Killer who dumped women in UK, Dutch canals jailed


Associated Press

Posted on April 5, 2011 at 4:14 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 5 at 6:01 PM

LONDON (AP) — A violent, obsessive misogynist who murdered two women, dismembered their bodies and dumped them in canals in London and the Netherlands was jailed for life on Tuesday.

John Sweeney, 54, was sentenced to life without parole for the gruesome slayings, while police warned that even more women may have been killed. Sweeney refused to attend his hearing, but Justice John Saunders told London's Central Criminal Court that the murders were "terrible, wicked crimes."

"Why the killings occurred, I cannot be sure, but I am satisfied that this defendant is controlling in his relationships with women and, chillingly, that control extends to deciding whether they should live or die," Saunders said.

Police say Sweeney met his first victim, American Melissa Halstead, when the latter was pursuing a photographic and modeling career in London in the 1980s. Their relationship was volatile, police added — Sweeney was convicted of assaulting Halstead when the two were in Vienna — but he followed her to Holland, where she was living in a rented room in Amsterdam.

In 1990, the 33-year-old's badly mutilated body was found packed into a travel bag in Rotterdam's Westersingel Canal. It wasn't until 18 years later that authorities were able to identify Halstead using her family's DNA. Halstead's head and hands have never been located.

In February 2001, the body parts of another of Sweeney's girlfriends, 31-year-old Paula Fields, were found in six carryalls floating in Regent's Canal in the north London neighborhood of Camden. Her head, hands and feet are still missing.

A month later, Sweeney was arrested for the attempted murder of a third girlfriend, Delia Balmer, who he had earlier attacked with a knife and an ax in 1994. He had been on the run for just over six years, using a variety of aliases to dodge the authorities.

When Sweeney was detained, police found some 300 paintings, wooden sculptures and poems at his home. Prosecutor Brian Altman described the items as "lurid and demonic sketches and paintings, as well as pages of verse which reveal an obsessive and virulent hatred of women, and a preoccupation with dismemberment."

Scotland Yard's Howard Groves, the investigation's joint leader, said the women were "killed and their bodies disposed of in the most callous and undignified manner possible" — and warned that still more potential victims were being traced.

In a statement, Scotland Yard said it was seeking information on three other women thought to have been Sweeney's girlfriends. They were identified only as a Brazilian known as Irani, a Colombian known as Maria, and an English woman named Sue.

Asked if the three women were thought to have been murdered, Groves told journalists that "we have some information which would suggest that is a possibility."