full of life and frolic. Fun and loving.
Yet it was this tactical nature, and her want to enjoy life to the fullest, which eventually caused huge tension within the Bamber family.
For those who’ve studied this case and reinvestigated it since, much has been made of June’s own mental health struggles but particularly her staunch religious beliefs. Both Jeremy and Sheila would eventually be at a disagreement with these standards, with Sheila tending to bear the brunt of June’s upset.
June was a very traditional and religious person, with high biblical moral beliefs that often jarred with 1980s punk rock culture.
For whatever reason, women often tend to bear the brunt of religious restrictions, with women around the world under various customs and religious often the first to see their freedoms encroached. And while I’m far from an expert on this, it’s obvious that traditional understands of women and their roles are often to blame.
And so, it’s little surprise that Sheila faced these criticisms more than her brother – or any other member of the family.
The church and Christianity were a large part of the Bamber’s lives, and this was reflected in the lives of the children. Having joined St Nicholas church in nearby Tolleshunt D’arcy – the church where the Bamber’s are now buried – the children were enrolled in Sunday school.
As a child I also attended Sunday school but this mostly my own decision and it wasn’t something which was forced upon me in any which way. And when I left church, I certainly wasn’t expected to continue my religious education.
The Bamber children, however, were and when they returned home from Sunday School, the studies were pursued further.
At mealtimes, grace was read, and the children were expected to pray at regular intervals with bedtime stories usually compromising more tales from the bible.
Unsurprisingly, both children attended the local Church of England primary school.
According to those who also attended the church, Sheila was regarded as a much loved and popular pupil, while Jeremy struggled to fit in.
Again, Carol Ann Lee quotes a former pupil, Bob Cross, as saying:
‘He was so snooty and spoke so posh on the bus that the local lads used to tease him mercilessly. He was a real wimp and would just burst into tears instead of fighting back. His sister stuck up for him a lot and he hated that.’
After this, both siblings were moved to Maldon Court, a private school a few miles away, where it’s suggested that Jeremy started to come into his own. Here he was able to make friends and he was said to have been naturally talented with science and maths.
Yet within the farm, it’s suggested that discipline became a problem for June and Nevill with neither of them finding it easy to discipline their children. With David Boutflour telling Carol Ann Lee that June and Nevill ‘weren’t strong disciplinarians. Very kind, loving people but I don’t think they were strong enough on their children. They did everything they could from a financial point of view – sometimes children need more.’
When I read this initially during my research, I couldn’t help but think of the famed ‘affluenza case’ and I started to wonder what impact – if any – financial indulgence might actually have on young people.
For those unfamiliar with the case, I’m referring to the case of Ethan Couch – and I’ll attach a link below for those curious to learn more.
In 2013, Ethan Couch killed 4 people and injured 9 others when he drove his car, under the influence, into unsuspecting crowds of people. The police quickly discovered a dangerous pattern of behaviour for that the teen had been exhibiting for many years and at the point when the tragedy took place, Ethan was 16 years-old but he was living an effectively independent life. His parents had recently moved into a new mansion and had left Couch, unattended for weeks on end in their former property. Allowing him to drink and drive despite past warnings.
At trial, his defence alleged that he was simply too spoilt to know right from a wrong. A defence that remains as ludicrous now as it was then. After all, a 16-year-old knows right from wrong. And him fleeing the crash surely suggests this even further.
But here’s the thing. While it doesn’t excuse what a person does, a lack of boundaries might suggest that something else is bubbling under the service. A sense of entitlement that comes from being given everything with faults and failings often overlooked. And it no doubts warrants further research.
Another recent case also had an element of this – the Murdaugh family case.
The standards which June carried for her children eventually carried over into their adulthood and her religious beliefs massively influenced what she expected of her children. For Jeremy, that meant inheriting the farm, a role for which he was being primed and trained from a young age. It was expected that he would marry a local girl, in the local church and that together they would eventually manage White House Farm.
For Sheila, the fate was much the same, with it being expected that she would attend finishing school, before marrying a local boy.
Neither of which being how things unfolded, something which was said to have been of great stress for June Bamber.
And yet for all her supposed disappointment in her children, June seemed to have great love for them also, leaving a beautiful letter alongside her will for whoever was left behind. It was addressed to all the family but obviously, it was Jeremy to whom it was given.
A snippet of it was read as follows – ‘If anything happens to me and I have to leave you. I write this to tell you of my love for you and to thank you for all that you have given me.’
Much of what we know about Sheila comes from Colin Caffell, Sheila’s ex-husband, whom she had remained close to despite their broken relationship.
If you haven’t read his book, In search of a rainbows end, I urge you to do so because it’s a beautiful account of his story and he writes with a warmth that most people would struggle with given the circumstances. It’s honestly one of the most beautiful books that I’ve ever read, because while about grief, it’s absolutely about love.
Something that Colin seems to pose in abundance, despite the tragedies that have happened within his life. There’s an emotional intelligence that Colin seems to posses and his attitude is beautiful.
In the years and months following the crimes, Colin was heavily critical of June and since discovering the truth about the events of that night, he still wonders about the role June’s beliefs had on both of their children. After all, they were not biologically related and yet both June and Sheila were to suffer from similar mental ill-health. The commonality being the environment in which both developed.
Another commonality between the siblings was that both were eventually devastated by their parents’ choice to send them both to boarding school. With Sheila’s sending off coming first.
It happened in 1968, just after the death of Nevill’s sister and strangely it happened in the middle of the school year.
