Landscapers: The surreal suburban murders behind a TV drama

By Greig Watson
BBC News

Image source, Sky
Image caption,
Olivia Colman and David Thewlis star as killers who rely on a fantasy world to cope with life

A fantasist, an unassuming killer and a terrible secret hidden in a suburban garden make up a tale so grotesquely absurd it has now attracted filmmakers and an Oscar winning actor. BBC News looks back at the true story behind Sky/HBO's new comedy drama Landscapers.

"It would have been unusual anywhere, but on a quiet housing estate, with families all around, it was the last place you'd expect."

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Griffin, who led the investigation, remembers his shock following the initial phone call, from a lady in her 80s, in October 2013.

"My first thought was 'this sounds bizarre'," he said. "I questioned in my own mind whether it could be true because it was so unusual.

"But as with any call we took it seriously, followed up some obvious lines of inquiry and I quickly started to believe what we had been told could be true."

Image source, Google
Image caption,
Google Street View still shows the house in 2012, when there were two bodies in the back garden

What he had been told is that a quiet, rather colourless, middle-aged couple from London, Christopher and Susan Edwards, had killed two people and buried their bodies.

But this was not yesterday or a week before, but more than a decade ago.

Now the surreal story of these almost mundane murders has become a drama starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman and Harry Potter saga actor David Thewlis.

Ms Colman describes Landscapers as being the antithesis of a classic crime story.

"It's quite hard to describe," she says. "There's intrigue, there's crime, there's 'why the hell did they do it?'"

Image source, Sky
Image caption,
Olivia Colman (left) in the dramatised court scene

ACC Griffin says right from the outset, the case was different to anything he had ever investigated before.

"I've never been involved in a murder investigation which started this way; that's the real difference with this case," he says.

"Normally a homicide investigation starts with the deceased, with the discovery of a body.

"This investigation almost started with contact from the people who turned out to be the murderers.

"So it was almost working back to front."

Image source, Nottinghamshire Police
Image caption,
The Wycherleys were so reclusive police found only these pictures of William - and none of Patricia.

It was quickly established Susan Edwards's parents, William and Patricia Wycherley, had not been seen since 1998, when they were 86 and 63.

Their last known address was a semi-detached house on the quiet cul-de-sac of Blenheim Close in Forest Town, on the edge of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.

Attention quickly focussed on its neat garden. Complete with patio.

A dig started at the end of October and within 36 hours two skeletons were found - one with a bullet still lodged in its spine.

So it really was a double murder. But the prime suspects were still missing.

Image source, Nottinghamshire police
Image caption,
After finding the bodies, police were left with the problem of tracking down their prime suspects

Andy Done-Johnson, a local reporter who broke the story and has written a book based on the case, said what happened next just increased the surreal nature of the case.

"The original caller was Christopher Edwards's stepmother, who had spoken to him when he rang asking for money," he says.

"Police left a message with her for him to ring them. And, oddly, he did.

"He told them the Wycherleys had died in a fight while Susan was in the house. Then they went silent again.

"After a week or so, he emailed to say they would be travelling back to England."

Image source, Nottinghamshire Police
Image caption,
Christopher and Susan Edwards were arrested after emailing police they were on their way back

The couple were arrested on 30 October 2013 at St Pancras station. In their possession, they were found to have only loose change, a change of clothes and a suitcase of Hollywood memorabilia.

This seemingly inexplicable luggage was, in fact, the key to the whole terrible story.

In the 15 years since the Wycherleys had been shot, it emerged their identities had been used to siphon off their benefits and take out loans.

"Keeping the Wycherleys 'alive' was almost a full-time job for Christopher and Susan," says Mr Done-Johnson.

"They had all their mail redirected and went through it, deflecting inquiries, cancelling appointments, even writing greetings cards.

"It worked because the Wycherleys had been a very private couple with no real friends.

"The Edwards told people they had moved to Morecambe or Blackpool or even Australia."

But rather than spend the estimated £245,000 on holidays and luxury items, the Edwards continued their low-key lifestyle.

Image source, Nottinghamshire police
Image caption,
Susan worked hard to keep the Wycherleys "alive" - answering cards and mail on their behalf

The money was spent on movie memorabilia from Hollywood's golden age of the 1930s to 1950s.

But such was their obsession, they drove themselves into serious debt.

Mr Done-Johnson says: "They were notoriously lousy with money. They might spend £15,000 on a collection of photographs and, within a year, run out of money.

"They would then sell it all for, say, a third of what they had paid for it.

