Jonathan Morton

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Michael Jonathan Morton (born 1938) is an English architect who formerly worked for the Greater London Council, specializing in the design and refurbishment of fire stations across a number of London boroughs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1] Having come into a substantial inheritance, Morton was able to retire by the age of fifty, working only intermittently thereafter on private commissions.[2] After three police investigations and two Old Bailey trials, Morton was convicted in 2005 of the manslaughter of his wife Gracia, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Architectural career[edit]

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Morton initially studied mathematics at Cambridge University and only later turned to architecture, qualifying in 1975 at the age of thirty-seven.[3]

He worked for the Greater London Council general division, mainly designing and refurbishing fire stations.[4] Retired former colleague Phil Bottomley, who was senior to Morton in the town development branch at the GLC, recalled Morton working as job architect on a project to transform a housing estate. "I always thought of him as a prickly man and a little bit arrogant, I used to come across him because I was senior to him and I'd like to see what he was doing. He was extraordinarily reluctant to show what he was doing." Bottomley added that Morton was a very good and capable architect.[5]

After retirement from the GLC, Morton was involved in a project to revive the former Riverside film studios in Hammersmith, and also built a house for his mother in Spain.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Morton was a compulsive womanizer and already had two children by his first wife, and a daughter and son by two other women,[7] by the time he met Gracia Lezama in 1986. Morton had been working as architect on the Ealing, London home of Gracia's sister Constanza and her husband Peter Thomas. Gracia was a former professional violinist and had just moved to Britain the year previously from Buenos Aires, to study music with Thomas (who was later to become leader of the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra).[8]

Gracia and Morton married in 1987 at the Chelsea Registry Office in London,[9] and Gracia moved into Morton's Notting Hill home. After his mother's death in 1990, they sold the house and moved to nearby St Ann's Road.

The couple had a child in 1993, but the marriage was beset with difficulties, and Gracia's sisters had seen her with black eyes. Although she denied that it was down to Morton, she walked out briefly on the architect in 1995.[10]

On her return, Gracia began training as a counsellor and started working with the Stroke Association in 1996 as a support organiser. There, she met a businessman, Sandy MacDonald, who lived in nearby Holland Park and, unknown to her husband, began a relationship. That encouraged her to finally leave Morton and move into a flat in Iverna Court, Kensington, in February 1997,[11] taking their daughter with her. She carefully kept the location of the flat a secret from Morton, yet told friends she remained paranoid that he would find her.

Morton was said to be "devastated" by Gracia's departure and "even contemplated suicide", but quickly moved on to other women.[12]

At the time of her disappearance, Gracia was said to be happy in her new life, with her final divorce decree from Morton only weeks away.[13]

Disappearance of Gracia Morton[edit]

Gracia Morton disappeared on Wednesday November 12th, 1997, after dropping her daughter to nursery school[14] in Holland Park, West London. Jonathan Morton claimed that his wife had then spent an hour with him at his home in St Ann's Road, before she left without saying where she was going. According to Morton, she asked him to mind their daughter that night, gave him the keys to her flat and her car, which was parked outside, her mobile phone under the seat.[15] On the day Mrs Morton disappeared she had told her solicitor she planned to meet her husband to discuss their child's schooling.[16]

The following day, Gracia had been due to meet her brother-in-law Peter Thomas at the Barbican, where he was performing with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but she never arrived.[17]

Initially the police treated her disappearance as a missing persons case and, while they decided if there were grounds for a full investigation, Gracia's family took on the arduous task of tracking down all of her contacts to try and build up a picture of her movements in the run up to her disappearance.[18] They distributed posters with her photo in stations, shopping centres and hospitals. They found no evidence of anything out of the ordinary, however, and plenty of proof that she was planning for the future. When the CID finally became involved ten days after her disappearance, they contacted Crimewatch, which featured the case.

Gracia's bank account, which held over £250,000 at the time of her disappearance, remained untouched and her credit cards unused after her disappearance. Her flat in Kensington was exactly as she left it that morning, her passport among her belongings, her luggage and clothes untouched.[19]

On the Friday morning after her disappearance, a worried Mr MacDonald visited her flat along with another friend of Mrs Morton's and let themselves in with a spare key.[20] A few minutes later Jonathan Morton arrived and, without knocking, let himself into the flat. He claimed never to have been to the flat before and told them his daughter had told him which road it was in.

