Freed from hospital to kill his third girlfriend

by Peter Stubley

Serial killer Theodore Johnson began a relationship with his third victim while on unescorted leave from a secure hospital to study furniture restoration

Johnson, 64, was still serving his sentence for strangling a former partner and was still on licence when he met mother-of four Angela Best at a City and Guilds course.

Johnson also had another previous conviction for killing his former wife by pushing her off a ninth floor balcony.

When he was finally discharged from hospital it was under the condition that he notify supervisors of any relationship and that any partner might be notified of his convictions.

But he did not revealed that he was seeing Ms Best and she remained unaware of his past until just weeks before her death when she found letters revealing Johnson had killed a previous partner.

The 51 year-old grandmother was battered and strangled to death at Johnson’s home in north London in December last year after she started seeing another man.

Johnson pleaded guilty to the murder of Ms Best and was jailed for life.

Angela Best

He was living with his wife Yvonne Johnson and their two young children at a flat in Wolverhampton when he lost his temper during an argument on 18 May 1981.

Johnson hit her with a glass vase and pushed her off the balcony of the ninth floor flat.

He was jailed for just three years at Stafford Crown Court on 4 November 1981 after jurors cleared him on murder and convicted her of the lesser charge on the basis of provocation.

Johnson moved from Wolverhampton to London with the second victim Yvonne Bennett in 1986.

Ms Bennett, who worked at an old people’s home, ended the relationship in 1992 after he became violent and she started seeing another man.

On 20 September that year he strangled her with a belt during a row at her flat in Fallowfield, Six Acres Estate, Finsbury Park.

Johnson then tried to hang himself from a tree but failed after the string he used snapped.

He admitted manslaughter again on 5 March 1993 after pleading guilty at the Old Bailey on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Doctors concluded he was depressed and had a personality disorder and he was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order under sections 37 and 41 of the Mental Health Act.

Johnson was first given escorted leave from hospital in September 1994 and then unescorted leave from mid 1995.

His first application to the mental health tribunal for conditional discharge was refused on 10 May 1996.

He was discharged on 30 October 1997 on condition he reside in a halfway house, attend all appointments with medical staff and social workers and disclose any relationship with a woman.

Prosecutor Mark Heywood told the court: ‘By then Theodore Johnson had been in a relationship with Angela Best for about a year or so.

‘It began in 1996 during his unescorted release from secure accommodation, two days a week during a City and Guilds course in furniture restoration which is where he met Angela Best.

‘He never once reported he had any relationship with any women, making no mention at any point of Ms Best.’

Johnson was described by Ms Best’s children as abusive and controlling and he once punched her after she found out he had cheated on her.

Their relationship finally ended in the autumn 2016 and she started seeing Ronald Emmanuel in September 2016.

She was described by her daughter Simone as ‘the happiest I have ever seen her’.

When Johnson saw the pair together in Tottenham High Road in November 2016, he pulled up in his car and shouted: ‘Is that the guy you’re running around with?’

In the two weeks before the murder, he increased his efforts to get her back and appeared to be trying to gain her attention by failing to take care of himself. He also repeatedly turned up at her home in Forster Road, Tottenham.

On 14 December she told her daughter that she was going to see Johnson the next day to accompany him to an appointment at the Jamaican embassy.

Johnson left a series of voicemail messages asking if she was coming round to his flat the next day.

At 10.54pm he said: ‘Just let me know if you’re coming man. I’m gonna go to my (inaudible) if you’re not coming.’

The next morning at 7.14pm he left another message: ‘Just wanna see if you’ve woken up, see you later, bye.’

Ms Best used her Oyster card to catch two buses to Johnson’s home, and phoned him during the journey at 9.04am.

She is thought to have arrived at around 9.20am and later that morning Ms Best’s son Fabian Collins tried to ring her and got no answer.

Johnson’s car was captured on CCTV driving on the A10 towards Cheshunt station at 1.30pm.

At around 3.23pm Johnson dived in front of a train at Cheshunt railway station but survived despite losing his right arm and his left forearm.

When police went round to his home in Dartmouth Park Hill, Upper Holloway, that evening they found the body of Ms Best lying on her back next to the sofa.

There was a dressing gown belt tied twice around her neck and a bloodstained silver metal hammer was lying on top of a rug.

Examination of the scene of the killing found blood on the wall directly above Ms Best’s head in the living room. A crushed lamp lay on a chair next to the door. A smashed mobile phone lay in pieces on the floor and a table.

A pathologist found the cause of death was external neck compression by ligature strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head from at least six impacts to the head.

Mr Heywood said: ‘That attack was brutal and merciless.

‘He used a claw hammer to strike her repeatedly about the head even as she tried to protect herself with her hands.

‘He then took a cord from a dressing gown in the bedroom and returned to the living room to tie it around her neck and tightened it and so caused her death.

‘He did it for a simple reason, because after all that time she was no longer prepared to remain with him.

‘She had recently met another man and began a new chapter in her life.

‘The defendant was not prepared to live with that or without her.’

Johnson was arrested on 19 January 2017 while being treated at the Royal London Hospital.



Angela Best family  arrive at the Old Bailey
L to R: Valerie (sister) Josephine (mother) and Lorraine (sister)

Johnson had two children with his first victim, wife Yvonne Johnson, and a young daughter with his second, Yvonne Bennett.

He worked for a local car repairers, JTS Motors in Garman Road, Tottenham, north London.

Ms Best had four children, all now adults, with two previous partners. When she started her relationship with Johnson she was aged around 26 and he was aged 42.

