Winnie Johnson, 78, died in a hospice early yesterday morning, tragically unaware of the revelation just 24 hours earlier that Brady may have disclosed the location of Keith Bennett's body in a supposed letter addressed to her to be opened on his death.
Brady, the killer of her 12-year-old son, has always refused to say where he and his lover and accomplice, Myra Hindley, buried him despite decades of pleading from his victim's grieving mother.
Brady, 74, and Hindley, who died in jail in 2002 aged 60, were responsible for the murders of five youngsters in the 1960s. Most were sexually tortured before being buried on Saddleworth Moor, with Bennett's body the only one yet to be found.
In a statement on behalf of the family, Keith's brother, Alan Bennett, said: "She was a much loved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and is survived by one younger brother.
"Winnie fought tirelessly for decades to find Keith and give him a Christian burial. Although this was not possible during her lifetime, her family intend to continue this fight now for her and for Keith. We hope that the authorities and the public will support us in this."
Brady and Hindley were jailed in 1966 for the murders of John Kilbride, 12, Lesley Ann Downey, 10, and Edward Evans, 17. In 1987 the pair finally admitted killing Keith and Pauline Reade, 16, and were taken back to the moor to help police find the remains of the missing victims, but only Pauline's body was found.
Brady was born in Glasgow in 1938, the illegitimate son of a tearoom waitress. She gave him up within months and he was raised in Gorbals by a couple with four children of their own, but displayed psychopathic tendencies from an early age: breaking the hind legs of one dog, setting fire to another, and decapitating a cat. By 17 he had spent time in juvenile detention for burglary and, facing a fresh string of charges, was ordered by a court to make the fateful move to Manchester to live with his mother. In January 1959, Brady obtained a clerical job at a wholesale chemical distribution company in Gorton where he would later meet Hindley.
In his 2001 book, The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and its Analysis, Brady stated that the "authentic killer" would rather inflict life than death upon their victims, to savour the knowledge that the victim had suffered the memory of the ordeal for the rest of their days.
Many believe he has relished the suffering of the families of his murder victims and took pleasure in tormenting Johnson from Ashworth psychiatric hospital in Merseyside, where he has been detained since 1985, by holding back the one piece of information that could have given her some semblance of peace.
Johnson remained steadfast in her belief that Brady knew where her son's remains were and over the years appealed directly to him to reveal where he had buried Keith – his third victim – after snatching him on his way to his grandmother's home on June 16, 1964.
Johnson's death comes amid a new police investigation into whether a letter exists in which Brady apparently discloses the location of Keith's body.
Brady's mental health advocate, Jackie Powell, told a Channel 4 documentary to be screened tomorrow night that he gave her a sealed envelope containing a letter to pass to Johnson in the event of his death.
That information was passed to police and Powell, 49, was arrested on Thursday at her home in South Wales, on suspicion of preventing the burial of a body without lawful exercise.
She was released on bail pending further inquiries. It is understood she claims she returned the envelope to Brady before her arrest.
A search of Brady's quarters at Ashworth Hospital has also failed to uncover the alleged letter.
Johnson's lawyer John Ainley said Brady still held the key to finding the burial spot: "Despite her personal appeals directly to Brady and via my office, he persistently ignored the wishes of a grieving mother.
"She has died without knowing Keith's whereabouts and without the opportunity to finally put him at rest in a decent grave.
"It is a truly heartbreaking situation that this opportunity has now been irrevocably lost."
Martin Bottomley, of Greater Manchester Police's major and cold case crime unit, paid tribute to Johnson for spending most of her life "courageously fighting to get justice for Keith".
Last month Brady was due to go before a mental health tribunal to consider his application to be transferred to a prison and allowed to die, but it was delayed after he suffered a seizure. He has been tube-fed since refusing food 12 years ago.
No new date has been set for the hearing in Manchester.
The pain of the parents who lived and died with the tragedy of the Moors Murders
WINNIE Johnson was not the first mother of one of the Moors Murders victims whom he tormented to the grave.