Gracia's car was found parked near to Morton's Holland Park home which, along with his cottage in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, and Gracia's Kensington flat was searched by police. Police also excavated a patch of woodland near Morton's Oxfordshire cottage, but no evidence was found.[21]

Her disappearance baffled detectives and her family - despite a massive investigation, her body was never found. After unsuccessful appeals via the internet and Salvation Army, and having enlisted the help of psychologists, clairvoyants and criminologists,[22] Gracia's family gave up hope that she would be found alive and held a memorial service for her four months after her disappearance.

Arrest and search of Holland Park home[edit]

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On February 25th, 1999, police executed a warrant to search Jonathan Morton's house in St Ann's Road,[23] sealing it off and covering the rear garden and conservatory with tarpaulin. Jonathan Morton was arrested and interviewed at a central London police station. Late on the evening of February 26th, police completed their search. A spokesman confirmed, "Nothing was found. The man who was in custody has been released on police bail to return on April 14th".[24]

The fresh initiative came after Detective Chief Inspector Hamish Campbell had taken over the case.[25] Campbell observed: "We searched her flat from top to bottom. We found nothing to suggest that she was making plans to go anywhere. From an investigator's point of view, I have to say that I do not believe she is alive. We believe she is dead, and we believe she was murdered."[26]

Morton's response was to successfully sue the Metropolitan Police to the tune of thousands of pounds for damage to his property.[27]

The family of Gracia were later frustrated when Hamish Campbell was side-tracked by the Jill Dando case, but after the arrest and charging of Barry George in May 2000, they remained hopeful that he would have more time to refocus on their case.[28] On June 13th, 2002, Gracia's sister Constanza wrote an article published in the Guardian outlining the difficulties her family had been going through and the long time it took them to accept the fact that she was dead: "I find the trivia of everyday life more resonant and poignant. I don't want to throw away the bottle of olive oil she'd bought just before she died and which I have made last for five years. I am aware I am fetishising these objects but I can't let go until there is an answer."[29]

Fresh investigation and arrest[edit]

On Monday November 11th, 2002, five years after the disappearance of Gracia Morton, Scotland Yard, led by Detective Chief Superintendent Campbell launched a fresh investigation into the case, now treating it as a murder inquiry. Campbell explained "I would like to reassure Gracia's family that I understand how desperately they want answers to what happened and that we are working hard to try and discover who is responsible for her suspected murder".[30] "Despite the length of time that has passed since Gracia disappeared we believe this case is still solvable."[31] On November 15th, the BBC reported a breakthrough in the case, with police carrying out forensic tests on a car recovered in Oxford. The development came after a fresh appeal for information the previous week, which had resulted in "two strong leads, one of which led to a car that is suspected of being linked to the case".[32]

On Tuesday June 17th, 2003 Jonathan Morton was arrested on suspicion of murder. After being questioned at a police station in West London, he was released on bail on condition he return to a police station on July 30th. The arrest came in response to new leads being pursued by Scotland Yard's racial and violent crimes task force.[33]

On October 20th, 2003, Jonathan Morton was formally charged with the murder of his wife Gracia after appearing by arrangement at Hammersmith police station. He was detained in custody to appear at West London Magistrates Court the following day. A Scotland Yard spokesman confirmed "Michael Jonathan Morton has been charged with the murder of his estranged wife Gracia on 12th of November, 1997".[34]

First trial[edit]

In October 2004, Jonathan Morton's first trial began at the Old Bailey in London. Brian Altman, prosecuting, stated "There can only be one explanation for her sudden disappearance. The obvious explanation is that Gracia Morton is dead and as each year gives way to another, it is ever more certain that that is the case. Despite many searches, the police have never recovered her body. Gracia is clearly dead. Not only is she dead, but she was killed by this defendant".[35] "Her disappearance was entirely out of character. She left behind her daughter to whom she was utterly devoted, her family to whom she was extremely close, and her future life, for which she was busily planning".[36] Morton, who denied the charge, did not give evidence himself, but his defence counsel, Andrew Bright QC, told the jury the case had been built on speculation and innuendo.[37]

