true crime

The Bambers adopted a baby boy in 1961. Decades later, he murdered the entire family.

When Nevill and June Bamber adopted a baby boy in 1961, they could never have anticipated that he would, decades later, be the violent cause of their entire family’s death.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Jeremy Bamber was born Jeremy Paul Marsham, and adopted by the wealthy land-owning Bamber family.

The Bambers, who were unable to conceive children together, had already adopted a baby girl, Sheila, in 1957.

The family had a seemingly idyllic life for some years. Living at their property called White House Farm in rural Essex, Sheila and Jeremy were sent to exclusive schools and colleges, and lived a very comfortable life.

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Nevill was a magistrate and a former pilot, who financed Jeremy’s gap year to Australia and New Zealand. But it was in the latter country that Jeremy’s antisocial tendencies were exposed, when he robbed a jewellery store.

Fleeing back to London, Jeremy worked as a cook, but eventually accepted a job from his father to work on the family farm. He complained to his girlfriend Julie Mugford that he was paid minimally – but in fact had been given a residence in the city in which to live, and a car for transport.

To the local community of Tolleshunt D’Arcy, who knew the Bambers, the family was typical – which is why it was so shocked by what happened on the night of 7 August 1985.

In the early hours of that morning, police received a call from a then 24-year-old Jeremy, claiming that his father had called him and said, “Your sister’s gone crazy and she’s got a gun.” Jeremy told them that the line then went dead, after the sound of a gunshot.

At White House Farm, they discovered the bloody scene of a mass murder.

In the kitchen Nevill, 61, had been beaten and shot eight times, with four shots in the head. In her bedroom, June, 61, was found with a point-blank shot between her eyes, and several other wounds to her body. A trail of smeared blood indicated she had attempted to drag herself to safety.

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Sheila was found, also shot, in the same bedroom. Her six-year-old twins, Daniel and Nicholas, were shot in their beds, seemingly while they slept – with Daniel still had his thumb in his mouth.

Observing Sheila’s body posed holding a semi-automatic rifle into her head, and with Bamber’s evidence of the telephone call from his father, the police quickly concluded that Sheila was the murderer.

It was easy for them to believe in the context of Sheila’s recent personal issues. Now Sheila Caffell through marriage (and remaining so after her divorce), and nicknamed Bambi after her work as a model, the mother of twins had been recently treated for struggles with her mental health.

She had also attempted to take her life twice, previously.

Their quick conclusion, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Earlier this month, some 35 years after the murders, Colin Caffell, the twin’s father and Sheila’s ex-husband, defended her memory.

“Sheila was not violent or a drug addict. She could not have been the murderer because she could not fire the .22 automatic rifle used to kill the family, and it would have been a miracle if she had been able to shoot herself twice in the neck.

“‘The truth is, Bambs was so heavily medicated with powerful antipsychotic drugs, she could barely pour beans on a plate.”

Colin also admitted that while Sheila conflicted with June over June’s religious beliefs, it was not enough motivation for a suicide, and murder of her children. But at the time, in his grief, even he was initially convinced by Jeremy’s version of events and pretence at mourning.

Fortunately, Jeremy’s behaviour began to betray him. At the family’s funeral, he reportedly made crude jokes about wanting to go home and be intimate with his girlfriend, and according to Colin, he laughed at inappropriate times.

jeremy bamber
Jeremy Bamber at his family's funeral. Image: Getty
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Jeremy also showed off a new Hugo Boss suit to the gathering, and soon after, began selling the family’s possessions.

Some weeks later, Jeremy approached The Sun, offering them topless modelling photos of Sheila. The newspaper didn’t buy the photos, but ran a story reporting the bizarre incident.

It was Julie Mugford who ultimately helped police draw a straight line to the murders, four weeks later. Julie revealed that Jeremy had told her he wanted to inherit the family’s almost million-dollar estate, and was prepared to kill his parents to do so.

She also admitted Jeremy had called her on the night of the murders, telling her, “It’s tonight or never”, and later, “It’s going well.”

The police then discovered that the gun silencer used in the murders was in another building on the property – which evidently couldn’t have happened if Sheila had shot herself.

And, most tellingly, there was no blood found on the kitchen phone.

Jeremy refuted these allegations at trial, but a jury in 1986 found him guilty. He was given the maximum sentence of life without parole for all five murders. An appeal in 1994 confirmed the now 59-year-old would never be paroled. Jeremy tried, and failed, again in 2002.

He has also continued to claim is share in one of the family’s properties, after his maternal grandmother disinherited him, leaving the bulk of the family’s money and assets to June’s sister.

This January, British television station ITV is screening White House Farm, a six-part series exploring the case. This has prompted Jeremy to claim, through his lawyers, that he has some fresh evidence that places him at a distance when the murders happened.

His claim has been insufficient to stop the series from going to air.

Feature Image: Getty.

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