Killer dentist Colin Howell: How I got away with murder for two decades
Killer dentist Colin Howell has revealed he would have owned up to the murders of his wife and his former lover's husband if police had challenged him when the bodies were discovered.
The man who admitted carrying out the double murder has revealed how he feared he was going to be found out because of a two-and-a-half-hour time lapse between gassing his victims in their homes. He then drove off with the bodies in the boot of his car and stage-managed the deaths to make them look like suicide.
Howell said: “Had I been confronted by police about this, I do believe that I may well have confessed to the murders at the time.”
Even though some church friends had reservations, no suspicions were raised by the police after the bodies of Howell's wife Lesley and Trevor Buchanan were found in a car in a garage at Castlerock, Co Londonderry, in May 1991.
But had the officers pushed him he might have confessed. He said: “If I had thought or been given any indication that the police suspected me I may have admitted the murders then. As it was, I wasn't pressed by them, and as time went by I got myself more and more together.”
Howell made his claims in a statement to investigators from Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson's office. They were called in to probe the failures of the initial police inquiry which allowed the dentist and his lover Hazel Stewart to get away with murder for 18 years.
Howell told the investigators: “I was very concerned that if I was confronted by police with key flaws or inconsistencies regarding what I had told them they would have known or suspected that the deaths were not suicide.
“After the initial eight weeks I became more confident, although Hazel continued to be worried about being caught and had told me she would cut her wrists or drive her car over a cliff if we were discovered.”
The Howell and Buchanan couples were members of Coleraine Baptist Church at the time.
A report by the Ombudsman's Office, which is expected to be highly critical of the first investigation, is due to be published next month.
Howell's statement disclosed an insight into his cunning thought process at the time he murdered, how he was forensically aware, how he managed to dupe the police, and how his lover threatened to kill herself if they were caught.
He said officers did not ask the searching questions he believed would have exposed their lies.
Howell (52) gassed his wife as she slept at home in Coleraine. He drove to the opposite side of town with her body in the boot before murdering Trevor Buchanan the same way — hosing the fumes from his car as he slept in bed.
The officer fought for his life. At one stage, after being wrestled to the ground, they faced each other on their knees. Howell received a bump on his head but was never asked by police how he got it.
Stewart then set aside clothes for Howell to dress her husband, burned the garden hose which he had connected to his car exhaust, washed the bed covers and cleaned up the room before acting out the role of a grieving wife. She later married a former policeman.
Howell told the Ombudsman's investigators: “I had planned that to murder both Trevor and Lesley would take about one hour. As it happened, the murders took at least two-and-a-half hours to complete and I was really concerned that if body temperatures were taken they would show that Trevor and Lesley did not die at the same time, or within a short space of time of each other.
“I never actually asked police what time Lesley and Trevor died, and they never asked me about why I had not asked this question.”
Howell said nobody queried him about the bump on his head when the bodies were found in a garage behind houses in Castlerock known as The Apostles, one of which was owned by his father-in-law Harry Clarke, who had collapsed and died at his home in Coleraine 12 days earlier.
Howell, who studied anatomy as part of his time at Queen's University, Belfast, before moving to Coleraine in 1983, added: “I was also concerned that DNA or any other forensics which could be attributed to me had to be fully accounted for by me.
“I was also concerned about histological changes to any wounds regarding platelets (a blood component) and fibrin (a clotting agent) which may have been found during the post-mortems, which would have undoubtedly raised suspicions about the times of the deaths. I was never asked about the bump to my head and it is my belief the police assumed it had been caused during the struggle I told them I had with Trevor.”
In the garage at Castlerock Howell lifted Constable Buchanan's body from the boot of his car and carried it to the driver's seat. But he did not have the strength to hoist him up from a slumped position.
Howell said: “I was really concerned about blood pooling and the possibility of fluid regurgitation when I was moving Trevor and Lesley's bodies.”
Mrs Howell (31) was left in the boot of the car, lying beside family photos and wearing earphones linked to a cassette. Howell fled and cycled home.
He told Ombudsman officials there seemed a rush to hold the funerals, and added: “This made me think the police were not looking very closely at things.”
Howell claimed that one policeman made a comment along the lines of: “You know, Colin, you would need to be very clever to get away with murder.”
Howell said it was the first time murder was mentioned and he was careful not to overtly react, nor did he when he was selling his father-in-law's home, where an old lady said: “Shame about what they're saying about the murders.”
Colin Howell is serving 21 years in Maghaberry Prison for murdering his wife Lesley and his lover Hazel Stewart’s husband, Trevor Buchanan. Stewart, who went on to marry a former police chief superintendent and is still protesting her innocence over the two murders, is doing 18 years in Hydebank women's jail. She is appealing against her conviction.