Here I am in a corner of Rochdale Cemetery over the bones of former tax clerk Stefan Kiszko. He represents one of the worst miscarriages of justice. I can remember the case being on the television news and him being sent to prison for life for killing a child. He suffered sixteen years in behind bars, tarnished by a high profile story that ensured inmates thought he’d sexually assaulted an 11-year-old before stabbing her in the heart. He was eventually cleared by forensic evidence and released in 1992. It was too late though - his mental and physical states worsened over his time in prison and he died 20 months after his release without receiving the full £500,000 compensation.
I got lucky finding his grave. I had a close up photograph of the headstone but there was no distinguishing background features telling me where it was in Rochdale’s main cemetery. After fifteen minutes I happened on a cluster of graves bearing foreign names and spotted it. Oddly all the time I was in the cemetery I could hear the undulating crowds a football match at a stadium further down the road.
Stefan's hell began when an 11-year-old girl Lesley Molseed didn't return home. She'd been born with a congenital cardiac condition and was frail (a heart op when she was three didn’t work.) She was three stones heavy and four feet tall. In October 1975 her mum sent her to the local shop for some bread but she never returned. A big police search began and Lesley’s dead body was found above a remote lay-by near Rishworth Moor ten miles away. She was lying face down and had been sexually assaulted and stabbed 12 times. The knife had nicked her heart resulting in death. Police forensics also found dry wallpaper paste on her and semen on her skirt and knickers.
The murder was big national news. Everyone in Rochdale knew about it including four local girls who claimed that Stefan had indecently exposed himself to them the day before the murder. Stefan was 23‑year‑old local tax clerk of Eastern European descent (his folks had came here after the Second World War to work in the cotton mills.) He'd never been in trouble with the police but they considered him an oddity. He was about 12-years-old mentally and emotionally, a child in a man's body. This friendless lumbering simpleton fitted their profile and they only latched onto 'evidence' that would incriminate him. He was arrested a few weeks after the murder and forced to confess to the murder after three days of pressure. He was alone without a solicitor and requests to bring in his mum were denied. He was taken to prison despite retracting his confession and at the trial in July 1976 was sent to prison for life. Oddly there was no solid evidence to condemn him. The sperm found on Lesley’s body was not Stefan’s and after breaking his ankle and being fat he wouldn’t have been able to haul a body up the slope to the murder spot. On the day of the murder he was with his aunt tending to his dad's grave in Halifax but witnesses were not called. After sentencing the judge praised the police and the girls who claimed Stefan had flashed his dick at them.
Prison inmates made Stefan’s life unliveable - a chubby dim-witted kid killer who deserved an onslaught of taunts, attacks and death threats. Outside his mum was living in misery and the Molseed family gave her volleys of abuse and said her perverted son should hang. Her lad was innocent but the audience who people's who'd listen got smaller. Aged 27 Stefan developed schizophrenia and for a decade lived in a vortex of paranoia and delusions. Years were spent in the prison’s hospital wing. He was told that parole was only possible if he admitted to murder. He maintained his innocence but not his sanity and aged 39 he was transferred to Ashworth's mental hospital.
In 1984 a solicitor examined the case but it was seven years until the Home Office checked the evidence. There were blinding errors: Stefan could not produce sperm due to unformed testicles, a witnesses had seen him tending his father's grave on the day of the murder and the four girls who said the weirdo flashed at them admitted they’d lied. He was allowed home in April 1992 after 16 years but his brain was a burnt-out wreck and he became a recluse. He was due £500,000 compensation but died of a heart attack at home aged 41 having received a part payment. Thirty-one years after the murder a violent comic book dealer called Ronald Castree was arrested for the murder. A sex attack showed his sperm to be the same as that on Lesley's clothes.
I took a few shots of the grave and thought what a sad story lies here. Stefan is buried here with his mum who lived for just four months after his death. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d wished herself to an early death after such a long sorrowful saga. You see these television dramas where police force a gormless-faced simpleton sign a confession but you don’t think it happens do you? I was glad I’d found the grave as it was my second attempt. I did a stiff salute watched by a man spreading white stones on a neighbouring grave and left.
The following weekend on route to Hebden Bridge for an afternoon’s walking I went onto the A672 to find the spot where Lesley had been dumped. The long road took me out of dense Oldham’s suburbia onto the desolate rugged moors. I had memorised a photograph of police parked by the lay-by and committed the shape of the surrounding terrain to memory. Eventually I spotted it and pulled in as Castree must have done under the cover of darkness. At noon cars pass every four or five minutes.
I’m not sure how Lesley’s body was found as there’s no need for anyone to climb up the embankment. I scrambled up thirty feet of muck and foliage to find nothing there except a barbed wire fence surrounding an empty field. It wasn’t arduous getting up there. A scared murderer powered by adrenaline could easily get a four stone body up there. There’s a convenient rock up there to remember Lesley but this is about thirty feet away from the top of escarpment where Lesley was dumped. The police though Castree had posed the body so perhaps had a torch to see what he was doing.
Down at the lay-by two lads were sat in a car eating burgers and throwing me odd glances. They must have wondered what I was doing up there, oblivious to it being part of a sad story of murder and injustice. I waited for them to go and took a few photos, did a heart salute at the flat bit where Lesley was found and left. Weeks later I found Lesley's grave in the same cemetery.
There's a documentary here...
Where Lesley's body was found...
Ronald Castree was the murderer...