The Serial Killer Who Inspired Brian Cox's Portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter | Peter Manuel | Serial Killer Series

 (Peter Manuel. Picture credit: BBC Scotland)

You'd think that with me writing about so many serial killers over the years that I would have mentioned the horrific chap you see in the picture above, but no, he's been on my long list of cases for a while and somehow forgotten along the way until recently. What brought him back to mind? I was watching an interview with the incredible Scottish actor, Brian Cox and he was discussing his ICONIC role in the even more ICONIC 80s psychological thriller, Manhunter! 

I can't begin to tell you how much I love Manhunter and yes, I do consider The Silence of The Lambs to still be my number one movie of all time but Manhunter is a very close second. Well, Brian was talking about who he based his portrayal of Hannibal on and it was the infamous American-Scottish serial killer, Peter Manuel. I'm sure that name will ring a few bells for those of you who are from Scotland and the UK. 

To those of you who are further afield you might not be quite so familiar so that's where I step in and bring you the horrifying story of who is often described as 'Scotland's First Serial Killer'. He has also been described as 'The World's First Serial killer' but I wouldn't go that far. I'm always a bit sceptical when a serial killer is described as 'The first' because none of us really know, do we? You'd have to go way way back in time and I'm pretty sure you'd find a few serial killers floating about there. Jack The Ripper has often been described as The World's First Serial Killer. I guess it's up for debate and I can imagine, a very long discussion but that's not what this post is about, the focus here is on the calculating and evil Mr Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel. 

(Brian Cox based his iconic portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter, on Peter Manuel. Picture credit:Screenhub)

Peter Manuel or 'The Beast of Birkenshaw' is a serial killer who inspired other future serial killers, for example, Stephen Griffiths (The Crossbow Cannibal). I wrote a little piece about Stephen a few years ago on Instagram. It was only short and I tried to be as sensitive as possible with the details but still, people were shocked and horrified. Stephen is a British serial killer who is responsible for the deaths, mutilation and dismemberment of 3 sex workers (possibly more). He's currently serving a whole life order meaning he will never be released from prison. What added more horror to the case was the CCTV footage that was recorded outside of his apartment, he was seen chasing one of the victims down the hallway with a crossbow and a menacing look on his face.It makes for very chilling viewing and not something you forget in a hurry. 

So Peter Manuel definitely caught the attention of people not only at the time of his horrific crimes but also after death because he created such fear and devastation that it was impossible to forget and here we are decades later talking about him. When he was on the streets of Scotland it was a horrible and frightening moment in history. 

I always mention before continuing with a post that some of the details that I share will be disturbing, I know that's pretty obvious because I am writing about serial killers but still, a little reminder. 

So, Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel was originally born in New York, USA on the 13th of March 1927, his parents where from Scotland but they went over to America in hopes for a fresh start and a new life but it didn't work out. Peter already had an older brother who had stayed back in Scotland at the time. When Peter was five years old he and his parents returned to Scotland and settled in Birkenshaw, Lanarkshire. 

Red flags with Peter appeared early on in his childhood when he arrived in Scotland. There was constant trouble at school, he was bullied and began harming animals for fun. Like many serial killers I have read about who hurt animals (I can't stand any animal cruelty of any kind) they often have a pet of their own that they treasure and will never see in harms way but they seem to have no issue with harming animals that are not closely associated with them. 

It didn't take long for his behaviour to get worse as time went on, he began getting a real buzz out of stealing and soon gained a reputation by the age of ten as a little thief. Not content with pinching the odd chocolate bar or pennies out of someone's pocket, he started to progress in his career as a petty criminal and just a year later at the age of 11 he attempted to break into a shop. He was caught but this didn't deter him and he soon switched to breaking into people's houses. 

One of his favourite things to do was to break into a house in the middle of the night whilst the occupants were asleep and help himself to various items. He managed to get away with this for a while and it made him feel so clever and gave him a real kick. Eventually he was caught and because of this and the fact that he assaulted a female member of staff at school, he was sent to various institutions and again, instead of learning his lesson, he carried on as soon as he was back on the streets, only this time, the petty crime was taking an even more sinister and sickening turn. 

