When I was 17 I was accepted to train as a psychiatric nurse in Fishponds Bristol, United Kingdom, at a very old hospital that had an almost Victorian wing and also a shiny new area for short-term and less risky patients.
That first six weeks I had to study hard, in fact as I approached my 18th birthday I had little time to party, I needed to pass anatomy and physiology. I studied with an older student as he was quiet and we tested each other on our work. This was my third job since I was 16, and the first time I had felt at home working, I actually enjoyed the challenge of mental health issues, and liked helping people. Feeling I had at last found my calling.
The older student became quite attentive, he was 25 and I was not quite 18, but he did not make me feel he was going to be a threat, we even went out into the country to study and I felt safe. He was rather ‘old fashioned’ looking, and tried to educate me by taking me to the opera; we saw three together in Bristol Hippodrome. He also left beautiful notes on my desk when we were on our six weeks training and gave me a little necklace with Mizpah on it.
In May after a really hot spell, we had been out several times to cram for the exam. He asked me to come to his home and meet his mum and brother. I was allowed to go, and we travelled to Kent. I stayed in the small bedroom and he did not even try to make any moves, or bother me. I was distressed though because he had a disabled brother, and I got a feeling he had been responsible for the care of him for a long time, his mother was sweet and we chatted amicably, but I was left feeling his childhood had not been normal.
I was horrified to see in late-June newspapers were full of the disappearance of two children in the woods. The very woods we had spent time! The two little ones had wandered into the woods to look for a horse they had seen, their mother raised the alarm when the seven and five-year-old didn’t come back at 7pm. The shallow grave was found 11 days later. I thought of the times I had walked home through the woods at dusk alone.
Then the unthinkable happened, my student companion of the last six weeks was arrested. This was the worst fear for my poor mother. Had I been associating with a murderer? The Sunday papers were full of his name and his photo. I felt like I was dead anyway. How would I ever live through this? I spent time in my room playing sad music, my mother told me to destroy my diaries… But the police came and wanted to interview me and I was totally honest, showed them all I had written about my companion. After many interviews and investigations he was eventually set free. Although he might have had some indicators that he was not quite the ordinary young man, he was not considered a threat. In fact the policewoman who talked to me said he deserved a better life, and told me: “You are probably the best thing that ever happened to him, meeting you helped him”.
The case has never been solved; there were three mental institutions (as they were then called) in the immediate vicinity of the woods. Patients often got out or were allowed free time. I have just read up a recent report of cold cases. There was a possible confession reported from a person in the 1960s who had taken notes, but not passed on a name to police. The murder of the Sheasby children is still a mystery. I know my life and my companions never went on the same, it left a scar on us all. I often wonder what became of my study partner. I am also sad that the mother and father of the children probably died without closure. The ‘Babes in the Woods’ have kept their secret.