Her mother Josephine and sisters Valerie and Lorraine sat in court for the sentencing hearing.

Johnson, of Dartmouth Park Hill, Upper Holloway, Islington, north London, pleaded guilty to the murder of Ms Best.

He managed to conceal his long relationship with Angela Best from the authorities despite having ‘feminine wood carvings’ and love letters on display on his mantelpiece, the court heard.

Annette Henry QC, for Johnson, said that the conditions set by the mental health tribunal were ‘fraught with difficulty’.

‘The onus was upon Mr Johnson to tell the authorities he had undertaken any form of relationship.

‘He was being asked on a regular basis and supervised on a regular basis.’

Judge Richard Marks asked: ‘Why, time and time again, when he was seen by those who were supervising him, didn’t he do so?

‘He must have known of the requirement. He deliberately chose to deceive the authorities.’

Miss Henry said: ‘It is perhaps unwise where there can be a relapse of any form of mental illness to put the onus on the individual to self report.

‘The tribunal imposed a condition but they also raised concerns about how this was to be policed and testing what was going on.

‘There were feminine wood carvings and letters of love over the mantelpiece.’

But Miss Henry added: ‘We do not seek to blame.’

The barrister claimed Johnson eventually admitted both killings to Ms Best after she saw a letter referring to one of them weeks before she was murdered.

‘He hates himself for what has happened,’ Miss Henry told the court.

‘He chose not to rely on the psychiatric evidence in support of a defence of diminished responsibility, albeit at a very late stage.

‘He will lead an undoubtedly miserable existence. It is doubtful he will be released alive from any sentence that this court imposed and it is highly likely he will die in prison.’

Johnson is severely disabled and appeared in court in a wheelchair having lost both arms when he threw himself in front of a train after the murder.

Miss Henry said his family worked in farming on a banana plantation in Jamaica and he suffered physical abuse at the hands of his father.

He met his first wife Yvonne Johnson in Jamaica and joined her in the UK in 1980.

She went out to work in a factory while he stayed at home with their children.

During a row he pushed her over the balcony and witnesses heard her screaming and saw her holding on to the edge of the balcony.

She hung there a short time while Johnson watched and did nothing to help until she lost her grip and fell to her death.

Johnson was released from his three year sentence in 1982 or 1983 and soon met the second victim Yvonne Bennett.

They moved to London in 1986 and had a two-and-a-half year old daughter when he strangled her at their home in 1992.

Mr Heywood said the prosecution accepted a plea to diminished responsibility manslaughter based on the medical evidence.

Valerie Archbold, the sister of Angela Best, said in an impact statement read out in court that the family was ‘completely destroyed’ by the murder in December 2016.

‘December 2016 for most families was a time of Christmas celebration, fun and joy.

‘This was not the case for our family. Instead we were informed of the brutal and heinous murder of a much loved daughter, mother, sister, auntie, grandmother, niece, cousin and friend to many.

‘This was our Christmas, identifying the body of our beloved Angela. This was the last time we would see her.

‘It is still so unbelievable. The shock still remains and the loss is traumatising, profound and utterly devastating.

‘We as a family are completely destroyed and broken by the senseless and selfish horrific actions of another.’

Angela’s son Raphael Best said in his statement: ‘She left to go and help this person not knowing it was a trap to take her life.

‘She still cared for that person because she was selfless and didn’t want to see that person’s life go downhill. She didn’t deserve to suffer the way she did.’

Sentencing him to life imprisonment with a minimum of 26 years before he can be released on parole, Judge Richard Marks QC said: ‘This is the third time you have killed a female partner although I accept the two previous convictions were many years ago and resulted in convictions for manslaughter and not murder.

‘Such a situation must be almost unprecedented.’

The judge said Johnson’s lies to supervisors about his relationship with Ms Best were a ‘very significant aggravating factor.’

‘One of the consequences of those lies is the authorities were not in a position to tell Ms Best.

‘It appears by pure chance she did find out you had killed one of your previous partners.

‘I’m told that in the conversation that followed you disclosed you had killed not one but two previous partners.’

The judge described the victim as ‘an exceptional woman’ who only went to Johnson’s house to help him with a passport application to the Jamaican embassy.

‘In my judgement it is highly likely to be the case you became angry about her unwillingness to go back with you and jealousy about her new relationship. You attacked her in a brutal fashion.’

The ‘letters of love’ referred to by Miss Henry in court were in fact carved letters in wood spelling out the word ‘love’.

Johnson muttered to himself as he was led to the cells.

The family of Angela Best said outside court that Theodore Johnson was an ‘evil and calculating’ murderer who had successfully ‘played the system’.

Sister Lorraine Jones, reading a statement on behalf of the family, said: ‘This convicted murderer tried to play the system as he has successfully done twice before.

‘He used diminished responsibility as the cause for his murderous actions.

‘This time however by eventually pleading guilty to murder after twelve months since his arrest and subjecting our family to unnecessary additional trauma he has shown in all cases he was clearly of sound mind.

‘He knew exactly what he was doing when he planned and executed the horrific murder of our beautiful and beloved Angela.

‘Despite our family’s immense pain and suffering our hearts and thoughts go out to the other two families who have also suffered as a result of his evil calculating actions.’

The family added: ‘Angela was an inspiration to everyone who came into contact with her.

‘She was kind, loving and very, very caring. She was always smiling and radiant. It was never any trouble for Angela to offer help and support to someone who needed it because that was her nature.

‘She was the heartbeat of our family.’