The True Taxonomy of Leda-Killer Suspects: Why Sir Randolph Whittaker is a Likely Culprit.

A few posts back, I made a case for Dr. Nick Herbert as the Leda-Slayer. My goal was not so much to convince the world that Nick Did It and to point out that a very similar case can be made for Nick as for Dave Polworth. 

The flip side of that is, the same arguments against Dave also apply to Nick— with the possible exception of Nick being more likely to know how to give an injection. 

Truthfully, I don’t really think either Nick or Dave did it. I am not by nature a betting person, but if someone forced me to put down a fiver on someone, my top suspect would be a character who has so far gotten exactly one mention by name in the series: Sir Randolph Whittaker, also known around here as Grandpa, or Old Man Whittaker.  Here is my reasoning.

Assuming Leda was, in fact murdered, the suspects for the dirty deed  fall into two broad categories.  

Bad People We Are Supposed to Suspect:  (AKA Black Hats) This list includes Jonny Rokeby, Jeff Whittaker, Charlotte Campell, Jago Ross, Shumba-the-Rastafarian-Who-Was-Nasty-Enough-to-Make-Uncle-Ted-Want-to-Punch-Him, Some-Yet-Unknown-Person-from-the-Worst-Place-Ever-Norfolk-Commune-That-Keeps-Getting-Mentioned, and all of the Whittaker Extended Family.

Good People We Are Not Supposed to Suspect (AKA White Hats): Uncle Ted, Aunt Joan, Sister Lucy, and good friends Nick Herbert, Ilsa (maiden name unknown at time of murder), Dave Polworth and Shanker. I will also include two Associate White Hats, not because Strike is particularly close to them, but because, if they were involved, it would have been for White Hat Lucy’s sake:  Her biological father Rick Fantoni and her now-husband Greg (whom she may or may not have known when she was nineteen). 

Following the jump, I’ll look closer at my classification system and explain my reasoning. 

Our Headmaster  has made the case that, for meta-literary reasons, the killer must be 1) a surprising choice (so no one obvious like Jeff Whittaker or Jonny Rokeby) and 2) one that would rock Cormoran’s Strike’s identity to its core. From his lengthy treatise:

The murderer of Leda Strike, to have this metamorphic effect on Strike and on the readers of his stories, is going to have to be the closest thing to a mirror reflection to Cormoran as exists on planet Earth. We already have the rings and the literary alchemy in full force; we just need the confrontation with Self that forces transcendence of Strike’s identity and ego. The two characters that qualify on all these counts are Ted Nancarrow and Dave Polworth.

I argued that Nick Herbert could also produce such a transformative experience because of the importance of Nick and Ilsa as the unifying marriage of his Cornwall and London identities. Realistically, though, any of the White Hats could meet the meta-literary criteria, because of the devastating effect it would have on Strike to know that, not only did one of his loved ones kill his mother, they somehow did it to protect him, Lucy or both.

The only Black Hat who would pack the same emotional wallop would be Charlotte Campbell, because of Strike’s love for her, but even that would have a bit different flavor because that love was clearly never linked with any sense of trust.  As far as the other Black Hats go, Strike dislikes them already, so learning they killed his mother would only be one more reason to put on the list. 

But the “must be a White Hat” idea assumes that solving Leda’s murder will be *the* transcendent experience of the series, I don’t think that is a given.  I think the final alchemical transformation will happen a different way, and through someone thought bad during out to be good (Rokeby being the leading candidate) rather than vice-versa.

I therefore think the killer will be one of the less-obvious Bad Guys. So, what makes Sir Randolph the most likely of the Lower Tier Black Hats? Let’s summarize what we know of him.

According to Chapter 10 of Career of Evil, Sir Randolph is a “knighted diplomat” and head of a “moneyed, upper-middle-class family.” His daughter Patricia had schizophrenia and substance abuse problems and was ostracized from the family after she gave birth as an unwed teenager. Sir Randolph choose to raise her son Jeffery to believe that 1) his mother was a perennially absent older sister and London Montessori teacher, and 2) that Sir Randolph and his wife were Jeff’s biological parents. Jeff Whitaker did not learn the truth about his parentage until he was 12.  (Helpful parenting tip from Dr. and Mrs Phipps: “Bad idea!”) If anything , young Jeff took the news harder than Anna. 

