True Crime Tuesdays: The Wimbledon Kidnapping
Helen Archer | On 31, Aug 2021
This rather muddled but desperately sad documentary looks at what is billed here as Britain’s first ever kidnapping – that of Muriel McKay, the wife of Rupert Murdoch’s then-deputy, Alick McKay, two months after Murdoch took over The Sun. Already the subject of numerous books, documentaries and dramas, filmmaker Joanna Bartholomew – and the remaining McKay family – clearly sees this as a last-ditch attempt to find out what actually happened to Muriel, and who was ultimately responsible.
Muriel’s disappearance on 29th December 1969 was quickly understood to be a case of mistaken identity – Murdoch had been getting a lot of press, thanks to his newspaper acquisition, and his wife of the time was the intended target. Alick McKay had been using Murdoch’s vehicle and his chauffeur while his boss was overseas, and the kidnappers assumed Muriel McKay was Anna Murdoch. Despite quickly realising their mistake, the kidnappers carried on regardless, demanding a £1 million ransom – the equivalent of around £15 million in today’s money.
The documentary re-enacts the kidnapping, as well as the fake ransom drops. It also features archive footage of Murdoch, and some of the “spiritualists” who came out of the woodwork to help the investigation. Bartholomew manages to obtain a few exclusives – this is the first time Muriel’s daughters have spoken publicly about the case, and she manages to track down and interview Nizamodeen Hosein, who, along with his brother Arthur, was found guilty of the crime and served prison time for it. She also has access to the various telephone calls in which the kidnappers demanded the ransom, and gets a voice expert on the case to compare the voice on the tapes with Nizamodeen’s. Fingerprint experts are called upon to re-examine some of the evidence still available, although, in the absence of any DNA or scientific documentation, it’s hard to see what this will achieve, all these years later.
Arthur Hosein’s daughter is interviewed and, while she paints a picture of him as an abusive tyrant at home, she is also vehement that his younger brother didn’t have it in him to be willingly involved in the plot. Nizamodeen himself is questioned in Trinidad, where he was deported to after spending 20 years behind bars, and he proclaims not only his innocence, but his complete ignorance regarding who was involved. But there was, too, another brother, Adam – both he and Arthur have since died – who emerges from this documentary as a possible ringleader of the kidnapping, leaving his two younger siblings as fall guys. The interviews in this documentary, though, clearly point towards Arthur being heavily involved – his daughter remembers her mother finding jewellery, possibly belonging to Muriel, secreted in their house. Under the instruction of Adam, it is claimed she threw the evidence into the River Thames.
But the documentary is also about the bungled investigation, which, at times, was the source of some hilarity even from Muriel’s family, despite their deep worry about her fate. Cops went as far as dressing up in women’s clothing in an effort to fool the kidnappers into thinking that Muriel’s daughter was dropping off the ransom money. But while you get an idea of how farcical the whole endeavour was, the documentary provides only a surface-level look at events. Similarly, while the racism that was endemic and overt in British society at the time is referred to – Arthur Hosein apparently felt he could fit in to the upper class, English farming society, but was constantly blocked because of the colour of his skin – it’s not really delved into with any depth, other than the continued refrain that this was a peculiarly “un-British” crime. Indeed, some of the people interviewed here could be seen to mirror the inherent racism rather than critique it.
It remains a rather opaque documentary, doing little to shine any light on what happened to Muriel. But it leaves you with a sense of the lifelong trauma that the McKay family was left with, as Muriel’s children – now in their 70s and 80s – recall a much-loved mother who was taken away from them in the cruellest way, never to be seen again. They talk about searching for her on the streets, passing people who they think for an instant might be her, and long, random drives around London in their desperate bids to find her. It’s unlikely at this stage that they will ever know exactly what happened. It haunts Nizamodeen, too, those years lost, all for nothing. The documentary seems like a sad postscript, getting us no nearer to the truth, serving more as a curio, a sad reminder that there are some mysteries – no matter how high-profile – that will never be solved.
The Wimbledon Kidnapping is available on Sky Crime. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, for £9.99 a month with no contract. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.