Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bruce George Peter Lee

Rent Boys

They wasted no time in sounding out their regular network of informers among the local criminal fraternity, even those who wouldn't normally dream of informing on fellow villains. Crimes involving the death of children were usually an exception to any criminal code of silence, provoking such outrage that they would offer up any information they could. Yet despite a few stories of drug deals gone wrong, no murderous feuds were uncovered which could possibly have led to an abortive arson attack.

When no strong suspect had been identified after nearly six months of investigation, the police's informants were begging to be left alone. One asked Sagar, "How long are you lot going to be buzzing round this neck of the woods? None of us knows nothing and no good jobs are being done with you lot busying about this bloody place day and night. The lads ain't even nicking car radios as long as you lot's here...Nobody knows nowt (nothing)...We'd all gladly grass on whoever done it just to get you lot away from here."

While Sagar and his team weren't about to lose any sleep over the difficulties they were giving the local petty criminals, in truth they had worried all along about the veracity of the anonymous caller's story about the rover car. Despite the fact he had been driving himself, at night, with only street lamps to illuminate his view, he went on to identify the color and type of car, the color and style of clothing of the two men down to the buttons on a T-shirt. Several of the things he said did not tally with the known facts about the fire. He was the only person in the area at the time, including a police car, who saw a rover car in the area or two men like those described. The more they asked him, the more unlikely details he seemed to suddenly recall, which ultimately led police to dismiss him as an attention-seeking fantasist.

Map of England with Hull locator
Map of England with Hull locator

According to Sagar in his book about the case, Hull, Hell And Fire, a few months later the witness came back to police and claimed that he had been mistaken, and had actually seen the car on a different night altogether.

To the police's intense frustration, another lead appeared to have come to nothing. Yet during the course of their investigations, a fortuitous discovery had been made. One of the rover car owners whom detectives had put under surveillance had turned out to be heavily involved in cruising for sex with teenage boys in the city's public restrooms.

Known locally as "rent boys," desperate young men would hang around such gay haunts offering sexual favors in exchange for money. Could the arsonist have some connection with this seedy, secretive world?

It was little more than a hunch, but police had nothing better to go on. By now it was June 1980, six months since the fire, and Det. Supt Sagar's superiors wanted to close the case and divert manpower elsewhere.

It was Humberside police's last throw of the dice.


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