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Donald Neilson is best known as "The Black Panther", the English armed robber and murderer.
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On January 14, 1975, Neilson broke into the Whittle family's Shropshire estate, and abducted Lesley from her bedroom without incident, leaving a ransom note that demanded 50,000 pounds. In it, he gave detailed instructions for the ransoms delivery by Lesley's brother, Ronald, and included a warning not to involve the police. Lesley Whittle was held in a drainage shaft beneath Bathpool Park, in Staffordshire.
The Whittle family chose not to heed the ransom warning,
and informed both the local police and Scotland Yard of the abduction. Poor communication between the different police factions led to a media leak, which convinced police that the kidnapper had been scared off by the media attention. This wasn't the case, however, and when Neilson called the designated phone box in accordance with his ransom instructions, Ronald Whittle was not there to take his call.
Two further ransom delivery attempts were bungled over the next 72 hours, as a result of both poor police coordination and bad luck, but at least police were sure that Lesley was still alive at this time, as it was her voice that recorded the details for the second failed ransom drop, in Bathpool Park itself. On the tape she seemed calm and collected, given the circumstances. It is claimed that Neilson spotted a police vehicle in the area at the time of the second drop, and decided not to risk a police trap, aborting the ransom drop. Unbeknownst to the police, the second failed attempt ended just yards from the drainage shaft where Lesley was imprisoned, but no search of the immediate area was carried out at the time. Furious that his instructions had not been followed, Neilson waited nearby for Ronald Whittle and the police to leave, before entering the drainage shaft and killing Lesley Whittle in a rage. Had police conducted a thorough search before leaving, there was every chance they might have discovered Lesley alive.
On the same night as the last aborted drop, Neilson was also involved in a freight train terminal robbery, in which a security guard, Gerald Smith, was fatally injured. Forensic evidence again linked the crime to the Black Panther post office heists, but no connection was made to the Whittle kidnap at that time. It took police more than a week to discover Neilson's stolen getaway vehicle, which he had abandoned close to the terminal, in which tapes of Lesley Whittle's voice, and ransom drop instructions, were found.
Despite the discovery of her body, police made little progress on the whereabouts of the "Black Panther", and it was nine months later, on December 11, 1975, that he was caught. Having returned to post office raids following the failure of his kidnap attempt, he was finally apprehended by two policemen in Mansfield Woodhouse, near Nottingham, for acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the local post office. A search of his home revealed panther masks, as well as a model of a black panther and, after extensive questioning, Neilson confessed to being the Black Panther.
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