Contrary to what Bamber did allege at one point during his police questioning, there’s no evidence to suggest that Sheila WAS expelled from this school. But we might never know the truth behind this sudden change. Regardless of the why or the how’s, in 1968, Sheila was sent away.
It’s alleged that at some point during her childhood Sheila had been caught having sex with a farm worker. I’ve not been able to pinpoint when this was supposed to have happened, or if it’s linked to her having been sent away.
Her chosen school was Moira House in Eastbourne, a beautiful red brick building that has since been closed. But she hated it from the get-go. She missed being near to her family and particularly missed her pets.
In a theme that is consistent with both Bamber children, the move created huge feelings of rejection, struggling to fit in with the other children and feeling abandoned by her parents.
In his book, Colin Caffell recounts the deep sense of rejection that Sheila was to experience from this.
‘She spoke of suffering terrible feelings of rejection at the time, not only her parents but also by most of the other girls at school.’
Over the next two years, Sheila continued to apply pressure on her parents, begging and pleading with them to bring her home. But for the first two years, it failed to work, until in 1970 when they finally relented, allowing her to change school. Having finally moving her to Old Hall School in Norfolk. She immediately loved it and found herself a group of friends who still remember her fondly.
One of these friends, Jane Davis, later wrote a letter to Colin telling him about her experience of Sheila.
‘There was nothing except kindness and fun in Bambs – she was one of the few people I knew who never showed any signs of malice.’
It was said that Sheila’s only real downfall at this school was her lack of confidence and that many teachers believed that this was the primary reason why she’d failed to excel.
While Jeremy Bamber might have been wrong about Sheila being expelled from her first school, he was partly right, because eventually, Sheila was expelled from Old Hall. But it was on the very last day of term and alongside the rest of her class. Their crime – destroying their school uniform.
Leaving with little to no idea of what she wanted to do, Sheila was clear on one goal and that was her determination to leave the farm. Filled with a want to escape and a desire for adventure, Sheila set her sights on the big, bold lights of London.
Initially, June was reluctant to let her daughter go, appreciating that Sheila was beautiful and fearful of the perceived immorality that London has to offer. But in the end, having sought guidance from God, June agreed.
In September 1974, Sheila began a two-year course at St Godric’s in Hampstead, but she never finished, withdrawing in the March of 1975. But while her academic career had ended with little progress having been made, she had made a group of friends with whom she regularly visited The Three Horseshoes on Heath Street.
It was there that she met her future husband and the eventual father of the twins, Colin Caffell. A moment that he captures beautifully in his book, In Search of the Rainbows End.
‘For me, it was love at first sight. In that enchanted moment, across a smoke-filled Hampstead pub, I had found my fairy-tale princess.’
In the months following this and her eventual withdrawal from the course, Sheila struggled to settle. Dabbling in hairdressing before choosing to pursue modelling. A career that she believed would help set her up for life.
With her parents help, Sheila was able to create a portfolio with one of the shots ironically involving a gun. The story of which Carol Ann Lee tells in her book. The shot in question was taken by Ronald Crowe, an Essex photographer who knew the Eaton’s. He recounted how awkward Sheila was the weapon, seeming to have no idea how to actually hold the weapon.
Determined to help her daughter, June eventually paid for a modelling course at the Lucie Clayton School, but as time passed, she did start to become concerned about this prospect.
The 1970s was the beginning of a change in culture and relationships with societal changes said to have weighed heavily on the religious June. She’d been left disappointed with her daughter’s choice in a partner and was worried about the wider world.
While Sheila fell quickly in love with Colin, the Bamber’s weren’t so keen and later Jeremy would tell him how the Bamber’s truly felt about their relationship.
‘In Jeremy’s opinion, his parent’s attitude was all down to the fact that they had very little respect for me or my ideas and ‘treated me like dirt’, or at least thought of me in that context. I knew that I hadn’t come up to their expectations of a son-in-law, but this still came as a bit of a shock. He then went on to suggest that, right from the start, I had always had a raw deal with his family.’
Over the next few years, Sheila attempted to make it as a model. A beautiful young woman who loved the London lifestyle, it was a career that she should have well built for. But whatever reason, it simply wasn’t meant to be, and she struggled to make any impact in. Added to that was a change in her personal circumstances.
Again, I have to wonder if confidence played a role in her inability to make modelling work for her. After all, you have to be confident for that kind of ting.
In 1975, shortly after graduating from her modelling course, Sheila and Colin fell pregnant.
On the advocacy of June Bamber, Sheila sought an abortion and while it’s hard to know exactly, this does seem to be the moment that things started to change for Sheila. Perhaps related to the fact that several her friends reported that this decision was very much against her wishes.
One thing does appear to be certain is that this incident was to be the beginning of a tragic obsession for Sheila. As following it, Sheila developed an obsession with having children, with pregnancy eventually becoming a source of great emotional trauma for her. Similarly, as had happened with June following their adoption of Sheila, having children would come to be a disastrous fixation and undoubtedly contributed to her later mental ill-health.
According to numerous sources, Sheila’s wants, wills or best interests were often second to the dominating consideration and that was how other people would think of the Bamber’s. With their public perception within the community often being the basis on which some huge decisions were made.
While her pregnancies were to be a huge factor in her life, another tale has become dominate in attempting to understand the latter mental health balances that Sheila would come to be plagued by.
In his book, Colin recounts a particular incident that he himself witnessed. One which is now believed to have had lasting and long-term implications for Sheila’s mental health. The story starts just after Sheila’s first pregnancy, the one which ended in abortion.
Just after this, Colin was invited to the farm, so that he could be around for Shiela and that very much feeling the young, 20-somethings that they were, they decided to sunbath in the vast grounds of White House Farm.
