Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast #21 - Canal Killers - Michael Walsh, Paul Williams & Daniel Hastie (Sebastiano Magnanini)
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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
EPISODE TWENTY ONE
Episode Twenty One: On the evening of Tuesday 22nd September 2015, Italian tour-guide and English teacher Sebastiano Magnanini was last seen alive walking by King’s Cross Station. Two days later, his decomposing body was found dead in the Regent’s Canal, having been tied to a shopping trolley. But what happened?
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IMPORTANT: You're probably thinking, "hello, where's all those lovely coloured dots on the map gone?" Don't worry, there still there, but that was the Murder Mile map of one square mile of Soho & Covent Garden, where-as this is a brand-new map of King's Cross, Euston & Islington; a different square mile of London's West End, which we shall return to over the next 100+ episodes.
21 – Canal Killers Part 1 – Sebastiano Magnanini
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode twenty one of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast.
We’re back; same music, same intro, same host, but no waffle, no wittering and no dyslexic stutter (courtesy of some rather nifty editing), after weeks bent double with my mouth-agog and eyes wide like saucepan lids, researching like buggery on a bum-numbing seat in the National Archives, to bring you a brand new slew of rarely told murder cases from London’s West End.
Right now, I’m knee deep in autopsy reports, crime-scene photos and witness statements using the original declassified police investigation files to prepare for you an original four-part special on the London’s little known spree-killer - The Blackout Ripper; a sadistic homicidal maniac who stalked the dark-lit streets of Soho; slashing, ripping and slaughtering his terrified victims, and yet, the true-story of the Blackout Ripper remains largely untold. Expect it in your ear-holes soon.
Before that, we’re opening with the first of our new four-part specials, and focussing on a place north of Soho, on the fringes of the West End; it’s the place where I live, write and record the Murder Mile true-crime podcast, and a place that many Londoners don’t even know exists… the canal.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to the end of this episode to hear more about Murder Mile’s recommended podcast of the week, this time it’s the fabulous Texas-based true-crime podcast - All Crime, No Cattle.
Thank you for listening and enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is about Sebastiano Magnanini; a lovable, fun-loving and colourful character who died in mysterious circumstances, but whose life and death left the police scratching their heads.
Murder Mile contains grisly details which may offend, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 21: Canal Killers Part 1: Sebastiano Magnanini.
Today I’m on my canal-boat; a lovely red & green fifty-foot steel vessel, which is my office by day, my bed by night and my cosy little home since I flicked the v’s to corporate slavery and embraced creative freedom. Right now, I’m chugging along at a brisk three miles-per-hour; the sun dappling the water, the soothing waves tickling the towpath, as perched at the stern is me, with the ship’s tiller in one hand, a cup of tea in the other, and the wind lightly ruffling my few remaining hair follicles, as the soft growl of the engine merrily jiggles my gut, butt and man-boobs. Ah, life is good.
Oh look, there’s a coot. Ah look, a family of swans. Oh wow, a cormorant diving for fish amongst the carp, perch and pikes. And over there, an otter playing with… what looks like… a brown trout. Urgh! And above, a flock of seagulls… (seagull noises, plopping) ah you bastards, go shit on your own boat.
And as I chug along the Regent’s Canal, at the back of King’s Cross Station, I pass a line of moored-up boats; with log-fires burning, a stew on the stove, and a reclining on his plastic pleasure craft amusingly adorned with pirate flags is beardy man in a hi-viz vest smoking a giant spliff. I call to him, “Hello my boaty brethren” (man replies “ah, get f**ked”). Ah yes, this is the life (and “wanker”).
Okay, there may be the odd smattering of crime; the occasional weekly stabbing, daily mugging and the sporadic hourly break-in, with the dark-lit towpath littered with zonked out druggies, lip-wiping rent-boys and gangs of strutting rude-boys grabbing the crotch of their grey terry-towelling tracksuits (like they’ve just ram-raided a branch of Mothercare and forgot to nab a lotion for their nappy-rash)
But on the water itself? It’s fine. The worst that will happen is your boat’s bottom may scrape against a myriad of dumped bits and bobs, such as; builder’s rubble, car-parts, stolen bikes, shopping trolleys, bank safes, WW2 bombs, handguns and grenades, and sometimes clunk against the decomposing corpse of a dead cat, a dead dog, a dead fox, and – occasionally - a dead man. On Thursday 24th September 2015, I heard such a clunk; but little did I know what it was, or even who. (INTERTSTITIAL).
