A violent career criminal has been found guilty of killing an elderly brother and sister in a bungled burglary.
Danville Neil, 65, attacked Second World War veteran William Bryan, 71, and widow Anne Castle, 74, during a break-in at their east London home in August 1993.
Following a trial at the Old Bailey, Neil was found guilty of Mr Bryan’s murder and of Mrs Castle’s manslaughter.
The pensioners were beaten and restrained as their flat was ransacked in the search for valuables.
Neil pulled two wedding rings and two diamond rings from Mrs Castle’s fingers, but failed to find some £4,000 in cash – some of which had been stashed in socks, the Old Bailey was told.
Mrs Castle suffered a heart attack and Mr Bryan went into cardiac arrest after being beaten and smothered during the night-time raid.
No-one witnessed the attack, but screams were heard by neighbours, suggesting a “prolonged burglary and attack”, jurors heard.
Police were called to the address on August 23 1993 and found Mrs Castle’s body slumped in an armchair, with her brother lying on the floor.
Jurors were shown images of the ransacked scene, with cushions up-ended on the sofa, broken glass from a vase, a lampshade askew in the corner, a pair of glasses on the floor, and Mrs Castle’s handbag on the ground with the contents spilling out.
A hammer and a screwdriver were recovered from the crime scene.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan KC said: “In various locations around that flat, Mrs Castle had hidden away – found by police, not found by those who burgled and killed her – over £4,000 in cash.
“She was somebody who kept cash in that way around that property, but they did not find it despite the ransacking that had gone on.”
Their murders went unsolved for nearly 30 years until Neil’s DNA was found on the knot of a strap used to tie Mr Bryan’s hands.
The court heard Neil had a string of convictions for some 15 burglaries between 1973 and 1998.
In 1984, he carried out two home invasions in three months in which the occupants were physically assaulted.
In a chilling precursor to the murders, a couple were beaten with an iron bar and the wife also smothered with a pillow as their three children slept in their home in Penge, south London.
The husband’s hands were tied up with a belt and Neil attempted to pull the wife’s ring from her finger.
Although no children were harmed, Neil told the couple: “Your kid’s dead, right we’ve killed your little girl, got it. Tell us where the money is or we’ll smash your heads in.”
Two months later, Neil assaulted another woman after breaking into her home in Norbury, south London, before making off with a music centre and £15 in cash.
He was jailed for the two violent burglaries and released on licence in August 1992 – a year before the double murders.
During his trial, Neil had accepted his DNA was found at the scene of the killings, but denied he had been there or knew the victims.
He claimed an innocent explanation for the forensic link was that he had sold Mr Bryan binoculars at a car boot sale and it was the strap which was used to bind him.
But Mrs Castle’s grandson remembered his great uncle was keen on gadgets and had two sets of binoculars which he would have bought new.
Jurors heard that the victims had lived together in a flat in Bethnal Green since Mr Bryan was invalided out of the Army in 1945, with Mrs Castle being widowed in 1987.
There were cheers in the public gallery of Court One at the Old Bailey as the guilty verdicts were given on Friday afternoon.
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb remanded Neil into custody to be sentenced on November 25.
Detective Chief Inspector Joanna Yorke, of Scotland Yard, said: “We’ve never given up on this case. Thanks to the determination of my officers and efforts of forensic scientists we have been able to achieve justice for Anne and William, and their family who have waited 29 years for this day to come.
“Twenty-nine years of not knowing how their loved ones died and who was responsible. That is a pain no-one should have to endure and I just hope this result can bring them some small comfort and peace of mind. Their strength and composure throughout this trial is a testament to their values as a family, and I’m sure Anne and William would have been very proud.
“Conversely, Neil is a callous and calculated individual who has continued to deny any involvement in the incident despite the overwhelming forensic evidence against him. He entered the home of Anne and William that night intent on carrying out a burglary. The home they had shared for nearly 50 years. But it was not enough for him to just invade their home and steal from them. Instead he killed them during a violent and heartless attack. I am thankful that he is now out of harm’s way where he belongs.”
Mrs Castle’s daughters, Janice and Cynthia, said: “Our mother spent her whole life in east London where she raised her five children, who went on to give her 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
“She was the most wonderful, loving and caring mother and grandmother who was thoughtful in every way. She always put everyone before herself and was a great pillar of the community – well loved and respected by all who knew her.
“When her brother Billy became ill after the war, our parents brought him to live with us and they both cared and looked after him with the greatest of attention. He remained living with Mum until that dreadful day. The fear they must have experienced will never leave us. Uncle Billy was a kind-hearted, thoughtful and generous uncle to all the family. Always happy and so grateful for how he had been looked after.”