‘It was so hot in the shelter of the hedgerow that, having spread our blankets out, we decided to strip off completely and sunbath naked.’
The couple were discovered by June Bamber and her outrage was plain for anyone to see with Colin describing her as wearing an expression of ‘grim determination’.
She dragged Sheila off and it wasn’t until years later that Colin finally learnt what June had said to Sheila.
In his book, Colin recounts finding this out.
‘Some years later I was to learn that, in private, Mrs Bamber had branded her ‘the devil’s child’; a condemnation which, according her psychiatrist’s testimony at Jeremy’s trial, struck very deeply and had a profound and devastating effect at the time Bambs was most emotionally vulnerable and in need of reassurance.’
At this point in time, problems between Colin and Sheila were beginning to emerge with the couple being plagued by bickering and arguments. Tensions would flare and while Sheila doesn’t seem to have knowingly hurt any of her loved ones, tempers were wafer thin. She had however been known to damage items of Colin’s pottery, with him also admitting that on one occasion his reaction had caused Sheila a black eye.
Regardless of this, the couple remained together and in 1977 the pair fell pregnant a second time.
This time, again on her parents’ persuasion, she and Colin married, in what was – by all accounts – a shotgun wedding. The parents had offered them a flat in London, with them arguing that it was for the benefit of the child. It seems likely that it was more to do with perception and how others would view the Bamber’s and their children.
Since they had both engaged in sex before marriage, June refused to allow Sheila to marry in the local church, despite her wishes and instead, her wedding was to be inside of the local registry office. Additionally, June is said to have forbidden Sheila from wearing white, insisting that she wear cream instead. Very few people were invited to the wedding.
Again, on the advice of the Bamber’s. But this pregnancy was also to end in sadness, as shortly after the marriage Sheila had a miscarriage.
Again, Colin recounts this story in his book:
‘Sadly, within weeks of our marriage, Bambs miscarried. Desperate to put it behind her, she accepted two months of gruelling work in Tokyo, which further crippled her emotionally. After much trauma and another miscarriage, she finally fell pregnant with the twins. By then, unfortunately, our relationship had deteriorated to the level of mutual abuse and accusation. We no longer saw each other in the form of radiant supernatural beings, but as ogre and witch. We were reduced to screaming at each other and eventually parted a few months after the boys were born. I still loved Bambs dearly, but found it impossible to live with her any longer. There were even times we could have killed each other; violence was just below the surface.’
One incident is recounted in Carol Ann Lee’s book:
‘On her 21st birthday at their flat in Hampstead. During the evening, Sheila noticed that her husband had disappeared with a young woman from his office. Colin returned two hours later, refusing to answer Sheila’s frantic questions. When all the guests except her parents and Jeremy had gone, he tried to pretend nothing had happened by ‘ignoring all her questions and trying to get to sleep’. In desperation, Sheila smashed her fist through the bedroom window. Colin was horrified but too drunk to drive her to the nearby Royal Free Hospital. It fell to Jeremy to look after his distressed sister, who had gashed the back of her hand and needed stitches; Colin recalls that she would thrust the scars under his nose to make him feel guilty. Sheila’s abiding sense of betrayal was heightened by the incident.’
Three months after this, Sheila joined her father, brother, and the extended family on a shooting holiday in Scotland. And while it was said to have been an annual event, Sheila is only believed to have attended on this one occasion.
In the eventual trial of Jeremy Bamber, this trip to Scotland was to become a key source of discussion, as there were questions over whether Sheila had used a gun. Jeremy was adamant that she had and eventually David Boutflour agreed that he had also witnessed her fire a shotgun.
Meanwhile Colin and Sheila were attempting to make things work, despite the obvious issues that they were having and eventually Sheila was to fall pregnant with her twins.
There were issues with the pregnancy from very early on, and Sheila was hospitalised on several occasions. Eventually, being hospitalised for the remainder of the pregnancy.
It was during one of these stays that Sheila found out something which devastated her – Colin was having an affair.
According to my research, the affair started a few months before Sheila had found out that she was pregnant with the twins. And had started when Colin had begun a new job at a music magazine. The woman was a trainee nurse and he’d met her at a party. Sheila was said to have been devastated but assumed that it would end quickly.
Shortly after the affair began, Colin lost his job and June Bamber took the decision to pay for Colin to have driving lessons. She wanted Sheila to have easy access to her and Nevill, with Colin being able to drive meaning that they could then easily visit.
On the 22nd of June 1979, the twins were born, a few weeks before their due date and while the circumstances of their birth were far from ideal to the Bamber’s, they were delighted by the news. The Bamber’s were officially grandparents and they doted on the new additions.
Yet while Sheila and Colin were bonding with their beautiful baby boys, and the Bamber’s were pleased with the news, June Bamber’s own mental health was rapidly declining and in 1979, she was hospitalised again. This time she was treated for major depression.
The decline in her mental health was said to have been because of a number of external pressures, chief amongst them being that Nevill’s mother had come to live with them.
Despite Colin Caffell clearly having issues with June Bamber’s religious believes, he had a great deal of respect for how she dealt with this issue and noted that he believed it had a huge impact on her. However, in his book, he also reflected how she chose to further lean on the church.
‘Rather than complain or attempt to spread the workload, she allowed it all to become part of the cross she had to bear. But others suffered the consequences; although many would not consider it excessive, o er the years June had begun to preach her committed beliefs to all and sundry – especially her own family.’