46 year old Italian Sebastiano Magnanini, known by his friends as “Seb”, was a gregarious, fun-loving and free-spirited man, with an infectious smile and an honest charm, who walked without a care in the world, and had lived the kind of life that most people can only dream of.
Being fluent in Italian, English, Spanish and even Khmer (the official language of Cambodia), as the oldest of two boys born to Italian parents in Cannaregio, the northern district of Venice, young Seb was a restless boy who was eager to see the world, meet new people and seek out adventure.
After a faltering start as he struggled to find his feet, Seb found work as a tour guide in Cambodia, where he was described by his employer as one of the best and the most studious. Being multi-lingual, he taught English in Colombia, Cambodia and Thailand. And as a budding song-writer and guitarist, Seb’s passion for music and uncanny knack at carpentry led to him developing a second-string to his bow rigging sets for theatres and concert venues, including Prince’s gigs at Koko in Camden.
Many people dream of seeing the world, but Seb had been there, he’d done that and (unsurprisingly) he’d got all the t-shirts. But by 2015, being an unmarried man in his mid-forties, with no savings, no pension and no assets, Seb felt it was time to grow-up, settle down and provide a stable home for his beloved daughter. In August 2015, having led a colourful life (including a brief criminal past for which he served his time, paid the price and dedicated the next twenty years to turning over a new leaf and finding inner peace), Seb returned to London to embark on a fledgling career in journalism, as here was a man with responsibilities and a wealth of fascinating stories to tell.
And as upbeat, joyous and caring as Seb was, he also had a dark-side; as he was a man wracked with an all-consuming addiction which he had attempted to distract with adventure. But now, back in London, living a life a little less exciting, in a city surrounded by sin, Seb succumbed to his demons, as he set off in search of his next fix… of heroin.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 22nd September 2015, Sebastiano Magnanini waved goodbye to his work colleagues in South-West London, and as always, being in good spirits, with a spring in his step and whistling a little ditty on his ever-smiling lips, Seb hopped on the Northern Line train, arrived at Euston by 4:50pm, his every movement captured on security cameras, as he headed towards King’s Cross.
It made perfect sense that Seb would come here; as a kind and giving man with a big personality, an even bigger heart, and his generosity was well known amongst the homeless community. But on this night, he wasn’t here to help the homeless, he was here to feed his habit, and as he approached Caledonian Road, a busy city street just off the Regent’s Canal, he stepped into the darkness and out of view of the cameras forever.
Just three years earlier, whilst staying at Camden’s Arlington House homeless hostel, Seb overdosed on heroin. He almost died. He was lucky to survive. And this should have been the wake-up call he needed to rid himself of his deadly addiction, but Seb would always be haunted by the lure of drugs.
It was Seb’s secret life that he kept well hidden; never smoking it at home for fear of being discovered, never injecting it on the street for fear of arrest, and having burned too many bridges with friend’s who he’d assured he had quit, seeing no other option, Seb would shoot-up in a stranger’s house.
That evening, as Seb walked along Caledonian Road; a street rife with robbery, burglary, gang violence, shootings and stabbings having taken the lives of the guilty and the innocent, Seb’s addiction saw no fear, only a hunger for heroin, on this stretch of road was a notorious pick-up point for Camden’s drug-pushers. As Luke Allen, his close friend would later state “That’s the lowest rung. He shouldn’t have been there”. But it was there, on that night, that Sebastiano Magnanini would meet a drug-dealer who would end his addiction forever. His name was Michael Walsh (INTERSTITIAL).
Strolling down the brightly lit gloom of Caledonian Road, over the smoky hue of the Regent’s Canal where just five hundred feet and two days later Seb’s decomposing corpse would be found, the two men walked, looking as dissimilar as two heroin addicts could.
46 year old Seb; a tanned and toned Italian with a trimmed beard, a joyous smile, a sense of style and a characterful face etched with lifetime of fun, love and laughter. And 41 year old Michael Walsh; with bloodshot eyes, a hollow joyless face and the putty-white doughy complexion of a hard-core junkie, whose life has been spent cooking-up, shooting-up and zonking-out.
After just a five minute walk, both men turned right onto Wharfdale Road and entered Walsh’s flat. The following details of what happened that night are based on unreliable, spurious and drug-addled sources, so exactly what happened may never be known.