The court was told that Morton killed his estranged wife after a dispute over their daughter's education and that he had disposed of her body in such a way that it had never been found. Morton denied murder and argued that, if his wife was dead, he was not responsible. Mr Altman believed that the morning of her disappearance they had discussed Jonathan Morton's problems with private education.[38] After his own experiences at boarding school as a child, Morton had a "profound dislike" for the private education that Mrs Morton wished for their daughter. "The prosecution say that it was the particular issue of her schooling that led to the argument between them on the morning of Wednesday 12th of November, 1997".[39]

The court also heard that, despite having other girlfriends during his periods of separation from his wife, he remained besotted with her and was truly distressed by her leaving him. Witnesses recalled his problems "letting women go" and one former girlfriend was told that she should never leave him. "People mustn't do that to me".[40]

Tensions over money were also cited as an issue during their separation. As their divorce neared, the couple had argued through their lawyers, Morton writing to his wife saying: "Please don't drive me away in rage and despair by making me feel you are being greedy".[41] Gracia's flat in Kensington was worth £200,000 and she also had £266,000 in a portfolio account that Morton had started in her name in order to avoid paying financial support to a former partner.[42] Gracia had no apparent wealth of her own and Morton had voiced his concerns to his then girlfriend that his wife was planning to keep the money. The court was told that Mr Morton complained his wife was "stealing his money".

Morton's mother had died in 1990 and he had put a considerable inheritance into separate investment portfolios run by a company called Brewin Dolphin Securities.[43] One was in his name, the other in Gracia's name, with around £500,000 in each. Gracia used money from her Brewin Dolphin account to buy her flat in Kensington, spent £30,000 on renovations and bought a car for £5,000. She also used this money to put her daughter into a private nursery school. All this added to what prosecutor Brian Altman called Jonathan Morton's "boiling cauldron" of resentment.[44]

As their divorce had never gone through, Morton stood to inherit Gracia's mortgage-free Kensington flat and the money in her bank account as, after seven years, she would be declared legally dead. Morton planned to add her £750,000 fortune to his own.[45]

The prosecution called Mr Morton's claims that his wife had given him the keys to her car on the morning of her disappearance "unthinkable", as those keys also included the keys to her flat. Gracia Morton was so scared of her estranged husband that she had gone to great lengths to keep the location of her flat a secret, being "fearful to the point of obsessive about it".[46]

The jury heard that when Detective Constable Russell Hughes had called at Mr Morton's house just four days after his wife's disappearance, he had noticed a shrine to her on the stairs consisting of a jar of flowers and a montage of photographs.[47] When asked about this, the defendant said he put it there because he thought Gracia was dead and he 'loved her so much'. A similar shrine at his cottage in Oxfordshire was described by a friend as "presenting it as if he were in mourning".[48]

People who thought she was just missing thought it odd when Morton went straight into mourning. The jury also heard that two days after his wife went missing, Morton broke down in front of her sister Constanza, sobbing "she's dead, she's dead - what am I going to do now?" Asked by Mrs Thomas why he was saying that, Morton replied, "I just know she would not have left our daughter".[49] Later that evening, Mrs Thomas noticed a roll of carpet stretched across Mr Morton's car boot.

Christine Lewis, a neighbour of Mr Morton's at St Ann's Road, Notting Hill, told the court that on the day of his wife's disappearance, she saw Morton carrying a 5ft long heavy bundle of what appeared to contain bamboo shoots and strands of something like ivy or creeper.[50] She described Mr Morton as "very pale and he was looking straight ahead". "He didn't look like he was aware of anything - zombie-like, quite a strange look". Ms Lewis stated that she phoned the police and rang Crimestoppers about one year after seeing the BBC Crimewatch coverage of the case. However, Andrew Bright QC, defending, said there was no record of Miss Lewis contacting Crimestoppers, and asked her if she had called the police to try and impress them after her son had been arrested; "Absolutely not" she replied.[51]

After a seven week trial, the jury in the case retired to consider its verdict on November 18th. After three days of deliberation, they were unable to reach a verdict and were discharged. Morton faced a retrial, scheduled for June the following year.[52]

Second trial[edit]

Jonathan Morton's second trial commenced in June 2005 at the Old Bailey in London, with Brian Altman again prosecuting.

