For those of us fascinated by true crime, we know that many lives are changed forever in a matter of seconds by one catastrophic action.
Today, we take a detailed look at the strange case of Tyrone Bates who murdered his landlady, Stella Gleadall in 2007. This case is of particular interests as it seems to involve a one-off, unexpected act of severe violence totally out of character. Ultimately, the devastation caused to so many lives by his actions is even more baffling as the reason for the ferocious murder doesn’t seem to make any sense.
St Ives is a beautiful coastal resort on the north coast of Cornwall which in former times was commercially dependent on fishing but is now primarily a popular holiday resort with a reputation for art and culture. Serious crime is incredibly rare. In 2007, it was life as normal in St Ives, being voted seaside town of the year by The Guardian newspaper and the usual, unproven sightings of Great White sharks off the coast. However, in 2007 the town was rocked with the news that popular landlady, 50 year old Stella Gleadall, had been murdered in her home just a short walk from the town centre. Stella was killed by her lodger, 32 year old Tyrone Bates.
Who was Stella Gleadall?
Stella had recently separated from her husband of 25 years, Ian, and her death left their three children without a mother with her youngest child just 14. Since splitting with Ian, Stella enjoyed a busy social life going out with her many friends including entering into several relationships with men, some of whom were seen by friends as not particularly good for her. One of these men was Rick Wilson. When she died, Stella was in an on-off relationship with Rick, an alcoholic busker originally from Scotland. Talking about their relationship later in court, Rick spoke about his strong feelings for Stella, adding that she had a very high sex drive, saying that they ‘had a beautiful sex life – it could have been eight times a day”. Was it her sex life with Rick that ultimately resulted in her murder?
Bates had made it very clear he disapproved of Rick and was seen as a ‘protector’ of Stella in this relationship. Shortly before her death, Bates had told friends that he wanted to move out of Stella’s house as he was stressed about Rick and Stella. It seems hard to believe, but was this his motivation to kill?
Who was Tyrone Bates?
Bates was originally from Cheshire, in the North West of England. His parents separated before he was born and he did not meet his father until he was seven. At school he enjoyed art and music before going on to study art and design at college in Nantwich (near Manchester). He had first come to Cornwall to visit his father who was a fisherman at Lands End and a member of the lifeboat crew. He later moved to live in Cornwall in 1999 and moved to St Ives in 2003. At the time of the murder he had been working as a barman, musician and a hair braider at the quay in St Ives. Bates appeared to be enjoying his life with a large group of mates, regular girlfriends and he was a popular man with no history of violence of any sort.
On the night of 29 November both Bates and Stella went out drinking in St Ives with separate friends. Although he had been drinking, Bates wasn’t drunk and later described his state that night as ‘merry drunk’. He said that after arriving home he had been playing guitar in the kitchen of the house when Stella had come in and made it clear she wanted to have sex with him. Bates, who denied ever having had sex with Stella before – despite strong rumours that the two had once shared a one night stand – said that he then went to sleep on the living room sofa. According to Bates, his next memory was of being on his bed with Stella on top of him having sex.
We know Stella had been dead for around 10 hours before Bates finally called the emergency services. At 1pm Bates called and told them, ‘I killed my landlady last night, I think she drugged my drink”. He initially told police that he had woken up with a naked Stella unexpectedly on top of him having sex without his permission. He had reacted angrily and when Stella saw this she climbed off him and stormed to her bedroom. Bates says he pulled up his trousers and followed Stella, finding her on the bed looking scared. In her bedroom, she told him that if he told anyone about what had happened she would tell the police he had raped her. On hearing this, Bates says that he ‘panicked and strangled her’. He later changed his story to say that the sex must have been consensual but that when he realised what was happening he had freaked out and ‘blown his top’. Whether the sex was consensual or not, what is clear is that in a fit of rage over this sexual encounter Bates had violently murdered Stella.
