Folks about Manchester, England, are sure there is a serial killer afoot right now who is craftily concealing his brutal hand at murder by tossing his victims into the elaborate canal system of this enormous industrial English city. GMP (Greater Manchester Police) have said no. Other criminologists disagree. With 84 bodies found throughout the canal system over the last decade or so, probability just seems to scream that some must be murders. From there it is natural to assume that some are the victims of a single serial killer with some horrid ulterior motive for killing his victims and wanting to make it look like accidental drowning.
Locally, the rugged Manchester citizens have dubbed this hypothetical killer the “Pusher” because he is viewed as pushing them in the canals. If he is real, however, his MO is probably far more complex than just pushing drunks into the canals and then allowing them to conveniently drown rather than shout for help.
Very little information is in the public realm. The lurid nightlife of the gay district of Manchester which seems to be the epicenter of the deaths has been documented most visually by “Curiosity” on his YouTube Channel.
But where are the details? The postmortems? Clues that chloroform may have been used? Signs of struggle? There are no logistics in any of the theories as to how and why this is being done, if it is murder.
Thrill killers kill for thrill. That’s not meant to be a stupid Facebook meme. It is a basic truth we must confront. What thrill is there is going up to a drunken partier and then tossing him into the canal? There seems to be little thrill. Another motive must be posited. This has inspired the theory that the killer hates gays, who seem to be the majority of victims. But it is also true that water destroys a lot of clues. Are the victims rather being taken somewhere else for some more elaborate death and then their bodies thrown into the canals in order to destroy all the evidence and hide the deaths as “accidental drowning”?
Yes, the victims are almost always a man. Women don’t seem to get as drunk and fall into the canals, if the police theory is correct that these drowned Manchester citizens are merely clumsy drunks. Their theory is that since most of these victims were last seen in a bar somewhere, then later walking away alone or with somebody else, that they simply got drunker somewhere else and eventually strolling along the dingy and utilitarian canals in the early morning hours just stumbled and fell in. Clearly only men get that stuporous, if the theory is to be accepted as fact.
But this is just all generality. Each opposite pole of reasoning– GMP and those who believe there is a Manchester Pusher– base their theories on the most broad generalities. We need details, details, details, from the last known bar the victim was in, what they drank, who they were seen with, then the details of the location where they were found along the canal, then the postmortem details. The devil is in the details.
In America, there is a near identical theory, though the circumstances are much broader. The deaths are not grouped in a city but spread out over a definite track of the I-94 corridor between New York and Minnesota.
The Smiley Face Killer Theory is well known in True Crime because it was first proposed by 2 New York detectives. Unlike the victims of the supposed “Pusher” in Manchester, the victims are not gay. Yet they are of a similar type– athletic, college age men, often Catholic, and each one was last seen at a bar or walking away from a bar alone or with someone else, only then next to be found drowned. Unlike the Pusher victims, two of those within the litany of 40 victims have been shown to be homicides. Moreover, both were shown to have been slipped into the water to disguise their murders.
The detectives proposed that there was a single serial killer or gang because of the general circumstances– type of victim, similar circumstances before death, and that each young man was rather strong and yet somehow drowned.
But most likely the detectives proposed a serial was afoot because the first victim they had on the list was the one which they had personally investigated, and this is clearly a murder that was misidentified as a drowning. This was the strange death of Pat McNeill in New York City. Because of their findings here they were probably disposed to believe that some of these other young men– strong, college age, athletic– could not simply have drowned. All of them had been to a bar first, and the detectives discovered that this was true of McNiell too. The clues indicate he was the result of pre-selected intent to murder.
In McNeill’s case he seems to have been drugged in a New York city bar, then as he staggered down the street he was followed by a sedan with two people in it. That makes it conspiracy. That makes it a gang.
Although the subsequent deaths of young, intoxicated men were not confined to New York city, it seemed this could have been a traveling gang. They followed McNiell in a car after all. The link then? A painted smiley face was found at locations upriver from where some of the bodies were found. The detectives posited that this is where the bodies were slipped into the river and allowed to drift down with the current to the point where they were eventually discovered. This must be underscored here. The smiley face was not found near the body. It was found where the detectives estimated the body had to be placed in the river, allowing for drift computations and so forth. More than anything, the smiley face formed a subtle link indicating a single serial killer or gang or, more accurately, motive was behind all the deaths.
The genuine similarity between the “Pusher” deaths and the Smiley Face Killer deaths is that they were all declared to be accidental drowning. That’s what they all appeared to be. Any “evidence” they are victims of a murderer comes from theory, except in two cases in America– McNiell being the first.
According to the theory, water was used to destroy the evidence of murder. This is logical, but it is the only point of the theory that is. And water does not destroy all evidence. No motive exists in the Smiley Face Killer Theory as postulated years ago; no other motive, that is, than a gang of killers wants to antagonize the police. If that is the case, they have proven themselves too sophisticated to get their thrill. No jurisdictions buys into the theory, and we are talking about a lot of law enforcement jurisdictions. So if there is a Smiley Face Killer gang they have no known motive and the one proposed for them just doesn’t fit.
That is the true weakness with the Smiley Face Killer Theory. It requires a gang traveling along I-94 who have no known motive, who work the bars in each city or town where they strike, drug the young men, or just wait to select an appropriately drunk young man who fits their criterion, then drown him. A slight variation of this proposes they engage in some ritual in the interim, one that leaves no clues, and then drown him.
Where to go from there?
In short, we have two potential serial killers afoot– Jack the Dipper in Manchester and a Smiley Face Killer gang in America worthy of some Stephen King novel. Of the two possibilities, I would say there is more chance for Jack the Dipper than a Smiley Face Killer gang. The “Manchester Pusher” victims are grouped, and gays can be the object of a Simon Pure. Young college guys are not, though naturally there are those who believe a satanic group within the Catholic Church is capable of doing anything heinous.
Both possibilities need more documenting, but nobody is doing it. The 2 detectives dropped their own theory years ago, and have released documentation only on Pat McNeill’s case. Some of the details on the other homicide, young Chris Jenkins, have come forth only because of the energy of his parents. But no independent investigator has taken up the challenge and released enough convincing data to sway anybody to believe that even a fraction of the victims are the result of a single serial killer or gang working in concert.
More, more, more, details are needed. Both are a worthy subject to study and finally document so we can lay the ghost or hunt the true villain.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.