From this time onward, Whittaker, already a problem child prone to outbursts of extreme temper during which he lashed out indiscriminately, had become determinedly wild. Expelled from his boarding school, he had joined a local gang and soon became ringleader, a phase that culminated in a spell in a correctional facility because he had held a blade to a young girl’s throat while his friends sexually assaulted her. Aged fifteen, he had run away to London, leaving a trail of petty crime in his wake and finally succeeding in tracking down his biological mother. A brief, enthusiastic reunion had deteriorated almost at once into mutual violence and animosity.

Obviously, anything Jeff Whittaker claims is suspect, but, per his Wikipedia page that Robin reads in Chapter 6 of Career of Evil, Grandpa Randolph was brutal enough to lock Jeff in a shed for three days following his expulsion from Gordonstoun School. Apparently, the school cruelly forced Jeff to play rugby, and he,  in turn, tried to knife a staff member.   Six years later, Jeff Whitaker would be an unsuccessful musician and a seldom-bathed Satanist, when he shacked up with Leda Strike and began sexually tormenting her fourteen-year-old-daughter.  Real winner, that one. 

I think we can safely say Sir Randolph’s track record with his kids was not the best. Whether it was bad luck with nature, nurture or both, his wealth and resources did not save either his daughter or grandson from lives of squalor, substance abuse and crime. We can debate whether the ultimate outcome for the Whittakers was worse for than the Campbells, the Bristows, the Phipps, or the Chiswells, but so far, I don’t think we’ve seen  a wealthy family with any degree of function in the series, so far.  Maybe this is a hint that Rokeby isn’t so bad after all; 6/7’s of this kids like him and there hasn’t been a proven murder in the family yet.  But I digress.

Jeff Whittaker fathered Switch Levay Bloom Whittaker with Leda Strike in 1992, when Cormoran and Lucy were 18 and 16 respectively. Less than two years later, Leda Strike died of a heroin overdose and Whittaker was acquitted of her murder. 

Leda and Whittaker’s son had been adopted by Whittaker’s long-suffering grandparents and Strike had never seen him again. Strike had quietly left Oxford and joined the army; Lucy had gone off to college; life had carried on.

This has always been intriguing to me. Sir Randolph and wife may have been relatively young for great-grandparents, given that Patricia birthed Jeff as a teenager, and Jeff was 23ish when he fathered Switch, they were still likely well into their 60’s.  Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan, however, were closer to their mid-40’s, had raised Cormoran and Lucy for half their childhoods, and Lucy  for the last 5 years.  It would seem that they would be more logical choices to take in baby Switch, who was, after all, as close a blood relation as Cormoran and Lucy. Given the poor outcomes, dysfunction, and accusations of abuse in Sir Whittaker’s home, it seems likely that Ted and Joan would at least try to get custody of Switch. Even if the Oxford student Strike had no interest in a relationship with his baby brother, Lucy almost certainly would. Recall that we are told Strike had never seen Switch again after the trial. It does not say that Lucy, Ted or Joan had not. 

Did Sir Randolph challenge Ted and Joan for custody? Did the Nancarrows defer to him because of his deep pockets for attorneys? Most importantly, if Sir Randolph went out of his way to get custody of his great-grandson, would he have taken any more extreme steps to secure his last chance for a respectable heir?  Namely, kill the child’s druggie mother (probably via hired help) , and set up his wastrel grandson to be accused for the  crime? 

The biggest argument for this hypothesis is, for me, that the assorted motives for others, particularly White Hats, to kill Leda usually come down to “protecting” or “freeing” Cormoran and Lucy from her excesses. The trouble is, Cormoran and Lucy were both of age (20 and 19, according to the text) when Leda died. Lucy had not lived with her mother since she was 14, and Cormoran had left the squat to attend Oxford some 2 years earlier. They were freer of her, physically, emotionally and financially than they had ever been. Why kill her now?  Young Switch, however, was a toddler, living in squalor in a squat full of druggies with a perpetually stoned mother and a violent and dangerous father. He was the one who needed protection.

