This mystery 'running man' is believed to have beaten a dentist to death

The face of the prime suspect in the murder of Neath pensioner John Connors
-Credit: (Image: Neath Guardian / Google)


This is the face of the man believed to have carried out the brutal murder of a pensioner - but he has gone unidentified for four decades. Retired Neath dentist John Connors, who was described by one friend as "so thin you could have pushed him over with a feather", was beaten to death in his own home in 1978 leading to a huge manhunt for the killer or killers.

As part of the investigation police produced a sketch of a man seen running from the pensioner's home on the day he died before jumping into a waiting car and speeding off. But the mystery man has never been identified. And the pensioner's murder remains unsolved.

Mr Connors lived on Lewis Road in Neath town centre in the shadow of the landmark "penny brick" church. The house had also served as his dental surgery before his retirement. The 85-year-old lived alone and while he enjoying popping into the British Legion club for a drink with friends, he largely kept himself to himself. However, sometime on the afternoon or evening of Thursday, March 30, 1978, he was bludgeoned to death.

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The pensioner's body was found by his home-help who raised the alarm. He had been repeatedly beaten about the head with what a post mortem examination would later determine had been two different blunt objects. It was said his death was likely swift, though "defensive wounds" to his hands showed he had put up some resistance despite his physical frailties.

A number of small fires had been set in the room where the body was discovered - possibly lit in an attempt to cover the killer's tracks - and while it appeared nothing had been taken from the house detectives were sure the motive had been robbery. There was also no sign of a forced entry to the property, suggesting Mr Connors may have let his killers in.

Detective chief inspector Viv Brooks, head of South Wales Police's CID unit, said at the time: "This is a bloody, brutal effort. Someone had gone in there to kill him and steal from him. It's possibly as vicious as anything I have seen. The disturbing thing is the obvious premeditation. I'm quite convinced the motive was robbery, but at this stage we are not able to establish if anything was actually stolen. There's a strong possibility that it was a wallet that went."

A friend of the deceased, Phillip Knight, told a reporter from the Neath Guardian that he believed the attackers had been after money, though he said Mr Connor did not keep large amounts of money at home. He said: "They went there looking for money thinking he would have it. He was a man who had money but not in the house. He's got it invested, and in the bank."

The killing sparked a huge investigation which saw officers carrying out extensive door-to-door enquiries around Neath and sniffer dogs being used to search gardens and drains in the hope of finding the murder weapons. But the objects, and any forensic clues they may have held, were never recovered. Despite that, detectives quickly developed a number of leads and identified two persons of interest.

Retired dentist John Connors was beaten to death in his Neath home in March 1978
Retired dentist John Connors was beaten to death in his Neath home in March 1978

The first person police wanted to find was a woman who had been seen standing in the doorway of Mr Connors' house at lunchtime on the day he died. She was described as being middle-aged, around 5ft 5in tall, of broad build, and wearing a black coat and dark-rimmed glasses. She was quickly dubbed "the woman in black" by the press. Enquiries established that earlier the same day she had been in the Cafe Royale on Stockham's Corner - just yards from the victim's house - in the company of two men in their 20s.

The second person detectives were interested in was a man seen running away from Mr Connors' house at around 7.15pm on the night of the killing. This person - who became known as "the running man" in the media - jumped into the back of a waiting white car which then sped off. The fleeing car almost crashed into another car on Stockham's Corner but it drove off before its registration plate could be noted. The "running man" was described as between 30 and 40, around 6ft tall, and as wearing a light brown or tan-coloured shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a dark waistcoat, and grey trousers.

Tracing these two people became a top priority for detectives. One theory police were working on was that the woman seen at the doorstep had been acting as some kind of informant for the attackers, and had told them that Mr Connors lived alone and that he had money. What police didn't know was whether it had been a "local job" or whether people from outside the area had travelled to Neath to carry out the raid. But detectives were sure the pensioner had been targeted and was not the victim of a random or opportunistic attack. A sketch of the "running man's" face was produced and widely publicised, and he became the number one suspect in the inquiry. Detective chief inspector Brooks went so far as to say: "That's the one we want. I'm quite satisfied it's him."

Over the next 12 months police would go on to interview some 6,000 people and gather a wealth of statements but no breakthrough came. As part of the investigation it was also established that a group of antique dealers from Portsmouth had been in Neath town centre on the day of the killing handing out leaflets, and Welsh detectives were sent to Hampshire to track them down. Officers eventually identified six of the travelling traders and brought them back to Neath for questioning though that line of inquiry lead nowhere. Despite the best efforts of the team of detectives involved in the case they were unable to identify the man pictured in the "running man" sketch nor the woman in the black coat on the doorstep.

On the first anniversary of the murder police staged a reconstruction of events around Mr Connors' house - including having a man dressed in similar clothes to the "running man" retracing his steps - in the hope it would trigger people's memories. The reconstruction led to more than 50 people coming forward who had not previously spoken to officers but the identity of both the "running man" and the "woman in black" still eluded officers. A year after the killing detective chief inspector Brooks said it was a source of "amazement" to him that his officers were never able to find out who the mysterious woman. For the latest court reports, sign up to our crime newsletter here

Thirty years after the murder police returned to the case armed with new forensic science techniques which allowed samples recovered from the original crime scene to be analysed and tested. People who had been considered "of interest" during the initial investigation were contacted again and asked to provide samples, and detectives also urged anyone with information about the events of March 30, 1978, to "put previous loyalties aside" and come forward. Speaking in November 2008, detective sergeant Paul Giess, of South Wales Police's major crime investigation team, said: "We are now in possession of a DNA profile from the crime scene and the reinvestigation is utilising the latest forensic technology. As part of our inquiries a number of individuals who were of interest during the original investigation will be asked to provide their DNA in order to assist the reinvestigation. We are also appealing to anyone with information about the death of Mr Connors to come forward. It has now been 30 years and I would ask people to put any previous loyalties aside and speak to the police. Information which may seem insignificant to one individual may be of vital importance to the investigation team." Read about the work of the South Wales Police forensic crime lab here

Despite the advances in forensic science over the decades and the renewed appeal to the public for help, officers have been unable to crack the case. The identity of the "running man" remains a mystery, and those responsible for killing Mr Connors have so far evaded justice.