| 8.2°C Dublin

Our good son, the murderer

Close

Neil Entwistle, his wife Rachel and their nine-month-old baby daughter Lillian Rose

Neil Entwistle, his wife Rachel and their nine-month-old baby daughter Lillian Rose

Neil Entwistle, his wife Rachel and their nine-month-old baby daughter Lillian Rose

YVONNE Entwistle gazed through the bedroom window of her Nottinghamshire home, waiting for the tip of the sun to peep above the horizon.

She had watched it rise from that same spot many times over the years as she had nursed her sons, now both grown men. That morning's sunrise, though, was special. That morning, it must have seemed, her family's happiness had come full circle.

"I remember watching the sun glisten and thinking to myself: 'A new dawn. The sun is rising to greet our first grandchild'," Yvonne tells me.

"'Lillian Rose, our new little granddaughter.' I was so happy, so excited. I couldn't sleep. Couldn't wait for the shops to open. I wanted to buy her a beautiful dress."

It was April 9, 2005, and earlier that morning Yvonne and her husband Cliff had waited anxiously for news of Rachel, the 27-year-old American wife of their elder son Neil, who was in labour in a Worcestershire hospital. The phone had rung at 4am. "Mum, Dad, you have a grand-daughter," Neil, also 27, told them excitedly. "Come and see her as soon as you can." The Entwistles were thrilled. By 8.45am they were stamping their feet impatiently outside their local baby shop. "I saw this little white dress covered in rosebuds," Yvonne says. "Then I saw another I liked. And another. I ended up buying five, all those lovely pinks. I'd had two boys, so I was always buying blue..." Yvonne stops mid-sentence. "And then," she says, her voice wavering, "Suddenly, I was buying black."

Cliff and Yvonne Entwistle doted on their granddaughter. When Neil opted to move his new family to Rachel's native country in July 2005, they were heartbroken. But they threw a farewell party and hoped that, one day, he, Rachel and the baby would return to England. At the party Lillian Rose, wearing the rosebud dress bought by Yvonne, gurgled happily in her cot.

Yvonne remembers her pride when she noticed the baby had the Entwistle nose.

It was the last time the couple were to see their granddaughter. Six months later, by January 20, 2006, both Rachel and Lillian Rose were dead, their bodies found on Rachel and Neil's four-poster bed in their Massachusetts home. Lillian Rose had been shot in the abdomen; her mother had been killed by a single bullet to the head.

The Entwistles knew nothing of the killings until Neil turned up on their Worksop doorstep three days later. Within three weeks after that he was arrested. On June 26 this year he was found guilty of the double murder and sentenced to two concurrent life terms without parole for what the judge described as crimes that "defy comprehension".

The Entwistles' lives were shattered. At their son's trial they listened as a lurid tale unfolded: one of a cold-blooded con man who, dissatisfied with his family life, addicted to internet sex sites and deeply in debt, killed his wife and child then fled the murder scene. The couple have maintained a dignified silence. Until now.

Home & Property

Get the best home, property and gardening stories straight to your inbox every Saturday.

This field is required

There is much damning evidence against Neil Entwistle. If he did find his family murdered, as he claims, why didn't he telephone 911? His fingerprints were found on the murder weapon and he was a fantasist who led a secret double life. And the prosecution's description of his fixation with pornography, his murky internet ventures and mounting debt painted a picture of a self-obsessed psychopath who murdered his wife and baby to escape a sordid life that had spiralled out of control.

But for his parents, Cliff, 55, a former miner who now works as a storeman, and Yvonne, 53, a school dinner lady, there is but one truth: their son is not a murderer. For these loving, working-class parents, who scrimped to send their sons to university, Neil was incapable of such a heinous act.

But since there was never any suggestion of an intruder, the Entwistles believe that Rachel killed baby Lillian Rose before turning the gun upon herself (which was their son's surprise, last-minute defence in court).

But, whatever the truth of his guilt, the Entwistles grieve not just for their son but also for their first and only grandchild. As Cliff says: "I had barely become accustomed to being a grandpa before little Lillian was taken. Now she's gone and no one can ever replace her in our hearts."

Neither Cliff nor Yvonne can forget Neil arriving at their home on the morning of Monday January 22, 2006, looking bewildered and bereft. "Rach is dead, Lilly is dead," he said. "They've been shot."

"I slumped to the floor, on my knees," Cliff recalls. He lowers his head, his eyes filling. Yvonne says: "I couldn't breathe, I couldn't speak. Everything just stopped. Numbness. Disbelief. In that instant I was transported from the world I knew to this one I'm in now. And I've stayed in this world."