In chaperons 14 of Lethal White, Strike fondly reminisces about his childhood:

Strike recalled some of the nightmarish spectacles that he and Lucy had witnessed as children: the psychotic youth fighting an invisible devil in a basement flat in Shoreditch, the teenager literally being whipped at a quasi-mystical commune in Norfolk (still, for Strike’s money, the worst place that Leda had ever taken them) and Shayla, one of the most fragile of Leda’s friends and a part-time prostitute, sobbing about the brain damage inflicted on her toddler son by a violent boyfriend. 

We saw a story about involving an “invisible devil” in Book 5. What if the other two  bolded elements are plot pointers to Books 6 and 7?  That would open the door us finally learning the secret to the Norfolk commune in Book 6, and to Switch’s safety being an important factor in Leda’s death, as revealed in Book 7.

Some have argued that Sir Randolph is not a prominent enough character, given that he and Switch get such brief mentions, and have only turned up in one book of five.   My answer to that is that there is certainly time in the next couple of books for Switch, Whittaker or even Sir Randolph to make an appearance. One important clue that Switch, at least, will be important to the future story in some way comes from the TV series. The CoE scene where Strike confronts and punches Whittaker outside his crack van is largely true to the book, with one exception— there was an added line of dialogue in which Whittaker tells Stephanie that he had a child with Leda. If the TV series went out of its way to mention the kiddo, it’s likely he will eventually play some significant role. 

But isn’t Sir Randolph likely to be dead by the time this all goes down? The Wikipedia article Robin read in 2011 spoke of him as if he were still alive– he was linked to his own Wiki page with no mention of being “the late Sir Randolph.”  He may be in his 80’s, but he could well be still around. 

But didn’t Sir Randolph pay for Jeff Whitaker’s defense?  Isn’t that inconsistent with Grandpa setting Jeff up to take the fall? Not necessarily..  the text doesn’t say Sir Randolph got him a good defense attorney, it said “someone in the moneyed family” did.  There may have been some sympathetic maternal relatives who interceded.  Or, there may have been a quid pro quo, where Jeff would agree to give up his child to the great-grandparents, in exchange for a better lawyer than he could get on his own. And what would make Sir Randolph more confident that his lawyer could secure an acquittal than the defendant actually being innocent?

The final intriguing detail is that Jeff Whittaker made one attempt to get his son away from Sir Randolph, by an attempted kidnapping of 3-year-old SLBW and an assault on Sir Randolph, about a year after he walked free from his trial.  Was that really because he wanted his child back?  (He hardly seems like a doting papa!) or because he was aware that his grandfather was somehow responsible for what happened to Leda?  

I welcome comments and counter-arguments. 


  1. Comment from Karol Jay: (moved, by permission, from another post to a place it is more relevant)
    I’ve been working on my Strike timeline and came across something that I hadn’t noticed before that might have an impact on Leda’s frame of mind. When Strike had his 18th birthday party Leda was 6 months pregnant. The Wikipedia entry for Jeff Whittaker (in CoE) said Switch was born in December 1992. Strike turned 18 in 1992, right? So that means Switch would have been born prematurely assuming Strike’s party was celebrated close to his November 23 birthday. Has this been discussed before? Switch might be fine but could he have had health or developmental issues resulting from his early birth? Strike says nothing about him. We only know he was adopted by Whittaker’s grandparents and the Wikipedia entry says Whittaker tried to take him back and assaulted the grandfather. Could Leda have felt guilty or perhaps someone blamed her? Orlando’s disability in CofE was the result of an early birth and a twin died if I remember correctly. Could that be significant?

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Good catch, Karol. It does appear that SLBW was 2-2.5 months premature. While, in 1992, it is quite likely that a 7-month preemie would recover with no lasting effects, it is also possible there could have been complications, and Leda being a 40ish mom would have increased those odds. We should also note that the great-grandparents got custody despite Whittaker’s acquittal. Did it take an accusation of murder to her child protective services involved?
    The list of horrible things Strike saw as a child includes mention of a child of one of Leda’s friends brain-damaged by an abusive boyfriend. If Switch was damaged through Leda’s or Whittaker’s actions–neglect, violence or drugs–that could certainly complicate things.
    Though, honestly, I don’t see Whittaker trying to kidnap a disabled child back from his grandparents.