The possibility of introducing 'bad character' evidence for the first time at this trial was seen as key to building the prosecution's case against Morton.[53]

Evidence was heard for the first time of Morton's past instances of violence toward women. Mr Altman told the Old Bailey jury of a "dark and sinister side to the relationship" between Morton and his wife and how Mr Morton had given her a black eye. "On occasions, the defendant had been violent toward her" Mr Altman said. A year before she left her husband, Gracia Morton's psychotherapist had seen her with a black eye, which Gracia had blamed on Mr Morton. She added that Mr Morton "had become depressed and violent" and that she "saw bruises on Gracia's face and was in absolutely no doubt that the defendant had caused them and this was her reason for leaving him". The jury also heard from one of Mr Morton's ex-girlfriends that she saw Morton shove Gracia in what she took to be a nasty fashion". Mrs Morton, it was claimed, had earlier asked for a divorce because her husband could be verbally abusive and occasionally physically violent.[54] This information had been removed from the divorce petition at Mr Morton's request in return for him letting the petition go through undefended.[55] When Gracia's sister Caroline later asked Morton if he had ever hit his wife, "He admitted he had punched Gracia in the face once when they were in Spain," said Mr Altman. "He laughed when he told her Gracia had had to buy sunglasses in order to hide her bruise".[56]

Morton had also imposed conditions on his marriage to Gracia. His first wife Patricia, the mother of two of his children, would remain his best friend and no rows or melodramas were allowed to disturb his harmony. He warned Mrs Morton that any "premenstrual moods" would result in him "considering himself being unmarried". Police later concluded that by walking out on Morton in February 1997, Gracia was immediately in danger because Morton hated women to end a relationship. He told one girlfriend: "You must never leave me. Women must never leave me ... that's when the trouble starts."[57]

The court heard Morton revelled in being the prime suspect in the case and believed that the police, led by Det. Chief Supt. Campbell, were stupid.[58] On 27th of July 2005, the jury retired to consider its verdict.

Conviction and sentencing[edit]

On Monday 1st of August 2005, Morton was found guilty of the manslaughter of his wife Gracia. Jurors cleared him of murder. Judge Jeremy Roberts sentenced Morton to seven years in jail, and noted that if the architect had been able to accept what he had done he might have been able to make a considerable reduction of the sentence. Morton's continued denial had "resulted in years of agonising on the part of his wife's family on what had happened to her", the judge said.[59]

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A crucial piece of evidence uncovered in January 2003 was key to Morton's ultimate conviction.[60] Police officers discovered CCTV footage of Morton making a secret visit to his wife's flat in Kensington the day after she vanished with the keys that she supposedly had left him, despite the fact that she had been 'obsessed' with keeping her new address from him.[61] This footage had been missed by police during the initial inquiry into her disappearance. The January 2003 review of the case finally uncovered it and Brain Altman, prosecuting, pointed out the significance of Morton's visit to the jury: "He was making a dreadful risk... For all he knew, Gracia might have been inside the flat having gained entry with a spare set of keys. Why was he so confident that she would not be there on that Thursday before anyone had raised the alarm about her disappearance? If Gracia was dead, and the defendant knew her to be dead, then he was taking no risk at all".[62]

Judge Roberts told Morton that he was sure the killing had happened because of a "sudden flare-up brought about by a disagreement about schooling about which you felt strongly". Gracia's sister Costanza told the Old Bailey jury "He was a Marxist. He was against private education... That was a huge bone of contention between him and my sister." He later told a neighbour, Anna Brett, that when Gracia came around that day they had argued about schooling "but not much".[63] However, despite evidence that Morton had been is a state of emotional turmoil when the killing happened, it was "still an unlawful killing" the judge concluded.

Morton showed no emotion as he was led down to the cells.[64]

Speaking after Morton was jailed, Detective Superintendent Campbell pledged to continue to interview Morton in prison in order to find out where his wife's body was. "Morton represented domestic violence at its worst. He was a bully. He was verbally violent and, now we know, physically violent to Gracia. This death was the culmination of his domestic violence and aggression", Campbell concluded.[65]

Police believed Morton buried his wife's body somewhere near his cottage in Oxfordshire, and that his professional knowledge of the building trade may have played a part in his choice of location.[66] Gracia Morton's body has never been found.[67]

References[edit]