It is understandable that it never entered the Entwistles' heads that their son could be the murderer. But neither did they ask Neil what he thought had happened. "I know this sounds stupid," says Cliff, "but no. I'm not one of those people to push and pry." Both assumed some crazed killer had murdered mother and child.

"Neil was shocked and dazed. There was nothing suspicious about him. I never once thought, 'Don't tell me it is Neil'," says Cliff. "When he spoke to the police he was so open." Cliff stops and gazes at the carpet of the couple's neat semi. "But an innocent man does need a lawyer, I know that now," he says grimly. "From the very start, Neil did what people asked of him. When the police wanted him to speak to them, he did."

What the Entwistles did not know was the sequence of events before Neil arrived. Two days earlier he had fled his home in the historic Boston suburb of Hopkinton to drive the 30 miles to Boston Logan Airport. He parked his rented white BMW SUV and headed into the terminal. Inside, a series of CCTV cameras captured him frantically punching his pin number into three cash machines. The last one he tried dispensed $800 in cash. He then booked himself on British Airways flight 238, bound for London at 8.20am the next day. Entwistle slept in the SUV and, next morning, was filmed on security cameras boarding the aeroplane. All he carried was his passport in one hand and a one-way ticket home in the other.

This was a man running -- either in guilt or in shock. Whatever the truth, in the master bedroom of the Hopkinton house Rachel and Lillian Rose's blood-drenched bodies still lay beneath the bed covers.

Neil Entwistle was a bright child. Even so, his parents never dreamt he would go to university. "We didn't think college was for people like us," his father says.

Dark-haired and anxious-faced, Yvonne Entwistle has aged in the past two years. In family photographs she is fresh-faced and smiling at her son's wedding. In others (now discreetly displayed on a table that is tucked behind the sofa) she beams proudly as she cradles Lillian Rose. But those are relics of what Yvonne calls "the other world, not the one I'm in now".

Neil was accepted at York University, where he met Rachel Souza. The couple shared a passion for rowing and began dating. They were married in August, 2003 and set up home in Droitwich, Worcestershire, where Neil worked in IT, and Rachel taught at St Augustine's Catholic High School. "We were so happy for them," says Yvonne. "We adored Rachel, and Lilly's birth was our happiest day. We were so proud. Neil seemed a natural father, always cuddling the baby. He called her his Lilly Bean. A real hands-on dad."

Friends of the couple say they never, once, noticed anything wrong between them. "They did everything together... bake bread, grind coffee," says one. "There was just one thing. I found it endearing at the time, but, in the light of what happened, it has caused me to think. Neil worshipped Rach. It was as though he was always trying to impress her, to live up to the idealistic notion she had of him as this knight in shining armour who could do no wrong. If Neil had feet of clay, he would have done anything to hide them from Rachel."

The Entwistles wondered why the young couple continued to rent, rather than buy, but, two months after Lillian Rose's birth, they found out why: they had been saving to move to America. "When they told us, we kept our sadness to ourselves," says Yvonne. "But when they drove off that day, I broke down.

"We had just got this beautiful little granddaughter and now she was going to the other side of the world."

Neil and his family moved in with Rachel's mother and stepfather, Priscilla and Joe Matterazzo, in Carver, Massachusetts, while he sought work. Before long the Entwistles concluded that Rachel wasn't happy. "It was as though she had gone back and it wasn't the same place," says Yvonne. "She was subdued, not her bubbly self on the phone."

The last time Yvonne spoke to Rachel, in early January 2006, she abruptly put the phone down when her mother-in-law said the latest photographs of Lillian Rose hadn't arrived. "It seems she went to bed and wept because the photographs hadn't turned up."

The Entwistles began to suspect their daughter-in-law was developing post-natal depression. And they were getting the impression that all was not well in the household. Snippets suggested Joe found the baby's crying stressful and was becoming impatient because Neil hadn't yet got a job or moved out.

By mid-January, however, Neil had taken a three-month lease on a large, $2,700-a-month four-bedroom, colonial-style house an hour's drive from the Matterazzos'. During Neil's trial much was made of the debts he had incurred. The prosecution cited the enormous rent, the $400-a-month BMW and the new furniture, saying that Neil, still jobless, was borrowing recklessly. The Entwistles dispute this. "They were using the money they had saved in England, that's how they paid," says Cliff.

"The only debt that we know of was actually Rachel's. She still owed around $17,000 of a student loan." The Matterazzos, however, said they never saw him deal in cash, only credit cards.

"These days, everyone deals in cards," says Yvonne. But prosecution investigators found Neil had 18 credit cards. All, save one, was up to its limit. The remaining $800 credit was the money Neil took from the ATM machine at Logan airport.

