The only way to make Childs laugh is start talking about killing people.
He is more menacing than Reggie Kray, more frightening than strangler Dennis Nilsen. The only time he laughs is when he talks about killing. Yet from his appearance you would never guess the enormity of his crimes.
Childs machine-gunned, hammered and stabbed his victims. Then he chopped the bodies into small pieces, fed the bloody pulp into an industrial mincer and burned the result in the grate of his living room fire.
That was 20 years ago. He has been in jail ever since and will never be freed. And that's where I first met him last year, after I received a message saying he wanted to confess to another five killings on top of the six for which he was sentenced in 1980.
The ageing gangster is now 62, sparingly built with thinning hair. He has watery blue eyes, pale skin, a ready smile and a warm handshake. It was only when he talked about the murders that he seemed to come alive. Veins in his forehead throbbed, his eyes widened. At times he thrust an imaginary dagger towards my chest.
Then there was the laughter. Recalling one killing, he said: "So I said to him 'Have some of this you ****,' and I plunged the knife in his chest right to the hilt. And he goes 'Ow, ow, it hurts, it hurts!'" Then Childs threw back his head and hooted at the memory.
The first meeting in Long Lartin jail, Worcs, was for both sides to do a bit of finding out about each other. Childs - pal of mass killer Henry "Big H" McKenny with whom he set up Murder Incorporated - said: "Are you interested in what I've done?"
I told him I was. Childs went on: "I know I'm going to die in jail. There's a few things I'd like to get off my mind before I go...a few skeletons still in my cupboard." It wasn't until after my second visit to see him at Long Lartin and later after he was transferred to top security Frankland jail, in Co Durham, that Childs trusted me enough to tell all. This is his grim tally of "extra" killings:
VICTIM No 1 was a young offender in the first borstal in Borstal village, Kent, where Childs was locked up for burglary.
Childs said he dropped a 60lb block of concrete on the youngster's back from the top of a stair, smashing his spine. He told me: "He was in his death throes flapping like a pinned butterfly. I was told later he died."
VICTIM No 2 was a complete stranger who Childs stabbed in Hillingdon, Middx, in 1965. He told me: "Someone attacked a black mate of mine and slashed his face with a razor. One night, I went looking for vengeance and stabbed two people.
"The man I killed was in a pub with a bunch of mates. They were National Front types and I was with my black girlfriend Joan. They followed us outside and started making remarks. I was throbbing with hate. I had a knife, picked out one of the group and ran the blade into his chest as hard as I could three times. I never knew his name."
VICTIM No 3 was a police informer. Childs was in a drinking club in Hornsey, North London, run by the notorious Kray Twins in 1966 when the grass was hauled before a crowd of villains who put him "on trial".
Childs presided as judge and executioner. He said: "He was found guilty. I went to my car and got a five-shot revolver. I shot him twice at close range. I was told the Krays were not pleased but I never heard anything more about it."
VICTIM No 4 was a stranger who approached Childs in a pub near his home in Bow, East London, in 1978.
At the time, the killer was "half way through cutting up" a previous victim Ronnie Andrews, 38. He said: "My wife had left me and I was depressed. I went out for a drink. A bloke started a conversation with me. I told him I didn't want any company but he wouldn't let up.
"I left the pub and he followed me outside. He punched me in the face, so I stabbed him with my diver's knife. I propped him up and dragged him to my front door 100 yards away.
"Once inside I finished him off with a 2lb hammer. Then I had to spend another two days cutting him up and burning him. At that time I was prepared to kill at the drop of a hat. It never bothered me at all."
VICTIM No 5 was petrol station attendant Gordon Snowden, 60, found murdered in his office in the sleepy village of Sutton Bridge, Lincs, in April, 1979.
Six months earlier, Childs and McKenny had called at Gordon's station after murdering Ronald Andrews and dumping his car in the nearby River Nene.
Fearing that Gordon would remember the two strangers after the car was recovered Childs went back to secure his silence.
He said: "I battered him to death with a cosh in his office and took the till to make it look like robbery. He was an old boy and when I look back I'm sorry. But in those days I was ruthless about eliminating risks.
"It may sound silly but I'm telling this now because I think that man might have relatives and I would like them to know the truth."
Childs, then known as John Childs, and McKenny were each handed six life sentences for a succession of cold-blooded killings, some of them for cash.
Their spree started with Terence "Teddy Bear" Eve who ran a soft toy business in Ilford. Childs and McKenny wanted his business and in 1974 beat him to death with hammers and strangled him with rope.
The second victim was Eve's friend Robert Brown. He had to go because knew too much about Eve's disappearance. He was lured to Childs' flat in Bow, East London, in 1975 and shot three times in the head. Childs plunged his favourite seven-inch diver's knife into his heart and McKenny sank an axe into his skull.
Later that year, George Brett and his 10-year-old son Terry were shot dead at an Ilford factory with a sub-machine gun. Childs accepted pounds 1,800 to kill George. Terry fell victim just because he had gone along for the ride with his dad.
Childs then accepted pounds 1,500 down and five monthly payments of pounds 500 to kill nursing home boss Fred Sherwood, 48, of Herne Bay, Kent. Fred was clubbed with a 2lb hammer and shot in 1978.
Ronald Andrews, 38, died later that year because McKenny was having an affair with his wife. Childs lured him to his infamous "slaughterhouse" flat in Bow where he was shot dead, cut up and burned.
Sitting in jail, Childs told me: "There were loads of people I still wanted to kill when I got caught, 11 I think. I'm always surprised there aren't more murderers about because killing someone isn't hard. Not getting caught is the hard bit."
Warming to his theme, he said: "Do you know there are at least 11 plants in the average garden that can poison people. If you want any elderly relatives out of the way, it's a piece of cake."
He then told me what to do with a common garden plant. It was a master class in murder from a man who will never see the outside world again.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Nov 17, 1998|
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