It was warm enough today to sit outside in the late afternoon and quaff a G&T.
I looked down the garden and saw where Donald Neilson, the infamous Black Panther had camped before walking a 1/4 mile to rob the local post office and murder popular post master, 44 year old Derek Astin on September 6, 1974.
It was a murder that shook Baxenden to its very core and sparked one of the biggest manhunts ever in East Lancashire. There had recently been a series of armed raids on sub-postmasters by hooded gunmen.
The funeral service, conducted by Rev Brian Harding, was at the church opposite the sun post office.
The cortege made its way to the grave in the churchyard and crowds of villagers filed past the flowers on the church lawns.
In the streets of Baxenden curtains were drawn as a mark of respect to Mr Astin ‘who used to have a joke and a smile for everyone’.
In July 1976 Neilson was trialled. His timeline was as follows:
August 1936 – Born in Bradford as Donald Nappey.
1960 – Changed his family name to Neilson after the birth of his daughter so she would avoid the bullying and abuse he’d endured at school.
1960s – Believed to have committed over 400 house burglaries without detection.
February 1972 – Broke into sub-post office in Heywood. Postmaster Leslie Richardson survived gunshot wounds after confronting Neilson.
February 15, 1974 – Began his murderous spree when he gunned down postmaster Donald Skepper at a sub-post office in Harrogate.
September 6, 1974 – Killed sub-postmaster Derek Astin in Baxenden. He was then given the nickname ‘Black Panther’ after Mr Astin’s wife Marion described her husband’s killer as ‘so quick, he was like a panther’.
September 13, 1974 – The funeral of Mr Astin at St John’s Church in Baxenden. His family were joined by dozens of friends, neighbours and officials. Flowers covered the church lawns and curtains in the streets were drawn as a mark of respect.
November 1974 – Shot dead postmaster Sidney Grayland in Langley, West Midlands.
January 14, 1975 – Snatched 17-year-old coach company heiress Lesley Whittle from the bedroom of her home in Highley, Shropshire after reading a newspaper article about her inheritance. Tried to collect £50,000 from her brother Donald.
March 7, 1975 – Lesley Whittle’s body found hanging from a wire at the bottom of a drainage pipe in Bathpool Park, Kidsgrove, Shropshire.
December 1976 – Police officers Stuart Mackenzie and Tony White arrested Neilson after spotting him on the A60 leading out of Mansfield.
July 1976 – Sentenced on his 40th birthday to four life prison sentences at Oxford Crown Court.
June 12, 2008 – Mr Justine Teare at the High Court ruled Neilson must never be released from prison.
March 2009 – Diagnosed with motor neurone disease and moved to a special prison hospital unit.
December 18, 2011 – Died in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital after being taken from Norwich Prison in the early hours of December 17.