‘Pyjama murderer’ Penny Jackson tried to paint herself as a victim, but she split from her first two husbands and the third gassed himself, leaving her relatives to label her just an unfaithful and narcissistic liar who slashed out in lockdown
‘Stay at home. Save lives’, proclaims the frame she added to her profile on January 17 this year. How painfully ironic that gesture now seems, given the horrors which took place at her own home less than a month later.
Cooped up with her retired Army officer husband David in their Somerset bungalow, tensions within their 24-year marriage soon reached boiling point.
At the end of a furious row following a gourmet dinner to celebrate her 66th birthday, Jackson stabbed 78-year-old David three times with a kitchen knife; the final, fatal blow delivered after he had dialled 999, with the emergency services still on the line. When police arrived, they found Jackson’s handwritten confession.
The former Ministry of Defence accountant told Bristol Crown Court that she lost control after decades of verbal and physical abuse. Retired Lieutenant Colonel David Jackson, she claimed, was a bully who pushed her to her limits until she could take no more.
No remorse: At the end of a furious row following a gourmet dinner to celebrate her 66th birthday, Jackson stabbed 78-year-old David three times with a kitchen knife (pictured, Jackson in her pyjamas before being taken away by police)
She hoped her testimony would persuade the jury to find her guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter, but their verdict was clear; Penny Jackson murdered her husband in cold blood and must now expect a lengthy prison sentence for her crime.
And yet troubling questions about this extraordinary case remain. For how on earth is it possible that petty rows about a remote control – not to mention an Aga-baked bubble and squeak side dish served on the night Mr Jackson died – escalated so rapidly into murder just weeks before their silver wedding anniversary?
Or that Jackson could be so ruthless about attacking her husband with her new 8in ProCook filleting knife that she casually told the operator who took David’s 999 call, ‘his abdomen is buggered’ before adding: ‘I might go and stab him again’?
On the surface, the pair appeared to be the epitome of respectability; a retired Army officer and his bubbly civil servant wife who had lived and worked abroad in both Germany, France and Sierra Leone.
To their friends they appeared to be enjoying a blissfully happy retirement, spending weeks at a time in their second home in the village of Queyssac just outside Bergerac in south-west France, or on Caribbean cruises, or throwing dinner parties in their bungalow in Berrow, Somerset.
Jackson even joked when police arrested her, in her nightwear, asking them: ‘Do you usually have murderers where they’re wearing Marks & Spencer pyjamas?’
But, as the Mail has discovered, the Jacksons’ turbulent marriage was founded on a legacy of infidelity, tragedy, and lies, all of which poisoned their relationship.
The final, fatal blow was delivered after he had dialled 999, with the emergency services still on the line. When police arrived, they found Jackson’s handwritten confession (pictured)
Both were opinionated, stubborn and heavy drinkers. Their rows, say friends and family members who have spoken exclusively to this newspaper, were fuelled by alcohol and sparked by the slightest thing.
And despite mother-of-three Jackson’s attempt to paint herself as a victim, she had left three marriages before she ended up with Mr Jackson, whom she married in 1996.
As one of her former brothers-in-law puts it: ‘I can’t honestly see Penny, especially the way she’s disposed of three other husbands, being someone who would take abuse for all those years.’
Stewart Warrender, whose brother Alan, Penny’s third husband, killed himself in 1993 after Penny left him, adds: ‘Narcissistic is probably the best word for the way she is. No empathy. For somebody to be like that there’s got to be something wrong with them.’
Indeed, it became clear throughout Jackson’s three-week trial that the marriage had been volatile to the point of explosive for decades. There were warning signs on both sides. In court, David’s daughter from his first marriage, Jane Calverley, described Penny as more than her husband’s equal, saying she would ‘bait him’.
‘He would squirm and look embarrassed, especially if we were out in company,’ she said.
Jackson’s friend, Veronica Statham, said of Penny: ‘She could become quite overwhelming after a few drinks.’