"Then, a little later, they would start all over again."

Despite being forced to sell the Blenheim Close house in 2006 to pay off debts, the Edwards kept the Wycherley's "alive" - in name at least - until 2012.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
The Edwards spent huge sums on Hollywood memorabilia, running up serious debts in the process

It was a demand from the Department for Work and Pensions for a face-to-face meeting with William Wycherley, theoretically about to turn 100, that brought the cover story crashing down.

The couple fled to France with £10,000 from Christopher Edwards's work but, unable to speak French or find a job, the money lasted just a few months.

So Christopher Edwards called his stepmother to ask for money...

Their trial began at Nottingham Crown Court in June 2014.

Both denied murder but admitted manslaughter, sticking to the story Patricia had shot William during a row while Susan was visiting.

On seeing this, Susan was taunted by her mother and, in a fit of temper, shot her.

Image source, Nottinghamshire Police
Image caption,
Police believed Christopher Edwards had used a gun like this to shoot the Wycherleys

Christopher had only become involved, they said, when they both visited Blenheim Close the next weekend.

While watching the Eurovision Song Contest and eating fish and chips, Susan stated, she had told Christopher her parents were dead upstairs.

They admitted burying them the next night.

But the prosecution said the murders were all about money.

The jury was told an inheritance left to Susan had been invested in her parents' previous home in London and she had resented it never having been paid back.

Image caption,
Rob Griffin lead the investigation and was struck by the Edwards' "matter-of-fact" demeanour

ACC Griffin watched the couple throughout.

"They came across as unemotional, cold, very matter-of-fact," he says. "They showed little emotion through the whole trial which was quite strange to see.

"They were introverted, they were always together, they didn't really socialise with anyone.

"They didn't have any hobbies, they didn't invest in property or material things - their lifestyle was minimalistic.

"To consider that people like that had concocted this plan to murder Susan's parents and bury them in the garden and then steal all of their money, is a bit of a juxtaposition."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Susan faked a lengthy correspondence from French actor Gérard Depardieu to Christopher

Mr Done-Johnson said the trial provided a "remarkable insight" into who the couple were.

"For instance, for years and years, Christopher thought he was a pen friend of French actor Gérard Depardieu," he says, giving just one example of the Edwards' fantasy world.

"Christopher would write and Susan would take the letters, presumably throw them away, and write back as Gerard.

"She even bought a stamp to make her letters look like they had a French postmark.

"So blurry was the boundary between reality and fantasy that it was never clear why this happened or whether Christopher knew what was going on.

"It seems it was all part of their game."

Image source, Sky
Image caption,
The new drama repeatedly evokes Susan Edwards's "fantasy world"

Mr Done-Johnson felt Susan Edwards "did not perform well" in the witness box.

"Susan certainly lived in the fantasy world. In her head she was swanning around in the Hollywood of the 1940s, being dated by Gary Cooper," he says.

But Christopher Edwards's fate seemed unclear until one crucial moment in the trial.

The Wycherleys had each been killed by two well-aimed shots.

Image source, Sky
Image caption,
A crucial moment in the trial - Christopher Edwards demonstrating using a gun - is recreated for the drama

The prosecution asked Christopher Edwards - who had been a member of a gun club - to demonstrate how he might use a pistol.

Mr Done-Johnson says: "It was an incredible moment.

"He was a small, slight, softly spoken man but when he did this, he took up a perfect marksman's posture.

"He used his fingers to 'fire' four perfect rounds above the heads of the jury.

"It was the turning point in the trial - he seemed to physically increase in size and confidence. There was just a chill in the courtroom."

Both were found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Olivia Colman said Susan Edwards was fascinating because she would retreat into her own mind

Olivia Colman says the drama makes much of the more fantastical elements of Susan Edwards's life.

"As she retreats into her mind to find a place where she feels safe, they become cowboys like in High Noon," she says.

"It's sumptuous; there's so much in it, so much imaginative stuff at play."

While not portrayed directly, ("I didn't have anyone studying my mannerisms, all the police have been fictionalised") ACC Griffin was consulted by the makers.

He says: "I'm not surprised it's been made into a drama because it is such an unusual story, it is such a curious case.

"I think to portray them as dark and delusional is accurate - they led a very strange lifestyle.

"And in some respects it is quite comedic, they way they spent their money on such pointless tat.

"But I wouldn't want people to forget that at the centre of this are victims and victims' families."

You can hear more about this story in Bodies in the Garden: The Wycherley Murders on BBC Sounds.

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