Four other families endured the unimaginable torment of losing a child under the worst possible circumstances.
Ann West, the mother of Lesley Ann Downey, was once the face of a national campaign to ensure Hindley remained behind bars. She continued her fight until her death at 69 from liver cancer in 1999. The families of the other victims described her as an "inspiration".
After Hindley and Brady kidnapped Lesley Ann from a fairground in Manchester, they tortured the child, photographing her and recording her screaming and begging for her life. When the tape was played during the trial, the nation was shocked. West had to identify her daughter's voice on the tape recording and was adamant it was Hindley who committed the murder.
For years she took valium and high-dose sleeping pills to cope with nightmares, and doctors said the stress had contributed to her cancer. But the illness did not stop her campaigning and in 1998 she visited a High Court hearing on Hindley's future in a wheelchair. She said she would rest in peace if the court ensured Hindley remained in prison. Her wish was granted.
It was more than two decades before the parents of Pauline Reade learned what had happened to their daughter.
The 16-year-old was the first victim of the Moors Murderers. Her mother, Joan Reade, 72, died in May 2000 after falling into a coma. Her husband Amos had died five years previously.
Reade's granddaughter, Jeanette Hurst, said she had never recovered from the murder and suffered from ill health for years.
Hurst said she believed renewed press coverage of the murders, in the later years of her life, contributed to her grandmother's death.
Danny Kilbride, the younger brother of John Kilbride, led a lifelong crusade to keep Brady and Hindley behind bars.
He was just 11 when John was snatched, strangled and buried in a shallow grave. He was the second victim.
Kilbride appeared in a police dramatisation in the immediate aftermath of John Kilbride's disappearance, aimed at finding his missing brother.
By then, though, John had been strangled, and his body was later tracked down through a picture of Hindley posing by his grave.
Kilbride spent most of the next 48 years as a spokesman for his devastated family – insisting "life should mean life" for the murderers.
Brady has never sought freedom although Hindley did appeal in 1998.
Kilbride lost his battle with cancer, aged 59, in October 2011.
Relatives said he was at peace, knowing Hindley was never released before she died in 2002 and that Brady would not be freed.
He went on to head the shattered Kilbride family when his parents' marriage eventually broke down.
'He could say where the body is, but he'd have nothing left to play with'
By Jean Rafferty, the Scots journalist who has corresponded with Brady for seven years.
Poor Winnie Johnston, to die not knowing where her boy's body lay, to have spent nearly 50 years thinking of him alone in the dark on the desolate wastes of Saddleworth Moor. We can only hope that as a religious woman, her final thought was of being reunited with the son so cruelly taken from her.
But what is Ian Brady thinking, the man who, with his partner Myra Hindley, was responsible for five murders which have lingered in the national consciousness for nearly five decades. Is he sitting gloating in his cell, or are things a little more complex? Can we ever know?
There are commentators queuing up to say Brady is a monster, a master of manipulation. Dr Chris Cowley, a psychiatrist who interviewed him over years, has called him "evil" – clearly a scientific term in medical circles. Others say he is orchestrating the current media circus from his cell and knows exactly how to pull the strings to create the show he wants.
Well, maybe - but there are imponderables which make it impossible to say that with any certainty. The first is Jackie Powell, Brady's mental health advocate, who was arrested on suspicion of preventing burial of a body by allegedly withholding a letter she believed to hold the whereabouts of Keith Bennett's body.
But there appears to be no such letter. Despite thorough searches of her home and Brady's room in Ashworth mental health hospital, police failed to find it. Now Powell is backtracking and saying she handed it back to Brady. Other reports say the letter may be as much as 10 years old. Without it being physically produced, no-one can say for certain what was in it, or even whether there was a letter at all.
