Killer to die behind bars after murdering three people and raping pregnant victim

11 March 2022, 16:06 | Updated: 11 March 2022, 16:08

A "sad and pathetic" triple-killer has been sentenced to a whole life order
A "sad and pathetic" triple-killer has been sentenced to a whole life order. Picture: West Midlands Police

By Megan Hinton

A "sad and pathetic" triple-killer has been sentenced to life in prison for the "brutal" murders of a mother, son and a pregnant woman.

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Anthony Russell, 39, pleaded guilty to the murders of 58-year-old Julie Williams and her son David Williams, 32, at separate flats in Coventry on October 25 and October 21 2020 respectively.

He also admitted the October 26 murder of pregnant 31-year-old Nicole McGregor, who was found in woodland near Leamington Spa three days later.

After a retrial at Warwick Crown Court, Russell was also unanimously convicted of raping Ms McGregor, whom he had assaulted hours after she showed him a picture of her baby scan.

The court was told Russell refused to attend his sentencing hearing on Friday, and that attempts to force him into a prison van resulted in staff being put in "situations of danger".

Mr Justice Wall said guidelines on whole-life orders required that the sentence should be reserved for "exceptionally serious" cases in which they were required as just punishment, and mean the prisoner will never be released from prison and will die behind bars.

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Triple killer - Anthony Russell will die behind bars
Triple killer - Anthony Russell will die behind bars. Picture: West Midlands Police

Russell strangled Mr Williams with a lanyard and left the body under his bed where it was found by police five days later, covered in 87 injuries.

Afterwards, he claimed he had killed a man who "had sex with his girlfriend".

Russell strangled Mr Williams' mother in a "violent and sustained attack" in which she was hit five times on the head and neck, prosecutors said.

She had 113 separate injuries, and is believed to have been killed because she found out Russell had murdered her son.

After this, Russell approached a couple - Christopher White and Nicole McGregor - who begged in Leamington.

The three made an agreement to buy drugs, later smoking them together. Ms Johnson said: "Nicole told the defendant she and Christopher were expecting a baby.

"She proudly showed the defendant a pregnancy scan that she had on her telephone.

"The defendant congratulated them both."

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He is said to have "lured" Ms McGregor to nearly Newbold Comyn park "not for sex, but more likely for drugs" before allegedly raping and then killing her.

A search team later found her body down a steep path, covered in scratches, "in dense underground", likely after being dragged there in a bid to conceal the crime.

She died as a result of neck compression caused by ligature strangulation, with the post-mortem discovering she had been carrying a "fully-formed female foetus".

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David Williams (left) was the first victim, David's mother Julie was killed next (centre) Nicole McGregor (right) was Russell's final victim
David Williams (left) was the first victim, David's mother Julie was killed next (centre) Nicole McGregor (right) was Russell's final victim. Picture: West Midlands Police

The judge told Russell in his absence: "None of these crimes were random or motiveless.

"I have no doubt that this is a case which falls fairly and squarely within the description of being exceptionally serious.

"There were three murders - each was separated in time and location. Each was the result of a separate murderous act which was sustained and brutal. Each involved the use of very significant violence."

Ruling that Russell was exceptionally dangerous and manipulative, the judge added: "You are a man prepared to use very significant violence on anyone.

"You are exceptionally dangerous to those who know you, and those who do not.

"This is one of those cases deserving of a whole-life order.

"You will remain in custody for the rest or your life and will never be eligible to apply to the Parole Board for your release."

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Victim impact statements were read to the court by prosecutor Zoe Johnson QC from Ms McGregor's mother, Maggie, and Ms Williams' sister, Carol.

In the statement from Ms McGregor's mother, she said: "She was caring, she was kind and behind her barriers, she had a heart of gold.

"Losing Nicole in the way we did just destroyed us as a family."

Russell, who was described as a "rather sad and pathetic individual" by his own barrister, assaulted Ms McGregor hours after she had shown him a picture of her baby scan.

The killer also told Ms McGregor's partner "I bet you can't wait for it to be born", in the hours after she disappeared - knowing he had raped and killed her, the court heard.

Moving on to the statement made by Ms Williams' sister, she said: "Not only was our dear, sweet, caring, loving Julie taken from us, but also our dear loving nephew, David.

"Sentencing will not bring our family back but we hope it will stop the defendant from committing these evil crimes on any more families."

After the five day murder spree the killer was eventually the subject of a national manhunt, and fled Leamington by robbing a 78-year-old man of his car.

Russell rung the pensioner's doorbell asking for directions, and when the victim was distracted he hit him over the head from behind with a brick, leaving him with a fractured skull and a bleed on the brain.

The killer was arrested on October 30 after police spotted the stolen Ford C-Max parked on a road near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, and found Russell on the back seat.

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Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, who heads up West Midlands Police Homicide team, said: "This was a violent series of killings which happened over a period of just seven days, but which have left two families devastated for the rest of their lives.

"We believe that David was killed due to Russell’s mistaken belief that he was in a relationship with his girlfriend.

"When Russell went to speak to Julie about her son’s disappearance, we suspect that he confessed to David’s killing. He then killed Julie to stop her from speaking to the police.

"There’s no known link between Russell and Nicole, and it appears to be pure chance that he has encountered her.

"The huge effort that went into tracking Russell down, including national media appeals, can’t be overstated. We worked around the clock to bring him to justice, and I’m glad that that is what has happened today.

"The thoughts of everyone involved in this investigation are with the families of David and Julie, and Nicole, as well as the victims he robbed, today."

There are 60 criminals still alive who are serving whole life orders, according to government figures to the end of June.

In total, 73 criminals have been sentenced to whole life terms.

Former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was handed one for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.