A British journalist lived a double life as a serial killer and died without his crimes ever being revealed, according to a remarkable book just published in Ireland. The man, described as “an internationally-renowned war correspondent”, is reputed to have been responsible for a string of murders, rapes and tortures.
But his identity has been concealed by the book’s writer, who himself works under a nom de plume. So how can we be sure that Numb: diary of a war correspondent* is not a macabre hoax? It is supposedly based on computer files and notes found by the journalist’s wife after her husband died, aged 55, last year. She was then put into touch with a ghostwriter, a former Irish lawyer who conceals his own identity by calling himself Louis La Roc (see his website).
In the book, La Roc gives the alleged serial killer and his widow false names: Alan and Kay Buckby. In her foreword, she claims that her husband “led a dubious second life, alien to the one we shared at home with our two children”. She explains that after he was killed – when a tree fell on him while he was out walking in a storm while carrying a saw – she came across his files and diaries.
They revealed his part in horrific crimes going back 30 years and beginning when he reported from Northern Ireland in the 1980s.
La Roc, who was interviewed yesterday on Ireland’s RTE radio, on the John Murray show, said “Buckby” watched as loyalists tortured an IRA volunteer to death. Subsequently, during assignments across the world – in Bosnia, Iraq and Syria – La Roc said “Buckby” was responsible for torturing people and he also committed a series of rapes and murders. All of these sadistic crimes he later detailed on his laptop or in handwritten notes.
La Roc said on radio he has since given the material to MI5. In a piece about his experience in compiling the book, La Roc wrote of “holding talks with MI5”.
When Murray asked him how he went about discovering whether the dead journalist’s claims were true, La Roc said “Buckby” used the real names of his victims in his notes and he was therefore able to verify that the deaths had occurred by Googling them. The book has been published by a small Dublin-based imprint, Liberties Press. According to its online blurb, it is a chronicle of “Buckby’s” efforts “to understand his own fascination with torture, sexual violence and murder, and his wife’s attempt to understand how the man she knew as her husband and the father to her children could have been involved in such horrors”.
So what steps did Liberties Press take to validate its authenticity? Its managing director, Sean O’Keeffe, told me: “A lot has to be taken on trust with Louis. I did meet Marg [the person alleged to have acted as the go-between between La Roc and “Kay”]. I agree that there are grey areas, but we stand over it legally”.
I asked O’Keeffe if he could tell me about other books La Roc claims to have ghosted in the past involving “a global pop-star, Hollywood actress and world-famous football manager”.
O’Keeffe said: “I don’t know about them. Perhaps, on reflection, I should have asked him”.
There are some clues to “Buckby’s” identity in the PR material, though they may well be false leads. He was said to have been born in 1959, lived in London, and spent 30 years “as a freelance reporter for various international news organisations”.
Listen also to the Irish Times’s podcast in which Hugh Linehan explored the issue and La Roc was interviewed again. He was put under genuine pressure about claims in the book and his answers cast great doubt over his book’s authenticity.
Roy Greenslade is professor of journalism at City University, and was editor of the Daily Mirror from 1990-91