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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 mother’s younger brother. He was viciously murdered 25 years ago, when I was only 16 years old. I want to write something in his memory, as a tribute. Also, I want to explain my family’s background circumstances that led to him being raised in an orphanage – ie. his mother died a few days after his birth, and his father, then a preacher, turned to drink because of his wife’s death. When he was killed, the newspapers had neither the time nor the inclination to give these things the explanations they deserve, and recently all of this has been brought up again in the local media. So, it’s time to explain the events and family background in more detail.
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. An employee of Eric’s supermarket called Frank and said that Eric didn’t make it to work. This led Frank to go to the bungalow with his wife Hilda (my mother’s sister). Frank first looked out the window and told Hilda not to go inside. Hilda called my mother and first told her that Eric had passed away. A few days later my mother was told the grim reality, which was met with numbness and disbelief. It was obviously a huge shock to everyone. Eric was buried about a month later. Crime Watch released some of the items the killer stole from Eric’s house, and one of them recognized one of them, a lamp he had recently bought at a thrift store, which led the police to catch the killer.
How do you and your family feel about the 25th anniversary of his murder?
I think it is very important for people to understand that regardless of the fact that Eric’s death was nothing more than the act of a malicious and evil person who had an evil plan in mind, to inflict it on an easy target.
The killer was not provoked. How funny it is if someone (anyone) was so called “provoked” to commit murder, then to start loading their victims with a TV, microwave, lamp, etc. into the car as an afterthought to the trauma. The killer had a dagger and a rolling pin in his bag. He stabbed Eric with the rolling pin and stabbed him seven times. It is the action of a cold, calculating, ruthless killer: Malcolm Roberts. It was this action that caught him – 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 collector’s items. I only remember sitting at the dining table, and after eating we played chess there too.
What kind of person was Mr. Wandless Renton?
He was a smart, intelligent man. My brother Michael said he was “funny” too. He wasn’t a threat to anyone and 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, 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 he wasn’t, she met Eric very few times. Like his father, Erik suffered from chronic bronchitis.
The phrase that sometimes “only the good die young” comes to mind. I think 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 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 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. Here’s what Tom Rose had to say 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 visit my wife and I unexpectedly and share a meal.
“Eric was a role model in his enthusiasm, and in actually doing things, rather than just talking about them or planning them. He not only organized the Chorley tournament (and helped launch the Blackpool tournament) but also pestered people to sponsorship and tirelessly solicited entries. He knew it wasn’t enough to simply post entry forms – so wherever he went he would approach players and persuade them to come in. As a result, the Chorley tournament had a very large entry and after his death it declined significantly.
A lot of people didn’t know the real Eric. They only saw a slightly eccentric character and his homosexuality (which was always discreet by the way – and was never brought up in the presence of his heterosexual friends. When you got to know him you would find that he was one of the kindest and most generous souls you could ever hope to meet. ever met. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and think of him with a little sadness. His other close friends were Tony Hill (local businessman and owner of Hill’s Bakery and Retail Stores). Sadly, 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 arranged accommodation for them with his friends, so that 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 their mutual friend Roy Waterhouse (a keen amateur pianist) … when Richter played a concert in Manchester in the late 1960s or early 1970s.”
Why did Eric grow up in an orphanage? What do you remember about your uncle?
It’s hard to say the exact 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 about 7 years old when Eric was born. Their mother, Evelyn, died a few days after giving birth to Eric, leaving father James Luther Wandless without his beloved wife, but with 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 had never kept alcohol in their house. The loss of his wife was too great and he began to drink and soon joined the army, surviving World War II. After the war James Wandless worked in a foundry in Ferrington, Leyland. He died when he was about 60 years old. We do not know what kind of discussions were held then about what would happen to the children. Evelyn had a sister named Lillian, who was married to Arthur Noblet. They had a daughter, Edna, who still lives in Chorley. Edna’s parents bravely took in two additional young girls, Doreen and Hilda, at their home in Bootle, effectively raising three girls. A newborn (Eric) might have been too much to take on, as they would really have their hands full with three girls. Getting help from the orphanage must have been the logical approach, but they never lost touch with Eric. Eric was not abandoned. His father may have even known someone at the orphanage, which is why he thought it was the best option at the time, instead of taking care of him himself when he was devastated by the loss of his wife. We have a photo of Eric and Doreen, when he was only three and a half years old, and what a striking resemblance they bear to each other. He looks in good health in all the photos. When the war started Edna and Hilda were old enough to be evacuated to Southport. My mom stayed with Aunt Lil and Uncle Arthur, hiding in a bomb shelter in their backyard. A bomb even landed in my mum’s bedroom on Litherland Road in Bootle. When she was five they moved to Chorley and initially lived in the basement of a dentist on Park Road (Teddy Tyrer).
After the war, my mother Doreen went everywhere with her brother Eric when they were teenagers. Although they fought a lot in their youth, they were also best friends. Doreen stood 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 with Aunt Lils and Uncle Arthurs during the summer holidays. Doreen also once stayed with Eric for a week – albeit in the girls’ dormitory – at the orphanage in Frodsham. So we don’t know that Eric complained about anything from his life in the orphanage. There is no doubt that wartime was difficult for everyone, but he proved to be an educated and well-spoken gentleman with many intelligent friends.
My brothers, Michael and James Fowler helped Eric move from St Thomas Road to a bungalow in Charnock Richard. I remember visiting Eric at his Bungalow once. He made me a meal in the microwave and we played a game of chess in his kitchen. I was about 13 years old and I learned to play not long before that. Eric taught my brother Michael to play chess and he and our cousin Martin Hughes kept Eric company on his security rounds in the Bacup area.
Eric, Doreen and Hilda’s mother and father are buried together in Bootle Cemetery. Hilda Renton adopted Eric at the age of 16 and his adopted mother is buried with Eric in Chorley Cemetery.
Did you and your family know about your uncles sexuality?
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 brothers – sexuality was not a topic of discussion. My mother, and my cousin Martin and his wife Sandra remember that Eric once had a girlfriend, whose father owned many butchers near Frodsham, Cheshire. Coincidentally, Frodsham is where the orphanage used to be. Martin and Sandra remember visiting them at the girls’ father’s farm, so perhaps his sexuality is something that changed later in life.
Maybe Eric wasn’t as successful as he’d like to be with the ladies in the UK – not an uncommon problem that can affect and change people. I know from personal experience that the ratio of single women to singles in the UK is very skewed compared to men, and I will be writing more articles on this soon. However, what happens behind closed doors is nobody’s business, as long as it is mutual.
Will you and your family be celebrating an anniversary?
We visited the cemetery and met some relatives. It is not a celebration date. In a way, the family sees this as bringing bad news. We all have good 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 destroyed shortly after the murder. Eric was a businessman, and businesses require investment, as far as we know there is 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 few years.
We’re told that Malcolm Roberts was jailed for 15 years for murder, so he’s probably ruled out – that can’t be any comfort to anyone.
January 11, 09 marks the 25th anniversary of the loss of Eric Wandless Renton. Obviously a big man, from Chorley.
I answered these questions in memory of my uncle: Eric Wandless Renton.
Doreen Bottomley (formerly Fowler and Wandless) may be the last surviving Wandless in the bloodline. Doreen’s 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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