Much, too, was made of Neil's predilection for pornography. "It's not nice," Yvonne agrees. "But I doubt there's a man in the world who hasn't looked at some of that at some time."

Yvonne's defence of her son is understandable, but Ent- wistle's fixation bordered on obsessive. He was trawling the internet for sex online on hook-up sites such as Adult Friend Finder, Naughty Nightlife and Hot Local Escorts. On one profile he set up, he goaded American women to prove their prowess in bed, writing: "I need to confirm what friends have told me, that you are much better in bed than the women over the ocean." While there was no proof that Neil was unfaithful to his wife, the prosecution relied on the information to compound their picture of a fantasist who murdered his "inconvenient" wife and baby.

Other evidence found on his laptop was more disturbing. On January 16, four days before the deaths, someone with the user name ENT, and using a password-protected file, had typed six chilling words into Google. The query read: "How to kill with a knife." Again the Entwistles are dismissive: "The laptop belonged to both of them," says Yvonne. They believe that, suffering from post-natal depression, Rachel became suicidal.

Whatever her state of mind, on the evening of Thursday, January 19, Rachel was preparing for a busy weekend. Her mother was coming over for lunch the next day and her best friend, Joanna Gately, was due in the afternoon. But when Joanna arrived, her knocks at the door went unanswered. Lying on the front step was a note from Priscilla, Rachel's mother, who had also found no one at home. Both women telephoned the police.

Two officers toured the house but, amazingly, found nothing. The television was on and music was playing in the baby's room. In the master bedroom the comfort blanket on the bed was rumpled. Police saw no reason to be concerned.

By the next morning Priscilla was frantic and reported the family missing.

Police searched the house again. This time, as they entered, there was a foul smell. They followed it to the unmade bed. There, under the blanket, lay both bodies.

By now Neil was back home in Worksop. When the Massachusetts State Police discovered his whereabouts, trooper Bobby Manning telephoned Neil, recording the conversation. He made the call assuming he would have to break the news of Rachel and Lillian Rose's death, but to his surprise, Neil knew about the bodies. He had found them, he told the astonished Manning.

Neil said he had left the house early on the Friday morning and gone shopping. When he returned, he said, he didn't go upstairs immediately.

"When I did, when I walked in (to the bedroom), I couldn't see Lilly. I could only see... I could only see Rachel, she looked like she was asleep," he says on the tape. When he approached the bed, he said, he realised both his wife and baby were dead. "Lilly was such a mess," he said. When Manning asked him where the blood was, he replied: "There wasn't any on Rachel, it was all on... all on Lilly. Her whole... the whole mouth, mouth and nose were covered. There were... it was almost like it was bubbles."

Neil went on to tell Manning he was so distraught that he ran downstairs to get a knife to kill himself, but changed his mind. "I think it was almost the thought of how much it was going to hurt. I couldn't do it. And then I realised that what I needed to do was to let Priscilla know."

He said he decided to go to the Matterazzos' and, en route, he remembered his father-in-law kept a gun. "A gun would be better than a knife," he said.

"But," he added, "None of this happened." When he found no one at his parents-in-law's house he drove to Logan Airport. All he could think about, he said, was getting home to his parents. "I don't feel that I've done the right thing in what I've done here," he told Manning. "By not letting, you know, by not being the one to call and say what had happened."

Stunned that Neil had found the bodies and fled without calling 911 or speaking to anyone, police picked up his car at the airport. Inside was Neil's laptop. When they examined it they discovered he had been selling bogus computer equipment on eBay. There were scores of emails from furious customers, claiming they had paid but received no goods. They discovered, too, his passion for kinky websites.

Then forensics found that Mr Matterazzo's .22 Colt had fired the fatal shots.

Back in Worksop, Neil remained holed up with his parents while the world's media camped outside their small semi.

Cliff and Yvonne never thought their son was a suspect until the Matterazzos stopped taking their calls and refused to divulge details of Rachel and Lillian Rose's funerals. "All we wanted to do was provide a haven of peace and quiet for our son to come to terms with his loss," Yvonne says. "All three of us were in shock. It didn't seem strange to me that Neil had come home. He spoke to the British police every day, held nothing back."

Yvonne bites her lip. "I know this sounds awful but I couldn't help thinking, 'Thank God Neil was out shopping when whoever did it broke in.' Then I would think, 'How can I think that?' But I think any mother would understand that."

Though the American media lambasted Neil as a callous husband and father when he did not attend Rachel and Lillian Rose's funeral, his parents say it was on legal advice. "I remember telling Neil that this was Rachel and Lilly's day; it would turn into a media circus if he went," Yvonne says. The press, however, were convinced he didn't go because he feared arrest.

