Belfast Telegraph

Leslie Ross death: As suspect in murders of three women takes his secrets to grave, family of victim tell of their despair

By Brett Campbell

A Co Down woman believes that she will never get answers about her mother's death after a man who was once accused of her murder died suddenly.

Leslie Ross (70), who faced charges of murdering three of his former lovers over an 11-year period, died at his home in Comber on Wednesday.

One of his alleged victims was 47-year-old Michelle Bickerstaff, who died in April 2012.

Her daughter Rachel Thompson Bickerstaff told the Belfast Telegraph she had no doubts that Ross killed her mother.

She said it was her family's belief that he "got off" due to a technicality.

She added: "I am convinced that my mother died as a result of violence at the hands of Leslie Ross.

"He was a guilty man, but we will never get to prove it."

Ms Thompson Bickerstaff recalled the moment she discovered her mother lying unconscious and described how she was attacked by the man she believes killed her as she frantically tried to save her.

"I ran to the doctor's surgery to get help because I didn't know what to do, then I rushed back and phoned 999," she explained.

"While I was hunkered down trying to check if my mum was breathing, Leslie walked into the room and grabbed me by the hair.

"He choked me up against the wall as I was trying to save my mum's life."

A short time later she was told by doctors that her mother was brain dead.

She was only 20 when her mum died.

She remembers Leslie as a "notoriously violent" man whose "vicious behaviour" had become normal.

"It was something mum had become accustomed to, we all had - everyone knew him as a violent man," she added.

Ross was also charged with the murder of Margaret Weise (50) in August 2007.

It only emerged yesterday, after a number of reporting restrictions were lifted following Ross's death, that he was acquitted of murdering the two women after lengthy trials all collapsed.

In January 2016 a jury was directed to acquit Ross of Michelle Bickerstaff's murder when the prosecution offered no further evidence.

Two months later he went on trial for the murder of Ms Weise, a registered blind person.

But within weeks he was acquitted again after Mr Justice Burgess directed the jury to find him not guilty.

Ross had also been charged with the murder of a third ex-girlfriend.

Elizabeth (Lily) McKee (52) died in December 2002, but the case never made it to trial due to a lack of evidence.

During the hearings his defence team argued that Ross's former lovers had struggled with alcohol and that any fatal injuries they suffered could have been caused by alcohol-related falls, which it was accepted they were prone to.

A double murder trial commenced at Armagh Crown Court in September 2015.

But was aborted after just one week.

A banning order was imposed after Ross's defence team successfully argued that proceedings should be "severed" and the cases heard separately.

There were three subsequent jury trials relating to the murder of Ms Bickerstaff, but in January 2016 a jury was directed to finally acquit Ross.

Just two months later he was acquitted by a jury of murdering Ms Weise, at the instruction of the judge.

Ross's solicitor Conleth Downey claimed yesterday that his client had been "effectively besmirched as a serial killer" since being accused of the three murders in August 2013.

He also maintained that his "loyal client" had challenged "the manner in which police carried out their investigations into the alleged murders".

He said: "All murder trials collapsed, with Leslie Ross being found not guilty.

"From the outset Leslie Ross had steadfastly protested his innocence and he was entirely vindicated."

Ross, formerly of Mengalis Park in Dromore, had recently been diagnosed with cancer, but it is not clear if he died as a result of the illness.

He had been due to appear in Newry Crown Court yesterday morning to face dozens of charges, including three for rape, eight for gross indecency with or towards a child, and 14 for indecent assault on a female.

The 45 charges, which related to two separate cases involving multiple victims, also included one count of attempted rape, 14 for common assault, two counts of assault causing actual bodily harm and two counts of buggery with a girl.

A full hearing had been scheduled for December 12, but he will never stand in the dock in relation to the catalogue of alleged crimes.

Ms Thompson Bickerstaff expressed profound disappointment.

"We have come through a lot, but now we have been left trying to understand how to live without justice," she said.

"We have waited so long to see him found guilty and hoped that his other victims would find justice.

"But none of us ever will."

In a statement issued last night, the Bickerstaff family said that they have been left feeling "deflated" knowing that justice "was not served" while Leslie was on this Earth.

"If the world knew the full truth of what Michelle had to endure, we feel like everyone would be shocked and disgusted at the torturous behaviour he put her through," the statement said.

"The full truth has never been revealed on how violent Ross was as an individual, and through his violence we have been robbed of a daughter, sister, mother and grandmother.

"We are hurting and will always be left with this pain, as her life was taken at his hands."

They also said that they felt "hugely let down" by the justice system.

"We feel that the defendant had a fairer trial than his victims," they added.

"There was plenty of evidence, but due to a technicality in the judicial system the trial was terminated, leaving the jury to never make a decision on Ross being guilty or not guilty."

They paid tribute to a "lovely and kind person" whose absence had left a "huge void" in all of their lives.

They thanked everyone who had shown support during their "hellish" five years.

"Now we can finally start to grieve and try as best as we can to live with what has happened to our beautiful Michelle," they added.

"We hope Leslie now gets the evilness he put upon so many victims while he was alive," they concluded.

Belfast Telegraph

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