Psychopathic killers like Brady are notoriously charismatic and manipulative – Myra Hindley persuaded an ex-nun who was a warder at the prison not only to become her lover but to hatch an escape plot which involved the pair fleeing to Brazil. Brady may have convinced Powell she was in a unique position of trust and, with Machiavellian guile, have nudged her towards revealing the existence of a letter.
Or he may be furious she has blabbed to the press. His room at Ashworth was ransacked, which would almost certainly have left him extremely disturbed and angry. This, after all, is the man who has been on hunger strike since 1999, 13 long years, the longest hunger strike in British penal history. Why? Because hospital staff strong-armed him from one ward to another. Now he sits for four hours every day, being drip-fed in a chair. Yet still he refuses to eat. His anger, judging from the letters I have exchanged with him as research for my novel, is boundless. I think it is probably that rage which keeps him going more than the force-feeding.
He has asked for a mental health hearing as he wants to be transferred to a prison where he would not be force fed and where he could starve himself to death.
He could, of course, easily commit suicide at any time. Harold Shipman and Fred West both killed themselves while on suicide watch. But Brady will not give the authorities that satisfaction. His death has to have some meaning. In his book, The Gates of Janus, he likens murder to an art. He says: "He [the serial killer] must perform the dualistic feat of proving to himself that he is literally capable of anything, whilst knowing he is not. Dream as reality. Life a work of art."
Brady no longer has much material to work on in the creation of the work of art that is his life. His body is one source of control. If he dies of self-inflicted starvation, its demise will be symbolic of his contempt for the Ashworth staff and the empty existence he believes they have inflicted on him. His willingness to undergo 13 years of force feeding for the illusion of autonomy shows how important control has been in his life.
His only other material, his last bargaining chip, is the location of Keith's body. He could have revealed it at any time in the last 46 years, but what then would he have left to play with? Winnie Johnston's lawyer, John Ainsley, thought he was close to a breakthrough when he asked Brady to consider telling the truth. Shortly after that their correspondence was suspended, with no reason given. Game over.
Except it is more than a game to Brady. Keith's burial place is highly significant to him, both personally and as precious information.
The problem is he may no longer know where it is. When he was taken up to Saddleworth Moor in 1987 to help in the search for Keith's body, he was seen to be visibly disoriented. That night he apparently went through his photo albums of the moors. Perhaps he was simply enjoying his crimes again, exulting over having deliberately confused police. But perhaps he really could not match what he saw to his memories.
Hundreds of feet of pipeline have been laid across the moors since the murders, gallons of rain have fallen on its bleak landscape, changing the path of its streams.
A man as proud as Brady would be unlikely to admit that he didn't know, particularly if by doing so he gave up his one bargaining chip. The irony is that Winnie Johnston's death, after he so cruelly kept her in the dark, may just have reduced its value.
THE FIVE YOUNG VICTIMS OF BRADY AND HINDLEY
KEITH Bennett was the third victim of Brady and Hindley. He vanished on Tuesday June 16, 1964, four days after his 12th birthday.
Every Tuesday evening Keith would go to his grandmother's home to spend the night. That Tuesday was no different.
As his grandmother's house was only a mile away, he walked by himself.
His mother watched him walk to Stockport Road, then left him to go to bingo in the opposite direction.
When Keith didn't arrive at her house, his grandmother assumed that his mother had decided not to send him.
Keith's disappearance was not discovered until the next morning when his grandmother arrived at her daughter's home without Keith.
Hindley had lured the boy into her Mini pick-up — which Brady was sitting in the back of — by asking for his help in loading some boxes.
She drove to a lay-by on Saddleworth Moor as she and Brady had previously arranged, and Brady went off with Bennett, supposedly looking for a lost glove.
Hindley kept watch, and after about 30 minutes or so Brady reappeared, alone and carrying a spade that he had hidden there earlier.
When Hindley asked how he had killed Bennett, Brady said that he had sexually assaulted the boy and strangled him with a piece of string.
A quarter of a century ago, Brady returned with police to Saddleworth moor, along with Hindley, who died in 2002, but Keith's body has never been found.