On the surface, the pair (pictured together) appeared to be the epitome of respectability, but, as the Mail has discovered, the Jacksons’ turbulent marriage was founded on a legacy of infidelity, tragedy, and lies, all of which poisoned their relationship
David’s own brother, Alan Jackson, told the Mail this week that he was an ‘arrogant bully’ and that ‘Penny learned not to answer back when there was an argument brewing and they’d been drinking.’
Jackson’s own daughter said that her mother ‘could get carried away and get a bit loud’.
Given the fractious state of their marriage, perhaps the most pertinent question of all, then, is why neither of them walked out?
But Birmingham-born David was Penny’s fourth husband. She, his third wife. Aside from their occasional furious rows, she placed a high value on her life as an army officer’s wife, enjoying all the middle-class trappings that came with it: Private school for her daughter, holidays abroad, coffee mornings and pilates classes with friends, as well as considerable savings and three pensions.
Further clues can be traced to her troubled early life. Her mother was married, but not to her father, when she was born in Woolwich, South London, in February 1955.
Placed in foster care when she was ten days old, she didn’t see her parents again until she was 12. It wasn’t until 1974 that her birth was correctly re-registered after her mother and her real father finally married in 1973.
By then they were living in Somerset and Penny was already a wife, having married builder Melvyn Porter in Weston-super-Mare in November 1972, aged 17. Their first daughter, Rebecca, was born a year later; their second, Victoria, in 1977. When the youngest was two, Jackson walked out.
In court, she described her first husband as ‘violent’ and unfaithful and said ‘I decided I wanted more from the relationship’. While Melvyn Porter is unwell, his second wife Janet denied her claims. ‘That woman is utterly shameless,’ she said from her home in Highbridge, Somerset. ‘You can’t believe a single word that comes out of her mouth.
But despite the mother-of-three’s attempt to paint herself as a victim, the jury’s verdict was clear; Penny Jackson murdered her husband in cold blood. Pictured: Their daughter Isabelle Potterton (centre) on her wedding day with parents Penelope Jackson (left) and David (right)
‘She will say whatever suits her at the time. She took everything from my husband. Everything.
‘He went off to work one morning and when he came home that evening, she had vanished with their two daughters and she had completely stripped the house of everything including the carpets.
‘She told the girls that their father had died. It took Melvyn years to track them down again.’
Penny’s daughter, 44-year-old Victoria Mullins, added: ‘I don’t believe dad abused my mother and I know he did not have an affair. So many lies have been told by so many people.’
In April 1981, 26-year-old Jackson married husband number two, fellow Ministry of Defence civil servant Tony Rothwell. In court she claimed that their ‘loving friendship’ ‘fizzled out’ and they divorced. Mr Rothwell, who is now living abroad, declined to comment when contacted by the Mail.
Jackson was 32 when she married her third husband, 39-year-old Alan Warrender, an RAF chief technician, in January 1988. His first wife had died 18 months earlier from cancer and while Penny’s own two daughters were not living with her, she became stepmother to Alan’s two daughters.
She gave birth to her third daughter, Isabelle, in October 1990 by which time the family were living in Grantham in Lincolnshire.
But two years later, this marriage was also over. While 43-year-old Alan was working in Saudi Arabia, Penny began an affair with the man who would become her ill-fated fourth husband. After Alan took his own life in April 1993, his inquest, which found he died by carbon monoxide poisoning, was reported beneath the headline: ‘Man took his life after marital stress’.
‘He was found in the garage. He was drunk apparently, emotional, because she’d been having an affair,’ says his brother, Stewart Warrender. ‘I was never fully satisfied with the inquest verdict. I was sceptical of a suicide. It could be more coercion. I feel strongly it wasn’t properly investigated. I’ve always thought that.’
He added that there was ill-feeling in the family because Penny ‘benefited enormously’ from Alan’s death. ‘Alan’s kids from his first marriage didn’t get a bean. Penny inherited everything and was entitled to his pension too.’
