Review: The Makings of a Murderer

Lish Walker listens to the Scottish detective who caught serial killer Peter Tobin in The Makings of a Murderer.

THE stories behind some of Britain’s most notorious serial killers were explored at Pitlochry Festival Theatre last Sunday by Scottish former Detective Superintendent David Swindle.

The stage is set simply, like an old-school detective’s office, which Swindle enters and hangs up his coat. This is the only bit of theatrics to the performance; the rest is simply the former detective speaking on what he knows best – and it is more than enough.

Captivating the audience with his knowledge of British crime, he takes the crowd through the murders of Jack the Ripper, Harold Shipman, Fred and Rose West, and Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, as well as some that are practically unknown. With 34 years in the police under his belt, Swindle has worked on hundreds of murder cases, most notably bringing Scottish serial killer Peter Tobin to justice.

He laments the loss of previous tools of the trade, like the previous incarnation of Crimewatch, even showing clips of his own appearances on the programme during active cases. He walks the audience through the process of catching killers, how it has improved through technological advances, and how previous killers were caught through plain old “good coppering”.

He seems to both enjoy and despise the overwrought media headlines and uses them as punchlines for the seriousness of the topic. The crowd’s relief is palpable with his humorous musings like he’d “had a good Google but there were no murders to be found” in the sleepy town of Pitlochry.

The show is much like sitting down with a great dinner party guest, plum full of Swindle’s riveting retellings that keep attention rapt, despite the deep unease at the subject matter. Although the slides behind him read like a bit of brain dump and occasionally his anecdotes are disjointed – with only one show in Manchester before this one – his patter will become slicker with time.

Though horrific and macabre, Swindle deftly deals with each case with remarkable sensitivity, keeping his focus on the humanity of the victims and their families horrendous ordeals rather than on sensationalising the killers behind them.

For anyone that is interested in true crime, this is an afternoon full of fascinating insights into authentic detective work, led by a charismatic host. And, most of all, you’re left feeling grateful there are people like Swindle who spend their life doing that onerous and formidable job of “good coppering”.

The Makings of a Murderer will visit Aberdeen, Arbroath, Dundee, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamilton, and more venues throughout the UK from now until December. Tickets £29 (booking fees may apply). Find out more at

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