Having stalked the streets and houses at night, Peter knew his way around the dark alleys and country lanes and became somewhat of a Peeping Tom. If he saw a young girl on her own, he had a habit of stalking the girl, following her and when he thought the coast was clear, he'd pull the poor girl into the bushes and pull her underwear down. This became a pattern for years. He is often described as a rapist. Although no full sexual intercourse took place his actions were sexually motivated. He was impotent and his sexual assault of girls and young women would involved pulling their underwear down to expose them, leaving them nude or strangling them with their underwear. He couldn't have sexual intercourse and would get his erections and kicks by the actions of exposing his victims and killing them. 

The more thefts, crimes and sexual assaults he managed to get away with, the more powerful and confident he felt. He broke into a young woman's house one night and struck her over the head before pulling her underwear down. He was sent to prison for nine years and instead of seeing the imprisonment as punishment, he actually quite enjoyed himself and became fixated with some of the criminals who were in there with him. He'd always had an obsession with gangsters and wanted so desperately to be one. He was known to have a penchant for pinstripe suits, mafia movies and talking with an American accent (even though his accent was Scottish, he would play on his American roots). He knew of the Scottish gangsters in the prison and he wanted to become like them so he set about befriending them and made some connections. The reality was that the gangsters saw Peter Manuel as a bit of a 'fanboy' and a joke, they didn't take him seriously. 

As soon as Peter Manuel was back on the streets he made a point of hanging out at establishments where he knew the gangsters and underworld figures frequented. He looked ridiculous and didn't have much money and was becoming a bit of a pest. It was soon clear that his attempt to become one of the hard men of Glasgow & Scotland, was not working. Feeling rejected he decided he was going to continue his previous ways and pick up where he left off before he went into prison and he was determined to get his name across to these gangsters that he was not a man to be messed with. 

So here he was, a petty criminal, a violent pervert, wannabe gangster and just out of prison, what did he plan to do next? To commit murder, that's what! On the 2nd of January 1956 he stalked, sexually assaulted and murdered a 17 year old girl by the name of Anne Knielands. In September of that same year, he broke into the house of the Watt family in the middle of the night where he murdered Marion Watt (45), her sister Margaret (41) and Marion's daughter Vivienne (16). Marion's husband William was out of town on a fishing trip at the time of the murders but suspicion soon fell on him and when a witness claimed to have seen him travel overnight on a ferry, it was determined by the police that he must have sneaked off from his fishing trip in the middle of the night to come home, murder his family and return. A horrible miscarriage of justice ensued with William being sent to prison. 

Whilst William was in prison it was brought to his attention that Peter Manuel may have some information for him regarding the murder of his family. Peter began writing to Williams's lawyer and shared pieces of information about the Watts family murders, Peter claimed that a fellow inmate had confessed to him. The case against William was soon thrown out with this new information from Peter Manuel and the 'witness' admitted they couldn't be 100% sure if they saw him on the ferry that night and there was no other evidence to suggest that William had committed the murders. He was soon released and determined to get to the bottom of who murdered his family and was determined to set up a meeting with Peter Manuel who he was convinced had murdered his family. 

The crime scene at the Watts residence had similar hallmarks to Peter's previous crimes except this time murder had occurred. He had stolen some items and Vivienne had her nightdress pulled up and underwear pulled down. There was no sign that forced sexual intercourse had taken place. 

After the information about the Watts family murders came from Peter Manuel and William was released, the cops soon turned their attention to Peter but a search of his home turned up nothing. All they had was the information that he claimed had been given to him by another prisoner. Despite strong suspicions, he was released in November 1957 to carry on his evil acts. 

Not long after his release he ended up in Newcastle and murdered a cab driver by shooting him in the back of the head and slitting his throat and a young girl of just 17, Isabelle Cooke had been stalked, sexually assaulted and murdered. 

His last known victims were the Smart family. Peter (45), his wife Doris (42) and their son Michael (10) were fast asleep in their beds when Peter Manuel broke in and shot them to death. He then proceeded to ransack the house and found some money, some new notes that Peter had just gotten from the bank that he was going to use for the family's upcoming holiday. Doris had her nightdress pulled up and her underwear pulled down. As the bodies of these poor people and their little boy laid in the next room decomposing, Peter Manuel decided to hang around for a while and make himself at home. 

