This is my recollection of a story I’ve wanted to tell for 5 years. It is as accurate as I can make it, but there are bound to be things that aren’t right, but I explained to my sister this is my side of the story as I remember, not anything else told to me.
I must have been 5 when a new girl moved into our neighbourhood. Cynthia came from Durban, in South Africa, and was BLS’s junior to the tune of 6 months. Instantly they hit it off. Whilst Cynthia was born and brought up in South Africa, her parents were both of UK stock. Her mother had Scottish blood, and her father was originally from Ireland. This meant they had an interesting European/South African mix when it came to everyday life. I remember her father Kevin introducing me to shamrock leaves, which are almost like nature’s sour sweets. Her mother Val also introduced me to the South African delicacy of Bull Tongue, which is like eating someone’s shoe leather. When my sister stayed over, quite often I would get invited along as well. This meant I had my first experiences of sleepovers, and also gave my parents a break from me and BLS.
Things weren’t always rosy, kids being kids. I remember one evening having an argument between me and BLS, and Cynthia and my best mate Jonathon. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember biting John and taking a chunk out of his arm. The argument spilled over to our parents, and Cynthia’s mum gave our mum a really hard time, which upset everyone. Like I said, I didn’t remember what it was about, but I do remember it was soon all water under the bridge. BLS and Cynthia soon became inseparable. One time BLS got lines in school, and Cynthia stayed to help her write them. We’d all walk to school together, and return home afterwards. When it came to starting secondary however, they were split up. This just meant the evenings and weekends were more precious as they grew together stronger.
As they developed into teenagers, they both had the same interests. At the time, Crystal Palace Park had a large skateboard ramp hidden underneath a concrete walkway, and this was a favourite haunt of them both. If they were missing, you could nearly always find them in the park, listening to the Sex Pistols or the Damned. The problem with the park was it shut at dusk, meaning in the evenings they’d go and see some of the ramp’s inhabitants. One particular evening this meant getting caught in a squat, where I was told how Cynthia was caught in bed with a guy. Susan was quite badly drunk, and both were sent home with their tales between their legs. This didn’t stop them seeing these undesirables (as my father called them) and being typical teenagers they both went slightly off the rails.
One of these friends committed suicide. Richard (I think that was his name) had hung himself, and had dated Cynthia a few times in the past. It was whilst she was at his funeral that she met Andy. Andy liked to think of himself as a bit of a David Bowie. He would wear one contact lens a different colour so that he had eyes like the man himself, and all three of them would sit and listen to Bowie’s albums. His father was quite wealthy, and lived in Westminster, but wasn’t prepared to put up with Andy’s moods, so kicked him out. He stayed with Cynthia for a few days, before getting his own bedsit a stone’s throw from the Crystal Palace Parade. He was a stock market trader, and would leave early every morning with BLS and Cynthia to Crystal Palace station where he and Cynthia would catch the train to London Bridge, whilst BLS went to her temping job over the summer in London’s West End. He’d always stop and talk to me, and I have to admit I did look up to him quite a bit. He got a Honda MX125 scrambler, and that weekend he took me for a ride on the back with him. He’d fallen out with Cynthia’s parents at the point, and I remember that evening as he dropped me off, Cynthia’s father came out to confront him about something, and they ended up having a punch up there and then in the street. I felt bad that Kevin had got so involved so I slunk off inside instead of helping him out, something I still feel guilty about today. Another time, Cynthia had gone away for the usual summer holiday to Kevin’s family in Ireland. BLS was spending a lot of time with Andy, and the inevitable happened. When Cynthia returned, BLS confessed all in the middle of an argument with Andy. This backfired and BLS and Cynthia wouldn’t talk to each other for weeks afterwards. Just like all good friendships however, they soon got back together. Andy, meanwhile, was still on the scene.
To my 15 year old mind, Andy was the epitome of cool. It was, however, not founded in anything that I remember, other then he had a girlfriend and a social life and I didn’t. There were a few chinks in his armour. I remember one evening the phone rang whilst he was in the bathroom. My sister called him, and after knocking on the bathroom door he came out to answer the phone, but his hand and arm was all covered in vomit. He was obviously making himself sick, but we didn’t know why. I now suspect he was bulimic. It was around this time that he started getting a little possessive of Cynthia, and no one, not even BLS would get in his way. Fortunately, Susan was in college, Cynthia was working for Nat West in the City, and they didn’t spend as much time with each other as they had done. The weekends however were all theirs and they’d spend as much time as possible together. This was when Andy started to become a little ‘unhinged.’
