Michael Benneman Sams
Murder, kidnapping, extortion
Michael Benneman Sams (born 11 August 1941) is an English kidnapper, extortionist and murderer. He kidnapped Julie Dart in July 1991 and later murdered her after she tried to escape. He subsequently kidnapped Stephanie Slater in January 1992, eventually releasing her after payment of a ransom. According to Slater, she was raped during her imprisonment.
After he was convicted and imprisoned, Sams continued to commit offences, attacking a female probation officer. He also became notorious for his attempts to sue the prison, first for losing his artificial leg, and then because his bed was too hard.
Sams was born and brought up in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire. He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 20. After three years he returned to Keighley and worked as a lift engineer, graduating to become a central heating engineer, later setting up his own company. However, Sams turned to crime and was first imprisoned in 1976 for stealing a car and making a false insurance claim. While in prison, Sams was diagnosed with a cancer that led to the amputation of one of his legs. After his release, his business suffered difficulties, and he sold it, going to work for the Black & Decker company. He later started a new business in the 1980s, selling power tools.
Sams was married three times. He had two sons by his first wife, but the marriage broke down shortly before he was sent to prison for the first time. His second marriage also ended in divorce. At the time of his arrest for the kidnappings he lived in Sutton on Trent, Nottinghamshire with his third wife.
On 9 July 1991, Sams drove to a local red-light area and picked up a prostitute named Julie Dart, an 18-year-old Leeds resident. She was blindfolded and taken to Sams' warehouse where she was placed in a coffin-like box and chained to the floor. According to Sams' later confession, during the night, Dart attempted to escape, smashing her way out of the box, but she was unable to get out of the room. Sams, who had wired an alarm to the box, returned to chain her to a roof beam. The following day, he forced her to write a letter to her boyfriend demanding a ransom of £140,000, or "the hostage would never be seen again". He also made her write other notes. He then killed her after the notes were written, smashing her head with a hammer. Nine days later he dumped her body in a field in Easton, Lincolnshire.
Since it was never likely that Dart's ransom would be paid, it has been suggested that Sams always intended to kill her. Paul Britton, a clinical psychologist who advised the detectives who interviewed Sams, argues that he abducted a prostitute because it would be relatively easy and was good "practice". It would also not create too much of "a stir". By killing her and leaving her body where it would easily be found, he would "convince the police that he was to be regarded as a serious adversary" and intimidate his next victims into paying up. McGredy-Hunt, however, notes that he continued to demand ransom for several days after Dart's death, only dumping her body (initially hidden in a wheely bin) after the smell became difficult to conceal.
Sams continued to send messages to the police. One stated "prostitutes are easy to pick up, and I won't spend any more time in prison for killing two instead of one." He later claimed to have kidnapped another prostitute, but police could find no evidence that any had gone missing. Sams also sent messages stating he would intentionally cause a train crash unless he was paid a ransom. He also attempted to blackmail supermarkets by threatening to poison food.
Some months later, on 22 January 1992, Sams kidnapped again. Using a false name, he arranged to meet Stephanie Slater, an estate agent, ostensibly to view a property in Turnberry Road, Great Barr, Birmingham. At the property he attacked her, tied her up, and then took her to his warehouse. Sams again demanded a ransom, this time from Slater's manager at the estate agency. When it was paid, Sams released Slater. Given his previous crime, police had expected the kidnapper to kill Slater. They hoped to stop him by following him after he picked up the ransom, but Sams had anticipated this, and devised an elaborate scheme to give them the slip, which was successful.
Interviewed in 2013 on BBC Radio 4's One to One programme, Slater said that for eight days she was held, handcuffed, legs bound, blindfolded and gagged, in a "coffin" inside a wheelie bin laid horizontally. Sams had told her she would be electrocuted if she tried to move. Slater said that when she was allowed out of the coffin for food, she chatted about herself to Sams, "to humanise" herself and to increase her chances of survival. Within 12 hours of her release, she was made to face a press conference, even though she was still drugged and highly distressed. Police later acknowledged that this was an error of judgement.
On the TV show Crimewatch, the police made public a tape recording of the kidnapper's voice, which was recognised by Sams' first wife. Sams was arrested, and forensic evidence was gathered of his responsibility for Dart's murder. He was convicted in July 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Dart and the abduction of Slater. Positively identified by Slater, Sams admitted the kidnapping, but denied the murder charge in court. He confessed to the crime in prison three days after he was found guilty. Out of the £175,000 ransom that was paid for the release of Slater, Police located £150,000 buried in a field by using Ground-Penetrating Radar. The remaining £25,000 was never recovered.
Following her release, Slater felt unable to return to work as an estate agent, and moved to the Isle of Wight in 1993. She subsequently worked with police forces to advise them on how to deal with kidnap survivors, and with the survivors themselves, to help them to recover from their ordeals. She died on 31 August 2017, aged 50, from cancer.
Sams continued to offend after he was imprisoned, attacking a female probation officer with a metal spike. He received an addition of eight years to his term for this act.
He was awarded £4,000 damages when the prison service lost his artificial leg when moving him from one prison to another. The award caused considerable public outrage. He also brought a civil case because he believed that his prison bed was too hard. A further complaint was that he was unfairly held in solitary confinement leading to a loss of earnings, and that works of art he had painted in prison had gone missing.
Sams made the news again in April 2007 when, in a letter to Inside Time, a newspaper for prisoners, he claimed that "OAPs in prison are far better off than those in the community."
He was 65 years old by this stage, and a decade later remains in prison, having served 25 years of his life sentence. No recommended minimum term was reported at his trial, and it is unknown whether any Home Secretary or High Court judge subsequently ruled how many years Sams must serve before he can be considered for parole. Now aged 76, he is now among the oldest and long-serving life sentence prisoners in England and Wales.
In her 1995 book about her ordeal, Beyond Fear: My Will to Survive, Slater wrote that Sams raped her on the first night of her imprisonment. After her release, she had denied that she had been raped. She later said that this was to spare her mother, who had a heart condition, from unnecessary further anguish. Sams said that he had never raped Slater, asserting "I cannot allow this to go unchallenged". He made the unsubstantiated claim that they had a consensual affair. He attempted to sue her for libel, but lost the case.
Crime writer Christopher Berry-Dee, in Unmasking Mr. Kipper: Who Really Killed Suzy Lamplugh?, has put forth the case that Sams killed estate agent Suzy Lamplugh in 1986, but this has been dismissed by police.
In 1997 a dramatisation of Slater's book, titled Beyond Fear, was broadcast on the opening night of the new Channel 5. Adapted by Don Shaw, it was directed by Jill Green, with Gina McKee as Slater, and Sylvester McCoy as Sams.