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MURDERS STILL A MYSTERY; 23 killings remain unsolved.

Byline: TOM MULLEN

THE case of a bludgeoned shopkeeper and a schoolboy found suffocated beside the River Tyne are among a list of unsolved murders still being probed by police today.

Twenty-three homicide riddles continue to baffle North East detectives, with one of the cases dating back to before the Second World War.

But the cold cases are never closed, and today the Chronicle can reveal the murder files currently under review.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Northumbria Police and Durham Constabulary have released details of all unsolved murders which have been re-investigated since the original crime.

They include the killing of Northumberland shopkeeper Minnie Lawson, who was clubbed to death at her cottage in 1935.

The widow, 58, was found in a pool of blood by a burning bed - but no trace of her killer could be found.

It is believed the murderer had hoped to find a stash of money at the property, because Minnie was known to be one of the few people in the tiny hamlet of Ogle who bothered to lock her door at night.

Exactly a week after the death, a farm labourer was charged with Mrs Lawson's murder, but was released days later, and the trail went cold.

The murder mysteries also include the case of six-year-old Gary Shields, killed in August, 1976.

The schoolboy's body was found among reeds on the bank of the River Tyne, close to his home in Knotts Flats, North Shields. He had been suffocated and sexually assaulted.

Paul Hails, 25, was convicted of the murder after a long trial, but he was sensationally acquitted after a man serving time at Durham Prison confessed to the crime.

But the confession, said by detectives to contain "intimate details connected to the murder" was later retracted and the true killer is yet to be found.

The "Halloween Killer" of 1963 is also among the murder riddles.

Retired headmistress Lillian Armstrong was found stabbed to death in the passage of her home in Goldspink Lane, Sandyford, Newcastle, nearly half a century ago.

The former head of Denton Road School put up a fight, but was overcome when her killer tied one of her nylon stockings tightly round her neck.

Newcastle's biggest murder investigation of the time was launched, but not even two rugged Scotland Yard detectives brought up from London could solve the crime, despite officers interviewing some 16,000 people.

In 1973, the new tenants at number 12 Goldspink Lane said the house had been left empty for years and was reportedly haunted.

Mrs Joan Black told the Chronicle at the time: "The family who were here before said the place had a ghost and was spooky. "We don't believe it is true, although the first lodger we had was convinced there was something unusual about the place."

More recently, the murder of Tyneside mobster Viv Graham continues to be analysed by murder squads.

Graham, 34, an enforcer who was known to have meted out his own physical punishment over the years, was gunned down as he left The Queen's Head pub in Wallsend High Street West on New Year's Eve, 1993.

His killers blasted him three times with a Magnum before fleeing in a car which was later found burned out in Heaton, Newcastle.

The cold-blooded murder sent shock waves across the Tyneside underworld, and those on the fringes - but the killers were never identified, despite an apparent confession from killer and supergrass Lee Shaun Watson during a separate court case.

Also eluding police is the 2005 murder of Michael Grey, of Arthur's Hill, Newcastle, who died in what may have been a botched mugging attempt.

An inquest heard how Mr Grey, a respected radiographer, was hit in the mouth, causing him to fall and bang his head on the pavement at the junction of Ellesmere Road and West Road, in Newcastle's West End.

His wallet was stolen at the time of the attack and Dean Conroy, then 23, and Michelle Finley, then 25, of Whitehouse Crescent, Springwell, Gateshead, admitted the theft and handling of Mr Grey's belongings.

But no further information could be obtained and Conroy and Finley were released. Turning to other inquiries in the community, police were met with a wall of silence.

Officers would not be drawn on specific detail of further investigations into unsolved murders, but it is hoped that modern forensic technology and pioneering DNA research could one day shed light on these crimes.

Det Sup Jim Napier, head of Northumbria Police's major investigation teams, said: "Unsolved murders and cases of that importance are never closed and are periodically reviewed. If new information is received, or there are new forensic developments, these are acted upon."

COMMENT: PAGE 6

CAPTION(S):

HEADMISTRESS: Lillian Armstrong, murdered on Halloween in 1963. WIDOW: Murder Victim Minnie Lawson was killed in 1935. TRAGIC: Gary Shields, killed in August, 1976 aged six. GRIM: Police search for clues where the body of six year old Gary Shields was found at River View, North Shields.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 2, 2010
Words:835
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