Michael Sams: New documentary on kidnapper killer and the manhunt to find him

A gritty documentary about the notorious kidnapper killer Michael Sams drops onto Discovery+ this month. Sally Clifford finds out more about the programme and those featured.

The clanking of keys penetrate the silence. Unlocked from his prison cell, the man – at one point perceived to be a criminal mastermind who played cat and mouse with the police to evade capture – comes face to face with the detective who was determined to bring him to justice.

In the confines of Full Sutton Prison, near York, DCS Bob Taylor, an officer who spent almost two years investigating to the point of Michael Sams’ arrest, is capturing every word spoken from Sams’ lips on the tape recorder concealed in his briefcase.

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The philosophy was Sams – ‘a criminal who had been Britain’s most wanted man’ – may not have talked so openly if he had known the conversation was being recorded.

Stacey Kettner, a friend of victim Stephanie Slater, speaks in the documentary. Picture: Harry Lock/Candour Productions

And so the confession unfolds, the reality of his crimes laid bare to be faced and endured by the loved ones living with the haunting legacy of Sams’ calculating and callous actions.

“He was very matter of fact in what he was talking about, as if he was talking about an everyday event when in actual fact he is talking about the murder of Julie Dart,” says DCS Bob Taylor.

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Sams’ first victim, Julie Dart, was working her first night on the street in Chapeltown, Leeds.

Former police chief Bob Taylor is featured in the documentary. Picture: Harry Lock/Candour Productions

For Julie, prostitution wasn’t a profession.

She was waiting to hear if she had been accepted into the Army – a decision she would never live to discover, after being plucked off the pavement in a kidnap plot masterminded by Sams.

Julie’s battered body was discovered bundled up in a bedsheet and dumped in a field close to a railway line.

The manhunt began, yet the mystery kidnapper always appeared to be one step ahead.

“This was a landmark investigation,” recalls Tim Grogan, former Detective Sergeant with West Yorkshire Police, who appears in the documentary. “Kidnapping was, at that time, rare in the UK.

The release of a victim and payment of hostage fee was even rarer. It was important the police solved the crime to send out a strong message.”

Foiled and outwitted on more than one occasion, the possibility their suspect could be ex-SAS came into question.

And so began the cat and mouse chase as the kidnapper attempted to outwit the police at every turn.

Of course, technology has advanced over the years, but would today’s mobile gadgetry make detection easier?

“Use of technology and DNA has moved investigations forward no doubt, but Sams was so resourceful he would have adopted counter measures to keep him ahead of the game. His research and preparation were of the highest order,” says Mr Grogan.

Since leaving the police, he has managed the enforcement section of Selby District Council and is now an executive district councillor on that council, and a North Yorkshire County councillor representing Monk Fryston and South Milford.

Looking back on the case, Mr Grogan says: “Of my 30 years service, the vast majority of it in the CID, this was the most remarkable and rewarding.

“I was on it for two years and two months and though at times, as Dickens would say ‘it was the worst of times, it was the best of times’ we came through at the end.”

The Yorkshire Post columnist Christa Ackroyd shares her memories in the programme of Sams’ horrific crime, and subsequent capture, through her experience as a TV news presenter at that time.

Sams’ downfall – a crucial mistake, among others – was a phone call made to Shipways estate agents in the West Midlands, the workplace of his second victim, Stephanie Slater.

Stephanie was working as an estate agent when she met Sams, who purported to be a client. After carefully selecting an empty property to view, Sams escaped with his hostage and held Stephanie captive at his workshop in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Stacey Kettner, Stephanie’s friend, participates in the programme along with some members of Julie Dart’s family.

From Stephanie’s recollections of her ordeal, Stacey tells how her friend would engage in conversation with Sams to lengthen the time she could spend out of the cramped confines of a wheelie bin.

Stacey says she believes this may be why Stephanie’s life was spared. “The strength of that girl saved her own life,” she says.

Stephanie was later released by Sams after her boss at the estate agents, Kevin Watts, who also features in the programme, delivered a substantial ransom to a remote railway bridge on a dark foggy night in Oxspring, South Yorkshire.

Yet again, Sams had engineered a plot that would outwit the police; he had tied a fishing line to a tray in which a bag containing the ransom loot was placed, enabling him to pull the money over the bridge parapet.

The police, who had previously organised a news black-out with the media and secured their compliance to keep Stephanie safe following her capture, were conscious the kidnapper now had the cash and was still keeping Stephanie captive.

Interestingly, in the programme it is revealed that Sams had parked near the home of an automotive paint sprayer who recognised the precise red colour of the kidnapper’s Metro.

However, Sams had already made the crucial mistake that would be his downfall when he failed to disguise his voice in the aforementioned phonecall to Stephanie’s workplace to discuss the ransom he was requesting for her safe return.

A woman contacted Crimewatch after thinking she recognised the voice of her ex-husband played out in the national TV appeal.

The force’s intention to flush out the kidnapper was successful, and proved to be a ploy Michael Benneman Sams, then aged 50, couldn’t foil.

Although Stephanie struggled to talk about her experience, knowing it could help convict the man responsible for taking Julie Dart’s life, made her even more determined.

Despite being blindfolded for eight days during her ordeal, Stephanie’s recollections, and her attention to detail within Sams’ workshop where she was being held captive, helped to convict the kidnapper killer and put him in prison for life.

Stephanie eventually moved to the Isle of Wight. Sadly, she died from cancer at the age of 50.

Michael Sams: Kidnapper Killer tells the shocking story of the man responsible for the kidnap of two women, one of whom he brutally murdered, and the impact on those closest to the case.

In July 1993, Sams was jailed for life following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

In 2020, it was reported the Parole Board still considered Michael Sams too dangerous to be released from prison.

In 2022, The Ministry of Justice stated that Sams would not be eligible for parole ‘any time soon’.

Made for Warner Bros. Discovery by Candour Productions, the documentary Michael Sams: Kidnapper Killer is available to stream from Saturday July 30 exclusively on discovery+.