Why are you writing about Eric Wandless Renton?
Eric was my uncle, and he was my mothers younger brother. He was viciously murdered 25 years ago, when I was just 16. I want to write something in his memory, as a tribute to him. Also, I want to explain about my families background circumstances that led to him being brought up in an orphanage – i.e. his mother died a few days after his birth, and his father, then a lay-preacher, turned to the drink because of the death of his wife. When he was murdered the newspapers have not got the time, or inclination to give these matters the explanations that they deserve, and recently, it was all brought up again in the local media. So it is time to elaborate on the events, and the family background.
What do you remember about the events of 25 years ago?
My uncle, Frank Hughes discovered Eric’s body. Frank was Eric’s brother in law, who had known Eric for decades. Frank got a phone call from an employee of Eric’s supermarket, saying Eric had not arrived for work. This prompted Frank to go to the bungalow with his wife Hilda (my mothers sister). Frank looked through the window first and told Hilda not to come inside. Hilda phoned my mother and initially told her that Eric had passed away. It was a few days later when my mother was told about the grim reality, which was met with numbness and disbelief. Obviously it was a massive shock to everyone. Eric was buried about a month later. Crime Watch publicised some of the items that the murderer stole from Eric’s home, and a member of the public recognised one of the items, a lamp that he had recently bought from the second hand shop, which led the police to catch the killer.
How do you and the family feel about the 25th anniversary of his murder?
I think it is very important for people to realise that whatever Eric’s death was nothing other than the act of a malicious and evil person who had a vicious plan in mind, to inflict on an easy target.
The killer was not provoked. How ridiculous is it if someone (anyone) was so called “provoked” to commit murder, then to start loading their victims TV, Microwave, lamp etc in the car as an after thought to a trauma. The killer had a dagger and a rolling pin in his bag. He stabbed hit Eric with the rolling pin an stabbed him seven times. That is the action of a cold, calculated, ruthless murderer: Malcolm Roberts. It is that action that got him caught – with the help and dedication of the police, Crime Watch, and the public.
What do you remember about the house in Charnock Richard?
It was a nice and tidy place, in a cul-de-sac. I remember his cabinet full of miniature cars, which were expensive collectors items. I can only remember sitting at the dining table, and after eating, we played chess there too.
What sort of person was Mr Wandless Renton?
He was a smart, intelligent man. My brother Michael said he was also “comical”. He was no threat to anybody, and probably couldn’t harm a fly if he tried. He was tall, thin and not at all athletic. His enthusiasm for chess inspired many others to play and compete. Like his father, and his sister Hilda, and her sons Martin and Graham, Eric was tall. Martin said Erik was a big spender. My sister thought he was a bit of a snob, but she did not she met Eric very few times. Also like his father, Erik suffered from chronic bronchitis.
A phrase comes to mind that sometimes “only the good die young”. I think that inspiring people to compete in any activity is commendable, and many people have commended Eric on his participation and contribution to the world of chess.
The many friends Eric made only goes to show what a likable person he was. It was more than just a loss to our family; he will be remembered and missed by many.
Eric had many friends. My mother told me that Eric used to go to Holland to play chess, not least with his friend the legendary Charles Aznavour, who sang “She”. I recently contacted Tom Rose, who was a very close friend of Eric’s. Tom Rose was the first person to win the Eric Wandless Renton memorial Trophy. This is what Tom Rose said about Eric:
“He [Eric] was one of my closest friends. I first met him when I was about 12 years old. Years later he would often call unexpectedly on my wife and I and share a meal.
“Eric was a role model in his enthusiasm, and in actually getting things done, rather than just talking about them or planning them. He did not just arrange for the Chorley tournament to take part (and assisted in getting the Blackpool tournament going) but also pestered people for sponsorship, and tirelessly solicited entries. He knew it was not enough to simply mail entry forms – so wherever he went he would approach players and persuade them to enter. As a result the Chorley tournament had a very large entry and a lot of sponsorship. After his death it fell off markedly.
A lot of people did not know the true Eric. They saw only the slightly eccentric character and his homosexuality (which incidentally was always discreet – and never brought up in the presence of his heterosexual friends. When you got to know him you would discover that he was one of the kindest and most generous souls you could ever hope to meet. Not a day goes by that I do not miss him and remember him with some sadness. His other close friends were Tony Hill (local businessman and owner of Hill’s bakery and retail outlets). Sadly his closest chess friends (Roy Waterhouse, Jack Wolstenholme) died some years ago.
Eric played several chess tournaments in Holland and had many friends amongst Dutch chess players. Some he invited to play at Chorley and arranged accommodation for them with his friends, so when we lived in Chorley we had Dutch visitors staying in our spare room at August bank-holiday time.
He met the great concert pianist Sviatoslav Richter through their mutual friend Roy Waterhouse (a keen amateur pianist) … when Richter played a concert in Manchester in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.”
Why was Eric brought up in an orphanage? What do you remember about your uncle?