  3. Yeah, I wouldn’t expect that of Jeff Whittaker unless he thought he could get money out of his grandparents. However, Owen Quine seemed to have been a decent father in spite of being an unpleasant person so it wouldn’t be impossible for Whittaker to want his son in his life, too. Just unlikely.

  4. Now you have me rethinking the whole ‘Charlotte Did It!’ scenario in light of your taxonomic classification of suspects and Snape focused transformation in Strike (i.e., that the bad hat who turns out to be a good hat opens his eyes to his having been blind… right). Charlotte is the anima or feminine aspect of soul he struggles to integrate but suppresses until he leaves her and works out his issues via his relationship with Robin.

    Here are my three thoughts beyond wondering if The Presence didn’t have a jolly with still another pseudonym and post the ‘Charlotte Did It’ idea so I would go public in ridiculing it — when MiLady Bezerko is indeed Leda’s Bane:

    (1) Your write-up points to an important Strike3 and Strike5 parallel I hadn’t caught, namely, how much Jeff Whittaker’s life ran parallel to Anna Phipps’ childhood. How many candies are we going to find like this at the bottom of the bag? Great catch.

    (2) I’m not convinced that, even with the teevee show mention and the possibility that Switch appears in the flesh in Strikes 6 and 7, that we have seen enough of that family for ‘Old Man Whittaker Did It’ to satisfy the fair play rules of the genre. I also think it wildly unlikely that Joan and Ted Nancarrow and Lucy spent any significant time with Switch because it would have been mentioned in Joan’s last year conversations with her seemingly only nephew. She’d be worried about the boy and there definitely would have been a push for Strike to find him, his half-brother, if Joan was equal to urging Strike to meet with his biological father. I love the suspect taxonomy (very helpful) and the counter-possibility to the devastating mirror reflection Strike catharsis and chrysalis. I just can’t see a character this obscure making a last book appearance that explains Leda’s mysterious death. It would be like learning Kingsley Shacklebot played a significant role in the death of Lily and James Potter.

    [I say ‘last book’ singular because I assume Strikes 6 and 7 will be one book in the same way that the parallel numbers in the Hogwarts Saga, Prince and Hallows, “run into each other,” as Rowling put it. Rokeby will be the Dumbledore of Half-Blood Prince, i.e., revealing to his boy via multiple Pensieve visits the back-story of Leda’s “million men” her older son has repressed, forgotten, or never knew, and, like Harry’s father-figure, Rokeby will die at book’s end. Strike will inherit the mission (and the money) to find out who killed mum or why she killed herself.]

    (3) It’s a peculiar set of ‘givens’ of our reading here at this site that (a) it’s a seven book series in structure with the same parallels between the books in the ring composition of the Hogwarts Saga, and (b) that this opening septology — not the series which theoretically could be endless — will close (i) with the resolution of the Leda Strike suicide-murder ‘Whodunnit?’ and (ii) the mystery of the Strike-Ellacott romance ending in their marriage or engagement. These are premises that only a brave few accept, of course, and for which there is significant, playful evidence. It is curious that only the ‘Lucy Did It’ theory, Switch being a little young, as much as I want to believe Dave Polworth was the killer and as much as I admire the ‘Nick Did It’ argument, follows the premise that there will be a septology latch between Books 1 and 4 and a series axis connecting 1, 4, and 7. Books 1 and 4 feature murderous siblings; Strike 7 should as well. Yes, I know I have dismissed the ‘Lucy Did It’ theory as over-the-top, but Lucy seems much more likely to be the murderer or the potential savior who watched mum die instead than Old Man Whittaker.

    Your post does inspire the question, though, “Where was Switch when Leda died?” We’re talking about a very young child, one who still might have been breastfeeding. If we learn he was at the estate of his great-grandfather or in St Mawes with his Aunt and Uncle, I think we’ll have a better idea of who killed Leda.