  1. "Former GLC architect Morton convicted", Building Design, 5 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  2. Duncan Gardham, "The eccentric millionaire who turned into a cruel womaniser", The Telegraph, 2 August, 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. "Former GLC architect Morton convicted", Building Design.
  6. Gardham, "The eccentric millionaire".
  7. Sue Clough, "Architect 'murdered wife seven years ago'", The Telegraph, 13 Oct 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  8. Peter Rose, ‚"Garden hunt for body; Police dig at former home of millionaire's missing wife", Daily Mail, 27 February, 1999, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  9. "Millionaire 'killed missing wife'", BBC News, 12 October 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  10. Gardham, "The eccentric millionaire".
  11. BBC News, "Millionaire 'killed missing wife'".
  12. Gardham, "The eccentric millionaire".
  13. "How schooling row led to killing", BBC News, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  14. Nick Hopkins, "Shadows of doubt", The Guardian, 14 November 2000, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  15. "Wife 'scared' of murder accused", BBC News, 13 October 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  16. "Architect guilty of killing wife", BBC News, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  17. Lucy Miles, "I will never see her alive again; EXCLUSIVE: One woman's quest to find the body of her sister who vanished three years ago", Sunday Mercury, August 20, 2000, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  18. Constanza Lezama, "Haunted now and forever", The Guardian, 14 June 2002, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  19. Rose, "Garden Hunt for body"
  20. "How schooling row led to killing", BBC News, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  21. Miles, "I will never see her alive again".
  22. Ibid.
  23. Hopkins, "Shadows of doubt".
  24. "Search for wife reveals nothing", BBC News, February 27, 1999, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  25. "Search for wife zeros in on millionaire's garden", The Guardian.
  26. Hopkins, "Shadows of doubt".
  27. Sandra Laville and Lee Glendinning, "Millionaire convicted of killing his 'trophy' wife", The Guardian, 2 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  28. Hopkins, "Shadows of doubt".
  29. Lezama, "Haunted now and forever".
  30. Nick Hopkins, "Police launch new inquiry into mother who vanished", The Guardian, 12 November, 2002, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  31. "Suspected murder case is re-opened", BBC News, 12 November 2002, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  32. "Breakthrough in missing mother case", BBC News, 15 November 2002, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  33. Nick Hopkins, "Man held over wife's 'murder'", The Guardian, 18 June 2003, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  34. Justin Davenport, "Millionaire is charged with murdering wife", London Evening Standard, 19 October 2003, retrieved 2 November, 2016.
  35. Lee Glendinning, "Millionaire denies murdering wife", The Guardian, 12 October 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  36. "No body found, murder trial told", Oxford Mail, 13 Oct 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  37. "Wife 'murder' jury home for night", BBC News, 18 November 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  38. Glendinning, "Millionaire denies murdering wife".
  39. Danielle Demetriou, "Architect 'murdered wife seven years ago'", The Independent, 12 Oct 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  40. Glendinning, "Millionaire denies murdering wife".
  41. Clough, "Architect 'murdered wife seven years ago'".
  42. Demetriou, "Architect 'murdered wife seven years ago'".
  43. Chris Summers, "Relationship doomed from start", BBC News, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Laville and Glendinning, "Millionaire convicted of killing his 'trophy' wife".
  46. "Wife 'scared' of murder accused", BBC News.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Sue Clough, "Architect's 'shrine to dead wife'", The Telegraph, 14 Oct 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  49. Ibid.
  50. "Husband was 'seen with bundle'", BBC News, 21 October 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  51. Ibid.
  52. "'Wife murder' jury is discharged", BBC News, 22 November 2004, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  53. "Architect jailed for killing wife", The Guardian, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  54. "Murder accused 'violent to wife'", BBC News, 24 June 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  55. Sandra Laville, "Millionaire 'violent' to wife", The Guardian, 24 June 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  56. "Murder accused 'violent to wife'", BBC News.
  57. Laville and Glendinning, "Millionaire convicted of killing his 'trophy' wife".
  58. Duncan Gardham, "Bullying architect is jailed for killing wife", The Telegraph, 2 August, 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  59. "Architect jailed for killing wife", The Guardian, 1 August 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  60. "How schooling row led to killing", BBC News.
  61. "Architect jailed for killing wife", The Guardian.
  62. "How schooling row led to killing", BBC News.
  63. Ibid.
  64. "Architect jailed for killing wife", The Guardian.
  65. Ibid.
  66. "Millionaire found guilty of killing wife", The Daily Mail, 1 August, 2005, retrieved 2 November 2016.
  67. "Gracia Morton: Case File 1888DFUK", The Doe Network, retrieved 2 November 2016.