The Horrific Canal Murders That Were Linked to a Jealous Boyfriend
How two cases a decade apart were linked
When two bodies were discovered in two separate canals in Europe, they were unlikely to be connected. The murders had occurred ten years apart in different countries. One was an unnamed female, the other a prostitute. However, when detectives identified the remains of the unknown woman, it became clear that one man connected them.
John Sweeney was already serving time for the attempted murder of a nurse. However, he denied the murders; it became clear that this calculated killer had a pathological hatred of women. He would turn increasingly violent when they rejected him.
The Early Life of John Sweeney
John Sweeney was born on 5th April 2011 in Kirkdale. He lived with his mother in Skelmersdale during his early years, where he trained to become a carpenter and joiner.
In 1976, he married Anne Bramley and had two children. The couple divorced in 1979 but were remarried again in 1981. Bramley wanted to give Sweeney another chance, but Sweeney wasted the opportunity. She went to the police in 1982, stating that Sweeney was threatening her. The couple divorced for a second time; Sweeney moved to London in the mid-80s.
Three Relationships with Tragic Consequences
In London, he met Melissa Halstead; she was thirty-three and a freelance photographer and former model from Ohio. When she was deported from the United Kingdom for overstaying on a work visa, Sweeney followed her to Europe. Halstead vanished from her Amsterdam flat in 1990. Although a body was found in the Westersingel Canal Rotterdam, it was not until 2008 that it was identified as Halstead. A cold case review had led the police to check for familial DNA, which had led to the identification.
In 1991, Sweeney met Delia Balmer at Camden’s Hawley Arms Pub. The pair started dating and soon became a couple. However, the three-year relationship was violent; Sweeney locked her in her flat, held a gun to her head, and abused her regularly. In 1994, three days before Christmas, Balmer returned home to find Sweeney waiting for her with an axe. He attacked her and then pulled out a rusty knife to continue the assault. She lost a finger in the fight. When the police arrived, Sweeney went on the run; during this time, he met thirty-one-year-old Paula Fields.
Fields was a mother of three from London. She was originally from Liverpool but moved to London, where she became a crack cocaine addict. She was said to lead a chaotic life and used prostitution to fund her drug habit. Her children had been placed in care. She met Sweeney in 2000. By December of the same year, she was reported missing. She was found three months later, in February 2001, in the Regents Canal near Kings Cross. Her body had been cut up and placed in six holdalls, like Halstead; her feet and hands were missing.
Police felt that the disposal method pointed to a clever killer who was premeditated in his killing.
Melissa Halstead and Paula Fields were killed and their bodies disposed of in the most callous and undignified manner possible. — Det Ch Insp Howard Groves
Shortly after Field’s murder in 2000, Sweeney was captured for the axe attack on Balmer and sent to prison. During this arrest, his house was searched and found to contain weapons and gruesome artwork depicting murder. At the time, they were not connected to the two canal bodies.
In 2010, the two murders were connected and Sweeney proved to be the connection between the two. He was arrested in Gartree prison and charged with two counts of murder and unlawful disposal of a body. During the trial, the court heard Miss Halstead had predicted her death before she went to Amsterdam with Sweeney and had told her sister that if she ever went missing, ‘John Sweeney would have killed her’. In 2011 Sweeney was sentenced to a whole life order, having been found guilty on all charges.
Police have failed to locate the missing body parts of the two women. Balmer suggests that the body parts might be in the walls of the houses Sweeney worked in. She states he used to boast about burying his pets in the walls he was building, so it follows he could have done this with the heads and hands of Halstead and Fields.
The police are also eager to close another five cases connected to Sweeney. Three women from the United Kingdom that are missing and have been linked to Sweeney and two German men who were believed to be linked to Halstead. Sweeney refuses to help the police with the murders or the missing body parts, leaving it as the last piece of control he has.