Dr David Birkett was a popular dermatologist and devoted dad-of-three.
So when he was found dead in his home in a leafy suburb of Middlesborough, the north east community was rocked.
Dr Birkett had been the victim of a brutal and sadistic attack.
His broken and tortured body, with his skull completely caved in, was found in the study of his home by his devastated daughter.
His killer, Reginald Wilson, has been described by psychologists as a murderer who “killed for the hell of it” and “would kill and kill again”.
But when he murdered Dr Birkett in 1990 he almost got away with the perfect crime – until a carrier bag revealed who the killer was.
The murder that horrified Middlesborough is examined in Crime+Investigation’s Murdertown, fronted by Katherine Kelly.
Wilson seemed to have picked his victim at random – he has never revealed any motive for the murder.
Those who knew Dr Birkett describe him as both a gentleman and a talented doctor.
Mike Gaskarth, who knew him from the Middlesborough Bowling Club, said: “We wondered who would’ve done it or why they would’ve done it because David was such an unassuming person.
“He was a very nice, polite, gentle man but I think after that it was anger more than anything else – that his life had been wasted.”
Fellow bowler, Mike Cotton, added: “He was very, very eminent in his field. Apart from his particular profession, people used to send bones from various parts of the country and the world for him to examine.
“He could tell from them what diseases a person had died of and so on.
“It was a very, very serious shock when we heard about that because he was such a lovely man, David, and obviously a very, very bad shock.”
When police arrived at Dr Birkett’s house, officers were horrified by the scene in front of them.
The 56-year-old had been hit over the head 16 times in his hallway before he was dragged into his study by cords wrapped around his arms.
Wilson then launched a second, violent attack on the doctor.
But police also noticed very little had been taken, so this was no robbery and instead a planned slaughter.
The only things left behind were the pieces of cord used to tie Dr Birkett,a note from local delivery service, Demon Dispatch, and a Co-Op carrier bag.
But this was 1990 and long before DNA testing would prove to be key in police investigations.
Retired Det Insp Ray Morton said: “Having seen the doctor and the scene, it was quite obvious we needed to get this person off the streets as soon as possible.
“It was something that you join the police to do to try and get convictions on people that have committed murders.”
Suspicion immediately fell on Jim Lee, who had been the sole motorbike courier with Demon Despatch but had recently changed jobs.
Thankfully, he had an albi for the day of the murder, February 3.
But Jim admitted: “That was a really frightening moment because I thought I’m in the frame for murder.”
Then police received a chilling delivery – a letter from the killer, written with stencils.
Filled with expletives, it included details only the man behind the murder could know, such as the horrific injuries inflicted on Dr Birkett.
Det Insp Morton said: “That made us even more determined to catch this person.”
A decision was then taken to fingerprint anyone arrested for any offence in Middlesborough in the hope this would lead them to the killer.
At the time there was no national database of fingerprints and while the murderer had left an inprint on the carrier bag, detectives had no way of finding out who it belonged to.
Finally, two months after the murder, there was a match – Reginald Wilson.
The 26-year-old had been attested for stealing a motorbike and had previously been jailed for his part in a robbery on a shop.
Police set up a surveillance team to follow his every move.
Every night, he went out dressed in camouflage and had walkie talkies tuned to the police frequency so was aware of officers’ movements.
When police followed him home and looked into where he lived they were horrified.
The walls were covered in hate-filled slogans and the property was just round the corner from the phone box with the same number as the delivery notice posted through Dr Birkett’s door.
Chillingly, this number had also recently been used to call 999.
Det Insp Morton said: “There had been a bogus 999 call to the police control room.
“This was to try, we thought, to lure police to Union Street with a view to try and kill a police officer.”
Wilson’s home was also filled with handguns, knives and even a rocket launcher.
Crucially, the cord around the dog run in the house exactly matched that which had been used to tie Dr Birkett’s hands.
Police arrested the killer as he went into the phone box round the corner from his house.
It was five months after he had carried out the brutal murder.
Det Insp Morton said: “It was the best moment in my 30 years in the police. He was our man.
“There’s no doubt about that. Then that’s when it started to become my responsibility to eventually interview him.
“But it was—it was the most intense murder investigation I’d been with so I was really pleased personally to be given that role.
“We put a lot of evidence to him and he came over as a total psychopath.”
Wilson had tricked his way into the doctor’s home by pushing a note through his letterbox claiming to be from Demon Despatch and that a parcel needed to be delivered.
First, Dr Birkett was told to call a number and make arrangements – the number was the phone box.
When the doctor called, Wilson was waiting and rode round to Dr Birkett’s house to carry out the gruesome murder.
Wilson, who has tattoos on his forehead saying “psychopath” and “chaos”, was jailed for 30 years.
As he was sentenced he shouted to the court “you may contain me but you’ll never control me”.
But Det Insp Morton believes Wilson would have escaped justice if he hadn’t dropped the carrier bag on the night of the murder.
He said: “This was the most complicated, I think the most complicated murder Cleveland have ever had up until this day.
“To murder without motive, if he hadn’t have dropped that carrier bag, we would probably have never traced him. Ever.
“He was trying to commit, obviously, the perfect murder.”
- Murdertown is on Crime+Investigation at 9pm tonight.