Mr Jackson was married to his second wife, Sheila, when he met Penny in the early 1990s. Having left school at 16, he joined the Royal Transport Corps aged 17 and worked his way up the ranks before working for the MoD. He married his first wife, Patricia, in 1964 and they had two daughters and a son. In the aftermath of Alan’s suicide, Penny changed her name by deed poll to Jackson.
Crime scene: The Somerset bungalow owned by Penny and David Jackson, as seen on February 13 with officers outside
She and David married in 1996, by which time they were living near an army base in Hampshire and raising Penny’s youngest daughter, Isabelle, to believe that David was her real father. She didn’t discover the truth until, as a teenager, she was contacted by one of her half-sisters from Alan Warrender’s first marriage.
Further tragedy followed. Two years after Penny and David’s wedding, David’s 28-year-old son Gavin, from his first marriage, took his own life, leaving a suicide note in which he is said to have written that he didn’t want to end up like his father.
In court, Penny alleged that David became aggressive in the wake of Gavin’s suicide. Her daughter Isabelle backed up her claims, recalling how, when she was eight, David held a knife to her mother’s throat. On another occasion, he pinned her mother against the wall. On yet another occasion, David smashed the mug Isabelle had bought for Mother’s Day. David’s own brother, Alan Jackson, told the Mail that he could be an ‘arrogant bully’.
‘No-one deserves to die the way he did but I can believe that Penny would have been pushed to her limits,’ he said. ‘I don’t think anyone will ever really know what kind of a life she had with David.’
This was the argument made by Jackson’s defence barrister Clare Wade, the same QC who represented Sally Challen, who served nine years in prison for murdering her husband Richard with a hammer before a ground-breaking appeal in 2019 saw her conviction reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
But while Challen was isolated, controlled and humiliated by her husband, Jackson was more than a match for hers. As she said in court: ‘I could have left quietly.’
In December 2020, she summoned police to the couple’s house after a row about the TV remote control ended up with Jackson locking her husband in the conservatory. He smashed his way out using a poker from the wood-burning stove.
He had just returned from hospital after an operation to replace the battery in an implant in his brain for tremors in his arms and hands. He had also undergone chemotherapy for prostate and bowel cancer and had a knee replacement. When asked if she wanted to take the matter further, Jackson told officers: ‘Part of me wants to make him pay for it, but that’s spite.’
Military man: Birmingham-born David was Penny’s fourth husband. She, his third wife. Aside from their occasional furious rows, she placed a high value on her life as an army officer’s wife, enjoying all the middle-class trappings that came with it
She added: ‘It’s either we get through it or we get divorced.’ Divorce would have been the best thing but tragically they limped on. Christmas lay around the corner and then the nation was plunged back into lockdown and the pair hunkered down again at home.
Snippets of their life in lockdown emerged in court. David enjoyed long phone calls with his daughters while Penny listened to The Archers omnibus on Radio 4 or worked out in the home gym she’d set up in the garage.
But she hinted at her feelings towards her husband during the UK’s first lockdown in April 2020 when she posted a joke photograph of a woman knitting a noose for her husband.
On February 13, three days before Penny’s 66th birthday, the couple ate a Michelin-starred meal of crab, lobster and steak, bought by Penny’s daughter Isabelle who cooked the same at her own house with her husband, sharing the occasion via Zoom.
Their fateful row appears to have stemmed from David’s confusion about potatoes, believing they should have been served with the steak and not the lobster.
Penny said she’d prepare some bubble and squeak to have with the steak but when she took it from the Aga, David accused her of making it look as if he thought the gifted meal wasn’t good enough.
Towards the end of the four-and-a-half hour meal, they rowed again, this time over who had forgotten to charge the iPad they were using for the Zoom call.
In court, Isabelle’s husband, Tom Potterton recalled: ‘He said to Penny: ‘You can’t admit when you’re wrong’. He was relatively calm. ‘Penny was upset. You could see she had been crying. My wife thought it best to leave it there so we ended the call.’
Jackson murdered her husband just an hour later.