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Nearly two decades on, the net is closing on Ann's killer; UNSOLVED: COVER UPS.. But will the prime suspect in the brutal murder case ever face trial?

THE mist hung over the island and ferries gently whistled as they came to shore. It was a beautiful, romantic setting, yet it would lead to bloody murder.

The Isle of Bute is well known for Glaswegians going "doon the watter" for a summer break. But others go there, too, for the awesome beauty of the place. This time it would start in love and end in hell.

Ann Cockburn had moved from Glasgow to the island with her husband of 15 years, cop Ralph Cockburn, and their three kids.

It was 1984, drugs had hit the cities, gangs were on the streets and a move to the quiet tranquillity was ideal for their children. But there was trouble around the corner.

From the off, Ann McCormack took a shine to Peter Heron. The transport company boss was on Bute for a golfing weekend with three pals. Chatting, Ann found out she and Heron had a mutual friend in Darlington where he lived.

She also discovered he was married with three children. So, there was a bit of flirting and that was that. At least, it should've been.

A few weeks later, Ann visited their mutual pal down in Darlington and was quick to look up Peter. Flirting turned to an affair almost instantly.

Soon Ann and Peter were living together down south. Two years later, in 1986, both of them divorced and they got married.

They were rich, attractive and in love. Life was ideal, yet tragedy lurked in the shadows.

By 1990, Ann and Peter Heron were well settled in their luxurious, secluded home on the outskirts of the small town of Middleton St George, near Darlington.

By then she was 44, very attractive, in the prime of her life. He was going from strength to strength with his transport company. Life was settled, comfortable, stress free.

Peter would go to work every day and Ann would stay at home unless she had a lunch with some ladies or a community event.

The area they lived in was almost crime free, safe. Everyone knew everyone and hardly anyone bothered to lock their doors.

One day in August 1990, it turned out to be a scorcher. Peter went off to work as usual and Ann was to stay at home.

She intended to make the best of the weather and do some sunbathing in their back garden.

When Peter returned from work, they'd both sit out there, have a few drinks and maybe even have dinner outside.

Later that afternoon, the police received a call from Peter. Something terrible had happened. His wife was dead.

The cops rushed to the house right into something out of a murder mystery plot.

Nothing had been stolen and there had been no break-in. The radio was still playing .

By the sun lounger lay a half empty glass, her cigarettes, lighter and an ashtray. Her pet collie Heidi still snoozed peacefully nearby.

An everyday scene apart from one thing, Ann lay with her throat slashed, a puddle of her blood spread across the floor - just as Peter said he had found her .

One look at the body gave the cops their first clue. Ann had been wearing a bikini while she sunbathed. The top was still in place but the bottoms had been removed. It must have been a sex killing.

A post mortem exam revealed Ann had been slashed across her throat with a razor type implement and stabbed in the neck.

This could've been by a scalpel, carpet knife or Stanley knife, but no murder weapon was found at the scene. A deeply upset Peter went public pleading for witnesses to come forward and talking about Ann as the "light of my life". He followed up his pleas with a pounds 5000 reward .

IN the north east of England, the public oozed sympathy for Peter Heron. So did that of many cops. But cops are cops and they get used to suspecting the unlikely.

As Ann's husband and the person who found her body, Heron hit two of the main criteria for murder suspects. Yet his account of his movements were ratified and the cops moved on to other angles.

Eventually eyewitnesses came forward to say they'd seen a deeply tanned man in a blue car speed down the driveway of the house around the time of the killing.

Others reported that a jogger had been seen running close to the house at that time.

Appeals went out for further information. None came.

Months were ticking by. Darlington cops had spent over 100,000 hours on the case, more than 7000 people had been interviewed and some 4000 statements taken.

It got them nowhere. It was their first unsolved murder case in over 40 years.

Then the gossip hit the street. At the time of the murder, Peter Heron had been having an affair with the barmaid at his local.

Instantly, public opinion turned against the man as suspicion turned on him.

Having an affair has been motive enough in many murders of spouses, yet still his account of that day held out and there was no other evidence to implicate him.

Instead, he had his own theory that a local man was the killer. A man who hadn't murdered before or since. A man still going about his business in that area.

Shortly afterwards, he tried to sell the murder house. Eighteen months later, there had been not one sniff of interest.

Who would want to live in a home where such a terrible killing had taken place?

By that time, Heron had taken up with another woman, Freda Buddie, and married her two years after the killing.

The public and some cops lost even more sympathy for him.

In 1994, there came a macabre development. Anonymous letters arrived at the Northern Echo newspaper, the police and Heron's house. One started, "Hello editor, it's me. Ann Heron's killer."

The cops hoped they had a publicity seeking sex killer on their hands. That way, he was likely to drop clues and put himself at risk.

As abruptly as the letters started, they stopped after only eight days. Another crazy person, another dead end.

Heron married Freda and moved to Scotland. First to East Kilbride and then out near Wishaw, in Lanarkshire.

Back in Darlington, the cop in charge of the case had retired but younger cops hadn't forgotten about Ann Heron. They had a proud record of solving murders and this was unfinished business.

THEY had explored all possibilities. Like in 2001, Peter Smith, the convicted murderer of three women in Birmingham.

Had he killed Ann? Was he the tanned man driving fast away from the Heron house that day? One visit to Smith in jail convinced them otherwise.

Ever since that deadly day, cops had been asking questions. If there was no break-in and no struggle surely the killer must have been someone Ann knew? If there was no struggle, then there could have been no sexual assault.

Why were her bikini bottoms off? As a cover? To make it look like a sex killing?

A cold case review team was set up and soon took action. In November that year, 70-year-old Peter Heron was arrested at his home and charged with murdering Ann.

His lawyer went into outrage mode, pointing out that Heron had never committed an offence in his life.

Down in Darlington, people were talking again about Ann 's murder. Suddenly, there were those who declared they "always knew it was him".

The authorities disagreed and dropped charges through lack of evidence. Heron sued the police.

Modern forensics would provide the answer, so they thought. By 2007, DNA had developed to the stage that it could analyse minuscule exhibits and around 15,000 had been taken from the Heron house and stored.

The same team involved in the investigation into the murder in Australia of British backpacker Peter Falconio were brought in.

Three separate dates were given for the forensic team to announce their results. Three times that deadline hasn't been met. But they will report and report soon.

What will the result be?

A local man who no one would suspect? The suntanned stranger driving fast away from the house? A known killer languishing in jail?

Or the now elderly husband who some people have suspected for almost two decades?

Will it come down to Ann's bikini bottoms? Did the killer remove them not to uncover her for sex but to cover up the murder motive?

Were Ann's bikini bottoms removed to make her murder look more like a sex killing?

CAPTION(S):

MURDER: Peter, left, offered a pounds 5000 reward after he found Ann's body at the back of the house, above. Main pic, Ann
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 4, 2007
Words:1460
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