The man who took charge of June’s treatment – Dr Hugh Cameron Ferguson – was to eventually to become Sheila’s doctor too. Something that would likely be advised against today. At the time that he was treating June, he’d been working at the hospital for four years and shared his observations about June Bamber to Carol Ann Lee in the research of her book.
‘I found her very intelligent, self-contained and likeable. She had a kind of gravitas. Her husband was very level-headed and obviously devoted to her. He told me that it was a nasty depression she had, that she was deeply religious and how worried he was about her.’
While there, June received several more doses of electric shock therapy.
On top of the ovious stress that June had felt from Nevill’s mother joining the household, it was said that June’s distress at her children’s choices had also deeply affected her.
And that she’d found it hard to accept that they hadn’t turned out as she herself would have wished.
She wanted Jeremy to be next in line to the farm and to take over at the point when Nevill was no longer able to continue. But instead, her son had become obsessed with living a wealthy, carefree lifestyle and was said to have aspirations of moving to London and opening a bar. While Sheila on the other hand had married Colin Caffell, a kindly man but a penniless art student. The opposite of the local village farmer June had hoped Sheila would marry.
And yet according to Dr Ferguson, her children were only mentioned briefly during her therapy. Suggesting that – much in the same way as he would with Sheila – external circumstances might have influenced but not caused her ongoing health concerns.
June Bamber was eventually released from the Northampton hospital just a few months later and was said to have been in a much better place. In what was to be an ironic and sad twist of fate, it was the hospital where Sheila was to receive further treatment herself again a few years later.
Meanwhile at this point in time, Sheila herself was beginning to spiral.
On the 21st of December 1979, Sheila placed a call to Camden social services, begging them for help. She was worried that she was going to hurt the twins but despite this – and having been assigned a care worker, Sheila was not deemed to be a threat.
It’s a part of the story that Carol Ann Lee discusses in detail in her book:
‘The social workers assigned to Sheila were reminded of an exotic bird in a gilded cage. Despite being the most privileged client on their books, she was painfully lonely, with only her babies for interest and company on a day-to-day basis. At six months old, Nicholas and Daniel were peaky with heavy colds, but otherwise fine and related well to their mother. Sheila talked a great deal about how important it was to her to be fertile and about her relationship with June, then going through a particularly difficult spell. Still seething and bewildered over the breakdown of her marriage, she seemed a complex young woman, prone to melodrama but fragile and warm, eager to be around other people. Colin, with his laidback manner and liking for calm, had clearly been unable to cope with her emotional needs. Camden social services decided the main priority was to provide her with respite from the twins and the chance to find work. But Sheila also admitted to ‘temper tantrums’ in which she inflicted injuries on herself and deliberately provoked Colin, and sometimes she had ‘hallucinations and feelings of paranoia’. She asked to be referred for psychoanalysis.’
In 1980, Sheila was provided with further support, when Camden social services agreed to provider day foster care for the twins. In the arrangement, the twins would be cared for by other people on certain days, affording Sheila the time and space to be on her own. She was encouraged to look for work and did so.
In August 1981, she made the decision to quit her attempts at modelling and officially asked Penny Cotton to remove her from the agency. According to Carol Ann Lee, Penny was somewhat disappointed, feeling that she could have become a fantastic model was it not for the boys. She felt that since Sheila had become a mother, she had rightly been putting her children first and that as a result, she no longer had the time to do anything other.
Yet for Sheila, the matter was much deeper, and she became convinced that it was her appearance that had foiled her modelling attempts. As a result, Sheila requested that her GP arrange a breast augmentation for her and shortly after, she underwent surgery.
At around the same time that Sheila was being removed from the agency’s books, Camden social services were raising concerns about Sheila’s care of the boys. According to Carol Ann Lee’s research, a health worker had expressed concerns when Daniel presented with scolds on his cheek knee and stomach, while also having an ear infection.
The health workers concerns laid primarily in how Sheila handled the situation, anxious that she was not quick enough to act. And didn’t seek medical assistance until it was suggested to her.
The social services found that the injuries were undoubtedly accidental, and the health worker was wrong about Sheila’s decision to seek medical intervention - she had actually taken Daniel to the hospital.
At this point in time, Sheila had NO confirmed mental health concerns, and her only form of medication was the sedation that she was taken in the evening.
At this point, Colin also became concerned about Sheila’s care of the boys but in the end, it was decided that Sheila would remain the primary carer. Although there was a marked shift in how Sheila was behaving.
The twins themselves were growing into beautiful young children, with them said to have been loving and lovely young boys.
They were said to have been incredibly unique, creative, and independent, adding joy to the lives of anyone who happened to know them. A picture that Colin paints beautifully in his book.
‘I felt a bit like the eccentric inventor Caratacus Potts – the main character in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – with his two children. Like them, we didn’t have much money to spend but we are well, had an abundance of love and laughter, and most of all, each other.’
The younger of the two – Nicholas –loved embodying that role, always acting like the younger sibling despite being only a few minutes younger.
They were said to have been sensitive souls, but each was different with their own thoughts and interests.
The older of the two, Daniel, was said to have been vastly more serious, but loved deeply and was able to communicate his feelings with ease. He was always showed an understanding and awareness of how other people felt, taking the care to understand their own struggles. He loved football and he-man, welcoming friendships with other young boys.
On the other hand, Nicholas showed a natural interest in girls and had a love of nature and flora. He loved being outdoors and enjoyed looking at flowers and butterflies. He was smaller than his brother, full of laughter and wanted to be told apart from his brother. Something that was made easier by the fact that he had a slight scar on his cheek having once fallen over a coffee table.
Yet, like their mother and Uncle the children’s lives were also dominated by their grandparents and as the children grew up, June’s religion became a staple of their upbringing. Something that was to be a huge concern for Colin Caffell.