    If in the Strike 6 Rokeby-Pensieve we learn that the child Switch was taken from his mother and she was told she could never see him again — think of Marlene Higson, Lula’s birth mother, and Betty Fuller, whose grand-children were taken from her — and all the messaging in ‘Troubled Blood’ about a mother’s bond with her children — the odds of Leda killing herself go way up, no? As you have argued, Leda’s children are now of age and free of her; her circumstances and marriage to Jeff Whittaker don’t invite frequent visits from either Lucy or Cormoran. Baby Switch’s absence from the flat may mean Whittaker tortured her by taking the infant and saying she couldn’t see him anymore (Rowling in Porto was thrown in the street by her first husband and she had to come back to their home with friends to get baby Jessica).

    That scenario if it proves true, Professor Freeman, I think makes a case for the Whittaker men being responsible for Leda’s despair and death by suicide. A different case than the one you have made but one that never would have occurred to me except for this theory.

    Can we have a round-up soon of our Leda Killer Suspect posts? We’ve got fan fiction pieces now for Ted Nancarrow, Dave Polworth, Charlotte Campbell-Ross, Lucy Fantoni, Nick Herbert, and Sir Randolph Whittaker. If ‘Heroin Dark Lord’ is reborn, Rokeby is in the mix as well, which makes seven, the most magical number.

  5. Louise Freeman says

    Of course, if JKR/RG is a fan of The Simpsons, we might well suspect young Switch. The answer to the “Who shot Mr. Burns?” mystery turned out to be, Baby Maggie. Maybe the little tyke was teething on vials, and chewed the labels off, causing mom to mistake some stray heroin for her speed?

    Just kidding.

    If the “They Let Her Die” hypothesis is right, I think Lucy goes to the top of the list. What you mention about someone driving her to suicide, we could draw an allusion to the Lethal White murder and the “what’s the difference between driving them to suicide and just doing it yourself?”

    As for the question, where was Switch?, assuming Karol is correct and he was a preemie, he would have spent some time in the NICU after birth. It is far more likely he would have needed specialized care upon discharge, and that follow-up nurses would have been sent to the home. I can’t imagine Leda’s squat as suitable for any baby, let alone one with specialized needs. So, there was certainly reason to take him into care or place with relatives early on. Maybe Sir Raymond (and wife?) had custody much earlier?

  6. The Strike books have several instances of children who are abused by parents or adults they should be able to trust. The biggest blowup between Strike and Robin concerned the abuse of a child with Strike arguing he can’t change the world. But how would Strike react if he found out his own brother had been abused by Grandpa Whittaker? That might be a shock to his system.

  7. Good question, John. Where was Switch when his mother was dying? The question of why social services did not get involved with Strike and Lucy was finally touched upon in TB. For them it was put forth that they moved around a lot and that Ted and Joan might not have wanted to hurt their relationship with Leda. But when Switch was a baby had Leda remained in the same place Strike remembered? And with Old Man Whittaker in the picture, social services might have been called in whether Switch had development problems or not.

    If Leda was trying to retain custody where would she have gone for help to pay lawyers? Ted was already helping with Strike’s university costs and maybe Lucy’s, too. Would she have tried to tap into the money she had refused to use for Strike’s care? I REALLY want to learn more about Switch.

  8. The thing with Ted and Joan not wanting to call social services on Leda because they were worried about fracturing relationships has smelled fishy to me from the moment I read it. I think it’s a huge clue towards some of the fan fiction we’ve read here about Leda suffering abuse at the hands of her father, and Ted having a bust up with Old Man Nancarrow because of it, etc. You wouldn’t be calling social services if you had a baggage of that size you don’t want uncovered.

    One thing that occurs to me is that Leda’s murder and the family history that the Nancarrows are trying to keep buried don’t necessarily have to be related. I have fallen utterly in love with the tale of young Dave Polworth travelling to London, getting heroin from Shanker without knowing who each other are, and doing the deed, but The Great Nancarrow Cover Up can stand on its own and be true whoever the murderer is (personally I’m leaning towards Rokeby being involved in some way, but we’ll find out).

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