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Donald Neilson is best known as "The Black Panther", the English armed robber and murderer.
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Donald Neilson was born August 1, 1936 in Bradford, England. After leaving the army for his family, Neilson took up burglaries to supplement his income. He began robbing and killing at post offices, before moving on to the kidnapping Lesley Whittle, an English heiress. Neilson killed Lesley in a rage over the failed ransom exchange. Eventually Neilson was caught and convicted and is serving consecutive life sentences.
Donald Neilson was born Donald Nappey on August 1, 1936, and seems to have enjoyed a relatively normal, crime-free childhood in Britain, marred only by the teasing and bullying that he was subjected to on account of his surname. He was married in 1955, and the birth of his daughter, Kathryn, five years later prompted him to change his name to Neilson, so that she would not suffer a similar fate.
Neilson was persuaded by his wife to give up a career in the army, and they settled in Bradford, where he tried various professions, including the building trade and security work. Financial success was not forthcoming, and in 1965 he branched out into house burglary to supplement his income. Despite committing hundreds of burglaries, his new trade did not provide the income he hoped for, and he graduated to armed post office robberies by 1967, committing at least 19 over a seven-year period. In 1972, one of these raids resulted in the non-fatal shooting of a Lancashire postmaster, who misguidedly put up resistance during the raid. Neilson's practice of wearing a dark-colored balaclava during his robberies earned him the sobriquet "The Black Panther" from the media.
Neilson's hardened criminal behavior became more entrenched with each robbery and, on February 15, 1974, during a raid on a Harrogate sub-post office (a privately-run post office), he shot dead the postmaster, Donald Skepper. Having kept a low profile following the first murder, and the ensuing police hunt, he took another life seven months later, when postmaster Derek Astin was shot dead in Lancashire during the course of another raid. The police quickly came to the conclusion that they were looking for the same killer in both cases.
Just 9 weeks later a third postmaster, Sidney Grayland, was shot dead during the commission of a robbery in the West Midlands. Forensic evidence at the scene linked this death to the first two. Despite the three deaths the media showed little interest in the attacks, and Neilson was dissatisfied with the lack of attention, as well as the relatively slim pickings to be had from the post office raids.
Still searching for that elusive big payout, Neilson settled on kidnapping as his best route to success, choosing Lesley Whittle, a 17-year-old heiress to a transport fortune. He gathered as much information about her as he could, and made comprehensive plans for her incarceration, as well as the delivery of the ransom that he planned to demand for her return.
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