In fact, just a few weeks before their final visit to White House Farm, Colin witnessed something that he found deeply concerning. The twins had drawn a series of images that revolved around their grandmother and the farm, with each image being slightly darker in nature than the former.
In one image the house is on fire and in another, a monster like human can be seen. A figure that the twins claimed was their grandmother because she used to make them pray – even though they didn’t want to.
In the years following the murders, Colin had the drawings examined by numerous child psychologists. And the conclusions were staggering, they believed that the twins knew that they were going to die.
It’s worth grabbing a copy of Colin’s book because it includes images of some of the artwork.
In the years following the murders, Colin would often wonder about the long-term implications that this might have had on Sheila herself and the obsession that she later seemed to have towards religion.
‘I suspect, this, was a major contributing factor in not only Bamb’s tragic illness, but her own earlier breakdown. Like my own family, anger and feelings were never openly expressed by Nevill and June, with the inevitable result that the children were like a box of firecrackers waiting to explode at the slightest provocation.’
In 1983, Sheila and Colin divorced with her mental health said to have been a part of this decision. It also meant that Colin was made designated care giver. In 2020, in promotion of the drama that was written about the case – based on both Colin and Carol’s books – Colin admitted that despite his decision, he did still love Sheila.
‘Bambs had never been an easy person to live with, but now her emotional condition had become increasingly erratic. Away from Jan, I began to spend more time with Bambs, developing a supportive friendship in the hope of helping her heal. But it seemed a losing battle. No matter how much all the medication brought about improvement, her condition always deteriorated rapidly on visiting Whitehouse Farm, or after contact with her direct family – especially her mother.’
Shortly after the divorce, the Bamber’s purchased Sheila a beautiful townhouse in Maida Vale in Chelsea and in many ways, it marked a turning point for Sheila. In her new home, in her beloved city, Sheila was able to socialise and started to make friends.
Sadly, this wasn’t to last very long.
Shortly after moving to the area, Sheila and the twins briefly became involved with Westminster social services but following a successful evaluation of Sheila’s care, the case was closed in December 1982. It was the same month that the twins began attending a new nursery in St John’s Wood, with being regarded as content and well cared for.
For Sheila, things were beginning to spiral with an incident with Nicholas in May 1983 proving to be a turning point.
Following a visit to White House Farm, Sheila had returned to London by train, opting to take a taxi from the station to her home. When the taxi came to stop, Nicholas tumbled out, resulting in a minor injury to his head. While Sheila panicked and was said to be filled with the guilt, the injury itself was minor. Immediately after the incident, Nicholas was examined at Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, where a social worker was contacted. It wasn’t personal to Sheila or the situation, it was just standard practice at the time. The police were also contacted but it was noted that there was no suggestion that the accident was ‘non-judgemental’.
According to Carol Ann Lee, when the social worker arrived, she found Sheila at Nicholas’ bedside. She noted that Sheila appeared to be a ‘little depressed’ and ‘welcomed the opportunity to have a chat’.
In her book, Carol Ann Lee recounted what Sheila is alleged to have told a friend about the incident afterwards.
‘Sheila told a friend that during her visit to the farm prior to the accident, her mother’s ‘desire to impose religion’ on the twins had led to a furious argument. The boys were ‘frightened’ and Sheila had insisted they leave. In the taxi from the train station, she had been in a ferment and wasn’t concentrating on the children, ‘only on her mother’s religious rantings’.
While her mental health had been deteriorating for many months, the divorce and Nicholas’ accident were seen as the catalyst that led to Sheila’s eventual hospitalisation.
Friends and family had noticed that Sheila was becoming obsessed with notions of good and evil, seeming to be concerned with her and the twin’s morality. It’s around this same time that she began to hear voices, telling various people that she was intermittently various figures of good.
Eventually, Sheila sought the help of her GP, who referred the Royal Free Hospital psychiatric out-patients clinic, but Nevill and June had other ideas. They insisted that Sheila should be referred to Dr Ferguson instead.
On the 2nd of August, Sheila visited him, and he recalled to Carol Ann Lee that Sheila was ‘‘very agitated and psychotic’, plagued by ‘disturbed, delusional thoughts and over-valued ideas that she accepted as truth’.
‘She had been in a state of ‘acute psychosis’ for at least a fortnight, and ‘depressed and unconfident’ for the previous eighteen months, with ‘an increasing sensitivity about other people’ .
He conferred with her parents before admitting her to hospital: ‘They were quite clear that she had not committed any acts of violence, but they were of course extremely worried about her.’19 On 4 August 1983, a little over a year since June had been discharged as a patient, Sheila entered St Andrew’s. She was accommodated in Isham House, overlooking the golf course; it was ‘a modern block, acting as the admissions area and forming one of two acute units dealing with such disorders as depression, alcoholism and eating problems’.
Over the course of her treatment, Sheila began to reveal more about her struggles, with Dr Ferguson eventually concluding that Sheila’s relationship with June had played a big factor in her eventual spiral.
He points out to Carol Ann Lee that he is no way blaming June Bamber for Sheila’s mental health condition, pointing out that Sheila’s schizophrenia made her pre-disposed to such delusions. Stating that her delusions were probably shaped – but not caused – by June’s religiosity.
Her initial diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder was changed, and Sheila was clinically diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. In his view, Sheila’s obsession with good and evil went back to the incident when June called Sheila the ‘devil’s child’.
Her fixation on herself as a source of evil was central to much of what she was feeling, and she believed that she was able to create evil in others. With the source of her concerns tending to be her twins. In particular, she was concerned that her ability to create evil would force her sons to have sex with her or to induce violence.