Rachel and Lillian Rose were buried at St Peter's church in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- the same church where the baby had been christened a few weeks before. As the service began at 11am, Cliff, Yvonne and Neil, unbeknown to the media, made their own pilgrimage to the Midlands park where Neil had proposed to his wife. Neil left a rose and a lily. "It was our way of saying goodbye," says Yvonne. "Neil and Rachel had taken Lilly there when she was born..."

What they didn't know was that the surname on the double grave in which mother and child were interred was not Entwistle but Souza, Rachel's maiden name.

When Benjamin Prior and Dashiel Munding, pals from Neil's time in York, invited Neil to London to escape the media pressure, he agreed -- though his parents were far from happy. The trio talked at length about the deaths. In Dashiel's testimony, he said the police had telephoned him saying: "Get your mate to give himself up."

When police did pick him up they found a damning letter addressed to the British media, supposedly written by a third party. It invited offers of money for Neil Entwistle's story. His parents believe this was merely an attempt to repay them for the stg£10,000 they had spent on British lawyers for their son (taken out of Cliff's redundancy payment, their only savings.) Within days Neil was flown to America.

On February 15, Neil Entwistle made his first court appearance at Framingham District Court. By now, such was the American media interest, Neil wore a bullet-proof vest.

At his trial at Middlesex Superior Court the prosecution argued that Neil had taken Joe's gun, shot his wife and child, then returned the gun on his way to the airport.

While the defence pointed out that the medical examiner at the death scene was told it was a murder and thus had never explored the possibility of a murder/suicide, Neil made his claim that Rachel had shot the baby and turned the gun on herself. He admitted that he had returned the gun to her parents' house and claimed this was to save her from the "shame and humiliation" of her crime.

The defence's single piece of compelling evidence was the gunshot residue found on both sides of Rachel's hands. More damning still for the prosecution was the fact that, in cross examination, William Zane, the medical examiner, told the court that he was never made aware of the residue's existence, and, when pressed on the issue, he became clearly uncomfortable. A forensic chemist also conceded that similar gunshot residue tests were made on items Neil was known to have touched that day -- such as the steering wheel of the SUV -- and no traces of gunpowder were found.

"The gunshot residue on Rachel's hands could have suggested she fired the gun," says Cliff. "We loved Rachel dearly, she was little Lilly's mam, but in the grip of post-natal depression, she could have fired those shots."

The jury disagreed. One among them was a young mother who later said nothing would have convinced her Rachel could kill her own child. Another, Ashley Sousa, later revealed that since she was the same height as Rachel, she had taken part in a jury-room enactment which she felt proved Rachel couldn't have committed the crimes. Hardly firm evidence.

Neil was found guilty, told he would never get parole and, today, aged 30, is imprisoned in Souza Correctional Centre, not far from the Hopkinton home he shared with his wife and daughter. He is planning an appeal and his parents are launching a campaign to fight for his freedom.

Nevertheless, most people will feel sympathy for Cliff and Yvonne Entwistle.

They, like the Matterazzos, have lost a beloved granddaughter. And it is for her that they grieve. "You can't go back from this situation. We carry this forever now," Cliff says.

In their home town the couple are liked and respected. Neighbours treat them with unfailing courtesy and many believe in Neil's innocence. "The other day a woman I barely know stopped me in the street and pressed my hand," Yvonne says. "She just said, 'I know he is innocent.' Those small gestures mean a lot."

The couple keep in touch with their son by letter and occasional visits. In one of his last letters, written in August around what would have been his fifth wedding anniversary, he wrote: "It is that difficult time of the year again." Held in solitary confinement, he has already been subjected to one attack, which prompted him to write to his parents asking that his ashes be scattered on their graves should he die.

Life for Cliff and Yvonne, they say, is a continuing nightmare from which they cannot awaken. Even if their son said he was guilty they would never disown him: they would just know that he was where he had to be. "What torments us is that we believe 100 per cent in Neil's innocence," says Cliff. "When we saw him after the verdict he looked at me and said, 'Dad, how could this have happened to me?'"

Yvonne still likes to sit in her son's bedroom, looking out of the window in the early morning, just as she did on the morning of Lillian Rose's birth when she waited for the shops to open so that she could buy her a pretty pink dress. It was here that Rachel breast-fed Lillian Rose when she visited. It is here that Yvonne feels closest to her granddaughter. But she no longer watches the sun rise. Instead her gaze lingers on a white rose bush in the centre of the garden. Planted in loving memory of her only grandchild.

Cliff and Yvonne Entwistle were not paid for this interview. The Sunday Telegraph ©


Most Watched





Privacy