On December 26, 1964, six months after Keith's death, 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey disappeared after an afternoon trip to a local fair. Her mother Ann and her fiance Alan grew frantic when she had not returned home by dinnertime and began to search for her. They called the police when they could find no sign.
The countryside was searched, thousands were questioned, but no new leads were discovered. It would be another 10 months before the truth was uncovered.
Lesley Ann's naked body was found in a shallow grave, with her clothing at her feet. After their arrest for the murder of Edward Evans, police had nothing but hearsay and circumstantial evidence to connect Brady and Hindley to her death.
A more thorough search of Brady's house at Wardle Brook Avenue on October 15 gave them the evidence they needed. A left-luggage ticket led police to a locker at Manchester Central Station.
Inside were two suitcases with semi-pornographic photographs of the child. A tape recording was also found where the little girl was heard begging for her life.
JOHN Kilbride disappeared on November 11, 1963.
The 12-year-old and his friend, John Ryan, had gone to the local cinema for the afternoon. When the film finished at 5pm, they went to a market in Ashton-Under-Lyne to see if they could earn some pocket money helping the stall-holders to pack up.
John Ryan left John Kilbride standing near a carpet dealer's stall to go and catch his bus home. It was the last time that anyone saw him.
Accompanied by Brady, Hindley had offered him a lift home on the pretext that his parents would be worried about him being out so late.
On the way he suggested that they take a detour, to search for a glove he said that Hindley had lost on the moor.
When they reached the moor Brady took the child with him while Hindley waited in the car. Brady sexually assaulted Kilbride and strangled him.
Police found the name John Kilbride written, in Brady's handwriting, in his notebook and a photograph of Hindley posing on John's grave on the moor.
ON the night of July 12, 1963, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley took their first victim,16-year-old Pauline Reade. Pauline, a neighbour of Hindley's, was on her way to a dance at the Railway Workers' Social Club in Manchester's Gorton area on the night she disappeared.
That evening, Brady told Hindley that he wanted to "commit his perfect murder".
He told her to drive her van around the local area while he followed behind on his motorcycle.
When he spotted a likely victim he would flash his headlight, and Hindley was to stop and offer that person a lift.
Reade got into the van with Hindley, who then asked if she would mind helping to search for an expensive glove she had lost on Saddleworth Moor.
When the van reached the moor, Hindley stopped and Brady arrived shortly afterwards on his motorcycle.
Brady took Reade on to the moor while Hindley waited in the van. After about 30 minutes Brady returned alone, and took Hindley to the spot where Reade lay dying, her throat cut. She had been sexually assaulted.
Returning home from the moor in the van, Brady and Hindley passed Reade's mother, Joan and her son, Paul, frantically searching the streets for Pauline.
THE attack on Edward Evans, the last victim, was witnessed by Hindley's brother-in-law, David Smith, the husband of her sister Maureen, and led to their undoing.
On the evening of October 6, 1965 Hindley drove Brady to Manchester Central Station, where she waited outside in the car while he selected their victim. A few minutes later, Brady reappeared in the company of 17-year-old apprentice engineer, Edward Evans.
After they had driven back home and drank a bottle of wine, Brady sent Hindley to fetch her brother-in-law.
Later Smith heard a scream, followed by Hindley shouting for him to come and help. Smith entered the living room to find Brady repeatedly striking Evans with the flat of an axe, and watched as he then strangled Evans with a length of electrical cord.
Smith agreed to meet Brady the following evening to dispose of the body, but after returning home he woke his wife and told her what he had seen. At 6:07am Smith made an emergency call to the police station in Hyde and told his story. The police then raided the home.
On May 6, 1966, Brady was given a life sentence for the murders of John, Lesley Ann and Edward. Hindley was convicted of killing Lesley Ann and Edward and shielding Brady after John's murder, and also jailed for life. The pair finally admitted killing Keith and Pauline in 1987.