Sat in Michael Walsh’s dingy flat, in an unnamed house on an unspecified part of Wharfdale Road, Seb began to feed his overpowering addiction with a deadly cocktail of alcohol, cannabis, heroin and crack cocaine.
Four drugs, in one body, with four very different effects; the alcohol being a stimulant which increased his heart-rate, blood flow and sense of wellbeing but decreased his balance, his moral code and his sense of danger; the cannabis being an anti-depressant, filled him with feelings of warmth, love and relaxation (as he sat in this stranger’s flat), but slowly drained him of his energy, his memory and his ability to stay awake; the heroine being a Class A stimulant sent an instant rush of pleasure to his brain’s opioid receptors, flushing his skin in a warm tingly bath (like he was being cocooned in a soft sleeping-bag of marshmallow), leaving Seb feeling that nothing could touch him, nothing could harm him. And with his pleasure heightened, his emotions Increased and his pain sensors blocked, with his heart heavy, his breathing slow and his limbs like lead weights, the effects of the first three drugs were off-set by a fourth; crack cocaine, another class A stimulant, with an intense high and a rapid low, which sunk Seb into an extreme depression, followed by bouts of paranoia, aggression, hostility, muscle spasms and convulsions, the effects of which could only be remedied by another hit.
Four drugs, in one body, all fighting against each other; with extreme highs and lows of love and anger, calm and chaos, euphoria and depression. But these were the minor effects of this lethal chemical concoction which can also cause nausea, vomiting, itching, confusion, paranoia and hallucinations, dropping the user’s heart rate and breathing to such a life-threatening level, that they risk heart attacks, stroke, seizures, coma, brain damage and even death.
Of course, as Seb was a seasoned drug-user, his 46 year old body was used to this chemical abuse, and having overdosed before, he wouldn’t make the same mistake again, not now he was older, wiser and was a man with grown-up responsibilities; a job, a home and a daughter. So cocooned in heroin sleeping bag, his addiction sated, Seb’ fell asleep on the sofa and drifted far away to dreamland.
But the comfort of his dream-like state was in stark contrast to the reality that Seb was in. As being immobile, unaware and unconscious, trapped in the dank, dark and dingy flat of a desperate drug-abuser, whose habit was only momentarily subdued by those quick hits of crack cocaine and heroin, and now – itching, shaking and angry - Michael Walsh needed more.
In court, Walsh would later state that the ever-generous Seb’ had given this stranger his wallet, his money and his credit cards, and (in his intoxicated and comatose state) had asked Walsh his new found-friend to nip to the bank, withdraw some cash and score them both some more drugs. Of course, whether that is true, only two people actually know… and one of those would soon be dead.
Paranoid at the risk of this theft being discovered, Walsh roped in 22 year old Daniel Hastie; an autistic friend and a rough-sleeper, who on many occasions had slept in Euston Station and knew of Seb’s warmth, kindness and generosity amongst London’s homeless, but being hungry, cold and easily led by an older man, Hastie was lured in with the promise of money, food, warmth and a new tracksuit and trainers. Over the next 18 hours, having forged his signature, Walsh & Hastie withdrew £1,690 (almost the entire contents of Seb’s account) as he slept solidly and soundly.
Giddy with their good fortune and weighed down with their new purchases of food, drink, drugs and fancy footwear, a little after lunchtime on Wednesday 23rd September 2015, Walsh & Hastie returned to the Wharfdale Road flat, to slip Seb’s much-lighter wallet back into his pocket, as if nothing had happened. But sometime during the night, something had happened.
Seb’ was still lying on the sofa; he was still, he was silent and he was cold.
His tanned olive complexion was ominously pale. His lips had a blue-ish hue, as around his gaping mouth, on the sofa and floor, puddles of concealed vomit had pooled. His once-twinkling brown eyes were wide open, the pupils fixed like tiny pin-points of darkness. And his lifeless body was contorted into an agonising shape of convulsions, as stroke, seizures and heart-failure had taken his life.
As 46 year old Sebastiano Magnanini lay there, dead, on the sofa of a known drug-dealer, with a long history of theft to fund his all-consuming habit, Walsh began to panic.
Seb was dead, and Walsh had no idea what to do.
