Webster, who has multiple links to the Murder of Hollie Grieg’s Uncle Roy, reported in NZ
Malcolm Webster: The Fire Starter
5:30 AM Sunday Jul 8, 2012
appeal the verdict that has sent him to jail for 30 years, the New
Zealand woman whose survival instinct brought him to justice is trying
to rebuild her life with the son they had together. But, Susan Edmunds
reports, the three women who Webster tried to dupe and kill may be just
the tip of the iceberg
Teenager Edward Drumm was asleep at his home on Auckland’s North
Shore when his mother, Felicity, answered the phone in the next room. In
the early hours of her 51st birthday, she was told Edward’s father had
been found guilty of murder, attempted murder, arson and fraud charges.
cried tears of relief – it was a call she’d been waiting to receive for
12 painful years, and through the longest trial in Scottish history.
on the other side of the world from his son and estranged wife, Malcolm
Webster was as emotionless as ever. Through months of evidence, he’d
sat, expressionless, as women who loved him poured out their
heart-wrenching evidence of betrayal.
The only time anyone saw
his facade crack? When he was asked to hand over his iPhone, as he was
led to the cells for the first time as prisoner number 111737.
52, poisoned, started fires, killed one woman and tried to murder two
more in a hideously organised criminal career that spanned decades.
Journalist Charles Lavery, who followed the trial and has just published a book about Webster, called The Black Widower, says it is likely there are more victims around the world, not yet identified.
killed his first wife, Claire Morris, by drugging her, staging a car
crash and setting the car alight with her inside. He’d tried the same
with Felicity, drugging her at least from their wedding day, right
through her pregnancy with Edward. It was his intention to burn her to
death in a drug-induced coma in a forest north of Auckland.
It was only her father’s suspicions that saved her.
Webster was finally captured by police, 12 years after fleeing New
Zealand, he was engaged to be married to another woman – who later found
her lifejacket on her yacht had been butchered.
Webster was driven by money, pure and simple, Lavery says.
He had decided he deserved better than his
station in life, and money was the only way to get to his rightful
position. “Money is his god. With that came power and control.”
Lavery says Webster’s case is particularly chilling because how he got he money didn’t matter to him. “The women didn’t matter.”
targets were independently wealthy – apart from Claire, on whom he took
out multiple life insurance policies that paid out hundreds of
thousands of pounds. Felicity had a mortgage-free house and was saving
her tax-free earnings when she met him in the United Arab Emirates. His
third would-be murder victim, Simone Banarjee, had a valuable trust
If he’d been successful in killing Felicity, he stood to
gain almost $750,000 in life insurance payouts. He also claimed tens of
thousands of pounds in insurance payouts on fires he started.
wiped out Felicity’s savings to such an extent that she can’t even
afford to divorce him. Forensic lawyers trying to track down any
compensation came up with nothing.
Lavery says: “He’s either buried it in a hole or he’s spent it all on the finer things in life.”
women in particular find difficult to understand about the case is how
so many intelligent, attractive women fell for Webster. Middle-aged,
overweight, balding – at the trial he was hardly a pin-up. By
comparison, Felicity is a pretty, slim blonde woman with striking pale
But Lavery says Webster hasn’t always looked like an
overweight everyman. “At the time he married Felicity and Claire he was
good-looking, slim with a clipped English accent.” He was good company,
Lavery says, charming and fun – an English gentleman who swept women off
He knew how to pick his targets, too. Apart from
30-year-old Claire, Webster’s targets were women in their mid-to-late
30s and early-40s, who saw him as their last chance for children.
says Webster’s secret was in playing the long game. Things that might
have set off alarm bells, such as taking control of bank accounts and
having statements sent to a post office box, were drawn out over such a
long period that they went unnoticed.
And Felicity’s parents say
it’s not just the women who were taken in. Webster walked into their
lives, too, destroying the whole family’s innocence. “It’s been unreal,”
said her elderly mother, Margaret. “It’s like something that was
happening to someone else and we were just watching from the
The logistics of Webster’s offending beggar belief.
He often had multiple women on the go – once taking a girlfriend to
Paris while Banarjee thought he was in London having chemotherapy for
his faked leukemia. Says Lavery: “It’s quite a phenomenal mind that can
Webster is set to appeal his sentence and
conviction at a hearing in a couple of months, claiming the jury wasn’t
given a full picture when shown a reconstruction of the Morris crash.
