The second instalment of ITV documentary series Murder in the Family tells the devastating true tale of Jennifer Cronin.
Builder and father-of-two Kieren Lynch murdered his mother-in-law Jennifer. He set fire to her in an ultimate act of hatred against his wife Susan.
Horrifyingly, daughter Susan was forced to watch her beloved mother burn to death in her own garden. But what caused this horrendous spiral of violence, and what could have been done to avoid it?
Murder in the Family – who killed Jennifer Cronin?
Episode 2 of Murder in the Family on ITV1 (previously exclusive to ITVX) starts with very distressing audio recording of Jennifer Cronin’s daughter Susan making a 999 call.
Sounding terrified beyond words, she tells the operator: “Please quick, my ex-husband’s here. Please. He’s going to try to kill me. I ran away. I don’t know where he is. I’m indoors. My mum is in the back garden. He’s out there; he’s in the garden with her. Oh my god, my mum’s dead. He’s killed my mum. He’s set fire to my mum. Get an ambulance here.”
In a truly sickening crime, Kieren Lynch broke into their home in South Benfleet, Essex, and set his 72-year-old mother-in-law on fire on 13 March, 2018. He poured petrol over her, before setting himself alight. Both Jennifer Cronin and son-in-law Kieren were taken to hospital with severe burns. Kieren was arrested for attempted murder, but died that night in hospital.
Hospital workers told a distraught Susan that 50-year-old Kieren wouldn’t “last the hour” with 97 per cent burns, and that her mum “was 50/50” with “30 per cent third degree burns”.
Susan says her mum “had no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and all her hair was burnt off”. She continues: “Her hands were red raw. Her face, and everything was sort of black. I didn’t think it would ever end that way.”
Tragically, Jennifer Cronin died from her injuries two weeks later, on March 30, 2018. She died surrounded by her family.
Why did Kieren murder mother-in-law Jennifer Cronin?
Susan and Kieren Lynch were married for 24 years, and had two daughters Matilda and Molly. At first, Kieren was “the perfect husband”, who Susan’s mum “really liked”. But he was also a “Jekyll and Hyde character” who was a “control freak”. Susan also describes him as “having a temper”.
Kieren later went on to develop a cocaine addiction. Susan says that his “personality changed when he’d had a drink”.
Detailing some of the early abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Susan explains: “It would start with pushing and poking into your chest but it escalated over time. Gradually, more force would be used – such as sitting on my chest or pushing on my throat.”
She continues: “He would be full of apologies the next day, but there would always be a reason why he lost his temper. I was embarrassed that I didn’t do anything, and that it happened to me, and I never said anything to anybody. I never even told my mum, or the police; I just accepted it.”
One day, in a fit of rage, Kieren held a knife to Susan’s throat, and threatened to kill them both.
Murder in the Family Jennifer Cronin: Kieren was a ‘Jekyll and Hyde character’
After initially trying to help her husband, Susan subsequently ended the Relationship when Kieren’s behaviour became too volatile and dangerous. She says: “I had to protect my daughters.”
She eventually suggested a divorce and became seeing someone new, boyfriend Mike.
Builder Kieren became more and more aggressive and angry. In January 2018, he sent a string of violent text messages, before going to the family home and smashing up the garden patio with a hammer. Police arrested him for criminal damage but released on bail later that night, with conditions not to contact Susan.
He ignored the conditions, and continued to call Susan up to 80 times a day. The day before the petrol attack, Kieren even threatened to kill one of his own daughters.
The night before her mum’s murder, Susan called the police to detail his stalking. Terrified Susan called the police six times in just 24 hours, but Kieren was not re-arrested.
Were police to blame for the murder of Jennifer Cronin?
Susan believes Kieren Lynch set her mum on fire as the ultimate act of revenge against her. She says: “I think he did it to hurt me. He knew how close I was to my mum. He knew how much we meant to each other. I think it was the biggest way of hurting me.
“He killed my mum, and it was something that could have been prevented. The police didn’t protect us. We were shouting and screaming, waving it in their faces. The failings were shocking. If they’d done their job properly, my mum would be here.”
On the night of Jennifer’s murder, police went to Kieren’s house to arrest him, but he wasn’t there. The police issued a warrant for his arrest. But the station “did not have a unit available to respond” to the threatening messages.
A spokesperson from Essex police confirmed that on the morning of the murder, officers changed the status of the case from ‘high risk’ to ‘medium’. That meant they did not expect there to be “imminent” physical harm. He admits they “could have done more”.
A week-long jury inquest in January 2019 concluded that Jennifer was unlawfully killed while Kieren Lynch died by suicide. But poor communication by Essex Police had been a factor.
Kieren and Susan’s daughter Matilda on dad’s crimes
Susan and Kieren’s daughter Matilda bravely appears in the documentary, and describes her “anger” at her dad.
She says: “I did feel angry at my dad. Something must have clicked in his head. It was too much. People knew there was a problem. But nobody knew it was going to go this far, especially not the police. I don’t think the police took any of our fears seriously at all. I don’t get how they could be so careless.
“If the police had done their job, my nan would still be here. I’m not sure what went so wrong.”
Describing her dad, she admits: “He wanted everybody to be perfect. Like a picture-perfect family.” As the arguments in the household escalated, she admits: “There would be plates smashing. I started to notice it wasn’t normal.”
She admits she would have to “tread on egg shells around him”. Eldest daughter Molly does not appear in the documentary.
Murder in the Family on ITV1 and ITVX
Murder in the Family relives three shocking British murders as told by those closest to the tragic events, revealing the killers’ motives behind their fatal acts.
From the makers of Netflix’s most watched documentary, American Murder: The Family Next Door, this brand new three-part series tells the tragic stories of Cheryl Hooper, Jennifer Cronin, and the Fitzgibbons family.
The horror of these recent high profile British murders are that the victims were killed by their own family.
In each case, the films piece together the fatal events directly from the victim’s point of view, allowing friends and family to tell their stories, placing the viewer at the centre of the emotional anguish as events unfold.
Murder in the Family episode 2 airs at 9pm on Thursday, July 20, 2023 at 9pm on ITV1.
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