Not having a garden or spades, he couldn’t bury him. Not having a car, he couldn’t drive him to a morgue. And not wanting the Police involved, he couldn’t call for an ambulance. So taking another quick hit of crack to calm his nerves, which quickly caused his paranoia to spiral, Walsh roped in 64 year old Paul Williams, another homeless friend with the promise of money, food and Class A drugs.
They needed to dump the body; somewhere near, somewhere quick and somewhere accessible. In a sprawling metropolis like London, they had just one option - the canal.
Stealing a shopping trolley from the local branch of Tesco Metro, Walsh & Williams loaded Seb’s fifteen stone corpse into its silver-wired frame; secured his wrists, ankles and neck with duct-tape, squeezed his contorted body into the foetal position (his arms, legs and head, tucked tightly into his chest), and having weighed down the trolley with dumb-bells to ensure that it would sink; they covered the corpse with a simple bed-sheet, and waited for the right moment to leave.
At roughly 4:55am, on Thursday 24th September 2015; Walsh & Williams exited the flat on Wharfdale Road, turned left and pushed the overloaded trolley towards Caledonian Road; a brightly-lit city-street which (even at this ungodly hour) is regularly patrolled by the Police and screened by CCTV.
But then again, in an area such as King’s Cross; which is synonymous with drugs, theft and poverty, what’s so suspicious about two homeless looking men pushing a shopping trolley full of bedding? Nothing. Nothing at all.
And yet, the disposal of the corpse of Sabastiano Magnanini wouldn’t be as simple as a quick trip to the canal, as with the overloaded trolley having a wonky wheel, the streets full of inclines, the paths full of broken paving stones, very few kerbs having ramps and with nearest stretch of the canal often filled with long lines of narrowboats, full of sleeping but easily awoken occupants, Walsh & Williams needed a place which was dark, shadowy and secluded, and had to wheel this trolley of death left up Caledonian Road and right along to Islington Tunnel, a full half a mile along brightly-lit roads full of residential houses, a perilous journey which took almost 20 minutes.
At 5:15am, having unsteadily wheeled the wonky trolley down a sharply declining slope towards the unlit towpath of the Regent’s Canal, Walsh & Williams stopped at the entrance to the West Portal of the Islington Tunnel; a dead-end shrouded in trees and shadows, and a dark gaping hole out of the sight of prying eyes.
And with no prayers, no grace and no care given; the body of Sebastiano Magnanini was dumped into a watery grave, cast into the canal like a stolen bike, as Walsh & Williams fled; his friends unaware of his death, his family unaware he was missing, and his few remaining savings used to feed the drug-habit of a desperate junkie. A sad burial for a good man who had lost a long battle with his evil demons.
At 8am, a few hours later, eager to chug from Islington to Little Venice in a 3 hour trip consisting of three and a half miles, four locks and six cups of tea (well, I am British), I set off into the cold, dank and dark gloom of the East Portal of the Islington Tunnel; a tight mile-long tube of stone illuminated by a single headlight and a tiny pin-point of daylight way in the distance.
After thirty minutes of shadows, solitude and a steady drip from above, as I approached the entrance to the West Portal of the Islington Tunnel, something scraped along the underside of my boat, slowly creeping near the rear where I stood, and looking down into the inky water to spy the origin of the rough metallic scraping underneath, as my eyes adjusted to the light…
…I sneezed, “atchoo”…
…both eyes shut, blinded by the morning sun, distracted by an urgent need for tissues, and with the canal being a thick murky soup of mud and silt from two days of rain and speckled with a light drizzle, the scraping had stopped, I saw nothing and carried on; unaware, unfazed and oblivious.
I guess I was lucky. As seeing something that horrific, that shocking, in such a tranquil setting could scar a person for life. But barely an hour later, with the drizzle having stopped and the low sun hitting the water at a sharp angle, whilst taking his morning walk along the towpath, an Australian tourist and his seven year old daughter saw the metallic glint of a shopping trolley, the bed-sheet having slipped.
Having roped off the scene, questioned the residents and erected a bright yellow tent for forensics, Detectives from New Scotland Yard fished-out from the canal the bloated and decaying body of an unknown man; with no name, no ID and no wallet. But with his body being as colourful as his life, Police issued a description of his distinctive tattoos; a carp on his torso, a lizard on his shoulder and a few small tattoos on his fingers. That day, Sebastiano Magnanini was claimed by his distraught family.
