Why did the police believe that Carol had gone by the "muck road"?
The quick answer is that in 1977 - they didn't.
At a meeting between the police and residents of the Ravenscliffe estate, one week after the murder, Detective Superintendent Denis Hoban told the audience:
" We need someone who saw her in Woodhall Road, or on the old disused railway line on the approach to Woodhall Road, or near the hospital, to come forward"
From this, it is clear that the detective in charge of the entire investigation in 1977 believed that Carol had walked along Ravenscliffe Avenue and cut through to the railway line to reach Woodhall Road (To see map, click here). He made no reference whatsoever to the " road", nor the "Blue Pig pub", which is a common means of identifying the path through the woods.
This is perhaps not surprising. Many witnesses had mentioned this railway line route in their statements - and since they responded to questions, it's clear that the police were asking about people on the railway line..
David Magson had seen two men on the railway line at around 8 oíclock.
Florence Dickinson lived across the railway line from the Ravenscliffe estate. She walked her dog along the railway at about 7:20 - 7:30. She saw a young man come out of some bushes on the railway line. She felt uneasy about him. He walked towards Woodhall Road.
James Worsley , the husband of Carolís sister had told the police that Carol ( with Kevin Best) would "would walk up to her motherís home and take a short cut though their garden onto the railway embankment and walk along to where it joins Woodhall Road and then up to the Bakery. Carol and Kevin would walk that way for about 3 months until Kevin got a job at the butcherís. To my knowledge, Carol did not like walking that way alone and when Kevin started work she started going back to work on the bus"
David Dawson walked through the Ravenscliffe estate at some time after 8:00 on his way to English Electric - a route which went past the hospital where Carol was attacked. He described how he walked "along a snicket onto the railway embankment". He saw a man riding a motor bike along the railway line.
Moira Atkinson lived on Oakdale Drive. She was hanging washing out on her line between 10am and 11 am. She saw a man standing on the railway embankment looking at her.. She felt uneasy about him.
Alice Sargeant was at the back of 63 Oakdale Drive at around 9:30. The dog at the house was barking and would not stop. She said he was frantic and barked for "a good ten minutes". She surmised that someone suspicious was on the railway line which is at the back of the house. He was pulling towards the banking of the railway line. She added " The railway line is a well-used short-cut."
George Wilkinson, Carolís step-father told the police "I understand that Carol has in the past walked through our back garden and onto the railway line to walk up to Woodhall Road to the bakery. I have never seen her go this way because I was always at work, but I also understand Kevin has walked her to work that way."
CHANGE OF MIND.
The great change of mind had been made about a month later. On October 26th, WPC Leathley took a timed walk along the "muck road" - via the " Blue Pig". She described this route as " the route presumably taken by the deceased".
On the same day, D.S. Kenneth Parkin also timed a route which began at the bus stop at the northern end of Ravenscliffe Avenue, continued along the Harrogate Road and then walked onto the disused railway line. Eventually he reached Woodhall Road and continued to the scene of crime.
The reason for this is no great secret. The police had a hot suspect at the time. He claimed he was at the top of Ravenscliffe estate, on Harrogate Road, at the time when the police believed the murder had taken place. This is the precise spot where D.S. Parkin began his timings.
The Leathley / Parkin timed journeys were an experiment to determine if this suspect's alibi could be broken. The obvious thought was that if Carol had walked on a longer route, this suspect might have caught her up by running on a shorter route.
The police did not do this lightly. There was considerable other evidence against their suspect - but a witness eventually turned up who placed him at the bus stop in question at a time which made it impossible to break his alibi.
The greatest mistake in the whole of the Carol Wilkinson investigation then took place. No one thought to go back to the former route scenario for Carol - it was taken for granted that she must have gone by the "muck road" Way - because the police's best suspect could only have committed the crime by using the shorter railway line route to get ahead of her.
Since the police had no other suspect - rather than change the scenario, they left it, hoping that something would turn up to further implicate their suspect and break his alibi.
THE 1978 INVESTIGATION.
When DS Hoban died and DI Mould took over, he would see no reason to question the scenario of the route that Hoban had left in the files. The statements suggesting Carol would have taken the railway line route were prominent in the volumes of evidence from 1977 - because of the hot suspect the Hoban had had when he left the case.
The amount of time Mould and Falconer took to move from Vera Smith to having the key ring identified by the four youths and interviewing Kevin Best suggests that they could not have had enough time to read the hundreds of statements generated in 1977. They were approaching the case effectively blind.
IGNORANCE OF SHORTCUTS
It is doubtful whether Mould and Falconer even knew of the existence of all the shortcuts in the estate - particularly the Harden Grove snicket. It was never mentioned in their questions. Even Denis Hoban in 1977 appears to have been unaware that the snicket route to the railway line actually began in Harden Grove - it is not mentioned in the press statements attributed to him. He appears to believe that the only way through to the railway line is by using the back gardens of Thackeray Road.
This is perhaps not surprising. Even to someone walking down Harden Grove the snicket entrance may not be obvious. Even if the hedges were cut down, the path through might still not be recognised as such because it turns to the right, so that no clear way through can be seen.
Since the map produced at trial was not only out of date, showing the "muck road" in the wrong place, but it did not show the snicket at all. Indeed, Oakland Drive appears only as a sketch with a few houses on the map, whereas at the time of the murder it was a completed road with houses on both sides.
It seems very possible therefore that the police in 1979 may have concluded that when Wendy Murphy saw her, Carol was already committed to taking the "muck road" route - since going around Oakdale Drive meant doubling back.
On the other hand, it also seems very possible that the police team in 1977 was completely committed to the railway route because of the preponderance of evidence pointing to it - until they got their prime suspect.. Only then did they "presume" that Carol had taken the "muck road" route.