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About Eric Wandless Renton – Background, Family, Friends, and His Murder
Why are you writing about Eric Wandless Renton?
Eric was my uncle and he was my mothers younger brother. He was brutally murdered 25 years ago, when I was only 16 years old. I want to write something in his memory, as a tribute to him. In addition, I want to explain about the circumstances of my family that led him to be brought up in an orphanage, that is, his mother died a few days after his birth, and his father, then a lay preacher, turned to drink because of the death of his woman. When he was killed, the newspapers did not have time, nor the desire to give these matters the explanations they deserve, and recently, everything has been discussed again in the local media. So it’s time to work out the events and family history.
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 received a call from an employee at Eric’s grocery store, saying that Eric had not arrived at work. This led to Frank going to the bungalow with his wife Hilda (my mothers sister). Frank looked out the window first and told Hilda not to come in. Hilda telephoned my mother and initially told her that Eric had passed away. It was a few days later when my mother was told the sad reality, which she was met with numbness and disbelief. It was obviously a huge shock to everyone. Eric was buried a month later. Crime Watch released some of the items the killer stole from Eric’s home, and a member of the public recognized one of the items, a lamp he had recently bought at the thrift store, leading police to catch the killer.
How do you and your family feel about the 25th anniversary of his murder?
I think it’s very important that people realize that whatever Eric’s death was, it was nothing more than the act of a malicious, evil person who had a vicious plan in mind, to inflict on an easy target.
The killer was not provoked. How ridiculous that someone (anyone) would be so called “provoked” to commit murder, and then proceed to charge their victims with TV’s, microwaves, light bulbs, etc. in the car as a post-traumatic thought. The killer had a dagger and a scroll in his bag. He stabbed Eric with the rolling pin and stabbed him seven times. That is the action of a cold, calculated and ruthless killer: Malcolm Roberts. It was that action that caught him, with the help and dedication of the police, Crime Watch and the public.
What do you remember about Charnock Richard’s house?
It was a nice and tidy place, in a cul-de-sac. I remember his closet full of miniature cars, which were expensive collector’s items. I just remember sitting at the dining room table and after eating there we also played chess.
What kind of person was Mr. Wandless Renton?
He was a smart and intelligent man. My brother Michael said he was “comedian” too. He wasn’t a threat to anyone, and he probably couldn’t hurt 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, sister Hilda and 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 didn’t meet Eric very often. Also like his father, Erik suffered from chronic bronchitis.
A phrase that sometimes “only the good die young” comes to mind. I believe that inspiring people to compete in any activity is commendable, and many people have praised Eric for his participation and contribution to the world of chess.
The many friends Eric made only go to show what a nice person he was. It was more than just a loss for our family; he will be remembered and missed by many.
Eric had many friends. My mother told me that Eric was going 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 good friend of Eric’s. Tom Rose was the first person to win the Eric Wandless Renton Memorial Trophy. Here’s what Tom Rose had to say about Eric:
“He [Eric] he was one of my closest friends. I met him when I was about 12 years old. Years later, he would often call my wife and I unexpectedly and share a meal.
“Eric was a role model in his enthusiasm, and in getting things done, rather than talking about them or planning them. He didn’t just organize the Chorley tournament (and helped get the Blackpool tournament) He also bothered people for sponsorship and tirelessly solicited entries. He knew it wasn’t enough to simply post entry forms, so wherever he went he approached players and persuaded them to come in. As a result, the Chorley tournament had a very big and a lot of patronage. After his death it fell noticeably.
A lot of people didn’t know the real Eric. They only saw the slightly eccentric character and his homosexuality (which by the way was always discreet – and he never grew up in the presence of his heterosexual friends. When you met him you would discover that he was one of the kindest and most generous souls you had). could hope to find me. Not a day goes by that I don’t 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 Stores). Unfortunately, his closest chess friends (Roy Waterhouse, Jack Wolstenholme) died a few years ago.
Eric played several chess tournaments in Holland and had many friends among Dutch chess players. He invited some to play in Chorley and put them up with his friends, so when we lived in Chorley we had Dutch visitors staying in our spare room during the August holidays.
He met the great concert pianist Sviatoslav Richter through his mutual friend Roy Waterhouse (an enthusiastic amateur pianist)…when Richter played a concert in Manchester in the late 1960s or early 1970s.”
