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Interview with Rena Salmon

by Julie 

Posted: 25 June 2004
Word Count: 1939

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Death at the salon

After Rena Salmon walked into a beauty salon and shot dead her husband's pregnant mistress, she was portrayed as a ruthless avenger. But when Julie Bindel met her in prison, she found a shy woman still bemused at how she had taken the life of her 'best friend'

Tuesday February 17, 2004
The Guardian

The visiting room at Bullwood Hall women's prison in Essex is full. It is shortly before Christmas and families and friends have come in their masses, bringing presents and brave smiles to the inmates who have nothing much to look forward to apart from the end of their sentences. Rena Salmon might have a long time to wait. Given a 14-year tariff for murder, if she serves it all her children will be adults, and Salmon three years off drawing her pension.
I recognise her from photographs in the media and ask how she is. "Still shocked I've ended up in this situation." I believe her. Shy and nervous, she tells me, "I'm the woman the papers say is evil at the moment, although Max [Maxine Carr, whom Rena befriended in Bullwood Hall] took the crown for a while."

Salmon had written to me at Justice for Women after hearing about the cases of battered women who kill which we had taken on, and won, through the court of appeal (her lawyers are awaiting leave to appeal her conviction). I had to tell her that she did not fit our remit - she did not kill a man because she had been terrified for her life, but a woman who did not deserve to die. What led me to meet her, and ultimately pledge to help, was my suspicion that Salmon, like women such as Sara Thornton and Emma Humphreys, was also a victim of sexism in the criminal justice system: she had killed a woman, did not present as a classic victim, and therefore was viewed as evil rather than desperate and ill.

Salmon's case could be described as a classic "crime passionnel". Her husband Paul had been having a secret affair with Lorna Stewart for a year when, in September 2002, Rena shot her rival dead in Stewart's beauty salon. The Salmons were great friends with Stewart and her husband Keith, and frequently spent evenings and holidays together. The couples lived close to each other, and their children attended the same school in Great Shefford, Berkshire. They were, according to their neighbours, the best of friends. "I'd often see the four of them having a laugh and joke together," one told me. "We all thought they had something good going."

Rena had been married to Paul Salmon for 18 years and, as he himself has confirmed both during the trial and in media interviews subsequently, he was unfaithful throughout. At the time Salmon killed her rival, she and Paul were going through divorce proceedings. "I always suspected what was going on, but tried to ignore it. He would go out drinking every Friday night and come home demanding oral sex. He wasn't the most hygienic of men, so I would never want to, and he would say, 'Sod you, I'll get it from someone else'."

They met when they were both in the army, but Paul soon left to set up in business. The couple lived an affluent lifestyle, both children at boarding school, and Salmon driving a Mercedes and going to New York regularly on shopping trips. "The prosecution made out my motive for killing Lorna was greed and jealously, but that is absolute rubbish. I was talking to some of the other lifers yesterday, and I told them, 'Look at what we thought we had and lost by being locked up in here,' but apart from my kids, I had nothing that meant a thing to me. I just wanted to be happy with my family."

There is no doubting her crime was terrible. In September 2002, Salmon, a skilled markswoman after her time in the army, drove to the beauty salon in Chiswick, west London run by Stewart, the woman her husband had set up home with two months previously. She walked through to the office, where she encountered Stewart. "Have you come to shoot me?" the other woman asked. Salmon's answer was to fire two shots. Stewart was dead within minutes.

Salmon claims she went to the salon to kill herself in front of Stewart. "I worked out beforehand that if I killed myself in a public way, the world would know what Lorna did to us all, and the bad publicity would wreck her business, her true love; the downside being I would miss my kids growing up." Instead, Stewart ended up dead, and Salmon in prison, separated from the children she clearly adores.

Salmon has had a troubled life. She told me that some time before the offence, she became so low that when her children, now aged 12 and 14, begged their mother not to kill herself and leave them, she made a suicide pact with them. "I now think it's so terrible, so mad, to plan with your kids to take them to heaven with you, but I was off my head, I did not know what I was thinking of." During her husband's affair with Stewart, Salmon made two serious attempts on her life. The jury decided that she was not suffering from diminished responsibility, despite the evidence of four psychiatrists who diagnosed her as having been clinically depressed, and friends and neighbours testifying that she had been in a very bad way during the build-up to the shooting.

Her marriage, she says, began as a happy one, but by 1994, soon after the birth of their daughter, Salmon began to work full-time and her husband was often away. "That's when my life changed. My job was very stressful, and I was running the house single-handedly." She put up with it though, and became used to taking a back seat, she claims, to her husband's needs. "The only things that mattered to me were Paul and the kids. I should have known better. Even after I discovered his affair with Lorna, I was still doing his washing and ironing."

Gender always plays a role in cases where women kill. Does Salmon think that the fact she is a woman went against her in court? "Yes, without question. People are shocked when a woman commits a crime like mine. If I had killed Paul, maybe it would make more sense to them, in a horrible way, but I killed a woman, and that's anathema." Peter Clarke, QC, for the prosecution, summed up: "The stress placed on the shoulders of this defendant was such that thousands of people are suffering from at this moment in this country. It's very, very common. We do not have a crime of passion in this country."