But Lavery says Webster hasn’t a hope.
Back in Takapuna, Drumm is just focusing on getting on with her life.
Webster in jail, the custody battle for Edward has at least come to an
end. For years she was in the unenviable position of battling to retain
custody of him while trying to get his father locked up for trying to
Funded by his father, Webster waged a long legal
battle in the New Zealand courts. As it raged, all Drumm could say was
that her estranged husband was the subject of a police probe.
Drumm said: “The family put me through years of court proceedings and never faced up to the reality of what he’d done.”
Edward has copped some teasing at school for being the son of a murderer, but he’s not heard from his father in a long time.
Drumm just wants this chapter of her life closed. “He picked the wrong family . . . he made a mistake taking on the Drumms.”
Drumm was in all senses of the phrase a self-made woman. Sitting at the
dinner table in a friend’s Riyadh home, she was taken by the big
Englishman next to her, with his clipped tones.
She liked him, he
made her laugh. For once she had reason to thank her friends for
inviting someone for her. Some of their previous choices had been the
subject of frank exchanges after the cheese and biscuits.
Felicity had spent a large part of her life working hard to make her
future more secure. It was why she was in Riyadh. That, a broken heart
and a mortgage that needed paying.
She had not found the time to
look for a partner, so her friends had been doing the job for her.
Working 10-hour shifts at the local King Fahd Hospital did not leave a
lot of time for socialising, but at least, by 1996, Felicity had managed
to pay off that $100,000 mortgage back home in Auckland and was
building up a nice nest egg in her bank account, tax-free, of course.
solid work ethic had been instilled in her by her father Brian, a
Takapuna high school principal. She had been brought up in a loving,
happy family home where she learned that hard work brought its own
Now here she was, reaping those rewards, enjoying a
dinner party, listening to Malcolm Webster, a handsome 30-something,
regale her with tales of travelling the world.
Felicity was happy. Life was finally going her way.
said she was instantly attracted to Webster, although in the beginning
he pushed their relationship harder than she did. The Kiwi cancer nurse
found him funny, witty and entertaining. “He spoke like a BBC announcer
and I found him a bit twee because he referred to his parents as ‘mummy’
Webster’s middle-class jovial computer-geek image
seemed to earn the trust, then the affection of women around him. He
wasn’t a sexual predator, he was an English gentleman.
few months of meeting Webster, Felicity had opened her heart to him on
her reasons for being in Riyadh. She told him she was now mortgage-free
iand had money in the bank, thanks to the pay rates and the long work
By January 1997, just eight months after meeting her at
that dinner party, Webster had proposed to Felicity. The eight months
preceding the proposal had been bliss, with chocolates, flowers and the
love of a kind, caring man. Felicity agreed without hesitation.
returned to New Zealand and married in St Andrew’s Catholic church in
Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, on 26 April 1997. The family threw a
huge party. Webster impressed his new in-laws, Brian and Margaret, with
his open, affable character. Felicity’s sister Jane was especially
impressed after Malcolm called to ask her advice on whether Felicity
would like diamond and sapphire earrings as her ‘something blue’ on
their wedding day. “Who wouldn’t?” was Jane’s reply.
The happy couple honeymooned at Cooks Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula but something strange happened on the first night.
who had packed fish and lamb chops to take to the remote beach idyll
for the first two nights’ meals, made dinner for them, then, after
drinking a cup of tea, she slept for a solid 36 hours. When she finally
came to, she was shocked. Nothing like that had ever happened before;
she was a fit, healthy woman.
“I challenged him when I couldn’t
believe he had left me sleeping for 36 hours,” Felicity recalled. “But
he said I’d woken up and gone back to bed but obviously couldn’t
remember. He even said he had fed me. He was my closest friend; I would
have no reason to be suspicious of him at all.”
Felicity had felt
so unwell after the coma-like sleep that she sought medical help. The
sleeping and symptoms of fatigue continued long after they returned from
Felicity was worried enough about the fatigue
to get checked out. Dr Jonathan Simcock, a neurologist with 45 years’
experience, examined Felicity after she complained of blackouts,
headaches, double vision and fatigue.
She also told the doctor there was an acrid, bitter taste to everything she ate.