Naturally, the press smelling the stench of the salacious story of a mysterious man who’d been hogtied to a trolley and dumped in the canal was too good to miss, but the second that Chief Inspector Rebecca Reeves stated “His past in Italy has been taken into consideration, since we are at the initial stage of the investigation…”, the press started to froth at the mouth, their feverish brains going into theory overdrive, and entirely ignored Chief Inspector Reeve’s caveat that “…but at present we do not believe that the crime can be traced back to organized crime".
No! There was dirt to be dug, and the press started digging.
What they found was this: On the 14th December 1993, 23 year old Seb’, along with two cash-strapped chums stole an 18th-century painting, The Education of the Virgin by the Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the church of Santa Maria della Fava in his hometown of Venice. Having badly bungled the job by bringing the wrong tools, the hapless trio necked back a few beers, toked on a few joints, and returned to the church. Eventually stealing the 2bn lire painting (worth about £1m), but unsure who to sell it to, or how to hide the three metre by two metre canvas? They stashed it in a farmhouse and they were later arrested, with Seb’ serving 18 months for theft.
Obviously being Italian, even those British bastions of supposedly quality journalism (the Guardian, the Independent and the Telegraph) drooled over these delicious details and emblazoned every article with the revelation that this may be a either revenge killing, an underworld connection, or a possible mafia hit. But the autopsy proved otherwise.
Sebastiano Magnanini had died of the acute toxic effects of heroin, cocaine, cannabis and alcohol in his system. In January 2016, after CCTV showed Walsh & Walliams pushing the weighty trolley along Caledonian Road, and Walsh & Hastie withdrawing money from the bank; Walsh, Williams and Hastie were arrested and plead guilty. But not to murder, manslaughter, or even 2nd degree manslaughter?
On the 5th February 2016, 41 year old Michael Walsh and 64 year old Paul Williams were charged with the lesser offense of “preventing the unlawful burial of a body”, and were sentenced to serve four years and two years a piece, with 22 year old Daniel Hastie serving twelve months for “conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation”.
And having concluded that the death of Sebastiano Magnanini was an "accidental overdose", with most of the evidence having washed away, the DNA traces unusable and his body badly decomposed, many details of this case are a mystery. And yet, one detail in particular remains unresolved; if Seb’s death was an accident, why was he found with a broken nose and a “blunt force trauma” to the head? Did he fall over whilst intoxicated? Was he dropped whilst his body was being disposed of? Or was this sweet-natured man with £1900 in the bank, violently assaulted by a desperate drug-addict with an addiction to feed? That… we shall never know.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
If you’re looking for a new podcast, this week is the absolutely brilliant and also one of my personal favourites, the Texas based true-Crime podcast called All Crime, No Cattle; hosted Shae and Erin, All Crime, No Cattle deep-dives into the murky world of the Lone Star State’s darkest killers, with each episode packed to the brim with juicy details, solid research and is neatly balanced by an honest compassion for the victims, a heartfelt sympathy for their situation and a fantastic chemistry between both hosts. It really is a treat, so check it All Crime, No Cattle. Yeehaw! (PLAY PROMO)
Don’t forget to check out the Murder Mile website at murdermiletours.com, find us on Twitter or Instagram, or join the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast discussion group on Facebook.
A quick thank you this week to some fabulous people who have left reviews of Murder Mile and have been truly fabulous on social media, they include; Erin Nichols, Elizabeth Lowdell, Erin Fleming, Beth MacKenzie, Jennifer Sievers, Dale Pennycuick, Hannah Mirza, Stephanie Kunz, Niesha Kennedy Robinson, Kelly Palmer, Venessa Chapa Humfield, Esther Amrandarizx Ludlow, Shaw Maloney, Paula Coll, Ronnie Ball, Charlie Worroll, Robin Warder, Jennifer O’Dell, Kathryn Spenser Cook, Skunz18, LaurieK1 and Zimbellina13.
If I’ve missed you, I apologise, feel free to buzz me saying “Oi!”, and if you’ve reviewed me recently, these podcast are recorded two weeks before they’re released, so your thank you may take a while to filter through. But to everyone who listens, thank you.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name.
Next week’s episode… is part two of our canal killing series, this time featuring the mysterious death, disappearance and disposal of Marta Ligman.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, therefore mistakes will be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken. It is not a full representation of the case, the people or the investigation in its entirety, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity and drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, therefore it will contain a certain level of bias to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by Kai Engel, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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