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Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart: Murder and Lust in the Baptist Church

The author is an Honours graduate of Queen's University Belfast in Ireland.

Dentist Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart

Dentist Colin Howell and Hazel Stewart

Hazel Stewart, the female accomplice of a convicted murderer, Coleraine Dentist Colin 'Driller Killer' Howell, is now languishing in a cell at Ash House, in Hydebank female prison outside Belfast, after being convicted of two counts of murder at Coleraine Crown Court on Wednesday, March 2nd 2011.

The jury of nine men and two women deliberated for a mere two hours before deciding unanimously that cold Hazel Stewart was guilty of the murder of her late husband, RUC Constable Trevor Buchanan, and her former lover's wife, Leslie Howell, in May 1991.

The verdict came following a 15-day trial, during which murderess Stewart displayed no emotion whatsoever prior to the jury entering the court to deliver their verdict. As Stewart awaited the verdict in the tense courtroom she began to hyperventilate, becoming visibly distressed for the first time during the trial which has gripped Ireland.

Background to the Double Murder

Hazel Stewart, originally from Omagh in County Tyrone, married RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) constable Trevor Buchanan in their local Baptist Church in July 1981. Two children, Lisa and Andrew, quickly followed. The family moved to Coleraine in 1986 and settled in the upper-middle-class Charnwood Park estate.

It was in 1989 that Stewart first met accomplice, Colin Howell, at swimming lessons in Ballymoney Leisure Centre organised by the Evangelical sect of which they were both members. Howell, the apparently high-flying and charismatic dental surgeon, seemed to offer the 'excitement' that Stewart craved after years of marriage to uniform RUC Constable Buchanan, whom she described as 'ordinary.'

Shortly after their initial meeting, Howell and Stewart commenced a torrid affair, involving the use of mind-bending drugs administered by Howell, betrayal and a near-narcissistic mutual obsession. At their secret rendezvous at Castleroe Forest Park on the Kilrea Road, they were discovered in a 'compromising' position in Howell's car by a prying member of their evangelical Baptist sect.

On learning of their betrayal, Leslie Howell, who had just given birth to her fourth child, took an overdose of her dentist husband's secret stash of prescription-only Temazepam sleeping tablets.

RUC member Trevor Buchanan admitted that he was "absolutely gutted" on learning of his cheating wife's sordid affair with Howell, yet both cuckolded spouses were adamant that they wanted their respective marriages to continue with the help of counselling, provided by their seemingly omnipresent fire and brimstone preacher.

Despite both Howell and Stewart attending church-based counselling sessions, admitting their affairs to their respective spouses and supposedly reconciling, the physical relationship continued surreptitiously, often during times when RUC constable Trevor Buchanan was on night duty.

It transpired during the trial of Hazel Stewart that she fell pregnant during her affair with dentist Colin Howell. Unsure if the baby was Howell's or her husband's, Howell arranged for her to have a termination at a private clinic in London and at Howell's insistence returned home on the day of the operation, resulting in Stewart haemorrhaging on the flight home.

Howell also sent a later partner to the same clinic for multiple abortions while she was under his manipulative influence.

Howell, a religious man, pictured with his wife Lesley before her murder at his hands in 1991. It would be almost 20 years before he was convicted for the crime.

Howell, a religious man, pictured with his wife Lesley before her murder at his hands in 1991. It would be almost 20 years before he was convicted for the crime.

Double Murder: Trevor Buchanan and Lesley Howell

Dentist Howell and the former Sunday School teacher then hatched a plot to kill their respective spouses, in what was almost the perfect murder. Motivated by both lust and greed, Howell and Stewart inherited hundreds of thousands of pounds from their murdered spouses' life insurance policies.

In what was most certainly a murderous joint venture, cold-blooded Stewart drugged her husband with powerful Lorazepam tranquillisers in preparation for Howell's arrival at her home to finish the hapless victim with a do-it-yourself gas chamber, consisting of a hosepipe and the nozzle of his infant's feeding-bottle!

A similar fate had earlier befallen dentist's wife, Lesley Howell, with the murderers then cooperating to place their lifeless bodies in Howells' wife's car.

Howell and Stewart then commenced a macabre 'dance of death' to convince Buchanan's investigating RUC colleagues that a double suicide had occurred at the garage of Lesley Howell's late father's Castlerock home, ironically part of a picturesque cottage terrace known as 'The Twelve Apostles'!

Lesley Howell's body was discovered in the boot of her car, while Trevor Buchanan's body was found in the driver's seat of the car with the door opened.

Despite vocal reservations by a number of colleagues of Buchanan and members of Coleraine Baptist Church who were privy to Howell and Stewart's affair, the investigating RUC detectives and the coroner concluded wrongly that the pair had taken their lives in a bizarre suicide pact


The Money Motive

Both murderers made a substantial financial gain from the deaths of their heavily insured spouses. At Howell's trial, a prosecution barrister asserted that he gained £414,000 from his wife's will, life insurance and an endowment from her late father's estate.

Howell admitted during police questioning that Stewart was 'very high maintenance'. The late Trevor Buchanan had confided in relatives and Baptist Church officials that he could not provide Stewart with the lifestyle that she so craved.

It is evident from recent sightings of Stewart as she attended court in Coleraine that she had undergone a number of cosmetic surgery procedures, including Botox and fillers. Undoubtedly the money Stewart inherited from her late husband's estate was a prime factor in the murder of Trevor Buchanan.

Trevor Buchanan by his own admission to relatives had no desire to further his career in the RUC and was contented in his position as a uniformed Constable.

Two weeks prior to her murder by Howell and Stewart, Lesley Howell's father, Henry Clarke, died leaving her a substantial inheritance. The death of her father allowed Colin Howell to paint a picture of his late wife, Lesley, as an alcoholic, self-medicating unfit mother who took her own life overcome by grief following the death of her father.

This calculating ruse was crucial to convincing the investigating detectives that no foul play was involved and swaying the inquest, to rule that the cause of death was a tragic, but non-sinister, suicide.

The Perfect Murder Comes Undone

Stewart and Howell's affair continued for some time after their murderous activities, but Stewart was to have several other partners, after her macabre love affair with Howell ended, before marrying yet another RUC officer, this time former Superintendent David Stewart.

Driller-killer Howell suffered mixed fortunes after inheriting the loot from his murdered wife's life insurance. He became an acclaimed cosmetic dental surgeon to the rich and famous and built up an extensive real estate portfolio.

However, following the tragic accidental death of his son in Russia and losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in dodgy investment deals in the Philippines, Howell 'confessed' his murderous activities to an 'elder' of his Evangelical sect, which set in motion the chain of events which eventually led first to Howell's and then Stewart's double-murder conviction at Coleraine Crown Court.

The End of the Affair?

As the verdict was relayed to the Crown Court Judge in a hushed Coleraine courtroom, his only words as he glanced towards Stewart and the prison warders who flanked her in the dock were "Take her away!" As she is a convicted murderer, there is only one sentence that presiding judge Anthony Harte can pass on Hazel Stewart: a mandatory life sentence!