Simcock, 73, initially diagnosed a vertebral migraine. He had wanted to
reassure Felicity that she did not have epilepsy or a brain tumour.
this time, the couple decided to relocate to Scotland, where Webster
had found employment in Aberdeen. However, two days before the couple
left New Zealand, Felicity received some disturbing news from her GP, Dr
Julie Hancock, after a blood test.
The results showed a problem
with Felicity’s liver. Her symptoms displayed the same characteristics
as those for victims of date-rape drugs. While, of course, this was
worrying, the hassles and logistics of moving abroad forced her concerns
to the bottom of her list of priorities.
The couple flew to
Scotland in May 1997, and moved into Easter Letter Cottage at Lyne of
Skene, Aberdeenshire, for Webster to begin his new job. A few months
after they arrived in the northeast of Scotland, Felicity broke the news
to Webster that she was pregnant with their first child. She naturally
expected tears of joy. Instead, Webster reacted in fury.
charted all the reasons they should not have a child, how much babies
cost to raise being top of the list. Felicity says he did eventually
calm down and even began to look forward to the birth.
this time, she was sleeping for long periods, slurring her words and
losing her balance. She became so concerned that there might be a risk
to the health of her unborn son that she went to the doctor when she was
16 weeks pregnant. No conclusion could be reached and it was put down
to the stress of the move and the pregnancy.
In September 1997,
Felicity had her first glimpse of Webster’s fascination with fire, when
she arrived home to find their rural home partly gutted by fire. Webster
was already there, and he said he had come home in the nick of time. He
told her not to worry as they were insured. Her handbag, containing her
New Zealand driving licence and other identification documents, was
never seen again.
Several months later, Felicity spotted her
driver’s licence propped up on her husband’s desk in his study but,
assuming he had simply forgotten to mention that he had managed to
recover some items after all, she thought little more about it.
the birth of their son Edward in May 1998, the couple decided to move
back to New Zealand so that Felicity could be closer to her family. In
preparation for the move, they put all their belongings in storage at
the huge Shore Porters Society facility in Aberdeen, a long-established
and respected Scottish moving firm. On November 12, 1998, the massive
storage facility was set alight.
The fire raged for days and more
than 80 fire fighters attended the scene. The final cost of the blaze
and the destroyed goods within its compound exceeded £5 million
A detailed investigation into the cause of the fire
concluded that workmen repairing a section of the roof had somehow left a
hot gas blowtorch on the roof which had ignited.
that Webster had been there moments before the blaze took hold, to
retrieve some vital paperwork from his storage space.
He had been sitting with Felicity and visiting friends, watching an episode of London’s Burning,
the drama series about fire fighters, when he announced that he was
heading out to buy some recordable CDs from a computer shop next door to
the Shore Porters facility.
He told Felicity he would pop into
Shore Porters while he was there to pick up some paperwork for his
brother Ian. He drove to the storage facility and returned home some
time later. Webster, Felicity and their friends then watched events
unfold on TV as news broke of the massive blaze.
TV crews broadcast live on the night.
recalled: “When the warehouse burned down we lost everything. All I had
was a single suitcase. It was a horrendous time.”
But Malcolm had calmly told her, “It’s all insured. It’s only things.”
of the Shore Porters Society have always denied their workers caused
the fire. No one has been convicted of starting the 1998 fire and it was
not treated as suspicious.
One week after the blaze, Webster filed
an insurance claim to the firm for £87,847 ($171,000). CGU Insurance
disputed the amount and Webster was even quoted in the local newspaper
complaining about the delay in paying out his claim. They eventually
settled the claim and paid Webster £68,000. Shortly afterwards, the
couple left for New Zealand.
When they finally returned to
Auckland in late 1998, they stayed with Felicity’s parents, Brian and
Margaret, while they finalised the purchase of a new home they had set
their hearts on in Takapuna.
By this time, Webster and Felicity
had pooled their resources. He was to sell his cottage in Aberdeenshire
and contribute the proceeds to the new house. She had also allowed her
new husband access to her bank account and would put up the other half
of the cost of the house. She sold her own mortgage-free home to give
them a chance of a bigger new home.
