Secret relationship of killer who struck for a third time
After killing two partners, he broke his release terms by hiding new girlfriend from authorities
12 January, 2018 — By William McLennan
Theodore Johnson: jailed for at least 26 years
A MAN convicted of killing two previous partners had been freed on condition that he informed authorities of any new relationship, but was able to conceal a girlfriend from officials for nearly 20 years until the day she became his third victim.
Theodore Johnson, 64, was jailed for a minimum of 26 years on Friday for his “sustained, vicious and utterly brutal” attack on Angela Best at his home in Tufnell Park after she left him and began a relationship with a new man.
The case was described by a judge as “almost unprecedented” during sentencing at the Old Bailey. His history of violence against women was made public after he pleaded guilty to murdering Ms Best with a hammer and a dressing gown cord, leading to calls for an inquiry into how he was free to kill for a third time.
Having been sent to a secure psychiatric for his second killing in 1992, Johnson was released under strict terms in October 1997.
Judge Richard Marks QC told him on Friday: “You were required to notify your medical and social supervisor of any new relationships with women and to accept that such disclosure would involve your past history being communicated to such a person.”
But Johnson had already begun a relationship with Ms Best while on day release in the mid-1990s. He went on to have a relationship spanning two decades. At no point did he tell his social worker or psychologist and even said that he “could not imagine having a relationship again”.
Judge Marks said: “This was a deception that must have gone on for something like 15 years. If he had reported, we may not be here today.”
Annette Henry QC, for Johnson, said at the time a mental health tribunal imposed the condition they were aware that the “self-reporting” of relationships was “fraught with difficulties of how to monitor and police”.
She said that social workers making home visits had noticed a “feminine wood carving” spelling out “love”, but had not become suspicious. They also failed to notice a leopard-print dressing gown, believed to have belonged to Ms Best.
Angela Best, ‘the life and soul of the family’
“We do not seek to blame, it being a matter of how effectively to test what otherwise becomes self-reporting,” she said.
“Where there are lessons to be learned… they can and should be learned for the benefit of others.”
The court heard that Johnson claimed his first victim in 1981 when he killed his wife, Yvonne, attacking her with an ashtray and a glass vase, before pushing her from the balcony of their ninth-floor flat in Wolverhampton. The couple had two sons. He stood trial accused of murder, but was convicted on the lesser grounds of manslaughter, on the basis of provocation.
The court heard he had been on the receiving end of a violent relationship. He was sentenced to just three years’ imprisonment.
He met Yvonne Bennett in Wolverhampton some time before 1996 and the couple moved to Finsbury Park, where they lived together and had a daughter. Aged two-and-a-half, she was in another room in the small flat when Johnson strangled Ms Bennett to death after learning she intended to leave him for another man. He handed himself in to police after a botched suicide attempt and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Doctors agreed he had severe depression and a personality disorder.
He was given a hospital order, but freed in 1997 having agreed to inform authorities of any new relationships. Ms Best and Johnson were together from the mid-1990s until late-2016, when she left him, having discovered details of his violent past.
On December 15 that year, she agreed to go to his house to help him attend an appointment at the Jamaican High Commission. Her offer of assistance was met with brutal violence. He struck Ms Best six times with a claw hammer and then strangled her with a dressing gown cord.
Lorraine Jones speaking outside the court
He then drove to Hertfordshire and threw himself in front of a train, suffering massive injuries including the loss of his right arm and left hand. He was charged with murder at the end of January last year after weeks of intensive care.
His barrister, Ms Henry, said: “He is 64 and likely to die in prison. Certainly, he will be living a miserable and hopeless existence. He does not expect anything different.”
Johnson, who sat motionless in a wheelchair throughout the hearing, attempted to stand and appeared to mumble “sorry” before being taken down to the cells.
Passing sentence, Judge Marks said Johnson’s deceitful concealment of his relationship with Ms Best was a “very significant aggravating feature, as well as being an act of considerable irresponsibility on your part, having regard to your past history.”
He said: “The attack perpetrated by you upon Angela Best was sustained, vicious and utterly brutal. She suffered an unimaginably terrible death and there can be no doubt whatsoever that you intended to kill her.
“This is the third occasion when you have killed a female partner. Such repeated offending, resulting in three separate court cases, must be almost unprecedented.”
He said Ms Best’s family were “utterly destroyed and devastated by what you did”.
A statement by Ms Best’s sister, Valerie Archbold, described her as “an integral part of our family” and a “truly beautiful, gentle, loving, wonderful, fun, youthful, generous and loyal person – the life and soul of our family unit”.
Speaking outside court, her sister, Lorraine Jones, said: “This convicted murderer tried to play the system as he has successfully done twice before.” She referred to his citing diminished responsibility as the cause of his “murderous actions”.
The family had been subjected to “unnecessary additional trauma” while Johnson refused to admit his guilt.
“He knew exactly what he was doing when he planned and executed the horrific murder of our beautiful, beloved Angela,” Ms Jones added.
“Despite our family’s immense pain and suffering our hearts and thoughts go out to the other two families who also suffered as a result of his evil and calculating actions.”