In fact, we do, but it tends to apply mainly to men. It is not uncommon for men to kill their wives or their lovers, even their children, when discovering or suspecting infidelity, and it is certainly not uncommon for those men to get some level of understanding from the courts rather than a life sentence. In the same month that Salmon was sentenced to life, Christopher Pugh was cleared of murdering his wife after bludgeoning her to death with two hammers after finding text messages from her lover. Two months earlier, Leslie Humes stabbed his wife to death in a jealous rage after she told him she was in love with another man. He was given seven years for manslaughter, and will be eligible for parole in 2005.

Salmon was shocked, she says, at the levels of vitriol in the media. "During the trial the press painted me as some sort of avenging demon. They printed half-truths and out and out lies. I came across as a fat, rich lazy woman living a pampered life."

The many friends, relatives and neighbours I spoke to describe a very different woman. They all volunteered the same three things without being asked - that Salmon was an exceptionally good mother, that Paul treated her very badly, and that in the weeks before she shot Stewart she was extremely depressed.

Leone Griffin, Salmon's best friend, was a witness for the prosecution, because Salmon had sent her a text message immediately after shooting Stewart. "I called her right back and she confirmed it. She was still in the salon, sitting by Lorna, waiting for the police to arrive. She sounded off this planet." Salmon then texted her husband: "I've just shot Lorna. This isn't a joke."

"She was my best friend, and I can't tell you how much I miss her," says Salmon. "Now, Lorna and I have a strange bond. We both loved Paul, and it has cost us our lives."

The added twist to the tragedy was that when Stewart died, she was several weeks' pregnant with Paul Salmon's baby. "Lorna called me in the middle of the night, taunting me that they were trying for a baby, and telling me if she succeeded she would be delightful because it would 'look like them'."

Salmon, whose mother is white and father Bangladeshi, took this as a racist remark. During the trial, both she and her sister Sabeya gave evidence about how their white mother would scrub her four children with bleach in the bath once a week, starting with the darkest, Rena. "I've always had a thing about my colour. I hated being black growing up. My mother used to call us 'half-castes' and 'little black bastards', so I learned to hate myself from an early age."

Salmon's mother denies this, as she does her daughters' claims that she used to work as a prostitute when the children were young, and that all four children had different fathers. "She would bring some of her punters home, and they were all horrible, dirty old men," claims Salmon. "I never believed my father was who he was supposed to be. I reckon he was a customer."

Griffin describes Salmon as "fiercely loyal, and yet so betrayed". Not only did Salmon's husband leave her for her close friend, but since her conviction both Paul Salmon and Stewart's husband Keith Rodrigues have sold their stories to the tabloids for considerable amounts of money, as has her mother to a weekly women's magazine for 100. During divorce proceedings Paul apparently sent Rena a text message telling her he couldn't visit the children, because he was "busy shagging". Rena told me that almost the last words Lorna spoke were "He isn't worth it".

In April Paul Salmon will marry his 28-year-old girlfriend, Cheryl Adams. He has been quoted as saying he has "no regrets" and that if he had his chance he would "do it all over again".

Salmon, however, is full of them. "Four children are now without a mother. And believe it or not, I miss Lorna, I miss her friendship. I hate what I've done, but I'm not the only one responsible for all this pain. Lots of the women on the wing have asked, 'Why didn't you kill Paul?' but the truth is I didn't intend to kill anyone but myself that day."

This is not a crime you could fit into a neat hole, with a classic explanation. "I firmly believe I deserve to be punished for my crime, but I will always deny it was murder," she says. "The real tragedy of all this is the children, both Lorna's and mine. I should have been the one to die, not her. "

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Comments by other Members

Jubbly at 20:50 on 25 June 2004  Report this post
An amazing read Julie, well written and very probing. I've read a lot about this case in the past, but nothing as personal as this. I was left wondering, what is murder? How much can you take until you snap and destroy everything? I was surprised at the contrast between the financial earnings of the two husbands and the paltry 100 made by Rena's mother. Did you intend to make a point there? I was also left wondering what was the truth exactly? Was she lying about her childhood or a fantasist? Gripping reading which has made me want to learn more about this case. Thanks for posting.


Julie at 12:46 on 30 June 2004  Report this post
Thanks very much - yes, I did intend to make that point.

She is telling the truth about her childhood, but like so many she wasn't believed.

Best, Julie

Franceyy at 14:44 on 19 April 2009  Report this post
Hi, i only joined this site because i was reasearching into the Rena salmon case, i did come across this site before but only now really wanted to give my input,
Last year i met Rena as i visted her prison which i will leave unnamed, i met her amongst alot of other murderers with my school, sitting and listening to her storyy was very emotional and i feel very sorry for her , i know what she has been through. Me and My Friends who went, on the way said that these people were up for murder so we wouldnt feel sorry for any of them but amazingly their stories touched our hearts especially Rena`s and we sat in complete silence on the way back to our school thinking about how terrible there lifes now are.
i just wanted to say that looking at her and meeting her you would not expect anything like that from such a fragile women. She is very sweet, and before meeting her i always thought to myself when reading papers and watching news about murdrers what horrible people, but until you meet someone who has done it seeing the guilt in them afterwards is so.....(Dont know a word that can desribe it)


YeahRight at 04:13 on 15 November 2009  Report this post
Where did my comments go? Can I assume you only want to paint a false picture of the person in question then... oh well, investigative journalisim NOT.

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