Webster told her he was
having real problems having his share for the new house transferred from
Scotland. This dragged on into early 1999, until it was getting
perilously close to Felicity losing the huge deposit she had put down on
Then, in February 1999, disaster struck. There had
been an arson attack at the six-bedroom villa on the North Shore, where
Felicity longed to bring up their son. She had already staked $60,000 on
it by way of a deposit. Someone had pushed papers through the letterbox
and set light to them.
A few days later, with just one week left
to sign the papers on the new home, and with no sign of her husband’s
money arriving from Scotland, they were roused from their slumber at her
parents’ home by yet another fire. Webster, who had been in the
bathroom a short time earlier, was awoken by Felicity after she heard a
loud crack. He told her to go back to sleep.
She insisted he
check out the noise. Eventually, he got up and, on seeing the blaze,
raised the alarm. An armchair was on fire in an upstairs living room.
Felicity grabbed baby Edward from his cot and fled outside the family
home, while her dad Brian ran up and down stairs with buckets of water
and Webster filled a kettle from the toilet to help extinguish the
As they were tackling the blaze, Webster told a stunned Brian Drumm, “We’ll laugh about this later.”
was shocked by this series of events and she realised they could easily
have died. But at this time she was also sleeping for long periods and
still struggling with her health.
February 12, 1999, was the
final deadline for signing the paperwork on the new house. Felicity and
Webster got into her Honda Accord to drive to the bank and her lawyer’s
office in Auckland. After everything they had been through, and with all
the setbacks, it was a huge relief.
In the absence of Malcolm’s
money appearing from Scotland, Felicity’s dad had put up some of his
life savings and persuaded a lawyer friend to help with the rest.
Malcolm assured them it would be only a matter of weeks before their
investment would be repaid, when the “archaic” Scottish banking system
finally got around to wiring Malcolm’s share.
As they drove over
the Auckland Harbour Bridge to the bank on that fateful day, Webster
began to complain that the car steering was “wonky” and that he was
having trouble controlling the car. As they reached the Northwestern
motorway, Webster shouted at Felicity that the car was out of control.
said: “We were travelling at high speed and he was weaving across
lanes. The car went across to the right across two lanes of traffic,
then back across another two lanes of traffic.
travelling at high speed towards a motorway lamp which was going to hit
my side of the car. I was screaming at Malcolm to watch out for the
lamp. I grabbed the steering wheel and turned it towards Malcolm. There
wasn’t anything wrong with the steering, the car responded.”
car ended up in a ditch, but there was only minor damage and neither
Felicity nor Webster was injured. Webster got out immediately and
shouted at Felicity to stay inside the Honda. She had other ideas.
jumped out and was screaming at me to stay in the car and that it was
too dangerous to get out. Malcolm opened the boot, but there was no way I
was staying in a ditch.”
When Felicity insisted on carrying on
to the bank and to the lawyer’s office to sort out the finance for the
house they planned to buy, Webster clutched his chest and claimed he was
having a heart attack.
A police officer who arrived on the scene
called an ambulance for Webster. “He clutched his chest again, went all
clammy, said he was in pain and got all tearful,” Felicity said. “He
said, ‘I love you, Felicity,’ and said he had left me well provided for
if anything happened.”
He begged her to go with him to hospital
and, even though she knew they were risking losing their dream home and
an awful lot of money, she realised she had to go. “I would have
struggled if he had died and I was off at the bank,” she explained.
policeman Anthony Wood, 45, was one of the first officers to arrive at
the scene. Webster told him that he had been travelling at 90km/h when
the vehicle veered to the left uncontrollably, went down a bank and hit a
Wood noticed that there was only very slight damage to the
Honda Accord, which Webster had been driving, and wrote him a ticket
for careless driving.
Felicity was beginning to unravel, and
could not believe the run of bad luck that had followed them since their
happy courtship in Saudi Arabia.
Six days later, on February 18,
their fortunes seemed to change. Malcolm announced that the money he
had been waiting on had finally arrived and they could now press ahead
with their plans to buy the villa. He told Felicity to get their son
dressed as he was taking them all for a picnic to celebrate and had
found a lovely spot a short drive away.
Felicity set about putting
together a family picnic. As she drove to the designated picnic spot,
with Webster giving directions beside her, they argued playfully over
the best way to get there. Webster handed her a water bottle “to keep
your fluids up”.
That’s the last thing Felicity can remember,
until the incessant ringing of a mobile telephone roused her from yet
another deep slumber.