A friend of Michael's was supposed to stay overnight but wasn't able to make it but he did visit the family home the next day and as he knocked at the door he saw that the curtains were shut. The next time he visited the house he noticed the curtains had been opened. Nobody answered the door on either occasions but we know that Peter Manuel had been in that house just a few feet away from the family that he murdered in cold blood. 

He lived in the house for a few days, eating the family's food, feeding their cat and having baths like it was a hotel. eventually he left. 

The cops were soon on to him and once they had spoken to various witnesses that claimed to have seen Peter Manuel (who usually didn't have any money) splashing the cash around the pubs, using the same new notes that he had stolen from Peter Smart, they knew they had their man. Peter tried to make excuses and claimed that a well known gangster had actually committed the killings, when the said gangster found out, he and his associates (who already hated Peter Manuel) dug around and fed the police more information about Peter sealing his fate. He was arrested and confessed to his parents. He also claimed that he was responsible for many more murders. 

(Some of Peter Manuel's known victims. From top left: Isabelle Cooke, Michael Smart, Peter and Doris Smart. Bottom left: Marion Watt with husband William. Vivienne Watt and Margarer Brown. Picture credits: Daily Mail)

The evidence was overwhelming and Peter Manuel stood trial and (like Ted Bundy did many years later) represented himself. He was articulate, intelligent and well spoken but no amount of charm and fancy talk could take away the evidence or the reality of what he had done. Before he was sentenced, the judge said to him (also, similar to what happened in the Ted Bundy trial many years later) that if he had chosen a different path in life instead of the horrendous one that he was on, he would have made a fine lawyer. 

Peter Manuel was sentenced to death by hanging. 

He was one of the last people to be hanged in Scotland. he spent his last days listening to the radio, not saying a word until moments before his execution. He told the prison staff ''If you turn up the wireless, I'll go quietly'' 

RIP to the known victims and unknown victims of Peter Manuel. Thoughts also to the survivors and their families. 

Further Reading & Sources:

Encyclopedia of Serial Killers | Book by Michael Newton

The Big Book of Serial Killers | Book by Jack Rosewood

The Big Book of Serial Killers: Volume Two | Book by Jack Rosewood

A History of British Serial Killing | Book by Prof David Wilson

Peter Manuel: Serial Killer | Book by Hector MacLeod

Killers, Crooks & Cons | Book by Reg McKay

Peter Manuel | Wikipedia

Peter Manuel | The Police Museum

Peter Manuel | Glasgow Times

Peter Manuel | Documentary

Brian Cox Interview

Manhunter (clip)

The Peter Manual case shocked Scotland and the rest of the UK to it's core, Peter Manuel was a kind of evil that nobody had seen before. He had that frightening mix of intelligence, good looks, charisma and master manipulation that future serial killer, Ted Bundy had. The case was front page news for weeks on end during the murders and right up to his day of execution. When he was finally hanged, the people of Scotland breathed a sigh of relief. 

This case may be decades old but to this day the debate and discussions remain, was Peter Manuel insane? should he have been executed or treated for mental illness for the rest of his days? It's a conversation that divides opinion. 

To me, my opinion is, that he was a sick and evil man, there's no denying that but as for being so insane to the point that he didn't know what he was doing, I don't believe that. He pleaded his case and tried to manipulate court officials as well as investigators. He enjoyed playing games with the police and never had an ounce of remorse of what he had done. 

He does remind me of Ted Bundy in some ways in regard to his intelligence and some of his attributes. Ted Bundy played manipulative games right up until his execution by trying to pin the blame of his horrific crimes on having access to porn and adult magazines whilst growing up. 

Peter Manuel haunts Scottish history and will forever remain this dark figure who created such fear, evil and turmoil. Wannabe serial killers will continue to look to him as a sick inspiration and horror and true crime writers will continue to study and research his case for years to come. 

Thank you as always for joining me on another post. Hopefully I will see you again next time for my seventh instalment. 

Stay safe x 


  1. Wow! This was creepy, chilling and harrowing! To imagine the terror and fear that these victims experienced, the pain and loss these families felt. Undeniably this was by far the creepiest of the serial killers so far.

    Brilliantly written, and absolutely riveting!

    1. Thank you so much for checking it out, Peter Manuel is such a dark memory in Scottish history x