My last day of school was also Cynthia’s 18th birthday. When 5 of use all went to my house, we got in stocks of Thunderbirds and went over to Cynthia’s with Susan, and proceeded to all get merrily drunk. By 3 o’clock we we’re all well on our way. Andy appeared at the backdoor, red with anger, to find his girlfriend’s house full of “stupid little boys” and shouting at us all we left as quickly as we could. Unfortunately, one of my mates Simon was a little slower then the rest of us, and Andy laid into him in an almost unnecessary fashion. The rest of the guys had scarpered, whilst I grabbed a hold of Simon and dragged him away from Andy. I got about 4 doors down when Simon collapsed unconscious and started to vomit blood. Another neighbour, and my mate Jonathon’s mum, was an ex-nurse, and she started first aid to try and help him. Someone else called an ambulance, and whilst what seemed like forever, Simon laid there in the gutter, puking himself silly. When the ambulance did arrive, I went with him to hospital. As soon as he was there however, I got a lift home again and phoned his parents. They could have pressed charges on Andy, but seeing as Simon was so drunk, it would have been easy to blame the vomiting on the alcohol.
Cynthia wanted Andy out of her life. He was now more then a pest or a nuisance, he was writing death threats to Cynthia and Susan. He would phone in the middle of the night, reverse the charges, and then leave the phone off the hook meaning we couldn’t phone anyone else until someone put the phone down in the call box he’d call from. He’d also stand at the back of the house, by my bedroom window, and shout out obscenities about Cynthia and Susan for hours on end. The Police were no help whatsoever. They were unable to deal with him without evidence, and the death threats were just that, threats. They couldn’t arrest him for saying he’d kill them, they could only do something if he actually did it. Cynthia took out an injunction against Andy, and the judge had ruled in her favour, meaning that she could get him arrested if he was pestering her. This would have been great, if it weren’t for the fact that she kept going and meeting up with him. He’d charm her into believing he’d changed, and so she’d go and see him of her own free will. This made the court order worth nothing.
Susan had recently passed her driving test and gotten her first car, a 1974 purple and primer grey Mini. I’d gone away with my father up to the Lake District, and it was whilst I was away that Andy put sugar in the petrol tank. My father got in touch with his friend Dave, who lived at the end of our street, and he helped Susan get the car back on the road. A week or so later, on a Friday night, and I was woken up to Susan screaming hysterically. I glanced at the clock, 1:20am, and ran downstairs. She was stood in the lounge, completely incomprehensible, jibbering. I shook her, asking what the matter was, and I got the answer “c-c-car.” Spinning round to look out the front of the lounge window, I could make out the silhouette of the car as flames licked up the back end of it. I raced into the kitchen and grabbed a couple of towels, before running out the front and like Taz, went into a maddened frenzy as I patted out the flames around the back of the car and on it’s roof. Fortunately, the fire had yet to take hold, only burning the fuel that had been used in the original Molotov cocktail, and the car was out. A neighbour had seen the fire, and had called the fire brigade, so they turned up and dampened down the area around the car. Everyone knew it was Andy, but he had the perfect alibi. He’d gotten Cynthia to meet him for coffee in a café just around the corner from his flat. Again, the Police couldn’t get any evidence. Whilst there was one witness, my mate Nick down the road, he’d seen two guys at the end of our road. One was sat in the car and the other ran down and got in, before they pulled away. Neither of them was Andy, however.
Susan left the area in October 1988 to start University in Cardiff. Cynthia was doing well in her job in Nat West, and whilst Andy was still around, she wasn’t at home that much so we didn’t see much of him either. Just after Christmas she passed her driving test, and her parents got her a small mark 2 Fiesta. I remember seeing her one weekend as I was heading on my way to a party in North London. It was the first time I’d seen her driving, and I waved at her but she didn’t see me.
20 years ago, this week, I got home on the Tuesday from college, and was sat in my room watching TV. Downstairs the phone rang, and 10 minutes later my mother came in.
“Cynthia’s been murdered,” she said.
“How?” was the only thing I could say.
She’d been strangled by Andy on the Monday night, in her car. He’d asked her to meet him, so he could give her her stuff back. He’d got a lift from his mate, to a car park behind his flat, and whilst he went over in Cynthia’s car, his mate fell asleep. He woke up a few minutes later and there was a fracas going on in Cynthia’s car. Going to help, he found Andy on top of her, pinning her to the back seat, hands around her throat. She was kicking and thrashing wildly, even kicking out the windscreen. Realising he couldn’t do much to help, he ran the 300 yards to Gipsy Hill Police station, where he hammered on the door. He told them his mate was murdering his ex-girlfriend down the road, but the Police didn’t take him seriously. 20 Minutes later they got someone to go with him, and when they returned to the car park, they found Andy walking aimlessly, with Cynthia’s limp body in his arms. She was dead.
2 weeks later, and we attended her funeral on a cold snowy day in West Norwood cemetery. There was standing room only at her church, and around the grave people I’d known most of my life stood there grieving. One of the other neighbourhood boys, now in his 20s, was also there. Paul had always been a stalwart. I think it was seeing him crying that brought it home to me how affected we all were.
Some 18 Months later and Lewis Andrew Woods was convicted of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility at the Old Bailey. He was to serve a term of a minimum of 4 years in a secure mental facility whereupon his release would only be considered following in depth psychological reports.
He was back out after those 4 years.
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