Again, according to Carol Ann Lee:
‘In the fortnight prior to her hospital admission, Sheila’s delusions became more vivid and real; she thought her sons would ‘seduce’ her and saw ‘evil in both’. She especially feared that Nicholas was becoming ‘a woman hater’ and ‘potential murderer’.’
The matter was also discussed in court, with Dr Ferguson confirming that:
‘I found that Sheila had bizarre delusions about possession by the devil and complex ideas about having sex with her twin sons. In particular, she thought Nicholas was a woman hater and a potential murderer.’
Contextually, it’s worth pointing out that all of this coincided with the 1980s satanic panic episode, whereby numerous crimes were incorrectly believed to have been the result of devil worship.
However, while the twins and the concept of good and evil were at the forefront of her delusions, her ‘disturbed thinking’ was regarded as being much wider.
Like many with paranoid delusions, Sheila also believed that other people were watching her, that she was being tracked and that her thoughts could be read by others.
And yet at no time did Sheila ever give Dr Ferguson the impression that she was violent or that her tendencies were ever violent towards anyone else. In fact, the only thoughts of violence that she ever had were to herself and herself alone. She was suicidal, not homicidal and there’s obviously a massive difference.
He would later tell record that whilst in 1983 she expressed fears of harming or doing harm to her children that fear does not seem to recur.
‘I find it difficult to conceptualise her harming her children or her father, but I could conceive of her harming her mother or herself. Of course, I cannot state categorically that she was incapable of harming her family.’
This is contrary to what Jeremy told the police and what he said at his eventual trial, with him implying that he had seen Sheila be violent towards the twins. These allegations cannot be entirely refuted, but nowhere else is any violence towards the twins recorded. And social services never found any evidence of violence on their several occasions of involvement.
Throughout my research and re-reading of old accounts of the White House Farm murders, there is one clear picture that emerges and that is that while Sheila and June had a difficult relationship, Nevill was the apple of Sheila’s eye.
Doctor Ferguson told Carol, that he believed Nevill was vital to Sheila’s recovery.
‘Dr Ferguson referred to him in his notes as her mentor, providing ‘a very secure, caring and strong support’. Today he reflects: ‘I used the word “mentor” in relation to her father but it wasn’t the appropriate word, really. He was a strength and shield. Sheila really loved him and had the best of feelings that one has towards another human being. He was everything he could have been to her – kind, fatherly, protective.’
For Dr Ferguson, there was one key reason why June’s beliefs were so important to Sheila and that was that she craved acceptance from her mother. It’s the key reason why tension existed between June and Sheila, both before and after her mental concerns.
In the years since the murders, Jeremy has alleged that Sheila had Electroshock therapy but it’s a claim that Dr Ferguson refutes. Unlike June, the basis of Sheila’s treatment was medication with the only commonality between the two being the talking therapy.
On the 10th of September 1983, Sheila was discharged with Doctor Ferguson feeling confident that Sheila could live a healthy life. At the time, he was under the impression that she had recovered but has since reflected that it might not have been as clear cut. Again, Carol Ann Lee.
‘Today he reflects that Sheila had made ‘a partial recovery’ upon leaving St Andrew’s: ‘She was not deluded or hallucinating. She was discharged to go home with her parents for a few weeks before returning to London. She needed a place of safety, which I think the farm was, albeit not somewhere that she could have lived permanently. Sheila knew her parents cared about her. And when she was well, she was truly lovely. She had a kind of naivety, a sweetness of spirit. Deep down she was somewhat immature, although of course she was very young anyway.’
While Sheila was in hospital, the wider family were entirely unaware of her health concerns and it was seemingly hidden from the family. The world has come on a lot since the 1980s, but even to this day there remains a stigma around mental health, particularly those of a serious nature. The Bamber’s had a locally, public life and public perception mattered to them.
It was around this time that conversations regarding Sheila’s living situation began to be discussed with the Bamber’s suggesting that Sheila come live closer to home. Yet despite their insistence, Sheila declined, wanting to stay in London.
Over the next few months, Sheila’s condition seemed to plateau, and she found herself making friends with some of the women whose children also attended the same nursery as Nicholas and Daniel.
At this point in time, Sheila also had a new boyfriend, having formed a relationship with Freddie – an older, married man, who was said to have been paying most of her bills.
It’s around this time that Sheila began to experiment with cannabis, using it intermittently, and Carol Ann Lee records that she also began missing appointments with Doctor Ferguson. Something that was a worry for him. On the rare occasions when he did see her, he recommended that she stop using recreational drugs. In his view, it could worsen her symptoms and condition. He felt much the same when she later admitted to having used cocaine.
During this time, he also found that Sheila had both made progress and regressions in her treatment and while he felt pleased that Sheila seemed to have been looking for – and eventually found – a job, he did have some concerns. For one thing, she seemed to be fixated on pregnancy again and was beginning to hear voices.
In early 1985, Sheila was offered the opportunity to take part in a ‘tasteful’ nude photoshoot but was horrified by the result. The images were far worse than she had ever imagined and, in the end,, she demanded the photos be handed over to her. She hid them away, only for Jeremy to later find them in his search for valuables within her flat.
Despite almost everyone else disagreeing with the comments that Jeremy was about to offer about his sister and how she treated the twins, Freddie was to eventually agree with Jeremy – to some extent – that Sheila could and had been violent. In fact, he told police that Sheila possessed a ‘quick and violent temper’.
