A to Z Challenge: N (serial killers)

Donald Neilson — Black Panther

Fast Facts:

  • Born Donald Nappey in 1936, died in 2011 in England
  • Killed 4 people during robberies and 1 during a botched kidnapping
  • Was caught when police spotted him acting suspiciously near a post office (a favourite of his to rob)
  • Charged with 4 murders, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, robbery, kidnapping and firearm possession
  • He was convicted and handed 5 life sentences

Neilson was born Donald Nappey and by all accounts had a relatively normal childhood, apart from some bullying because of his surname. He married and had a daughter whose birth drove him to change his surname so she wouldn’t be bullied.

His wife talked him into giving up his army career. He tried a few jobs, unsuccessfully. To help his income he began breaking into houses. Even though his burglaries numbered in the hundreds, he didn’t have the money he wanted and he moved onto the armed robbery of post offices, robbing at least 19 over 7 years.

After a non-fatal shooting at one of the robberies, Neilson’s criminal behaviour worsened, resulting in the death of the postmaster at a robbery two years later. By this time his practice of wearing a dark coloured balaclava had earned him the name “The Black Panther”. After this more postal workers were killed during his robberies. However, the lack of media attention and the low return from the robberies left Neilson dissatisfied.

Neilson decided kidnapping would bring better success so chose a 17 year old heiress. He kidnapped her, leaving instructions for the ransom. The girl’s family notified police which led to a media leak resulting in a missed ransom call. Further bungling meant another two ransom deliveries were unsuccessful. Furious, Neilson killed the heiress.

At the same time, he robbed a freight train terminal during which was another fatality. Forensic evidence linked the terminal robbery to the post office crimes. A week later, the stolen getaway car was discovered with tape recordings of the kidnapping instructions inside, linking all Neilson’s crimes.

He was arrested after police spotted him acting suspiciously near a post office and he pulled a gun on them. After questioning, Neilson confessed to the robberies, although he claimed the death of the kidnap victim was an accident.

He was charged with 4 murders, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, robbery, kidnapping and firearm possession. The murder charge for the security guard couldn’t be brought as he survived for over a year and a day, even though his death was a direct cause of the attack (the laws in the UK have since been changed to prevent this from happening again).

Neilson was found guilty of all but two charges (both attempted murder). He was handed 5 life sentences with no parole.


11 comments on “A to Z Challenge: N (serial killers)

  1. You know, people like this never figure out that they are taking a lot more trouble robbing than they would if they just got a job. And even if the aim is to make a lot more money than just by working, you’d think this man would take his family and run off somewhere tropical with lots of tourist facilities…
    Criminals are DUMB!

    Aussie Children’s Writers – N is for Garth Nix


  2. I’ve never heard of Neilson and I never knew the name Black Panther was also linked to someone so evil, not just a Marvel superhero.

  3. Criminals are so DUMB! If you’re going to rob a place with lots of money, why not just go off somewhere and enjoy it? Why commit murder? This man doesn’t seem very bright.

    Aussie Children’s Writer: N is for Garth Nix


  4. I can easily imagine that the three botched ransom demands from the kidnapping would send this guy over the edge. I imagine he was like me when I buy a lottery ticket, spending the money in advance, convinced it’s a sure thing. Fortunately, my experience is just a bit of wishful thinking and daydreaming and there are no negative results when I inevitably don’t win. Too bad Donald kept upping the ante, taking his tantrum to a new and horrific level.

  5. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but compared to many other individuals you’re presenting here, this one strikes me as relatively harmless. His career was – just like Buster’s – post robbery. He should have just stuck with that.


    • Tamara, it’s true he’s a little different. He wasn’t killing because that was his thing, but because it tied in with his robbery/extortion attempt. After some of the kill numbers we’ve seen with previous serial killers his is very low!

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