What if Myra Hindley had looked ordinary when she was arrested? Would we feel the same revulsion against her? Would her image have become an iconic symbol of evil if she had looked as she did in later years, a brown-haired woman with a soft body and a warm-looking smile? Throughout her years in prison Hindley had to live with the fact that for most people, she would always be her 1965 police mugshot¾harshly bleached hair; unnaturally black eyebrows; a sullen, sensualist's mouth; insolent eyes not deadened by what they had seen but full of a malevolent force, trying to dominate the viewer.
No wonder she has been hated for nearly fifty years, hated more even than Ian Brady. Women are supposed to be mothers, nurturers, and a woman like Hindley, who flouted these so-called biological imperatives, is viewed as unnatural. As a feminist, I'm supposed to think that her demonisation is a sign of our society's inherent sexism, and no doubt there's some truth in that.
But I'm a woman, and I know what we are. I don't expect women to be just mothers and carers. Their behaviour and desires can be every bit as dark and destructive as men's, their anger just as ferocious. We are not always victims.
Hindley certainly was not. For me, she actually was worse morally than Ian Brady, because she participated willingly in some of the worst crimes we have seen in this country and it wasn't even her own idea. It was Brady whose urges and philosophy drove their 'existential exercise,' as he calls it now, Brady whose longings were skewed and violent. She went along for the ride, but without him she probably would not have committed murder.
Without her he could not. A lone man would have found it much harder to entice children into his car. No doubt he would eventually have found a way, but she was pivotal to his success. Even in those less anxious days, children were taught not to take sweets from strangers, not to go away with someone they didn't know. A sixteen year old like Pauline Reade, all dressed up to go dancing, would never have got into a car with a single man like Brady. Only when her neighbour, Myra Hindley, asked her for a favour, did the kind teenager agree to go with them.
Many people have talked about folie àdeux in connection with Brady and Hindley, but it doesn't seem a very useful label to me. All of the dictionary definitions talk about the shared delusions of a couple in such a relationship, but what were Hindley's delusions? She went along with Brady's Nazi fixation, learning German, listening to tapes of Hitler rallies, carrying a picture of a female concentration camp guard round in her handbag, but then she also ditched her Woman's Own for Wordsworth's Prelude in order to catch her man¾Brady had ignored her up to that point. Women in those days were still following 1950's patterns. They did what they thought their men wanted.
Brady wanted perversion, terror, violence, and Hindley went along with it as she'd have gone along if he'd wanted lace curtains and cocktails. For him the internal pressures were overwhelming and he would undoubtedly have murdered in the end, but Hindley made a choice. After the first murder, when she claimed to be terrified of Brady's violence, she started an affair with a policeman she sold her car to. Not a smart move if you really are afraid of a man. When Brady clicked his fingers and said he wanted to commit another murder, she ditched her lover and came running. She had the perfect get-out, could have confessed to her policeman and probably played the female victim card, but she decided the lure of blood and sex had more pull.
Hindley was a thrill-seeker, addicted to the heightened reality she shared with Brady. She had probably never felt more alive in her life than when they were committing the murders. As a child her father had been violent to her. Now, as an adult, she could revel in the power she and Brady had over life and death. So callous was she about their victims, that she used to stop Pauline Reade's mother in the street and ask if she had any news about her missing daughter.
Narcissistic and aggressive to anyone who crossed her, Hindley probably had a histrionic personality disorder. She craved excitement and emotional drama, sought the approval of others, needed to be the centre of attention, and had a desire for instant gratification. Had she been brought up in a middle class home with theatrical outlets for these personality traits, she might have become an actress or a musician, but the only way to satisfy them in her surroundings was to follow Brady.
David Smith and Maureen Hindley
She followed him into hell, which showed in her face when they took the notorious mugshot. People have often said her eyes were dark and dead in that picture, but it seems to me they show the depths she had come to. Photographs of her sister taken around the same time show the same fashion for bouffant hair and kohl-rimmed eyes, but Maureen looks like a normal young woman. Her eyes do not burn with the intensity of someone who has seen too much, done too much. Her face is not suffused with secret knowledge, does not brim with repressed anger. Myra Hindley chose the wrong path and it is written in every shadow, every hollow, every sharply angled plane of her face.