There’s one infamous story about Sheila that also involves her new love interest, as it’s alleged that Freddie was present on the occasion that Colin’s mother came over to help.
According to Freddie, he was alone with Sheila in her Maida Vale flat when she suddenly became ‘hysterical’. He claims that Sheila became violent, telling him that the phone was bugged and becoming visibly distressed.
At this point, Sheila tried to call her doctor, but called Colin’s mother in error. Concerned for Sheila, Colin’s mother was quick to come to the apartment to help. Following a phone call to the on-call doctor, a prescription was offered, and Freddie offered to collect it, leaving Colin’s mother and Sheila alone.
According to Freddie, when he returned Colin’s mother had left, but that before doing so, Sheila had been violent towards her. He claims that the entire incident left him incredibly concerned about Sheila’s behaviour.
It’s worth pointing out here that there are two versions of this story, with Colin having an altogether different one to Freddie. He disputes that there was ever any violent element.
It was now March 1985, and within 48 hours of this incident, Sheila had been hospitalised for a second time, with Colin made primary carer of the twins. It was a decision that hadn’t been reversed before the murders and so at the time that they died, the twins were in Colin’s care.
According to Colin, this didn’t change Sheila’s relationship with the boys.
‘A second breakdown, in March 1985, precipitated the boys coming to live with me full time. Having said all that, Bambs had a marvellous relationship with them and was always very caring in the most instinctive wat. A close friend of hers once described her as more like ‘a lioness with her cubs – playful’. Her greatest pressures were not from motherhood itself, but from those outside that sacred bond with her sons.’
As with before, Sheila was experiencing religious based delusions, believing that she was communicating with God and that her boyfriend of the time – Freddie was the devil.
Four weeks after her admission, Sheila was discharged a second time, with prescriptions for numerous drugs to help her manage her symptoms.
Sheila was prescribed both haloperidol and Anafranil.
Haloperidol is an antipsychotic medication that is used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia. While Anafranil is used to treat recurring or obsessive thoughts.
In the weeks prior to the murders, Sheila had sought further advise in relation to her medication, as she believed that she was suffering from severe side effects because of her haloperidol dosage. It’s said that it was making her severely lethargic, and yet she was also having issues sleeping.
It’s worth pointing out here that Sheila was on a massive dosage of the substance, with her receiving 200mg via an injection every month. That being compared to the standard 25-75mg that most patients receive nowadays.
The doctor agreed to decrease Sheila’s dosage, cutting it to 100mg a month – 50% of the original. In the years since, some have criticised this reduction, suggesting that it should have only been reduced slightly in the first instance.
She’d also been suffering from nausea and as well as seeing her haloperidol dosage halved, she was also prescribed a second medication to help manage those symptoms.
For Jeremy’s defenders, this reduction could be partly to blame for what they say eventually happened. And they argue that the reduction in her dosage might have de-stabilised her, meaning that she was far more suspectable to her symptoms.
Additionally, Sheila’s last dosage was on the 11th of July and her next one was due just days later, meaning that she was at the later part of her dosage.
Those who’d seen Sheila in the days before the murders reported that she seemed somewhat ‘withdrawn’ and ‘tired’, making me question how effective the reduction in her dosage had really been.
What happened next is part of history.
Tragedy tends to mean only the most extreme parts of the human experience are recorded, with this kind of human event often forcing us to question what we think we know. It’s the reason why we use the phrase ‘I could never have guessed’, as we tend to assume that the version of a person that we see is the only version there is. When in reality, we each have various versions of ourselves with our colleagues seeing a different side of us to our family and so on.
The White House Farm murders forced those close the Bamber’s to reconsider the people that they thought they knew, with every incident cast into a different and darker spotlight. And for the Bamber’s – who had a history of keeping things hidden – this was perhaps even more pronounced.
For the short time that Sheila was considered the perpetrator, her name was dragged through the mud, forcing her and her family to suffer even after death. All manner of allegations were thrown at her, with Jeremy himself even suggesting to police that Sheila had been involved in various nefarious activities.
‘For weeks to come, the tabloids gorged themselves on salacious stories about ‘Hell Raiser Bambi’, the ‘girl with made eyes’, becoming a ‘top model’ with a wild social life that resulted in £40,000 drug debt linking her to a string of country house burglaries.’
For Colin, in the months after the realisation that Jeremy was likely to blame, it became his mission to correct the record about his former wife.
To clear Sheila’s name, to reclaim her dignity and humanity. Particularly thanks to the media storm that followed the crimes.
The Bamber’s and Caffell’s had two separate funerals, each reflective of the lives they were to commemorate. The twin’s funeral was a colourful, celebration of life, while the Bamber’s was more traditional.
The Bamber’s – Nevill and June - are buried in one grave within the grounds of the church that they loved so greatly. A simple, short headstone marks the spot where they are buried.
In fact, I visited the site in September 2021. Based on the images that I’ve seen on Google, I knew that the grave sat up against the church’s border, that there was a hedge directly behind it, but I failed to realise that it was at the front of the church. Right to the side of the car park.
The grave itself is short and small and I failed to initially notice it because of the large plant that was stood in front of it. I’d noticed the planet itself but for it took me a moment to notice that it was the grave of the Bamber’s. The message on the grave is poignant and touching, short but powerful in its own way. It reads: ‘In loving memory of R.Nevill and June Bamber. Both died 61 years. Tragically taken from us. 7th August 1985. Forever with the Lord.
The planet itself was large, pink and almost the size of the grave stone itself. It was clearly new, presumably placed there for the anniversary of their passing, which would have been just a month prior.
Next to the grave, just to the right was a white candle, it had burned out but had been left there.