Why was Eric raised 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 under the circumstances. Doreen (my mother) was 15 months old and her sister Hilda was about 7 when Eric was born. His mother, Evelyn, died a few days after giving birth to Eric, effectively leaving father James Luther Wandless, without his beloved wife, but with his two girls and a newborn baby. James Luther Wandless was a Methodist lay preacher, and the loss of his wife was too much for him. Until then they never kept alcohol in their house. The loss of his wife was too much and he turned to drinking and soon after joined the Army and survived World War II. After the war James Wandless worked at Ferrington Foundry, Leyland. He died when he was about 60 years old. We don’t know what conversations took place at the time about what was going to happen with the children. Evelyn had a sister named Lillian, who was married to Arthur Noblet. They had a daughter named Edna, who still lives in Chorley. Edna’s parents bravely faced the two young girls, Doreen and Hilda, at their home in Bootle and effectively brought up all three girls. A newborn baby (Eric) might be too much to take on, as they would indeed have their hands full with all three girls. Getting help from an orphanage must have been the logical approach, but they never lost touch with Eric. Eric was not abandoned. His father might have even met someone at the orphanage, which made him think that was the best option at the time, instead of trying to take care of him on his own when he was devastated by the loss of his wife. We have a picture of Eric and Doreen, when she was only three and a half years old, and what a striking resemblance they bear to each other. He is in good health in all the photos. When the war started, Edna and Hilda were old enough to be evacuated to Southport. My mother stayed with Aunt Lil and Uncle Arthur, taking cover in the bomb shelter in their backyard. A bomb even fell in my mother’s bedroom in Litherland Road in Bootle. When she was five, they moved to Chorley and initially lived in a dentist’s cellar on Park Road (Teddy Tyrer).
After the war, my mother Doreen went everywhere with her brother Eric when they were teenagers. Although they argued quite a bit when they were young, they were also best friends. Doreen used to stand up for Eric, because he was not an aggressive person. Eric said that she, my mother, should have been a boy because she was so tough. So when Eric was older, he also stayed at Aunt Lils and Uncle Arthurs summer vacation. Doreen also stayed with Eric for a week, albeit in the girl’s bedroom, at an orphanage in Frodsham. So we don’t know that Eric complains about anything about his life in an orphanage. Undoubtedly, the war was hard on everyone, but he turned out to be a cultured, well-spoken gentleman with many intelligent friends.
My brothers Michael and James Fowler helped Eric move from St Thomas Road to Charnock Richard’s bungalow. I remember visiting Eric once at his Bungalow. He made me a meal in the microwave and we had a game of chess in his kitchen. He was about 13 years old and had learned to play not long before. Eric taught my brother Michael how 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 mother and father, Doreen and Hilda are buried together in Bootle Cemetery. Hilda Renton adopted Eric at the age of 16, and his adoptive mother is buried with Eric in Chorley Cemetery.
Did you and the family know about the sexuality of your uncles?
Eric told his sisters shortly before the murder. It was never even thought of, brought up, discussed, or suggested or implied in any way to me or my siblings: sexuality was not a topic of discussion. My mother, my cousin Martin and his wife Sandra remember that Eric had a girlfriend once, whose father owned many butchers near Frodsham, Cheshire. Coincidentally Frodsham is where the orphanage was. Martin and Sandra remember visiting them at the girls’ parents’ farm, so perhaps their sexuality was something that changed later in life.
Eric may not have had as much success as he would have liked with the ladies in the UK, a not uncommon problem that can affect and change people. I know from personal experience that the ratio of single women to single men in the UK is heavily skewed against men, and I’ll be writing more articles on that soon. However, what happens behind closed doors is nobody’s business, as long as it is mutual.
Will you and the family celebrate the anniversary?
We visited the cemetery, and met some relatives. It is not a date of celebration. In a way, the family feels like they’re bringing bad news. We all have fond memories of Eric, and we know that many people thought a lot of Eric, which is very important to us, and remembering those you have lost is the most important thing.
What happened since the murder?
His estate was liquidated shortly after the murder. Eric was a businessman, and businesses require investment, so as far as we know there was very little left for anyone. Eric left some of his miniature cars to Tony Hill of Hills Bakery. Hilda and her husband Frank passed away in the last two years.
We’re told that Malcolm Roberts has been sentenced to 15 years for murder, so he’s probably out, that can’t be any small consolation to anyone.
January 11, 09 marks the 25th anniversary of the loss of Eric Wandless Renton. Clearly a great man, from Chorley.
I answered these questions in memory of my uncle: Eric Wandless Renton.
Doreen Bottomley (formerly Fowler and Wandless) may well be the last surviving Wandless of 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.
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