When the body of the dog handler Peter Wrighton was found, the police initially assumed that he might have been killed by an animal because his injuries were so severe.
A homicide investigation was opened after an autopsy revealed the terrible injuries – he was stabbed in the face and neck – were caused by a knife.
Investigators were amazed why the 83-year-old, beloved family man had been attacked and called for several public calls for information.
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Hundreds of people offered information, but a call from a psychologist led police to Alexander Palmer, 24, a former Royal Marines commando.
Palmer ambushed the total stranger Mr. Wrighton, a retired BT engineer, when the father of two was taking his dogs for a morning walk near the village of East Harling, Norfolk.
Then he threw his body under blackberries.
(Image: Norfolk Police)
Palmer denied killing Mr Wrighton but was convicted by a jury in Nottingham Crown Court in 2018.
It turned out that Palmer had developed a hatred of dog handlers and claimed to have heard voices in his head.
Mr Justice Goose sentenced him to life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 28 years: “Your crime has been made considerably worse, firstly by the fact that this murder was, to a large extent, planned and deliberate.
Second, the victim was particularly vulnerable because she was 83 years old and alone. Third, the extent of the brutal violence with which you killed him.
“You took a knife and only drove to the scene for the purpose of the murder.”
(Image: Norfolk Police)
The judge added: “You only attacked the deceased when he was walking his dogs. At 83, he was not up to the violence of your attack.”
Mr. Wrighton’s children, Andrew Wrighton and Carol Todd, watched in court as Palmer was brought into the cells.
Palmer’s parents were also in court when he kept saying “I love you” with his mouth.
Defense attorney David Spens QC told the court, “He was suffering from a mental disorder at the time. There is ample evidence that he was psychotic.
“The attack on him by a fellow commanding officer in 2014 seems to have triggered his mental disorder. There was previously no evidence of aggressive behavior.”
Although Palmer is now on prescribed antipsychotic drugs, he was not taking any at the time of the murder, added Mr Spens.
(Image: Norfolk Police)
In a statement released after the conviction, Ms. Todd said her family had been abandoned by psychologists.
She said: “The revelations of the evidence regarding Alexander Palmer’s mental health shocked, amazed and angered us.
“We think this shouldn’t have happened and psychologists have failed him, his family and our family.”
Detective Superintendent Marina Ericson described Palmer of Freesia Way, Cringleford, Norfolk as a “dangerous person.”
Ms. Ericson, who led the murder investigation, said Palmer was “callous and extremely calculated in his approach to Peter’s death.”
(Image: Anders Hanson / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0)
“Crime scene officials first described the incident as an animal attack, and I think that description is still accurate,” she said.
“Palmer is a dangerous person who was really animalistic in his actions.”
It was revealed that Palmer had plans to kill dog walkers by 2015 and told one psychiatrist he would be “on a pedestal with the big guys, everyone would look up to me, everyone would know me by name”.
In 2018, Palmer’s parents said they warned a mental health foundation that he was collecting knives before murdering Mr Wrighton.
It turns out that Palmer had told his GP that he heard voices telling him to hurt people.
Palmer had served in a command regiment but was released in 2015 after his head was “crushed” in a violent attack, his parents said. They said he returned with a “different” person and had multiple diagnoses by several professionals.
His stepfather said, “You talked to him like he was a teenager, not a trained soldier.”
In 2019, Peter Wrighton’s granddaughter said the neglect in caring for Alexander Palmer prior to the murder was “unfathomable”.
A health check revealed weaknesses in handling Palmer’s final nursing episode, including a “lack of clarity” about assigning a nursing coordinator, according to a BBC report.
The health department had been warned by Palmer’s parents that he was collecting knives and not taking his medication.
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Meg Todd said her grandfather’s murder appeared to be “more of a script than real life.”
She told the BBC: “Someone knew they said they wanted to specifically kill dog handlers, (he had) extreme symptoms and the fact that he was clearly dangerous.
“That shocked us most that things weren’t done in response.
“Honestly, it seemed like something out of a movie, like the Zodiac Killer or something.”
Accepting Palmer’s refusal to seek treatment, she added, “There’s only so much you can do with someone who is as bad as they seem.”
A spokesman for the local health fund said he was disappointed and saddened that the family had concerns about the trust.
Before Palmer was convicted of murder, he was held at Rampton Secure Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital in Nottinghamshire.
He is believed to be serving his sentence in Wakefield Prison, a maximum security prison nicknamed the “Monster Mansion” as it holds many high-risk perpetrators and murderers.
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