Every once in a while I come across a true story that is so bizarre, so unexpected, so loaded with improbabilities, that I just have to record it somewhere in a notebook or one of those note-taking apps. These are the kind of stories that you just can’t make up. No work of fiction can ever replicate the shock that such stories evoke. The true story of the Chohan murders was one such.
I first came across the case in June last year during my ‘first-thing-in-the-morning’ browse of the BBC News website. “Chohan family killers named as Michael Schallamach murder suspects”, the headline screamed. Which was intriguing enough. So I clicked through and the very first line surprised me: “Two convicted killers have been named as suspects in the unsolved murder of a man who disappeared 24 years ago.” I must have spent most of the next couple of days trying to read every news piece I could get on the Chohan murders and the men convicted of that heinous crime: Kenneth Regan, William Horncy and Peter Rees.
Two things immediately jumped out. Firstly, this was perhaps the most bizarre story of true crime I had ever read. Everything about it was…unusual. The story of the Chohan murders involved a police informant, a shady businessman, his innocent family, a naive London socialite desperate to make some money, a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib, a laptop with a computer game, and a deeply confusing and convoluted timeline. Secondly, and perhaps the timeline is to blame, many articles about the case seemed to contradict each other. There did not appear to be a single definitive narration of the story anywhere.
Thus when my ex-boss and dear friend Priya Ramani, an editor at Juggernaut Books, asked me to think of a nice, compact story for the Juggernaut platform, I did not hesitate. I offered to work on what must be the first, full retelling of the Chohan murder case in around a decade. The short book you will read is a synthesis of newspaper reports, court documents, one autobiography, trial reports and interviews.
While the narration you will read is short, writing it was not bereft of challenges. Many people involved in the case preferred to stay silent or speak off the record. News reports were tremendously inconsistent. Merely reconciling so many different versions of the same story accounted for the lion’s share of research time spent on the slim manuscript.
But also consider the sheer brutality of the story. This is a story of unforgivable human greed and cruelty. To this day we do not know how exactly the Chohans were murdered. The bodies of the two small children, the most pitiful of the victims, have never been found.
In 2005 Kenneth Regan and William Horncy were sentenced to life in prison with an exceedingly rare ‘whole-life order’. They will never be released.