It is difficult to say the precise reason, but if you look at the events, the reason seems understandable in the circumstances. Doreen (my mother) was 15 months old and her sister Hilda was about 7 when Eric was born. Their mother, Evelyn, died a few days after giving birth to Eric, which effectively left the father James Luther Wandless, without his beloved wife, but with his two young girls and a new born baby. James Luther Wandless was a Methodist Lay Preacher, and the loss of his wife was too much for him to take. Up until then they never kept alcohol in their house. Loss of his wife was too much and he turned to drink and soon after joined the Army, and survived WW2. After the war James Wandless worked in the foundry at Ferrington, Leyland. He died when he was about 60. We do not know what conversations took place at the time about what was to happen to the children. Evelyn had a sister called Lillian, who was married to Arthur Noblet. They had a daughter called Edna, who still lives in Chorley. Edna’s parents boldly took on the two additional young girls, Doreen and Hilda at their home in Bootle, and effectively raised the three girls. A newborn baby (Eric) may well have been too much to take on, as they would indeed have their hands full with the three girls. Getting help from an orphanage must have been the logical approach, but they never lost contact with Eric. Eric was not abandoned. His father may have even known someone at the orphanage, which made him think that was the best option at the time, rather than trying to care for him by himself when he was devastated by the loss of his wife. We have a photo of Eric and Doreen, when he was just three and a half years old, and what a striking resemblance they have of each other. He looks in good health in all the photos. When the war started Edna and Hilda was old enough to be evacuated to Southport. My mum stayed with Auntie Lil and Uncle Arthur, taking cover in the Bomb shelter in their back yard. A bomb even landed in my mum’s bedroom on Litherland Road in Bootle. When she was five, they moved to Chorley and to begin with, lived in the cellar of a Dentist on Park Road (Teddy Tyrer).
After the war, my mother, Doreen used to go everywhere with her brother Eric when they were in their teens. Though they used to argue quite a bit when they were young, they were also best friends. Doreen used to stick up for Eric, because he was not an aggressive person. Eric said she, my mother, should have been a boy because she was so tough. So when Eric was older, he also stayed at Auntie Lils, and Uncle Arthurs in the summer holidays. Doreen also once stayed with Eric for a week – albeit in the girl’s dormitory – at an orphanage in Frodsham. So we are not aware of Eric complaining about any of his life in an orphanage. No doubt wartime was difficult for everyone, but he turned out to be an educated, well-spoken gentleman, with many intelligent friends.
My brothers, Michael and James Fowler helped Eric move from St Thomas Road to the bungalow in Charnock Richard. I remember visiting Eric once at his Bungalow. He made me a microwave meal and we had a game of chess in his kitchen. I was about 13 years old and had learned how to play not long before then. Eric taught my brother Michael to play chess, and he, and our cousin Martin Hughes used to keep Eric company on his insurance round in the Bacup area.
Eric’s, Doreen’s, and Hilda’s mother and father are buried together at the cemetery in Bootle. Hilda Renton adopted Eric at age 16, and his adopted mother is buried with Eric at Chorley cemetery.
Did you and the family know about your uncles sexuality?
Eric told his sisters a short while before the murder. It was never even thought of, raised, discussed or suggested or implied in any way to me or my brothers – sexuality was not a topic of discussion. My mother, and my cousin Martin and his wife Sandra remembers that Eric did have a girlfriend once, whose father owned many butchers shops near Frodsham, Cheshire. Coincidentally Frodsham is where the orphanage was. Martin and Sandra remembers visiting them at the girls fathers farm, so may be his sexuality was something that changed later in life.
Maybe Eric was not as successful as he would have liked to have been with the ladies in the UK – not an uncommon problem that can affect and change people. I know from personal experience that the ratios of single women to single men in the UK is heavily stacked against men, and I will be writing more articles about that shortly. However, what happens behind closed doors is nobodies business, as long as it is mutual.
Will you and the family be marking the anniversary?
We visited the cemetery, and met some relatives. It is not a date of celebration. In a way the family feel it is dragging up bad news. We all have good memories of Eric, and we know that many people thought a great deal about Eric, which is very important to us, and remembering those you have lost is the most important thing.
What has happened since the murder?
His estate was wound up soon after the murder. Eric was a businessman, and businesses require investment, as far as we know very little was left to anybody. Eric left some of his miniature cars to Tony Hill, of Hills bakery. Hilda and her husband Frank passed away in the last couple of years.
We were told that Malcolm Roberts was sentenced to 15 years for murder, so he is probably out – that can be of little consolation to anybody.
The 11th of January 09 marks 25 years since the loss of Eric Wandless Renton. Clearly a great man, from Chorley.
I’ve answered these questions in memory of my uncle: Eric Wandless Renton.
Doreen Bottomley (Previously Fowler and Wandless) may well be the last surviving Wandless in the bloodline. Doreens father, James Luther Wandless was born in Ireland. It is possible that James Luther Wandless had relatives in Cork, Ireland, who moved to America, but we have no documentation of this.