“It was three in the afternoon. I was
slumped in the passenger seat of our car, struggling to open my eyes and
didn’t have a clue how I had got there. I could hear the mobile phone
ringing, that’s what woke me up. As I struggled to push myself up in the
car I realised I was in a remote forest, almost dark because the pine
trees stretched up to the sky all around. Everything was blurry but I
could see Malcolm pushing our son in his buggy about 300 yards (274m)
away down a rough track.
“I answered the mobile and it was my
dad, sounding very anxious. ‘Felicity, you have to come home right now.
It doesn’t matter what Malcolm says, you just have to stop whatever
you’re doing and get home. It’s serious.’
“I knew something was
very wrong so I clambered out the car and shouted to Malcolm to come
back. He had a complete meltdown. ‘What the hell are you doing awake?’
he shouted. ‘You need to get back to sleep. I was just going for walk.’
didn’t want to go back home but I said I thought something really bad
had happened to someone in the family and we should drive back
immediately. On the way back to my sister’s house, Malcolm was really
sweating and was very agitated.
“As we pulled into the driveway,
he said, ‘Your dad’s going to tell you a lot of nonsense about me and
your money’.” The moment we stopped, Malcolm walked off. “My parents
arrived. My father sat me down and said, ‘Felicity, all your money is
gone.’ At that moment, I knew my husband had been trying to kill me and
that he had killed his first wife.”
The telephone call Brian
Drumm made that day undoubtedly saved his daughter’s life. As he roused
her from her slumber, he had no idea he was ruining a well-constructed
When Felicity got home to her father’s house, she
was horrified to find the boot of the car filled with petrol, wood and
newspapers. She believes the man she loved was pushing their son away to
safety before returning to the car to set it alight. This realisation
buckled her knees. She also realised that she had been drugged that day,
and probably from the first day of their honeymoon, if not before.
was administering drugs to me from the start, even when I was pregnant.
At 16 weeks, I had tests because I thought there could be something
wrong with my baby.”
Baby Edward had always suffered badly from
eczema. It cleared up a matter of weeks after his father walked out of
his life. Hair samples sent for testing also confirmed the prolonged
presence of drugs in her system. The news was another hammer blow.
Felicity Drumm is a strong, clever woman, from a strong, clever family and Webster would discover this to his cost.
says she owes her dad her life. Suspicious about his daughter’s
blackouts and poor health, Brian began looking into her new husband,
especially after he was faced with risking his life savings on the
promise of money from Webster. Felicity, her world reduced to cold hard
facts relayed by her father, could barely breathe.
even begun to plan his escape. “I opened Malcolm’s laptop and saw emails
to estate agents back in Devon and Cornwall saying he was moving back
with his infant son and was interested in several properties,” she said.
There were return tickets from Auckland to the UK for him and young
Edward. One person was missing. The wife he had planned to kill.
and her dad searched their home and discovered a briefcase containing
nine insurance documents, bearing Felicity’s signature, documents that
she had never signed. Her mind immediately flashed back to the driving
licence propped up on Malcolm’s desk, the one seemingly lost in the
flames at their Aberdeen home. Had he been practising forging her
The life insurance policies valued her life at $1.9
million. Here was his deception laid bare. Her dad hugged her as they
attempted to piece it all together. He knew one thing above all else,
his daughter had been a very lucky girl. “I was absolutely gutted,”
Felicity revealed. “I couldn’t imagine how anyone could do this to
somebody else who had done nothing but love and care for them. And I had
a child with this man.”
“The full horror hit me. My husband was trying to kill me. That moment in the forest was meant to be my last.”
every penny she had, over $390,000, was now resting in Webster’s
Clydesdale Bank account in Aberdeen, Scotland. Felicity realised she had
nothing left. Her bank account now showed a balance of just $12.
this time, Webster had booked into a motel room in Auckland. Felicity
arranged to meet him the next day to confront him. She met him in the
carpark of the motel as her uncle sat nearby. She told Webster she knew
what he had planned for her.
Chillingly, he replied, “I gave you a
son and a good life – you’d have died happy.” These were the last words
she got from a man to whom she had given her life to, whose son she had
borne. Those made of lesser stuff might have crumbled. Felicity Drumm
headed straight to her local police station.
Her husband Malcolm headed for the airport.
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