At his trial, the details of Stella’s injuries emerged. It was revealed that a scarf was wrapped tightly around Stella’s neck as she lay face down on the bed and the pathologist found at least 32 injuries on her body. As well as the ligature marks on her neck she had abrasions and bruising around her arm, legs, feet, upper chest and head with further deep bruising within her body not visible on her skin. Overall, it all pointed to her having been involved in a struggle with her face being held down while she was strangled. Stella’s hands were not injured and her finger nails were intact which, combined with Bates suffering no injuries, lead the prosecution to conclude that this was a one-sided sustained attack which Bates had carried on until Stella was limp and lifeless. Stella had not been given the opportunity to fight back.
Bates said he did not recall using a scarf to strangle Stella. When questioned on why he didn’t try to help Stella, or call an ambulance immediately after the attack, he told the court that immediately following the murder he had retreated downstairs in a state of shock, pacing up and down for hours before calling the police and paramedics. Bates added, “It sounds silly but I kept going back upstairs to see if she had woken up. I thought she might have been unconscious. She was dead.”
When pushed on whether he had intended to harm Stella, Bates replied “I never intended to kill Stella Gleadall but when I look at the evidence I must have”. The crux of the case for the defence was that Bates wasn’t guilty of murder, but manslaughter due to the provocation of Stella’s sexual assault.
The Jury at Truro Crown Court disagreed with Bates. They retired for more than three days before delivering their majority verdict that Bates was guilty of the murder of Stella Gleadall. Bates stared impassively ahead of him as the verdict was delivered.
Judge Cottle sentenced Bates to life stipulating that he must serve at least 14 years in prison. The Judge told Bates that his account of events was the only ones that made any sense as he had no other reason to attack Stella. During the trial, a number of female witnesses had given evidence about Bates and not one of them had a bad word to say about him, even speaking of his gentleness after drinking. The prosecution conceded – as did Bates – that if he had wanted to have sex with Stella that night she would have agreed.
However, Judge Cottle did not accept the defence of being provoked to murder. He added that although Bates had expressed remorse, he did not believe that the true circumstances leading to the murder had been discovered. Telling Bates that only he had could answer this question, Judge Cottle said: “It may be that, during the life sentence, the appropriate professionals will be more successful in teasing out of you the real reasons for killing the deceased.”
Addressing Bates directly Judge Cottles told him. “I sentence you on the basis that in the immediate aftermath of sexual intercourse you attacked and killed the deceased and I can’t be sure of the circumstances that led to such a total loss of control and extreme violence. Whilst accepting it was not a pre-meditated attack he said Bates had intended to kill his victim and did so in a “calculated and brutal way”. He was also critical of Bates’s actions immediately after the murder stating his belief that Bates had spent those hours manufacturing an account which would present him in the best possible light, with that account undergoing some refinement.
During the trial, a tearful Bates had told Stella’s family, “I just want to say to the family I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to kill your mum”. However, as we would expect, Stella’s family had no sympathy for Bates. Husband Ian was particularly angry about events, emphasising to all just how much the three children missed their mother. Stella’s 19 year old daughter Morgan spoke of her heartbreak that her mum would never see her walk down the aisle and that none of her children would ever know the love of a Grandma.
Will we ever know?
As the Judge said, there are so many questions unanswered in this case.
What actually caused Tyrone Bates to murder his landlady, ruining the lives of two families forever: was it really just this one sexual encounter that made a man with no history of violence react in this way? There may have been anger about Stella’s relationship with Rick of whom he disapproved – but if he didn’t want Stella himself why was this so important to him? Even if this was the case, the basis of this anger would be because he cared about Stella being hurt by Rick, so why would he harm her?
And what now for Bates. Does he sit in his cell every day wondering what caused him to violently snap and ruin his own life? Every day does he regret following Stella into her bedroom in the early hours of that morning? Or is there some additional information that only he knows which could throw light on his real motive for murder?
So many questions….