Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Stephen Griffiths: The crossbow cannibal

Stephen Griffiths. MySpace/Personal photo.

Stephen Griffiths lived in Bradford for over a decade before beginning his short but notorious criminal career. He was enrolled part-time in a PhD program in criminology at Bradford University. Bradford is the old industrial English city where the infamous Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe committed his series of terrors against prostitutes in the 1970s. In the years since Sutcliffe’s arrest, the scene had changed, and not necessarily for the better: Prostitution had been pushed to the seediest sections of the city, the pimps (and the degree of protection they’d offered) disappeared, and a drug epidemic had ravaged the streetwalkers.

Griffiths lived on the top floor of Holmfield Court, a building that had once been a Victorian textile factory. Among his academic specialties was Kenneth Valentine, a Bradford man who’d once rented the bedroom in his own apartment in the same building (called Soho Mills before it was renamed to blur its violent past) to prostitutes so he could spy on their liaisons — until one of the whores rejected his advances and Valentine killed her.

Like Valentine, Griffiths befriended the neighborhood’s sex workers. He’d cook for them, wash their clothes, let them stay with him if they needed it. Many of them later reported that he had seemed harmless and even clueless, and a couple have admitted that they stole from him.

But in 2009, Stephen Griffiths picked up a crossbow and turned on his neighborhood’s prostitutes. He killed three women and dismembered them in his bathtub. He dumped the chopped up bodies in the river Aire — except for the bits he ate cooked or raw.

Schoolboy Turned Pariah

Stephen Griffiths. MySpace/Personal Photo.

There were plenty of warning signs. Stephen Griffiths had even predicted that he’d kill.

He’d had a normal enough early childhood. He was born in Dewsbury, and grew up with two siblings and his mother, Moira, in Wakefield after his father, Stephen, left. Moira, a receptionist, managed to pay her son’s way through Queen Elizabeth (serial killer John George Haigh had won a scholarship to the posh school years earlier).

But as a young man Griffiths developed a history of both crime and mental illness. At 17, during a check-in with his probation officer, Griffiths not only admitted that he fantasized about murder, he predicted that he’d go on a killing spree in his 30s. In 1987, he was sentenced to three years for attacking a man with a knife; he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital that same year, where a psychiatrist labeled him a sadistic, schizoid psychopath. In 1992, he got another two years in prison, this time for threatening a woman with a knife to her throat.

Griffiths as a child at Queen Elizabeth school. Family photo.

He didn’t hide his darkest criminal instincts, but he openly explored them as his central academic and entertainment interests. After earning a degree in psychology from Leeds University, he began a part-time PhD in criminology at Bradford University and worked on a thesis entitled “Homicide in an Industrial City: Violence in Bradford 1847-1899.” He nurtured an obsession with crime films, cultivating the appearance of an eccentric cinema-villain: He wore a leather trench coat and sunglasses, and walked a pet lizard on a leash.

And Griffiths explored violence and perversion online. At his website, The Skeleton and the Jaguar, he posted photographs of crossbows and over 50 serial killers. On MySpace and elsewhere he called himself Ven Pariah.

One night in May 2010 Griffiths logged in to MySpace and announced that Ven Pariah had cast off Stephen Griffiths and was ready to act out. Within 24 hours a prostitute would be dead at his hands; she was at least the third woman he’d killed.

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