Inside the church itself, which is beautiful and well cared for, is a wooden plaque which was installed following the Bamber’s death. It dedicates the black lantern just outside the church, to both of the Bamber’s. The plaque is simple, with the provider’s names unknown. It reads: ‘The lantern outside this porch was given in memory of Nevill and June Bamber. Former churchwardens. Died 1985.’
When I visited, there were also decorations placed alongside this plaque, with two palm crosses having been inserted behind. One on each side – one for each of the Bamber’s. Across the middle, on the horizontal line of the cross, were the names of each of the Bamber’s. The one on the left being for June and the one on the right being for Nevill. Along the vertical part of the church was a message ‘we will never forget you.’
Given that there is no information on the campaign teams website regarding this, I’m assuming that they weren’t the ones who placed them there. And to me, the messages also sound much too personal. And while I cannot prove it, I suspect that this was the family. They don’t look particularly worn and as they are of course a church product, there’s a chance that they’ve come from the church itself. Reiterating my point or suggesting that if not family, it’s probably someone local.
Over the past ten years, the gravesite has been the source of some controversy, particularly in terms of Jeremy Bamber and his defenders. According to the campaign team, they are the only people who currently tend to the grave – an accusation that they outline on their website. But it’s something I can’t prove nor refute.
But not all relatives feel the need to visit their loved one’s graves and I can count on one hand how many times a year my grandparents visit the graves of their parents. For some people, that’s not how they mourn. And given that we know members of the campaign team attend the grave, is it surprising that perhaps the family don’t feel that they want to attend also?
On the other hand, I know people who regularly visit the graves of their loved ones. It seems a very personal affair.
It feels like a low blow and a needless expression of supposed virtue.
After all, we can’t prove that the family never attend the grave and their comments therefore seem deeply tactical and inappropriate. The campaigns supposed care of the grave, as opposed to the family, means very little when considered what it is that the family have lost. They are the ones who’ve lost loved ones and the campaigns tending to the grave means very little, especially when you consider that they use it for appearances.
The current vicar – Lizzie Armour – did advise me that the grave is very well cared for and that there are a large number of people who visit regularly. However, she was unaware of who they were or what their connection to the Bamber’s was.
In addition, in 2013, his parents grave was at the centre of an outburst of anger, when the campaign team sent one of their formers to the gravesite. Supposedly, on Jeremy’s behalf, Trudi Benjamin, read a letter from Bamber at the grave side. The video is widely available online – and will of course be linked in the corresponding blog post – is a strange and surreal one. With Jeremy’s alleged letter to his parents, mostly being much about himself. He praises his parents’ wartime experiences, using that as a teachable moment of bravery, a skill which he claims to possess.
Genuine sadness and love seem to be missing from the entire scene. And call me cynical but the fact that it’s been filmed entirely detracts from its sincerity. In fact, the campaigns entire treatment of the subject detracts from the supposed sentiment and starts to feel like nothing more than virtue signalling on their part.
After all, that letter could have been read at the grave without it needing to be recorded. But it was and the video was widely shared online. When you think about the circumstances, it is somewhat chilling.
It’s worth remembering that the grave only contains the ashes of Nevill and June, as they were cremated. Allegedly despite them having wanted to be buried.
Despite her funeral being at the same time as the Bamber’s, Sheila was eventually interned with the twins.
In the centre of London sits Highgate Cemetery, the British equivalent of Hollywood Forever. It’s a haunting and beautiful place to rest, with some of London’s most famous buried with the perfectly normal. Some having passed from age and ill-health with others bearing their own tragedy.
It's the resting place of Communist writer Karl Marx, but also the grave of singer, George Michael.
But buried amongst them are the Caffell twins, as well as the ashes of their mother – Sheila.
While Sheila’s official funeral took place in Tolleshunt D’arcy alongside her parents, Colin was left devastated by the ceremony. Angry at how Sheila’s name was treated and upset that his twins weren’t even mentioned. It was this – plus his love for Sheila – which led to him incorporating them as a unit as the twin’s celebratory funeral, with Sheila’s ashes having been handed over by Jeremy.
Colin makes it clear in his book that his choice of cemetery was something of a happy coincidence. He initially sought out other resting places but due to his specific needs, nowhere else would comply.
Colin wanted the twins to be buried together, in their pyjamas, facing each other with their thumbs in their mouth. Giving the perception that they had simply fallen to sleep.
It was Highgate who accepted this request and the twins, with Sheila’s ashes were interned there.
In his book, Colin describes his desire to have made a ceramic grave marker for his lost family. With it being another of the reasons why Highgate seemed to be such a suitable resting place for the twin boys. He drew inspiration for the idea from the twin’s favourite book, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. After all, it has some of the most interesting and curious grave markers in the world.
‘It was then that I knew I had to use my skills as a potter to create my own ceramic memorial – a replica of the tree in all its detail. The only unusual feature might be a small foot vanishing up the ladder at the top – into the clouds. A simple inscription would read ‘And they went up the ladder at the top of the Faraway Tree, with Silky, Moonface and the Old Saucepan Man.’
Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, it seems that was wish left unfulfilled, as there is nothing marking the grave today.
Via a grave search, I was able to identify where they are buried and earlier this year, I visited the gravesite.
Sadly, the cross Carol Ann Lee records in her book has long since gone and now, there is nothing to mark their resting place.
A fact that, for me, adds to the tragedy.
It’s worth noting here that Jeremy is missing from this episode but that’s for a very specific reason.
Next week’s episode will be dedicated to Jeremy Bamber exclusively – his tale warrants an episode of its own.