Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bruce George Peter Lee

Breakthrough

While one anonymous phone caller had been traced, sending Hull police on a long but ultimately fruitless line of inquiry in their search for the arsonists who had killed three young boys, another went untraced. After the fire, the Hastie family had been rehoused in another area of the city, but one night just before Christmas Tommy Hastie received an anonymous phone call from a man sobbing into the phone saying, "I'm sorry I killed your kids."

A couple of weeks later the central police station in Hull received a similar phone booth call, confessing to starting the Hastie fire. When he was asked for his name he wailed "No, no, no..." and put the phone down.

In any well-publicized murder investigation the police regularly have to deal with false confessions from crackpots and attention-seekers, and this one was no different. But the call was recorded all the same, even though the identity of the caller could not be established.

That trail had long since gone cold by the time Detective Superintendent Ron Sagar and his team decided to interview any local homosexuals who were known to frequent the same public restrooms as the rover car driver they had followed. Among those interviewed was a 19-year-old man calling himself Bruce George Peter Lee. He had changed his name from Peter Dinsdale in the summer of 1979, in honor of his idol, Kung Fu film star Bruce Lee, and he said he not only knew Charlie Hastie, but had been involved in "indecent" behavior with him. This provided a definite (if not provable) connection between the eldest Hastie boy and the city's gay scene, so it was decided that several possible suspects would be brought in for questioning on the same day, and Sagar would accuse each of them in turn, in the hope that the real killer would confess.

"It was a bluff," admitted Sagar in a 2002 television interview, "but it was something that I found necessary to do."

When Bruce Lee was brought in, Sagar read him his rights, then wasted no time.

"Bruce," he said, "I'll be quite blunt with you. I think that you started that fire at the Hastie family's house, and that indecency with Charlie is probably the cause of it all somehow."

Lee's reply stunned Sagar.

"I didn't mean to kill them," he said.

He went on to explain that he had set the fire to get back at Charlie Hastie, who had continually demanded money from Lee after "mucking about, wanking (masturbating) and that." Hastie also threatened to tell the police about their indecency if Lee didn't keep giving him money.

There was also another motive. Lee had become besotted with Charlie's 16-year-old sister Angie. He had repeatedly asked her to be his girlfriend, but she rejected his advances. Indeed she and her brothers regarded Lee as an irritating hanger on and would take pleasure in mocking him. Indeed, Lee, who had an educationally subnormal IQ, was a frequent figure of ridicule and contempt among his peers, something that came as no surprise to Sagar when he met Lee in the flesh.

"He was...not a normal young man, he was deformed, his right arm and right leg were deformed, he had a limp, he had a habit of holding his right arm across his chest. He was poorly dressed, he was clearly undernourished, and on first impressions one had to feel sorry for him."

Of the night of December 4, Lee recalled, "One night I am thinking I am going to go to Charlie's house and set it on fire, give him a real frightener."

He went on to tell Sagar how he took a container full of paraffin, and stood in the shadows underneath the motorway flyover for "a good time until it went real quiet."

Can of Paraffin
Can of Paraffin

He then described in detail walking up the path to the Hastie house, pouring the paraffin through the letterbox and then, after two failed attempts to light matches, lit a piece of newspaper and pushed it through the letterbox to set the paraffin alight.

This claim tallied with the newspaper, matches and paraffin that were found at the scene. The details Lee knew about the fire convinced Sagar that this was no confession-happy attention seeker. The Hastie boys' murderer had been found. What they didn't know at that point was that this confession was not going to be Bruce Lee's last.

 

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